A BAD JEWISH GIRL IN A PLACE LIKE THIS:
AN INTERVIEW WITH ERICA JONG
First published in Jerusalem Review II
Erica Jong’s fame has long been associated with sexual daring and innovation, and indeed her development of the adventurous innocent and lusty heroine can be seen as a milestone in American literature, both for the experience of the male and for the female protagonist. From Fear of Flying which freed an entire generation of women writers to write about sex with both candor and humor, to Any Woman’s Blues whose tale of feminism and masochism seems to have influenced even the controversial “Erotic” video of Madonna, Jong’s books have infiltrated every level of culture, academic and popular. The danger of this kind of popularity, however, is that readers, used to conceiving of Jong as a media figure, may find it difficult to accept further innovations in her work as developments and may not be prepared for some of the serious ideas she presents in her latest work.
After hearing her read a section in Fear of Flying about the discovery of her heroine, Isadora, of the erasing of Nazi history by the Germans after World War II, I suddenly realized that even in her earlier works there were entire subjects I had not noticed, skipping through as I had been doing, for the “good parts.” In retrospect it seemed that much of her work is concerned with not only the sexual liberation, but also with the Jewish sexual liberation and the developing concept of Jewish liberal identity in general. So when we finally met, this was the first question I asked of her:
K: It recently occurred to me in thinking back over your works how much Jewishness pervades it, not only for atmosphere, but to make some very important points about culture, sexuality, and the connections between them. From the first, even in the early poetry. And yet it doesn’t seem to be something critics note when they discuss you. Am I right? Have you noticed it?
E: It’s really interesting because when I was in Tel-Aviv University I read that bit from “Near the Black Forest,” the chapter in Fear of Flying, about how outraged Isadora was to discover how Nazism was covered up in German history, and I know that the theme of the situation of the contemporary Jew, living in America, since the Holocaust, has been in my work from the beginning. I wrote Fear of Flying when I was in my twenties. It was published right around the time of my thirtieth birthday. And it was there. Right. It was in the poems I wrote in my twenties: this consciousness of being a Jew in Germany, the particular problems Jewish women faced in being stereotyped, in their sexuality. It was all there. And recently I’ve been exploring it anew, I think much more deeply, in my latest novel, Inventing Memory. And far more deeply. But all the traces were there long ago.
There were two elements in your discussion of the subject of pasting over photographs of Nazi activities – the concept of the history of the Jewish people as it is shaped by history and hostile forces, and the concept of creating history in general. But it hadn’t been apparent to me all those years, so I wondered if others saw these themes.
E. I think I was aware that it was there. Although you could say that in the seventies we didn’t really have permission to explore our Jewish roots in a positive way. And that’s sort of an interesting thing, because if you look back to Jewish American writing, in Henry Roth’s time, in Anzia Yiezerska’s time, you see that that generation of immigrant writers was allowed to celebrate their immigrant roots, their Jewish origins. Michael Gold wrote Jews Without Money. That generation was allowed to— and they did.
As the Jews in America became more assimilated, however, they began to turn on members of their own group. And you see it in the transformation from Henry Roth’s mother in Call it Sleep to Philip Roth’s mother, in Portnoy’s Complaint. And instead of turning on themselves or their attackers, the Jewish men writers turned on the women, as they become assimilated. I mean that is the most shocking thing to me when you study it. When you study it through Jewish American writing.
K: I noticed that kind of viciousness by Jewish male critics in the criticism of your novel too ...
E: In the criticism of my novel—it was violent. Alfred Kazin, you know, practically called me a whore. And the viciousness towards me—by Jewish American males—was unbelievable. John Updike, considered an anti-Semite, appreciated the lustiness of Fear of Flying, but if you go back and retrace those reviews as Charlotte Templin did when she wrote this study of my work in “The Politics of Literary Reputation: The Example of Erica Jong,” you can see what was happening. She’s a feminist scholar in the midwest, and did a reception study, tracing all the reviews of my work. And what you see is the stereotype of the overbearing, big mouthed, “vagina dentata,” devouring Jewish woman. She’s plump. She’s got a big mouth, she eats men for breakfast. And Charlotte Templin’s traced all these stereotypes through the reviews of Fear of Flying, and she found reviews that I hadn’t even seen. And I was astonished. I mean, I knew that there were bad things. But I had no idea how bad.
