Cover image for The planet of the Jews
The planet of the Jews
Graubart, Philip.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley, CA. : Creative Arts Book Co., 1999.
Physical Description:
201 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


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Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Comic book editor Judah Loeb receives a strange manuscript and is caught up in a fable where Jews are driven off earth to a most weird new world.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In contemporary New York City, comic-book editor Judah Loeb gets a visit that turns out to be more like a visitation. A young Hasidic couple, Moishe and Esther Cassanofsky, present him with a story about Jews forced into a new diaspora in interstellar space, to escape Ukrainian neo-Nazis. The story becomes a hit, Loeb's editor clamors for more, and more appearsÄstories about the Jewish settlers failing to prevent the Holocaust through time travel, about their being visited by cheerfully larcenous aliens who take up Judaism with enthusiasm, about talking to the dead. By now the "Planet of the Jews" series is a Star Wars-size phenomenon, Loeb is a millionaire and massive conversions to Judaism are taking place. Then the Cassanofskys present a final story, with a strong note of "It was all a dream," leaving Loeb high and dry. This novel says a good deal about the Holocaust (through the ramblings of Loeb's Uncle Max), Jewish identity, anti-Semitism and religious observance, but in a scattershot fashion. And in spite of the occasional touches of humor, Graubart is unable to achieve much credibility with plot elements already tired out from equally didactic use in conventional SF. (June) FYI: Graubart is a rabbi in Massachusetts. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Moishe and Esther For weeks after my father's death, I found myself running into strangers I could have sworn I'd seen at the funeral. I'd approach them, try to talk to them, but they'd either walk away, shrug and look puzzled, deny any knowledge of my father, or just ignore me. My father had been a major philanthropist, giving generously to Jewish institutions here and in Israel. Over a thousand people attended his funeral -- grateful rabbis, executive directors, college presidents, and even a large contingent of black-hatted Yeshiva boys. I barely knew anyone there. But starting the very next day, I had the odd impression every stranger I'd bump into in the subway, or brush against on the sidewalks had been a fellow mourner.     Moishe and Esther were the strangest of them all. They appeared, as if by magic, one hot Friday morning in my office at Astounding Tales . I was standing, hunched over my desk, studying a story called "The Killer Robots of the Fourth Millennium," when suddenly I looked up and there they were.     "We have a story, for you," offered Moishe, a young man dressed in black, with a full brown beard, black bowler hat, and ritual fringes dangling from his dusty, black sports coat.     I stared at him. I was about to ask him how the hell he got past security and into my office, when the odd feeling of recognition washed over me. "I remember you," I heard myself say. "You were standing at the very front, right next to the grave." I looked at his companion, a gaunt, frail looking young women, whose wide peasant dress almost completely obscured her bony arms and legs. "You were there too," I said to her. "Standing right next to him. You wore the same dress you're wearing now. I remember you couldn't stop crying."     "It's a good story," Esther told me, thrusting out a fairly thick manuscript. For some reason, I grabbed it, as if by reflex. I glanced at it, then tossed it on to the couch next to my desk.     "It's about my father?" I asked. "A story about him? About the funeral?"     They looked at each other, Esther's olive eyes narrowing in both confusion and annoyance.     "Excuse me, Mr. Loeb," Moishe said softly. "My name is Moishe. This is my ... uh ... my wife, Esther. We've written a story for your magazine. You should publish it, soon, we think, probably in your next issue."     "It's a good story," Esther added.     But I still hadn't recovered from the shock of recognition. "But my father," I insisted. "You must have known him. Why else would you ... ?" I stopped. I could see they had no idea what I was talking about.     Esther took a step forward. "You are Mr. Judah Loeb?" she asked. "Fiction editor for the magazine Astounding Tales ?"     I nodded.     "We have some fiction for you, Mr. Loeb." She pointed to the thick wad of papers I'd thrown on the couch.     "Some very good fiction," added Moishe.     I looked over at the manuscript without making a move to pick it up. I could see the title: "The Planet of the Jews."     "I'm sorry," I said, trying to shake off the weird feeling I'd seen these two before. "This is not a religion magazine. We don't print religious fiction, or Jewish fiction. This is a science fiction ..."     "This is a science fiction story, Mr. Loeb," Moishe said, in a meek, high pitched voice.     Esther interjected, in a much deeper, more confident tone, "It's a very good science fiction story." She pointed at the other manuscript on my desk. "It's certainly better than a story about warring robots." she added, with a nod.     How did she know what that story was about? I hadn't told anyone about it, not even Alan, my boss. I was about to ask, but I suddenly grew annoyed with these two oddly dressed Jews. They were wasting my time.     