#139: The Quantum Jew Loses Faith

March 18th, 2013

I went to a Jewish thing in Bucktown. It would have been an awesome story.

The rabbi or whatever the hell he was said sweet and funny things that had the benefit of being wise. He had a split beard, like in my old family photos from Kovno.

The motley cast of Jews, myself included, was funny in its oddity. There was a hipster Jew in a cowboy hat. He chanted perfect Hebrew. A curvy brunette was there with her brother, clearly attending in order to indulge him but not above finding a man while she was there.

A father and grown son dropped by — the son new to Bucktown, the father wearing a backward Kangol like Samuel L. Jackson.

“What do you call it? The six-way? Six points?” the son asked me when he found out how long I’ve lived here.

“Six corners,” I said quietly.

It would have been touching and funny and sweet as I dealt with my supposed ethnicity that life and my parents’ mixed-faith marriage made completely alien to me. Hell, there was even going to be an open bar afterward and I’ve had the title “Booze and Jews” locked and loaded for a month.

But I can’t write that story. I can’t write about someone’s faith the night I lost mine.

My old boss got laid off on Friday, March 15. The Ides of March. He had worked for the newspaper since 1974.

A lot of good people lost their jobs that day. John was just the one I worked with most closely.

We all knew this was coming. For months and years they knew. And every day in between they continued doing their jobs, executing nonsensical orders from above delivered by the people who would abandon them.

And you say journalism’s nothing like religion.

My mixed-faith birthright made me a quantum, exhibiting traits of wave and particle, crucifix and magen at the same time. So I found a new faith.

I found a belief system whose sole sacrament is truth-telling, maybe with the mitzvah of doing it well. There’s no illusion of heaven in journalism, no dream left of any reward, not beyond and certainly not here.

People telling the truth, knowing there’s nothing in it for them. I find that divine.

But both your god and mine are cutthroat bastards. I just don’t get the ability to write mine off as “mysterious.”

John is a grumpy, funny, redheaded curmudgeon who spent his career living in and working for the same community. He followed the paper through sales and mergers and the slicing away of staff, peel by peel. He raised a family in the town he tried to just keep honest.

He is a good man. He deserves better than this.

It’s sad when faith’s betrayed, but that’s not what this was. It wasn’t a backstab betrayal, of Casca leaping for the throat on March 15. It was the terrible inevitability of watching a company slowly crush a man, slowly crush dozens of good employees to death over decades and then throw them away when they’re done.

So, yeah. That’s why you’re not getting a story about the Lubavitch Jews of Bucktown.

We know each other’s daydreams
And the hopes that come to grief
For we write each other’s obits
And they’re Godalmighty brief.

– Ben Hecht, date unknown

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