By Richard Greeman
Originally Published in The LA Progressive
April 19th, 2018
Telephone Interview between Richard Greeman (in France) and Jenny Greeman(in N.Y.):
Jenny: So, Dad, the 50th Reunion of the Columbia University Strike is coming up, and it’s all over the papers again. A book of reminicences has just been reviewed in the Times, and the Columbia library is holding a three-day conference. I’ve got some great clippings here from April 1968, with pictures of you the front page of the N.Y. Post and even of the Times. That strike was a big deal! It’s too bad that you can’t fly in to participate.
The issues at Columbia crystallized major problems that were national – even international – questions of racism, the imperialist war in Vietnam, and what became known as the youth revolt or student rebellion.
Richard: I think the issues at Columbia crystallized major problems that were national – even international – questions of racism, the imperialist war in Vietnam, and what became known as the youth revolt or student rebellion. But of course the Columbia revolt was far overshadowed by the student-worker near-revolution in France, which broke out a week later. Right now, here in France, once again the students are occupying the universities, the high-schoolers are in the streets, and the workers are organizing nation-wide strikes against the counter-reforms being imposed on the French by their arrogant new President, Macron. So echoes of 1968 are very much in the air, as I reported in the Indypendant last month.
Jenny: Getting back to Columbia, let’s start our interview by going through these old copies of the NY Post and the Times. The first headline reads ‘STUDENTS TAKE DEAN HOSTAGE.’ What were you doing, Dad, on that fateful day of Tuesday, April 23rd when all of this began?
Richard: That day, as usual, I taught some French classes in the morning; then at noon I turned out to the SDS rally at the sundial in the middle of the campus, where I had often spoken about the War in Vietnam, based on my knowledge of French imperialism’s early failure there. A good-sized crowd had gathered and was hesitating about whether or not to do an ‘action.’ Participatory democracy in practice. Everyone was frustrated because our attempts to negotiate with the administration over the construction of the Jim Crow gym had failed. With my prompting Mark Rudd, the leaders of the SDS ‘action-faction’ and good friend, decided to lead the group over to Morningside Park, which had just been blocked off by a chain-link fence and where Columbia had already started excavating.
Jenny: The gym.
Richard: Yes, Columbia was planning to take over Morningside Park; to rip up this public park to build a private gym for Ivy League athletes, and there was outcry in the neighborhood and on the campus about this. So eventually we all swarmed over the site and broke down the fence.
Jenny: Just to get our bearings here, Morningside Park runs from W. 110th Street to W. 125th Street in the valley between Columbus Avenue and Harlem proper. This is my neighborhood. There’s now a fountain and pond with geese at the excavation site and a very popular baseball diamond. I remember we once celebrated July 4th there with a live band playing patriotic music and the whole neighborhood having picnics and cook-outs.
Richard: Yes. It was a beautiful moment for me. I really believe we saved that Park and it’s wonderful that you and your friends are enjoying the fruits of our labor.
Jenny: If you guys hadn’t knocked down that fence, we wouldn’t have been sitting there…. What happened next?
Richard: After some pushing and shoving with cops, we finally filtered back to the campus and ended up in the lobby of Hamilton Hall, where I had my office and was supposed to teach a mid-afternoon class in Humanities. This was the ‘Great Books’ course that Columbia had put into the curriculum at the time of WWI so that young ROTC’s who would then go off and fight for democracy would know the canon/tradition for which they were laying down their lives… We read everything from Homer and Plato through Old and New Testaments and on through Montaigne and Voltaire (my specialty). Enough culture to give a sense of superiority and help breed a native American officer class. But the canon can also be read against the grain.
Jenny: What do you mean, Dad?
Richard: Today they call it ‘deconstruction.’ Back in 1968, I had a whole back row of Navy ROTC students (Columbia was all-male) who regularly came to class in beautiful navy blue and white uniforms. In the next row I had young orthodox Jews in the class who knew the Old Testament 10 times better than their bearded (to look older) professor. In fact I was barely 6 years older than the freshmen and only 3 years older than the seniors who were taking the course late.
With these guys we read Thucydides’ account of the war between Athens and Sparta in which Athens (a democratic, but imperialist power) sent an army over across the water to Sicily to conquer Sparta’s ally, Syracuse – just like the US invading Vietnam in the long war with Russia. Of course, the Athenians ended up losing both their army and their democracy. These were very bright New York students. The young officer candidates were well aware of the analogies.
