421 Fleishig and Altstad in the news

With a helping of author’s vanity, Schwartz claims to have foreseen, in two passages from his novel Bets and scams, some things from today’s news. Below the line, he wrestles with his reactions to the ongoing tragedy in Israel and Gaza.

How, reading this, …

The judge also rebuked Trump for lying about the size of his Manhattan apartment. Trump claimed his three-story Trump Tower penthouse was nearly three times its actual size, valuing it at $327 million.

… could I not think of this, concerning the real estate developer Mitchell Fleishig, in a book about which more below?

Having performed a Trump-like piece of inventive bookkeeping, Fleishig is called to account not by the attorney-general of Beverly Hills but by his bank.

The latest on Trump, in his trial in New York:

[Judge] Engoron found that Trump consistently overvalued Mar-a-Lago, inflating its value on one financial statement by as much as 2,300%.

No wonder Fleishig was such a loser. You don’t inflate the rentable surface of your properties by 20-25 percent. You do it by 300, if not 2300 percent. But so much chutzpah Fleishig did not have.

And then I read this, in The New Yorker of 14 August 2023:

Jackson Arn, “You had to be there: how a ramshackle street shaped a generation of artists”

The Slip: The New York City Street That Changed American Art Forever,” a book by the critic Prudence Peiffer, is about “Coenties Slip (pronounced “co-en-tees”), [which] during the next decade or so [after 1947] became a bright, teeming hothouse of the New York avant-garde.

(The pronunciation, to a New Netherlander in both senses of the word, is incomprehensible. In Dutch, Coenties is a diminutive possessive of the name Coen, which is a familiar form of Coenraad. It cannot be pronounced other than “coon-tees.” Only non-Dutch speakers who see the name in print could come up with the pronunciation “co-en-tees.” When in the history of the city could this have happened, without anyone remembering the original pronunciation?)

Arn reflects on the effect that certain streets or neighborhoods can have on art.

“Place,” Peiffer declares in her introduction, “is an undervalued determinant in creative output.” That’s a funny claim for an art critic to make—it would be hard to discuss postwar American painting without mentioning the Cedar Tavern or Tenth Street, and this book is only the latest entry in the neglected-creative-community subgenre of biography.

Neither Peiffer not Arn knew that as a graduate student the art dealer Lodewijk Altstad, a supplier of paintings to Mitchell Fleishig, had brought this point home in the defense of his doctoral thesis:

The reproduced pages are from my first novel, Bets and scams, published in 1996 by the dear departed Marion Boyars.

I must delve into it to see if it doesn’t have any other pieces of impressive prescience.

© Gary Schwartz 2023. Published on the Schwartzlist on 3 November 2023, as an attempt at diversion.

Unable to cope with the unimaginable horror of October 7th and the further tragedies it is engendering, one thing I can do is examine my own conflicted feelings.

When I was eleven or twelve years old, in utter admiration of the “modern Orthodox” Rabbi Emanuel Rackman of the Sha’arei Tefila (Gates of Prayer) synagogue in Far Rockaway, I followed his admonition and joined Mizrachi ha-Tza’ir (Young Mizrachi, the youth division of the religious Zionist movement Mizrachi, the Easterner). It did not take much to convince me. I was born a religious Zionist. The family sweater business, in which my father and most of his nine siblings worked for my strict Orthodox grandfather, was called Zion Knitting Mills. As a teenager, I worked there part-time too.

I was the oldest male grandchild with the name Schwartz, which endeared me particularly to the patriarchal (and rather authoritarian) Pop. As a yeshiva boy with better abilities in Bible and Talmud than any of his children or other grandchildren, his attachment grew all the stronger.

What Zion meant as I was growing up was Palestine, a word that went straight to my heart, even more than, from 1948 on, did Israel. Modern Orthodox Zionism was also embraced in the summer camp I went to for four years, Camp Monroe. This put me at odds with the more nationalistic branches of youthful Zionism, like the Aliyah-pushing, pietistic Bnei Akivah, and, especially, the aggressive, secular Betar movement. At Betar camps children were trained in firearms. They were motivated, with a raft of “revisionist” historical theorizing that I considered one-sided indoctrination, to employ terrorist tactics for conquering the land. I became irreconcilably alienated from boys in Betar, whom I saw as contentious, hate-filled bullies. (I could not distance myself from my favorite cousin when he joined the unashamedly terrorist Stern Gang.) The Wikipedia page on Betar puts its finger on the spirit that so disaffected me:

The tactics of the Irgun-Betar coalition were at odds with the mainstream Zionist establishment’s policy of restraint in response to Arab attacks. Throughout most of the 1930s and ’40s, the two organizations typically bombed collections of Arab civilians in response to any attack of any kind on any Palestinian Jews.

Tragically, this pattern has prevailed and has been scaled up. To knives and stones, Palestinians have added rockets and Kalashnikovs, while the bombing abilities of the nuclear-powered Israeli armed forces are fairly limitless. A bigger change is that the pragmatic brand of Labor Zionism that used to be the mainstream has been replaced by intransigent reactionaries and ultra-orthodox fanatics. The Israel that a quarter of a century ago could have become the Israel of Yitzchak Rabin, seeking reconciliation with the Palestinians, has instead become the Israel of his murderer, Yigal Amir, out to obliterate them.

Looking back, I think the undemanding nature of Mizrachi ha-Tza’ir allowed me in a fairly non-committal way to call myself a Zionist without attaching a purpose in life to it, either in terms of religion or of nationality. I never demanded of myself that I answer to myself the question of whether a homeland for the Jews in Palestine could ever have come into being without the employ of terror, and if the answer to the question is no, what this implies for the ethical stature of the country. (I could also have asked myself whether I wanted to pledge allegiance to a country that privileges one group over all others. The fact that I belong to that group makes the question all the more painful.)

