Curly Hamson and the Jewish Money

 

Curly Hamson and the Jewish Money

By Carl Schiffman

 

The three men who came to Curly Hamson’s office by appointment that afternoon had the gloomy aspect of funeral directors or salesmen of cemetery lots. They were in their mid to late thirties, beautifully dressed in dark pin-striped suits, and exuded a fragrant aura of expensive talcum, cologne, and aftershave.
 
“Curly Hamson, pleased to meet you.” Hamson came out from behind his desk to shake hands. “Take a seat.”  The men shook hands and smiled their tight smiles, took seats on the couch and chair facing the desk.
 
“Like I said on the phone, we’re from an organization called The Fourth Choice. We have what might be a very good deal, an effortless assignment for good pay to offer you.”
 
“I’m sorry. You haven’t told me your names. That’s not how I do business. My name, in case you hadn’t noticed, is printed on the outside door, and it’s what I said aloud when I introduced myself.”
 
“Do our names matter? Our money has presidents’ names on it.”
 
Hamson laughed. “You know, The Fourth Choice, I can’t find it listed anywhere, not in Dunn & Bradstreet, not in any non-profit directory, not on the Web. You don’t drop the mask, show me some ID that I can verify, then this short meeting just ended.”
 
“We’re talking about substantial dollars, twenty-five hundred, for the use of your name on a mailing to a couple of hundred people, nothing more. Nothing illegal, I promise you.”
 
“Would you let somebody sit in your office and take up your time whose name you didn’t know? I’m not a hotel lobby, I’m not a fast food joint, I don’t let just anybody walk in.” Hamson stood. He was not tall nor was he particularly strongly built, but his clothing, florid and ill-fitting, off a rack, looked as though it were far better prepared for combat than the hand-tailored suits of his visitors.
 
“You can give me your business cards, all three of you, and then show me some photo-ID for confirmation, and then we can chat away like old buddies about how much money you’re willing to pay me for how little work.”
 
The three men just sat for a moment, then one of them sighed and reached for his wallet; Hamson stared at the other two, who reluctantly followed suit. “No. Fourth Choice cards won’t do it. I remember the Rockford Files where he printed his own. I want business ID I can check. Thanks. Just a second now, please.” Hamson took time to check the second business cards against other personal ID, then went to his computer terminal and conjured directories.
 
Hamson swung back to face the men. “Okay. Now we know who you are: Myron, Paul, and Lenny, not exactly the Three Stooges.” He studied their business cards, then shook his head in perplexity. “I don’t get it. I’ve never done a Jewish event in my life. What do you want me for?”
 
“Before we say anything, we want it understood that this visit is confidential. We’re not representing the organizations on those cards. This is something else, something new, something we don’t want the places we work for to know about.”
 
“You want my name to hide behind?”
 
Myron, the eldest and most self-assured of the three, waved the others to silence. “That’s right. We have names, Jewish donors, prospects for a new organization, but they cannot know, especially our employers cannot know, who gave this new organization, the Fourth Choice  – not incorporated yet, not necessarily a non-profit, which is why you couldn’t find it – their names. You have a reputation for throwing terrific parties, you also have a certain status because of that Communist Party business last year where you never revealed the source of the eleven million bucks, so if our prospects get invited to, say a dinner, given by the Fourth Choice, but catered by Curly Hamson Associates, there’s a lot better chance they’ll come.”
 
“Especially since it’s a free ride. No charge to them. We provide the drinks, the dinner, we have the lecturer lined up, and we just want your help in getting him an audience. We’ll do all the work and pay you say twenty-five hundred – no, say three thousand bucks for the privilege of using your name on the invitation.”
 
“I’m flattered. But you want my name on an event, then Curly Hamson Associates runs the event. You tell me everything, all about what you’re trying to sell, then I suggest the site, provide the food, entertainment, everything except your lecturer and his sales pitch, and I’m usually asked for my input on that, too. Now if we’re talking about a relatively small event, under two hundred people say, then– ”
 
“More like fifty or sixty if we’re lucky, but all people we know, all deep pockets.”
 
