This is not my prepared speech. I left that in my hotel room. Because it would be a waste to deliver it here to such moral and intellectual primitives.
My prepared speech...dealt with present literary confusions, moral philosophies, brutalized sex and rampaging Canadian nationalism, cultural nationalism which I consider unfortunate. In a word, it dealt with non-Jewish themes, and I don't think that would interest you. You are altogether too narrow. But let it pass. What I've really come here to question is the nature of your Jewishness...about which you seem so confident.Well, can you guess who these Jews were and what they were "worried about," the "what" that got Richler so hot that he felt compelled to leave his original speech back in the hotel room and, summoning up his considerable powers of invective, give them a devastating drubbing?
To return to last night.
Once I decided to stay on, my second thought was to buy a bucket of paint and dab the outside wall of this hotel with swastikas...because, above all, I am a considerate guest...and I can think of nothing that would have given you more pleasure, a larger thrill, certifying you ghetto-paranoia, as it were.
What I'm trying to say is that your Jewishness, unlike mine, is distorted, mean-spirited, self-pitying, and licensed not by Hillel or Rabbi Akiba, but by urban ignorance. Bigotry born of know-nothingness...
MiGod, MiGod, until last week babies were being fried in napalm in Vietnam: as I speak, other babies are dying in Latin Amerian, dying for lack of nourishment. Black men are being beaten in South Africa. The world is charged with injustice, insult, and depravity, and you are worried about...
They were Jewish teenagers. At a conference of Jewish students in Niagara Falls, Ontario. And the thing that they were "worried about" was whether or not to hold a dance on Friday night, thereby violating the Jewish Sabbath.
That's it. That's what provoked Richler's rage.
Of course, the fact that he was stuck in writer's hell--on a book tour, in a crappy hotel, in a cheesy city--and was booze-sozzled and sleep-deprived, probably didn't do a whole lot to improve his mood. Not that Foran sees it that way. No, old Charlie is blown away by the power, the passion, the wisdom, the sheer courage of Richler's words. Foran writes (the emphasis is mine):
He held them for maybe a declamatory half-hour. Imagine being a teenager on the receiving end of this demanding, moral harangue. But March 1973 was not only Vietnam, Latin American and South Africa; it was less than a year after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Olympics and a few months before the Yom Kippur War. This was no time for youthful complacency about equating the ideals of Judaism with holding a dance--or not--on the Sabbath. "Beware of those who don't upset you," Richler warned the students. Upset them he surely did. Crack jokes, he did not; any humour stayed back in the grubby hotel, along with the original speech. That afternoon in Niagara Falls, an event of no consequence to his tour, let along to his career--these remarks were never published or used again--he have seemed more a cross of Old Testament prophet with drill sergeant than anything so effete as a novelist mixed with cultural commentator. What a public voice he possessed, too--learned and authoritative, blunt and blistering. Decades later, the furious words still read like a combination by a heavyweight at the peak of his form.Maybe to Foran. To me they read like the words of brute and a bully. I can only imagine how someone in that audience must have felt. Surely, some of them must have been crushed, obliterated. But maybe one or two of them thought, "Man, this guy Richler is one huge a-hole."
That Richler was so upset about Jewish kids grappling with what to them was an important religious matter says a lot more about him and his shtick than it does about them; it seems clear that they had done nothing--nothing--to deserve the Great Writer opening the floodgates and unleashing his wrath. That Foran considers this a creditable performance--so creditable that he chose to open his 700+ page biography with it--speaks volumes about him.