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May 31, 1974 - Image 48

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1974-05-31

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Jerome Weidman's Constancy for Mother-Wit, Yiddishisms, East Side Nostalgia Found in New Novel

Jerome Weidman does it
a g a i n. Nostalgically, he
writes about the old East
Side of New York. He recap-
tures the spirit of the early
1930s and portrays the char-
acters who were the parent
generation to the American
Jewry of our time.
He did it in his charming
work "Fourth Street East."
He does it with equal warmth
in his newest novel, "Tiffany
Street" (Random House).
Once again, the story is
about Benny Kramer, a prod-
uct of the earlier years who,
in the present, is confronted
with the problems of the
1970s and his son's candidacy
for the draft in the Vietnam
era. In the process of narrat-
ing this story, Weidman
weaves the threads of the
contrasting generations and
the roles of its citizenry.
Benjamin Kramer shares
the limelight in this story
with Sebastian Roon who en-
ters into his and his mother's
life as a client of the accoun-
ancy firm where Benny is an
office boy. Sebastian, it is
learned quickly, is none other
than Seymour Rubin, the im-
migrant from England with a
British accent, who came to
this country at the invitation
of his uncle, the client of Ira
Bern, Benny's employer. The
uncle dies and Sebastian —
Seb—does not inherit what
could have been imagined as
a great fortune. Soon he is a
guest of the Kramers — the
immigrants who had not yet
mastered Americanism—and
he occupies Benny's bed,
Benny being transferred to
the floor in the living room
in the Tiffany Street tene-
ment. That's how the title of
the book was adopted by
Weidman.
Filled with action, and
semi-dramatic episodes, the
Weidman novel describes
Seb's influence upon Benny's
mother. He teaches her the ,
English language and how to
figure, he encourages her to
go into business, making ties,
soon earning by employing
others. Seb does more: he
takes Benny's girl Hannah
Halpern away from him, she
goes to England with him,
but Seb has the urge to go
back to America, Hannah
marries his brother, and it
is when Benny visits her, uni-
formed as a major in the
U. S. army, that she is killed
in an air raid in World War
II.
Seb does many things that
could antagonize, but he and
Benny remain good friends
and the story is marked by
many delightful episodes re-
lating to that friendship.
The theme actually begins
when Benny, a successful
lawyer, 'goes to Philadelphia,
on the excuse of seeing a
wealthy client; actually to
see an influential doctor who
is powerful on the draft
board, hoping to get his son
Jack out of the army that
might take him to Vietnam
and to his death.
When Benny is ready to
put the idea into action, Jack
rejects the proposal that he
pose as a bed-wetter—an ex-
cuse for rejection by the
draft board. Instead, Jack
claims to be a conscientious
objector and he gains rejec-
tion: the board member
knew his father. But in the

They merely discuss it. End-
lessly. Most of the time lying
around puffing grass . . "
That's one of the lessons in
a book filled with memories
of a past distantly related to
the present, since Tiffany
Street itself is of the past
and the tenements are not
Jack's concern.
It is because this novel is
replete with humor that the
Weidman skill is also studded
with Yiddishisms. Words and
phrases reminiscent of mo-
ther's days spice the narra-
tive. Is it measurably auto-
biographical? Recalling a
story written for the Jewish
Publication Society Book
Mark and reprinted in The
Jewish News (Aug. 6, 1971),

JEROME WEIDMAN

course of the dispute with his
father over the conflicting
approaches to gaining army
rejection, Jack has an ex-
planatory detail for his fa-
ther regarding the genera-
tions. To quote the Weidman
philosophy vis-a-vis Jack-to-
Benny:
"You see, Pops, when you
were my age there were no
issues. It was all very sim-
ple. When you got out of
high school, if you were luc-
ky enough to make it
through high school, you
didn't lie around in some
acid-rock discotheque trying
to decide what would be a
relevant way to spend your
life. There was no time.
Thinking about relevance
could cause you to die of
starvation. What you did was
go out and find a job so you
could eat. You had to. Nowa-
days, kids my age, they don't
have to worry about eating.
Nice guys like you, Pops, you
provide the groceries. So we
have time to worry about
what we should do with our
lives that's relevant. Most of
my friends don't even worry.

