Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Brooklyn Renaissance

In Bernard Malamud’s first published short story, Armistice (1940), a Jewish grocery store owner in Brooklyn becomes increasingly depressed as he listens to the fall of France unfold on the radio. A supplier, not a Jew, a veteran of World War I, collects clippings about the Nazi Army and marvels at their mobile warfare machine. The grocer’s son defends his father against the criticism of this gloating supplier. Malamud wrote what he knew.

In 1944 for his first big screen role, David Daniel Kaminsky, whose screen name was Danny Kaye, born in Brooklyn, refused a nose job recommended by Samuel Goldwyn (born Schmuel Gelbfisz) in order to hide his Jewish looks. Creatively, Goldwyn suggested that Kaye change the color of his black hair to red.

Tobias Wolf’s main character in his novel, Old School, hides his Jewish ancestry and plagiarizes a story about a student who hides her Jewish ancestry to maintain her freedom to mix with the country club set where she is invited by her roommate. It’s confusing sometimes. Unlike his main character, Tobias did not find out that his father was a Jew masquerading as an Episcopalian until he was an adult.

I’ll never fully understand why people tolerate anti-Semitic behaviors.

There was an amazing renaissance that emerged from Brooklyn NY in the early 20th century. Some artists colored their hair to blend. Some changed their name. Some adopted a new religion. And some shared what they knew.

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