K: Especially you said the Jewish men, and that was what struck me, that ...
E: The Jewish men were livid. Livid. You would think that my first respect would not have come from Updike, Miller, Anthony Burgess, all the gentiles. They said: “Oh, at last, a gutsy woman who’s lusty, who believes in sensuality. They got it. The Jewish men were clutching their balls , and looked as if they were going to drop them, you know. I’ve never seen anything like that--the viciousness of the attacks from the Jewish men. Unbelievable
K. How strange, here you are, doing something very, very positive in your novels, reaching out to understand Jewish issues. I noticed that you changed the title of Serenisima to Shylock’s Daughter. And what you seem to be focusing on this the integration between the Jewish freedom, the Jewish woman’s freedom, and sexuality. And here you seem to be exploring the question of the character and the role of the Jewish woman in western society, as it were, and none of the Jewish critics seem to be picking it up and especially none of the feminists I know of is picking it up. Didn’t you have women who were supporting...
E: Some. In the beginning there were some and generally they weren’t Jewish. I mean, the first interview that was being done with me, was done by Elaine Showalter, in Colombia Forum, twenty-five years ago. There were a lot of feminists who were contemporaries of mine, like Elaine and others, who discovered the work, and were very pleased that a woman was being lusty, that started to turn around and get bitchy when the book sold too many millions of copies. Then I got another kind of backlash, which was: “Oh, she wrote this dirty book to make money.” You know, it was the same book that had been held as a literary book, but then it made this terrible mistake, it went out and became a popular book, and then criticism turned around. So there was a lot of viciousness from women, and also a lot, and far be it for me to analyze it, you know, it needs Freud to analyze it, the envy and the anger and the anti-Semitism. But if you want to go on writing, you have to do certain strategies. And I guess the thing I’m proudest of in my life is that I have gone on writing. And so the strategies that I’ve used have been various. Sometimes I used to go to Italy and hide and work there. Probably now I’ll go to Israel. Now that I’ve fallen in love with Israel. But I found ways of, and I would stop at a certain point reading the reviews. I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I would just go away. But you know, the debate about literature in this country is so bottom fishing (?). There is no debate about literature where I live. I mean, this is why I got so excited about being in Israel. Nobody debates... Nobody talks about literature qua literature in this country. It’s always connected to some kind of literary politics.
K. There are a lot of problems with your going against tgrain of current thinking -- I mean when Any Woman’s Blues came out, which is a novel about a successful middle-aged woman and her passion for an indifferent, sadistic younger man, I knew that a lot of women would respond to it personally, but it apparently went against the grain of the way women wanted to think about themselves.
E: You would have expected the opposite, the empowered woman of the nineties.
E: But the man who turns her on is the guy in the black jacket, the motorcycle jacket, who abuses her, because, guess what, he’s the only one who can stay hard for her.
E: Because all those little Jewish guys, like, you know, the Alfred Kazin guys, are all pfffff... They can’t fuck her. Woody Allen can only fuck Sun Yin. So, where does she wind up, she winds up in the arms of the only guy that can stay hard for her. It’s so simple.
