Jewish Noir is a unique collection of new stories by Jewish and non-Jewish literary and genre writers, including numerous award-winning authors such as Marge Piercy, Harlan Ellison, S.J. Rozan, Nancy Richler, Moe Prager (Reed Farrel Coleman), Wendy Hornsby, Charles Ardai, and Kenneth Wishnia. The stories explore such issues as the Holocaust and its long-term effects on subsequent generations, anti-Semitism in the mid- and late-twentieth-century United States, and the dark side of the Diaspora (the decline of revolutionary fervor, the passing of generations, the Golden Ghetto, etc.). The stories in this collection also include many “teachable moments” about the history of prejudice, and the contradictions of ethnic identity and assimilation into American society.
“A Simkhe” (A Celebration), first published in Yiddish in the Forverts in 1912 by one of the great unsung writers of that era, Yente Serdatsky. This story depicts the disillusionment that sets in among a group of Russian Jewish immigrant radicals after several years in the United States. This is the story’s first appearance in English.
“Trajectories,” Marge Piercy’s story of the divergent paths taken by two young men from the slums of Cleveland and Detroit in a rapidly changing post-World War II society.
“Some You Lose,” Nancy Richler’s empathetic exploration of the emotional and psychological challenges of trying to sum up a man’s life in a eulogy.
“Her Daughter’s Bat Mitzvah,” Rabbi Adam Fisher’s darkly comic profanity-filled monologue in the tradition of Sholem Aleichem, the writer best known as the source material for Fiddler on the Roof (minus the profanity, that is).
“Flowers of Shanghai,” S.J. Rozan’s compelling tale of hope and despair set in the European refugee community of Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II.
“Yahrzeit Candle,” Stephen Jay Schwartz’s take on the subtle horrors of the inevitable passing of time.
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About the Author
Kenneth Wishnia’s novels include 23 Shades of Black, an Edgar Allan Poe Award and Anthony Award finalist; Soft Money, a Library Journal Best Mystery of the Year; and Red House, a Washington Post “Rave” Book of the Year and The Fifth Servant, an Indie Notable selection, a Jewish Press Best Mystery of the Year, winner of a Premio Letterario ADEI-WIZO, and a finalist for the Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Award. His short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Queens Noir, Long Island Noir, Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. His latest novel, The Fifth Servant, was an Indie Notable selection, a Best Jewish Book of the Year according to the Association of Jewish Libraries, won a Premio Letterario ADEI-WIZO (the Italian chapter of the Women’s International Zionist Organization), and was a finalist for the Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Award, a category of the Macavity Awards. Most recently, he edited the Anthony Award-nominated anthology Jewish Noir for PM Press. He teaches writing, literature and other deviant forms of thought at Suffolk Community College on Long Island.
Read an Excerpt
By Kenneth Wishnia
PM PressCopyright © 2015 Kenneth Wishnia
All rights reserved.
Devil for a Witch
Whither? North is greed and South is blood; within, the coward, and without, the liar. Whither?
— W.E.B. Du Bois, "The Litany of Atlanta"
If you see the teeth of the lion, do not think that the lion is smiling at you.
— Al-Mutanabbi, Arab poet, 915–965 C.E.
The funeral for Leon Greenberg was graveside, the service short. As little as possible was said about the deceased. Nothing personal or elegiac. His death blotted out any cause for celebration of his life. If his existence had once been charmed, it was not mentioned. Star chemist, decorated Navy officer, brilliant raconteur, and once holding the enviable title of husband to a beautiful rich woman, no such attributions were uttered. Suicide was a willful negation of life. Out of confusion, sadness, spite, its legatees accepted that the dead man's last act overrode all others.
Across town at the reception, limos dropped the mourners at the Steiners' split-level wonder, a glass and steel extravaganza around the corner from the governor's mansion. It was Atlanta's most prestigious address even if the governor was a murderous bigot.
In the Steiners' living room, shivah was under heated discussion. "He's an atheist!" Irene Greenberg shouted.
"Was," Phil Steiner said.
"Was! Was! Was! I am his wife! I know what he wants!"
