Mahler 3 is my favorite piece of music in the world, and after hearing Yannick Nezet-Seguin in Philly last month do a decent though not better than decent Mahler 3 in Philadelphia - a solid eight out of ten; a gentle, relatively traditional performance that at least brought out the Schumannesque lyricism or the Brahmsian glow or whatever..., it had a slightly dull scherzo and a little lacking in the outrageous vision that makes this work the full flowering of the musical imagination - or at least of mine... But it was, nevertheless, a very good reading that took a voluptuous enjoyment in Mahler's sound world. I never thought a performance could sound so relaxed yet be this compelling - relaxation is never something one looks for in Mahler, but even if Nezet-Seguin is clearly no Mahlerian, he's a very gifted conductor who can make music work on his own terms.
But because this performance nevertheless missed so much of the 'Mahlerness' caused me to go back to this work I value so and listen to a bunch of recordings and take notes on them. It should in no way be taken as a complete survey. I didn't even finish a single Tennstedt recording, and he's among the very top of my Mahler pantheon. Many of the notes aren't even complete. It's just jottings while I listen...
At some point I'll go back to this and finish it, or at least hope to, but for the moment, here is enough Mahler 3 to satiate even me. Most of these recordings can be found on youtube, but I'm too lazy to find the links right now. If you should like to hear what I've listened to, it should be relatively easy to find a free copy on youtube or Spotify if you subscribe. Happy Listening if you are so inclined!
It goes without saying that it's a tragedy that we'll never know how Mahler himself would have directed it. We will never know what Bruno Walter or Klemperer would have made of Mahler 3. There was talk that Walter would record it shortly before he died, but the time for Walter to have done it was fifteen years previously. The Brahmsian last movement would have been heavenly, but it would have been quite a slog getting through the opening. There was talk at the end of Klemperer's life of recording Mahler 6, and one could imagine a fantastically grim performance like Chailly or Gielen, but Klemperer's neoclassical objectivity was ill-suited to the Third's formlessness.
On the other hand, it's nothing short of tragic that Willem Mengelberg only got to do Mahler 4. I would imagine that the very classical Mahler 4 is one of the Mahler symphonies least suited to his flamboyant musical personality. I can't imagine Mengelberg warming too much to the relatively restrained metaphysical gloom of Mahler's later years (a Mengelberg sixth or ninth might have been perverse). The third on the other hand, would have fit Mengelberg like a glove, and apparently it was a favorite of both his and his Amsterdam audiences. Equally, Richard Strauss was fond of it, as he should have been since he is clearly such an enormous influence upon it. It would have been interesting indeed to hear what this virtuoso of the orchestra would have made of what is no doubt Mahler's most Straussian symphony.
We don't have a direct line into what Mahler might have imagined the Third to be. Some early recorded interpreters, like Schuricht and Horenstein, clearly have an orientation more traditional than Mahler's own, and try to controt him into neater proportions. Others, like Mitropoulos and Scherchen, clearly project something more advanced than Mahler actually was, and shy away from Mahler's unabashed romanticism. What we do have is the fertile imagination of many great musicians - both on the podium and in front of the podium.
Szenkar/Koln Radio Symphony 1951 - Of all the Mahler pioneers, I wonder if Szenkar had the best grip on Mahler, but we'll never know. Most Jewish conductors of the era left Europe for America or England, Szenkar went to Rio. When he returned to Germany, he made a very small handful of recordings which show him as fully the equal of the other great luminaries of his time, but like so many musicians, we only have the faintest outline of his talent. Is this Mahler as we understand him? Not quite, but it's astonishingly close at times.
Dmitri Mitropoulos/New York Philharmonic 1956 - Dmitri Mitropoulos was, bar none, the most exciting conductor who ever lived. Even had Mengelberg ever recorded Mahler 3, he could not equal the excitement on display here. Late Bernstein often feels like ideal Mahler performances in slow motion, but Mitropoulos often feels like ideal Mahler in fast forward, and that's clearly what we have here. There is little of the alte Welt luminousness or balance that Bruno Walter brought to his late Mahler, occasionally inappropriately. Instead, we have Mahler the visionary in full flower, with playing from the New York Philharmonic that fully meets Mahler's demands. This is the Mahler who inspired Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, to their heights of mega-meta-expressionism. This is a performance so ahead of its time that I wonder if it's even ahead of our time. There is almost a lack of patience for Mahler's nostalgia, but the playing is so visceral that it never registers as impatience. It, rather, registers as hallucination. I often avoided this performance because I was so jarred by the unpredictable cuts of the first movement that it was hard for a person who knows the work too well to listen past its disfigurement for its virtues. Mitropoulos is one of my pantheon of five, for whom every scrap he recorded is worthwhile and insightful over a huge repertoire buffet. This may not be the full Mahler in either quantity or quality, but in many ways, it's even better. 9.2/10
Scherchen/Leipzig Radio Symphony 1960 - In an age that didn't understand Mahler, it's amazing how ahead of his time Scherchen clearly was. He remains one of the most exciting, perceptive, Mahlerians of all, leaving many behind whom in our day should know much better than they do. No orchestra circa 1960, not even New York or the Philharmonia, was completely up to Mahler's technical demands, which, if anything, makes the playing of the Leipzigers all the more authentic. The sense of struggle is integral to Mahler playing - master everything, and you've wrested order from works created to be messy. In place of precision, the Leipzigers have that perfect Mahlerian mixture of schmertz and schmaltz, and Scherchen excels all conductors of his generation - Mitropoulos included - in his perception of Mahler's strangeness. Conductors much later than Scherchen still tried to shoehorn Mahler into a classical coherence antithetical to Mahler - but Scherchen is not taken in by the need to make Mahler into something more like Beethoven's Fifth. If this performance is not even more transcendent than it is, it is probably because of Scherchen's tendency to press forward in the name of confrontation and drama, which is too much of a good thing. Very few podium masters have ever been more exciting than Hermann Scherchen, whose musicmaking never allowed for an empty or purposeless moment, but there is a price for his rhetorical impatience. There is an innocence and repose to Mahler 3 which the Schoenbergian Scherchen doesn't quite hit upon. Even in those long, timestopping passages of the finale, Scherchen can't resist the urge to occasionally double his marmoreal basic tempo in the name of drama when a slightly faster but more steady basic tempo might be still more dramatic. Were it not for the finale, Scherchen would be the only conductor to get through Mahler 3 uncut in less than 85 minutes. I'm not even sure there's another uncut performance that gets through the work in less than ninety (note: Eugen Szenkar)! Nevertheless, timing and tempos tell you tell you nothing about the inner experience. It's what's done within those minutes that matter, and of the handful of 'pioneer performances' of this most challenging of Mahler works, it is one of the still fewer which truly understands its unique vision. 9.1/10
Kirill Kondrashin/Moscow Symphony 1961 - Kondrashin is the member of Mahler's 'greatest generation' who still never gets enough credit because he didn't have much opportunity for support from Western record companies. Nevertheless, the vibrance jumps out of the speakers. Too fast it may be (91 minutes - in spite of a 33-mnute opening movement that feels lugubrious), overbrassed it certainly is (it's Russia, where orchestral brass is instructed to be heard over the iron curtain), and it trades some of the heavy Austrian dance rhythms of the third movement for something fleeter like a Czardas or a Trepak - Kondrashin gets through this usually 18 minute movement in 15. The Nietzsche movement is also faster than average, taking eight minutes in a movement for which Christoph Eschenbach routinely takes 14! But even if the brass is too loud throughout, the ebb and flow of the phrasing in the finale is a thing of true wonder. The pacing in the opening and scherzo is off, the orchestral balances are off, but where it really counts: the sheer bizarreness of Mahler's sound world, nothing gets by Kondrashin. The explosions of percussions and winds, the bizarre natural phenomena of the Flower movement, the string imitations of 31 flavors of wind in the opening, a near-perfect posthorn section in the scherzo (so imagine how fast the rest is...). In everywhere but the opening, what Kondrashin clearly understands is Mahler's natural stream of consciousness that bubbles over with musical ideas, flitting between them, never quite finishing them. Like all the greatest art, Mahler 3 is a work of imagination too infinite to ever feel complete. Oh, and the text is in Russian, weird... 8.85/10
Bernstein/New York Philharmonic 1961 - I believe this is Bernstein's first Mahler recording. Until recently, with the glut of late-Abbado performances and the Boulez/Vienna, the Mahlerwelt seemed divided in three between people who thought this the greatest of Mahler Threes, and Haitink's 1966 performance and Horenstein's 1970. There are greater, not least from both Bernstein and Haitink.
Bernard Haitink/Concertgebouw Orchestra 1966 - If Mahler 4 will forever be associated with Willem Mengelberg, and Mahler 2 is forever associated with Klemperer and Bernstein, Mahler 3 will probably always feel owned by Bernard Haitink. When still in his mid 30's, he recorded this longest symphony of the standard rep in a performance many still think unsurpassed. Ever since then, he's performed it multiple times with every one of the world's great orchestras. Haitink's recorded it so often that there will be plenty more to say about him later, let's just focus on this performance. While fundamentally the same sensible and fastidious musician throughout his career, Haitink was still just a young conductor here - thrust prematurely by his mentor's death into the appointment of a lifetime. There are all kinds of moments when the young Haitink's inflexibility creates something more wooden than Mahler would ever allow - and far more wooden than the performance always seems in my memory. He was clearly trying to make Mahler, in the third symphony of all pieces, into something much more classically structured than it is. The more conventionally structured final three movements are pretty much beyond reproach - the greatest performance Mahler will ever get. The last movement is simply a miracle, and Haitink is almost liquidly flexible in how he builds this much more conventionally romantic slow movement into something just about perfectly paced. But you feel Haitink trying to contort the second movement into a classical coherence it shouldn't possess. The third movement requires lots of accelerations and ritards, some of which are clearly beyond Haitink's perception. Nevertheless, the energy summoned in the climaxes is a natural phenomenon in itself, and the perfection of the final three movements are pure miracle. The miracle of this performance is the Concertgebouw, which was still fundamentally the orchestra of Willem Mengelberg. Mengelberg created the Concertgebouw in no small part to be the perfect Mahler orchestra - simultaneously possessing the dark roundness of German orchestras and the brilliance of French orchestras - full of instruments that refuse to blend, yet sound perfect together even so. This is not a Mahler 3 that tells you its untold depths, but there are very few performances that open you up better to its many glories. I wonder if the raucous military marches of the first movement, the manifold solos of the scherzo, the quiet depths of the night-movement, the luminosity of the finale, could ever be played more ideally. 9.875/10 (the great stuff is so great that it makes up for the very clear flaws)
Rafael Kubelik/Bavarian Radio Symphony 1967 (live) - Kubelik is my favorite conductor, bar none. Rafael Kubelik is also one of the unrepeatable Mahlerian events - a conductor who lives inside the oral tradition of this music in manners no score could ever tell you how. I have no idea how, time and again, his opening manages to capture the spirit Mahler surely must have intended - the precise attack of the harp, the exact obnoxiousness of the trombones and piccolos, the string tremolos of infinite animation, the folk-violin-like digging into the strings, the ominous stillness of the pianissimi, the exact right way he accelerates into the storm sections. Hell, even the wrong notes and imprecisions feel right. You feel Kubelik trying to make the flowers movement less bizarre and minimize the tempo changes, but he only minimizes and smoothens them rather than eliminate them - I don't agree with it, but it's a legitimate interpretation, and who's to say that he, and not everybody else, is wrong? What follows then is THE performance of the Scherzo - the tempi are gauged perfectly, as though with a sixth sense for how to project the structure with maximum momentum, and the posthorn solo even has shadings within its distant projection. If anything, the scherzo is too vivid. The night movement can't help but feel a bit monochrome and under-eventful after that experience. The next two movements feel underrehearsed. The fifth movement, meanwhile, is clearly underrehearsed, and has a little bit of clearly unintentional unsteadiness in the dangerously fast tempo. But then one arrives at the finale... Bernstein will always be Bernstein, so it's safe to say that only Haitink elsewhere reaches this level of 'Mahlerness' in the finale. Haitink glows like the sun at dawn or dusk, like Turner, like Brahms or the Meistersinger Quintet. Kubelik ebbs and flows like a river, like Van Gogh, like Dvorak or the Siegfried Forest Murmurs. After hearing Kubelik, all one can say about Kubelik is that he had an unmatched sense to know exactly what risks to take in performance. He has such an innate understanding of music that he knows precisely where the pressure points are when an interpreter must pivot, and precisely how much - other conductors take larger risks which some times reap even larger dividends, but none manage their risks nearly so well as to feel utterly right. Many musicians avoid spontaneity like the plague, with the result that they draw attention to their lack thereof. I don't know how Kubelik does it, but no other conductor consistently makes music feel so natural - Bruno Walter did, but never in repertoire as advanced as Mahler, Pierre Monteux did but he avoided the repertoire monsterpieces, perhaps Thomas Beecham who avoided most German Symphonists, or the young Carlo Maria Giulini who lost it as he aged, or Colin Davis and Ferenc Fricsay who certainly avoided Mahler, or the now underrated Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, whom even I have to admit has as many clunkers as revelations. In my experience, not a single maestro of our day projects this complete lack of self-consciousness. Under Kubelik, the music simply goes of its own volition, drawing attention to not a single element of the music except its totality. This is not Mahler as classical music, this is Mahler played as folk music. 10.5/10 (like Haitink, the great moments are too great to not score above its mistakes)