K: When I first read your poetry, the first book, and it was “Bitter Pill for the Dark Lady.” This was going to be from now on the central poem that I begin my courses in Women’s poetry. I always start with it. Because it is a survey poem about everything that then and now defines the problems of women writers, especially women poets
Fruits and Vegetables and your poetry in general and I said that some of the poems are just central. Where, you know, like, lots of things, feminism or where the whole idea of women’s poetry, or all their explorations of what love means, what’s important in life and things like that. But I went yesterday to see if Fruits and Vegetables was available in the book stores, and I didn’t see your poetry. Of course all the novels were there, but the poetry is central
E: You’ve got a problem here, in that.... First of all, this is my last book of poetry, that was published by Harper. It’s so badly distributed, even though it’s national poetry month, and even though they reassured me that they’re redistributing it for national poetry line (?). It’s hopeless. You know, what happens basically is that New York publishers have abdicated poetry almost entirely in the last 20 years. Fruits and Vegetables is going to be reissued in the fall by Echo Press. Because Dan Halperin came to me and said: “It’s shockingly criminal that that book is out of print.” But, among other things, you’re looking at great snobbery on the part of poets, who hate anybody who is a generalist or a woman of letters and who doesn’t just concentrate on one thing. And that.... You’re looking at a politically incorrect feminist, who says that women are lusty and women want sex, and that doesn’t go with the Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon attitude, which has been fashionable in the last ten years. So, there’s a whole lots of reasons for that. And it’s interesting that if you go to even France, which is an anti-Semitic country, and you read... you go to the internet and look at the stuff that’s been written about my work.... Much of the stuff that’s been written on my work in France would say: “Erica Jong, Woody Allen, Philip Roth- Jewish-American comic writers”- and would put me in that context. And this is France, right, where they’re anti-Semitic shits. But they get it, right? Sweden, the same thing: “Erica Jong, Woody Allen, the Jewish Diaspora sense of humor. Now, I think there’s a huge difference between me and Woody. I think Woody is self-hating as a Jew, and I think I celebrate Jewishness. So, I think there’s a big difference. And I think that for Philip Roth, the same thing is true. I think Philip hates his Jewishness and hates himself. At least his persona in his books. Whereas I delight in the earthiness that I consider Jewish, and I affirm it. So it’s very different. But at least in the European countries the criticism of my work brackets me in the right general area. They say: “Jewish-American satirist,” or “Jewish-American novelist,” or “Diaspora humorist,” or something that’s closer to the mark than what they do here.
K: In general, I think Jewish American women poets have been marginalized in a very strange way.
E: Marginalized ?! Jesus Christ marginalized. I mean, it makes me just enraged when I see Maya Angelou and Rita Dove and those other writers, many of them are great writers, taken seriously, but Muriel Rukeyser in the garbage bin, Adrienne Rich was fashionable- now she’s in the garbage bin. Look at the women poets we’ve produced. Jewish-American. I mean, think about Muriel Rukeyser is out of print in this country. She is the mother of us all. I mean, she is the most important to me. Muriel Rukeyser is the poet who is like the queen of the Jewish-American poets. And she was writing about that stuff when nobody was. Very important writer.
K: So there’s Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, Louise Gluck....
E: Babbette Deutch. Irena Klepfish—marginalized terribly. Robin Morgan, Jewish-American writer. I mean there are so many that come to mind. Marge Piercy, I have her new book here. And Marge Piercy has been as shabbily reviewed as I have been. As shabbily. I mean, I’ve looked far and wide to see somebody as shabbily reviewed as I’ve been. But Marge, who as attempted new things with each book, who has been a poet to her bones, you know, even after being a successful novelist, her reviews are shocking, shocking. I mean, she wrote a future novel, which I admired. She wrote a world war two novel, which I admired. She wrote many different kinds of books. A sixties novel. I mean, has anybody seen her literary significance? No. Has anybody even tried?
K: I’m pretty shocked by this. The Jewish community doesn’t seem to...
E: The Jewish community is falling all over itself to give awards to Alfred Kazin, who is the biggest misogynist the world has ever known. He has single handedly destroyed Anne Birstein’s career. Single handedly. Do you know that? He has kept her works from being reviewed in public places. She wrote a beautiful memoir. This is another Jewish American woman writer of a generation a little older than us. She.... Oh, another Anne Bernstein novel is another example. If you think of this novel, she wrote a memoir 15 years before memoirs where hot. About her father- the rabbi ... (?). Ignored, utterly ignored. Even in the Jewish press. I know that Kazin banished her from the literary map.
