An American-Post-Holocaust Schlemiel: Another Note on Bernard Malamud’s “The Lady of the Lake”


Woody Allen’s Zelig traces the path of a character (of the same name) that, Irving Howe suggests (in one segment of Allen’s film), is based on the passionate drive of American Jews in the early 20th century to assimilate into American society.  Zelig, to be sure, is a schlemiel. But he is what I would call a post-historical-American schlemiel.  His Jewishness or his past is not his primary feature; his drive to assimilate is.  To assimilate, Jews – like many immigrant groups fresh to America – would act “as if” they were not Jews.  Instead, many Jews would act as if they were Americans. The act of hiding Jewishness and “passing” is nothing new.  Sander Gilman and Steven Aschheim, amongst other scholars, have drawn up historical documents from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries to show how prevalent this was in Europe.   In a book entitled Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Secret Language of the Jews, Gilman dedicates a chapter to Jews who acted as if they were German but who ultimately failed to be accepted.  He entitled this chapter “Living Schlemiels.”  Indeed, for Gilman, a “living schlemiel” is a person who tries his utmost to be accepted but in reality cannot.  In Allen’s film, Zelig is accepted wherever he goes, but, in contrast, many of the “living schlemiels” that Gilman discusses were not.   They learned the hard way.  Even though Woody Allen’s Zelig suggests that assimilation is something all American’s celebrate and that it doesn’t matter whether Zelig is Jewish since, ultimately, he is the everyman (a man, literally, of all occasions), Bernard Malamud suggests that a Jew can still try to pass and fail.

But there is more to the story.  In the “Lady of the Lake,” Bernard Malamud, shows us that what will (or perhaps should) trip a Jew up when he or she tries to pass is history.  To be sure, it is the memory of the Holocaust.  This is a lesson that Allen doesn’t take into consideration in Zelig since, quite simply, Zelig seems to have no history.  He just happens to live in the Jazz Era.  Malamud, in contrast, suggests we situate the schlemiel after the Holocaust. For Malamud, the post-Holocaust-American-schlemiel learns a lesson about what it means to be Jewish.

In the last blog entry, I introduced and discussed the basic plot of Bernard Malamud’s “The Lady of the Lake.”  As I noted, Henry Levin changes his name (and identity) to Henry R. Freeman.  After receiving in an inheritance, he leaves for Europe in pursuit of Romance. As a New York Jew, Romance is a European and a non-Jewish experience since Romance is not a central trope of Judaism. (In fact, as Daniel Boyarin points out in his book Unheroic Conduct, humility, hard work, and diligent study are the greatest traits, not pride, power, and masculinity, which go hand-in-hand with Romance and what he calls, following a medieval tradition, “Goyim Naches”).

When he arrives in Europe, he experiences beauty and mystery.  He is taken into what the theologian Will Herberg, in his book Judaism and Modern Man, thinks is antithetical to a tradition that eschews mystical fusion and forgetfulness.  When he meets a mysterious woman named Isabella, he does his utmost to win her over. But, as I pointed out in the last blog, she seems to see through his ruse when she asks him, immediately upon meeting him, if he is Jewish.

He denies his Jewishness and hides his secret.  But right when he is about to kiss her, he is accosted by a tour guide who likes like a “sad clown” and carries a “rapier.”  This is a key interruption since he hits Freeman in the crotch and says that what he is doing is a “transgression.” To be sure, what makes the story meaningful are these interruptions since they, apparently, disclose a tension between the Jew and the non-Jew.  To be truly free, Freeman believes that he must eliminate the tension.  He cannot stand being a “stranger” any longer.  And this incident “embarrasses” him.