"Wanted," Phil amended.
"He does not want shivah," she insisted. "When my father died, we sat shivah because he wanted it. We sat two nights until you went off to a golf tournament."
"He wasn't my father."
Irene shook her fist like an impotent human before the throne of God. "He gave you everything!"
"Stop it!" he croaked, holding her wrist and tightening his grip.
"My husband just killed himself! I'm permitted to completely lose my mind!"
"I'm sitting shivah," Marilyn Steiner, Irene's sister, said.
"Leon doesn't want it, but now that he's dead, he's helpless. He's in the clutches of Zionists!"
"Helpless!" Phil snorted. "Not with you as defensive end."
"I loved Leon," Marilyn sighed.
"Everyone knows about that," Irene said.
"Shut up!" Phil ordered.
"Your husband wants me to tear my blouse because he knows I bought it on sale at Rich's. I don't wear Vera scarves and Charles Jourdan shoes like my sister. I can't afford to shop in New York." Irene twisted the end of Marilyn's scarf, shortening the loop like a noose. "Would you tear your precious scarf if Phil died?"
"Get a sedative!"
"Phil Steiner is a usurer!" Irene shouted. "Usurer! Usurer!"
Murmurs of sympathy followed as a phalanx of black maids lifted Irene off the ground and carried her to another wing of the house where Valium was forced under her uvula, her mouth clamped shut, and her neck stroked like a dog's. That was only after she broke Sarah Weiner's cane over Phil's arm while Sarah's hands were occupied with lox and deviled eggs. The cane splintered and caught Phil's shirt, ripping it open and scratching his chest. A tiny scratch but Phil agonized as if Irene had bitten his heart out, which she would have if she'd had the strength.
Later, when the pill wore off and she was home in bed, the recollection of the cane, its percussive thwack, Phil's expression, the blood, his torn shirt, and the chaos and confusion that ensued were deeply satisfying. Irene laughed about it for years.
* * *
Six months before the suicide, the FBI visited Ace Linens. They brought copies of dozens of checks. Phil Steiner reviewed the list of recipients, the dates, the donation amounts. He was flabbergasted. The checks totaled over $17,000, written to unfamiliar acronyms — CORE, MCHR, SNCC, SCLC, NAACP, and Highlander Center. He studied the signature of Stanley White, comptroller for Ace Linens. It looked genuine.
"I know nothing about this!"
"In other words, they weren't authorized by you?"
"Jesus, no!" he said although he didn't sound convincing. He sounded defensive.
When Stanley White reviewed the checks, he denied any knowledge of signing them. "Fakes," he said. He sounded extremely convincing.
"You know of outside agitators, union organizers, Communists, pinkos, those sorts of people on your payroll?"
"Of course not! Everyone who works here is happy!"
Phil slammed Leon's office door. "I lied to the FBI to save your goddamn ass! In case you forgot, that's a felony! Next time you're feeling goddamn charitable, use your own goddamn profits!"
"We don't have any profits."
"Whoever heard of a pauper giving away thousands of dollars?"
"Stories, Leon? Stories mean they didn't happen! You're out of your mind!"
"By my accounting, I took money that belonged to Irene."
"Your accounting! I pay overeducated accountants to manage my books. The entire time you worked there, you drew a paycheck and did nothing, Leon. Goddamn good-for-nothing, you listening?" "Irene hasn't gotten her fair share."
"Irene? I thought you only cared about shvartses and commies."
* * *
For three years, the FBI had tracked Leon Greenberg's finances, marital difficulties, children's schools, taste in music, love affairs, drinking habits, and contributions to organizations under federal investigation. Agent Whipple unlocked a black attaché case and laid out checks forged by Leon Greenberg with Stanley White's signature.
Leon studied the checks. "I no longer work at Ace Linens."
"We are aware of your employment status," Whipple said grimly. "Nonetheless, we have proof you forged these checks."
"Is that what Phil Steiner told you?"
"We know about your links to Dr. King and Fidel Castro. We know you spent two weeks at a Mississippi Freedom School."
"Are you saying that's illegal?"