Sir John Barbirolli/Halle Orchestra 1969 - Say what one will about Barbirolli's Mahler, but it is utterly unique. The work of a master musician trying to come to terms with a relatively new composer his generation never understood. Rattle clearly learned a thing or two from his great English predecessor extremes of expression and view of structure, but the Barbirolli goes to extremes of expression all his own. Does it work? Well,... sort of. Barbirolli's sensibility is so different from just about every Mahlerian who came later that it's difficult to know how to judge it. Just to take the most obvious example, Glorious John's not-quite 20 minute last movement, after more tempo changes per bar than even Scherchen, ends not on a forte as indicated, but on a clear triple forte. For Sir John, as for Rattle, this is clearly the climax of the whole piece, not the apotheosis. He underplays the scherzo, which in spite of some wonderful sounds, is ultimately a bit of a weak brew. The Flowers movement has some glorious string slides and dance rhythms, but misses the point of bizarre imitations of pictorial scenes of waterfalls. Again and again in the finale, he violently lurches the tempo forward like taffy to create a finale full of musical action rather than repose, and almost succeeds in making it work. Later Mahler conductors err by making Mahler not raucous enough, so perhaps it's almost forgivable to err in the other direction. The marches in the first movement are truly glorious, utterly low-class in how they resemble military bands. Is there any orchestra that could play even half so un-self-consciously today? Barbirolli did the best he could, and there are insights and 19th century qualities in this performance that are utterly unique to it, but it's hard to avoid the thought that for all his good will, Barbirolli's sensibility is a little too of Mahler's era to understand a composer so ahead of his time. 7.5/10
Jascha Horenstein/London Symphony 1970 - Horenstein is the hot button Mahler conductor on the internet. Of the two best known Mahler writers online, Tony Duggan views him as a God, David Hurwitz as a demon of mediocrity. He is neither, but he's not a great Mahlerian either. His understanding of Mahler is, by the standards of later generations, shockingly regressive. Mitropoulos was mentored by Busoni, Scherchen by Schoenberg, and both captured the flame of their mentors by responding to music of vision and prescience - both Mitropoulos and Scherchen were at their strongest in the music of pioneers well ahead of their times. Horenstein, on the other hand, was mentored by Franz Schrecker and Joseph Marx, younger contemporaries of Mahler, distinguished but conservative names in music history - most definitely of their time rather than ahead of it. Horenstein, with his extremely classical sense of tempo and proportion, makes Mahler sound like Schrecker or Schmidt or so many of those early twentieth century Viennese composers who are not Mahler - creative in the sounds they create, but without Mahler's explosive imaginative wings. 97 minutes, while a bit slower than average, is hardly sluggish, yet Mahler under Horenstein is a long slog indeed. There is an utterly un-Mahlerian rigidity to Horenstein's conceptions that make his interpretations incredibly long-winded, and with very little sense of a new world exploding from the old. The execution can be sloppy, but whether it's through the natural inclination of the LSO or Horenstein's ministrations, I deeply appreciate the lack of vanity demonstrated in a real willingness to capture the strangeness of Mahler's sounds, Horenstein made Mahler more palatable for a generation of music lovers who were not ready to understand Mahler, just as he made a dozen other postromantic visionaries the same. He deserves credit for his pioneering efforts, but even among Horenstein's many pioneering recordings, this is mostly a dud, and one of the most absurdly overrated efforts in the history of the recorded performance. 6.1/10
Jean Martinon/Orchestre RTF - Hard as it is to find, Martinon's Chicago M3 shows up on every list of the great Mahler 3's. I can't find it currently, but his French performance is very good, albeit severely flawed performance. Like the CSO this rather French-sounding orchestra's a little too brilliant, too brassy, too unheedful of soft dynamics in this composer who forgives no expressive insincerity. Forgivably, there's imprecision everywhere - if this were Chicago performing, Fritz Reiner would fire half the orchestra, but the rest of us should be able to live with that. What's more troubling is the flaws of over-brilliance, and still more unforgivable, there's nary a piano to be found and not a single pianissimo in the whole performance. And yet, there is a personality which comes through that can only hail from a group of fine and free musicians. It seems clear that the bulk of rehearsal went into the last movement, which sounds as echt-Deutsch luminous as any slow movement in Brahms or Bruckner. The soloists take their turn in the spotlight and many do something unforgettable. 8.6/10
Bernstein/Vienna Philharmonic 1972 - Bernstein's earning the respect of Vienna was, of course, the key moment in the history of Mahler, even if it's significance trivializes hundreds of other events wrongly. Bernstein's (mostly) Vienna cycle of the 70's will always be simultaneously the most perfect consummation of Mahler performance, and a complete hash of two completely different conceptions of Mahler and of music. The Vienna Philharmonic can give great Mahler performances, but the polished golden elegance of the Vienna Philharmonic is so far away from the ecstatic Mahlerian abandon - and particularly to this of all symphonies. No wonder Mahler and 'his' orchestra hated each other. Not even Lenny can get them to shed the Viennese polish for the first two thirds of the first movement. As with Mozart, Schubert, and Bruckner before him and (still?) Schoenberg and Berg and Webern after, the Viennese held the unique key to Mahler's style, and yet they loathed Mahler and perhaps loathed themselves for rejecting yet another of their great genii who had the gall to push the boundaries of their glorious tradition still further. In all the great Austrians, they've given as many horrible performances as they've given performances of a greatness to which only they can ascend. In 1973, this is, unbelievably, the first recording the Vienna Philharmonic made of the work. There are qualities and charms of gemutlichkeit throughout, and when they suit the music as they do in just about everything except the opening, the result is truly how this music should have always sounded, but only this Viennese orchestra of orchestras can play it like this. Bernstein finds an ideal partner in the gloriously Austrian bittersweet yearning and nostalgia - so perfect are the Viennese that you sometimes wish Bernstein would get out of the way, let up on his typically extreme slowing down at the end of the second and third movements and just let the Viennese do their thing. But the performance only feels as though it first gets out of bed when the two military bands crash into each other. But the glory of this performance is the final movement, which finds Bernstein in the same expansive mood he as he would be thirteen years later. The sheen of Vienna Philharmonic, however, gives it a very different mood from its American counterpart. In New York, it has the feel of Hollywood and Broadway (in the very best sense, don't underestimate how much impact Mahler had on American music...). In Vienna, the feel is much darker, more inward, Wagnerian. Bernstein's also, as twelve years previously, quite free with the tempo. The result is perhaps one step removed from Verklarte Nacht. Even if the final movement does not have that unbelievably warm and loving intimacy of the '86 recording, the whole is a performance whose spirit is never to be repeated. 9.7/10
James Levine/Chicago Symphony 1975 - The virtuosity is their own worst enemy. All you have to do is listen to Bud Herseth's trumpet triplets at the beginning to realize that their playing is so mechanically perfect that there is no way the CSO will completely inhabit the Mahlerian style here. The young Levine, a brilliant upstart in his early 30's, is also his own worst enemy. He clearly understands the piece intellectually, but as in his Wagner, his sense of detail and proportion is so elegant that he never permits himself to truly give in to the flow and breath of a piece that demands to sprawl, and the result is uncomfortably wooden until, not surprisingly, the voices enter and Levine comes to more familiar territory. Levine takes a more than spacious 104-and-a-half minutes. Sometimes, as in the night movement, the result is extraordinarily evocative, sometimes, as in his wooden scherzo, you want to scream at him to stop controlling the structure so rigidly. His twenty-seven minute finale is (for its time) an extremely original conception, perhaps more connected with the slow movement of Mahler 4 or perhaps the slow movement of Beethoven op. 130 upon which Mahler clearly based it. Bernstein's final recording proves that a tempo that slow can work without reservation, but Levine is not Bernstein, and while one is in awe of the CSO's control, Levine keeps the leash too tight to rivet attention at such a slow tempo. With regard to the CSO, the dynamics seem almost geometrically terraced, so perfectly built from climax to climax as to seem like a perfect orchestral machine, not a hundred-twenty souls expressing themselves. Nevertheless, the performance has some extraordinary virtues. I don't know if the storm section has ever been immersed in such violence, the posthorn solo is absolutely exquisite, the night movement has a truly extraordinary sense of darkness and profundity about it, the children movement has a perfect balance of innocence and menace (...), but except for movements four and five, the great moments are nothing but a series of episodes, unconnected with the whole. 6.7/10
Abbado/Vienna Philharmonic 1984 - That Claudio Abbado was a great maestro can never be doubted. That he was a more exciting, more interesting conductor earlier in his career is a view held by a minority of music lovers, but not a small one, and generally includes me. The legend of Abbado's final years obscures the reality that he was a musician lauded for being a maestro without qualities. More on that anon, but in the meantime, let us give mild praise his Mahler 3 from the early 80's. Abbado, a mere stripling of 50 at the time, attempted a Third of unparalleled philosophical depth. All those exquisite qualities of detail and pacing and balance for which he would be lauded twenty years later as the maestro among maestri were present in abundance, but they did not yet drain the natural vitality of his musicianship. Certainly, there is nothing drained about movements one. four and five, which face Mahler's metaphysics unashamedly and treats the work as the deepest statement a musician can possibly make - what the elderly Wagner and young Schoenberg might have produced had they composed a work together. Were you to hear those three movements in isolation, you would think this a masterpiece among Mahler Threes. The soft dynamics, as ever with Abbado, are more exquisitely detailed than any other maestro has ever produced, propelled forward at backbreakingly slow tempos by incredible harmonic tension, and contrasted against climaxes of enormous force. Where Abbado fails is in those places which require something deliberately superficial. Vulgarity and sarcasm are not in the makeup of this musician who could unwittingly carry loftiness past depth into the realm of kitsch. The flaw of Abbado's musicianship eventually became its defining quality. More objective composers are incredibly well-served by Abbado's perfectionism, and the deeper late symphonies are extremely well-served by Abbado, but Mahler, particularly Wunderhorn Mahler, requires flesh and blood. 7.9/10
Klaus Tennstedt/London Philharmonic 1980 - There's Bernstein, there's Kubelik, there's Tennstedt. There are plenty of other great Mahlerians, plenty of other great ways to Mahler, but nobody else consistently has that sense of discovery, the independence to speak Mahler's language with complete fluency and idiomaticity, and Tennstedt, more even than Bernstein, spoke it with the prophetic force of revealed truth. Everybody before them is setting us on the path, and everybody after them is commentary on what they discovered. To have heard any of the three live in Mahler must have been the experience of a lifetime. Tennstedt begins this performance with one of the most perfect imaginable (is that even possible) performances of that 33-minute monster opening. Not even elder Bernstein can get those opening ten minutes - which hardly anybody knows what to do with - to sound so primeval. The whole thing practically roars. What becomes a problem in later movements is that Tennstedt's whole way of looking at Mahler is so lustily enthusiastic that there's hardly a moment with a particularly soft dynamic,
