The Longest Ride

The Longest Ridethelongestride

by Nicholas Sparks. Grand Central Publishing: New York, 2013

This weekend I blazed through The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks. Sparks is a prolific author of chick lit, having written A Walk to Remember, Safe Haven, a hundred or so others just like them, and probably most famously, The Notebook:

Yeah that Notebook.* I like a good fluffy beach read, but my excuse for picking this one up was that it promised to have Jewish characters. And it does, but unfortunately Sparks doesn’t really explore their Judaism very much. Too bad, because I was actually intrigued by the opening paragraph:

“I sometimes think to myself that I’m the last of my kind. My name is Ira Levinson. I’m a southerner and a Jew, and equally proud to have been called both at one time or another…” What’s this, Sparks? Shades of Augie March? (I am an American, Chicago born…)

Beyond that, there’s hardly anything on the subject. Just two other tantalizing tidbits: first, that news of the Holocaust made Ira’s parents distant from one another:

“Instead of greeting customers at the door as he used to, he would spend his afternoons in the back room, listening to the news on the radio, trying to understand the madness that had caused the deaths of so many innocent people…by contrast, the more he talked, the more my mother concentrated on her sewing, because she couldn’t bear to think about it. For my father, after all, it was an abstract horror; for my mother – who, like Ruth, had lost friends and family – it was deeply personal….”

Ruth, who emigrated to the United States with her parents from Vienna just before the war, is Ira’s wife. Sparks gives us hardly any other details about them or that experience, other than that Ira “was struck by how differently Ruth and her parents reacted to the war. While my mother and father seemed to recede into the past…her parents embraced the future, as though seizing hold of their chance at life. They opted to make the most of their fortunate fates and never lost a sense of gratitude for what they had.”

These quotes aren’t half bad! I just wish there had been more of them. That’s really it. Ok, a few mentions of how Ira and Ruth first dated by walking next to each other on the way home from synagogue. But nothing about that intriguing identity of both southerner and Jew, and who had ever called him a Jew, or whether their religion played into their daily life. Was Sparks simply capitalizing on a sort of Holocaust sentimentality/pity party? If so, yech. The rest of the book is just a basic love story thing, intertwining Ira and Ruth’s story with the story of two younger people, a Wake Forest art nerd and a hot cowboy, and they all are connected at the end (nothing Jewish about the Wake Forest nerd or the cowboy. Well, the nerd’s parents are also immigrants but there’s nothing else about that). There is a major plotline about Ruth and Ira’s art collection, which they amass by Ruth having a knack for picking out artists who are unknown when she finds them but become really famous later. There could have been a lot here, such as if Ruth’s European relatives had artwork stolen by the Nazis, but Sparks makes no reference to that and so I’m not sure if he knew about it or just had vague ideas about there being “something” that connects European Jews and art and just leave it at that. At this point I’ve exhausted all my analytical prowess when it comes to Nicholas Sparks.

* To find this clip I googled “cheesiest scenes from The Notebook”

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Save the Deli

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Save the Deli  by David Sax. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: New York, 2009. This fall I started teaching a class on Jewish cooking for the JCC high school program. My idea for the class was that in addition to learning some … Continue reading

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All That Is

All That Is

by James Salter. New York: Knopf, 2013Image

I don’t remember where I read an advertisement blurb for James Salter’s new book, All That Is – maybe at the Jewish Book Council site? Maybe at the Forward? – and my google searches for it are now proving fruitless. But I’d never heard of Salter until I read a review of his most recent book, and I’ll admit I was a bit surprised he had been off my radar until now. The author of several books with Jewish themes, he’s also won a PEN/Faulkner and a PEN/Malamud.

All that Is does not seem to be explicitly about Judaism or Jewish characters. It is actually a sort of plotless novel (I think), following the arc of Philip Bowman’s life from his time leaving the Navy at the end of WWII through his career in the publishing world of New York from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. And in that way, it is implicitly about Judaism and Jewish characters. Bowman himself is not Jewish – his background is Italian – but his love of literature and ideas, and his observations about class and society, necessitate a lot of Jewish references.