I am subscribed to Global Justice in the 21st Century, the fearless newsletter of Richard Falk, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. He judges without compromise the behavior of Israel with reference to the rule of law and the demands of justice, and his findings are devastating. As hard as I find it to dispute his conclusions, I am unable to follow up in repudiating a country I grew up loving and whose meaning to Jews is bred into me. I sit on the moral fence, asking myself, in the words of the Dutch cartoonists Fokke en Sukke (NRC, 24 October 2023): “Do we belong in the camp of those condoning violence, or are we condoners of terror?” Who – always with the exception of the killers of October 7th and their commanders – to  condone, who to condemn? More important – who to follow, who can bring to all, in equality, the promised promise in that land?

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8 thoughts on “421 Fleishig and Altstad in the news”

  1. Gary: Add “soothsayer” to your CV.

    As the son of a scratch-dirt farmer who was also an old-fashioned Dunkard (old-order Brethren [Anabaptist]) preacher, who had taught himself Hebrew (and Greek) so he could read the sacred texts aright, I learnt from Dad to do as taught — namely, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. The Bible told us so. As a small boy, I knew where “Palestine” — “The Holy Land” — was on the map, never minding the colors or letters: there is where my brother studied (and dug and translated, in the desert), there is where Dad would go to add the look and feel of the place to the Jewish texts; and when Dad squeezed out of there the last time, just under the wire in early June 1967, he reminded us farm kids that God had given this land to Abraham, and that prayers for the peace of Jerusalem — of Palestine, of Holy Land, of the land of Promise, of Israel — would one day be answered. I am older now, with cloudy suspicions that God in heaven took the prayers of a young boy to in fact be about something bigger — better — than a nation state, or indeed real estate: but in all the cloudiness and utter sadness just now, with a torn heart for my Jewish bothers and sisters no less then their neighbors, I cannot apologize for still praying this same prayer in my old age. Since the God of Abraham is my God, all I can think to do is — not pathetically, but with much more confusion than when a little boy — carry on with pleas to the God of wisdom and mercy. This must be good enough for me. [Sorry to drone on. I found myself…with sympathy for what is a lot like a torn heart, and wanted to assure you that others, even at some considerable remove, feel much the same way.]

    1. Dear Jan,

      I’m glad to have elicited this reaction from you, which is indeed close to mine. Many thanks,


  2. Gary — Thank you for these thoughts. It’s an impossible moral dilemma: devotion to a Jewish homeland, revulsion at Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens and Palestinians in the occupation, and now horror at Hamas’s massacre of Israelis but also deep concern (already too late) that Israel must restrain its response and spare innocent Gaza lives. How will it all end?
    On a lighter note, I read Bets and Scams years ago (in a used copy, I’m afraid) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    1. Dear Steve,

      Yes, this is just the way I feel. Israel has always gone from one irresolvable crisis to another, but this one is different. The fighting will end at a given time, but the effects, not only in Israel and Palestine but throughout the world, will I am afraid not reach a resolution for generations to come, if ever.


  3. Gary–I grew up as a yiddish culture-socialist kid. Like so many of us, I felt pride that Jews had a country and an army for the first time since 70 c.e. But after so many years of wrestling with what Judaism is and means to me, I see the clouds “from both sides now.” How would present-day people living in North Carolina and surrounding states feel if the Cherokee Nation reclaimed their ancestral land after so much time in their diaspora? I sympathize with the ordinary Palestinians too, trying to live their lives. War, fanaticism and hatred push humans back beyond the order imposed by religion–we become like other predatory animals fighting from the gut, not the heart or brain to claim their territories. I must admit I don’t have much faith in our species, whatever our vaunted reasoning powers.

    1. Dear Judy,

      I took out what I had drafted about whether a homeland for Europeans could ever have been established in North America without terror. A question that does not even have to be asked – we live with the answer.

      As Steve Nadler wrote, “On a lighter note” – I have joined a Yiddish reading club through a Dutch Jewish cultural organization, Crescas. We are reading a wonderful story by Ber Horovits, “Di legende fun der Madonna,” which brought tears to my eyes. Not unrelated to present events. It’s in an anthology of short stories, “Crossing the border.”

      Be well, my dear,

  4. Regarding the less vexed topic of neighborhood peculiarities and their influence on the history of art, this from composer Morton Feldman:

    My teacher Stefan Wolpe was a Marxist and he felt my music was too esoteric at the time. And he had his studio on a proletarian street, on Fourteenth Street and Sixth Avenue. He was on the second floor and we were looking out the window, and he said, “What about the man on the street?” At that precise moment, Jackson Pollock was crossing the street. The crazy artist of my generation was crossing the street just then.

  5. At the risk of making a contribution that might be completely off the mark, here is what I’m up to. I am rereading a book that I read and hated in the 1980s, but now can better appreciate and understand: Julian Jaynes “Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. His theory is that, before humans had what we call consciousness, or a mind of their own, they acted according to impulses or voices that they attributed to “gods” (his main example is the behavior of the protagonists in the Iliad). It was a major step in cultural evolution when humans considered these voices to be their own thoughts and feelings, and the earlier condition can still be observed in mental states we call “schizophrenic”. To jump to an abrupt conclusion: we are apt to attribute the problem in Palestine/Israel to human failings, but this might be a problem concerning humans and their “God” instead of just between fallible humans. When humans take the responsibility for their own motives and deeds, acting in the name of humane values and not of “divine will”, then we might be on our way to a better world and not its destruction by some disgruntled or vindictive god. I feel for both sides and can only weep. (Please delete, Gary, if inappropriate)

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