WHEN THE FATHERS of Confederation built this country in 1867, there was universal agreement among all Canadians, Englishand French-speaking, that there was no place for the American Dream on the northern half of this continent. In 1776 we embraced the United Empire Loyalists and rejected George Washington’s Revolutionary Army by force of arms. We
booted Uncle Sam in the pants in 1812 and slapped his wrists in the Fenian Raids of the 1880s. We rejected slavery and provided sanctuary for American Negroes fleeing that “peculiar institution.”
We rejected republicanism, the American idea that the people in and of themselves can shape their own ends and destinies. We
countered Jacksonian democracy with the responsible government of a constitutional monarchy and
made it plain to our southern neighbors that there were higher forces shaping our destinies than the untutored rabble of the untouched west. And while we did agree with the Yankee that life and liberty were inseparable, we differed in our pursuit of happiness. In Canada that pursuit didn’t necessarily entail égalité and fraternité. We flatly rejected the American egalitarianism of the western frontier and the American fraternity of the melting pot.
Canada was conservative country, the land of particularity. The entity known as Anglo-Saxon British Canada was prepared to tolerate the particularity / continued on page 44
Television interviewer Larry Zolf and novelist Margaret Laurence are both alarmed but sympathetic observers of the United States. In these two essays — part of a new collection of views on the U.S. by 50 Canadian writers — they tell how the American dream, and the current American nightmare, have affected them as people. Both essays are from The New Romans, published by M. G. Hurtig Ltd., Edmonton
NEW ROMANS —ZÖLF
continued from page 28
of French Canada and Slavic-German-Jewish-Oriental particularities of the Golden West, provided all accepted the British monarchy, the British connection, the British rules of the British game as the summum bonum underlying all these particularities.
This, then, was the lay of this land in the year 1926 when an obscure ex-tzarist draft-dodger and infantryman in Alexander Kerensky’s Revolutionary Army decided to emigrate to these shores. That dashing, mustachioed, bulbousnosed Polack of the Judaic persuasion was none other than Yoshua Falk Zholf, son of Reb Yisroael Zholf, husband to Freda Rachel Zholf, father to Meyer, Reisel and Judith Zolf, and father-to-be to sonto-be yours truly.
The dream died
My father was a dreamer. In his youth he dreamed of a Russia where life and liberty were inseparable, where a Jew could freely pursue happiness. In 1914 he was a draftdodger, moving from city to city and village to village.
When the tzar was toppled in February 1917 and Alexander Kerensky proclaimed liberty and equality, my father came out of hiding, drafted his own personal revolutionary manifesto, and presented it to a recruiting officer in Kerensky’s army. It read:
To the Russian Revolutionary Army:
Dear Sirs: Whereas, Í, Falk Zholf, have hitherto refused to shed my blood for the bloody Tzar Nikolai the Second, enemy of my people, and, whereas, the great Revolution has freed my people, and all other peoples that inhabit Mother Russia, I today present myself in payment of my holy debt of loyalty to my fatherland.
My father’s revolutionary dreams of brotherhood quickly came to naught. He was sickened by Kerensky’s execution of soldiers with Bolshevik sympathies, sickened by Bolshevik execution of nationalists, and soon he and his family were threatened by the vicious antiSemitism of the Polish government of Pilsudski and Sikorski.
Still my father continued to dream. There was the pastoral dream of life on the land in communion with the sky and the stars and all that, but the Polish government took his land away. There was the dream of pioneering in Palestine, but the Zionists wanted only single men. There was the
dream of America, the new homeland of his three brothers, but the goddess Liberty had shut her eyes and gates to Europe's teeming, huddled masses.
Suddenly, along came Canada, the British colony that dreamed no dreams, and offered Pa. the peasant, a chance to join the Gallician. garlic-eaters who were cultivating the flatlands of the Canadian Golden West.
