Monday, September 15, 2008

Waking Up To Banned Books: Toronto Jews Talk American Politics

I know one American. And he's not American, really. His mother was born in New York, and so he's been gifted with the right (or privilege--however you see it) to vote in the upcoming U.S. election.

"What do you think of Obama?" he asked me.

"I think he's an idealist."


"So, all he has to do is believe he can fly."

"I don't get it."

"Wendy. Captain Hook. Understand?"


"I like him better than the rich white guy and his rich white wife and their rich white Roy Cohn."

"Roy Cohn?"


"Oh, right. Well, I don't know. I don't know about him. Obama, I mean."

"I can understand that. But change might be good. Even if it lacks substance, even if it doesn't work."

"I'm going to vote for McCain: he's good for Israel."

And that's the way that Toronto Jews see it. They actually follow American politics; they're interested in American intrigue. Our politics is--that's right, it's singular--awful. Boring, stupid, and completely devoid of characters. Our prime minister once took his children to a coal mine. When they got bored, complaining that they wanted to go home, he told them that they couldn't leave or they'd miss the tonnage.

So we follow American politicians. But democrat, republican, or otherwise, only one thing matters: Israel.

Which is why Sarah Palin is really scaring Toronto's Jewish community. Remember that story about Palin trying to ban certain books? This was up in Alaska, in her district schools and libraries. The list--apocryphal as it may be--is long: Catch-22, Portnoy's Complaint, Herzog, The Naked and the Dead, The Magic Barrel, The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel, Tuesdays with Morrie. Starting to see a connection here? (Hint: unleavened bread is somehow involved.)

"She bans books," my grandmother said. "I don't like that. I think that people should be able to read what they want and make their own choices."

"She banned Silas Marner my grandfather said. Silas Marner! Why?"

"That list was wrong," I said. "Don't trust it."

"What about Heller, Roth, Albom?" my grandfather shouted. "She banned them all."

"I'm telling you: don't trust the list."

"She bans Malamud. What'd he ever do to anyone. Ban Richard Wright, for crissakes. He killed someone."

"No he didn't."

"Look it up! David," he was getting conspiratorial, "listen to me: She's banning Jewish books. She's banning all of them. Think about it: What does this mean for Israel?"


"She hunts, David! She shoots animals for fun, then eats them. Do you think she cares about 2.5 million Jews?"

"How's that an argument?"

"Her husband's the First Dude. He rides dogs to work. German Shepherds. You know where they used German Shepherds?"

"Yes, I do."

"Did you see her campaign manager? David, did you see him? He's Jewish! He's a Jew. David, she made him wear a pinstripe suit. David, did you see the yellow kerchief in his breast pocket? Did you see how it was folded? Five points. She made him wear that."

"Go golfing, Zaida. Pick up your clubs, and go play golf."

"You and everyone else. You'll see."

My grandmother sipped her hot water and lemon. "To ban books? In this day. I can't believe it. And especially Portnoy's Complaint. That wasn't even dirty."

"Yes, it was. It was incredibly dirty. Almost as dirty as Henry Miller."

"Oh, she banned him too."

"Miller? Well, maybe she's not so bad."

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