“If the Messiah Comes, He’ll Come to This Cafeteria in Miami”

Isaac Bashevis Singer, Shadows on the Hudson
Translated by Joseph Sherman

Like Meshugah, this is another novel translated from the Yiddish and published after Singer’s death. In Shadows I was gripped by the various characters with all their quarrels and struggles over what constitutes Jewish identity in the decades after the European catastrophe and the founding of the State of Israel…

“Well, now I can hate him with a whole heart.”

“What do those holy souls think when they look down from heaven and see Jews consumed by their businesses, as though there were nothing else, as if the greatest devastation in Jewish history had never taken place?”

“He was someone who could blacken the sun.”

“A Jew without God is a gentile, even if he speaks Hebrew.”

“Scum floats to the top.”

“You won’t believe it, but the only shred of Jewishness left here revolves around the cemetery.”

“May he be the last of his line.”

“What binds them together? Not a God, not a country, not even a language. Among ourselves we speak a little ungrammatical Yiddish, but our children can’t even do that. Many of them are Communists. My own son won’t hear a word against Stalin—for him, Stalin’s murderers are sacrosanct.”

“May you never know what I’ve suffered.”

“I’m certain that if Tolstoy had lived longer, he would have turned to Judaism—that is to the prayer shawl and phylacteries and fringed ritual undergarments and the dietary laws. There is not, and cannot be, any other kind of Jewishness.”

“But what was the value of devising a conception of God for oneself, and writing liturgical poetry celebrating His mercy and goodness, when His creatures burned each other in ovens and played with the skulls of little children? What was accomplished by praying to a Being of whose existence there was absolutely no proof?”

“May they all go up in flames together with Wall Street!”

“When a catastrophe happens, however, and the ground disintegrates beneath your feet and you’re left suspended in midair with one foot in the real world and the other over an abyss, then all the arts in the world can’t console you. Then a man sees that he’s been walking the whole time on a narrow plank straddling Gehenna.”

“You spit in their faces and they think it’s raining.”

“He wants to combine Freud and the Baal Shem and Karl Marx and make one coherent system out of them.”

“May their memory be erased.”

“He was surrounded by banality, acquisitiveness, and ennui. He believed in God, but belief was not enough. He lacked the fundamentals: the structured ritual, the ordered environment, the iron discipline of his grandfathers and great-grandfathers. Though Grein could not live with God, he had no idea how one lived without Him.”

“May his name perish.”

“Faith is the only force that keeps people from insanity.”

“Don’t be such a devout Jew. You’re not such a saint. All I want is a little warmth.”

“May her guts rot.”

“The Torah is the most effective teaching we have about how to bridle the human beast.”

“I’ll pray that God obliterates you from my blood.”

“The heavens won’t fall because of it.”

“If the Messiah comes, he’ll come to this cafeteria in Miami.”

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