All this is by way of introduction to a. fundamental confusion in my father's life which led to a subsequent fundamental confusion in my life. Ylv father ultimately drifted into Winnipeg and renewed an occupation he once pursued secretly in Poland at some risk to his own life —the teaching of Jewish liberal-socialist values to Jewish children. He became first a teacher and then the principal of the Isaac Loeb Peretz Folk School in Winnipeg. This school was a branch of a. school system and school curriculum with central headquarters in New' York City.
Herein lay the rub. My father, unaware of all the trouble Sir John A. and the Fathers had gone to. just naturally assumed that Canada was part of the American Dream. His admission to this country he regarded as a miracle. He looked on Canada as a place where Americans sent people it didn't really want to have now but might take in later on, provided that while here they were always on good behavior. In a sense, he regarded Canada as America's Australia — a temporary penal colony for temporary undesirables.
As my father's English was not very good and his reading material was strictly confined to Yiddish books and newspapers that came from New York, it was not surprising that Pop soon came to regard Winnipeg as just another borough of (iotham-on-the-Hudson.
The more he read his New York Yiddish newspapers, the more he got excited by the American Dream! Who could blame him? The New York papers told of Jew ish wonders that poor old Pop could scarcely have imagined in the
dreary Polish village that was once his home. Not only could Jews own land in the U.S.A.. but. miracle of miracles, wonder of wonders, Jews were actually trusted in America. In the Soviet Union they were purging Trotsky. Kamenev and Zenoviev. In America they were electing Herbert Lehman Governor of New York State. Didn't Roosevelt have a Morgenthau in his cabi-
net? Weren't Felix Frankfurter, Sam Rosemnan and Ben Cohen FDR's bosom buddies? America was indeed the land of milk and honey; its streets were paved with Jews.
It was natural, almost proper, that my father should have passed the American Dream on to me, his youngest and the first to be born on the ven soil of Canada-America. Until 1 was 13 years old, 1 was
enrolled in the day-school section of the Isaac Loeb Peretz Folk School. My father was my teacher. 1 here I learned to read from a Yiddish Dick and Jane, Max and Mollv primer. It was in Yiddish that I first read Huckleberry Finn. Font Sawyer and Moby Hick. For extra grabbers m\ father threw in a Jewish Children's History of the Fife and Tintes of Fayette V. Debs, The Life
and Times of Samuel Gompers, and The Life and Times of Emma Goldman. At the tender age of nine I knew that Franklin D. Roosevelt was God the Father, David Dubinsky of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union was God the Son, and Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America was God the Holy Ghost.
At the tender age of 12 I won my first essay contest. The subject was Statue of Liberty poetess Emma Lazarus, as described by the then Wunderkind of Winnipeg, borough of Manhattan, in these immortal words: “Emma Lazarus was not only a daughter of Israel but a daughter of the world.” The next year I capped my success with a bar mitzvah-speech triumph that extolled the virtues of Meyer Levin, bombardier of Captain Colin Kelly’s Spirit of America, and the only Jew decorated for bravery at Pearl Harbor. Knowing a good thing when I saw it, I spoke these immortal words: “Meyer Levin was not only a son of Israel; he was a son of America.”
And so was I. As I listened in my teens to my father telling horror stories of gas ovens and lamp shades and watched his heart slowly breaking as the news drifted in of the death of his entire family overseas, it was nice, almost comforting, to cast my eyes south of the border. There I could thrill to the athletic exploits of Barney Ross and Hank Greenberg. I could drool at the succulent beauty of Bess Myerson, Miss America, 1946. I could cry tomorrow with Lillian Roth and call my house a home with Polly Adler.
I can remember staying up all night with the old man crying and cheering as Harry Truman, who gave us Israel, was given four more years. In high school I defended America in the Korean War and argued that the West Germans were good and the East Germans bad. In college, NATO was groovy, the Marshall Plan divine, McCarthyism a minor aberration.
Today, as I reflect on the validity of my American Dream then and now, a certain sense of nostalgic silliness seems to overtake me. I can understand the validity of the American Dream for my father. In the bitter anti-Semitism of tzarist Russia and Sikorski’s Poland, he was considered subhuman. In Auschwitz and Dachau, he and his fellow Jews were not human at all. In the American melting pot, he was not only human; he was an involved participant, an equal.
