Too Good to Be True: The Life and Work of Leslie Fiedler

By Mark Royden Winchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
Eliezar Ben Leah

ALTHOUGH THERE were only about 30,000 Jews in Italy in the early 1950s, a disproportionate number were in positions of power and influence—from the leaders of the Communist Party to high-ranking businessmen and government officials. During his Fulbright tenure, Leslie discovered that he could usually recognize fellow Jews by their names. Anyone who was called after the name of a city or a town (e.g., “Milano”) was likely to be Jewish. Although anti-Semitism seemed absent from Italy at this time, the culture remained overwhelmingly Christian. When his daughter Jenny was born, the maid who worked for the family sneaked her out of the house and had her baptized. When Leslie said, “But we are Jews, ” the maid replied, “Yes, but what is your religion?” 1.

In his essay “Roman Holiday, ” Leslie tells of the extraordinary efforts he made to find a Passover Seder while living in Rome. Like his grandfather Rosenstrauch, he wanted his offspring (particularly his two oldest sons, Kurt and Eric) to know of their heritage. (“Not that I believe, but so that you should remember!”) His efforts were complicated by the fact that Passover coincided with Holy Week, Leslie recalls. “It was no use to remind my boys that, after all, the Last Supper was a Seder, too; nothing could redeem the sense of moving in loneliness against the current that flowed toward the great basilicas, the celebration of the Tenebrae, the washing of the feet, and the final orgy of Easter Sunday when half a million foreigners and Romans would stand flank against flank, the visible body of Christendom awaiting the papal benediction” (CE, 1:115).

As they searched for a Passover celebration, Leslie remembered some gossip he had heard about the chief rabbi of the modern Roman synagogue (built in the imitation Assyro-Babylonian style). He was of East European origin and

____________________
1.
Fiedler, interview with Jackson, July 18, 1989.

-119-

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