Bernstein/New York Philharmonic 1986: No musician has better proven that depth and flamboyance are not mutually exclusive, so Bernstein and the first movement were absolutely made for each other. There has simply never been a better performance of the opening. All the outrageous sounds of Mahler's nature cornucopia are here, their eminence multiplied to the n. He takes a full 35 minutes, and you don't want it to end. To be sure, there are moments in later movements when Mahler calls for restraint when Bernstein just can't leave well enough alone. And yet even if there has never been a more perceptive Mahlerian than Bernstein, there is a quality of Mahler's which he completely ignores in later years - so determined does Bernstein seem to give the ultimate performance of these works that there is nothing in his performances which feels unplanned. The sense that Mahler is simply writing his stream-of-consciousness, tossing off whatever comes into his head however spontaneous or imperfect. Bernstein, with his overwhelming sense of drama and expression, seems determined to give every moment utmost importance. Mahler by the elder Bernstein often feels like the ultimate performance in slow motion. The basic tempo of his 28... minute... finale... is slow enough to stop time - yet Bernstein is one of the few conductors who can truly get away with such slow tempi. How he does is secret only a musical genius could understand. There is an almost Hollywood/Broadway-like quality to the last movement, utterly unashamed of its emotional expression and big tune, completely different than the critical distance of so many conductors influenced by Schoenberg and Webern. Nevertheless, for all these reservations, this is, in so many ways, the ultimate performance. A one-off never to be repeated or bettered, so unbelievably exciting and profound that you cannot help but emerge changed at the end. Is it exactly what Mahler wanted? Who cares? It might be better. 13/10
Seiji Ozawa/Boston Symphony 1993 -
Simon Rattle/City of Birmingham Symphony 1998 - I will go to bat for Simon Rattle against his many critics in just about anything, but Rattle is one of the all-time great conductors because, in many ways, he is far more flawed than lesser lights who do everything right. Rattle takes 98 minutes, just a little slower than average, but you definitely feel languor in this most sprawling of symphonies. A little bit more propulsion in certain places would have let just little bit more air in. Yet in the last movement, you occasionally wonder what's his hurry. Even so, the reason he opens himself up to such criticism is because he has genuine ideas and personality and insight where others are content to have none at all. Rattle clearly understands the strangeness of Mahler, and he gives all its bizarreness its glorious due. In other performances, the last movement often seems like a long postlude after an action packed first hour and two intermezzi - 'here endeth the lesson' it seems to say. Rattle is clearly determined to make the finale the work's true climax, and is willing to clamp down on the action of the opening and scherzo to get us there. Personally, I think it's impossible to make Mahler Three something truly coherent, but as a result of what Rattle's plan seems to be, there's a lot before the finale that lacks a little urgency. Other Mahlerians for all time, Bernstein, Kubelik, Tennstedt, Kondrashin, Mitropoulos, Scherchen, Inbal, et al, swallow this monsterpiece whole. Rattle is unmistakably of their number, but in a very un-Rattle like way, he's a little too cautious here, so concerned with making his not-quite world class Birminghamers get everything right that he's not quite willing to bet the house on any passage. The good news is that he very much does get everything right, but would that he got more right than everything. Solid 9/10
Claudio Abbado/Berlin Philharmonic 1999 - Abbado, thanks be to the deity, shaves eight minutes from his Viennese excursion of 15 years earlier which was practically Heidegger-esque in its unceasing aspiration toward profundity. In place of Abbado's depth is a showcase for the Berlin Philharmonic in all their Berlin Philharmonicness. The Berlin Philharmonic under Abbado would often sound emaciated, a chamber orchestra with extra brass. Not here, here is all the massiveness of their Karajan sound, rendered as a concerto particularly for the Berlin Philharmonic. Mahler is adapted to the soundworld of Berlin like an orchestral concerto specifically for the Berlin Philharmonic. Attacks are blended and smoothened, Wagnerized perhaps, but as in Wagner or Bruckner, the rounded euphony is a ruse, a means to build the overtones atop each other to climaxes of the most enormous imaginable force. The tempo in the first movement is straight-jacketed in the most steady, Horenstein-like manner. The minor-key sections too fast, the major-key sections too slow. It is extremely un-Mahlerian, yet unlike in Horenstein, it's utterly breathtaking on its own terms; with dynamics perfectly gauged in breathtaking manner. The refinement is utterly contrary to Mahler's intent, but there's no denying the impressiveness of it. The flower movement is a wonder, full of unbelievable, recitative-like flexibility in the strings and perfectly gauged weather systems. The Scherzo becomes something far gentler than the piquancy of Bernstein or Kondrashin. A good musical friend of mine describes Abbado's gift for detail as the ability to trace the glistening of a dew from a tree, and it's an eminently correct description so many Abbado performances. Abbado's reserved personality refuses to summon Mahler's bitter sardonicism, but the incredible affection with which Abbado makes the Berliners paint nature here is ample compensation. The night movement has the most mournful personality of performances I've heard, more a rural Jewish cantor than Nietzsche. Abbado learns from his previous mistake, and shapes the finale in 22 minutes. Hardly different in timing from Kubelik or Haitink, but with a short-windedness that - rarely for Abbado, short-changes the profundity. Overall, it's a much kinder, gentler, Beethoven's Pastoral of Mahler 3's with all gentle pleasure of a breeze. Like Beethoven's Pastoral, the gentleness Abbado finds in Mahler does not preclude seizmic violence. Mahler nevertheless requires more edge than Abbado permits. Abbado has many admirers for whom he can do no wrong, but he had many limitations which only grew in his final years. But even if Abbado was not the cosmic master he's often alleged, he was very much a master. His musical knowledge was as deep as his instinctive musical personality was timid, and he able to work around the limitations of his reserve with the skill that only a great musician and thinker could negotiate. Abbado's Mahler, at least in the early symphonies, is even less Mahlerian Mahler than earlier in his career, but it is extremely fine, eugenically grown musicmaking from a great orchestra and conductor that have always been ill-equipped to play by Mahler's rules. 8.4/10
Pierre Boulez/Vienna Philharmonic 2002 - This is, along with Abbado, thought to set the new standard of Mahler 3's. I wouldn't go nearly so far, but its virtues are many and undeniable. Boulez, belying his reputation as an iceman as he often does, brings true heat and power with an enormous dynamic range from an orchestra not often known for forswearing its refinement. The sound he replaces it with, however, is un-Mahlerian, and by switching from ice to fire, he bypasses warmth. He turns the Vienna Philharmonic into something far more brilliant and treble-dominated than its natural metier, so ideal for so much in Mahler. As always with Boulez, the pacing is strictly controlled, turning the messy storms of subconscious nature into coherence. To composers more focused on order, this approach can be of enormous illumination, and Boulez's musicianship is such that he comes closer to pulling it off than many who take a similar approach. But listen to the regimentedness of the extraordinary two marching bands and storm section. It's so strictly controlled that the abandon, the humor, the sense that this musical fresco comes from a Jungian well of subconscious, is totally missing. Listen to the utter refusal to yield to emotional expression in the finale - precise brass attacks everywhere, lean string sound. Except perhaps for the length, there is nothing radical to elucidate in Mahler 3's finale, and Boulez manages to sound as though he feels contempt for this movement. The third movement, in spite of a wonderful posthorn solo, is far too stiff limbed to make any real impact. On the other hand, one has the sense of a completely different, luminously classical conception coming into focus. Boulez, like earlier conductors, is extremely strict with the second movement tempos, and instead attempts to achieve the nature effects with timbre and texture. Again, it's a miracle he's as successful as he is, but one has to wonder why such effort when there are easier and much more effective ways to elicit the same effects .The performance is at its most successful in the vocal movements, the simplicity of which lends itself better to Boulez's severity. One could call this an alternate approach, and yet it is the approach of so many unsuccessful Mahler 3's who lack the virtue of great playing. It says something about the narrowmindedness of much of Boulez's following that criticism of Boulez is equated with criticism of everything about Boulez. That is the mark of a cult mentality in which one has to silence the heretic. Nevertheless, Boulez was, unquestionably, a brilliantly talented musician, and perhaps even a brilliantly talented, if utterly perverse, thinker. Was he a genius? Not at least in my opinion, but unlike Boulez, I certainly recognize that my opinions can be, and often prove to be, wrong. Geniuses, like Mahler, are far more generous, far more diverse, far more willing to evolve, far more interested in incorporating the widest variety of influence into their work. Boulez is, in so many ways, a musician of 1955 who didn't evolve into the future. It often seems that Mahler wasn't truly understood until the 60's, and the effect of Boulez's recording is strangely quaint, like a more refined version of those old recordings which didn't quite understand a composer so ahead of his time. 7.2/10
Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony 2003 - 106 minutes. Tempos this slow should never work, but the weight and languor with which MTT invests it demonstrates it clearly does - at least for the most part. There's no denying how aware one is of time's passage when nearly two hours are on the line, but it's amazing that one is not more aware. MTT never misses a chance to invest the sound with as much weight as such tempos can possibly carry. In this case, the slow tempos give the players plenty of breathing room to express without inhibition. MTT, to my knowledge, has never done much Wagner, yet the rolling sensation of metaphysical space is so clearly Wagnerian. For all the drama of the timbre, it's all too focused on sublimity to feel enough musical violence - which in Mahler is a requirement. Yet the second movement is as close to a platonic ideal as a performance gets, and while the scherzo is a full 19 minutes, the basic tempo is nevertheless quite fast. Where it slows to a crawl is in the posthorn solos, in which languor is pretty much entirely forgivable. Rather than a merely distant encounter, you feel completely immersed in the echoing natural air which the posthorn solo occupies so quietly, and which sets up the night movement absolutely beautifully. Like the second movement, the night movement gets a desert island performance, full of sublime sounds that are absolutely eerie. The whole thing is, frankly, too lofty to consider a full view of Mahler. MTT and his glorious American band give the raucous comedy their full due when asked, but there's so much spaciousness and sublimity that by the over twenty-six minute finale you completely forget about everything that happened just a half-hour ago (in the case of this performance forty minutes ago). Nevertheless, it is a real and legitimate view of Mahler as the heir to Wagnerian metaphysics - Mahler 3 from the summit of the Zauberberg... - that fully deserves to be considered. 8.2/10
Riccardo Chailly/Concertgebouw Orchestra 2004 - This is ground zero of everything I find perverse about the 'New Mahler' in which the playing is so amazing it can sound like a digital reproduction of expression. Whenever I hear Chailly, not just in Mahler, I wonder to myself if there is such a thing as musicmaking that is 'too good.' I shall never cease to be in awe Chailly's craft. I don't think there has ever been a conductor who realizes the composer's score so effectively. And yet, Chailly's performances are as though we listen to a musician who'd rather play to an empty hall. It all seems like an extremely intricate game to him. Their technical level is so high that one, or at least I, can't hear past the technique. Mid-20th century had supervirtuosos in America like Fritz Reiner and George Szell, who established standards of both technique and taste that were unprecedented in orchestral life. Herbert von Karajan took their technical level still further and added a luxurious beauty of tone which no Hungarian save Ormandy ever attempted. Gone was the heat generated by the attaca of American precision, and in its place, a sonic velour. Karajan's digital spirit has been carried in Northern Europe by conductors like Riccardo Chailly and Mariss Jansons to a quantum plane so high it can even imitate feeling. In the sweep or in the detail, no orchestra ever played Mahler 3 this well, and Chailly, unlike Jansons, never misses an intellectual trick in any score. Just about everything in the score is here, unadorned. But what is the point of a perfect reproduction of a page? All you're drawn to is the excellence with which intensions are realized, but nothing's learned and everything can be predicted. It's as dry as a mouse in winter.
Michael Gielen/SWR Symphony 200 - Had Klemperer ever recorded Mahler 3, I'm sure this would be a reasonable approximation. The thirty-five and a half minute first movement is consistently slow and gritty. The whole thing, both major and minor, feels well under the generally accepted tempos, and with hardly a single measure in which Gielen permits himself the freedom of rubato. But like old-man Klemp, Gielen uses the extra time to dig into those weird sounds for maximum pungency. It's not an expressionist 3rd like Scherchen's, But Gielen is a far better technician than Klemperer ever was,
Christoph Eschenbach/Orchestre de Paris 2010 - Christoph Eschenbach has never been a musician as great as his talent, which is of a genius that equals those rare recreative musical brains who know how to reach into places unknown to the rest of us and consistently gets away with disobeying the composer in manners mere mortals never could. With musicians like him, music is a four-dimensional experience, the revelations of which can only exist in the moment of its performance. There are myriads of other ways to achieve greatness, but few which allow it so consistently. Eschenbach could easily have been among their number. Had Eschenbach stayed with the same orchestra for thirty years, he'd be remembered as the great German conductor of our time. Instead, he jets around, plays the absentee music director, collecting fees when he should be collecting great performances. The performances of this musician who relies on his talent to accomplish what only hard work can do, alternate between transcendence and outright incompetence. He is a musician who is far greater than he deserves to be, and could easily have been an immortal had so chosen. He fails at being precisely the kind of slick professional he aspires to be, which is antithetical to his natural probity.