Agent Whipple smiled, showing a row of small amber teeth. "You know what's illegal, Mr. Greenberg. You'll soon be facing criminal charges and a long prison sentence."
Leon sat mulling over his Jim Beam. "Like how long?"
"Fraud, forgery, embezzlement are serious crimes."
Leon knew they were serious, serious by intent. He had acted according to conscience.
"In my defense, I can prove the funds were originally embezzled by my brother-in-law, Phil Steiner. Every penny belonged to my wife."
"We call that backpedaling, Mr. Greenberg. Backpedaling is something of an art."
Whipple painted a bleak picture of Leon's future. He had stolen, there was no doubt. He had distributed monies to suspicious causes. Certainly, he didn't believe a jury or judge in Georgia would be swayed by his pinko generosity.
Leon forced himself to stay sober. He considered his choices. You trade the devil for a witch was a country saying. Devil, he knew. Witch was unknown.
* * *
Suicide was not farfetched for a man in Leon's predicament. He had contemplated suicide. He'd read the existentialists and accepted suicide as an individual's ultimate act in a world where individuality was valued less and less. Under the multiple threats of the Atomic Age, it functioned as a solace. A last resort. While it carried a stigma of shame, the stigma was one man's act of desperation rather than society's collective condemnation. Avoiding trial and prison meant there would be money for Irene and the kids. Money Leon couldn't otherwise provide.
The FBI would stage the suicide. That would pose no problem. They were adept at theatrics. At their third meeting, Leon handed over suit, shirt, tie, socks, shoes, reading glasses, and wallet with ID. In exchange, he received a bus ticket to Louisville and identification of Dr. Leland Green with a CV that included published articles on the science of white superiority.
"You ready?" Whipple asked.
"How the hell could I be ready?"
"Ready to serve mankind."
"As a white bigot, that's always cause for celebration."
Agent Whipple laughed. "Instead of whimpering with liberal guilt, you can put your ass on the line."
Tears sprang to Leon's eyes. "What if ..."
"You'll realize you made the right decision," Whipple sympathized.
"It wasn't a decision. You gave me no choice."
At the same hour Leland Green boarded a bus at the Greyhound station, Leon Greenberg's car was locked inside a garage, its tail pipe stuffed with rags, its engine left running. Inside was the corpse of a Caucasian man of medium height with broad shoulders and a barrel chest, wearing Leon's best blue suit, pin-striped shirt, and gray knit tie. The man was the same blood type and shoe size as Leon and shared the same shade of thinning brown hair. Obviously, they weren't identical. Rather than take measures to destroy the body entirely and with it proof positive, the bureau decided to blow off enough of the stranger's face to turn it into pulp.
Leland's bus headed into the starry countryside. He pressed his nose against the window. The nose of a man who no longer existed. Or existed but no longer lived. The memories intact but the man gone. The inverse of amnesia.
In Louisville, he read the hand-printed sign — DR. LELAND GREEN.
"Welcome," Hugh Martino said jovially. "Long ride?"
"An eternity," Leon mused.
Martino showed Leon his Buick with Oregon plates, his new driver's license and passport, a strongbox of cash and traveler's checks, a camera and telephoto lens, a first aid kit, an ice cooler, and a portfolio of articles.
"You think I can pull this off?" Leon asked.
"I don't think anything, that's why they keep me around. Here's your gun and ammo."
"Jesus, I don't know how to shoot. I never fired a shot in the whole goddamn war."
"They don't expect you to know what they know. You're a thinking man, not a redneck. Hell, most of them can't read or write. Try to get in target practice. Squirrels, possums, cans. Go into the woods with your buddies. They know how to shoot. Anyway, woods is where talking gets done. It's trees that keep the secrets."
* * *
Phil Steiner whistled as he drove. He was an excellent whistler and was often asked at club or synagogue events to whistle a friend's favorite song. "Ebb Tide" was a spectacular tune to whistle. He parked his Lincoln next to the rundown apartment complex on Buford Highway. Constructed quickly after the war, the three-story buildings had not been well maintained. There were cracked windows, missing roof shingles, and greenways intended for playgrounds long overgrown with weeds and scattered trash.
Moshe Berger's apartment was on the second floor in building D. "Phil," he muttered, holding out his hands in European fashion and drawing Phil toward him in an affectionate hug.
"Moe," Phil said with genuine feeling.
Years ago when Moshe and his son first arrived from Europe as refugees, Phil Steiner had been their American sponsor. He'd found them the apartment on Buford Highway. He'd arranged for the synagogue to take up a collection of discarded furniture, kitchenware, and clothing to get them started. He'd given Moe a job driving a truck for Ace Linens.
Moe moved into the kitchenette for coffee and Sara Lee cheesecake, waving Phil to the living room sofa. "You look well," he said.
"Well enough. And your teaching?" Phil nibbled at the cake.
"I'll be teaching until I drop dead," Moe laughed. He was on the history faculty at Spelman College. "You said on the phone?" Phil had alluded to help. Spiritual help, Moe surmised. Whatever he could do, he would make himself available.
"We had an unexpected death in the family."
"I know about Leon. I used to bump into him on campus. Always brimming with life, wasn't he?"
"A nonbeliever but wonderful," Phil said begrudgingly. He'd not forgiven Leon for his humiliating encounter with the FBI. Phil's fingers clasped and unclasped. "It's difficult for me to speak."
"I know about difficult things," Moe said.
"That's why I came to you. Many times, I thought to come."
"Not to speak makes it worse."
"There's something I have to tell someone. You're the only one in the world."
Moe was taken aback. "I hope I won't disappoint you."
"Leon took his car into a garage and stuffed a rag in the tail pipe." Phil halted and started to weep.
"I'm sorry," Moe said softly, taking Phil's hand. His own wife and daughter had also been suffocated by gas.
"After the police found the garage, the car, the body, they asked me to identify him. Of course, I agreed. I was standing by for the task. His wife couldn't possibly do it. I was the obvious choice."
Countless times, Moshe had wished, dreamed and wished to have a single minute to gaze at the corpses of his wife and daughter. If only for an instant, Moe could have touched their lovely faces serenely composed like the dead often are.
"It was the hardest goddamn thing I ever did," Phil said in a sweat. "When I got to the morgue, they tried to prepare me. They told me I might be shocked. I didn't understand what they meant. It's true I'd only seen corpses in funeral homes, laid out and embalmed. I wasn't in the war. I never saw carnage, only photos and films." With the cuff of his shirt, Phil wiped his eyes. "They pulled Leon out of the freezer and uncovered him. I never told a soul, but I fainted."
There was silence while Phil composed himself.
"He'd blown his face off. Moe, you understand? A man goes to kill himself in a car with carbon monoxide and then shoots himself? What did this last message mean? I couldn't tell his wife he'd mutilated himself beyond recognition. I couldn't tell my wife. She was devoted to Leon. If I told anyone, it would have turned Leon into a freak. This face, it gives me nightmares. He must have been out of his mind. That's the only way to explain it."
* * *
The Natchez Trace is bordered by dense woods, rivers, pastures, and hills. It's a beautiful drive, but Leland Green failed to notice scenery. He was occupied with a temptation to abandon his new identity, steal the car, the cash, the passport and beeline over the border to Mexico. A romantic notion for a man without guilt. Equally occupying him was Leon the hero. Daniel heading into the pit. But he was incapable of ennobling his cause with romance or sainthood. Neither brave nor guiltless, not a Daniel or a Zygielbojm, he was penitent, tired, deflated, and by Jackson city limits, he'd shed any illusions of free will.
He checked into a downtown hotel. His preference was a new motel with a swimming pool, but the agency wanted him to present as bookish, indifferent to modern comforts, content with chintz bedspreads and dust ruffles, Gideon within arm's reach, and paintings of buggies and barns. After dinner in the hotel dining room, he strolled through the thick, stagnant air relieved by the occasional steamy gust from the river. Inside a phone booth, he took a fortifying swallow of Jack and inserted a dime. He gave his home number to the operator, hoping to hear his daughter's voice for a moment.
