Canada's Jewish Community
To the Editor:
I have been vitally interested in the career of Mordecai Richler [“Their Canada and Mine,” August] for the past few years, but have often felt varying measures of discontent with his work. . . . I lived, as he did, within the Montreal ghetto. . . . I attended the same schools as he did; if his memories focus largely in Room 41 of Baron Byng High School, mine manifest themselves primarily in Room 42. I too left Canada, but was away for a much longer period than Mr. Richler—thirteen years to be precise, and returned to find most everything greatly altered. Likewise, I have a novel published that dwells on life within the Montreal ghetto, beyond it, and the relative social and political upheavals between 1939-1956 [Falls the Shadow].
Here the fundamental disparities originate: upon my return to Canada, when my uncle asked me about Israel, I was able to tell him just about everything, having been happily involved in its creation. About the Folies Bergères, I am sad to say, I could report very little, nor, unfortunately, about the Old Vic and the BBC. . . . Yet, don’t label me chauvinist: why is a Canadian from Israel necessarily more chauvinist, say, than a Canadian from England? . . .
In his essay for COMMENTARY Mordecai Richler has finally brought under control the sensationalism that characterized his earlier articles in Maclean’s [a Canadian magazine], and to an extent, his central theme in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. . . .
What disturbs me?
Mr. Richler doesn’t really like us. Us, that is, the Jewish community, that bred him. In Duddy Kravitz and the Maclean’s articles he portrays us as the penny-pinching, money-grubbing, jokers, pranksters, and status seekers that we are, but fails to qualify that only some of us fall into these categories. . . . He implies that these ills are specifically Jewish ones, whereas in reality they are the derivatives of the drift of society as a whole. . . . In the Duddy Kravitz novel there are two completely honest characters, and they “happen to be” the two Gentiles. . . .
As for “Americanism”—this is certainly not a unique Jewish inclination; nor an exclusive Canadian trend. . . . Why single out the Canadian Jews?
Concerning irrelevant specifics:
- The golf story I heard was different—“Yes, a Gentile applied and was accepted; he must be meshuge.”
- We were never so forward and brave with the French boys; they employed the tactics Richler attributes to the Jewish boys against us; we did our best to steer clear of them.
- Richler’s repetitious use of the term “pea-soup” is jarring; to me this type of word is synonymous with “kike.”
To sum up. I have dug into Richler’s work trying to discover what he stands for. I do not know. Until proven otherwise, I must consider him (a fault in our time) “ismless.”