## Jew Who?

The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson

In graduate school at the University of Rochester, we of the class that entered in 1992 were a tight bunch. We studied together, met at The Distillery or MacGregor’s after a long day of school or in the lab, and generally formed each others’ complete social circle. It was kind of difficult to keep secrets from one another. Nevertheless, there was a girl in the class, a fellow M.O.T., whom I began to see outside of our little social circle. Sort of like dating, I guess, but not really. There was simply a mutual physical attraction for a short time, and that was that. Neither she nor I said a word about it to the larger group, however. Well, at least until, much later, long after the affair ended, I let someone else in the group, who by that time had become a very close friend whom I trusted, in on the secret. This someone else, who is not M.O.T., laughed heartily when I told him of the affair, saying – and I will never forget this – “Christ! I just thought it was a Jewish thing.”

The reason why I have never forgotten this is because the statement struck me to the core of my identity.  The fact that my classmate’s and my being chummy outside the circle was never a secret sort of surprised me: I thought we were discreet about it.  But that didn’t bug me so much, or at all.  It was the fact that it was generally recognized – nay, expected even – that Jewish people will naturally gravitate toward each other which really hit a nerve with me.

It hit a nerve because my friend was right.

After sharing some laughs and pitchers of Guinness with my good friend, I pondered his remark for a long time.  I thought about the friends I made in college, the ones with whom I still would go see at the drop of a hat.  I thought about the friends from high school with whom I kept in touch.  Pretty much M.O.T., across the board.  Not 100%, but very close to it.

Why was that?  It’s not as obvious as one thinks.  Yes, I did participate in some Jewish organizations [e.g., Hillel, USY], but they were mainly at the instigation of my mother and none of the friends as described above came from that participation.  Rather, I met many of these friends in the course of normal, non-Jewish activities [e.g., dorm parties,   class, etc.].  Yes, some of the most long-term friends were made in elementary school or earlier, when our parents [who obviously were Jewish] arranged what are now called playdates.  One or two others from Hebrew school.  But, really, nothing out of the ordinary which would exclude gentiles from the picture.

Further, although I was/am fairly stereotypically Jewish in many respects [big nose, academic inclinations, liberal, etc.], I was never particularly religious, especially in graduate school.  In fact, I would say that, at the time, my interest and knowledge of things Jewish was close to zero.  I had been to Israel [with 2 of the above-mentioned college friends], but even with family there, I have to say that I knew pretty much nothing about the place or its history.  I was a Jewish apathetic – I never really experienced anti-Semitism, being Jewish hardly ever got in my way, but I didn’t feel it did all that much for me.

So what was my thing with Jews, then?  Was it the shared experiences in our upbringing?  [Then why did I not make more friends from my hometown?]  Or is there something really tribal that just can’t be pinned down?  This is The Finkler Question which Howard Jacobson attempts, with great vigor, humor and honesty, to pick apart in his new, Man Booker Prize-winning novel.

In The Finkler Question, Jacobson tells the story of two middle-aged men who are mirror images of each other.  The first is Sam [formerly Samuel] Finkler, a Jewish man living in London who is a recent widower.  His late wife Tyler was Catholic but converted to Judaism for him.  Sam, however, is the leader of a group which calls themselves ASHamed Jews and are opposed to anything Israeli or Zionist.  He is also incredibly ignorant about his heritage.  That said, his social circle tends to include mostly like-minded Jews, save for his elderly friend Libor, who is also a recent widower.

The second man is Julian Treslove, a non-Jewish man who happens to be a philo-Semite.  [As Jeffrey Goldberg has observed, a philo-Semite is an anti-Semite that likes Jews.]  Treslove has never married and seems envious of his friends Finkler and Libor for becoming widowers. In fact, Treslove seems permanently envious of his friend Finkler, most notably for being a Jew.  It seems to Treslove, being a Jew is like being a member of a secret club and he’ll do almost anything to join and learn the secrets.

Julian’s adventure begins when he is mugged by a woman as he is out walking in London late one night.  While being mugged, he distinctly claims to have been told “You Jew!” by the mugger.  As Julian attempts to piece together who could have possibly carried out this attack [a spurned lover?], he comes to the conclusion that, somehow, some way, he must be Jewish.  And so he decides that he is a Jew.

Julian, a serial womanizer who typically goes with small, skinny blondes [whose names curiously all begin with “J”], falls for Libor’s great-great-niece who is named Hephzibah [“my delight is in she”].  Hephzibah is a strikingly large, non-skinny Jewish woman, twice-divorced from Jewish men, who is in charge of the building of a new Anglo-Jewish museum [right next to the zebra stripe of The Beatles’ Abbey Road].

The overriding theme of the novel is the question of identity, and what forms it in these middle-aged men.  Finkler, for example, is a philosopher.  In the old days, he would have been a scholar in his village, the highest-ranking sort of man to a tribe of Jews.  Finkler’s philosophy, however, is put to the service of delegitimizing Judaism and Zionism.  Treslove, until he meets Hephzibah, is a professional celebrity imitator [he used to work for the Beeb].  That is, his identity is a lack of one.

With Hephzibah, however, Treslove ditches the celebrity gig and decides to help Hephzibah with her museum.  Since there isn’t much for him to do, Treslove spends his time trying to learn Yiddish and Judaism.  He enjoys opportunities to put his new knowledge to use.

The problem is that nobody who matters, that is, nobody Jewish, Hephzibah included, is much interested.  Things begin to unravel when Finkler comes into the picture and behaves as if he and Hephzibah are old friends and speak a secret language.  With this, Treslove works to a slow boil as he wonders what on Earth being a Jew is all about.

Throughout the novel, Jacobson introduces Jews of all stripes: the Jews that hate Israel, the Jews that hate Jews, Jews who murder Arabs in the West Bank, Jews who feel attacked on all fronts by increasingly visible anti-Semitism, Jews who are tired of being linked with Gaza, and even a Jew who sleeps with a Holocaust Denier.  Yet somehow, there is something that draws them all [or at least most of them] together, despite, or frankly because of their conflicts with each other.  The novel manages to address some really serious issues in British society with respect to Jews [as to why British people, Jewish or non-, are so quick to link goings on in Gaza or the West Bank with Jews in London], and at the same time hit some really funny notes.  Jacobson is a comic author first and it shows.

I felt that, while exceedingly well-written, that things got off to a slow start.  You have to stick with the book for a while [likely most of Part One].  The payoff, however, is quite good and The Finkler Question manages the all-too-rare feat of getting better as you read.  I felt that there was not a wasted scene or character in the entire novel, and that the ending, after giving it some thought, was entirely satisfactory.

Would I recommend this, then, to non-Jews?  Yes.  First, the fact that this won the Man Booker prize [frankly, I am amazed at this for reason spelled out in the book of all places] points to general interest in the topic, at least in England.  That said, I think the Catholics I know face similar questions of identity.  The point is that many of us remain a tribal people despite the most canyonesque differences.  At least for me, Jacobson has reminded me of why I began my quest to understand my Jewish identity.

## The dangerously ignorant, if not anti-Semitic, Glenn Beck

I’ve had at Beck in Facebook, but Rick Hertzberg in the New Yorker completely demolishes him:

Beck pictured Soros as a deeply evil figure, a shadowy manipulator whose marionettes include unions, the Democratic Party, the media, and the President; a rapacious financier who seeks to subvert and destroy the American republic in order to satisfy his own greed for money and advance his plot to establish an all-powerful global state under his control. As it happens, these tropes correspond uncannily to those of classical anti-Semitism. This was too much for many who recognized the resemblance; Beck’s denouncers included not only the Anti-Defamation League but also Commentary, the neoconservative organ, and Reason, the libertarian bible. Certainly, the vast bulk of Beck’s fans didn’t recognize the tropes; probably he didn’t, either. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is not among the books he recommends to his fans. (“The Red Network,” by Elizabeth Dilling, to whom President Eisenhower was “Ike the Kike” and President Kennedy’s program the “Jew Frontier,” however, is.)

I’ll say it again: those who think that Fox News is “Good For The Jews” [is there a copyright symbol that goes with that line?] are deceiving themselves.  Fox and those like Beck and Roger Ailes [he of the “NPR = Nazis”] only seem to prize Jews as they prize Israel in the sense of it not being a place of safety for Jews worldwide but a place where Jews can put on uniforms and go to war against Muslims in our stead.

Beck has no idea of Jewish or Israeli history.  He only knows the bits and pieces of propaganda that feed his narrative.  To call George Soros a Nazi sympathizer is the worst sort of libel, especially while simultaneously doling out classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.  The fact that this phony has the eyes and ears of a huge American audience should be more than slightly worrying.

## Why losing VMart hurts

Tony Massaroti nails it:

Over the last eight years, the New York Yankees have had 19 selections before the third round – an average of roughly one draft pick per year fewer than the Red Sox. During that same time, the Yankees have signed Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia, among others, while their farm system has produced Robinson Cano and Phil Hughes. The San Francisco Giants, who won the World Series this year, have had 20 draft picks. Ditto for the Los Angeles Angels, a perennial playoff team that won the 2002 World Series and slipped this past year only after losing John Lackey, Chone Figgins, and Vladimir Guerrero to free agency. (Try replacing all of those guys with draft picks.) The Tampa Bay Rays have had only 19 selections before the third round in the last eight years and their farm system is as productive as anyone’s. The Philadelphia Phillies have had 16 picks in the first, second and sandwich rounds.

Given that the Red Sox have almost routinely spent roughly $140-$170 million during the Epstein Era, here are the questions worth discussing:

Do they really need all those draft picks?

Are the draft picks really what produce the championships?

## The science and engineering of gravy

All kinds of gravy mixes came onto the market, proclaiming their greatness. But gravies were actually a more difficult mix to create. Just like homecooks might like to have gravy without having to actually cook meat, the food processing industry needed to eliminate the actual beef or chicken.

## “We test, make judgments and write about things we understand.”

Rush Limbaugh attacks and questions the credibility of Motor Trend for giving the Chevy Volt its Car of the Year award. Todd Lassa, in what looks like a classic takedown, answers El Rushbo decisively:

[O]ur credibility, Mr. Limbaugh, comes from actually driving and testing the car, and understanding its advanced technology. It comes from driving and testing virtually every new car sold, and from doing this once a year with all the all-new or significantly improved models all at the same time. We test, make judgments and write about things we understand.

Lassa goes on to wonder why Big R never questions the Volt’s competitor, the Nissan Leaf:

The Obama tax credit extends to the new Nissan Leaf, too, but if you or Will slammed that car, I’ve not heard or read it. I’d be surprised if you did, though, as Nissan is building the Leaf in a non-union factory in a right-to-work state represented by two Republican senators. A factory located there because Tennessee offered Nissan big tax credits. Maybe you’re worried that if the $7,500 tax credit works, too many people will buy the Volt, and that could reduce the need for oil drilling tax credits? Reading this gave me palpitations of joy. Not just because Rush Limbaugh was savagely attacked, but because something which is missing from a lot of blogs come out in full force: expertise. Motor Trend not only knows its cars but also how the law and business of cars. It becomes a hoot when someone like Limbaugh who one could imagine enjoys driving his V-12, pedal-to-the-metal, a fellow who would seem to eat, sleep, and shit cars, really doesn’t know jack about them. Rushie Boy doesn’t know cars, the law, or the business behind them. All he knows is talking points for Southern Republicans, one of which is that Global warming is a hoax and anything we do to try to slow down its effects are poison. Rush knows how to thrash and point his nasty words at people. But anyone who thinks he has any solution to any problem should heed the advice Lassa gives to El Rushbo in his closing sentence: Just remember: driving and Oxycontin don’t mix. ## It’s not about the radiation, it’s about the mission’s utter futility Jim Fallows lays out the case against full-body scanning: But anyone who’s ever thought about terrorist movements realizes that the real damage is indirect — it’s the fear they induce, the (over) reaction they provoke, the costs they impose as a society tries to guard against repetition. That’s what Osama bin Laden noted in a tape after 9/11 — that on the cheap, his attackers had not simply killed 3,000 people but induced a response that will cost the U.S. trillions of dollars over a decade or more (if the costs of war in Iraq are included, as they should be). ## Why Derek Jeter will never go to the Red Sox …or any other non-Yankee team, for that matter. As Nate Silver so ably demonstrates, the answer is simple: his value as a ballplayer is far higher as a Yankee because he is Derek Jeter. Jeter’s problem, however, is that this is not a competitive bidding situation. The$15 or \$25 million “bonus” that he provides to the Yankees in off-the-field value is for the most part expressly contingent on the fact that he remains a Yankee, the franchise that he is identified with. Fans in Pittsburgh or San Francisco or Boston feel no particular loyalty to Jeter, and while he would surely still be a good ambassador for those clubs, he might not generate many more season ticket sales for them above and beyond what any other decent shortstop would. (The New York Mets might represent something of a middle ground, but they already have an All-Star shortstop in Jose Reyes.)

The Yankees’ general manager, Brian Cashman, has challenged Jeter to test the market, knowing that he is unlikely to receive another offer as generous as the one the Yankees made. Mr. Cashman is probably right about that; so much of Jeter’s value is tied up in being a New York Yankee that he does not have very much flexibility in exploring the market.

Remember further, as demonstrated by his letting Victor Martinez walk, that Theo Epstein [the Red Sox’ GM] is unemotional when it comes to these transactions.  Which means that an ancillary value in signing Jeter just to piss off Yankees’ fans is zero.  If we were desperate for a shortstop and Jeter provided impressive projected Wins Above Replacement [WAR] over the next few years, then I am sure that Theo would have already made a bid.  But it is no secret that this is not the case, and Jeter will continue to be a Yankee.  As Silver shows, they have him by the balls.

## Why Gov. Rick Perry represents the Mental Ward of the GOP, Part DCCXVI

He is apparently trying to maximize the number of uninsured Texans.

Consider the case of Texas, which with 25 percent uninsured, leads the nation in not providing for its residents. If the state pulls out of Medicaid, as Gov. Rick Perry (R) is suggesting, that would put it at 40 percent uninsured, as Medicaid covers 15 percent of the state. Texas might try some other form of coverage, but it will have lost hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding. You can occasionally do less with more, but when you have a lot less, you generally just do less. Whatever the state tried next would cover fewer people with less-comprehensive insurance, and it’s a safe bet that the rate of uninsured would ultimately settle above 30 percent. Some legacy.

Conversely, if Perry does nothing, the federal government is going to come in and pick up most of the cost of a massive coverage expansion. Texas, in fact, will be one of the biggest winners from health-care reform, as its huge pool of uninsured residents means the state will get an uncommonly large amount of subsidies to bring that down to manageable levels. Texas “can expect to see Medicaid enrollment rise by 46 percent while state spending on Medicaid rises by about 3 percent.” Pretty good deal.