Then we went on to analyze the Old Testament with genuine Yeshivabuchas who knew it in Hebrew. It was a great class and a great time to be a teacher, full of what today we call ‘teaching moments.’ The campus was already very sharply polarized between pro- and anti-war and right and left – and the class was held in Hamilton Hall, by now occupied by SDSers , Black students from the Afro-American Society, and others. They were sort of besieging the Dean’s office and would eventually sequester him there.
Jenny: Right. Here’s the Post front page with a big headline ‘COLUMBIA STUDENTS HOLD DEAN 24 HRS.’ But back to your afternoon class….
Richard: So first I milled about with the students, and then it was time for me to go upstairs to my Humanities class, to which everyone had unexpectedly shown up! I greeted them and said something like: ‘I know there’s a lot going on downstairs and like me, you all have opinions about it, but today we’re finishing Spinoza, which is a very hard subject and I’ve worked very hard to prepare for the class so if you’ve also prepared and you want to keep reading Spinoza, the subject is Freedom. So we took a vote and it was unanimous for holding class! We did, and it was a very lively discussion.
After 50 minutes, I went back downstairs and now the entire lobby was jammed with students. Some, mostly Blacks, were ostensibly guarding the door to the Dean’s office. It was clear that they would remain there and hold the building until they got an answer form this Dean, who was a kindly jock named Harry Coleman. I hung out with the kids and made a little speech about what the student movement was doing in Europe, and around 7 pm I got hungry and realized they would stay there all night and sleep on the floor in the classrooms. I had no interest in that so I went home to Julie for dinner. I had already had a big day.
Jenny: The next day must have been even bigger, right.
Richard: Looking back I would say it was one of the biggest and happiest days of my life! I don’t know where all that energy came from. It was like education in action.
Jenny: That’s what’s written on your sign in this picture in the Post: The sign stuck to a tree over your head reads: ‘Dick Greeman’s class, Education in Action, meets here. 2:00.’ And below a Post editor wrote a caption reading ‘Instructor Richard L. Greenman teaches outdoors.’ Like they can’t read? They’ve always got to put an extra ‘n’ in our name.
Richard: That picture was taken a few days later, after the Big Bust, during the actual strike. You can see the bald patch on my head where the doctor shaved it after I got clobbered by a cop, but we’re getting ahead of our story … The next morning I made sure to get up early and put on my ‘professor’s disguise’ (tweed jacket, rep tie, khakis, button-down collar and pipe) and return to the campus refreshed and ready. I put on an espresso and opened the N.Y. Times, which had been delivered around 6 am.
Lo and behold, he headlines announced that during the night the Columbia students had occupied two more buildings! The Black students of SAS were holding out in Hamilton, and by mutual agreement, the Whites and SDS had seized two more. The hard core of SDS were ensconced in President Kirk’s luxurious office with a Rembrandt on the wall (which an art history student claimed was probably ‘school of Rembrandt’).
The others were in Fayerweather, where I had lots of friends because it was occupied mainly by grad students, students from professional schools and intellectual type undergrads from Barnard and Columbia. You can imagine I was totally elated when I read the headlines, and so I ran to the subway and down to 116th Street to see what was happening. At that hour, the campus was deserted. I walked up to Low Library and the first thing I saw was my favorite SDSer Mark Rudd sitting the window sill of President Kirk’s with one foot in and one foot out and I couldn’t tell if he was coming or going.
Jenny: The headline of the N.Y. Post reads ‘Columbia Rebels Seize More Buildings’ and there’s a front page photo of students boosting themselves up to the window into President Kirk’s office in Lowe Library.
Richard: Yes, that was taken during the excitement the night before while I was home in bed. Now it was the cold light of dawn. I had missed out on the long, lonely night the drastically reduced group of occupiers had spent in the sacro sanct of Columbia University waiting for a police bust in at any minute. It must have been scary in there cut off from the world. So there was Mark and I showed him the newspaper headlines and said, ‘Mark don’t be a schmuck, we’ve won. Get back in that building!’ We’ve laughed about that together many times over the last years.