This prompts Freeman to think about how different her history is from his:

And she was different too….Not only in her looks and background, but of course different as regards past…Her past he could see boiling in her all the way back to knights of old, and then some; his own history was something else again, but men were malleable, and he wasn’t afraid of attempting to create daring combinations: Isabella and Henry Freedman. (102)

As one can see from this passage, he respects her history and tradition and sees it “boiling in her all the way back to knights of old.”  It is a stable history that lives on and, apparently, doesn’t change too much.  As for his own history, he sees it as something that is “malleable.”  He doesn’t wish to keep it so much as change it and make a new, “daring combination.”  This is his main thought.  He will conceal his Jewishness to accomplish this experiment of sorts.

After sending a letter requesting to see her again, he is ecstatic to see that she wishes the same.  But before he goes, he is told that her family is known for “trickery.”  Following this, the theme of concealment and trickery comes more and more to the fore.

To be sure, Freeman, though exuberant and confident that he will trick her, sees more and more signs that something is amiss.  When he arrives on the island where she lives, she tells him that all of the paintings that he sees on the walls are copies (109) and this “slightly depresses him.”  This suggests that he wants something original and sees himself as a “copy” of sorts; after all, he is trying to copy a gentile.

Immediately after feeling this disappointment, he notices an image of a leper that catches his attention.  Freeman asks why the leper “deserved his fate?” Isabella’s answer hits at the main theme: “He falsely said he could fly”(110).  In response, Freeman asks, quizzically, “And for that you go to hell?”  She, however, doesn’t reply.  To be sure, she leaves him to ruminate on the lie.  Did Freeman also claim he could fly when, in fact, he couldn’t?  In other words, was Freeman really free?

What follows is a series of scenes that show Freeman on the edge wondering whether or not he should tell her the truth; that he is a Jew.  His excitement about her is interrupted by the lie he has kept to himself about his identity.  All of this annunciated by one word: “no”:

If Isabella loved him, as he now felt she did or would before long; with the strength of this love they would conquer problems as they arose….No, the worry that troubled him most was the lie he had told her, that he wasn’t a Jew.  He could, of course, confess, say she knew Levin, not Freeman, man of adventure, but that might ruin all, since it was quite clear she wanted nothing to do with a Jew, or why, at first sight, had she asked so searching a question? (112)

This worry and his interpretation of her earlier question stay with him to the very end of the story.  But it all begins to break down when, traveling into the alps, she asks Freeman whether the peaks “those seven – look like a Menorah?”

Hearing this, he thinks that she has called his bluff.  He is in shock, but he tries his utmost to cover it up, thinking he will pass a test:

“Like a what?” Freeman politely inquired. He had a sudden frightening remembrance of her seeing him naked as he came out of the lake and felt constrained to tell her that circumcision was de rigueur in stateside hospitals; but he didn’t’ dare.  She may not have noticed.  (115)

Following this, he narrowly averts questions regarding Jewishness. However, at this point, she reveals to him that she has tricked him: she is not nobility, she doesn’t come from a noble line; rather, she is the daughter of a caretaker.  The island that Freeman went to was not owned by her family.

After saying this, she was hoping he too would confess to some kind of trick.  However, Freeman still insists on being quiet about his Jewish identity:

“I’m not hiding anything,” he said. He wanted to say more but warned himself not to.”

In response she says, “That’s what I was afraid of.”  Her reply is odd; however, he doesn’t notice, all he can think about is how Italian she looks: “She was a natural-born queen, whether by del Dongo or any other name. So she lied to him, but so had he to her”(116).  However, he is avoiding the one fact: he didn’t tell her the truth.

To be sure, he only sees her as an Italian he can have a romance and a “future” with. When, near the end of the story, he sees her all in white, he imagines her as his bride.  He fails to notice, however, that she is now more hesitant toward him than ever.

In the final scene he kisses her, but she “whispers Goodbye” to him.  In response he says, “To whom goodbye?…I have come to marry you”(117).  Upon hearing this, she asks, once again, the question that pains him the most: “Are you a Jew?”

Although his mind tells him not to lie, he overcomes this and says: “How many no’s make never?  Why do you persist with such foolish questions?”