about his mother and Somer-
set Maugham, there is reason
to believe that the nostalgic
story about Benny Kramer's
mother was influenced by
author Jerome Weidman's
personal nostalgic recollec-
tions of his own youth, and
his East Side New. York
home.
In fact, toward the close
of his narration about "Tif-
fany Street" Weidman does
not resist the temptation and
refers (without elaboration)
to a "story about Somerset
Maugham and the Internal
Revenue Service."
As stated, "Tiffany Street"
is replete with Yiddishisms
and witticisms. He makes
much of the need for "koy-

ach"—strength, power. The
last line in the book, as a
reference to Benny, by his
pal throughout this story,
reads: " 'The lad has koy-
ach,' Sebastian Roon said."
And Benny himself, much
earlier in the story, had a
definition for the word for
Webster, thus:
I don't believe Noah Web-
ster was ever put to this par-
ticular test, but I do believe
he would have brought to
the word, koyach some of his
more penetrating talents for
definition. Thus: koyach, n.
koy, as in coy. yach, as in
Bach. (Bach, as in composer.)
So we have the word koyach.
A common Yiddish expres-
sion meaning strength. Ex.:

Samson, before Delilah gave
him his world-famous hair-
cut, had koyach. But the
word has a much broader
meaning. Of a person who is
said to possess koyach the
word usually means that he
or she is imbued with intest-
inal fortitude (see Be.
Broygiss, The Brass-Sotto
Barmaid by Damon Runyln).
Or guts (see Bull in the f-
ternoon by E. Hemingwa ,' ."
Thus the continuity in
Weidman's narrations — his
East Side recollections, his
constant recapturing of his
mother's wit, his Yiddish-
isms. The reader's affections
for his stories will remain
equally as constant with his
newest novel. —P. S.

Notables Speak Out Against Genocide in Littell-Locke Edited Book

Basic obligations to pre-
vent crimes like Nazism,
and similarly to avoid theo-
logical prejudices are at the
core of a significant study,
"The German Church Strug-
gle and the Holocaust,"
published by Wayne State
University Press.
Edited by Franklin H. Lit-
tell, professor of religion at
Temple U n i -
versity, Phila-
delphia, a n d
Hubert G.
Locke, associ-
a t e professor
of sociology
and social wel-
fare at the
University of Dr. Locke
Nebraska, Omaha, this vol-
ume -contains the papers de-
livered at the International
Scholars' conference, which
concerned itself with the
Holocaust and the religious
groups involved. (Prof. Locke
previously was student ad-
viser for religious affairs at
Wayne State University.
-(Dr. Littell will be guest
speaker at today's Acadamic

Bonds to Honor Weisbergs
at Shaarey Zedek 'Dinner

Mr. and Mrs. Peter Weisberg will receive the Sword of
the Hagana award on June 26, at the Cong. Shaarey Zedek-
sponsored annual tribute dinner on behalf of Israel Bonds,
David Hermelin, dinner chairman, announced. Weisberg
and his wife Clare will be honored "for their many years
of devoted service to their congregation and community."

Weisberg is a member of the Metropolitan Detroit Israel
Bond Committee and a founding member of the Prime Min-
ister's Club of the State of Israel. He has been the chairman
of the Shaarey Zedek daily minyan committee for many
years. Recently the Jewish Theological Seminary announced
the creation of a Peter and Clara Weisberg Scholarship at
its rabbinical school.
Louis Berry is honorary chairman of the testimonial
dinner. The acting committee, still in a formation, has Dr.
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS Jerry G. Margolis, Marvin Fleischman and Mrs. Joseph
48—Friday, May 31, 1974
Deutsch as co-chairmen.

Conference on the Holocaust
at Mercy College of Detroit.
His talk at the 9 a.m. session
will focus on "The Story of
the Holocaust— Implications
and Values for Today.")
Noted scholars and authori-
ties on. the religious issues
during the Nazi regime are
represented in the compiled
essays.
A key admonition in this
project is contained in the
introductory essay by Prof.
Littell who declares:
The truth is that Christen-
dom is sick, sick with so wick-
ed a malaise that the bap-
tized destroyed 6,000,000
Jews in Hitler's Europe, so
sick that many 'Christian'
leaders were prepared to
look on from the balcony
while Nasser tried to carry
out his threat of a Second
Holocaust in June, 1967.
"My earnest plea is that
before you join the neo-Nazis,
Communists and black eth-
nics (not to mention the
American Radical Right!) in
automatically considering the
essential affinity of Judaism
and Christianity 'patently
Zionist,' you examine your
own theological commitments.
The Jews are not Chero-
kees, and the wrong done
them by faithless baptized is
not the same thing as the
white man's injustice to the
American Indians. There is a
demonic quality to hatred of
the Jews which makes it
more than human cruelty: it
is blasphemy. By the same
token, the guilt of Christians
and the obligation to repent
and right the ancient wrong
is far heavier upon us."
Prof. Gordon C. Zahn of
the University of Massachu-
setts, reviewing the activities
of the Catholics in Germany
during the Nazi regime,
points to guilt as well as to
resistance and protests. He
maintains there was an ig-
norance among some German
bishops. But he chose to con-
clude that "the lessons of the
Nazi era have not been
learned."
Consideration: was given
in the discussions of the ex-
tent of resistance and the
problems that emerged in
National Socialist Germany.
Prof. Peter Hoffman of Mc-
Gill University dealt with the
opposition that emerged
against Hitler, he described
the execution of conspirators
and he quoted Dietrich Bon-
hoeffer who, in 1941, said:
"If you really want to know—
I am praying for the defeat

of my country because I be-
lieve that it is the only way
to pay for all the suffering
that it has caused in the
world."