“Then it will probably cost you twenty to thirty thousand bucks; a name entertainer – as opposed to mere “entertainment” – could run you another ten. Once I know what you’re after, I could run your names through my system, maybe find you some likely prospects you hadn’t thought of. No extra charge. It’s a service I offer all my clients; one of the reasons they flock to me is that I have so many useful names to add to their lists.”
 
“Will you excuse us, please?” The three men turned their backs on Hamson, and whispered intently.
 
“Okay, the money is a lot more than we figured on, but we have a source, and we’d have to pay for the dinner anyway, so maybe you’re worth it. The main thing for us is that our names be kept absolutely confidential. Word gets out that we’re involved in the Fourth Choice, we lose our jobs.”
 
“Not just our jobs, lose our ability to ever again work in Jewish fundraising, lose our livelihoods. We are not going to be at this dinner, we are not even going to be in the city when it comes off. Maybe it’s just as well that we leave responsibility for the evening in your capable hands.”
 
“I look forward to making my services known to the Jewish community. Very generous people, I believe. The highest rate of per capita giving in the country. No wonder you guys get so rich.”
 
*
 
“Ladies and gentlemen, good evening – good late afternoon I suppose I should say – my name is Josh Lechter and I’m the guy from the Fourth Choice who’s going to be the voice in your ear, I hope not too insistently, for the next few hours. I want to repeat that there will be absolutely no attempt made to raise money from you during this evening or any time soon afterwards. You will probably have noticed, those of you, which is most of you, who are used to such events, that we did not even trouble to collect your invitations at the door or to check your names off against a list. In fact, although we do know, generally speaking, who is here because of your having responded to our invitation, we have carefully kept your name off the invitation itself so that the brief questionnaire – five or six yes or no questions to be answered at the end of the evening, our only request – can be answered with full confidentiality. We are testing the waters for a new idea, possibly a non-profit organization, possibly a commercial money-making enterprise, deeply involved with the notion of Jewish identity in America, and we are seeking your input, paying for it, you might say, with an educational, and we hope entertaining in the best sense, evening on the town.
 
“We chose the Gotham Club here off Fifth Avenue as a starting point because until 1949 this club had never had a Jewish member, while now three Directors of the Club and a goodly percentage of the membership are members of our faith. Clubs like these were for many years bastions of the white Protestant Establishment, defined by whom they excluded. And their influence was national because of membership exchange agreements with other similarly restrictive clubs throughout the country. We wanted to start and end our journey through differing aspects of Jewish identity with images of assimilation,” he laughed, “as well as with fine champagne and hors d’oeuvres as an earnest expression of our good intentions. We will return you here after dinner, that’ll probably be between eight and eight-thirty, for those of you who have transportation concerns. If any of you absolutely have to leave early, please let me know now and we’ll make arrangements for private car service from the restaurant, actually two restaurants, in which we’ll be dining. Our transportation is ready; won’t you please follow me? Sit wherever you like.”
 
The bus, one of only two of its type in the United States according to Curly Hamson, had been brought over by a European group running luxury tours of the American West. The seats were of leather, high backed, independent, with full armrests, and could turn freely left and right to capture the views on either side. The ceiling was all glass and the sides as unobstructed as possible. There were toilets and a food service area with a full bar; there was a sophisticated speaker system so that Lechter’s voice came quietly from many speakers, never seemed forced or assaultive or even unnaturally amplified.
 
Lechter allowed the guests time to settle into their seats and to order drinks, to admire midtown sliding by, Fifth Avenue and then Broadway below Twenty-third Street, before telling them their first stop would be the Holocaust museum “with the unbroken view across New York Harbor to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, a whole lecture without words about the experience of America for the Jews.
 
“Most of you will have already visited the museum, I’m sure,” Lechter said, “but we will be visiting parts usually closed to the public, seeing artifacts generally kept out of view, talking to a survivor of Auschwitz who will help place in its context what the museum shows, reflecting the reality that lay behind what are now frozen images.”
 
A severe-looking elderly man was waiting to greet them at the museum entrance. The building had already closed for the day, most of the public spaces were dark. “I’ve been told to be brief,” the man said, his accent European but not readily identifiable, “and also that you are a very knowledgeable group, you do not need to have the ABC’s spelled out for you, nor will you want to see terrible photographs you have seen too many times already. I have a selection of documents to show that are not usually shown, partly because they are not obviously dramatic, but more perhaps – even if that is not why they were originally collected – because they suggest thoughts, imply conclusions, that the public at large, the Jewish public, is not comfortable with; increasingly uncomfortable, in fact, as time goes by.”
 