Then I went over to Hamilton Hall where my office was and where the Black students had now set up a serious barricade and let it be known that they were in solidarity with SDS on the demands over the gym, Vietnam, and over the punishment of students who had demonstrated. Soon some of the other professors who taught at Hamilton started showing up, as well as an old friend of mine, Sydney Von Luther from 1199 a Black union organizer whom I had worked with for years through Columbia CORE trying to organize Columbia’s cafeteria workers (mostly Black and Puerto Rican) into a union. In fact, back in the 30’s, James Wechsler, the student editor of the Columbia daily Spectator who was later the editor of the N.Y. Post for many years) got in trouble for supporting the cafeteria workers under autocratic Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler, whose sister had the concession of the cafeteria and was as violently anti-labor as her brother, a former Republican vice-presidential candidate. When Columbia’s football cheerleaders chant ‘Who owns New York? We own New York!’ they ain’t just whistling Dixie.
My friends in CORE and I had previously tried to get help from the restaurant workers union, but that union finked out on us. Local 1199, however, did not. And thanks to our effort, all Columbia cafeteria, buildings/grounds, and later, secretarial workers are unionized and have benefits today. This – like the preservation of Morningside Park – is one of the great long-lasting victories of Columbia ’68 I’m still proud of.
Jen: That’s great, Dad. So let’s get back to when it all started. We’re at Hamilton Hall the first morning of the occupations.
Richard: So Sydney, the other teachers and I, almost spontaneously, became a nonviolent faculty cordon in front of Hamilton to avoid violence and because we sympathized with the students inside and didn’t want them attacked. Sydney had lots of Civil Rights experience, and so did some of the other sympathetic faculty members whom I knew and who were also locked out of their offices. We were thus able to fend off a crowd of aggressive, jock-like White students who wanted to charge in and mix it up with the Black students inside. Who organized this phalanx, which later took form as the anti-strike ‘Majority Coalition?’ I was told at the time that Dean Truman or people from Truman’s office had gone around to the fraternities the previous night and whipped up opposition among the conservative students. It was from this spontaneous group experience that the famous Ad Hoc Faculty Committee I talk about in my article was formed. We then fanned out to do our non-violent picket in front of the other occupied buildings.
Jenny: Where did you end up, Dad?
Richard: I was sent over to occupied Fayerweather Hall, where students were starting to gather for early morning classes (it was either 8 or 9). Again, a phalanx of athletic-looking students appeared, all fresh-faced and scrubbed, carrying piles of books and demanding to attend their classes, in pursuit of which they were willing to break through the feeble barriers erected by the Weenie grad students and beat them all up. With a few other Professors I held onto the high ground at the top of the steps leading to the doors, from which I was able to look down at the gathering mob.
I recognized a student in the crowd moving up, called out his name and said: ‘Why Mr. So-and so, I’ve never known you to be up so bright and early and so eager to absorb knowledge.’ Of course, that got them laughing and I persuaded them to sit down like gentlemen and scholars and discuss the matter, rather than having a brawl which would be unseemly on an Ivy League college campus. I told them ‘if you’re so eager to learn philosophy and political science, well there is something exciting happening here and now on this campus and we’re part of it. So let’s discuss it.’ Isn’t that what college is supposed to be about? Today, we would call it an ideal ‘teaching moment;’ It was in that context that I said something about education in action which got picked up by the next day’s N.Y. Times.
Jenny: Right. Here’s your quote: ‘There can be no education and no thought that is divorced from action.’
Richard: So that’s how I got them all to sit down on the lawn in front of Fayerweather, and we held a discussion – you could call it a teach-in. Next I gave the floor to a famous sociology professor, Amatai Etzioni, who was standing next to me on the steps.
Jenny: Oh yes, here’s his picture talking in front of the crowd on page 5 of the N.Y. Post We can see your ear behind him while he’s talking into the Radio 88 microphone. The caption reads: ‘International expert on arms control placates students in front of Fayerweather Hall and things cool off a bit, for a while.’
Richard: Well things heated up the next day when William F. Buckley Jr., picked up that Times quote in his nationally syndicated column and hauled me over the coals.
Jenny: Yes, here it is in the Post from April 30. ‘Professor Richard Greenman of the French department announced, in the accents of Charlotte Corday, that ‘there can be no education and no thought that is divorced from action.’ The trouble with that statement is (a) it isn’t true and (b) even if it were, it is no justification for what the authorities of Columbia have been tolerating.’
Richard: The next day I dashed off a note to the Times: ‘Dear Bill, It’s Greeman, not Greenman and Marat, not Corday,’ but he never answered. I bet one of his fact-checkers bit the dust that day.
Jenny: Of course, we’re Greenmans, but who are those other people, Marat and Corday?