Her reply discloses the fact that Freeman’s denial of Jewishness – in order to experience romance and start a “new life” – was his downfall:

“Because I hoped you were.”

Malamud then brings the clincher. When she opens up her top, he sees, written on her breasts, “a bluish line of distorted numbers.”  In other words, she is a survivor of the concentration camps who had been marked by the Nazis for extermination.  She cannot deny her Jewish identity and, in fact, was looking to marry a Jew and thought that Freeman was, in fact, a Levin:

“I can’t marry you. We are Jews.  My past is meaningful to me.  I treasure what I suffered for.”

As she goes away, he says that he is really Jewish and grasps at her breasts.  She disappears and he feels as if he is grasping at a “moonlit stone” (a “lady of the lake”).  In other words, he was duped.  He is a schlemiel, in this scenario, because he lets his freedom get the best of him.  Malamud’s lesson is that Levin brought his bad luck on through his masquerade.  At the end of the story, we learn that Levin is, without a doubt, not a schlemiel like Zelig.

To be sure, Malamud would like to let his readers know that there is no reward for the Zelig-like denial of history and Jewish identity.  The Jew, for him, is not a freeman.  The post-Holocaust-American Jew is bound by history, suffering, and memory.  But, as the story notes, the European Jew has a better understanding of this while the American Jew doesn’t.  For Malamud the American-Jew is a schlemiel who is more interested in an improvised, free, and new life than a historical one.   He is, as Hannah Arendt would say, the “lord of dreams.”  But these dreams, in this story, are the dreams of someone who cares more for freedom and romance than history and Jewish identity.

Dancing Fools – Take 1


Whenever I see pop singers who dance in tandem with choreographed dancers, I often cringe.  Synchronized dancing is “serious.”  Even though it is “fun,” it often lacks the comic touch.  To be sure, the only kind of dancing I like to watch, if it is to be worth my viewing time, must be comic.   Although this is my present view, I didn’t arrive at it overnight.

When I was growing up, I loved to dance.  And my brother and I would often dance in front of the TV to Michael Jackson, Soul Train, and, yes, John Travolta.  I loved Grease and Saturday Night Fever.

I also liked MAD magazine.  So when I first saw the issue parodying John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever, I was introduced to a new type of dancer: the dancing fool.   Alfred E. Newman as John Travolta.   This parody of a serious dance film also caught on at Sesame Street.


Although this blipped on the screen of my youth, the shock didn’t settle in until I was in Junior High.  When I first heard Frank Zappa’s “Dancing Fool,” it struck me how powerful a parody of serious disco could be.

This song altered how I looked at music and dance.   I moved my body differently.  And this made me rethink the Disco Genre that I so loved as a child.  I wanted to alter it and I changed my moves to something more “funky.”   One of the things I  noticed, in dancing in a “funky” and comical way, was that I was happier and my friends around me were happier when I danced in a comic fashion.   I felt some kind of liberation form main-stream culture in this kind of musical parody.

In university, I had a group of friends that loved to play with movement and we would have dance parties.  Many of my friends were from NYC and they introduced me to a new movement that was brewing. They showed me a new way of parodying disco culture that  had a Jewish and urban flavor.   Out of this urban cultural movement emerged projects like Heeb Magazine, Jewcy, and Reboot.  It produced books like Bar-Mitzvah Disco, Cool Jew, and projects like MODIYA at NYU (which looked to chronicle it).  These magazines, books, and websites were looking for a new way of making Jewishness “cool” and ironic.

The “unlikely hero” of this endeavor is the dancing fool.

This, for me, had a lot of resonance because the dancing fool is not simply a figure that is novel to this new movement; it is also found in the secular culture and even in Hasidic culture.  There is something deeply spiritual and deeply secular about dancing like a fool – yet, in such a way as to open up new ways of moving.

We see this at work in Woody Allen’s Zelig where a schlemiel named Zelig spurs a new movement based on his ability to change at the drop of a dime.  The song which expresses this: “The Chamelon.”

