Friday, June 18, 2010

Jews in Los Angeles

At the market yesterday afternoon I got into a conversation. The bearded warmly dressed self composed man obviously was not from around here, and was looking over the selection of left over breads he says because where he is living he has no way to store or cook food and ends up throwing out expensive breads if he buys them. He has come back from Europe, to receive hospital treatment. When he asks me from out of nowhere if I am Jewish, I ask him if he is staying at the house and temple a Jewish group operates in the neighborhood. He is. I ask him if he knows the family I met at the cafe, mother and two sons, one an actor, the other an aspiring genius. Yes, he is there, yes they are there too. Something must have drawn me to him: he has been greatly disturbed by this family, he just got finished writing to his friend in Finland about them, she can hardly believe such people exist. They're common here in L.A., I say. What do I think of them? I don't know, but they seem to be playing some game. When I heard some lower tones escape from the younger son I asked him, the genius with the high fluting voice why he talked so funny. He answered that old men and children like it. So then why not talk to them that way, I said, and, if you can, talk to the rest of us like we do? He said he wasn't sure if he liked the way I was talking to him. He might have to reconsider talking with me, in general he only liked the people who like his mother. And I don't, I ask? The last time I talked with his mother, we had this conversation:

- Do you know where in Los Angeles I can get a good hamburger?
- I don't eat out.
- But you are from here.
- If I ate out I wouldn't want a fast food hamburger.
- Do you know where the best hospital here is to get an operation?
- The most famous ones?
- Yes
- Sure, I can give you names.
- Yes, give me them. I need an operation. That's why I came here.
- You came to Los Angeles to get an operation without any idea of particular doctors, treatments, hospitals?
- Yes.

Hearing this the man at the market produces a groan of disgust. The rabbi where he lives is taken in by these people. The temple gets taken in by people like them, when they should help people like you, he says.

- They aren't interested in people like me.
- Why not?
- When I first returned to live in Los Angeles, just about two years ago now, after seventeen years living in Europe, thrown out by my wife in Hungary and back in the city with not a friend or relative, staying in the hostel in Santa Monica, I thought to go by a temple and ask them if they could introduce me to people, so I could see what I could do here. One rabbi from a temple on La Brea told me flat out that since I wasn't a member he had no time or resources to involve himself with me. Another rabbi, whom I had met briefly at an opening celebration the year before with my wife when she was interested in Judaism, said he remembered me but since I was not a member he had no time or resources.... At another temple on Beverly, I was invited into the kitchen, offered food, told by an affable man with burning dark eyes that it wasn't my fault, but I was going to hell. Who's fault was it? I ask. Your family's. They didn't educate you to be a Jew, he explains. At a Santa Monica branch of the organization that operates the house you and the family stay at I go in to ask the same questions, and am invited to the rabbi's house for a Sabbath dinner. Various people who fail to identify themselves ask my story, and wander off without a comment. We eat outside in the garden of the rabbi's house. I go inside to wash my hands, stop at the book shelves in the living room to look over the books. A few papers are sitting on one shelf and I take them up, a print from an internet site on the subject of public perceptions of Israel. A man approaches me and shouts, what are you doing?

- Reading.
- Who said you could?
- Who said I couldn't?
- Those papers are private. Do you always look at other people's books in their houses?
- Yes, in fact, I do always, when I am invited over.
- You weren't invited to invade the privacy of the rabbi.
- Why was I invited?
- What did they tell you? Who invited you?
- The rabbi.
- He doesn't want you to do what you are doing. Who are you?
- Who are you?
- Get out of this house!

Incredible, says the man in the market. Love your neighbor, says the commandment. These rabbis should be ashamed of themselves, they are supposed to be religious people. Where is their kindness, sympathy, where is their love? I say they are not people of religion, they are politicians, who normally have no shame and would have difficulty telling you what shame is. What a world we live in, he says.