I shook my head. "This isn't the way we collect manuscripts," I said. "We deal with agents. Our writers don't submit directly to us. And anyhow, I wouldn't be your first reader. There's a process ..."     "This is a story you will read first," Esther interrupted, her voice brimming with an odd mixture of self-assurance and irritation. "This is a story for you ."     "I'm sorry," I said, beginning to show some irritation myself. "I can't accept ..."     But they didn't let me finish the sentence. They turned around to leave, Moishe at such a fast pace it seemed almost like he was fleeing. Esther stopped at the door, and turned to look at me -- her dour face brightening a bit. "We'll be back next week, Mr. Loeb," she said. I gaped at her round, sun-tanned face, and was astonished to see her wink one of her green eyes at me. "Have a good Shabbes ," she added and scurried away in the direction of Moishe. I ran out and watched as the elevator doors snapped shut on the two of them.     I asked my secretary how the hell they got past her. She told me she had no idea. She hadn't left her desk all morning, and hadn't seen anyone go in.     I went back to my office and tried to work. I picked up the story about the killer robots and started to read. It was just the kind of story our readers loved, the kind of story that made us easily the most commercially successful science fiction magazine in the country, and one of the most popular fiction magazines of any kind. Robots from the year 4029 inexplicably show up in the twenty-fifth century. Without any attempts at communication, these futuristic robots begin destroying all modern electronic equipment. They only attack machines, never people, and no one can figure out why. After a while, it is discovered that the attackers are not really robots at all, but cyborgs -- half machine, half human. It's very difficult to defeat these creatures since they combine the intuition and creative instincts of human beings, with the superior strength and durability of robots. The only possible way to combat the "robots of the fourth millennium" is to create a twenty-fifth century breed of cyborgs who could match their counterparts in strength and skill. The first installment of the story (it was to be a serialized novel -- our specialty) ends with the first successful twenty-fifth century union of man and machine.     Under ordinary circumstances, I would have been thrilled with the story. There was precisely the right mixture of hard science, action/adventure suspense, human interest, and bloody violence. But since the death of my father, I'd somehow become less patient with these melodramatic gore-fests.     And I couldn't get Moishe and Esther out of my mind; absurdly, I even pictured them -- with all of their ultra-orthodox garb -- as two of the protagonists in the robot story. I imagined Moishe as the driven scientist who finally creates his own version of a Frankenstein monster. And I pictured Esther as the monster, the newfangled twenty fifth century cyborg.     I threw the story on my desk and massaged my eyes. Who were these two strange Jews, I asked myself, and why was I so convinced I'd seen them at my father's funeral? Once again, I wondered if I should have taken some time off after his death. Alan had insisted I take at least a week, but I knew I'd feel totally lost without my work. It's not as if I would have been inundated with well-wishers, and, since my divorce, I lived alone. I could have taken a few days, but what would I have done -- watch television by myself? Besides, I was pretty sure I didn't need any extra time; I wasn't all that upset when my father died. We'd never been close, and he'd been sick for years.     But now it occurred to me that Alan might have been right. If every stranger I saw reminded me of the funeral, then I must have been more disturbed than I thought. I slowly rubbed my temples, keeping my eyes shut tightly, trying to forestall the headache I knew was coming. I decided to grab a cup of coffee from the company cafeteria, and then finish with the story I was reading. But instead, I dropped my head on the desk and fell asleep.     I woke up, startled, when my secretary buzzed to remind me of my appointment with Uncle Max. Stumbling away from my desk, I knocked the manuscript of the "Killer Robots" on the floor, scattering the pages in all directions. I was about to stoop down and collect them when I realized I didn't even have time for that. I dashed down the stairs (four flights) and caught a cab for the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.     Max was waiting for me on the front porch of his tiny brownstone. Despite the heat and the humidity -- it was past ninety, and I was perspiring from head to toe -- he wore his usual uniform: a brown cardigan sweater over a white shirt, a black bow tie, and wool pants. In the winter, he added a beat-up, dusty bowler hat and sometimes a scarf, but never an overcoat. Max wasn't one to let the weather dictate his wardrobe or, for that matter, restrict his movements in any way.     As soon as he saw me he jumped out of his seat and suggested a walk around the neighborhood. I begged off, not without some embarrassment. Max was in his mid-seventies, I was thirty-six, but I was the one who nearly swooned at the thought of strolling through the streets of Brooklyn on the hottest day of the summer. I convinced him to do the interview indoors. I also talked him out of making hot tea.     I was fond of Max, which was fortunate for two reasons. First of all, not counting my ex-wife, he was my last surviving relative. My mother had died ten years earlier, two days after my wedding. My father had just passed away. And, since I was an only child and both of my parents had lost their siblings and parents years before, that left only Max and me. And we liked each other.     