I want to end this blog entry with a clip from Betty Boop entitled “Betty Boop and the Dancing Fool.”  This, I think, is one of the main sources that Allen draws on.  It epitomizes a time of great change in America in the early 20th century, and it brings out how some of this frenetic and revolutionary energy was wrapped up with a new medium: animation and film.   There was an animism at work that had something comical, so to speak, built in to it.  Perhaps what made it so comical was the fact that movement – which has no norm or else breaks with the norm – is comical.  And this kind of energy moves like a foolish electric current that plays with and transforms different cultural trends.

Through this kind of animation a new kind of dance and a new kind of dancer emerged.   And although much of this had to do with a medium, we cannot ignore the fact that that medium was created and advanced by many Jews.  In this medium, many things can be parodied, but what remains throughout is movement, animation. This came to the fore for me when I met my first dancing fool through MAD magazine.  He had the body of John Travolta but the face of Alfred E. Newman. The comic face displaces the serious body yet, in the end, what remains?

…the dancing fool..

To be continued….

Hasid or Hipster? A Word or Two on Nextbook’s Golem Animation


No.  This blog entry is not on the Hasid or Hipster tumblr site, which, believe me, I really enjoy as does Jimmy Kimmel and a variety of people who regard themselves as “hipster Jews.”   Rather, its on an animation by Nextbook called the Golem which pits a group of Hasids against a group of Hipsters.   Playing on some kind of possible tension, which may or may not exist (after all, a lot hipsters live in Williamsburg which is home to Satmar Hasidim) this short animation does a lot to diffuse it.    And it does it by way of showing that, in the end, the Hasid, the Hipster, and the Golem are all schlemiels who, instead of putting up a fight, would rather just hang out and chill.

As you can see from the opening credits, Golem graphic, and music, this animation (set against the background of a city) seems to promise something ominous.  After all, a Golem is a creature which, the Talmud tells us, is made out of clay and given life by virtue of a magic spell.  The famous words that are associated with the Golem in the Talmud are “Rava Bara Gavra.”  Although they sound like a spell, they simply mean that Rava, an esteemed Rabbi from the third century, created (Bara) a man (Gavra).  Apparently, as Midrashic legend tells us, he may have also made a lamb that would be killed for a Sabbath meal.  Years hence, in the times of the Maharal of Prague, the story re-emerges of a Golem that was solicited to protect the Jews from attacks by mobs of anti-Semites.  (At the time, Jews in Germany were often accused of what’s called “blood libel”: the hateful and totally false claim that Jews would kill Gentile babies and use their blood for Matzoh on Passover.)

The opening of this animation draws the story.  But this wasn’t simply a legend amongst the Jews.  The Golem story found wild expression in the German Expressionist film from the 1920s.  In this film, the Golem is associated with the something very grim and Gothic.  He appears to be a monster of sorts.

In the animation, this is displaced 11 seconds in to the clip.  Not only is the dark imagery supplanted, so is the music.  Now, we see a lighter background and odd techno-retro-ish music against the subtitle “Williamsburg, Brooklyn.”

We are then introduced to three Hasidim who are gathered in the apartment of a Hasid who lives above a Hipster Bar.  He asks the other two Hasidim if it’s “Simchas Torah” (a Jewish holiday that celebrates the Torah) downstairs.  This comment is effaced when, downstairs, one of two hipsters in the bar asks: “What is that pounding…is it Simchas Torah already?”

One of the Hasidim gets the idea that the Hasidim should boycott their establishments so that the Hipsters will leave.  But this plan falls flat because, as he says, “none of them have jobs.”  The same Hasid suggest that they take graver measures.  And by this he means the creation of a “monster” who will “do our bidding” (a Golem).  While he says, this we hear chilling music.

