Friday, December 19, 2008

Rosenbaum on Respectability

Bernie read of the day: Ron Rosenbaum on Jewish Gangsters and The Country Club Set (link). Somewhat oversimplified, Rosenberg reads Bernie as drawing his wealth from, specifically, not the establishment, the respectable, but rather from the strivers, the wannabees, the gullible, those who are avid for respectability from the outside--the country club set.

I wouldn't want to commit on this. For all my own fascination with Bernie, I really don't know anyone who took a direct hit. I do have one good friend who took some shrapnel on a near-miss and she is as solid and centered and non-gullible as anybody I know, so she's no help. I do recognize a wider pattern here, though. Just in general, I recall that if anything seems to good to be true, it probably is, and the most egregious scams often require a certain, shall we say, lack of sophistication--a sense that all investing is a scam, and that you'd better cut your own deal the bet you can because that is what the Big Guys do. And that way (this is needless to say) disaster lies.

I also find myself recalling an ancdote out of my past--specifically, 53 years ago. It may be wildly off point, but here it is in my memory, just waiting to be retold. So here goe.

In this story I'm working as a bus boy and general factotem at a little hotel in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Bethlehem was an "exclusion town"--a place where Jews gathered because they weren't admitted in other places. I'm not Jewish: I stumbled more or less by accident, via an employment agency. I don't remember much about the customers except there weren't very many of them and as one who depended on tips, I eventually drifted away to greener passengers.

But I do remember one old guy. He took a table all to himself. I remember him as rigid and somewhat stiff-lipped but he took an interest and me and engaged me in civil chat. I think he even recommended some books, which flattered me, though I have no memory of what he recommended, nor that I ever read them. Anyway he was also--he made no secret of this--appalled at the people around him. As I say I don't remember much about them, but he made it clear he thought they were vulgar and overloud. I assume he found them tiresome and boring but also, I have no doubt, he was embarrassed. Recall that this is just a few years after the end of World War II. Maybe some of these people had been in the camps. Certainly they knew people who had been in the camps and died, or survied, as the case might be.

The main thing I remember is how my friend wanted to tell me that these people weren't like "real Jews" (as he said). We are a cultured people, he said. Always remember, he said, we are the people who gave you the Ten Commandments.

I'm not sure how many of the Ten Commandments Bernie violated; my guess is that it is quite enough.

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