The Last of the Tzaddiks

In the somewhat exotic Jewish home in Iowa where I grew up, it was axiomatic that there was an intimate link between Judaism and universal human rights. Like nearly all Eastern European Jewish families in America, my parents and grandparents were Roosevelt Democrats, to the point of fanaticism. They thought that the Jews had invented the very idea, and also the practice, of social justice; that having started our history as slaves in Egypt, we were always on the side of the underdog and the oppressed; that the core of Judaism as a religious culture was precisely this commitment to human rights, and that all the rest—the 613 commandments, the rituals, the theological assertions—was no more than a superstructure built upon a strong ethical foundation. For me, this comfortable illusion was shattered only when I moved to Israel at the age of eighteen.
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Philip Roth (1933–2018)

I never had the “talk” with my parents. I had only the “book”: Portnoy’s Complaint, which one evening my mother, in a rare embarrassed flush, tossed in my direction before escaping to her bedroom, trailed by a rushed “You might get a kick out of that.”
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