For example, Bowman goes to work for a small publishing house headed by a man named Baum, who has a wife named Diana: “Diana Baum was an important influence on her husband though she very seldom appeared at the offices. She devoted herself to their child…and to literary criticism, writing a column for a small, liberal magazine, influential beyond its numbers, and she was a figure as a result.” Much later in the book Salter adds to his description of Diana that she “had grown up…on a diet of politics and current events in an apartment at the outer limit of respectability…her father had a small textile important business…from the time she was eight years old she read the Times every day, the four of them did, including the editorial page…”To this description I would just say:

As for Baum himself, “the family was Jewish and German and felt a kind of superiority. The city was filled with Jews, many of them poor on the Lower East Side and in the boroughs, but everywhere they were in their own world somewhat excluded from the greater one. Baum had known the experience of being an outsider and more at boarding school, where, despite his open nature, he made few friends.”

The theme of outsiders and social acceptability or class takes up most of the first half of the book, in an intriguing way. Bowman begins dating a girl named Vivian who is nice and pretty but “doesn’t read” as Bowman regretfully tells another woman later in the book. Bowman’s experiences visiting Vivian’s family home (well, one of the family homes) in Virginia, and the cold reception he gets from her father, echo the quote about Baum being an outsider. When Bowman meets Vivian’s father, George Amussen, for lunch to ask about marrying her, Salter provides Amussen’s internal monologue: “Amussen knew what the young man was there for, and in his mind he had laid out the salient points of his response…One of the chief and unaddressed dangers society faced, he believed, was mongrelization, free interbreeding that could in the end have only dire results…” Amussen does not give his blessing, but says that he “won’t stand in Vivian’s way,” so the two have  a wedding. Amussen, so seemingly proper about social class lines and morals in this sense, is shocking unscrupulous elsewhere, such as having sex with his daughter’s best friend who is visiting before the wedding.

The marriage is doomed from the start. At the aforementioned lunch, Amussen warns Bowman that Vivian might not “take to city life. She’s not one of those people…from the time she was just a little thing, she’s had her own horse.” If the Virginia WASPS have their horses, Bowman and his Jewish publishing friends have their books. Dinner party discussions at the Baums’ are about the latest book from the author Aronsky, who has written an account of a man who was supposedly one of Hitler’s high-ranking henchmen but secretly had been Jewish. After that dinner and the scintillating debate about this book, Bowman is exhilarated. In an ironic turn of thought, Bowman realizes that as much as Baum has been excluded from various parts of society, Bowman wants nothing more to belong to Baum’s world: “Dinner at the Baums’. It was admittance into their life, to some degree, into a world he admired.” Vivian, on the other hand, is less than impressed, and instead of sharing his exuberance, “she turned and kissed him briefly, as if dismissing him. She was suddenly like a stranger.”  So that’s the end of Vivian and Bowman.

The next 200 pages or so were a bit disappointing to me. I was intrigued by Salter’s portrayal of this culturally Jewish publishing world of the 50’s and 60’s, but that thread goes on the back burner while Salter’s search for love in all the wrong places takes the front. He is with several women who seem only vaguely interested in marriage and family, and more interested just in having a man around to date and, in one case, to basically bankrupt through a trick mortgage deal. There are a few brief sections that involve Bowman’s trips to England to visit a woman and to network with a prominent British (and likely Jewish) publisher named Bernard Wiberg. I would have loved to hear more about this Wiberg, but unfortunately he stays in the background.

In contrast to Bowman, who is unable to find or create a stable relationship, his publishing buddy Neil Eddins’ marriage testifies to the magic and beauty of real love. Eddins meets a divorcee named Dena, who has a young son from her first marriage, and falls in love not only with Dena herself but with her son and the family life that they create. When Dena and Leon are killed in a tragic train accident (sorry, I don’t know how else to get to reveal this quote) Eddins “…almost broke into tears over his loneliness and what he had lost. He saw them now for what they were and had been, the great days of love. She had given her love so completely, her great smile, her lighthearted foolishness. I love you so much-who could say that with the overwhelming truth of countless acts of love behind it? He hadn’t don’t all he should have, he should have given more. I would give it now, he thought, and he said it aloud, I would so much give it!” And, simultaneously, “Bowman had the other. Without a wife or girlfriend he had seemed settled into a single life, of habit…”