He led them through a door marked “Staff” and into a large conference room. The chairs had been pulled back to the wall and the large table was totally covered with printed lists, registers, identity cards, and other documents whose import was not immediately clear.
 
“These are surviving membership records of some Jewish synagogues, social and communal organizations; neat, well-organized records, without which, we all know, the identification, concentration, and extermination of the Jews could not have been so efficiently handled.
 
“These are press or publicity photos, taken mostly in the 1920s, some few taken as late as 1936 or ’37, my personal collection, faces I study and study, of the Jewish leaders who cooperated to one degree or another with the Nazis in deluded hopes of saving something from the wreckage. These were the men and women, well-meaning all of them, whose organizations helped to identify and assemble the victims so they could be shipped to the gas chambers. This is not to say that the Jews would not have been victims without these organizations, but only that their absence would have made it more difficult for the Nazis to find the Jews to kill.”
 
The visit was quite brief; their guide did not solicit questions and none were asked. The guests glanced at the photographs, handled some of the documents, murmured among themselves.
 
“We’ll barely have time for a drink before our next stop so please let the attendant know if you’d like something. The ride to dinner, which comes after our stop at the World Financial Center, will be more like two drinks long.”
 
The tone of the guests – as Lechter had been told to anticipate – was subdued, but there was a new tension, an uncertainty about the shape of the evening, about what Fourth Choice was driving at, that had not been present on the drive to the museum.
 
“Ladies and gentlemen, our next stop is an office whose existence, while certainly not illegal, is not known to the general public. Our friends there are being particularly accommodating in receiving us, and we know that you will respect their understandable desire for confidentiality. The World Financial Center existed in the shadow of the Twin Towers and has already survived one of the great tragedies in American history. We wouldn’t want to increase its likelihood of facing another.”
 
It was after five, parking was difficult, and they had to make their way across the pedestrian bridge against the flow of the home-going crowds. Separate elevators making no other stops carried the group to one of the highest stories.
“Right this way,” Lechter announced when they had reassembled. “Ignore the name on the door. Even if this were just a tourist office, there would still be good reason to be discreet.”
 
As they approached, bolts sounded, locks turned, and a steel-backed door opened. The man who greeted them was in his early sixties, strongly built, casually dressed. The left side of his face was badly disfigured, the visible portion of his left arm was clearly a prosthesis.
 
“Welcome,” the man said, “to the catalog store. This operation, everything I show you, will be totally Internet by the time our lease runs out next year. We are in the process of designing and securitizing the website; our great difficulty will be in checking the validity of the buyers’ credentials.” He grinned with half his mouth. “Can you imagine the messes we could step into if we got careless? Not that we don’t stock the appropriate remedies for all these nasty minor poisons. If you’ll just face that wall, I can show you pretty much life-size what our website will have to reduce to display. I understand that both your time and probably your technical interest in these materials is limited, so I’m going to spare you the text and let the visuals speak for themselves.”
 
For the next several minutes, the visitors were treated to a dizzying full-wall display of military and police equipment; a mixture of slide show and digital TV that seemed momentarily to fill the room with weaponry. “Everything you see here was designed and manufactured in Israel. I am a government representative and this is a showroom for government sales only. None of this equipment is physically here, not in this office, this city, not in the United States at all, except to the extent that we have been successful in selling some of our products to your government, governments I should say; city, state, and federal agencies can all legally purchase our goods. This office is chiefly for foreign sales, the merchandise selected and ordered here, but shipped from Israel. Some of our customers are not at liberty to shop in Israel. All of this is part of our attempt to be autonomous, not just in weapons for ourselves, but economically, in terms of foreign trade. America and American Jews have been very generous; the early years, our survival, would not have been possible without your support. But we wish to stand totally on our own feet, not to feel concerned for our survival when the political situation in the United States or the concerns of generous American Jews like yourselves change as politicians and generations change. We have President Obama to contend with now, the J Street peaceniks. We can't afford to be vulnerable.”
 