Richard: Jean-Paul Marat, known as the ‘friend of the people,’ was the extreme left fiery Jacobin journalist and agitator of the French Revolution, hated and reviled as a monster by all conservatives. Obviously, Buckley had me in mind for the part. Charlotte Corday was a beautiful conservative young woman from the provinces who traveled to Paris, bought a kitchen knife and stabbed Marat in his bath (where he did his writing because he suffered from psoriasis). In my day, every student knew the famous painting by the revolutionary artist David, showing his corpse sprawling in bathtub.
Jenny: Now I remember. There was a famous theatrical production by Peter Brook of a play called ‘Marat/Sade.’
Richard: Right, that was Peter Weiss’ script: ‘The Assassination and Persecution of Jean-Paul Marat as performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charonton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.’ I really savored the irony that Buckley was implying that I wasn’t fit to teach while he didn’t know the difference between Marat and Corday! It gave me a big kick that a pretentious prig of an intellectual snob like Buckley would’ve made such a really ignorant mistake.
Anyway, back to campus. After standing all morning in front of the occupied buildings, we faculty picketers and sympathizers ended up gathering in the graduate lounge at Philosophy Hall, where my Graduate Department, French and Romance Philology, had offices upstairs. The lounge was huge, comfortable and always had tea going. After some discussion, we formed an ‘Ad-Hoc Faculty Committee’ to express our concerns in this crisis. I loved those Latin words, ad-hoc (‘to this’ purpose) which gave our spontaneous, unofficial gathering of liberal and radical faculty, mostly untenured, a bit of academic cachet.
‘The Center Falls Out,’ the analytical piece that I wrote for Radical Teacher at the time, criticizes the fact that the liberals caved in and that all that ad hoc good will and courage was co-opted by a few ambitious faculty members. So the article comes off negative. But what I remember best was how wonderful all of these people were. How our meetings, though a little bit chaotic, were full of passions, erudition, and fun. Here, for the first time ever, faculty members who had been infantilized by the Administration, found their voices. When we faced off against our former Dean, now University Vice-President, David Truman.
It was a thrilling moment which made me think of the beginning of the French Revolution when the Estate General first met at Versailles and for the first time the Third Estate, the middle class, was allowed to stand up and speak for itself. I have such clear memories of my colleagues, like Jeoffrey Kaplow, a young Marxist History Professor and specialist of the French Revolution, with a clear high voice and a brilliant sarcastic wit. He’s an actor now in London, but still writes left-wing history. And of course there was Eric Bentley, the famous downtown theater critic, translator of Bertolt Brecht and founder of a local cabaret called The DMZ (after the so-called Demilitarized Zone in Vietnam). Columbia had given him a professorship, and he now loudly threatened to resign.
Also, Terry Hopkins and Emmanuel Wallerstein, two brilliant semi-Marxist global analysts from the Sociology Department who went on to found the Braudel Institute to study global long term economics. I shouldn’t forget Alexander Erlich, an old Polish Socialist, the son of Polish Socialists murdered by Stalin, whom I later met on the Broadway Subway with a red cocarde in his lapel, on his way to a Socialist May Day meeting. These were wonderful colleagues and people who are still – those who are alive – committed to the same ideals.
After Dean Truman told the ad hoc faculty that it didn’t matter what we thought and that he was going ahead with his police plan, he left the hall under cries of ‘shame!’ Then we made a plan to get together and to provide a cordon sanitaire protection for the students by non-violently blocking the buildings that had been occupied. Including Avery Hall, the Architecture School, whose students had erected a symbolic blockade of beautiful cardboard with ribbons. We were expecting a blood bath, which is exactly what happened two weeks later. So we all fanned out to different places. I really wanted to go to Hamilton Hall, partly out of my sympathy for the Black students and partly because that’s where my office was.
But I was sent to a tricky spot, the entrance of Low Library in whose basement the police had their headquarters. A bunch of faculty members were standing on the porch, on the concrete steps that lead into the big door, maybe 20 of us there, including Eric Bentley and several others I knew very well. We were allowing police and other officials to go through our line as a matter of course. Suddenly, a whole phalanx of burly guys in trench coats came barreling up, and I put up my hand and said something like ‘we’re faculty, officers of the university, what’s your business here/identify yourself,’ and they didn’t even slow down. The first guy walked right up to me, raised his arm and out of his sleeve came a blackjack with which he wrapped me on the top of the head (as my colleagues told me later). I didn’t see anything but I sure felt it. I started to go down, but I was so f-ing mad that I punched him in the balls. I don’t know if he felt it. I hope so. Anyway, the troop of plainclothes goons marched through us and into Low.
