Ricky Greenfield died last month. He was an accomplished businessman who, steadfast in his intolerance, became my literary benefactor. And for that I remain grateful.
Many years ago, Greenfield bought the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, a weekly that circulated around the state and once — in the golden age when people actually read newspapers — had a fair measure of influence.
Over dinner at a Farmington restaurant, Greenfield, who had taken over the duties of publisher, asked me if I would write a regular column. From comments he made during the discussion, I could tell that I was dining with someone who saw matters in black and white, particularly as they relate to Israel. There was only one side to espouse — the hard line of the right: the “The Palestinians have vowed to push the Jews into the sea” position. When I tried to offer a moderate view — that in the end there will have to be a humane compromise — he dismissed it as Coffee House Naive Left.
A week later, I went to a reading at Wesleyan University by Aharon Shabtai, the celebrated Israeli poet. I was stunned by his in-the-face juxtapositions and risk-taking. In what I wrote for my first column, a piece about the difficulty Jews have in agreeing on the correct policies of Israel and the hurt they feel from fellow Jews and gentiles on this subject, I included a few lines of Shabtai’s benignly titled poem, “For National Poetry Week 1992:”
I look at the Prime Minister’s face and remember
how cold and hard the wooden seat of the toilet
was during the days of the British Mandate…
Now, two whores — nationalism and religion –
have taken over the country and made a pact
to turn the heart’s pasture into a shithouse
and pluck the feathers of Hebrew culture…
Well, Ricky Greenfield did not share my enthusiasm for Aharon Shabtai’s viewpoint. Furious, he told me that in no way would his newspaper ever compare Israeli nationalism to a whorehouse. You may reasonably guess, as a result, that he refused to print the column, and so my first submission to him was also my last.
However, I sent the piece to Charles Monagan, longtime editor at Connecticut magazine, who printed it exactly as I wrote it. You may say, well, Monagan doesn’t sound like a Jewish name. And it isn’t. And he wouldn’t have the same sensitivities as Greenfield. But Charles was also an editor who believed in the writer’s voice. For nearly twelve years afterward, I wrote a monthly column for Connecticut, so Ricky Greenfield had done me a big favor.
There was one more silver lining in all this. When I think back on it, I marvel at the fear Greenfield had in the power of the poet. Politicians come and go. Policies come and go. But Aharon Shabtai’s truth, though censored in a Connecticut newspaper, lives on.