April 19, 2007
Adam Gopnik: Doctor, Doctor! There’s a joke in my Judaism
(Page 3 - Previous Page)In the early 20th century, the painter artist Henri Matisse got into trouble with his avant-garde contemporaries when he said that he dreamt of an art that could have the effect of a good armchair, an escape from life. Having said that, though, Matisse continued to push boundaries of artistic representation to the limits through his use of simplified lines and bold color. Likewise, as we read Gopnik's story of the Purimspiel and of his son's attempts to refine comic timing, and of his own quest for how to tell Esther's story anew, it's easy just to get lost in the yarn, with all its color.
But it's clear, too, that Gopnik is searching for something more and pushing boundaries by mixing up Schorsch's teachings with those of his toddler daughter, Olivia, and his late grandfather and Youngman's, "Waiter, what's this fly doing in my soup? -- The backstroke."
Gopnik pushes us to explore the limits between today's Jews and the surrounding culture. To help him figure out who is and who is not. To see whether we all think the same things are funny these days.
One of the great beauties of Judaism is that it lives on the line between intellect and sentiment, between probing and faith. It's not all about God, and Gopnik's beliefs and observance are hardly what would make us know him as a Jew.
But I don't have to say any of that, because his son already told him, with perfect comic timing.