Alan Gilbert/New York Philharmonic 2010 - Alan Gilbert should still be the director of the New York Philharmonic. He was the first director the orchestra had since Boulez who took the job for a reason other than vanity and showed genuine vision. He was unfairly maligned in standard repertoire, which ignored that at least he made the Philharmonic commit to their performances as though they wanted to be there; which is more than Maazel, Masur, or Mehta could do. This is a recorded download of his very first subscription concert as their music director. I read a review that ripped this concert to shreds, which from the vantage point of my headphones strikes me as incredibly unfair. Nobody will mistaken this for the performance of a master, but it does most of the right things. 8.5
Markus Stenz/Cologne Gurzenich Orchestra 2012 -
Eliahu Inbal/Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra 2013 - Is Eliahu Inbal history's most underrated conductor, or simply history's most underrated conductor of Mahler? When hearing a rendition like this, it's possible to believe that Inbal is the zenith of all Mahler performance - not Kubelik, not Bernstein, not Tennstedt. This is from his second complete cycle, made in his mid-seventies, after a series of Mahler recordings while he briefly was conductor of the Czech Philharmonic - the kind of post he eminently deserves but never gets. It's exactly ninety minutes, definitely on the fast side, and even if you feel the speed, it's perhaps all the more an accomplishment to animate all those details at speeds for which nuance becomes far more difficult. Yes, maybe there could be a little more repose in his just barely 30 minute first movement, but on the other hand - it's still a half-hour long!!! Even Bernstein didn't know how to animate this monster movement before his sixties. Inbal excels Bernstein in the one place where Bernstein is lacking. Except for one movement - unfortunately perhaps the most important where Mahler stretches his imagination to its pinnacle, Inbal sounds as though he is recomposing Mahler's work in the moment of performance - tapping into the Mahlerian stream of consciousness as perhaps only Kubelik also does. Where Inbal fails, however, is slightly unforgiveable. Mahler was never more imaginative than in the scherzo, which requires a flexibility of tempo to which Inbal, sadly, does not give in. Like every other movement, the textures are vivid enough to eat, but they require breathing room which a steady tempo can never endow. Nevertheless, the glories of this performance are higher than nearly any other. Does the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony have a truly world class plushness? No. And when they achieve the effects they do, who cares? 12/10
Jaap van Zweden/Dallas Symphony 2016 - To go from the top of the violin profession to the top of conducting so quickly, to have raised the Dallas Symphony to such a level in a mere seven years... Zweden is clearly one of the world's most gifted musicians, no matter what Norman Lebrecht says. Whether he puts his gift in the service of something deserving is another matter. Like Lorin Maazel, his technical virtuosity can be strikingly unfeeling, but he's mercifully bereft of Maazel's mannerisms, and seems, to a fault, to let the structure of the work he directs speak for itself. And as in so many Zweden performances, the little details here are astounding. Like Gielen, he sometimes puts me in mind of how Klemperer might have conducted the work, but still more he puts me in mind of how Reiner, Dorati or Szell might have. Like all four conductors, the small nuances of dynamics, minor details of articulation that create a veritable tapestry of color, and all of it fitted neatly into an iron-clad sense of architecture. And therein lies the problem. Mahler 3 is not supposed to be a coherent, classical structure. Zweden can light fireworks, though he bypasses a number of chances for them, and even at moments when he does, he does not allow for the breathing room that gives us proper level of awe they should inspire. Breathing room is not a matter of tempo. At ninety-six minutes, Zweden's tempos are roughly average. Kubelik and Inbal are both much faster, yet by a very precise fluidity of tempo, they both give us the full view of the landscape Zweden denies us. Zweden generally is a conductor of the military variety whose music making does not have space for leisure. He clearly demands maximum control from moment to moment, and his precision can generate enormous intensity, if not always much in the way of expression. Beginning in the fourth movement, matters do improve significantly. The infamously imperious Zweden finally catches wing in the distant, elusive, fourth movement. The fire of life animates the last movement only intermittently, whose warmth seems anathema to Zweden. One would think that the Concertgebouw's old concertmaster, working so closely on Mahler with Haitink and Bernstein, would learn a thing or two, but there's no credential that can replace genuine connection. Zweden is clearly trying to give an alternative view of the score - a coherently designed building rather than a chaotic wilderness, and he should be given credit for that, even if it's ultimately unsatisfactory. As the New York Philharmonic's next music director, there will doubtless be a second Mahler 3 from Jaap, and it will probably be an improvement on the first. There are composers Zweden does exceedingly well - Bruckner seemingly principle among them with Wagner and Brahms close behind. Mahler, however, requires every human quality, and humanity is something Zweden deliberately seems to keep in short supply. 6.5/10
We begin with an antisemitic lecture by Miroslav Zuckerman-Rabinovich. Since 1980, Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovitch has been a Professor of Marxist Theory at the University of Bratislava. In the mid 1980s, he rose to prominence in Czechoslovakia for refusing to sign his name to a document condemning thirty-two of his colleagues already fired for counterrevolutionary tendencies, though recent evidence has shown that he was in fact the author of the document. In 1993 he was appointed Distinguished Professor of Sexuality at the Freiuniversitat of Berlin on account of his treatise on perversion: Die Geschichte der Perversionen von der urzeit bis zum Dritten Jahrtausend und von der Saülingsalter aus dem Totenstarre. Eine historische und soziologische und psychologische betrachtung über die Ursachen und Wirkungen und so weiterwhich became an international bestseller. In 1999, he was appointed Distinguished Fellow of Lacanian Fetishism at the Ontological Institute of Social Action at the London School of Economics following the runaway success of his second best seller - Capitalism: A Degenerate's Instruction Manual. In 2003, he was appointed Professeur Distingueat the Sorbonne for his French bestseller: La Dialectique, l'autre, et la jouissance dans Bush, Saddam, et Jerry Lewis. The book did not do as well in translation. In 2006, Columbia University appointed him University Professor, their highest Professorial chair given to only twenty people throughout the history of the school. In his case the Robert Guccione University Professor of Pornographic Cinema on account of his third international best-seller: The Phenomenology of Ejaculate.
In the last ten years the Professor has written no less than fifty books, none of which contain footnotes. He gained particular recognition in May 2013 when in the span of a single week, he submitted four books for publishing under the titles: Harry Potter and The Epistemological Break, Revenge of the Sith at The End of History, The Dark Knight's Historical Unconscious, Tokyo Drift: The Fast and The Furious and the Sublimation of the Death Drive - but he was thereafter sued by MIT publishing because all four books contained the exact same text. The Professor's defense attorney claimed he intended it as a heuristic statement.
While Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovitch describes himself as an unreformed Marxist, he's also had something resembling a second career as a copy editor for the J Crew Catalogue, ensuring that all of its catalogue descriptions have a self-reflexive, ironically knowing, and implicit Marxist critique of itself which allows consumers from the bourgeois elite to congratulate themselves for their awareness of their imminent demise due to the superstructure and everything the superstructure tells them to hold dear drawing ever closer to collapse with every shirt purchase. The Guardian recently reported that Professor Rabinovitch is paid $40,000 per issue.
In 2014 the Professor also found himself embroiled in simultaneous paternity suits from graduate students at every Ivy League University. Each case was settled out of court, but Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich used the experience to write a controversial book on feminism in which he argues there can be no true feminism until feminists recognize the inherent right of every woman to choose to subject herself to exploitation. It was hailed by Jacobin magazine as a ground breaking work of social theory. Z Magazine called it the greatest revelation in feminist thought since Stan Goff. The eighty-page book can be found in stores everywhere for $34.95.
Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich has occasionally been mentioned as a socialist candidate for President of the European Union Council. He has, however, stipulated that the dissolution of the EU is a precondition of his accepting the job. In the past two years, Zuckerman-Rabinovich became a surrogate speaker on campaign trails for socialist candidates like Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Jeremy Corbyn, and Jean-Luc Melenchon. Each campaign refused to disclose how much the Professor was paid for his assistance, but the Professor assured the public in an interview with Russia Today that he was only paid what every person should earn in properly administered social democracies. Tune in tomorrow to hear the antisemitic insights of one of the intellectual giants of our time.
"I would like to begin this lecture by addressing the obvious question which it poses. I call this an antisemitic lecture. Why? Because there has been an unfortunate stigma in recent history surrounding antisemitism and I feel it is very important to consider the benefits of antisemitism as well as the disadvantages. To state this fact is not, my god, to condone acts of antisemitism, but to defend the very useful concept of antisemitism itself from the threat of its disappearance.
I find the concept of antisemitism very interesting because it is grounded in certainties that should be obvious to all of us. First thing: Through an accident of history, Judaism was positioned at the center between Europe, Asia, and Africa, a center through which ideas could travel with a facility which is impossible elsewhere. Monotheism may have been invented twenty or three-hundred thousand years before Judaism in Myanmar or Peru, or discovered millions of times in millions of places, but in an age before mass communication or transit, the widespread exportation is impossible in any place but Israel. In an age before monotheism, no legal codes could be binding because all legality was grounded in holy protection, and no god of one region could have binding authority in another. But when there is one God, law becomes universal. The necessity of records becomes permanent.
Second Thing: The greater organization of the Hebrew people enabled an accelerated human rate of development. Their empire under David and Solomon rose to eminence at far greater speed due to their greater intellectual and organizational development, but the newness of their techniques and outlook also facilitated a decline just as sudden.
Why? Because until their empire, the Hebrews were a tribe of bedouin refugees, absorbing the influences of the Canaanites, of Egypt, of Mesopotamia, and not only was the encirclement what sealed their sudden decline, it was also the newness of their outlook that threatened the superstructure - in places where values are less universal, organization is less necessary. The Hebrew Empire declined so quickly that its subjects never forgot how to live as refugees.
What I find so interesting about this is the ideological roots of Judaism in a pre-ideological era then causes Judaism to forever walk its certainties back. It is the original Hegelian dialectic. Everything in the world is ideology, and Judaism commits the original sin in believing that ideology can be transcended. It arrives at the universal superstructure, but believes that by study and reason and statistics, we can limit ideology and dogma by arriving at an interpretation of dogma that is more flexible and humane. But humanity does not need a humane dogma, it needs ruthlessly correct dogma and ideology applied to all things.
Third thing: the malicious original sin of Judaism is that by accepting incorrect ideology, it perverts incorrect ideology into something humane and livable, a practical and pleasant temporary solution that can only work for a few thousand years rather than forever. And there is therefore a direct line from Judaism to capitalism, which prevents the enactment of permanent solutions, and it is Judaism that prevents seeing the incorrectness of of capitalist ideology which sanctions inequalities.
The misnomer is that any circumstances exist outside of the ideological superstructure. There is no perception that exists outside of ideology. Therefore, the ideology which controls our lives is capitalism. Why? Because capitalism is the ideology that allows for individual differences that allow for inequality and authorize murder, torture, rape, exploitation, capitalism and Judaism. Many people like to point to the relative inequalities of capitalism that make inequality tolerable. These capitalists point to statistics that demonstrate the apparently relative inequalities of the capitalist hegemony. Why? Because statistics and facts are an incorrect ideology that require theological faith to believe, and therefore contorts dogma into intolerable ambiguities that prevent permanent solutions.
In every historical era of history the Jews had an opportunity to reach dialectical fulfillment. What do I mean by dialectical fulfillment? I mean that the ambiguities of Judaism could become the theological certainties of Assyrianism Babylonianism, Hellenism, Romanism, Christianity, Islam, Spinozism, Philosophism, Marxism, and Critical Theory. Each of my last six examples, the intellectual tradition of Judaism is clearly the ontological foundation upon which they base themselves, and in each of the first four, the permanent records of Judaism, created from their own ontological formation in Egypt and epistomological foundation from Mesopotamia was clearly the epistomological foundation upon which these classical empires based themselves.
Why does each become a dialectical fulfillment which Judaism is destined to reject? Because the ontological and epistomological foundation of each is based in Judaism's teleological didactics. Judaism survives to each era because its teleology refuses to accept a permanent dogma that views the world as an ideology that cannot be debated. It is only by the unquestioning mass obedience of the whole world of a utopian fulfillment that we can move to the next historical phase of utopian didactic. Nevertheless, Judaism insists on individuality and debate.
With the isolation enforced upon them in exile, the Jewish people had to assume all those characteristics which they were assumed to possess - thereby becoming the simultaneous possessor of the greatest and worst of humanity's qualities, at all times inhabiting the spirit of both Jesus and Caiaphas in dialectic, and in doing so become humanity's most perfect victim and most perfect predator. No sooner are they granted communities and countries of their own than they resume the detestable intolerance which has always been their modus operandi, an intolerance which they then taught to Christians and have no one to blame but themselves for the revisitation of the persecution they perpetrated upon Christians then upon themselves, however many thousandfold times more severe. In traumatic and dangerous circumstances, they developed their most particular qualities to the greatest extremes. They developed intelligence to such an extent that they turned it into pedantry, and similarly turned criticism into intolerance, industry into greed, altruism into fanaticism. The most fanatical champions of capitalism and communism, inventors of the Church and the greatest champions of liberalism and pluralism, the first to spread the Gospel in West and the last to deny it. the most influential monotheistic thinkers like Solomon and Jesus, and the most influential atheisticals like Marx and Spinoza. They even became extreme, and perhaps especially extreme, when trying to pursue moderation. So preoccupied with dogma and the elimination of ambiguity that they perpetually dwell in an ambiguous neither region between dogmas, where mankind cannot transcend the dogmas of its human condition into any greater state of being. It is, through an accident of history, Judaism, which at first glance looks like such a blessing, yet is clearly humanity's greatest impediment.
AC Charlap: Alright we've heard enough. I can't let this keep going.
Rabbi Swamley: Let the speaker finish!
AC Charlap: Let the speaker finish?
Rabbi Swamley: He's a famous thinker!
AC Charlap: I would think you'd be a hundred times more offended by this antisemitism than I am.
Rabbi Swamley: I go to all this to book a famous speaker you won't let him finish?
AC Charlap: You said it was no problem!
Rabbi Swamley: No problem! Of course it's problem! I make a dozen phone calls and and promise him a percentage of the show!
AC Charlap: You promised him a percentage of the show's profits????
Rabbi Swamley: It was the price he wanted!
AC Charlap: Why the fuck would you do that?
Rabbi Swamley: We don't make any money!
AC Charlap: But what if we do? Why the fuck would you promise him a gross percentage?
Rabbi Swamley: Why the fuck do you ask me to book better speakers?!
AC Charlap: I just wanted a speaker who wouldn't hit me with a 2x4!
Rabbi Swamley: This one's a pacifist!
AC Charlap: You hate pacifists!
Rabbi Swamley: A-ha but you don't!
AC Charlap: What the fuck is this, are you just trying to trip me up???
Rabbi Swamley: I just thought that's how you like to talk!
AC Charlap: Is there a single thing you don't screw up?!?
Rabbi Swamley: Oh, Charlap is now going to tell me what a screw up SOMEONE ELSE is???
Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich: Ach. Typical Jewish dialectic.
AC Charlap: Rabbi. Get this guy the fuck out of my studio!
Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich: He won't do that.
AC Charlap: What?
Rabbi Swamley: I promised him a series of lectures on our podcast. If he doesn't...
(ambulance noise, followed by entrance of lawyer and associate)
Roy Fagan: Mr. Charlap my name is Roy Fagan, this is my associate Mr. Ivanov, and we're here to warn you that you are dangerously close to breech of contract for which you will be subpoenaed, held in contempt, possibly face jailtime and a fine of 500,000 dollars.
Mr. Ivanov: If I were you tovaresh I would let the Professor finish...
AC Charlap: ...Alright...
Professor Zuckerman-Rabinovich: I will finish another time, in the meantime let's let these Jews learn some obedience. (the three leave, drive away in an ambulance)
AC Charlap: WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU GET ME INTO?!?!?
(cue Psalm 5)
Charlap: What is the old new land. Where is the....
Swamley: Kharlap? Really? You gonna do this now?
Swamley: The Old New Land beginning stuff is gantzeh khopteh that's stupid and gets more pretentious every time you do it!
Charlap: You're gonna tell me it's pretentious?
Swamley: What? What's the problem?
Charlap: You're trans-religious like Rachel Dolezal's black and you're telling me what I do is pretentious?!?
Swamley: Oh so you're going to bring that up every time I say something you think is stupid?
Charlap: It's a pretty big fucking thing!
Swamley: You don't have to swear!
Charlap: You've already sworn in this cast!
Swamley: Oh so now you're gonna remind me of that too!
Charlap: I don't have to, you're still faking being Jewish, faking that stupid Israeli accent, acting like you're a scion of the Skverer fucking Rebbe when you're from Duluth fucking Minnesota!
Swamley: Alight, well you don't have to rub it in.
Charlap: Oh my god....
(cut to tale)
In order to tell the tale of Clarissa Johansen, we must tell the tale of her mentor, the warm and wise and perceptive and ceaselessly self-draining Bethany Katz, blessed and cursed by nature to always protect whether or not she's protected in return, to give without being given. Bethany's is the story of love - spiritual love, humane love, public love, personal love, the strength which love gives, and the bridges love cannot cross. The only love she never possessed is self-love. There always seem to be certain women with a preternatural intelligence for protection, and where there once was sand, they build whole cities of people blessed to come into their orbit, yet the only person who could bless them is themselves, and they are too busy blessing others to ever know how. They are not only masters of protection but also persuasion. One well-placed word can make a hundred people realize they've always liked is someone they hated or that someone they always liked is an asshole. Were they different sorts of people, the gift could make them President of the United States, but the heart matches the brain, and they become determined to use their perceptive, persuasive, protective powers for virtue, yet always underestimate just how difficult the world makes it to be virtuous. Bethany works, and she works, and she works, and she waits, and she waits, and she waits, but we're always thrown out of the Old New Land.
"It's like you get five religions in one" is what Barack Obama's grandfather said about Unitarianism. Unitarian Universalism, that great leveler of Christ, the great hope that religion and modernity can mix, that you can tame religion and all its demands for Holy War into a domesticated pet that lets you experience the holiness of divinity without recognizing its primacy, lets you feel connected to the oneness of all things while still feeling yourself important enough to love and be loved, guiltlessly binding the best of all religions together without considering how the people to whom these practices are life itself might feel it desecration.
And yet, Unitarianism is the best of us: The Adamses, the Alcotts, Barack Obama's family, Susan B. Anthony, Bela Bartok, Ray Bradbury, e. e. cummings, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Buckminster Fuller, Horace Greeley, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thomas Jefferson, Tomas Masaryk, Hermann Melville, Isaac Newton, Paul Newman, Keith Olbermann, Linus Pauling, Joseph Priestley, Christopher Reeve, Paul Revere, Benjamin Rush, Arthur Schlesinger, Albert Schweitzer, Pete Seeger, Rod Serling, Robert Gould Shaw, Adlai Stevenson, William Howard Taft, Kurt Vonnegut, Daniel Webster, William Carlos Williams, Joanne Woodward, Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Wright.
There are less than 200,000 members of Unitarian Churches in the entire world, and less than 900,000 people who identify as Unitarian. No religion, not even Judaism, ever did so much in so short a time by such a large percentage of adherents to advance the causes of freedom and justice and beauty in the world. It is the religion of true miracles, in which the divine works are made manifest not in the skies, but here on earth - the place where in the end we find our happiness, or not at all.
At fifteen years old, few were happier than Bethany Felicity Katz; younger daughter of the Reverend Mary Katz, Senior Minister for the last three years of the First Unitarian Universalist Church and Center in San Francisco at the intersection of Geary Blvd and Franklin Street, herself the daughter of Matthew Williams, for thirty-seven years the Senior Minister at First Parish in Concord, himself the second son of The Very Reverend Frank Williams, who was Senior Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, the flagship Unitarian Church on Farnsworth St. in Boston. After fifty-two years, Reverend Frank was succeeded by Very Reverend Frank Jr., whom until then was Senior Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in DC on Harvard St. and ran the Unitarian Lobby, DC Unitarians for Social Justice. Frank Sr.'s third son, Burke Williams, fried his mind with hallucinogenics in 1950's San Francisco and lived in a group home for thirty-five years for the mentally disturbed before the San Francisco Chronicle published an expose about fifty years of physical abuse perpetrated on their patients - choke holds that killed multiple patients, illegal frontal lobotomies, deliberate misdiagnoses to justify violent restraints, not notifying next of kin of about shock treatments, solitary confinement for weeks at a time, ice cold high pressure water jets, and untold numbers of unreported sexual assaults. Frank Jr. and Burke had not seen each other in forty years. Burke was a stranger to the family who had last been mentioned by anyone when Mary was a teenager.
On one sleety day before Christmas of 1990, Mary was summoned into Frank Jr.'s office where she was informed that she would not in fact take over her father's parish but was, rather, being reassigned to San Francisco. Frank made it clear to his niece that she would be expected to look after Burke, who'd been moved to an assisted living facility, and as a woman, was the family member best equipped to provide the nurturing Burke needed. Six weeks after their arrival, Burke hung himself in his new room, but the Katzes had already put so much effort into making the best of their new life that they decided to stay.
Bethany was also the younger daughter of Bob Katz, the most expensive, and therefore the best, invasive cardiologist practicing at Mass Gen, who left both his hospital and his still more lucrative private practice in Concord to live in a Victorian townhouse on Steiner St. across from Alamo Square Park that he joyfully repainted with bright primary colors when their new neighbors suggested that the Katzes turn the last remaining house on their block into one of the Victorian Painted Ladies. In his new practice, he worked thirty hours a week rather than seventy, and he didn't need any more money than he had. His fiftieth was around the corner, and he had more than enough money to keep his family living handsomely in San Francisco's best neighborhood while his mother was safely in the Boston Area's best Assisted Living facility. If there was anything serious, his sister could drive down from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
When Bob started dating Mary Williams, his parents were livid. Not just a goyisher girl but a textbook shikseh, not just a textbook shikseh but the daughter of a minister, not just the daughter of a minister but a divinity student who'll be a minister herself. You can forget about Jewish grandchildren. There'd be a tree in the house every year, some years they wouldn't even be at the Seder because Easter would fall on the same days, and there's no question who'd win in a contest between Sunday and Hebrew School. It's not that Phil and Essie Katz particularly cared themselves whether Robert married a Jewish girl, but they knew that both their widowed mothers would be furious.
Bob's bubbies: Flora Katz (born Blumeh Levinson) and Mildred Spivak (born Menukhke Braverman) - didn't much care for each other, but both of them doted upon their goldene eynikle who went to Harvard Medical as though neither had five other grandchildren. They didn't become slaves to the kitchen and the corner store and the schmatteh factory and the supermarket and the nursing home just so their spoiled kinder and eyniklach could become accountants or podiatrists or go into their father's business. They both vanted a r-r-rich doktah, and they finally had one. Bob was a naches machine. You would never know this nice Jewish boy was brilliant if you spoke to him, but he was valedictorian at Boston Latin, Summa Cum Laude in Harvard undergrad, and soon to be the speaker in his year at its med school graduation. If only they would live to see Bob deh cahdiologist ver makhten zechs hundert teusend thaler a jahr. Und sechs hundert teusend thaler a jahr was what Bob would make in his new practice, in Boston he would bill with an eye to clearing the million dollar mark, some years he made it, one year he didn't but his partner did and never let him live it down. When he was leaving, his partner, Sunil Malhotra, shrugged and jokingly said 'more for me.'
His parents thought they could keep both their mothers in the dark about the relationship which their goldene eynikle who attends Harvard Medical School embroiled himself. It would be at least a good three years before they'd have to talk about marriage, and at some point Bob would realize, as he always eventually did, that he wasn't doing the sensible thing. Eight months into the relationship, Blumeh passed away. On the first anniversary of their first date, the lovebirds announced their engagement to the family. Menukhkeh passed a week after getting the news.
They moved to San Francisco when Bethany was twelve and her older sister was sixteen. Bethany's older sister, Marian, was bitter about the move and let her parents know in no uncertain terms. She had a boyfriend in Boston she had to leave, seemingly hundreds of school friends, and was determined to hate every minute of her years in San Francisco. When it came time for college, she applied only to schools in Boston, and chose Northeastern. Six months after graduation she married her high school sweetheart, had four children, stayed at home to take care of them, and is now that the younger two are teenagers is wondering what to do when everybody leaves the house. Maybe she'll get involved with politics - she fancies that she always wanted to care about things, or maybe she'll just take an art class.
Bethany, however, was the type who knew how to be happy wherever she went. If Bethany's parents always figured that Marian would become a doctor, it seemed absolutely obvious that Bethany was destined for a life of service. Like Marian, she was the most popular girl in her class at Cambridge Friends School, but unlike Marian, her popularity was not based on fear, and when she enrolled in San Francisco Friends School, she quickly became the most well-liked girl in her class - her teachers commenting on what a lovely effect she had on the other kids. A relatively unruly class of kids was suddenly nicer to each other, better behaved in class, and even the picked on kids who were falling behind were accepted by others because Bethany accepted them. In the case of the most particularly picked on and learning disabled kid, she would cheerfully volunteer to partner with him on group projects and gently ministered with patient help and explanations to get him caught up with the class.
There was no third sibling, but as seemed tradition from time immemorial in every branch of the Williams family, Bob and Mary would board a new student every year. In generations past, it would be divinity students, but in Jet Age of the late 20th century, it seemed especially exciting to host a foreign exchange student. So every year, Bob and Mary Katz would host a new foreign exchange student to Cambridge Friends School, and when they came to San Francisco, promptly founded a foreign exchange program at San Francisco Friends School.
Marian was, perhaps understandably, a little bitter about the experience of having to learn to communicate with strange people. When she was fourteen, one particular male exchange student from Argentina would make a pass at her every day while living under their roof, and twice was waiting in her bedroom for her when she came out of the shower. Her parents never seemed to take her complaints about the students particularly seriously, but after that experience they generally made it a practice of taking female exchange students.
Bethany though, would take it upon herself to learn as much as she could about her new siblings' language, their cultures, their hometowns, their families and friends back home, and would stick to them like glue in public to make sure that their transition to America ran as smoothly as the day is long. After they went back to their home countries, she would write them long letters full of hearts to make sure they knew how they were missed and how much love they added to the Katz family, inevitably ending with ample promises to visit them back home.
When Bethany was seventeen in 1993, the exchange student was Kristina from Dresden - a new adventure. Blond, six-foot-one, star center midfielder, friendly and outgoing, fluent and accented English full of wonderful malapropisms, and hilariously unable to get jokes. Every attempt to turn her smile into a laugh would be met with a brow that frowned while the smile stayed pasted on, and two seconds later an explanation as to why the statement Bethany just made was not true. It caused Bethany no end of delight. Kristina's father was once a member of the Communist party, his father before him a member of the Nazi party. Other various indirect ancestors were members of the Deutsche Reichspartei, the SPD, the Stazi, and the Waffen-SS.
But you would never know from such a troubled past by looking at Kristina, who resembled life itself. Nothing was too adventurous for Kristina, who insisted on taking Bethany, indeed the whole Katz family, all along the trails and rivers of Northern California. The Katzes thought they were an outdoors family until Kristina took them to a new outdoor habitation every weekend.
It was during one of these outdoor habitations that a series of a dozen-and-a-half vans pulled up to the next door house. Driving through the entire block is prohibited, so traffic was blocked for half-a-mile in each direction. Ten children emerged with two parents, and forty other men and women (mostly men) helping them move into the two houses to the east of the Katzes. The men wear dark suits and black hats which they only take off for the severest of labors, the women never take off their long sleeves or their long dark dresses or the hats atop their heads. The few women who show any hair look as though theirs is completely synthetic.
Within seven hours, all the furniture was properly deposited, along with an extra sink properly drilled and plumbed, two refrigerators installed, an extra oven installed with the previously installed thoroughly cleansed, two microwaves, two toasters. All able to be done because the wall between the two townhouses was thoroughly knocked down so that two townhouses become one large townhouse in the middle of the San Francisco Victorians. The multicolored hue of the Victorian paintjob was next thing taken care of, repainted not as a many-colored cloak but as a simple Blue and White, with a painting on the third floor of an old man's face with a very long, almost completely square beard with four Hebrew letters underneath that read "Mem, Shin, Yud, Khet." Moshiach.
