Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beverly Hills Jews



- I sent your picture to a friend. "A typical Jewish Intellectual", she said. Are you are a "Jewish intellectual"?
- Jewish by ethnicity, not practice. Intellectual? That charge I don't think I can escape.
- Then she asked, "This isn't the Beverly Hills Jew you're always talking about?" Are you a Beverly Hills Jew?
- Don't you have anything else to talk about?
- No.
- I did most of my growing up next door in the Fairfax area. My mother lived for about a decade in Beverly Hills after I went away to college.
- And you live in Beverly Hills now.
- If you call it living.
- Who was that woman pounding on the window?
- What window?
- Here in Starbucks. Yesterday. Don't you remember?
- You mean Leah. How could I forget Leah.
- Are you going to tell me about her? Why was she pounding on the window?
- She was taunting the rabbis sitting at the round table.
- Ah.
- You're happy because you're back on your subject, Beverly Hills Jews.
- Your subject too. You've told me the only people you're sure read your stories are government spies and haters of Jews.
- You're in luck. Leah is fine material.
- How do you know her?
- I was at Ralphs market one night around midnight waiting for the Guru to come out...
- The Guru of Beverly Hills. The guy you live with.
- Yes. Leah, outfitted in the costume of an orthodox Jewish woman, long plain skirt, peasant blouse, and covered hair, was going around to every man on his way to or from his car asking whether he was Jewish and if he was did he want to marry her.
- Was she serious?
- Yes. But aware as well she was being entertaining. Before she went crazy she'd studied music at an elite academy in New York. That was long ago. She was about fifty now, divorced, with three teen-aged children. Ex-husband and children have gone to court to get an restraining order against her visiting them. The Guru has one too now. So does Starbucks. Probably the rabbis too.
- Why was she pounding on Starbucks' window?
- I'll get to that. Leah at last came over to me, asked me her questions: am I Jewish, will I marry her? At that moment the Guru came out of Ralphs. I told her, here comes your perfect husband. He's an orthodox Jew and crazy like you. They started talking and soon had it all arranged. They'd get married.
- No!
- Yes. There was a slight problem however. The Guru was already married, his separated wife in constant telephone contact. But that was no problem two adult human beings couldn't handle. Sadly, it didn't work out.
- Why not?
- Leah demands money and personal assistance from everyone she meets. She has artistic and business projects. She takes being Jewish seriously. Follow the rules set by the group, be aided by the group in accordance with those rules, do something good. Unfortunately somewhere along the line she went crazy, developed this maniacal anger appearing instantly when anyone refused any of her demands for assistance. The family threw her out, got their restraining orders. At the time of meeting her at Ralphs she was living in an apartment paid for by family and on a thousand dollar a month allowance from them. That's no more.
- What happened?
- She got worse. She tried to seduce the Guru's eighty year old mother whose mind is gone.
- Thus the restraining order.
- Yes. Then she decided the carpet in her apartment was dirty so she tore it up and rolled it over the balcony to the street one floor below. She got evicted, and was to be seen wandering up and down Doheny demanding aid and services from everyone, from the rabbis at the Temple across the street, from me, from anyone going in or out of Starbucks.
- Her family won't help her?
- Apparently not. So do you know who she ended up staying with?
- How should I know?
- The Holocaust survivor down the street. Ninety-two years old, and not Jewish. She introduced me to him outside his house, had him give me a copy of his book. I was instructed to make a TV mini-series out of it.
- Was he in a concentration camp?
- The worst, Auschwitz, for about a year. I knew of the book's existence but hadn't come across it before. I saw on the back cover it was published by a marketing company. That was strange. I'd read enough of these memoirs and didn't want to read the book, especially since, as the author explained, it'd been co-written by a professional writer. The two had met when they both worked at the old Beverly Canon Theater, long only a memory, where the Montage Hotel is now.
- How is the book?
- Nicely written. I'll have to be Jewish intellectual for the rest of my answer. I hope you don't mind.
- Not at all.
- Philosophers like to play with the question, what is the human species' primary characteristic? Language, tool use, upright posture? Foresight? Or is it the ability to deliberately forget, as I myself once thought? Or better, is it mass killing? No other animal makes such a habit deliberately getting together to kill. I'd choose the last as a better answer. It brings together almost all the special characteristics. More than bringing them together, it organizes them. We humans are able to look ahead to forgetting ourselves in acts of group killing aided by technology.
- Isn't that also your definition of evil: deliberately doing what you know as an individual is wrong for the sake of rewards acting in a group?
- Nice that you remember. It is.
- The specific characteristic of the human species is evil?
- Do you doubt it? The Holocaust memoir of Leah's host was published by a marketing company. In the marketplace of life mass murder would be the human being's trademark. Life is characterized by growth and reproduction. With our mass destruction we have to be the life form most incompetent at life.
- So we're evil.
- You said it. Here's the part of my explanation you won't like, the Jewish intellectual part. If in Nazism the individual is the agent of the group, in Jewish life the group is the agent of the individual. The group is the storehouse of the rules, is the tool the individual uses to remember. But the individual makes his deal directly with god, not with the group. The Holocaust isn't special as a mass killing, mass killing is the characteristic of human beings. But it is special as a model, a paradigm of evil.
- Why?
- Because the Jews, acting as Jews, are logically incapable of evil. In Jewish life the group is the tool of the individual. Evil requires the reverse, the individual lowering himself to being the tool of the group, forgetting what he knows is good, getting in exchange rewards of group conformity. I brought this up because this model or paradigm has no applicability to the old man's Holocaust memoir. The previous ones I'd read were full of grief, confusion, anger, with the knowledge the tool of their memory, their group, was being destroyed, with disappointment and shock the rules weren't working. This book, however, was written with ironic detachment, a story of cleverness and resourcefulness that reminded me of Homer's The Odyssey more than anything else.
- The old guy committed the crime of not being Jewish.
- All I'm saying is reading the book I felt a flatness, the absence of the model, of the attempt of evil to destroy its opposite.
- So Leah is living with the Holocaust survivor down the street...
- Yes. Last night leaving Starbucks on my way home I saw a crowd gathered around the old guy's house. A police car was parked in front. You can guess what happened.
- They'd arrested Leah?
- Taken her away. One policeman, two social workers, one long-time friend of the old guy who'd driven him a few times to speak to organizations about the Holocaust, and four or five concerned neighbors. The younger of the social workers explained to me: the law allowed the police to take someone who appeared dangerously unstable to a hospital for observation, and that is what had occurred. She went on:
-They can hold her for about a week, then she'll be out again. Back here maybe. We're concerned for the old man's safety. His rib was broken the last week.
- Do you know Leah's family?
- No, but my partner has spoken with them.
- They can help her, they're rich, right? Her ex-husband the vice-director of the country's biggest Jewish organization, her brother a Beverly Hills doctor? That's what she told me.
- How are you involved?
- I know Leah. I've met her host. I have his book. I'm a concerned neighbor too. I'm worried that Leah might hurt the old guy inadvertently like a big dog lying down on an infant. So her family won't help anymore?
- No, they're tired of her.
- Tired of her? I've heard that before. The free market in action. If someone doesn't make money, it's at the individual's discretion whether it's better to see your mother dying on the street outside your window or to pay out a little cash to avoid the eye-sore. Leah's family evidently chose to save the cash and watch mother die on the street. The eye-sore parades up and down Doheny, demanding respect and cooperation from everyone, is denied by everyone, everyone except this last of the Holocaust survivors who takes her in, putting himself in danger. The man who the Nazis couldn't kill the Free Market might.