J pursues what it means to be a Jew, disenchanted in communities too secular, from an Israeli kibbutz to a rollicking, all-American, in-name-only Reformed Jewish family. Perhaps religion isn't the defining aspect to being Jewish? He studies the Talmud, "Mein Kampf," much of history to learn the depth of hatred against his people, burned at the stake for poisoning wells, causing the Plague or the Empress' miscarriage. Jews worshipped the same God but were vilified for their differing rituals and laws.
Franz seeks the American dream -- wealth/power/polish/perfect family -- but he, too, without a faith, must still confront demons from his past as a Christian German instigating such national, global disgrace.
Does such intolerance still exist today? Last week, I saw a news photo of Swat Valley Pakistani soldiers lining up suspected Afghan Taliban in front a ditch before their machine-gunning. This image for me was identical to the infamous, searing photo of Jewish women in ragged underwear hugging each other before the same ditch: The same murder for the same reasons.
Also last week, the NAACP acknowledged well-meaning folks in the Tea Party with legitimate economic concerns. But, to the purpose of their report, they condemned those pre-Tea Party strands -- white supremacists, anti-Semites, racists of all stripes, climbing aboard the Tea Party with their bigotry.
But a ray of hope. An article in The New York Times about centenarians: How do they make it to 100? Pastrami on rye. Needlepoint. Cocktails, Abstaining. Anything in common? Not really. The common thread: Don't hold a grudge, they say. Live and let live!
No need to slander others in order to affirm ourselves.
Richard Alther was raised as a Lutheran German-American in a small New York City suburb, rife with anti-Semitism. After graduating as an English major from Cornell University, he pursued twin careers as a writer and painter. Fueled by his ongoing search into the roots of Naziism, he studied German and Jewish history, folklore and culture. "Siegfried Follies" approaches the aftermath and legacy of the Holocaust from a perspective coequally gentile and Jewish. This is his second novel. Alther has been an exhibiting painter for many years. In addition, he trains and competes nationally as a masters swimmer. He lives in Vermont and California.