And One More Thing

For your reading pleasure: some snippets from Tony Kushner’s commentary on the Klezmatic’s recent CD, Possessed. Parts of the commentary, I noticed, have made their way into his and Alisa Solomon’s introduction to their new collection of essays, Wrestling with Zion, which I got for Christmas — given to me, no doubt, by some relative who couldn’t possibly imagine why I would be interested in a book of “Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” — and which now sits on my towering “to read” pile. This part isn’t in their introduction.

Hebrew- and Yiddish-illiterate, I barely know how to pray; riddled with ambivalence, child of Marx, Freud, Mahler, Benjamin, Kafka, Goldman, Luxemburg, Trotsky, An-ski, Schoenberg, mongrel product of Judaism’s and of Jewish exteriority, of its ghetto-hungry curiosity, of its assimilationist genius, I now approach Judaism as Jews once approached the splendid strangeness of the Goyishe Velt: I am shall we say deeply confused, but not complacent. And this I think of course is profoundly Jewish. So perhaps I can write your liner notes after all. Of music, son of a clarinetist and a bassoonist though I be, I know nothing. . . .

High Holy Days this year found me doing research for my new play in a tiny town in Britain with no other Jews and no shul, so I cast my bread upon English waters, said the prayers I remembered, lit candles, made Shofar noises, cried for the Dead, begged for forgiveness and decided to read the Bible.

And then he even mentions my favorite line from Perestroika, a line that, as he admits, always gets cut.

Why does the God in whom I may or may not believe, or rather in whose existence I simultaneously believe and doubt, why does the Almighty spend the first five books of the Bible writing such morally problematic, bewildering stories? We’ve always had the answer to that one. Because the Torah is not clarification but the World itself; it is the World’s Goad towards perplexity, interpretation, towards Midrash and Talmud. “Az er darf ringen mit zayn Libn Nomen!” as a character in Perestroika says, in a scene that’s always cut because let’s face it, the play’s too long. “You must struggle with the Almighty!” “Azoy tut a Yid!” “It’s the Jewish way!”

I watched all six hours of Angels in America on Saturday night, and I’ve decided that that’s how it should be seen.