In the last fourth of the book, Salter picks up the outsider/Jewish theme again, initially with a few fun references to Saul Bellow and Susan Sontag. But then Bowman runs into an old publishing acquaintance, remarried to an Algerian Jewish woman. When they encounter each other at a restaurant and chat, “Bowman was more and more conscious of not being one of them, of being an outsider. They were a people, they somehow recognized and understood one another, even as strangers. They carried it in their blood, a thing you could not know…Baum was not religious and did not believe in a God who killed or let live according to an unknowable design…in his [Baum’s] deepest feelings, however, he accepted that he was one of his people and the God they believed in would always be his as well.” Bowman’s sense of being an outsider in regard to Jewish people is fascinating. Probably, the very people Bowman wishes to be part of, this bookish Jewish crowd, had in many ways to create an insular club simply because they were excluded from so many other societal realms. And yet here is a man, Bowman, who feels as though he, the Italian, the non-Jew, is the outsider to them! Bowman sees how this status change is not just for him, that perhaps Jews in New York and the intellectual world have become more accepted by all: “It was no longer women of an Eastern European swarm…it was now women who were glamorous and smart as in nineteenth-century Vienna…they were stylish, ambitious, at the center of things…their lives had warmth and no scorn of pleasure or material things. He might have married one and become part of that world, slowly being accepted into it like a convert…on the other hand, he could not really imagine it. He would never have belonged.”

I only wish that this had been more of the book, instead of the middle third all about Bowman’s successions of empty relationships, including a Humbert Humbert style episode in which he sleeps with the adolescent daughter of his ex-lover. The conversations that Bowman has with each woman, and the descriptions of their time together, are terse and sparse.. Perhaps this style is meant to convey the “heaviness” of their silence, or the things unsaid, or something, but to me it just seems awkward and unnecessarily fraught with neurosis and uncommunicativeness. But then, that might be showing just how much Bowman really is a part of the bookish Jewish/New York “intellectual” culture after all…

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A Town of Empty Rooms

A Town of Empty Rooms

by Karen Bender. Counterpoint Berkeley: 2013Image

I picked this book up because the summary that I read somewhere said it was the story of a Jewish family that relocates to a small town in the Bibe Belt and their experiences with the small congregation and esoteric rabbi there. Since I spent three years as a student rabbi in precisely such environments – meaning small congregations in very non-Jewish places – I was definitely intrigued.

I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t know how Bender got the material for this, though the back flap does say that she lives in Wilmington, North Carolina. But her descriptions are pretty similar to my own experiences, and it was both cathartic – even a few years out of rabbinic school –  and fascinating to read someone else’s  (especially someone who isn’t a rabbi or a Jewish professional) take on these types of Jewish communities.

The novel follows Serena and Dan Shine, who move tothe small town of Waring, North Carolina after Serena has a minor break-down and is fired from her PR job in New York. Waring apparently had a job ready for Dan. Neither Serena nor her husband nor their two small children were involved in the Jewish community previously, but upon moving to Waring somehow, for Serena, it becomes important. Also, she has to find a new job, and the small Reform temple needs a receptionist.

Bender’s description of the people who make up this fictional congregation really does match up with the characters of my own experiences. It seems that none of the players here are under the age of 40, and no small children or teens or “youth.” The rabbi, in his first stateside pulpit after serving as a military chaplain for a number of years, has big plans to establish the “Southeast North Carolina Jewish Community Center” though he lacks a building, funds to build it or create it, and any real enthusiasm from his congregation. The book jacket summary says that the rabbi, a Rabbi Golden, is “esoteric” but I think a more appropriate word would be “erratic.” Or crazy. He initially draws Serena in with his “ability” to perceive her sadness, and his willingness to take her on as a member of the congregation (little does Serena know, it seems, how desperate a small congregation like that would be for a new member).

Rabbi Golden, in contrast to her husband Dan, listens to Serena’s newfound uncertainties about being Jewish in small North Carolina town. Serena and Dan take opposing strategies in how to get along with their goyische neighbors: Dan wants to take the appeasement route and make nice with everyone while Serena finds herself wanting to confront what she sees as real hostility. Dan leaps at the opportunity to enroll his son in Boy Scouts (probably not something that happens in New York City? I don’t know for sure) and envisions the two of them as leaders covered in badges. Serena, meanwhile, wants to talk to Rabbi Golden about her son’s puzzlement after being told on the playground that Jesus created the world. Serena and Dan have a weird neighbor, some variety of southern hick, who seems friendly at first but becomes increasingly aggressive, at one point campaigning in the public school to bring “Christ” back into Christmas and repeatedly asking Serena why she won’t support it – though he knows that they are Jewish.

