Paul Lowinger


Irving Halperin died in September and I went to a memorial service two weeks later at Temple Emanuel-El but I still have unfinished business with Irving. Last year I asked for readings to prepare for a trip to Israel and he made suggestions. I went to the library and looked at the lot, read some, rejected others and added new ones.

It was the short stories that were most helpful in grasping the mind of the Israelis. The bitter sweet changes of life on a kibbutz since the thirties are explored in "A Hollow Stone" by Amos Oz. "Like Salt on Birds' Tails" by Uri Orlev examines the nihilism of the young marrieds ending with the suicide of a Israeli Defense Force fighter pilot. "Badenheim 1939" by Aharon Applefeld is a Kafkaesque irony about Jews who leave their musical performances in an idyllic Austro-German spa to board a government train for Poland with a dogged hopefulness that overcomes their apprehension. I wanted to tell Irving he'd helped and discuss my list.

I had another private experience with Irving when I learned that he had studied for his Master's in English in Iowa City from 1951 to 1953. This was the time that I was a resident in psychiatry and also a graduate assistant in European Literature and Thought in the English Department. We didn't meet at the State U. but Irving's favorite mentor was Victor Harris while mine was Joe Baker, both organizers of European Literature and Thought. Irving went on to India and I went to New Orleans. We never got to discuss the polarity/affinity of these two neolithic gurus. A piece of my jigsaw puzzle is lost.

A public moment that I savor was when Irving asked the class why so many Jews were communists. I think this was as we studied Kim Chernin's and Vivian Gornick's work in a course on Family in Memoirs and Fiction. First there was silence, soon an electric buzz, then snorts, expostulations, answers and comments. My response was a question, "Why are the Jews so often successful capitalists?" and the dialogue continued on into the next class.

Once I met Irving in an organic grocery store on Geary and he spoke directly without any of the usual pleasantries, "I just don't know if I can do a good job on Faulkner." I reassured him and as always, he presented a brilliant course.

I'm not religious and I don't believe in an afterlife but the idea of a seance with Irving has an appeal. If Hillary can talk to Eleanor, why not?

See ya, Irv.