Now I tried to sit up, and my colleagues look horrified since I was bleeding so beautifully (as the most trivial scalp wounds will). They helped me to my feet, and when I touched my head where it hurt and looked at my hand, I could see it was all covered with blood. And, of course cameras were all flashing because this entrance was where the press had gathered. WKCR the college radio was broadcasting remote, the Post was there and people from TV. Never at a loss for words, I stood tall and held up my hand on which the blood was quite visible, and announced to the assembled press what had happened. And that’s when the picture was taken that you see on the front page of the next day’s Post.
Jenny: This was about 1 am on Thursday, April 26th right? The headline of the Post says, ‘Student rebels won’t give up.’ The caption reads ‘Richard Greenman shows what he claims was blood.’
Richard: Didn’t Mark Twain once say: ‘I don’t care what they write about me as long as they spell me name rights?’ So this was my Andy Warhol ‘15-minutes of fame.’ My only regret is I was more famous for getting hit over the head than for what was in my head. But I was feeling elated.
Jenny: Elated? How?
Richard: Yes, elated that I was able to seize the time (as the Panthers were saying) when the press was focused and focus it on the inevitable consequences of bringing carloads of heavily armed police to campus to enforce the trespassing laws in the middle of the night. This was a storm-trooper operation. I was able to express this in a way that might make a difference. Just then the big door opened and a faculty colleague who was working with the administration came to ask how I was (he had heard the story) and to extend David Truman (the Dean’s) offer of help/concern. He held out his hand and, of course, with my flair for the dramatic, I shook hands with him and covered his hand with blood. This was a wonderful old Eastern European man who took folk guitar lessons from your grandmother in New Jersey and was head of a Russian Institute form an old Bolshevik family. I think I felt comfortable enough with him to pull a stunt like that. I said to him, ‘Take this back to David Truman and tell him the blood of faculty will be on his hands if he continues with this police business!’
The next thing that happened was comical. I thought of your mother.
Jenny: Oh, geez, she must have been worried out of her mind.
Richard: You don’t even know
Jenny: Um, I think I might!
Richard: So as soon as I thought of Julie I realized I needed to telephone her and reassure her because she must be going crazy. But here I was on an occupied campus and the only place I could use a phone was down in the administration office, which was filled with police! Of course, how could I go down there?
Jenny: No cell phones, eh?
Richard: No! So after having cavalierly dismissed Truman’s offer of assistance I find myself needing to use the phone, and probably the toilet too! Here I am, thoughtlessly fearless when confronting a phalanx of goons, suddenly going to pieces thinking of upsetting my wife at home! Anyway, I knocked on the door, and most humbly (now) asked if I could use the phone. They took me downstairs and I could see the whole police command. I called Julie.
Now Julie was staying nearby at the apartment of Peter Hayden, another faculty member of the French department (whom I heard from just a few months ago, a propos of the Columbia Reunion).
Jenny and Richard Greeman
So I had his number and I called. I spoke to Marie-Helen, Peter’s wife, and I told her what was happening and she’s telling me that Julie’s hysterical. They were listening to the radio (WKCR), which was reporting just then that they’d hit a French professor and he’s going down, right then. Right now in Julie’s point of view! In any case, it was being simulcast (but 10 minutes late) so my wife is hearing on the radio that I’m dead and I’m on the phone trying to convince her I’m not! I mean, a head wound bleeds a lot, but if you don’t have a concussion or crack your skull, it’s OK. What hurt was the stitches! After the phone call I dragged myself through now-deserted streets – the cops were rounding everyone up – and walked into St. Luke’s hospital. As luck would have it, the guy on duty in the emergency room was a Columbia man with little sympathy for the rebels. Let’s just say he didn’t take too much care to make the stitches gentle! Well, I met Julie and we went home.
Jenny: That’s kind of a big day! So, what do you think was the result of all this?
