Philip Roth Wasn’t a Nice Jewish Boy. But What Kind of Jewish Boy Was He?

July 10 2020

“Enough being a nice Jewish boy!” exclaims Alexander Portnoy in Philip Roth’s eponymous novel. To many of his readers, that sentence sums up Roth’s attitude toward his people, his fiction, and perhaps his very worldview. But, writes Jesse Tisch in his review of Benjamin Taylor’s Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth, the late American Jewish writer did not always play the rebellious Jew. He had little tolerance, for instance, for anti-Semitism, even when disguised as contempt for Israel:

For a fleeting period [after moving to London], Roth was cheerfully social, but the more familiar London became, the more its charms came to seem like drawbacks. Conversation was stilted. London was dull and dreary. . . . Worse was the genteel anti-Semitism of upper-class Londoners, something Roth could never abide. England’s bien-pensants disliked Israel; a haughty distaste for Jews was common, even in public.

Indeed, Roth sympathized deeply with the Jewish state:

Roth had been fascinated with Israel in the 1960s, when a conference brought him to Jerusalem; he rediscovered Israel in late 1984. “Israel is the place to give your curiosity a workout,” he wrote [his friend] Ted Solotaroff in a rare quiet moment. Roth toured widely, a glutton for experience, interviewing everyone from authors to NGO workers to ordinary Israelis. It wasn’t the Israel of popular myth—the plucky young country with an infallible army—but the actual Israel, seething, quarrelsome, self-questioning, that inspired Roth’s affection. “I’m only back two days and feel like taking the plunge again soon,” he wrote Solotaroff. “Each time you go out further and see more and are further astonished.”

Nor did Roth always side with the rebels:

[In 1997], Roth swerved sharply with American Pastoral, the tale of a wholesome, clean-cut everyman, Swede Levov, whose profound decency proves to be an Achilles’ heel. Here, Roth’s subject was history with a capital H: the 1960s radicals, embodied by a Weatherman-like extremist. “How could she ‘hate’ this country when she had no conception of this country?” her father wonders. The author seems to agree: Radicals aren’t brave; they’re just mad at their parents. In response, several Roth scholars rejected the notion that Roth had turned conservative. This is true—he was always somewhat conservative, if not politically then temperamentally, disdaining the counterculture and radical chic. American Pastoral was embraced by conservatives and nearly everyone else, snaring the Pulitzer Prize.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Anti-Semitism, Jewish literature, Philip Roth

 

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism