Review of “The Goldin Calf”
The Goldin Calf is not a typical Tzadik novel, where the main character does extraordinary good deeds which inspire us to be better people. In the Goldin Calf the main character is probably well below the spiritual level of the average person that comes to visit at vilnagaon.org
Some people don’t want to spend their time reading about people who are lower than them, while others feel it is easier to identify useful tips of how to live, when not “blinded by the light” of people behaving much better than their level.
On “Taste and Smell” it is not worthy to argue. It is all up to the sensitivity and personal preferences of the individual.
Here is a quote from the book:
A week later Lillian and Marshall borrowed his father’s car and took a trip down to the Jersey Shore. They enjoyed a great day at Asbury Park. They spent the morning on the beach, frolicking in the salty water and soaking up the sun. In the afternoon they tried their luck at the various arcades along the boardwalk until they almost ran out of money. “If we don’t quit now or we won’t have money for gas and tolls,” Marshall told Lillian.
The sun was about to set, signaling that it was time to head home. They were driving along the Garden State Parkway when Marshall said, “Lillian, it’s about time that you met my parents as well.” Instead of taking Lillian to her home, they headed to Marshall’s home in South Orange. They parked the car and entered the small, downscale apartment on Cottage Street.
Both Marshall and Lillian were a bit nervous about the meeting. They remembered all too well the time that Marshall met Lillian’s family. Marshall knocked on the door and entered. His father Jack was sitting in an old green easy chair whose upholstery was worn out in several places. He did not notice Marshall and Lillian. He was “glued” to the television, watching an episode of The World at War. Lillian was taken aback when she noticed that the Goldin’s television was “black and white”, an old Zenith model from the 1950s, which stood on a special cart whose lower shelves were loaded with old newspapers. Marshall whispered in Lillian’s ear, “It’s best that we not bother him right now. He’s really into World War II. For us it’s history, but he lived it. In some ways, he’s still living it. Let’s wait for a commercial. Perhaps you would like to use the bathroom in the meantime?”
“I thought that you would never ask.” Marshall showed Lillian where the bathroom was and used the facilities after she was done.
“Marshall, where’s your bedroom?” Lillian asked Marshall after he came out of the bathroom. She was curious to see what his room looked like.
“The living room is my bedroom. The dark blue couch opens up into a bed.” Lillian knew that the Goldins were not rich, but she was definitely not used to this standard of living. She had never seen anything like it before.
Finally there was a commercial break. “Dad, how are you? I brought a guest.”
Jack Goldin lifted his head. “Is that Lillian? Hello Lillian, nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” Lillian said. She immediately noticed how much Marshall resembled his father. Their facial features were strikingly similar, as well as their slight build. She also noticed that Marshall’s father spoke with a foreign accent. She found that to be quite unusual. Her family, on both sides, had been in America for many generations. At that moment the door to the apartment opened. Faye Goldin, Marshall’s mother, walked in.
“Hi Marshall! Oh, is that your girlfriend?” she asked when she noticed Lillian.
“Her name is Lillian, Mom.”
“Of course, Lillian. Lillian, tell us something about yourself.”
Jack Goldin said something to his wife in Yiddish. Faye, looking annoyed, answered him in the same language. Then she said to Lillian, “What, no one offered you something to drink? Lillian, would you like something hot or something cold?”
“No thanks, nothing really” Lillian answered. She looked at Faye Goldin. She was wearing a black dress with white polka dots. The short sleeves of Faye’s dress left her flabby upper arms exposed. An imitation pearl necklace hung from her neck. In general, she reminded Lillian of the women that she saw on television shows from the 1950s.
“Why don’t you sit down? Make yourself at home,” Faye said. Marshall and Lillian sat down on the old blue couch. The commercial break was over. The World at War was back on the air, and Jack was again glued to the television, oblivious to the surroundings. Marshall and Lillian also watched the program.
“Marshall, this is so depressing, you know, the war and all the people that were killed,” Lillian commented. Marshall put his finger on his lips signaling her to be quiet. His father would be very upset if he missed something because someone was talking.
A few minutes later Faye Goldin appeared with a tray laden with cups, saucers, cake and cookies. “Lillian, do you want tea or coffee?” Faye whispered, not wanting to distract her husband. Seeing that she had to drink something, she opted for coffee.
“So, Lillian, tell us something about yourself.”
Lillian did not know where to start. “What would you like to know about me?” Lillian asked as quietly as she could.
“What are you learning? What do you want to major in?”