One of the Hasidim says that “the secret of the Golem has been lost for generations” while the narrator says “until now.”  At this point, the animation shows us a Wikipedia page which shares the Golem’s secret.  (The joke, in this instance, targets a Messianic kind of valuation our society gives to Wikipedia.)  .  And the comic blunders that follow accumulate and bring out sheer schlemielkeit.  After all, what kind of Golem would Hasidim reading a Wikipedia page on the Golem produce?

The Golem they produce – first of all – speaks (which goes against the legend; the Golem, as a rule, can’t speak).  But, more to the comic point, when it speaks he comes across more as a Nebish-schlemiel than as a monster.  His back hurts.  He needs to go lie down.  And he’s worried that, since he may have been made of clay he may have allergy problems.  When told that he will have to scare the Hipsters away (or, rather, “destroy them”), he comically points out how ridiculous this would be: “I mean..have you seen my body?  What do you want me to do? File their taxes to death?”

These comical rhetorical questions tell us that this Golem is a schlemiel.  He would rather have peace than war.  As the Golem says, “Go destroy them yourselves.  I’m no fighter.”  (I discussed this trait of the schlemiel in my blog entry on the Political Schlemiel and in my entry on the schlemiel and weakness.)

After feeling a little Jewish guilt because of his “creators” kvetching, he goes downstairs.

But before he does, we bear witness to a hipster conversation which is, as in the earlier parts of the animation, looking to be cool and disaffected.  In the midst of this conversation, the Golem breaks through the wall to scare them.   In response, the hipster asks for his iphone.  Upon hearing this, the Golem acts “as if” he is angry, calls them fools, and tells them that the “police won’t help them.” But the hipster doesn’t want the phone to call the police.  Rather, he wants to “tweet a photo” of the Golem and put it on facebook.

This works to disarm the Golem and his act.  Following this, they all start chatting and the Golem sets into his true identity: like them, he’s a hipster.  When asked about the word on his head – what one of the hipsters calls a “head tattoo” (the word is Emet – Truth – which in the Golem story stays on his head to keep him alive; when the Aleph of Emet is taken away, he dies), he says it means truth but adds in indifferent hipster parlance: “Uh…I mean…but what is truth anyhow?”

Continuing the comedy, the Golem’s arm falls off and he asks the female hipster to put it back.  She tells him not to worry: she’s dated Golems before.

In this world, all is banal.  In a Warholian fashion, nothing shocks, not even a Golem.  But that’s hip.

In characteristic fashion, the Golem makes it into the news, becomes popular, and attracts a group of ‘sports-bar’ types to the Williamsburg bar.  At that point the hipsters, rather than the Hasidim, say: there goes the neighborhood.  The last words they utter suggest that they go, instead, to Crown Heights, were there is a “Manticore” DJ (who is apparently half human/half scorpion).  The Golem stays there, in the back of the bar, as they walk away.  This suggests that the Golem is passé and that there are many other hybridic half human beings out there.  But they are no longer scary monsters; they’re cool.

And the last scene we see of the Golem become a jock while the Rabbis complain of assimilation. Like Woody Allen’s chameleon-Schlemiel, Zelig, the Golem changes with every person he is around.  But he is left back, while they move on.  And we are left with a few questions: Should the Golem have gone off with the hipsters?  Is his assimilation, now, giving in to jocks rather than hipsters?

Ending on this note of assimilation is telling because the Golem, like the schlemiel he has become, has been transformed by the American cultural imagination.  This transformation of the Golem into schlemiel suggests that what lasts, in America, after all is said and done, is the schlemiel.  American Jews, who may align themselves with  the comic aspects of Jewish identity, feel more akin to the schlemiel than to the Golem.  Of all characters, the American-Golem-Schlemiel – whose greatest asset is his coolness and indifference to fighting – remains.

Contrast this to Israel and its historical consciousness and you will find that their reading of the Golem is much different; for many, the schlemiel represented something Jews were not: a figure of power who could protect the community from enemies.  Israelis deemed, in the wake of figures like the Golem, to protect themselves.