K: How can that be?
E: Because.... How it can be. I have an analysis of it, and I think it’s germane, and I think, unfortunately, it relates to the situation in Israel. Unfortunately. Because the male writers who’re Jewish have found it so hard to break in to WASP society, and when they’re allowed to be in Harvard and talk about Henry James, they’re so pleased, they want no competition. None whatsoever. What they want is Sun Yin to fuck or some little student who won’t be a contender. The last thing they want is a woman who might provide some competition or show them up.
K: It comes out in Philip Roth.
E: Constantly. And Woody Allen. I mean, if you want to take Woody Allen.... All the movie makers. They do not want .... We are their worst enemies. It’s not like, you know, we’re sisters in struggle. We’re not sisters. We are the ones who remind them of their mothers. Who remind them that their weinies are too little and we are a witness to that. Ask Alfred Kazin who’re the important women writers in America today?” And he’ll say: “Oh, there aren’t any.” I bet you. I bet you. I’m making this up. I don’t know, you know.
K: It’ll be very interesting...
E: It isn’t so easy even for the Israeli women writers. I mean, you come here to look at some of the great, great ones. You look at Shulamit HarEven published by a tiny press in California. You look at Batia Gur. Well, she writes mystery, so it’s OK. Women are allowed to do genre writing. We’re so clever at that. And romance writing--we’re allowed that. And best sellerdom— we’re allowed that. If you asked one of these highfalutin Jewish American male critics: “What Jewish women write?” he would say: “Oh well, Judith Krantz, Jackie Collins...”— we’re allowed that. We’re allowed to be sob sisters like Barbara Walters. We’re allowed pop novels like Judith Krantz’s. Are we allowed to be a part of literature? No.
K. You’ve had some greathings to say about Black women poets.
E: But I have to say that we’re wonderful too. I mean, what is it? I mean are Jewish women poets not an oppressed minority?
K: They’re not perceived as such.
E: ... (?) to the point of walking in to the ovens. I mean, read Nelly Sachs. We are an oppressed minority. We are not only oppressed by the fucken anti-Semites and the male chauvinist pigs, but we’re oppressed by our own men, who wish we would disappear from the face of the earth, unless we type their manuscripts. That they like. Suck their cocks, type their manuscripts- that’s OK.
K: Or write about how we love men.
E: Or write about how it’s OK to be Helen Vendler, because Helen Vendler does nothing but write about great male writers. She never writes about women.
K: Look at Vendler and Adrienne Rich –she turned against Adrienne Rich after all these years, when Adrienne Rich came out as a lesbian. Wild Patience, I think. It was that book. She said : “No, no, this will not do.” But I was thinking that, you know, you really dare to say things that a lot of people now don’t dare to say. And it’s even in literary criticism. Even in literary criticism which should be a scholarly open field. I become aware how political it is when I see how you, you know, you tell the truth.
E: But you see what I think, here’s what I think about that. I figure, why be a writer if you’re not going to tell the truth? I mean. You don’t make so much money. It’s pretty labor intensive. Every time we publish a book somebody throws rotten tomatoes at us. Half the time, if we live in a country that’s not a democracy we get shot, or shot at, or going into hiding like Salman Rushdey. I mean, being a writer is not such a hot profession. So if you’re going to do it you might as well tell the truth, because otherwise, why do it. I mean, do you think that I couldn’t have gone into advertising and made several million dollars a year. I’m smart enough. I have a gift for language. If that was what I wanted to do with my life I could be a lot richer and people would be giving me awards for my honesty and daring because I invented a commercial for Sarah Lee Brownies or something. That would be appreciated. But that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I grew up wanting to be Emily Dickinson or George Sand or Mary Walstoncraft or Simone de Beauvoir. Those are my heroines. So, if I’m going to be that, I might as well tell the truth.
E: But, that’s where it’s at. But in ... (?) you know, “Lay Me in My Grave”- I’m in a fight, because I’m a fighter. And also because I care deeply about all this stuff. And I want, I mean, I want people in colleges.... I’m furious that when I was growing up and I was at Barnard, studying poetry, nobody read me the poems of Muriel Rukeyser. In fact, Anatol Broyard came to my class and said woman can’t be writers.
K: Right, he would, wouldn’t he?
E: So, why were we studying.... I mean, I’m glad I studied Dylan Thomas, I’m glad I studied Yeats, I’m glad I studied Eliot- that anti-Semite. Misogynist. I fucken hate Eliot. I’ve come to hate Eliot. I’m shocked and I’m mad that nobody told me when I was studying poetry at Barnard that Muriel Rukeyser existed. I don’t understand why.
K: I was told not only that I am meant to be in the writing world, I’m meant to be a muse.
E: Well, I think I wrote in Fear of Fifty or Fear of Flying, or somewhere, I can’t remember where, about my Woodrow Wilson interview.
K: I don’t remember it.
E: You may not remember it. Where I’m sitting there I in a deep chair with my legs crossed, trying not to show my legs and all that, and what of the guys says: “Why does a pretty girl like you want to be a Ph.D.?” And I just became flustered. I mean, totally flustered. I said: “Well, I ... I love English literature,” nervous, as if I were defending ..
E: And I remember just hearing like I’m booed like a moron. Like a .... I got the fellowship. I did. I must have given the right answer. But I remember leaving that building and feeling just like a ... (?). And the words, “sexual harassment” didn’t exist. I didn’t know that a man looking at you and looking at your legs and saying: “Why does a pretty girl like you want to be a scholar in English Literature,” I didn’t understand that that was harassment, we didn’t have the word. I just knew it made me profoundly uncomfortable and silenced me. I who was never silenced by anybody. That’s all I knew. That I couldn’t find words when he said that.
K: And then the whole thing, finding words afterwards is just an amazing process.
E: I had the sense that the literary...
K: Irit Linor must have told you about how she... about her reception (?).
E: Yea. Absolutely. And I have the sense that there’s very much ... (?) between the women who’re compared, popular like Linor, and the women who’re considered literary.
K: But that’s not just a sexist thing. That’s also for men. That division between popular and literary is very big. It’s got to be cut down now. Right now it’s ripe for that. Breaking that division. It’s old world, kind of old fashioned values from, I don’t know, the 30’s, the 20’s? in Germany, in Europe and... you know, never kept up.
E: Is it not amazing?
K: It is. It’s now changing, but It’s....you know, like all of a sudden there’s been a change. This year, the next couple of years.
E: Do you think it’s going to change?
K: Yes, I think this is going to be the big revolution. People like you who are writing across the boundaries.... How many of your books have been translated into Hebrew?
E: Fear of Flying; Fear of Fifty; Any Woman’s Blues.
K: How to Save Your Own Life?
E: I think. And none of my poems. Despite the response to my work in Israel at the Jerusalem Poetry Festival and at the library, Beit Ariella. So there is an audience..
K. What’s your latest book about?
E. Inventing Memory is coming out in July. We just sent it to the New Yorker for serialization. But they were made nervous by the Jewishness of the material, that was what I heard. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know. Bette Midler has toyed with doing Inventing Memory as a mini-series. But she too was put off by the Jewishness of the material. Because it’s difficult to finance Jewish material. So, so far we don’t have a movie or a television miniseries either. Maybe we will. It’s.... You know, the book’s not published yet, but we’ll be publishing it under the title of Inventing Memory in the United States, and it will be published under the title of Blessed Memory in the UK. And the Israeli title is anybody’s guess. Because when I wrote it, the novel had several working titles. One working title was: People Who Can’t Sleep, after I.B. Singer’s line from the Family Moscat, “ What are the Jews after all? People who can’t sleep and who won’t let anyone else sleep.” And for a long time the working title was People Who Can’t Sleep, because it was my novel about Jews. A hundred years in the lives of American Jews. American Jewish women. And then I realized that I didn’t like the title. I thought it was... (?) as a title. I love the line, but I didn’t think it worked. So, then I decided the title would be Blessed Memory, because it’s a book about how memory informs our lives. And how the memory of our ancestors inform our lives, particularly. And of blessed memory, all of ... (?), the formula, the... (?), the death (?), the... (?) death, the beloved (?) death. So, I made that title. The British publisher loved it. The German publisher loved it, because in German there is a phrase like that.
K: In Hebrew too.
E: In Hebrew too. And they loved it. And the Italian publisher... I don’t know what they’re going to do. And the Spanish publisher loved it. The American publisher said: “It’s depressing and it’s going to turn people off” And I said: “I don’t think so. It’s very meaningful. I want to keep it.” And they said: “Well, give us some alternate titles that would work.” And since there is a chapter in the book called, “Inventing Memory,” I gave them that as an alternate. And they fell madly in love with it and they said it’s much less depressing. And they began to sort of marshal everybody, convincing... My editor and althese people. They decided that Inventing Memory was perkier, more exciting. Ken hated this idea and said: “Blessed Memory is a great title and it’s a Jewish title and it should be a blessed memory, bla, bla, bla. Stick to your guns. And we had a huge debate and discussion about it and they said they were convinced that it would hurt the book. And I changed it to Inventing Memory. I don’t know whether I’m right or not, but a good title is the title of the book that sells 3 million copies. So who knows.
K: And this one is about four generations of Jewish women.
E: It starts in 1905 in Russia in the midst of a pogrom which propels the great grandmother to America using her dead brother’s steamship ticket. Because, what I discovered in my research is that, although the Irish women often came to America alone, the Jewish women almost never did. When you study the history of those great immigrations at the turn of the century, the beginning of this century, you discover that rarely did Jewish women came alone. But if they came alone it was generally because a tragedy had occurred and they’d lost a lot of people. And so I decided to make that my story. And Sarah Solomon leaves for America with her dead brother’s steamship ticket. And she establishes herself in America. She’s a photo retoucher as a teenager. Which was actually how my grandfather began. And she becomes a celebrated portrait painter in New York, which is the story of my grandfather except that our different genders changes everything. Her experience is totally different because she’s a woman. And then she has a daughter, Salome, who becomes a famous writer and goes to Paris in 1929, to write the great American novel, and she meets Henry Miller and Edith Wharton and Scott Fitzgerald and she’s a bohemian in Paris in the 30’s, and her story is told in her journals and letters. And then her daughter, Sally- Walinski (?) calls Sally Sky (?)- born in 1948 because .. .(?) 60’s. And her daughter, Sarah <name?>, who is taken from her in a custody suit when she’s two years old, and is raised in Montana by a WASP father who doesn’t tell her she’s Jewish. ... (?). born in 1978. And we discover Sarah when she comes back to New York and gets a grant from council called: “The Council on Jewish History” (?)- fictitious. And she begins... she’s a historian and she’s researching family stories. And suddenly she realizes the family story she’s researching is hers. And that the story that she’s researching is the story of her grandmother, her great grandmother and her mother. And it’s all here in the archive of this council. And she’s left with all this stuff that she just sort of make a book of. Not a book. She doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do with it. Except that she’s supposed to make it into a narrative. And as she does so her life is changed. And basically what is, it’s (?) the book that you read, is Sarah <name?’s> book. And the main characters in it are Sarah Salomon— the great grandmother, ...<name?>— her grandmother, Sally Sky (?)— her mother. And how all the pieces fit together. And she’s recreating it from the archive. So, each story is told in a different voice and in a different way. All Sarah’s stories told... (?) oral history, edited... (?) by young Sarah (?). And Salome’s <name?) story is ... (?) journals. And Sally’s story is told 3rd person by her daughter, discovering ... (?). And Sarah’s story is told 3rd person. So, it’s ... (?). It gave me the chance, really, to go... mothers and daughters and Jewishness have always been the theme (?), but in this book I have really have plunged (?) it (?) deeper that I have in any other book. A lot of people think it’s the best thing that I’ve ever done. I’ve a lot of meetings... (?) my agent and my publisher. I don’t think anybody is going to get it (?). I know in Israel people will get it. I’m sure (?)...
K: So you said Israeli people take literature seriously. Maybe your next novel will take place in Israel. What happens if something happened to you in Israel this time.
E: I fell in love with Israel. I had never been to Israel. I miss that whole part of my experience, for a lot of different reasons which I really started to think about. And I am going to write a book in Israel about being an American Jew coming to visit for the first time at 55. I am going to write a book. I am going to write a book, actually my editor at Harper wants me to write a 200 page essay on my Jewish identity. And I think I may do that next actually. But, at any rate, what shocked me, I think about it, was that here I come to this country, and first thing I thought was, everything I loved was here. I love the Mediterranean landscape. I love olive trees. I love Cyprus trees. If I could be in any landscape I wanted, it would be a Mediterranean landscape. That’s what I love. I mean I go to Capri, I go to Venice, I love Italy. I’ve been in love with Italy since I was 19. What do I love? Well. There are the beautiful silvery olive leaves and the trees... The other thing I loved, I mean this is apart from anything political--the people, the culture. I mean you go to the Jerusalem symphony and wont let the soloist get off the stage. They’re yelling and screaming and cheering. Just like Italy. O.K. So you have a Mediterranean people who are wildly enthusiastic about all the things I care about. Music, food, art, painting, writing, books, talking, sex. Passion, passion, passion. So, I love it. This is great. Why don’t I never come here. This is my place. I belong here. And then, the fact is that the discussion is about things intellectual. It’s true that I’ve met a very select group of people and all that, but the discussion about poetry, about books, about novels, about politics— it’s a real discussion. There’s no small talk going on., you know. It’s real. It’s not, you know, “Why did you come to this funds raiser? Are you a friend of the bride or the groom?” Which is pretty much what our social life is like most of the time. At least our business social life. Not our real friends and stuff like that. But the social life that we have for our work. It’s bullshit, It’s not real conversation. And here I am surrounded by these people who like all the stuff that I like, which is a good argument, a discussion, to talk about images in poetry, to talk about politics, and I think “Where has this place been been all my life?” You know. So, why, I mean, just that. And then, of course, all the obvious stuff like for the first time in your life you don’t feel like a marginalized minority. You don’t feel like you’re trying to pass as something else in a country that basically thinks of you as having horns. You’re not saying, as I’ve said all through my childhood and adolescence, “Well, of course I’m Jewish. I know I have blond hair, but of course I’m Jewish.” Which is what I said all through my teenage years. The boys would come up to you and say , “How can you be Jewish? You have blond hair and blue eyes.” And suddenly you’re in a place where nobody would ever say that to you.
K: So many different kinds of Jews here.