“I learned a lot of different things this year: psychology, philosophy…I think that I want to major in English, with an emphasis on creative writing.
“Very nice. Tell me about your family,” Faye Goldin said.
“Okay. We live in Denville. My father works in a bank. My mom is a housewife. I have a brother, Clifford, who just finished his degree in civil engineering.”
“Very nice. That’s quite an accomplishment. A civil engineer! Your parents must be proud of him. ”
“Uh, yeah. We’re all proud of Clifford.” The Blancs really were proud of Clifford’s academic achievements, weirdness aside.
“And what synagogue do you go to?”
Lillian smiled an uneasy smile. She thought that Marshall’s parents knew that she was not Jewish. Lillian answered, “We’re Catholic, but we don’t go to church too often.”
Faye said, “Oh” in a nonchalant fashion and then addressed her husband in Yiddish, “Yankel, dein zon gebracht undz a shikse tzu undzer heim!”
Jack answered her in English. “We’ll talk about it later.” He was upset that his wife was bothering him in the middle of the program. Lillian had no idea what Faye Goldin told her husband, although she felt as if she was talking behind her back. Marshall did not know exactly what his mother said either. He was able to make out the word “shikse”, and he knew what that meant. He utterly despised that word. He wanted to challenge his mother to show her a Jewish girl who was half as nice as Lillian.
Marshall told his mother about their day at the beach and what a good time they had. After Lillian finished her coffee Marshall said, “Mom, I’m going to take Lillian home now. See you later.”
“Don’t forget to fill the car up with gas. Your father and I need it tomorrow morning.”
“Okay, Mom,” Marshall said, as he and Lillian left the house and headed for the car.
“Hey, Marshall, do you know that you look just like your dad?” Lillian commented.
“It’s called genes, Lillian.”
“I know. But you could have ended up looking more like your mom.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Lillian did not talk too much on the way home. She was in culture shock. Marshall seemed to be a normal American guy, but his parents seemed to be so foreign. Their household seemed even more bizarre than her own. She replayed in her mind what she saw over and over again. The fact that they talked in a foreign language in front of her was in her opinion quite rude. She was not used to such behavior. Marshall sensed what she was thinking. “Welcome to the typical Jewish town in Eastern Europe circa 1935, Lillian. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to them and they’ll get used to you,” Marshall assured her. Lillian certainly hoped so.
Marshall returned to South Orange after driving Lillian home. When he entered his father and mother were waiting for him.
“Marshall, we want to talk to you,” Jack Goldin said. Marshall and his mother sat down on the couch while his father sat down on the easy chair. Marshall had a feeling what they were going to tell him. He remained silent, clasping his hands and nervously twiddling his thumbs. Jack and Faye Goldin gazed at their son for a few moments without saying anything. Finally, Jack Goldin broke the silence and said in a calm, almost whispering voice, “Marshall, I understand that Lillian is not Jewish.” Marshall nodded his head in the affirmative.
Jack Goldin grimaced. He thought back to what had happened just forty years earlier. He thought of his father Moshe who had been murdered in cold blood. He thought of his other family members that had died on the way to Transnistria. He thought of all the other Jews that he had seen suffering in that cursed place from hunger and disease until they passed away. He remembered the dead bodies, lying in the blood-stained snow, strewn on the side of the road. He remembered seeing the earth quivering where people had been buried alive. Jack Goldin clenched the fist of his right hand and pounded it on the coffee table with all of his might. “No! No! No!!!” he shouted, banging his fist on the table with each “No”. The cups, saucers and spoons on the table rattled, as if they were also joining Jack Goldin in his outcry, some of them almost falling on the floor.
“Jack, calm down!” Faye implored. “You’ll get a heart attack!”
“Calm down? Calm down? No, I will not calm down! Our only son is dating a shikse! Moshe Ben Ya’akov is dating a shikse! Did I have to survive Transnistria for this? I’d rather drop dead now. Marshall, just go ahead and kill me. The Nazis and Romanians did not succeed but you will. I’ll give you the money. Buy a gun and put a bullet through my head!”
Marshall was stunned by the fierceness of his father’s outburst. He had expected opposition, but nothing like this. “I don’t get it, Dad. It’s not like we are the most religious family in town!”
That was an understatement. Jack had given up religious practice when he was young. There was no room for Judaism when a bunch of other ideologies such as communism, socialism and secular Zionism were captivating the youth in his hometown and all over Europe.
