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The Bookstore and the Jew

I crumpled the pieces of paper together and threw it at him. He threw it back.


by Hank Rosenfeld

May 23, 2002 | 8:00 pm

"You can say for us," said my rabbis, "that if the rich and important and soul-harassed Jews of the town will come to our synagogues, we will not tell them about God alone but teach them how to fight." -- Ben Hecht in PM newspaper, 1941.

The war got odd for me the other evening when I was thrown out of my favorite bookstore, Midnight Special. It's one of the great hangouts for nonstop consciousness in Santa Monica. They host "Documental" nights, media ecology supersessions, and Julia "Butterfly" Hill sometimes shows up there to talk about redwoods and make everyone fall in love with her.

But when I read an article by Edward Said taped to their promenade-facing window, condemning the "racist war" Israel is perpetrating upon Palestinians, I went inside to register a complaint. The big, long-haired Asian American clerk stood behind the counter. I've always considered him a helpful fellow and figured he would pass my protest -- the heartbreak and misery was anti-Semitic if it was racist -- along to the staff.

"Well," the clerk replied. "It is a racist war."

"How so?" I tried my reporter-interested-in-opinions guise, playing defense instead of defensive Jew.

"It's a war against indigenous people. Arafat was born there, while the other guy is from where, Poland?"

Now, I'm not keen on Sharon -- he and Said should argue politics with each other until they rupture. My faith's in what novelist Russell Banks set down in a recent Nation magazine: "Peace activists, intellectuals, academics, storytellers from every nation have to go deeper into our imaginations than we ever have gone before." Still, I argued with the bookstore clerk that Jews were indigenous to the region, too, "way back in the day," and did he know that at the 1939 World's Fair, Jews ran the Palestinian pavilion? (And other choice comments I'd gotten off the Web.)

"Ninety percent of Israelis are from Europe," he countered.

My 99-year-old Papa John Krasnick, back in Detroit, always says when it comes to politics, "they're all a buncha bums," so why am I still arguing? I proudly said that I'd lived and worked in Israel for The Voice of Peace radio, and so obviously knew whereof I uttered.

He fired back: "I guess you just never opened your eyes when you were over there."

And that did it. He'd stepped over some line. The one that made me want to punch his lights out. Whatever happened to "the customer is always right?" There's a war on, and it's every consumer for himself all of a sudden? The simple Jew-off-the-promenade was now boiling. I moved to the magazine section to flip through some left-wing journals with feigned interest.

Then I saw the Said article taped to the window, right behind the magazine rack. Reading backwards, I located the "racist war" sentence and um ... excised it.

"Backup on one!" came over the Midnight Special intercom. Busted. I quickly, albeit gingerly, squeezed past some malingering tourists -- they're always in the aisles -- but the clerk, whom I've also enjoyed quite often in there, caught up and confronted me. We tussled. He tried to grab the article excerpt, but I managed to rip it in half just as he told me with a shove to get the f--- out of his store. I crumpled the pieces of paper together and threw it at him. He threw it back. I mimed throwing it back at him. This was now officially out of control. He grew disgusted with me and turned back inside.

"Ha! Indigenous people?" I bellowed nervously at the customers now turned toward the hubbub. How I hated their clerks' "left-wing, knee-jerk California crapola attitude" or something, I shouted from the pavement. The cashier was wrong, and worse, insulting to customers! OK, it wasn't righteous-defender-of-the-faith civil disobedience that got me tossed. Self-righteous destruction of property, at best. (I know, it could have been worse. I could have been in Berkeley.) Shook up, I stumbled across the promenade into the nearest food court to get a shawarma -- yes -- and chill out. After that, I needed a beer, a Lakers game and a walk home by the sea in the dark.

Rosenfeld learned later, via the Web: Ariel Sharon was born in Kfar Mala in the Sharon Valley. Yasser Arafat was born in Cairo. Israeli ethnic groups: Israel-born 20.8 percent, Europe/America-born 32.1 percent, Africa-born 14.6 percent and Asia-born 12.6 percent. (From the CIA World Fact Book: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/ .)

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