“You were involved in some of the fighting yourself?”
 
“Nineteen sixty-seven, in Sinai. I was practically a child. My father fought in forty-eight and fifty-six. I have a son and a daughter who have both been in the military, but who were spared Lebanon and Gaza, and have never fired a shot. I hope to have grandchildren who never have to wear a uniform. Anyway, our economy is moving beyond military hardware the way it moved beyond peddling fruit and vegetables. High tech, computer software, even video games, that’s where our economic future lies. Give us peace, and we become the Silicon Valley of the Middle East. Jews opened Europe to international trade, to high-tech banking, in the Middle Ages. We can do even more now, because we have our own land to stand on. Anyway, so much of the world is so badly governed, this arms business will go on for a while yet.” He laughed. “After all, we still peddle fruit and vegetables. Now we sell fine wine from the Golan Heights.”
 
“Dinner next,” Lechter announced as they crowded back onto the bus. “Incidentally, the wine we’re serving on the bus and will be serving with dinner is all Israeli, although not necessarily from the Golan."
 
The bus, creeping through late rush hour traffic, worked its way east and uptown to Delancey Street, then took the upper deck of the Williamsburg Bridge: impressive views of the city at dusk through all the windows.
 
“Most of you know this, of course, but what happened when this bridge was built a hundred years ago was that the German and then Jewish populations of the Lower East Side flooded across and created new neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Williamsburg, where we will be going for dinner, was Jewish long before the Hasidim came and took over the neighborhood.
 
“We thought we’d bring you here for dinner because although this is as densely Orthodox – the Satmar Hasidim – as say Crown Heights or Borough Park, it’s not as well known, might not be someplace you have visited before. I’ll show you the restaurant where the first two-thirds of our dinner is scheduled, and which is open now for cocktails for those of you who aren’t interested in exploring Lee Avenue for twenty minutes or so before dinner. There is plenty of storage space, including refrigerated space, on the bus, in case you’re tempted to buy some kosher delicacies. The driver will stay on to help you. And not to worry, those of you who don’t speak Yiddish, the shopkeepers all speak English.”
 
Bearded men in fur-trimmed hats, long black gabardine coats; women in ankle-length dresses, wearing kerchiefs or modest hats, filled the streets. There were children everywhere, and clusters of baby carriages were parked outside bakeries and grocery stores, butcher shops and delicatessens, and appetizing stores. A surprising number of the mothers, although they dressed like middle-aged women, were still in their teens or early twenties. Some of the shops had signs only in Hebrew characters. There were many wall posters in  Yiddish. Ranks of yellow buses were parked on some of the side streets. The Manhattan skyline, backlit by the sunset, appeared, and then vanished at the ends of streets.
 
*
 
“Excuse me!” Josh Lechter rapped his tea glass with a spoon. “May I have your attention, please? I’d like to talk to you for about fifteen minutes, no more, maybe a few minutes less, about what this busy evening is intended to demonstrate. I realize you haven’t finished your desserts yet, but we’re running a bit late and I know some of you have trains to catch or other engagements. Don’t stop eating. I don’t mind talking through the sounds of tableware, and besides what I have to say is not that complicated.
 
“You were not invited at random. We have reason to believe, because we know something about the pattern of your charitable giving and because of things you’ve said to people who are friends both of yours and ours, that the forms, aspects, whatever you want to call them, touchstones of Jewish identity we have visited this evening are no longer as compelling for you as they used to be. Even before the Market collapse of 2008, and Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme and the other hedge fund predators and real estate racketeers did their worst, you had cut back on your contributions to Jewish organizations, and your children, to the extent they are wealthy enough to undertake charitable giving at all, are mostly even more detached from Jewish causes than you are. The Orthodox, the Israelis, the direct descendants of Holocaust survivors, do not intermarry at the same rate as your own highly assimilated, generally very well-educated children, closing in on sixty percent. Will most of your grandchildren even think of themselves as Jewish? It’s an open question.
 