San Francisco is always looking for a cause to protest, the more senseless the cause, the greater the agitation. No sooner had every townhouse on the Painted Lady block become Painted Ladies than two of them were desecrated completely. There could be no more perfect storm for San Francisco.
If Unitarian Universalism is Christianity without the Messiah, then Chabad is Judaism with it. The Chabadniks, or Lubavitchers, believe that Moshiach has already arrived, but he unexpectedly died in his nineties, and we await his second coming. Who is this great Messiah? He is the seventh Rabbi of Lyubavitchi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, great-grandson of the Third Lubavitcher Rebbe, also named Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and son-in-law of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson, who was accompanied on his journey to America by none other than A. C. Charlap's great-grandfather, Yehuda Leib Gordon. There were six Lubvitcher Rebbes before this Rav Schneerson, and there will never be another.
In a letter from Rabbi Schneerson to Israel's longest-serving President, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Schneerson wrote "From the time that I was a child attending Cheder, and even before, the vision of the future Redemption began to take form in my imagination -- the Redemption of the Jewish people from their final Exile, a redemption of such magnitude and grandeur through which the purpose of the suffering, the harsh decrees, and the annihilation of Exile will be understood." But the harsh decree came immediately from the San Francisco community, which no amount of repentance, prayer, or charity could cancel. One would think that the outrage generated by the most expensive city in America, with its roughly 7,000 homeless residents - care of which can cost up to $150,000 a year each, its chronic water shortages, pollutants in the Bay, proliferation of dog shit,endless bridge traffic, and income disparities that make the gentrification of the East Coast as relatively threatening to people of color as a gentle breeze would have finer targets. But the luxury of privilege is to direct your rage on whatever catches your attention, and if Chabad wanted to direct attention to themselves, they could not have done better than destroy the facade of two Victorians. At least a dozen people all throughout the day every day, two or three people who kept silent vigil in the middle of the night, and on weekends, dozens and dozens at all times of day. Not all the signs or chants were particularly offensive, but then you found doozies like "Stop Occupying the Victorians like You Occupy Palestine", "You ruin San Francisco like you ruin Gaza," "Just because we hate you for settling in Palestine doesn't mean we won't hate you for settling here." and Bob's particular favorite for its lack of irony: "Your money is not enough in San Francisco." And of course, it was only a matter of a day or two before the theme of the protests became anti-Israel with chants like "Berkeley, Oakland, California, We Support the Intifada" or "Religion's not heaven-sent, take down all the settlements." Of course, perhaps as always, there was nothing overtly antisemitic about these protests, yet somehow the immediate equation of an overtly Jewish presence with everything people hated about Israel, with money itself... do the math...
Bob was, of course, the opposite of joyful to have neighbors like these, even if he thought the carrying on of the protestors was a bit much. He didn't pay for the most expensive townhouse in America's most expensive city during this dot com boom just to hear vaguely antisemitic chanting every day from his home office. So perhaps he was inclined to have a bit more sympathy for these Jewish embarrassments than he would have been. But when Mary and Bethany told him they were gonna bake a Babka and go over to the new neighbors to welcome these animals, there was no way in hell to make him go with them. He knew that they knew this would annoy the crap out of him, and as always, he wondered if that's why they did it. He wanted to scream at them that this was the worst idea they'd come up with yet. Once you get these people involved in your lives, you can never get rid of them. This would become yet another campaign of two, Mary and Bethany, to make Bob a better, friendlier, more positive person. And Bob knew they were right, eventually he'd always go along, with an inevitable complaint along the way that his wife and daughter would always make fun of him for. And because he had much more sympathy with Marian's skepticism, he became the family disciplinarian who would shout at his cynical older daughter every day for pointing out everything stupid about what her mother believed people could do. God knows Mary was too cheerful to ever discipline anyone, and Mary somehow created a perfect image of herself in Bethany, who seemed, as if by grace of the God his own parents still pretended to believe in, to be the perfect daughter. God knows Marian would be all too happy if she ever heard him talk out loud like this about their family, but one day Marion'll see that he was right that they were right. One day... one day... one day this crusade of positivity will go much too far... and something this stupid just might be it. They don't know these people, but they'll learn very quickly, and I don't know if it'll be for the best. It might curb their good cheer to better causes, on the other hand, it might ruin their happiness completely. But giving Mary and Bethany the freedom he never permitted himself gave Bob more happiness than any Katz ever thought possible. For twenty-five years, it went against every instinct in his innards to let Mary pursue whatever wacky scheme to make the world a better, brighter place without telling her that any one of these plans could have backfired horrifically, and one day, one of them probably will. And yet she proved his instinct wrong every time. He'd had these moments of subtle panic every time she had an idea which made him worry, which was just about every day, yet she was always right. Maybe, just maybe, she'll prove him wrong about frummies. So the next Sunday, two of the three Katz girls knock on the door of their new neighbors. The door is opened by an adolescent boy with a faint wisp of a beard. "Hi there? I'm Mary Williams Katz and this is my daughter Bethany. We're so happy to welcome you to our block and neighborhood." "Katz?" "Yeah. I'm Mary Williams Katz." "Just a minute." This boy with stooped shoulders walks further back into the house with a limp. It was weird enough to watch him sway from side to side with severely stooped shoulders as he talks, but as they get to know him better, they'll realize that he didn't even look them in the eye at the door, because he never did again. The Katz women hear conversation from the next room that sounds like whispering, but so loud that they hear every word of it, even if they can't understand. Mary's spent enough time around Bob's extended family to know what Yiddish sounds like, and Bethany, speaking German with Kristina an hour every day, figures German's what she's hearing. Bethany wanted to bring Kristina with her to this house, and couldn't understand why Mary said that would be a bad idea. Maybe Kristina could have told them what's being said now. But as it currently is, neither can understand the commotion except one word out of every ten: "Katz?" After three or four minutes of this, what appears to be the father and mother come out but they don't open the door. The father simply says: "So pleased to meet you I'm Izheh Freylik the new Chabad Rabbi in town I'm so happy to learn that there are Jews next door and I'm so looking forward to getting to know you is there any way that we can come to you later this afternoon?" "Um... Yeah I guess." "Great we'll be by in a half-hour!" "Oh! OK. We made a babka for you." "We'll bring something over to you!" "Oh..." Rabbi Freylik shuts the door and the Katz girls are quite perplexed as to what just happened. They return to their house and brace themselves for telling Bob that that the orthodox neighbors are coming over. But even before they step inside, they find a note on the door. "Went for a run and a coffee, will be back after the Freyliks leave..." The perplexity would only grow when the Freyliks knock on the door at four o'clock - an hour-and-a-half later. All thirteen of them: Rabbi Freylik, Rebbitzin Freylik, Rabbi Freylik mother who's living with them for three months while they get situated, ten of their thirteen kids, from the ages of a month shy of eighteen to six months. None of whom shake the Katz's hands but each of whom brings over a different desert to the Katz household. The younger kids have deserts in one hand, toys in the other: babkah, ruggelach, black and white cookies, apple cake, honey cake, poppy seed cake, mandle bread, dry deli cookies. Later that night, Bob practically ordered Mary to take all these desserts to the Church's soup kitchen, but as he snuck some honey cake in the middle of the night, he would later realize that these clearly store bought desserts tasted downright fresh, then couldn't help but treat himself to a few chocolate tops, a piece of apple cake, a cinnamon rugelach, and the most vivid and bittersweet memories of his Bubbies in twenty-five years. Rebbitzin Freylik asks, 'there's a place we can put the kids where they can be out of the way right?' "Um..." "Just somewhere there isn't a lot of valuables to knock over." Bethany: The basement doesn't have many valuables! "Rinah! Nemen deh kinder tzu deh basement!..." The oldest daughter immediately understands the order they don't, and takes eight of the other nine children into the basement. Bubbeh Freylik: So how long ya family been in San Francisco? Mary: About three years. We're from Boston. Bubbeh Freylik: Oh Baruch Hashem! I have four brothers and sisters in Boston. Mary: Really? Whereabout? Bubbeh Freylik: In Sharon! Simcha Freylik: Well Mameh, technically Sharon's not part of Boston. Mama Freylik: Simcha SHA! Simcha: Vos? Al Ikh hat iz geven az es is nicht... Rabbi Freylik: Simcha! Simcha sighs: ...Alright... Rabbi Freylik: Our son is very bright, but he doesn't yet understand modesty. Bethany: Well, technically he's right, Sharon isn't in Boston. Simcha: Du zest! Bubbeh Freylik gets up and gestures to Simcha: Simcha kumen mit mir. Simcha: Vos? Bubbeh Freylik: Kumm mit mir! Simcha: Vo? Mama Freylik: Nor kumen mit mir. Simcha: Far vos? Rabbi Freylik: Simcha geyn mit deine Bubbeh!!! Simcha gets up and leaves with his grandmother while half-screaming: Yeder mol ihr treffen abi ver tshkikave ir varfen mir aroys! Simcha Freylik storms out of the house with Bubbeh Freylik leaving right after him as though this outburst is part of the natural order of things. Mama Freylik: I'm so sorry about Simcha, he's just... Mary cuts her off: He seems like a very bright boy.
Rabbi Freylik sighs: Ochen vey. Why does such a bright boy have to be my son?... Mary: Oh. Rabbi Freylik: The feinschmeker can't even bother helping his Tatteh do his job! He won't make house calls with me, he won't pick up the phone to get Tzedakah, he won't help me take the inventory. After Cheder he just recites Torah b'al peh for an hour at a time, he corrects my Gemorrah, he tells his Mameh everything she's doing wrong around the house with the Halawcheh. He's just another chassidisher foyler who won't make his own way till Moshiach comes.
