Thursday, November 3, 2022

Not Well-Bread.

There's a famous writer in the Yiddish canon (the canon without ammunition) called I.L. Peretz. He was born in 1852 and died in 1915, living in what today is Poland and what was then known as the Pale of Settlement. Basically crappy land where the Czar decided to throw all the Jews so they were a) out of the way and b) close enough to be taxed and inducted into the army and c) handy when a pogrom would cool the tempers of the non-Jewish peasantry.

Though in the parlance of the anti-Semitic Stalinist regime, Jews were "rootless cosmopolitans," and in the language of the Christian right Jews are either "not real Americans," "loyal to Israel not the US," or the demons who are "economy-and-media-controlling spawn of the devil," Jews have done well in the world of literature.

I talked to my (gentile) friend Stacy about a book I was writing once. Stacy rose high high high in the publishing world but had aged out at about 55. I told her about my book and she said, "it's probably publishable. Jews read."

Charles Murray--the disgraced sociologist--wrote a piece in "Commentary Magazine" back in 2007 called "Jewish Genius." Once the European social revolutions of the mid-nineteenth century had finally granted Jews full citizenry rights and admission to universities and elite professions, something profound happened in Europe.

Murray writes, "Disproportionate Jewish accomplishment in the arts and sciences continues to this day. My inventories end with 1950, but many other measures are available, of which the best known is the Nobel Prize. 

"In the first half of the 20th century, despite pervasive and continuing social discrimination against Jews throughout the Western world, despite the retraction of legal rights, and despite the Holocaust, Jews won 14 percent of Nobel Prizes in literature, chemistry, physics, and medicine/physiology. In the second half of the 20th century, when Nobel Prizes began to be awarded to people from all over the world, that figure rose to 29 percent. So far, in the 21st century, it has been 32 percent. Jews constitute about two-tenths of one percent of the world’s population. You do the math."

Perhaps it is for the reasons Murray cites above that Jews are no longer considered, at least in advertising, to be diverse. For convenience's sake, we are lumped together with white people. However, the real world knows what five-and-dime demographers and agency DEI people don't know.

As Bret Stephen's pointed out in last week's "New York Times," "For 2020, the F.B.I. reports that Jews, who constitute about 2.4 percent of the total adult population in the United States, were on the receiving end of 54.9 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes."

It's with all this context that I want to talk about a story by I.L. Peretz called "Bontshe Schweig," or "Bontshe the Silent." You can get a pdf of the story here. It will take you about six minutes to read it, depending on how often you interrupt your reading by checking your social accounts.

In any event, "Bontshe," was a story I first read in college when I was still in my teens. I read it again 40 years later, just when I was turning 60.

To my eyes what makes the story great is that reading it as a young person and then as an old person, if you're anything like me, you'll find two different meanings in the ambiguous ending--I found Bontshe pathetic, weak and despicable in his meekness when I was young. Today, I understand.

The crux of the story is this.

Bontshe has the most miserable of all lives. He's never had anything go his way, never had a stroke of luck. Never felt loved or respected or heard or not hungry. Despite all that, Bontshe never complains. 

The angels see this and when Bontshe dies they whisk him up to heaven and herald him as a great man. But as are the rules of heaven--they put Bontshe on trial. When he is deemed the most-righteous of humans, they grant him anything he wants. Any luxury, any comfort, any laughter. Anything.

Bontshe, simply, asks for a warm roll with sweet butter melted on it.

That's it.

Today, as an old man, I understand Bontshe.

The riches of the world, the fast cars and slow women, the big apartments, the five-star resorts, the fancy restaurants, expensive clothing and vintage wines don't mean anything to me. 

As the world seems to be falling apart, as a new wave of hatred and violence seems to be tsunaming over our planet, as catastrophic Anthropocene environmental change has arrived, all I want is a bit of peace every day.

Maybe some quiet. Maybe some sunshine. Maybe some dark coffee. And a nice piece of toasted raisin bread with cinnamon with just a dab of salt butter, the salt and the sweet of the raisins making me smile. Oh, and just a scintilla of quietude, kindness and love thy neighbor.

To be clear, I don't know what this post is about except maybe feeling aggrieved. And scared. Yes, scared.

Last week with the horrors of Ye and the 405 and asses like Kyrie Irving taking up every bit of the news, not one agency DEI person said anything that I could hear.

Like most silence, it was deafening.



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