"What?" his wife hissed. "What? What? What? Can't you leave us alone?"
He'd disturbed her. Maybe, she was sleeping. There was no doubt she was mad. As mad as she'd been at the living Leon, she was likely madder at the dead man. Mad and relieved. His suicide had diminished her grievances. It would now appear his grievances overshadowed hers.
At the hotel, the clerk handed him a note in poorly printed letters: Meat 11 A.M. by stat U. Hairy B-E-R-G-S-T-A-D-T
"You read it okay, sir?" he asked timidly.
"How long you been working here?"
"Two nights, sir."
"You might consider another profession."
"I want to be a lawyer, sir."
"You got to know how to spell to be a lawyer."
"Nigger lawyers know how to spell?"
Leon closed his eyes. He conjured Daddy King in his pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist. It was there he'd been introduced to The Beloved Community and called brother. There, he'd perceived what it meant to love an enemy. Only love conquers hate, King said.
"They spell right?" the clerk sneered.
"You better believe they do."
The next morning, he walked to City Hall. He took a seat between the imposing bronze statue of Andrew Jackson and the antebellum building. At the appointed hour, a gentleman with a white standard poodle leisurely approached him. "Dr. Green?" he inquired.
Leon jumped up as Harry Bergstedt pumped his hand. "Meet Puss," Harry said.
Leland Green held out his biscuit-and-gravy fingers for Puss to lick. He found himself trembling.
Let them lead the conversation, Whipple instructed.
Bergstedt's smile brightened. "We've read your work with great admiration."
"Thank you," Leland whispered, unable to catch his breath.
For two years, the writings of "Hailstorm" had appeared in Klan publications and circulated in White Citizen Councils. Agent Whipple never divulged who wrote the articles or how the plot evolved. Leon suggested a local infiltrator was more sensible than an elaborate ruse, but they disagreed. With the country's international reputation at stake, they needed an intelligent outsider. Leon Greenberg put a man on their side who was capable of reasoning through information and responding with measured caution. He had the bonus of a personality that could win the confidence of both crackers and patricians. Violent crackers, the agency could identify. They were status quo. The planners and financiers remained clandestine. The agency wanted to know which bank president owned a white robe.
Excerpted from Jewish Noir by Kenneth Wishnia. Copyright © 2015 Kenneth Wishnia. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Devil for a Witch R.S. Brenner,
The Sacrifice of Isaac Steven Wishnia,
Living Underwater B.K. Stevens,
Quack and Dwight Travis Richardson,
THE GOLDEN LAND,
A Simkhe (A Celebration) Yente Serdatsky,
Trajectories Marge Piercy,
Lost Pages from the Book of Judith Kenneth Wishnia,
The Legacy Wendy Hornsby,
NIGHT AND FOG,
Blood Diamonds Melissa Yi,
The Flowers of Shanghai S.J. Rozan,
Feeding the Crocodile Moe Prager,
Good Morning, Jerusalem 1948 Michael J. Cooper,
L'DOR V'DOR (FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION),
Some You Lose Nancy Richler,
Baruch Dayan Emet (Blessed Is the True Judge) M. Dante,
Yahrzeit Candle Stephen Jay Schwartz,
Nakhshon Robert Lopresti,
One of Them Alan Orloff,
Silver Alert S.A. Solomon,
Her Daughter's Bat Mitzvah: A Mother Talks to the Rabbi Adam D. Fisher,
Sucker's Game Michele Lang,
Jewish Easter David Liss,
The Golem of Jericho Jonathan Santlofer,
Your Judaism Tasha Kaminsky,
KAFFEE MIT SCHLOCK,
Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die Charles Ardai,
Errands Gary Phillips,
Doc's Oscar Eddie Muller,
Everything Is Bashert Heywood Gould,
The Drop Alan Gordon,
Twisted Shikse Jedidiah Ayres,
All Other Nights Jason Starr,
Something's Not Right Dave Zeltserman,
Idle Thoughts, Fifty-Four Years Later Harlan Ellison®,
Final Shtick Harlan Ellison®,