Prof. Hoffman said regard-
ing the opposition: "It has
made a contribution to the
demythologization of ideolo-
gies (Weltanschaungen), to
the breaking down of vicious
patterns of group behavior.
It has contributed to the de-
motion of politically oriented,
group-oriented, violence-gen-
erating values, and to a re-
emphasis of humanistic, re-
ligious and ethical values.
A deeply moving state-
ment is offered by Elie
Wiesel whose essay is en-
titled "Talking and Writing
and Keeping Silent." It took
time for him to assert him-
self-10 years to write his
first book — then he was
heard! He offered a parable:
"When Shimon Dubnov,
probably the greatest his-
torian we have had, was led
to the mass grave in Riga
together with all the Jews, he
shouted, 'Jews open your ears
and open your eyes! Take in
every cloud; take in every
smile; take in every sound.
Don't forget, He was even
then , even there, obsessed
with the need to communi-
cate, to tell us certain tales.
In Auschwitz—worse, in Bir-
kenau, in t h e Sonderkom-
mando, the commando that
worked in the crematoria —
there were historians; men
who wrote down, day after
day, fact after morbid fact,
dryly and soberly: They were
conscious of the necessity to
transmit. Why? Why did they
do it? And what for? In whom
could they believe? In man?
That is what bewilders me
and astonishes me: that they
could still think of man and
of God and of • us, while
they lived and died in an age
in which both Jew and man
were betrayed by man and
God. This story of spiritual
strength—I won't call it 're-
sistance' because the word
itself was devaluated—of the
Jew has to be told. I think
this is what makes us so
humble. But here we touch,
I believe, the very substance
of what I call an an anan
of what I call Jewishness —
because I don't like the word
Judaism. There are too many
isms in this world. What do I
call Jewishness?
"There is a story in the Tal-
mud, a very beautiful one.
And it's relevant, because
you spoke of martyrs, and

we speak of martyrs. The
story goes: When Rabbi Ish-
mael, one of the 10 martyrs
of the faith in Roman times,
'was led to his death, a heav-
enly voice was heard, saying,
`Ishmael, Ishmael, should you
shed one tear, I shall return
the universe to its primary
chaos.' And the Midrash
says that Rabbi Ishmael was
a gentleman and did not cry.
And I couldn't understand
for quite a while: why didn't
he cry? The hell with it! If
this is the price to pay, who
needs it? Who wants this
kind of world? Who wants to
live in it? Yet there are many
reasons why he didn't cry.
"One, he was a martyr.
Two, he obeyed. Three, the
last and most poetic ulti-
mate reason why he didn't
cry is because he wanted to
teach us a lesson in Judaism.
Rabbi Ishmael—contrary to
his classical opponent, Rabbi
Akiba — was a rationalist.
Even while dying, he wanted
to teach us a lesson: Yes, I
could destroy the world, and
the world deserves to be de-
stroyed. But to be a Jew is
to have all the reasons in
in the world to destroy and
not to destroy! To be a Jew-is
to have all the reasons in the
world to hate the Germans
and not to hate them! To be
a Jew is to have all the rea-
sons in the world to mistrust
the church and not hate it!
To be a Jew is to have all the
reasons in the world not to
have faith in language, in
singing, in prayers, and in
God, but to go on telling the
tale, to go on carrying on the
dialogue, and to have my own
silent prayers and quarrels
with God.
"That is the lesson that
Rabbi Ishmael, when he died,
taught me; but then he was
Rabbi Ishmael and I am
only a teller of his tales. P
then, perhaps, that is
meaning of Jewish ext.
ence, especially for a story-
teller, to tell tales lived so
many times by so many Jews,
and I am only one of them."
A statement quoting Wil-
helm Niemoeller, essays by
Henry Friedlander, Beate
Ruhn von Oppen, John S.
Conway, William Sheridan
Allen, Frederick 0. Bonkow-
sky, Michael D. Ryan, Eber-
hard Bethge, Arthur C. Coch-
rane, Ferdinand Friedens-
burg, Richard D. Rubenstein
and Theodore A. Gill, all add
importantly to make "The
German Church Struggle and
the Holocaust" a vital book
on a major subject.

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