E: But, you know, and then you think, as I kept saying to my husband, I said: “What are we doing wasting our talents on the Diaspora. And he said: “What? What do you mean?” And I’d say: “Yea, you heard me. You know for years we’ve been wasting our time on the Diaspora. Why don’t we come here and give our talents here where they’ll be appreciated?” And he kept looking at me as if any minute, any minute I will get on the phone and sell the house in Connecticut and the apartment in New York. He’s fully prepared for me to drag him back to Israel for good. I mean he’s fully prepared. Every morning he teases me about it. So I mean I really had an amazing feeling, about the passionate people here. I mean, I don’t think, I don’t know if you were here in the United States the last time we were in the midst of our presidential election where everybody was saying: “I guess I’ll have to vote for Clinton.” Among my friends anyway. But there was such a feeling of disgust about the political scene. Now, I know we don’t have a monopoly on disgust. You have your own problin that area. I know that Bibi was just narrowly not indicted, and I know that the scandal is not fake, and he should have been indicted. But there’s a bloody indifference here about politics, that really makes me feel like you’re dying. And nobody cares. I mean I have Jewish friends who voted for Dole. Passionately Jewish friends who voted for Dole. I have passionately Jewish friends who own newspapers who endorse Dole. Not, maybe not Pat Buchanan because he’s such an anti-Semite. But Dole. And Why? Because they took the position that all politics is bullshit, we might as well have somebody who will keep our taxes low. And then we’ll take our money and we’ll give it where we want to give it. Maybe to Israel. Maybe to.... Do you know what I’m saying? These are people who are billionaires. These are the people who really have the money to affect the political structure. Because obviously politics is bought and that’s not something that we specialize in only in America. It’s true all over the world. But I have never seen such an indifference about politics since I saw the last election. And there is something refreshing about being in Israel and seeing that whether you were a taxi-driver, who didn’t want your kid killed on the border, or whether you were an intellectual who didn’t want your kid killed on the border--politics was real to people. It wasn’t theoretical, it wasn’t bullshit, it wasn’t about capital gains. It was about are your children in the army and where are they serving and could they get killed or not. And that’s real.
K: Right. You have to be involved in politics there, because your life, your daily life, hour by hour is affected by it. It’s not fun.
E: It’s not fun that it’s real. And it seemed to me that it was important. I mean, that people cared and they cared for a reason. And when I think about how openly corrupt and indifferent everything is in this country. I mean, everybody’s so disgusting. The selling of the Lincoln bedroom for example. I mean it’s disgusting. It’s just disgusting.
K: Yes. And you don’t feel that you can affect what happens. I always, well, during the peace process In Israel I felt, you know, maybe they’re finally going to make a difference. We’re going to change the world. And a lot of Israelis I know had the feeling that their voices and opinions counted for something, that living here meant taking a positive, significant stand..
E: One of the things that I felt when I was in Israel is I kept thinking American Jews have no right to dictate about Israeli politics. Because our children are not in the army. I kept thinking that. In fact saying that. Saying that we can’t imagine interfering Yehuda and Hana Amichai, who’re great old friend of ours would tell us Gabriella is in the army and she’s up on the border and we can’t reach her and so on and I said: “American Jews have no right to say what should happen to Israel. Because our children are not on the border. End of story. We don’t feel it on our guts, the way you do. And I felt that very strongly when I was there, that Dahlia Ravikovich said to me: “You go home and tell these reactionary American Jews that we want peace with the Palestinians, and that we want peace with the Arabs, and that we can make peace with them, and get rid of those reactionaries.” And I said: “Who do you mean by the reactionary American.... And she gave me a name. OK. That’s was just a little tiny task you gave me. I’ll go home and do it. I’m happy to do it. But I really feel that the basic difference is, I’m sitting here, my daughter is not in the army, my daughter will not be in the army. What right do I have to tell you what the fuck to do with Israel?
K: It’s nice to know.
E: That’s the way I feel about it. I want to say that I loved the fact that I was among people who cared enough (?). I loved going to the symphony and seeing the passion that was poured out on the sololist (?). I loved the arguments, the debates, the caring. I loved the fact that people would live or die for an argument. I loved the of the sexiness (?) people, which is all for me verbal and food as well as fucking. I mean it’s all a part of the same thing for me. And I loved it. I mean I fell in love with that country. I can’t swear that I wont wind up there. Because, really, everything that I’ve always gone after my whole life is there, in some funny way. I love Mediterranean culture. I love the look of the Mediterranean. I love the smell of the Mediterranean. I went there and thought: “What have I been doing in Italy?” This is my landscape. It’s in my marrow.