As my father saw the American Dream, to be Jewish and human
was to be American. Today as I see the American Dream operating in black America and yellow Vietnam, I am forced to conclude that somehow to be really human is to be neither Jewish nor American. Today the Jewish community in America is indeed a participant and more than an equal in the power
elite of white America. The Jews are close to the top in education, affluence, status. But to black America, the Jew is as much whitey as anyone else. The lessons of persecution and humiliation that the Jew picked up on his way to affluence and success he is not prepared to pass on to the Negro way, way below. The American Jew lives in a white neighborhood, worships in a white, cavernous temple, eats white kosher Chinese food at white Chinese restaurants, has white directors for his white bar mitzvah movies. He likes it that way and is sure everyone will understand.
Having richly benefited from the American Dream, he is eager to pass the message, not the benefits, to those less-fortunate people abroad. The patriotism of today’s American Jewry is awesomely wholesome.
American-style democracy has been good for the teeming, huddled Jewish masses. How can it help but be good for the teeming, huddled masses of Vietnam? Our Hebrew boy, Walt Whitman Rostow, is today’s Emma Lazarus, offering Lyndon Johnson in true Statue of
Liberty “drag” as sanctuary to the misguided peasants of Southeast Asia. Our Hebrew boy, Dr. Edward Teller, Pop to the H-bomb, is today’s real-life Dr. Sivana, just itching to say “Shazam” and watch the world disappear.
1 must admit ■ that my stomach
feels queasy when I hear Nicholas Katzenbach and Dean Rusk gloating over the Viet Cong kill toll, the damned dead of American-style democracy. And I must admit to a similar type of queasiness when I hear Jews gloating over Arab losses in the Six-Day War, the damned dead of Zionist-style democracy, even though I know you shouldn’t compare the two and that Nasser
will fry me whenever he gets the chance. I also feel queasy whenever Í hear bigots, Birchcrs and Lubor Zinks praising to the skies the Jewish victory over “Arab Communism.”
It saddens me to see how the American Dream and the melting pot have coarsened and vulgarized my racial confrères. The gentleness of East European Jewish Hassidism, the sweet music of the soft, humane Yiddish culture is no longer there. 1 guess I prefer the schlemiel wisdom of Gimpel the Fool to the Sammy G lick-shtick of Norman Podhoretz. I’d rather walk the crooked, narrow streets of Chagall’s shietl than drive through Forest Hills or Shaker Heights.
That brings me to the lay of this land in 1968. Canada has not yet bought the American Dream. It’s still conservative country, the land of particularity. 1 know the Hebrew particularity ain’t quite as yet the equal of other particularities. I know that living here is still a trip backward in the time tunnel.
Still, I’m glad to be here and to be a Canadian, whatever that word means. I’d rather be somewhat of an outsider in Canada than an equal, accepted participant in the American nightmare.
I am aware that we have avoided American pitfalls more by accident
than by design. I realize that we don’t have America’s responsibilities and therefore her problems. Well, huzzah, I’m glad we don’t and to hell with the reasons.
Huzzah, we’re not in Vietnam. Huzzah, we won’t go there. Huzzah, we never will. Huzzah, we have no Watts-Newark-Detroit. Huzzah, we don’t intend to build them.
I’m also aware that my country is in a state of disarray and flux. The old order is crumbling, and all institutions are open to criticism and review. I like that. In my own little way, here in Canada I can be a minor revolutionary, albeit a gutless one, a sort of chicken-hearted T rotsky.
I know that my country has not quite made up its mind about what it wants to be. It has ceased being British and, thankfully, has not yet become American. If there is anything still valid to the British heritage left us by the Fathers of Confederation, let it be this:
Let the country continue to be a land of un-American activities. Boil me no melting pots and dream me no dreams. Worry not, rumor has it that Cod is Dead. If so, He can’t bless America.
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