“I don’t wish to offend or appear to be belittling those of you who can satisfy your need to assert or maintain your Jewish identity by supporting what we call the ‘three choices,’ that is to say, the Jewish religion, the State of Israel, and Jewish social and cultural agencies, including agencies like the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith which defend American Jews against present discrimination, and other agencies which seek to preserve the memory of the Holocaust or seek indemnification for surviving victims or their descendants. All of these are ways of being Jewish and if they satisfy you, then the Fourth Choice, which is far more radical, may simply offend you. We hope you’ll offer us a polite listen and in return I promise to be very succinct in my presentation of what the Fourth Choice is. I will take questions afterwards, so if it turns out I’ve been too brief, left too much unsaid, the main gaps can be filled.
 
“First thing. I am not myself Jewish, not Jewish anymore. My name is not legally Josh Lechter anymore, that was my Jewish name; my new name, my Fourth Choice name, is Mitchell Last, Mitch Last. My children’s names – they are just grade school age now – have also been changed, as has my wife’s first name; her maiden name was sufficiently neutral. We have all also become members of a Protestant church, a non-evangelical denomination. Fourth Choice is not the creation, the intended creation, of any specific Christian denomination. We want to make it possible for former Jews to enter whatever Christian church in their community offers them the best chance to associate with people whose non-religious tastes and interests, whose social standing, is closest to their own.
 
“We believe that Reform Judaism has been so watered down in order not to offend Christians, to imitate them, that actually becoming Christian seems like the most reasonable next step. Our study of demographics, of steadily declining Reform membership and contributions, absolutely bears us out. Reform Judaism has no formal status in Israel, and even here in the United States it is the Orthodox community that is growing most rapidly while the Reform community is intermarrying itself into oblivion.
 
“For us who have left Judaism rather than accept a watered-down version, to be a religious Jew means to obey the traditional laws and observances of the religion; it means to put God and observance at the very center of one’s life; it means to celebrate the Sabbath and strictly to follow kashrut, the dietary laws we have acknowledged tonight by eating only in kosher restaurants. And of course it also means confining the lives of our wives and daughters to the narrow traditional roles Orthodox Judaism allows. This is simply unthinkable for many of us. Contemporary Protestants are a lot kinder to their women, treat them with greater respect, than their devout Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim counterparts.
 
“Similarly, we find that the State of Israel has established its independence and autonomy, especially in military matters, to the point where only paranoiacs believe that American money for arms is necessary to secure Israeli survival. Israel’s greatest problems are internal: they have to do with resolving contradictions between secularism and Orthodoxy, continued settlement or negotiated withdrawal. The only way to affect that debate is to move to Israel and participate in it. Action at a distance is rapidly becoming meaningless.
 
“The Holocaust ended over seventy years ago. There is a certain reluctance among many Jews to identify themselves as victims, especially those of us American Jews who see that other ethnic groups – especially Blacks, but also Hispanics, Orientals, and Native Americans, and Catholics during their years of heavy immigration – have borne the brunt of discrimination in the United States. American Jews – assimilated Jews like us, especially are a success story in the United States. The serious question raised by history is whether we will be allowed to enjoy that success in peace – whether our assimilation will keep going on as it has while we continue to identify ourselves as Jews. The lesson that Fourth Choice drew from the experience of the Holocaust, from the behavior of non-Jews in countries like Germany and France, Austria and Hungary, where the Jews thought themselves, or some of them did, to be as assimilated as some of us think ourselves here, is that Jews are not safe anywhere where they maintain their separate identity. Jews are safe in Israel. Israel exists because Jews know that they are not safe – as Jews! – anyplace else.
 
“Fourth Choice is a resource for assimilated non-observant American Jews, who do not have – or no longer have – a strong identification with Israel and who are not interested in dwelling on ghettos, pogroms, the Holocaust, or the bimillennial history of Jewish oppression. For Americans who want their children or grandchildren simply to be Americans without having to carry the unnecessary burden of a religion which they do not practice or a cultural heritage of victimization with which they do not identify. The United States, unlike most European countries, does not require internal identity papers, and the papers we do require, drivers’ licenses for instance, passports for foreign travel, Social Security cards, do not customarily list religion. Nor do our birth certificates. Only the military, at the time of induction, asks new recruits to give their religious affiliation, so in case of death they can be appropriately buried.
 
“Fourth Choice provides both legal and religious counseling services. We arrange for names to be legally changed and for those changes to be made retroactive so that it would become extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any future official search to unearth Jewish origins. We also provide, for reasons of social assimilation, some basic training in the Christian religion and even suggestions about which churches in which parts of the country it might be wise to join once the names have been changed. The way to disappear in the Christian sea that America still is, is to look and act as much as possible like a Christian fish. Most Christians don’t know much more about their religion anyway than most Reform Jews know about ours. You know the holidays already; it’s just a question of filling in the doctrinal preferences of the particular denomination you decide to join. Our basic theory is that if no Jewish shoe fits your foot, the answer is to stop wearing Jewish shoes.
 
“We realize that for most of you, name changes and all the rest of it is pointless. You have active businesses, you have professional lives, you are known. What we are talking about is the social life that may become accessible to you after you retire. More importantly, we are talking about preparing your children and grandchildren for a future in which anything is possible, including a recrudescence of violent antisemitism. Think of how extremists of the neo-fascist right, blacks tempted by radical Islam, Hispanics, or other recent immigrants, legal or not, might behave if they were ever to take power. How would they likely treat the Jews? Of course that’s far-fetched. But Hitler was far-fetched, too.
 
“Jews – the most talented, the most prosperous – have often tried to assimilate. It’s a driving force in Jewish history. Never before in that history has the possibility of true assimilation been as great as it is now in the United States. Your children are intermarrying anyway. Why not make an old Jewish dream come true, and wipe the slate clean?”
 
“Why not call it ‘the Final Solution’ and have done with it?”
 
“That’s not fair. He’s not talking about death. He’s talking about an identity that’s like a pair of shoes that doesn’t fit.”
 
There was a murmur of discussion throughout the room. At all the long tables at which the guests were seated, voices were raised, and other voices hushed them.
 
“Excuse me. May I address the group?” A man, graying and authoritative, exceptionally well-dressed, stood in his place, waiting patiently until he had everyone’s attention. His voice was low and resonant, filling the room without effort, and even the bearded skull-capped waiters seemed to come still and listen.
 
“We welcome any questions or comments,” Josh Lechter said, but his self-assurance was diminished by the solidity of the standing man.
“There is a fifth choice. No mention has been made of the great number of Jews, mostly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, who were neither formally religious – some were self-proclaimed atheists or agnostics – who were not Zionists, and who did not dwell on the victimization of the Jews, either in the Shoah or in the centuries of persecution which preceded it. These were Jews who recognized themselves as ‘culturally Jewish,’ or ‘of Jewish origins,’ but who didn’t spend much or any of their time working out exactly what that meant.
 
“There is no need to name names which you all know. What is necessary is to consider what made their great achievements possible. What, indeed, has made the great achievements of American Jewry possible, or the great achievements of European Jews in the countries where they were allowed to compete on an equal basis? Why, when Jews are two point two percent of the U.S. population, are they thirty-three percent plus of the U.S. Supreme Court, roughly fifteen percent of the House and Senate, and over twenty-five percent of the faculty and student body at the most prestigious universities? Why, at the same historical moment, were the presidents of Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia, all Jewish? We presumably know it isn’t genes. Nor does achievement seem to relate, except negatively, to religious observance or pro-Zionist or Israeli activities. What then?
 
“We’re all Jews here. The food is Jewish, the waiters are Jewish, if there’s a cat or mice in the kitchen, they are presumably Jewish too, so let’s drop the polite evasiveness, the timidity, that characterizes Jews in their relationship to that Christian sea our host has talked about. Let’s drop all that, and say that one quality of the Jews that gives us our  terrific edge, that makes so many of us rise to the top, is that we are not Christians. We are not goyim!
 
“No! Wait, wait, wait! I know the arguments. That is a negative identity you’re going to say, defining Jews by what we are not. But not being Christian in a Christian world is not the same as not being Moslem in a Moslem world or not being Buddhist or Hindu or Confucian or Shinto in the countries where those are the majority religion. In the West, Jewish culture was shaped by not being Christian, by not accepting Christ as the Messiah, or the church as the vehicle of God’s truth.
 