Richard: The result was that David Truman and President Kirk finally understood what was happening and what would happen – that it wouldn’t only be my blood. That it would be a blood bath and they called it off. I can just imagine what the police felt, and what contempt they must have had for these ‘liberals’ on campus who couldn’t make up their minds; and it well may be that the reluctance of the police to return may have allowed us to continue our occupation of buildings much longer. Anyway, that was the upshot. The police were called off, the students were jubilant, and the whole situation was transformed. There was no way that Kirk and Truman could ‘cry wolf’ again or that Mayor Lindsey and the police department could come back. We won more time! And in that time, more buildings were occupied, and more attention was focused on the Six Demands. High school students and outside agitators begin showing up on campus. More important, the majority of Columbia Students had time to argue the issues and eventually come over to the position of SDS, SAS and the sit-ins. That picture of my bloody hand was published the next day, Friday, and that was a new day at Columbia. The occupation had a new lease on life.
Sadly, it was during that period that the ad-hoc faculty committee – from having heroically defended the students – ended up getting boxed up in a neutral, and somewhat ambiguous, position between the student strikers on the one hand and the administration on the other, and eventually co-opted, demoralized and dispersed by ambitions faculty opportunists.
Jenny: Yes, that’s the story you cover in the article ‘The Center Falls Out.’ That’s a great title and it sounds familiar, like I should know the reference, but I don’t. Where did you get it from?
Richard: I’m not surprised you asked. The title is a quote from Leon Trotsky’ History of the Russian Revolution where he say that ‘in a crisis the center falls out’ meaning that liberals become irrelevant and you end up with polarization between Reds and Whites. But my left academic colleagues for whom it was written didn’t get it either. They thought I was (mis)quoting William Butler Yeats, a moderate, who, in a famous poem, The Second Coming, wrote:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Great poetry, but not quite what I meant. As for the rest of the story of the strike, I tell it in detail in the article ‘The Columbia Rebellion’ where you can read about me and Julie both crying while watching the students being hauled off campus during the ‘big bust’ a week later. So Mayor Lindsay’s cops finally agreed to come back to Columbia, and this time they out-did themselves in brutality – perhaps out of peak at being thwarted the first time by a quick-witted French Instructor.
Richard: Oh, Jenny, before we end this interview, there’s one more story about Columba 1968 which will interest you as an actress.
Jenny: Let’s hear it!
Richard: Well, back in the 60’s your mother and I were close friends with the Broadway and TV actor Hershel Bernardi, whom we met through Grandma Mira. Well Heshie was an old Wallace Progressive and sympathized with the 1968 Columbia Student Strikers. At the time, he had just finishing playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway and was touring with his own program of Yiddish theater in English. So after the Big Bust, he volunteered to sneak his players through the police cordon around Columbia and present a Left-wing play (I think by Peretz) called Gymnasium. It’s about a Jewish student in Tzarist Russia facing anti-Semitism, and Heshie asked me to introduce the play to the packed hall of students and make sure they understood that every word in this play was written before 1910. You’ll see why in a minute.
The plot goes like this: a boy and his parents are burning for him to study, but the quota for Jews at the gymnasium is infinitesimal and bribes, etc. are required to get in. (Raya [Dunayevskaya] told me of a similar humiliating experience in her own Russian girlhood). Finally the boy is accepted at some distant gymnasium and moves to that town with his parents. But on the first day at school, he comes home at noon with his new school uniform all messy and announces that he and his classmates are on strike (against discrimination). This is the climax of the play. It’s the big scene when the father (played by Heshie), shocked out of his mind at the idea of all that he has sacrificed for nothing, tries to talk the boy out of striking. He launches into a set-piece monologue, a long litany of all the world’s problems, each punctuated with an ironic cry of ‘strike!’ (‘So you don’t like discrimination? Strike! So food prices are too high? Strike!). Finally the old man runs out of steam. He starts getting convinced by his own ironic arguments. And in the end, instead of raising his palms with irony and rolling his eyes in incredulity every time he gets to the word ‘strike,’ the poor father looks at his son and says, humbly and quietly, ‘So, strike.’ My eyes are swelling with tears just in the telling.
Well you can imagine the incredible reaction this audience of striking Columbia students. Many of them, like me, were wearing bandages as badges of honor after the Bust and many were having the same problems with their own Jewish parents. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing, and every time Heshie pronounced the word ‘strike’ the audience went wild shouting: ‘Strike! Strike! Strike!’ for a full minute.
And then Heshie said the next part of his monologue, ending in ‘strike’ and it all started again! I think it took poor Heshie twenty minutes to get through that five-minute monologue, but he was overjoyed. What an audience! What jubilation! And what a powerful thing theater can be, right Jenny?
Jenny: Right, Dad!