But in this animation, where Hipsters are seemingly pit against Hasidim, protection isn’t the issue: comedy is.  In this battle, comedy displaces the Golem legend and transforms the Golem from a monster-of-sorts to a schlemiel.  In this piece, the Golem-Schlemiel is the “unlikely hero.”   And instead of Hasid or Hipster we have the schlemiel.

“Let’s Have the Music” – Reflections on Sholem Aleichem’s Inside Kasrilevke – Take 1


In a “Five Books” interview, the Jewish-American writer Allegra Goodman was asked what five books in Jewish fiction she would suggest people read.  Each book, for Goodman, would provide readers with one sense of the Jewish experience.  One of the books she chose was Sholem Aleichem’s Inside Kasrilevke (the contents of which are the stories of this fictional town (Kasrilevke) which is, arguably, Sholem Aleichem’s version of Chelm).  Like Irving Howe, she notes that the Broadway version of Fiddler on the Roof is a “cartoon version of his work.”  What she finds so important about Inside Kasrilevke is that it is “very funny, laugh out loud funny.”  Goodman likens the stories to “comedy routines” and notes that this book is her “comic ideal.”

Taking Allegra Goodman’s suggestion to heart, I think it makes a lot of sense to focus on these comic routines. But in doing so, I’m interested not so much in a comic ideal as in how the narrator of this collection of stories relates to schlemiels and other stock comic characters in the stories.   In this and in other blog entries on Inside Kasrilevke, I will be making a series of different readings which look into comic relationships and comic rhythms so as to understand how Aleichem, in this collection of stories, presents the schlemiel.

Right off the bat, Aleichem, the “author,” explains why he is writing this book in the “Author’s Foreword.” The picture he presents gives us a sense of someone is an insider and an outsider of the town.  For this reason he, like Sancho Panza to Don Quixote, can report on what happens in the town.

Like a writer of his times (and not, as Howe would say, a folkish “oral story teller”), he notes that “of recent years” many people have been writing books “about cities and lands.”  Playing on a Jewish stereotype (and echoing something we see years late played on in Woody Allen’s film Zelig) he “says to himself”: “We imitate other peoples in everything: they print newspapers – so do we; they have Christmas trees – so do we; they celebrate New Year’s – so do we.” So, just like they publish “guides” to big cities, he asks (with a shrug of sorts): “why shouldn’t we get out “A Guide to Kasrilevke?”

After pointing out how he has much in common writers in pursuing such a project, Aleichem notes how much he owes to this town of fools.  He tells us that he is a native who has left and has recently returned to honor the dead; namely, to visit his parents grave.  While he was visiting their graves, it occurred to him how much he wants to show his “gratitude” for the “hospitality” of his “friends” in Kasrilevke By writing this book, he felt he would be doing this.  I want to underscore this element, here, because Aleichem is noting, in the very beginning, that his book is a response to hospitality.  This implies that his representations, no matter how comic or even negative, are kind-hearted and articulate a way of returning kindness for kindness.

What is so fascinating about the final paragraph of the “Author’s Foreword,” is that it works by way of what Ruth Wisse would call “indirection.”  After stating his personal gratitude and the personal cause of this book, the narrator states that he, “of course” doesn’t have “personal motives” for the book. Rather, he writes it in response to “considerations of public service” meaning that he wrote the book in order to “guide strangers visiting Kasrilekve.”  This, he tells us, will help them to know where to get a train, where to go, eat, and have fun.  But at the end of the paragraph he states something that would contradict his present project, what Irving Howe would see as “troubling.”  He notes that “Kasrilevke is no longer the town it used to be.  The great progress of the world has made inroads into Kasrilevke and turned it topsy-turvy.  It has become a different-place.”

