That Certain Jewish Je Ne Sais Quoi

On his bio, Y.B. ben Avraham claims he cannot write:

“Among Mr. ben Avraham’s panoply of noteworthy skills, writing is, sadly, not included.”

Self-deprecation is refreshing in the Age of the Ego and the Idiot. However, Avraham’s style reminds me of two Yiddish writers whom I studied in Hebrew, of course (I hope Israeli kids still study these remarkable, quintessentially Jewish writers): Sholem Aleichem and Yitskhok Peretz. This is a very good thing indeed. But don’t let what I’ve said go to your head. <grin> And don’t become too aware, or else you’ll lose the gift some older Jews still have.

Myron Pauli, a contributor to Barely A Blog, also has that certain Jewish je ne sais quoi. The younger generation of writers, Jewish and gentile, is like dessicated dust by comparison. Or dry good, which is how Irishman Oscar Wilde referred to American books.

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4 thoughts on “That Certain Jewish Je Ne Sais Quoi”

  1. I‘ve been asked to post this brief exchange on the very flattering post above…

    Dear Ms. Mercer,

    This truly is my first foray at writing, outside of school and work. As I noted to our dear friend Claire, upon her invitation:

    “I am both honored and trepidacious at your interest in my input. I have never written in any setting, beyond e-mails, letters to editors, comments to news items, etc. but am happy to try.”

    I will, indeed, try to maintain humility in my work. Although having the beautiful, vivacious, talented women of TZP lavishing praises on my efforts should test my mettle.
    Sincerely,

    די פלאַטטערער
    Yaakov

    Ms. Mercer responded:

    I was kidding about humility, Y. But the quality is nice to encounter, for a change.

    Grandpa spoke Yiddish, but I, alas, speak only Hebrew and English.

    How did Claire and you become acquainted?

    Me, again:

    She came as a speaker to a political confab I attended. Claire and my wife had connections through Dr. Sarah Thompson and SF writer L. Neil Smith. I walked up to her, smiled, and said “Hi! I’m with the ATF”. She nearly swallowed her tongue

    On the writing, although I’ve not thought of this in years, my eldest maternal aunt, now 87, spent a year (likely in the early 1950’s?) learning creative writing under I.B. Singer.

    Y.

  2. Ah, now I get to correct the historic record — or add my version of faulty memories, as the case may be. But since Y.B. is a much more vivid figure than I and since my first meeting with him was a Big Event in my life, I’ll assert that my memories are the ones to go by here.

    It was, as he says, a political confab. My first political book, 101 Things to Do ‘Til the Revolution, had just been published and, spurred by Vin Suprynowicz’s dream of a review (how could any writer not appreciate the headline “Buy This Book by the Crate”?), a young man named Greg had lured me to Arizona and lined up half a dozen speaking engagements. This was the very first.

    It was a supper club. Small, but filled with Arizona libertarian luminaries — and at that time Arizona had about the most powerful libertarian force in the country. I was terrified. Most intimidating of all was the tall, dark figure seated at the end of the room. There he was, in kippot, payot — and sidearm.

    Now I’ve never lived in areas with large Jewish populations, definitely not Orthodox populations. So Y.B. was a strange figure to me. Having little experience, I’d always imagined “really Jewish Jews” to be relentlessly intellectual, somber, and altogether too formidable for the likes of me.

    I knew attendees would be mingling afterward — and what on earth would I have to say to this (so I assumed) austere personage?

    Then the master of ceremonies had everybody around the room introduce themselves. When Y.B.’s turn came, he said, “I’m Y.B. I’m an ATF agent.”

    The whole room cracked up.

    (I believe at the time he was a gun dealer, so given all the ATF burdens on him, he was almost telling the truth.)

    The whole event turned out to be one big crack-up. I tossed my laboriously prepared 17-page speech over my shoulder, winged it, and we all had a grand old time.

    Later, as we were doing that mingling thing, I asked Y.B. “Yeah, but aren’t you supposed to wait until _after_ [you’ve arrested us all] to tell us you’re an ATF agent?”

    “Oh,” he said (or something like it), “Okay. I’ll get it right next time.”

    Later Y.B. introduced me to his wife and eldest son (and his wife and I did indeed have mutual connections in Sarah Thompson and L. Neil Smith). Eventually the whole family visited me and my then-Significant Sweetie at our house in Wyoming. They’re a bright, unique, rambunctious bunch and I’m privileged to know them.

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