It doesn’t take long, though, for Serena to change her view of the rabbi. His empathy becomes erratic, and congregants longing for a prayer or some solace have to hope they have come at the right time, when he won’t be annoyed and slam the office door on them or become enraged because they sat in his chair. Serena’s internal alarms go off as he waxes enthusiastically about a decrepit former elementary school that he thinks he can somehow turn into his Jewish community center project. And soon a showdown comes between Rabbi Golden and the Temple board, which is fed up with his “moods” and his antics. Quite possibly the best scene in the book for me was the epic fit that Rabbi Golden throws on the bimah when the board votes to fire him:

“ ‘You have a list of your grievances?’ He said the word slowly, in a sneer. ‘So do I. Carmella, oh, Carmella. Come on. How dare you think you now how to run a service…Rosalie Goldenhauer. You’re an idiot. It’s true…’

The congregation sat, frightened, rapt. No one moved. It was strangely mesmerizing, this vision of him storming back and forth, demeaning the congregants. It was, truthfully, sad but compelling hearing him call the congregants idiots. More than one…It seemed an impossible fact, that he could hate them! But it was true…His face grew pink, and he picked up the microphone. ‘Shalom and good night,’ he said.”

The extent of this rabbi’s eccentricity is, of course, in the fact that he says the things no one should say in public, especially not to the nice little old ladies on the small Temple board.  I don’t know if this scene is that much more funny to anyone who’s dealt with a Temple board, a small congregation, or any committee in general. But, as Serena realizes that this rabbi is not her personal messiah, Dan simultaneously realizes that his neighbor – and more of the town that he wanted to think – really is anti-Semitic. The neighbor, Forrest, accuses Dan and his son of cheating during the Scouts’ boxcar derby: “ ‘We don’t know you,’ Forrest said. ‘We don’t know what, uh, the rules are in that Jewish church…’”

I think Bender brings a good perspective to the world of contemporary Jewish fiction. Jewish life in small southern towns doesn’t get a ton of press, which makes sense, because proportionally it is much less significant than Jewish life on either coast. But it’s still important, and it’s still interesting. If this book had been written by a rabbi or some other Jewish professional – and I’m glad it wasn’t, as I think Bender’s take as a ‘secular’ person is far more interesting – probably the Institute for Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) would have made an appearance. The ISJL, known to most rabbis in the southeastern United States, assists small congregations in majorly non-Jewish towns precisely such as the one in this book. So resources are available for those that want them; no one should seem as isolated or struggle as much as the congregation does in this particular book. But the problems of this fictional congregation aren’t unique to their southern locale: plenty of small congregations across the country are finding themselves without anyone under forty, squabbling over petty details (well, this is sort of a time-honored tradition in some places), and dealing with strange rabbis.

I worried for a bit that Bender was going to down the route of caricature, portraying all the residents as anti-Semitic and therefore equating that with small town/southern America. The truth is that there’s plenty of anti-Semitism to go around anywhere you like, whether it’s in the major elite liberal institutions or the Bible Belt. For every neighbor like Forrest, there are neighbors who are devout Christians who have a special place in their hearts for Jewish people, and who make endearing overtures and gestures to include everyone.

Serena’s situation is probably not unique, either: that of finding that in a town where everyone else is decidedly not Jewish (unlike, say, New York) it becomes that much more important to find a Jewish community and establish your own Jewish identity. While Dan tries to fight it at first, he finds he cannot. After the shock of the job loss and a major move, Serena and Dan seem to find both healing and regain their connection through their experience as Jews in Waring, North Carolina.

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Second Person Singular

KashuaSecond Person Singular

by Sayed Kashua. Grove Press: 2010.

I didn’t expect to like this book. It’s probably because I’m a little ideologically close-minded on this topic – well, what I thought would be the topic of this book. I thought it would be a book about how unjust and terrible life is for Palestinian Arabs living in Israel, as seen through the eyes of the misunderstood and downtrodden protagonists. But the book was delightfully surprising in several ways. First, the plot, with the mystery of possible adultery and the absorbing drama of the lawyer, his wife, and a young Arab man taking care of a comatose Israeli man, is good on narrative points alone. Second, the prose is just the right blend of understated, descriptive, and psychologically perceptive. And finally, the whole Arab-Israeli conflict thing is presented in such an unexpectedly unique and complex way (to me) that all I could do, really, was admire Kashua’s ability to integrate so many elements into one relatively short novel.