This final, sour note gives us a sense of how, in Aleichem, the comic is as Irving Howe would say, citing Saul Bellow: “laughter and trembling are so curiously intermingled that it is not easy to determine the relation between the two.” But, in relation to Howe’s claim, I would also like to emphasize, as does Howe and Sidrah Dekoven Ezrahi, how important place is for Aleichem and how place relates to comedy. After all, the book is all about this place, perhaps the changing place of Jews in Eastern Europe.  Through fiction, Aleichem gives honor to the place and the people.  This, he claims, is not simply personal; it is a “public service.”

Even though Aleichem ends on this somber note of how “it has become a different place,” he changes rhythm and words by “indirection.”  And I want to underscore rhythm because there is a comical music going on at the outset and how this comic music is connected to place.  It addresses what the place has become (which is sad) by way of comedy.  (Laughter and tears, in other words, are intimately related to and emerge out of a place, a world.)

As a comic rejoinder to this sad meditation on place in the “Author’s Foreword,” the narrator points out how, immediately on arrival, he is accosted by a bunch of hotel porters and a sea of yellow: “At the station I was set upon by a horde of yellow porters with yellow whiskers, yellow coats, and bits of yellow tin stuck on their yellow, threadbare caps.”

The cacophony of yellow, so to speak, is coupled by a cacophony of voices calling on the narrator to come to his hotel/place: “Mister! Grand Hotel!” “Hotel Francia, mister!” “Hey, mister, Portugalia” “Mister! Turkalia!”  He tries to avoid this cacophony by moving to another place, but there too he is once again occasioned by a mob.

They are not “civil” and take his bag away from him just to get him to their hotel.  He fights with one to get back what is most important to him: his manuscripts.  Right after he seizes his back, he rushes for the “tramway.”  But when he gets there, he occasions more cacophony this time between passengers, the rider, and the manager.  All of the “noise” is comic and sheer slapstick.  And once it does move, it gets in an accident.

The movements in this text teach us that, for Aleichem, the schlemiel is not simply in the character as in a comic exchange and rhythm: that occur in terms of an erratic movement from place to place, stopping and starting, while comically gesticulating. All the while, there is a blindness and a timing in each movement.  Each thing collides, changes direction, moves no, stops, and repeats this process.  Each event prompts one to move, so to speak, from one vehicle or hotel to another.

But each of these movements, while erratic, is endearing.  In the midst of all this, the narrator is scrambling.  In fact, by the time he gets to the hotel, he has a hard time retaining his cool.  When the hotel manager tells him that he can either be in a room that is infested by bed bugs or a room penetrated by the music of a cantor practicing for the Sabbath or a bunch of Yiddish actors, the narrator is startled.

And for good reason… Given what we have learned from the “author’s forward” we don’t see evidence of hospitality so much as rudeness, he don’t see civility so much as chaos.  More importantly, since we know that he was a native of the town and is now on a visit, we see that he may be lying or have forgotten what really goes on in this town.  Its as if he led us on.

Its confusing for the reader and its confusing for the author, it seems, to know how to relate what is happening to him on the tram and the hotel to what he has said before.

He is startled (and we are startled) by a city that is full of many erratic rhythms.  And, it seems, the narrator is the shlimazel while the town, and all its rhythms, is the schlemiel.  This comes out when, after being told about choosing between music and bedbugs in another room (without music) the narrator chooses the music:

“If that’s the case,” I said, “let’s have the music.”

Indeed, in Karilevke, in a town full of schlemiels and permeated by schlemiel rhythms, that seems to be the only option.   And perhaps Aleichem is telling us that to understand the schlemiel, we must first relate to its comic musicality.

Perhaps we hear a similar in Woody Allen’s Zelig but in Allen’s film there isn’t an ambivalent sense of place; there is constant movement and change which echoes what we said in the beginning of this entry; namely, that Jews do what others do and become what they become.  For Allen, as opposed to Aleichem, this music of change, which happens in America, is purely comic. While there are tears, laughter, and music for Aleichem over Kasrilevke, there are no tears for Allen; in relation to America, there is only laughter and music.  Here you can dance the Zelig-dance (“The Chameleon”) without any remorse: