Goodbye, Columbus : And Five Short Stories

The short stories

"The Conversion of the Jews"

Ozzie Freedman, a Jewish-American boy about thirteen years old, confronts his Hebrew school teacher, Rabbi Binder, with challenging questions: especially, whether it is possible that God gave the Virgin Mary a child without having intercourse. Ozzie's mother, though she loves her son dearly, is a more conventional thinker and can't understand why Ozzie courts trouble at school for posing such unorthodox queries. During an argument, she slaps him across the face. Back at school, Rabbi Binder interprets Ozzie's question about the virgin birth as insubordinate, though Ozzie sincerely wishes to better understand God and his faith. When Ozzie continues to ask challenging questions, Binder too slaps him on the face, accidentally bloodying Ozzie's nose. (Interestingly, a nearly identical episode occurs in Mordecai Richler's Son of A Smaller Hero, another North American-Jewish author to whose work many comparisons with Roth's have been made—most notably, in the alienation experienced by the assimilated Jew, no longer a member of his original ethnic, religious community, yet also not accepted into the larger culture.) Ozzie calls Binder a bastard and, without thinking, runs to the roof of the synagogue. Once there, Ozzie threatens to jump.

The rabbi and pupils go out to watch Ozzie from the pavement and try to convince him not to leap. Ozzie's mother arrives. Ozzie threatens to jump unless they all bow on their knees in the Christian tradition and admit that God can make a virgin birth, and furthermore, that they believe in Jesus Christ; he then admonishes all those present that they should never "hit anyone about God". He finally ends by jumping off the roof onto a glowing yellow net held by firemen.

"Defender of the Faith"

The story—originally published in The New Yorker—deals with a Jewish American army sergeant who resists the attempted manipulation of a fellow Jew to exploit their mutual ethnicity to receive special favors. The story caused consternation among Jewish readers and religious groups, as recounted in chapter five of Roth's 1988 memoir The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography.[7]

"Epstein"

The title character goes through a crisis, feeling at age fifty-nine that by accepting the responsibilities of business, marriage, and parenthood, he has missed out on life, and starts an affair with another woman.

"You Can't Tell a Man by the Song He Sings"

An unnamed narrator recalls the events surrounding his meeting Alberto Pelagutti, a troublemaker, in high school.

"Eli, the Fanatic"

The assimilated Jews of a small community express fear that their peaceful coexistence with the Gentiles will be disturbed by the establishment of an Orthodox yeshiva in their neighborhood.


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