Mary: He can recite the Torah for an hour at a time? Rebbitzin Freylik: He knew all of Parashat Bereshit before his fifth birthday! Rabbi Freylik: He's like a Shas Pollak that one. There's nothing he forgets. Rebbitzin Freylik: Oyyy..., nothing he forgets. Rabbi Freylik: He could be the Eighth Rebbe, and acts like he will be but we're Freyliks! We go back to Shneur Zalman and the Baal Shem Tov, but we're on the wrong end of the Lubavich line. Our claim to be the line of Rebbes was lost with Tsemakh Tsadek more than a hundred fifty years ago. Bethany: Shouldn't you be happy that you have such a gifted son? Rabbi Freylik: Meydaleh, you seem like a nice girl but between you and me, what do we got to be tzufridden about? Rebbitzin Freylik: Sha Ori! Ton nit zogn azay Zachn! Rabbi Freylik: Voszhe vilst du! - Now to Bethany - We've got twice as many illuim as ever have room for in Chabad, soon it'll be three. We've got Torah B'al Peh comin' out the oyers! These bochers gotta eat and their mun has to come from somewhere. But nobody thinks about this when they're sixteen. It's all Toyreh Toyreh Toyreh with them. Rebbitzin Freylik: Oh he doesn't mean that. He's just a little inkayes from the stress of the move. But his grouchiness has nothing to do with the fact that we're the most freylichen people you'll ever meet. Rabbi Freylik: She's right y'know. Mary: Freylichen? Rabbi Freylik: Oh, sorry. Freylich. Joyful. It's even in our name. We're joyful. Mary: Oh wow. Bethany: That's beautiful! Rabbi Freylik: Hashem and the Rebbes command us to be happy. It's not easy, but we're always happy. Bethany lights up: You're commanded to be happy? Rebbitzin: It's the most important thing in life. Bethany: That's so true! Isn't it Mom? Rebbitzin: As you come to know us you'll understand that it's by serving Hashem and performing mitzvahs that people achieve happiness. You don't have to do every mitzvah to be happy, and a lot of gentiles and off the derekh Yids are happy because they do mitzvahs without even realizing it. Bethany: What are mitzvahs? Mary: Commandments honey. Bethany: That's gorgeous! Rebbitzin Freylik: It's so nice to hear a Jew understand what's important so quickly! I can tell we're going to be great friends! Bethany: It's so interesting and connects so much with all the things we've been talking about in our family. Mom,... didn't you have something about the importance of staying happy in your sermon a few weeks ago? Rebbitzin Freylik: Sermon? Mary: Mom is the minister at the first Unitarian Universalist Church on Franklin St. Rebbitzin Freylik: We have to go. (screams) "Rinah! Nemen deh kinder aroys fun deh basement!..." Rinah screams back: Vos? Rebbitzin Freylik: Nemen deh kinder aroys fun deh basement! "Far vos?" Rebbitzin Freylik heads down to the basement while Rabbi Freylik leaves without a goodbye. Once again, they can't make out more than one in every tenth word: "Katz?" Bob returns just as the Freyliks make their hasty and not particularly apologetic exit. Not unmischievously, Bob asks "...Found out she was a minister?" (music break) It's Friday morning. Bob works four days a week so that he can have three day weekends and be all ready and packed to take Mary and Bethany and the exchange student on overnight camping trips in the RV, and sleep in for the first time in his life. It's eight-thirty AM, and Bob is dreaming about Bubbie Spivak's chicken soup. He's six years old, Bubbie and Zaydie Spivak are sitting on either side of him, taking turns spooning mouthfuls of the saltiest chicken soup into him. In his dreams he hears the kind of singing he always knew Jews were alleged to sing, but never heard himself, halfway between a whine and an ululation. The nasal incantation, the three-quarter-tone melismas on any note longer than half a second, the vocal breaks into a split second of falsetto. It should be the ugliest thing on the planet, yet it's spectacular to him all the same. He realizes he's in his bedroom, the singing continues, fuck, I'm awake. He hesitates to look outside the bedroom window for a second with trepidation of what he might find, and sure enough sees eighteen men in dancing in a circle in the back yard. It's a rare eighty degree day, but the Frummies are in the usual full black suited garb. They haven't even taken their hats off. No time to waste. We have to show these frummies the rules of the game as soon as possible so he calls the police on them. The police officer tells the frummies if they're gonna sing, they have to go inside. The frummies invite the officer inside. How often does the officer go out on a call like this? They quietly give him some vodka, drink to his good health, \ sing a few songs for him indoors. The singing is just as loud from inside the house and the dancing becomes clapping. It doesn't let up all day as Bob goes out for errands, comes home, packs the granola and the coffee and the ham sandwiches and the wine. The kids of both families come home from school at the exact same time. Neither acknowledge the other. The younger male children sit at the table with Tateh and the grownups, the females go into the kitchen to help Mameh and Bubbeh with the cooking and setting the silverware. Simcha limps up to his room, but Bethany stays downstairs in the nearest seat to the wall, as if in a dream. Bob is extra naggy to Mary today to get them on the road as quickly as possible. The Freyliks have finished decorating their house. A few brothers and a lot of other Rabbis come to San Francisco to see the new place. Two of them caused a scene on the way because the flight sat them next to a woman. Another five thought about making one. This fictional family, the Freyliks, entirely the product of AC Charlap's subconscious, are Chabadniker royalty with the yichus that comes from tracing its roots past the entire lineage of all six Lubavitcher Rebbes to the very mouth of the Chasidisher river, the the Baal Shem Tov himself. The Baal Shem Tov, Besht for short, Yisroel ben Eliezer, Master of the Good Name, founder of Chasidic Judaism, the mystical mid-18th century counterenilightment of Jewish Russia pitted against the German Jewish Enlightenment, Haskalah, of Moses Mendelssohn. "Whosoever believes all the miracle stories of the Baal Shem Tov is a fool," so wrote the Rebbe Schlomo Rodomsk, "but whoever denies he could have done them is a heretic." Of him, Rebbe Mordachai of Neshimsk wrote "Even if a story about him never occurred, and there was no such miracle, it was in the power of the Baal Shem Tov. May his memory be a blessing in the life of the World-to-Come, to perform everything." Moses Mendelssohn told rural Jews to move into cities, make money, learn the language and culture of the goyim, stay Jews but become citizens of the world. Nice idea, but who wants to stay Jewish when you can be a citizen of the world? The Baal Shem Tov saw that the urban Jews weren't making money, so he told them to get out of the city and become farmers. Live together in small communities, educate your children together. It's Kibbutz Zionism a hundred years before Zion was an option. He emerged like another beloved Holy Figure of Zion in the last third of his life: writing amulets, expelling shaydim and dybbuks, curing the incurable. He claimed to have reached Devekut: a state of soul so holy he could speak with the Messiah himself and intercede on our behalf with Yahweh. Orphaned at three, widowed at sixteen, emerging at forty from a quarter-century of living in the woods - teaching children their prayers, digging clay and lime for income, learning how to use herbal remedies, experiencing visions of Achiya HaShiloni, prophet of the Solomonic era. It all sounds a bit familiar. Indeed, he taught that we have to pray for salvation, regarding the Torah as a sacred relic - the mere glance upon which elevates the soul. In place of Satan, the Baal Shem Tov has Amalek, a tribe so terrible that Hashem ordered its genocide down to the very last child. "Amalek is still alive today" he warned "Every time you experience a worry or doubt about how Hashem is running the world -- that's Amalek. Amalek launching an attack against your soul. We must wipe Amalek out of our hearts whenever--and wherever--he attacks so we can serve Hashem with complete joy." Moses Mendelssohn ordered a modern skepticism and irony, the Baal Shem Tov ordered genocide of fear and doubt from the soul, and in its place, joy, joy, joy. From such joy came all the great Chasidic Dynasties: Chernobyl,Chortov, Machnovka, Skver, Fatichan, Vizhnitz, Savran, Hornsteipl, Satmar, Belz,Bobov, Boston, and Bretslav. All, like heretical monarchies, tracing their lineage to the Baal Shem Tov, with tens of thousands of followers at least proliferating through Eastern Europe and the Eastern US and Israel, and virtually all threatened with irrelevance by the new and growing dominance of the Lubavicher line. The older Rebbes of the Lubavitch line were given names like the Alter Rebbe, Mitteler Rebbe, Tzemach Tzedeck, but Menachem Mendel Schneerson was known as the Lubavicher Rebbe, or simply, the Rebbe. He was the culmination, the zenith, and there will never be another to take his place. What was his great contribution? It can be explained fairly simply: Ben Gurion wanted Jews to come home to Tzion, that place between Jordan and Egypt the size of New Jersey. The Rebbe wanted Jews to come home to the infinite Tzion of the neshama, the soul. Paul preached to the heathens, Schneerson apparently preached to those who might as well be heathens in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, French, German, and Italian - or so his followers claim on wikipedia. Direct marketing hopes that one in fifty mailings will show interest and one in fifty of those will result in a sale. Chabad is direct marketing for Jews to be Jewish again. He wanted every Jew in the world to do ten basic mitzvahs, and sent out an army of Yeshiva Bochers to fill the streets of every major city in the world, combing the streets for big nosed men to harass about laying tefilin. Special Yeshivas of education in Torah for women. Seemingly founding Yeshivas in every city that observant Jews were not or no longer found. Sponsoring the widescale emigration of Iranian Jews after the Ayatollah's Coup. When not begging Jews to come back, he preached to his converted flock for hours at a time.
This was the Moshiach whose picture the Freylik family painted over the two Victorians they'd made into a duplex for a family of Jews who believed in a Messiah's second coming, living next to Mary Williams, minister in a Christianity which doesn't even believe the Messiah came once.
"It means 'definitely', 'of course.' It means that you are certain."
Dinner had finished, and Bethany was doing her now customary bringing the chair near the wall to hear the noises of next door. She had just explained, yet again, the magic she felt from the proximity of these mysterious neighbors to Kristina. The constant singing, the loud commotion of ten children, the screaming, and the huge gales of laughter.
Kristina was not the sentimental type. She felt affection, grosse Zuneigung even, for Bethany and this very American family in which everyone always smiled, everyone talked about their feelings, everyone always assumed the best motives of each other, and everyone insisted on having so much fun as to be exhausting. Bethany was a torichtschoener madchen, extraordinary in her solicitousness to a point well beyond foolish. She'd come to feel protective of this girl whom she always wished did not gone so far out of her way to protect Kristina. She'd have liked to get into a little trouble but this girl always insisted on mining Kristina's every movement and thought, and Kristina did not want to trouble her with worry if she ever left home with some boser bob amerikanish on a motorized scooter. So in the Katz household she simply lived like the guttes madschen her own parents never cared whether or not she was. What she'd really miss is the beauty of California. Germany still has plenty of forest, but nothing like the stille Wildheit of these open spaces. She'd wander around the forest alone for hours, sometimes sitting on the ground, while Bob would teach Mary and Bethany the considerable knowledge he had of California's flora and faunae. Perhaps these Americans are so noisy because they can't live with the thought of having so much majesty near to them.
What is it with these Americans who always speak before they're spoken to? They're like cartoons with no depth past what they say out loud. It must be very nice indeed to live in a country where such existence is possible, but it's so comically trivial. It's not particularly pleasant to have uncles and grade school teachers ready to inform on you, but it does build you an inner life which no one can take away. You think more interestingly, you have the vergnugen of secrets you keep to yourself. What's the point of Aufregung? When you share everything with everyone, it takes away the uniqueness you give it by keeping it to yourself.
In any event, Kristina would return to Dresden in four months. Back to the life of clubs and twenty-something Jungen, and the occasional fraulein - two or three Jungen took her home when she was less than fifty percentsure she wanted them to, but the occasional Fehler hasn't seemed as bad as some friends of hers said. Even so, maybe it's time to make the fraulein more than occasional. In the evening, she'd have dinner or a drink sometimes with her parents, who'd talk to her about politics or art, and just assume she'd take care of anything that wasn't bildung. In a year, it would be time for die Technische Universitat. It's free, not too far from home, and life'll be as pleasant as it'll ever be; much more pleasant freilich than for her parents, and who's to complain if it continues like that ad infinitum? She'll get a job, plenty of vacation time, go abroad, meet all sorts more reizender Familien along the way like the Katzes. The Katzes are lovely, but she missed the quiet. How can a place as crowded and polluted and spoiled as Ost Deutschland be so quiet while a place as savagely open and clean and virgin as California be so noisy?
But there, from the upstairs window, was as every evening, that short and spindly, stooped over, limping Junge, utterly undistracted from whatever gigantic laminated tome was in front of him at the back yard's bench and table, swaying back and forth as he mumbled to himself. Faszinirend. He probably wouldn't talk to her if she tried. And even if she would break him like a twig, the contortions of his body were adorable. It goes without saying that she'd never seen a nose quite like that or those adorable earlocks which she's sure thousands of German women had fantasized about tugging at. Even her father would make fun of her taste in men.
Every night, Bethany would sit near the living room wall, listening with the greatest interest to the heaving convulsions of Jewish family life as her father shook his head and mother maintained all was right with the world. Tonight was another group sing. It sounded like three dozen friends or relatives or rabbis were gathered for seemingly the eighteenth time since moving to San Francisco. First the talking and laughing, then, the davening, bouts of silence punctured by a chorus of mumbling zombies, then nasally intoning another Freygish-moded song, seemingly incorporating four thousand years of suffering into the happiest sounds in the universe. Bob couldn't stand it, and yet again was on the phone with the police, who explained to him as patiently as they could that he had no legal recourse for their noise until ten at night.
Yet Simcha was outside, again. The back yard light on at the beginning of sunset so he could dive into his book, shuckling up and down while all this happy singing was going on. Why did he possibly want to miss all this?
And then the singing moves outside to the backyard; dancing, clapping, stomping, drinking,eating, smiling. Bethany goes up to her room which Kristina dutifully obliged when Bethany insisted they share one rather than Kristina living in the guest room. They look out the window, but Simcha has to leave the back to stay focused on his books. As he leaves, one of these men yells something to him that, to Bethany's ear, clearly has the intonations of mockery, followed by laughter.
Kristina immediately understands what the man said.
"Deh Golem vilt tsu leynen."
"The Golem wants to read."
The Golem. The supernatural Jewish being made of clay, which the Maharal of Prague brought into the breath of life the way Hashem brought the breath of life into Adam himself. They might as well refer to this anti-Adonis as Frankenstein. Kristina's father's fondest wish for his daughter was a thorough knowledge of culture: philosophy, music, art, history, film, and showed her the nineteen fifteen classic: Der Golem, known in America as "The Monster of Horror" when she was still nine.
"Did you understand what they said?"
"No, I didn't... I'm going for a walk now."
"I'll come with you!" Kristina sighs to herself as silently as she can.
