On Monday, Avi Steinberg wrote about Kafka in Tel Aviv. His first book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian,” was just released. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:
It certainly has been a monumental few weeks in the history of humiliation. With the help of Wikileaks, we’re learning so many new things about our friends and neighbors. Who knew CNN’s Anderson Cooper dyed his hair white? Actually, to be honest, I had suspicions. All the signs were there. But still, there’s something startling about hearing him admit, and so bluntly, that he also uses a mirror to practice that signature move of his, the purposeful sidelong squint — and all of this preening just so he can look more like “serious newsman.” Anderson, you’re boyishly handsome. Just own it, babe.
But I don’t judge. I’ve got my own Wikileak grief. I present the following Wikileaked document, which involves, well, me. It catches me saying some things that I’m frankly not too proud of. Since it’s going to be circulating out there anyway, especially among Hasidic bloggers, I figure you might as well hear it from me first. It’s a memo from me to my book’s publicist. Oy, so embarrassing. Here it goes…
Whazzzup. I write to you with a marketing concern. What can we do to — how do I put this — to fan charges of anti-Semitism against my book? Does that make any sense? Let me back up. As you know, nobody from the Jewish community has accused my book of expressing anti-Semitic sentiments. No reviewers, no interviewers. Nothing. I can’t even get a blogger to make a snarky comment on the subject. This is no good.
When my book came out, my mother’s main concern was, “will I still be able to show my face at the Butcherie?” At the time, I smugly advised her to stock up on Meal-Mart horseradish because she was never going to shop at the local kosher market ever again — not on my watch. Well, guess what? My mother shows her face at the Butcherie every Friday before Shabbes, like nothing happened. Even the surly Russian checkout lady seems entirely unaffronted. And my mother, meanwhile, feels comfortable enough to kvell about the book as she waits in line. WTF? How is word of my self-hatred ever going to spread this way? I swear, I’m never going to sell books in the Jewish community.
Now, I know what you’re going to say: It’s your fault, Avi. You had your shot. Why didn’t you write a book with more anti-Semitic content? You went kind of light there in that chapter about Orthodox weddings. So, big deal, you got punched in the face during an out-of-control hora. It was an accident. And, as you say, you deserved it anyway. There wasn’t even that much blood. You wanna write a blood libel, show me some blood. Give me some of that thick red stuff, kid. A pint, half, anything. Some of that good Jim Caviezel vintage, then we’ll talk.
All true. But here’s the thing, Gretchen. You’re very gentile. It’s wonderful, but there’s something you don’t understand. Being called anti-Semitic by the tribe is like getting whistled at by construction workers. Yes, it’s irritating. But then, one day, when they stop doing it, you’re like, “What, I’m invisible here? You don’t even care about me?” The anti-Semitism accusation is a shout-out. It’s a form of affection. It doesn’t make your day exactly, but the absence of it is worse than excommunication.
I wish you could have been there for the good old days, back when I’d be accused of anti-Semitism in the “comments” sections of articles I’d written, denounced on Facebook. I hardly had to lift a finger. I guess there’s no use living in the past. But, yeah, I’ll be honest, I’m kind of hurt nobody thinks I’m a self-hating Jew.
My last hope is that the Jews aren’t buying the book because it’s too anti-Semitic. I know, I know, how foolishly romantic of me. In reality, I know it’s because they’re cheap.
Anyway, I hope your Christmas tree shopping is going well. Mine is kind of, eh, blah. So hard to find one at a reasonable rate, no? I say to the tree guy, “So, how much for a tree?” “$85,” he says. And I say, “$85?” And he says, “Yeah. $85. Do you want the tree or not?” “$85,” I reply, “is $85.”
Maybe if my fellow Jews weren’t so stingy, I’d have enough money for a proper Christmas celebration. I hope you’re having better luck. And, seriously, if you have any ideas about raising my anti-Semitic profile, let me know.
Yours in Christ,
Avi Steinberg’s first book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian,” was just released.
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My Horribly Embarrassing Memo