The story alternates between two narrators: a wealthy Arab lawyer (never named) and a young Arab man, Amir. They are, like most normal people, far more concerned with their personal lives (specifically, love lives) than with overarching political events. But because they live in Israel, where the personal is political and vice versa, elements of the unique political situation in Israel are inevitably part of it all. The lawyer and the young man seem to be initially set up as opposites:  the lawyer is wealthy and established while the young man is barely scraping by and trying to figure out his profession in life, and Kashua sets them up as possible romantic rivals. Yet they have striking similarities. For example, each man’s name is ambiguous:  “The lawyer” is always referred to as such, never by his real name, and the young jumps between his given Arab name and an Israeli identity that he steals. The men actually seem to be in similar positions in their relationship to other Israeli Arabs, as well. Both men desire to be good Israeli citizens, simply getting on with their lives and their jobs, and they both often express annoyance with more rebellious and/or contentious factions of Palestinian Arabs. And yet both men seem to experience similar discrimination – whether real or perceived on their part only- as Arabs in Jerusalem.

The differences in Amir and the lawyer’s lives are highlighted by descriptions of daily amenities: the lawyer’s expensive car, Amir’s squalid apartment that he shares, and the differences in their food.  As the book opens, the lawyer is rushing to pick up the sushi order for a dinner party that he and his wife are hosting that evening. The rest of the menu for that evening includes “arugula salad with a balsamic dressing, pumpkin ravioli, and entrecote steaks in a cream and mushroom sauce, along with a potato pastry” (34) served with wine. This meal is followed by an official dinner table discussion topic: “nationalist education and the absence of a Palestinian narrative within the Israeli ministry of education’s curricula for the Arab citizens of Israel.” The other members of the dinner party are of equal status to the lawyer and his wife – one is a gynecologist, another is an accountant, and their wives hold advanced graduate degrees. Yet far from being a rote recitation of Palestinian national arguments, Kashua demonstrates the complex feelings of these particular party attendees regarding the topic.  His description of the woman leading the discussion, how she “carried on” for “many long minutes” and that this topic happened to be her PhD topic, signal the possibility that Kashua/the lawyer is not exactly a staunch supporter of this viewpoint. Furthermore, “the lawyer noticed that all present, but particularly the males, were looking fatigued by the all-too-familiar lecture…” In truth, the lawyer relates, “the parents of all those present…understood the importance of education…but academic achievements were one thing and a firm knowledge of the essentials of Western culture quite another…like all now present, he, too, consoled himself with the thought that the Jewish students were certainly ignorant of Arab culture, but he had to admit that most of that culture was frankly not worthy of being called art…after all, the decision to found a mixed school, to send their children off to study with Jews, the lawyer thought, was not borne of shared ideals or a dedication to coexistence, as the brochures claimed and the philanthropists believed; the Arab parents simply wanted their children to soak up Western culture, for their children to learn from the Jews that which they themselves could not provide.” (39)

In contrast to the lawyer’s sushi, Amir is repeatedly sent out by his lazy coworkers to retrieve breakfast for the office from Abu-Ali’s hummus shop: “…he’d make the usual – three orders of hummus with fava beans, one with chickpeas and spicy sauce; one plate of sliced tomato, cucumber, onion, green pepper, and pickles; one plate of felafel balls; and four glass bottles of Coke.” (68) And Amir’s apartment, which he shares with two other single men, leaves much to be desired in terms of cleanliness and heat. The lawyer drives a black Mercedes and reflects that the car is an “integral part” of his “campaign” to be the number one Arab criminal defense lawyer in the city; while Amir and his roommates can only discuss, at length, their dream cars and “a BMW was the ultimate vehicle.”

For the lawyer, the car also reminds him that he has to present himself in ways that he feels his Jewish peers do not. In the parking lot of his kids’ school, he notices that “The Jews’ cars were modest, affordable, generally products of Japan or Korea. The Arabs’ cars were expensive and German, with massive engines…not that the parents of the Jewish kids earned less…but as opposed to the Arab parents, the Jewish parents were not in competition, none of them felt they had to prove their success to peers…” (13). What is unexpected is that it seems that the lawyer means he has to not only prove his success to other Israelis but also to other Palestinians – he opens his office on King George street in order to gain respect of his east Jerusalem patrons. Amir, too, seems to experience those places in which it would all just be a bit easier if he were Jewish, eventually leading him to take on the identity of the comatose Israeli man – Yonatan – for whom he works as a night nurse.

