Thursday, September 8, 2011

There are no brains in America, and the streets are paved with dumb

The Reisa Crew are finally in America, so now it's time to encounter some of that old-timey opportunity we've been waiting for. Jacob goes off to find the synagogue to see if he can find some work teaching Hebrew. Dov lands a gig almost immediately unloading boxes at the docks, and Petya finds work with a tailor. So far, so good.

Reisa and Petya walk around, gaping at New York.
It was not a clean place, she saw at once. There were dark hallways and filthy cellars, all crowded with dirty children. They clustered on stoops and fire escapes and in wash-hung courts, and in the trash-laden alleys they played their little games with balls and sticks.
Is Reisa OCD? Did she and her friends used to spend their free time sweeping the mud road in the shtetl? Come on, she should be used to some grime here and there. Incidentally, if she's never been to a city, how does she know what a fire escape is?

Reisa and Petya pass peddlers selling, well, everything.
'They sell almost everything out here on the street, don't they, Petya?" 
"Almost, it seems. I don't see how they all make a living. Some of the stuff is so cheap." He pointed out that bandannas and tin cups sold for two cents and peaches a cent a quart and damaged eggs for practically nothing.
Ok, he's literally been in the country for a day and a half. How on earth does he know how much a cent is worth? Even better, is he reverse-translating back into kopecks? Also, why are people selling bandannas? Are Gypsy fashion trends sweeping the town? Is there an anachronistic gang-banger convention going on?

Back at the Golds, Jacob comes home glum. It turns out Jews already know how to read Hebrew. Darn!

After dinner, Gold Jr. teaches Reisa some more English, then gives her some advice:
"You're very quick, Reisa." Joseph nodded. "You must learn how to speak well and to write well. This is not Russia. We must put all that behind us." 
"Must I?" Reisa said wistfully. "I have good memories of my home there. It was hard, but I miss it already."
Really? Because most of chapter 1 consisted of you nursing a one-eyed goose, taking a bath in excruciating (and creepy) detail, affectionately calling your cat a mamzer, which, we were informed, meant "trickster" (um, no), spending most of a page staring at a guy hanging from a gibbet while musing on "the gruesome symbol of rough justice," and reminiscing about the time looking at maps made you feel depressed because you knew you'd never leave your village so you stopped looking at maps. There was almost no description of your home or village. Even the narrator thinks it sucks: never occurred to her to think what a pitiful sort of village it was, for it was all she had ever known of the world.
And that was all BEFORE the Cossacks ran through town killing and raping everyone. So, yeah, you may say you really like Russia, but I have one suggestion for Morris: Show, don't tell, stupid.

As in the previous chapter, Reisa uses the Gospel of John as a sleeping aid, after first marveling over an add for P.T. Barnum's circus in the newspaper.
The section she read told the story of the prophet Jesus who met a woman at a well. This fascinated Reisa, for she well knew that women in biblical times had almost no honor or position. No man would speak to a woman in the open, so as she read that Jesus spoke to one, she became engrossed.
Ok, let's take this one at a time:

A- How is she defining "biblical times?" The Tanakh spans from the start of Jewish time to events occurring around 450-400 BCE (books of Malachi and Esther). So that's already a good 3300 years. Then there's another 400-plus years to get to Jesus. Don't you think 400 years is a pretty big freaking lacuna to traipse over as a way of suggesting that this girl considers the New Testament "biblical?" If "biblical" as a term applies to over 4000 years of history then it ceases to have much of any useful meaning at all, doesn't it?

B- This girl is simultaneously the most and least well-read Jew I've ever met. How is it that she's been studying Kabbalah, Talmud and messianic prophesies and yet has never bothered to crack open a bible? She's never heard of Eliezer chatting up Rebeccah, Eli chastising Chana at Shiloh, Deborah giving orders to Barak, or Naomi and Ruth working their independent women shtick via the rather clueless Boaz? Oh right, she hasn't because Morris hasn't. Keep forgetting that little detail.

Also, women had no honor or position? That must be why the Talmud talks about the seven prophetesses and why Judaism praises the four matriarchs, even to the point of turning some of them into quasi-pagan fertility goddesses. I like that you don't let research muck up your creative juices, Morris.
She followed the story, amazed that Jesus knew about the woman's life without ever having met her!
This is hilarious given that a minute ago she was just as enthralled by the prospect of going to Barnum's greatest show on earth. Something tells me that if she ever sees a mentalist perform, her head will explode.
Finally she reached the parts that said, "Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews." This thrilled her and surprised her, for she had not known that Christians thought this way. Of course, she knew that Jesus himself was a Jew.
I wonder how widespread this view actually was among the rank-and-file Jews 100-plus years ago. I know it was common among the educated classes of philosophers and rabbis, but I'm skeptical of how much this actually trickled down to the commoners. Then again, given that Reisa seems to be running for Chief Rabbi of Batshitistan, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at her holding such learned opinions.
Finally her eyes fell on the verse that said, "God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." 
She thought about this verse for a time. God was a spirit. Anything other than this was idolatry. She was pleased with this thought.
Right, so then how do you square this with viewing God as a spirit and a man? Hello?
Reisa's eyes fell on the next verse, which hit her with more force than she had dreamed. "Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he." 
No! It can't be true! Jesus cannot be the Messiah. He died!
Um, why is her entire faith (and reason) being shaken by these random quotes? It's not like Jesus is doing anything or proving anything noteworthy here. Essentially her interaction with the book is: "I am totally God." My God, he's totally God! It sure is lucky no one gave you a copy of the Satanic Bible or the Book of Mormon. Or say, Mother Goose. Next you'd be raving about flying cows and anthropomorphic silverware.

I can't decide if the reason Morris isn't trying very hard to make his case means he thinks Christianity's positions are just that obvious, or whether he thinks these are actually some kick-ass arguments for the faith.

Next time: Reisa becomes a working girl.

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