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Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edgeby Paul Zakrzewski
Synopses & Reviews
The Argument Rachel Kadish
Kreutzer reads in the newspaper. Sipping coffee that is lukewarm, he reads about a thing called False Memory Syndrome. This is a new syndrome, just discovered. It happens when something terrible a person thinks they remember turns out not to have happened after all. Kreutzer sighs. Imagine. Such relief.
The quote from one of the girls interviewed in the paper reminds him of someone, he can't think who. "But if it never happened," the girl says, "why do I feel so terrible?"
Jacobson's room in the nursing home is decorated in pastels. He wears a stained powder-blue sweater; there is a yellow scarf across his legs. The colors of springtime.
Today Jacobson's mind has turned to opposites. "What is the opposite of a curtain?" he asks his guest.
Leaning heavily against the wall, Kreutzer breathes. The long flight of stairs has tired him. He looks at the sun-filled curtains.
"A carpet," Jacobson answers. He bobs his bald head at Kreutzer. There are crumbs in his beard.
Kreutzer clears his throat. He is not a cruel man, but he has a job to do. There is a reason Kreutzer needs to quiz Jacobson: in his former life Jacobson was also known as Rabbi Harold Jacobson. And a rabbi never stops being a rabbi, even when he thinks the president of the Women's Division is her dead great-grandmother. Even when he tells the sexton in front of the man's entire family: I always liked you more than I liked your wife. You have a sense of humor but she is wretched. Even ten years after his congregation and his own weary brain have fired him, a rabbi is still a rabbi. Especially when he knows the location of the deed to the land the synagogue stands on.
Whichpaperwork the synagogue needs if it is to avoid extra legal fees for the new building.
The congregation is ready to give up on the deed. It is digging into its pockets and hiring a lawyer. A search of the synagogue's files has revealed nothing. This is no surprise; the rabbi made it his habit to hide important documents in places known only to himself. Now Jacobson's mind has sailed to the highest branch of a tree and will not be coaxed back to earth. Even the rabbi's oldest friends have given up, not only on deeds but on words — it is impossible to have a conversation with the man.
Kreutzer, standing in his bathrobe in the kitchen while the president of the congregation made his plea over the telephone, toyed with this notion: the congregation was asking him to visit Jacobson in the hope it would spur Kreutzer, widower that he is, to become active in the synagogue once more. After brief reflection, however, Kreutzer found it unlikely the congregation hoped this. He finds it more likely the congregants think that because he and Jacobson are the same age, Kreutzer can enter the maze of the rabbi's mind. Kreutzer is not certain whether to be insulted.
But he agreed. And now he must do, although it will not be pleasant. The rabbi, as the president of the congregation informed him, is unaccustomed to visitors. Only the rebbetzin still comes, she knits beside her husband's bed; wife and husband do not always, Kreutzer knows, need words. As for the rabbi's son, he lives too far to visit — so says the rebbetzin, who loves her boy. The son, everyone knows, lives someplace far from Jersey City, someplace where there is snow that he skis on. Worse, the son moved to this someplace witha black girl. His wife. Together they ski. Kreutzer tries to imagine. Black people should not ski. They have no camouflage. Jews also, Kreutzer thinks, should not ski. If God meant them to ski He would have chosen Norway for a promised land. He would have written it in one of His books. The Book of Skis.
"What is the opposite of a Dorito?" Jacobson picks a chip from his lunch tray.
The man was a rabbi, thinks Kreutzer. He had conversations with God.
Rabbi Jacobson turns the chip in his palm, forlorn.
"Jacobson." Kreutzer leans forward, hands on his knees. Jacobson's gaze drifts in his direction like a rudderless ship. "Rabbi."
The rabbi's face registers alarm. Then, as Kreutzer waits, the rabbi grows solemn. "You may be seated," he says.
"Rabbi, I have a question for you." But it is no good asking. The rabbi's head refuses to crack open like an oyster, revealing the tiniest pearl of information. The rabbi has never heard of a deed. He has never heard, it turns out, of a synagogue.
Kreutzer takes out the book he has brought: a holy book. Perhaps with some study of familiar words he will lull Jacobson into memory. All those years of training, of devout study, surely are lodged somewhere in the rabbi's mind. And if the rabbi can summon these memories, perhaps he will summon others. Unless — the thought gives Kreutzer pause — this contemplation of opposites is a code. Could it be that the rabbi has become a mystic? He has chosen forgetfulness — abandoned his Talmudic training and fooled them all, tiptoed beyond the everyday and vanished into the forests of kaballah.
Kreutzer eyes the rabbi. The rabbi, eyeing Kreutzer, passes wind noisily.
Kreutzer opens thebook. In as patient a tone as he can muster, he addresses the rabbi. "We begin with the laws of kashruth."
Kreutzer knows now who he was reminded of. The girl in the newspaper reminded him of his daughter Marjorie. Marjorie who used also words like terrible. The pollution of the environment?
It was terrible. The attitudes of Kreutzer and Kreutzer's wife and everyone they knew: terrible. Also, always, the war in Vietnam. He thinks of Marjorie in high school with her terribles. He thinks of her the summer she was twenty-two years old. That was the summer she packed her things in borrowed suitcases and left. Jersey City wasn't close enough for her, she had to move right up in its face and breathe its polluted breath: Manhattan. She stopped seeing movies and started seeing films. She met people named Portia and Nikita, and within two years she married a violinist.
And now, this. Marjorie, with news.
"The best literature defies categorization just like the best people. So call it 'Jewish' if you like, or 'edge' if you must, but there's some truly fine fiction here." Douglas Rushkoff, author of Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism
<p>Funny, raw, dark, sometimes outrageous, the twenty-five contributors to <i>Lost Tribe</i> explore themes such as conflicted identities, sexual fetishes, religious intolerance, and even the troubled legacy of the Holocaust to create a stirring picture of contemporary Jewish life. <i>Lost Tribe</i> features stories and commentary from a brilliant mixture of critically acclaimed and emerging writers.</p> <p align=center>Steve Almond<br> Aimee Bender<br> Gabriel Brownstein<br> Judy Budnitz<br> Nathan Englander<br> Jonathan Safran Foer<br> Myla Goldberg<br> Ehud Havazelet<br> Dara Horn<br> Rachel Kadish<br> Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer<br> Binnie Kirshenbaum<br> Joan Leegant<br> Michael Lowenthal<br> Ellen Miller<br> Tova Mirvis<br> Peter Orner<br> Jon Papernick<br> Nelly Reifler<br> Ben Schrank<br> Suzan Sherman<br> Gary Shteyngart<br> Aryeh Lev Stollman<br> Ellen Umansky<br> Simone Zelitch</p>
Funny, raw, dark, sometimes outrageous, the twenty-five contributors to Lost Tribe explore themes such as conflicted identities, sexual fetishes, religious intolerance, and even the troubled legacy of the Holocaust to create a stirring picture of contemporary Jewish life. Lost Tribe features stories and commentary from a brilliant mixture of critically acclaimed and emerging writers.
About the Author
Paul Zakrzewski (pronounced Zak-shef-ski) is a writer, editor, and literary event curator. As director of literary programs for the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, he runs a popular reading series featuring new and provocative Jewish writers at the KGB Bar in the East Village. He is also an editor at Heeb magazine, a Jewish pop culture collective, which was nominated for Best New Title in the 2002 Utne Reader Alternative Press Awards. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer
Aryeh Lev Stollman
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