What was being marketed in America as Judaism did not speak to him either. One time his wife dragged him to Friday-night services at a local Temple. “Let’s just see what it’s like”, she said, persuading him. After it was over she said to her husband, “Yankel, wasn’t that a beautiful sermon. I like the way the rabbi connected the Torah portion to civil rights and Affirmative Action.
Yankel Goldin was not impressed. “And what about me, Yankel Goldin? Do I have civil rights? When the shvartzes looted my store and burned it down, did the rabbi worry about my civil rights? That’s a rabbi? That’s a clown! When I need a rabbi, which isn’t often, I go to a real rabbi, not a clown. If I want to see a clown, I’ll go to the circus! That’s not a shul, it’s a circus! He wants Affirmative Action? He should practice what he preaches and hand his pulpit over to a shvartze!”
Nonetheless, Marshall’s mentioning their lack of religiosity angered his father. “It’s not like we are the most religious family in town,” Jack Goldin said, mimicking his son. “Idiot! I raised an idiot! You don’t know who you are? Do you think that you are a goy? Idiot!” Jack Goldin did not want to hear any more. He went to the bedroom and closed the door. Marshall and his mother remained in the living room.
This was not the first time that his father called Marshall an idiot. However, there was something about the way he said it this time around that really hurt him deep down inside. He looked at his mother, hoping for a little bit of sympathy.
“I understand you, Marshall,” his mother said. “We are not exactly a very religious family, but we are very Jewish. I guess certain things that my generation took for granted are not necessarily so simple for your generation.” After a few moments of silence, Faye Goldin continued, “I beg of you, Marshall, say goodbye to this girl. You see what it is doing to your father. She may be nice, but she’s not for you. Do it for your parents who love you so much.”
Marshall Goldin was in a predicament. As much as he did not identify with what his parents wanted from him, he was not going to break their hearts. However, how could he bear to break the news to Lillian?
A final quote from the author of the book regarding a “takeaway lesson from this book”:
I am a creative person, a writer. For most of my adult life I have been writing, not books mind you, but computer programs. Computer programs consist most of Ifs, THENs, and ELSEs, with a sprinkling of SELECTs, INSERTs and DELETEs. For year I have been getting up early in the morning, going to synagogue to say the morning prayers, and then heading off to work to write Ifs, THENs and ELSEs. That may sound boring, but don’t knock it. It has kept my family clothed and fed.
Now that I think of it, life is in some ways like a computer program. We are constantly presented with decisions to make. IF you do this, THEN “X” will happen, ELSE “y” will happen. Often “X” and “Y” are fairly predictable. IF you put your hand in fire. THEN it is going to get burned. Sometimes however the results of our actions are not so easy to forsee. The “trick” of leading a good life is making the right decisions at the right time. And we goof, the “trick” is to be humble enough to recognize our mistake and to make amends.
After writing Ifs, THEN’s and ELSE’s in computer programs for so many years, I thought it was time write something else, something a little more exciting. I would write a book different from those in a computer programs. In computing everything is true or false. In life, the choices can be between good and evil, right and wrong, proper and improper, wise and foolish, etc. In addition, as I already mentioned, a great deal of uncertainty is involved, causing decision-making to be quite difficult.
For those who wish to purchase on Amazon the Goldin Calf by Michael Lerner, here is the link:
Comment by the editor of vilnagaon.org:
With the fear of a new Holocaust fading from the Jewish community, as well as the tradition of centuries that it is “us” vs. “them” a smaller percentage of non-religious Jews are open to the type of argument against intermarriage offered by the father of Marshall Goldin in the Goldin Calf. Especially this becomes a difficult “sell”, when the current Vice President of the United States is a Non-Jewish spouse of a non-religious Jew, and President Biden has a Jewish grandson who is the product of an intermarriage.
Nevertheless, there are several posts on vilnagaon.org that at least make an attempt to convince such Jews not to marry a Non-Jew.
- Rabbi Zamir Cohen’s answer to young Jewish men or ladies considering intermarriage
- The Shocking Truth About Assimilation & Intermarriage
- Artem Dolgopyat’s Olympic Gold Medal is A Loss for the Jewish State
To his credit, I know that Rabbi Meir Kahane HY”D was able to pull several Jews back from the brink of intermarriage by awakening their sense of Jewish pride. But after Rabbi Kahane’s assassination by an Al-Qaida terrorist, I have not seen anyone in the Jewish world that currently can fill the gap left by the assassination to arouse the same feelings.