Yet as Amir/Yonatan sits in the offices of the prestigious – and ideologically left-wing and liberal – art school Bezalel, waiting for an interview, another student jokes about one’s chances of getting in: “ ‘…But this is Bezalel. They’d kill to have an Arab in the program…’” (201). Adding to the complexity, though, Amir decides to take on the Israeli identity Yonatan because he feels it is easier for him to get basic jobs, such as working in a café, as an Israeli rather than an Arab. And he wants to be known as the Israeli Yonatan in Bezalel precisely because he doesn’t want to be admitted as the token Arab student rather than on the merits of his work. Kashua mocks the hypocrisy of the left-wing Bezaleler’s, who presume to be so open-minded, as they are seen through Amir masquerading as an Israel: “At Bezalel, I, a left-wing liberal like most of the students, learned that Arabs are horny, that they think with their dicks…I learned that they’re unpredictable and can be aggressive. Honor is desperately important tot hem…Arabs are more impulsive, more animalistic…it does not mean that we should be occupying them, that is not what it means, but it’s such a shame that they don’t change, that they can’t really be trusted.” (p 285).

Amir’s feelings of cultural separateness at Bezalel are far from relieved when he goes home to “the Triangle” to visit his mother and adoptive grandmother. There he remembers his fellow Arab childhood tormentors who teased him mercilessly for being a village “outsider” and now somehow still have power over him: “I couldn’t figure out how it was that these overgrown kids could still intimidate me…you idiots, you assholes, if only you knew what I know…the peak achievements of your lives are to be in charge of a construction site or to make your Jewish clients happy…none of you will ever manage to escape from the trap in which you were born…and especially you, the men, who think you’re so tough and manly…you are the very essence of human trash. Keep on prancing with your guns, keep on puffing up your chests while you do the Debka dance at weddings, keep on marrying virgins and let them preserve your honor and your male delusions…” (274).

These few examples surely demonstrate Kashua’s mastery in conveying complexity and the ability of a person to hold several viewpoints – some of them contradictory – at once. Far from being the “same old” left-wing novel about the plight of Palestinian Arabs, Kashua has a compelling read, regardless of politics. The political overtones here work more to draw in the reader, and get readers more and more invested in the lives of Amir and the lawyer as the novel progresses.  And I would say that the book even hedges more toward the right-wing side of things, with Amir’s thoughts about Bezalel’s affirmative action, the lawyer’s annoyance at his dinner party lecture topics, and so on.

What of the title itself? I want to mention that the one-word chapter titles are part of the prose, too, usually naming an item that is somehow significant in the upcoming chapter. While in the first section, the items are fairly ordinary – “bed,” “letter,” “discussion,” in parts two and three they seem to become more random and more intriguing: “jelly,” “rotary telephone,” “spoon, lemon wedge, lighter.”  Their seeming randomness is delightful as one hunts in each chapter the mention of that item.

For me, the grammatical category of “second person singular” in regard to anything Hebrew brings to mind the Ten Commandments. One of their grammatical peculiarities is that they are written in second person singular, as though God/Moses is speaking individually to each person, yet they were delivered by God/Moses to the whole group of Israelites (thus one would expect them to be in second person plural). Maimonides explained this away by saying God originally spoke them just to Moses. But others have used this for more symbolic and metaphorical thinking. In his recent book The Ten Commandments, David Hazony writes of this idiosyncrasy:

“In the original Hebrew grammar, each [commandment ] appears in the second person singular: You, the individual, shall not murder or steal…The Ten Commandments are…the establishment of every person as a responsible sovereign in his own world, who has the power to represent the moral vision one arth, but who as a result must take ultimate responsibility for his own life, and for the values and morals that underlie each and every action he takes…we can make a good society, but only if we insist on being good people and if we raise our children to be good people as well…we know it is possible, because in some cases we have risen above the barbaric basin from which the West emerged – rampant murder and theft being examples where Western societies have worked hard to stamp them out and teach their wrongfulness….”

With Amir’s disgust at his fellow villagers “prancing with your guns” and the lawyer’s wish to simply give his children the western education that was so hard for him to get – is is possible Kashua had these ideas in mind as he wrote this?

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