“Jews don’t proselytize, don’t advertise. But we have forgotten that if we didn’t become Christian it was because the Christian product was not up to Jewish standards. Christian beliefs – exalting the meek over the mighty, the spirit over the flesh, the world-to-come over the world that’s right here – all open the way for the Jews. They call us ‘pushy’ because they, the goyim, are too life-denying to push themselves. These people tonight want you or your children to become Christians so they can get their hands on the money you made by being Jews! It’s that simple. It all has to do with Jewish money.
 
“I'll make the small additional point that American blacks, when they become aggressive and self-confident, change their religion. They take new names, African or Islamic; they renounce their slave identities as Christians. It is interesting, revelatory, that in Israel the North African Jews, the Sephardim, those who grew up not being Muslim, are intellectually miles behind the Jews who grew up not being Christian. The North African children can't keep up with the Ashkanazi kids in school. Not being Christian is not a virtue to be thrown away lightly.
 
“Now Fourth Choice offers invisibility as a protection against resurgent antisemitism. Many German Jews had converted, and they got found out, and they got killed. Read Victor Klemperer’s memoirs. See how little a Jew he was and how easily he got caught. The real failure of the Jews in Germany and France, and elsewhere in Europe, was that they were too slow to take real power. The military, the police, much of top industry and finance, the most productive farmland, were outside of Jewish hands, outside of Jewish control. If we Jews want to protect our children’s future in the United States, we need to assert ourselves even more than we have already. We need a presence in all the elite and powerful organizations that run America. All the clubs that used to discriminate must become like the Gotham Club where our evening started. Where once they refused to admit Jews, now Jews sit on their Board of Directors. Keep pushing! That’s my motto!”
 
The man held up his invitation card with the questions printed on the back. “I say tear up this card and throw it out. We were born Jews; let’s stay that way. And if you want to give your money and time to organizations that aren’t specifically Jewish, give your name to Curly Hamson, the non-Jew who ran this evening, and who can get you invitations to events honoring the most important institutions in New York, non-religious institutions: museums, hospitals, symphony orchestras, social welfare organizations, where your presence, as a Jew, can have real weight, where you can buy Jewish power with Jewish money, not religious instruction in self-denial. A Jewish Orthodox man begins his day with a prayer thanking God for not making him a woman. All Jews, male and female, ought to begin their day with a prayer thanking God for not making us goyim!”
 
*
 
When Josh Lechter met with his three sponsors a few days later, having telephoned them the same night to convey the extent of the disaster, there was much discussion about the possible identity of the gray-haired man whose intervention had been so negatively decisive.
 
“It’s a shame we weren’t there, after all, at the Gotham Club, out of sight, but able to see the entrance. Among the three of us, we surely know every face. From what you tell us, it could be one of half a dozen different men.”
 
Myron spoke for the first time. “It could have been an actor hired by Curly Hamson to suck all those names and all that money in his direction, toward the organizations that hire him.”
 
“You didn’t see how credible the guy was,” Josh said. “He was wearing more money than the evening cost us. Besides, how could Hamson have taught him what to say?”
 
“Clothes can be rented or an actor can have a wardrobe. It takes no genius to find a Jewish writer who could shoot us down while building Hamson up. Forget it. There are plenty of rich Jews we haven’t tapped yet, plenty of cities, even plenty of corners of this one, that won’t have some goyish schmuck like Curly Hamson picking our pockets for Jewish money.”
If the other men had doubts about this point of view, they thought it wiser and more hopeful not to voice them.

 

Copyright © Carl Schiffman 2018

Carl Schiffman is a native New Yorker and a graduate of the MFA program at Yale Drama School, where he was an Arts of the Theater Fellow. Five of his short plays were produced off-Broadway in the 70s, but no professional career resulted. He began publishing short stories in 1972. He is 82 and has been retired for many years. He made his living as a state and federal civil rights investigator, then as a writer for non-profit organizations and fund raising consulting firms, which experience prompted the Curly Hamson series. His mother's father was president of an ultra-Orthodox synagogue in Freehold, NJ;  his parents were non-observant Jews with a strongly leftward political tilt. Before Yale, Schiffman was circulation manager and occasional music and movie reviewer for The Jewish Examiner, a Brooklyn weekly, and also worked in the classic Jewish Catskills as a busboy.



 

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