They step outside to immediately see Simcha still leyning on the front porch. Bethany didn't miss a beat. "I don't speak Yiddish, but whatever those people said to you, it didn't look like it was very nice." Simcha doesn't look up. "Maybe it was nice, but I hope you're doing OK." He continues his shuckling, his silent mumbling becomes verbal. "If you ever want someone to talk to, I'm always next door." And she went back inside the moment after she uttered that sentence. Determined with no thought for Kristina to make Simcha know she was there for him if she needed it. It was the least predictable thing Kristina ever saw her do. On the first silent urban walk she'd had since February, Kristina determined a different way to worm herself around Simcha. When she saw him outside reading, she took the most difficult book her father had given her for her year abroad outside. Herr Professor Axel Freiherr was very happy when he heard that his daughter would be living with a family named Katz. He didn't know much more about America than any other ex-Communist, but he did know that the country had many, many Jews in America, and he hoped Kristina would learn about Jews in a manner he only knew from a few weighted philosophy tomes he read while living on an East German stipend in West German Frankfurt, studying Marxism with Adorno and Marcuse and Horkheimer. He may well have known plenty of Jews in the East, but never in his life had he met anyone who'd freely say they had Jewish parents, even one, but the avowedly atheist Marxists doing Social Reasearch at the Goethe Universitat Frankfurt. When she came to America, he gave her a book he'd loved when he was a student and kept hidden beneath the floor of his bed along with fifty others for twenty-three years after his return to the East. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism by Gershom Scholem. Well-read as Kristina prematurely was, he knew she wouldn't understand the first thing about it, but as he said to her, 'it is very important at your age to begin reading, especially if it is too difficult for you to understand. Just absorb the text with your eyes, the meaning will come to you when you're older and read it again.' Kristina did not take this economium seriously, yet there she was, at the top of the back steps of the Katz's townhouse, where she could see Simcha in the Freylik's back yard and Simcha could see her, letting her eyes glaze over the text of Die jüdische Mystik in ihren Hauptströmungen. Her eyes looking at the text, but truly reading Simcha, allowing the intimacy she denied herself this year to flow through her in the distant and silent Verklarung between two cultures of scholars that go so far into the past together that it's impossible to know which first influenced the other. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It was the room temperature February Sunday of Northern California, a climate so temperate even the rich go without using the air conditioning for years at a time. Nevertheless, Bob insisted on installing a the top of the line AC unit for those exceedingly rare occasions the Katzes needed use. While the Golem reads on the front porch, the rest of the frummies huddle around a small cedar sapling meant to bring a touch of Holy Land to a nayes S'dom. For es is Tu B'Shevat, and they will pile into the Freylik's two vans and a third rented one to make their way to plant it in Golden Gate Park. Bethany makes her way to the back yard as anonymously as possible with Kristina in tow to translate, but amidst the dancing and singing, you don't have to speak Yiddish or Hebrew to make out Golden Gate Park and Middle Drive Vest. Bethany immediately rushes into the house to dial Ian Greyling, a virgin surgeon called Angreyling in Middle School for his nerdy spazz attacks, but has since switched from his parents unwatched and always replenished liquor cabinet to weed from his connection to upperclassman then college dropout Jeff Hirsch, and in ninth grade metamorphosed his awkward, nerdy, five-foot-six self into the kind of cool that only a scion from the American privilege of centuries can attain so easily with label clothes, adolescent athletic ability, and trained Protestant reserve passed down for five centuries. Six-foot two-and-a-half, petit-bourgeois rebellion shoulder length hair, earring to his left, and turned sixteen last month. Tsnius forbids us from telling how far Greyling already got with Bethany, but he was looking to get further, and most certainly would as he'd already gotten with no less than a dozen other girls just at San Francisco Friends since the summer. Bethany though, was different. She has that effect on people, and in her familiar presence he till feels the unfamiliar glow of possibilities only teenagers feel, less about sex than about truth. In middle school, he was once the picked on, learning disabled kid of his grade. But Bethany befriended him, tutored him, defended him, and in ninth grade, he returns the jock of his class. She demands a ride to Golden Gate Park, and in a hurry. Ian arrives in his Acura Integra forty minutes later, they drive, recklessly to Bethany's relief, and find a gaggle of police cars lined up on Middle Drive West with the lights flashing. All these black hats are being handcuffed while three of them are screaming. One of them has just been bloodily thrown on the ground with the policeman's foot on him. "Call your uncle." "What?" "Call your uncle right now!" Jim Greyling, twelve year chair of the Committee on Government Audit and Oversight in the San Francisco City Council, member both of the Committees on Public Safety and Neighborhood Services, Public Utilites Revenue Bond Oversight, owed Reverend Mary for hosting the homeless and women's shelters which First UU founded last year, mostly at its own expense. Surely he'd drop any charges against thirty Orthodox Jews rather than risk an accusation of antisemitism against the San Francisco Police. Bethany tells Ian exactly what to say. The conversation is fifteen minutes of holding on the line, three minutes of talking. She then uses Ian's carphone to call home. Mary wasn't there, and for the first time in her life, she screamed at Bob with the demand for him to post more than half-a-million dollars in bail immediately. Could any other fifteen year old ever be trusted the way Bob trusts Bethany? The scream from the open window catches the attention of Rabbi Freylik as his head is tucked into the back of the police car. He recognizes the voice of the freylichen maydaleh and smiles to himself with what he takes to be Chasidisher wisdom and gratitude. The Kad'sh Baruch Hoo is looking out for them and he says a Shehecheyanu in the back seat. Ten minutes later, Bethany, excited by her own abilities, takes Ian into ninety seconds of heaven. She can't wait to tell Kristina about it. Even Mary is slightly livid with her. It takes lots of money and favors to launch a dream project, and it'll now take at least twice the time to launch a fair housing lobby for California migrant workers. And all for the benefit of these neighbors who won't give her the time of day. Five days later. That Friday evening at exactly five, just before another camping trip. A giant horn of fruit appears on one of their Easternmost porch lounge chair, in the midst of the beautifully arranged cornucopia a card. "May your family grow and prosper like the fruit on the Tree of Life. Peace unto our neighbors in Holiness, The Freyliks." MOTHERFUCKINGGODDAMNFRUMMIEPIECESOFSHIT!!!!!! Bob has no idea if he said it out loud. ----------------- "I told them to get a permit" That Tuesday, four days later, four in the afternoon, Simcha Meir Freylik says his first words to Bethany Felicity Katz. Bethany had begun to resent Simcha for refusing her ministrations. What kind of person wants to passively accept others' abuse? All he does is read and move weirdly in his seat while everybody around him is busy enjoying life. What kind of life is reading? "These idiots think they can just plant a tree in a park and nobody will mind." "Your family isn't idiots." "Then how did they end up making your father pay more than half-a-million dollars to bail out people he hates?" "Your father talked to mine this morning and said Chabad is sending every dollar back to him by wire and offered to send a hundred thousand dollars more." "Of course they did... All that money and not a cent of it for actual Tzedakah." "What does Tzedakah mean?" "Charity. We have no gelt of our own, it's all controlled by the machers in New York, and Mammeh can barely even pay for groceries." "Then how did you afford this house?" "They decide what we pay for, we don't have any say at all." "That's not right..." "Just as well. They're morons. If you gave my parents money, they wouldn't even know what to spend it on." "I'm sure they would spend it on very good things." "They're not the one who figured out how to get out of jail." "They shouldn't have been in jail." "They're in jail every day of their lives."
"You really hate your family, don't you?" "...Sometimes." "Why don't you love them?" "Of course I do. You can love your family and hate them at the same time." "What do you mean?" "Don't you ever have complicated feelings about people?" "What?" "Don't you ever want to kill the people you love?" "Huh?" "Don't you ever get so mad at people you owe everything to that you wish they were dead?" "What a horrible thing to say!"
"You really aren't one of us." "That's rude!" "I'm just getting started."
"People might be nicer to you..." "...If I were nicer to them?" Pause "Yeah" "I know them better than you. They're not nice people." "Really?" "They're my family, and I'm commanded to love them, but sometimes you hate the things you love." "I don't." "You will one day."
"You like to try to make people angry, don't you?" "Only if I'm right." "Well you're not making me angry." "Not yet." "I've always thought that when people are mean to each other it's really just a cry for help." "Do I look like I'm crying?" "You sometimes do when you're reading." "I'll bet your father understands what it's like to hate things you love." "What?"
"How much was it anyway?" "How much?..." "How much money did he pay for the bail." "I shouldn't say." "Come on! Tell me! I'm gonna find out anyway from my Tateh. Nobody in this house can keep a secret!" "I still shouldn't tell you." "Well, no matter how much it was, and it could have been a million dollars...." "...It wasn't that much." "Well however much it was, your father had no idea he'd ever be paid back a nickel." "He's an amazing person." "I'm sure part of him is if he did that." "Part?" "We all have parts for good and evil." "My Dad isn't evil." "Sure he is! So are you and me. We're all part evil and good. And part of us hates everybody we meet." "My Dad doesn't hate Mom or me!" "I'm sure he doesn't, but he could." "You don't know him! He'd give all his money away if he thought it would help people."
"Well I'm sure that isn't true but thank you all the same. You really did a beautiful thing." "I did a beautiful thing?" "It was you who got them out of jail, not him. My Tateh saw you in the Park." "It was just what anybody would do if they could." "I'm sure that isn't true either, but we know now that you would." "I just did what anybody should do." "But they don't." "I think you're wrong." "Don't underestimate how rare you are." "Really! I just did what I had to."
"You shouldn't have had to, my mishpocha shouldn't have done something to get them arrested in the first place." "But they didn't deserve to be arrested!" "Sure they did!" "Do you really think that?" "How did they think they weren't going to be arrested for what they did? Did they really think they could plant a tree and sing and dance without drawing attention to themselves?" "What's wrong with drawing attention to themselves?" "They were defacing public property!" "Weren't they just trying to make the park more beautiful?" "People don't want their lives to be more beautiful." "You really ought to be nicer to your family." "You're the one who's telling me they're mean to me!" "They're amazing people who do amazing things!"
"Is that why you stalked them all the way to Golden Gate Park?" "I wasn't!... Alright, I shouldn't have done that." "Probably not." "I didn't think I was stalking them. I'm so sorry." "No no no no... It was Bashert, you were supposed to be there, so we have to forgive you..." "What does Bashert mean?" "It was destiny. You were destined to be there, you'd have been there no matter what." "Oh." "Even if you weren't a creep..." "I tried to say, I'm so so sorry." "Hahahaha, no no no I just think it's funny how much you love my family." "They seem to enjoy life so much." "What we do isn't living." "What is it?" "How should I know? This is all I've ever experienced." "So how do you know it's not living?" "Look at us. We're robots." "What do you mean?" "We're machines. We wouldn't know how to do anything but what we do." "But it seems to make them so happy." "It doesn't." "Well it definitely doesn't seem to make you happy." "I've gotta be happier than the filth in my house."
"That's a terrible way of talking about your family!" "They deserve it!" "I'm sure they don't." "I deserve it for staying here." "Well then I feel sorry for you." "Use that for somebody who deserves your pity."
"I think you need somebody's pity." "I have my family's pity, it just makes them meaner." "Why do they feel sorry for you?" "You see my back, you see how I walk..." "Well that's not your fault." "Even so." "They shouldn't hold that against you." "I can't walk straight, I can't dance, I can't turn my head right."
"I'm so sorry to hear that." "No you're not." "Of course I am." "That's just something you say because you're supposed to." "It's not your fault that you've got these problems." "They're not problems." "That's great!" "No, you don't understand. It means that my soul is more beautiful." "I'm sure that's true!" "What do you mean you're sure that's true?! You don't know the first thing about this or me!" "I'm sorry I said that, what do you mean." "I mean that even if my soul's more beautiful, everybody hates me more because I'm supposed to be better than them." "Well that's not right." "Who cares whether it is? This is all just a big show - the way it is." "Maybe you just need people to be nicer to you." "Who's going to be nicer? You? Pretty soon you're gonna end up just like your father." "What's wrong with that?" "Your father does the right things, but when my family sent him the fruit basket he cursed us out." "What?!" "Don't worry I was the only one who heard it." "He didn't curse you out." "Of course he did. He hates us like everybody else, but he paid all that money because somewhere in him there's still a part that loves us, and whether or not you know it, you're the same way."' "You don't know me!" "I know enough to know that eventually this is what everybody eventually thinks of us. They start by loving all the singing and dancing and it makes them do all sorts of things for us. It's a scam, and eventually they resent us for all the good deeds they do for us." "That can't be true." "They're right to hate us." "You're not horrible people!" "Look, I'm not going to give you a whole history of my people, but you're the only person I can tell this to. We're apikorsim. The worst heretics in Judaism. Your people are better Jews than we are." "What?" "The worst heretics in Judaism!" "But why am I the only person you can tell this to." "Look around, who can I tell that we're wrong." "Well, why can you tell me?" "I dunno. You seem like a tzaddekes." "Um.." "A righteous person. Which is more than anybody in this house is." "I don't know what a righteous person is, but I really didn't do that much." "Really? And what how often do you spend half-a-million dollars on anything?" "I'm sure your family would do the same for us." "They wouldn't after they found out Mrs. Katz is a Unitarian Minister." "You can't believe your family are horrible people." "At this point, I would believe anything at all." "At what point?" "You wouldn't understand." "Try me." "No. It's better you don't get involved." "Well you've been talking to me for a while." "I guess you're right, this is the longest conversation I've had with anybody in weeks. We're not supposed to do this." "So why are you?" "Why am I what?" "Talking to me." "Why not." "You're not supposed to." "They gave up trying to control me long ago." "But why are you talking to ME?" "Oh. Because you seem like a nice person." "...So why are you being mean to me?" "I'm not being mean!" "But you like to argue?" "I don't argue anything I'm not right about." "Does it make you feel better to be right?" "Not for long, but it makes me forget that we're wrong about everything else." "Who's we?"
"The Freyliks, my family." "But you don't think you're wrong?" "I'm a Freylik, what I think doesn't matter." "But you think what you want to say." "No. I say what I want to think." "What???" "I told you you wouldn't understand."
"So you just say what you don't think?" "Hey! Maybe you could get it!" "Get what?" "Look, we're Jews, you're not. I don't expect you to get what it's like. But the truth is, we're not really Jews either. We're not even supposed to convert anybody. But my Tateh is out there every day trying to get Jews to become Jews like us, and it goes against everything our people are supposed to be." "He's just trying to get people to come back to their roots!" "We're not their roots, we're the weed that's killing the roots." "I think you really need somebody to talk to more often."
For the first time in her adolescence, Bethany was genuinely angry at someone. -----------------------------------