The other reason was my latest project. I was writing a comic book novel about Max's experiences in the Holocaust. For the past six months, I'd been interviewing him about the war. In his dark, shabby Brooklyn brownstone, or on walks around the decaying neighborhood, I'd record his stories. I'd been writing science fiction and superhero comic books for years and I'd made a name for myself in the market; my editor and boss Alan Shapiro always assured me I was his "best comic book writer." But I'd never written a book-length comic, and I'd certainly never tackled a subject as serious as the Holocaust before. I started playing with the idea of a Holocaust book after my father, suffering from liver cancer, began attending healing services led by a Hasidic Rabbi named Chaim Boronsky. My father mentioned that this rabbi, a gnarled white-bearded old man with deep wrinkles and an inscrutable expression, had led a partisan band of Jewish fighters in Poland during the war. A warrior rabbi -- the idea fascinated me. I spent three weeks meeting with the frail, stooped-over scholar every morning after his prayers. But, try as I might, I couldn't get the old guy to discuss the Holocaust at all. All he wanted to talk about was healing, or God. When I told my father how frustrated I was -- how badly I wanted to hear details of the rabbi's story -- he stunned me by revealing that Uncle Max had survived the Holocaust in much the same way as the old Rabbi, by fighting Nazis in the forests of Poland. In fact, he said, Max and Rabbi Boronsky had fought in the same unit. I wondered, briefly, why Rabbi Boronsky had never mentioned that to me -- he knew Max was my Uncle. But then I assumed he just wanted to forget the past. In any case, I called Max right away and he agreed to tell me his story.     My idea was to depict all the various peoples involved in World War II as animals. It was easy to choose an appropriate beast to depict the Germans; they would be pit bulls. The Americans would be horses -- cocky, strong and good. The Christian Poles would be pigs; the French, poodles. But what about the Jews? I needed a creature that represented both fear (the Nazis had a strange inordinate fear of the Jews) and vulnerability. After experimenting with some sketches of sheep, cattle, and mice, I finally hit on cockroaches. I would call the comic book Roach .     Interviewing Max was both exhilarating and terribly frustrating. Exhilarating because he really did have quite a story to tell -- he lived in the forests outside of Stascha for five years and, according to my father, led one of the most active Jewish partisan groups in all of Europe. Frustrating because getting him to tell his story in a linear, coherent fashion was like pulling teeth. He'd begin a story about capturing a German war prisoner in 1943, lurch back to a vague encounter with the gentile gym teacher who saved his life in 1939, veer forward to his final escape with his partisan wife Aliza to Switzerland in 1945, without ever coming back to the German prisoner. I quickly realized I could only rely on him to provide a mood, a main character, and a broad narrative structure. I'd have to make up most of the details myself.     That day I was anxious to get back to the beginning of the story. When Max was nineteen, right before the German invasion, most of his family fled Warsaw and crossed the Vistula River into the Soviet Union. For reasons still not clear to me, Max stayed behind.     "Tell me about saying goodbye to Rivka (his sister) and your parents," I asked him as he handed me a diet creme soda. "You were standing at the Vistula bridge, waiting for them to cross over. What did you say to them?"     Max took a loud slurp of iced tea and began with "Well, you must understand." He started every answer, every war story with the imploring phrase "you must understand" as if -- really -- it were impossible I would ever understand.     "I was with Voytek still," he continued, "the instructor of physical education. He gave me and Anshel a place to hide in Warsaw."     "He was with you at the bridge?" I asked. "He was with you when you said goodbye?"     "No, no, he was never at any bridge, Judah," Max said. "Why should he be? You see, he never met my parents. Except for when they met him at the school, but this was not ... well, they never really met him."     "Is that why you didn't go with them?" I asked. "Because Voytek offered you a hiding place?"     "Well, at the bridge it was, of course, sad. Who knew if I would ever see him again?"     "Who?"     "My family. This is what you asked, Judah. My family at the bridge."     "But you said `him.' You said `who knew if I would ever see him again.'"     "Ahh," said Uncle Max.     This was not an a-typical Holocaust conversation with Max. I could rarely get him to answer one of my questions. Eventually, I learned if I hung in there and let him direct the conversation -- which followed from my questions only in the loosest sense -- then some story might emerge, sometimes even an interesting story. But the process was always frustrating.     You might have thought old Max was just getting senile, so it was unfair of me to expect any focused narrative from him at all. But, in fact, Max was as sharp-witted as I, and in every other area of his life, he spoke intelligently and lucidly. Only the Holocaust turned him into a scatterbrained old man.     "Why didn't you go with them?" I asked. "Why didn't you cross the bridge?"     "You must understand he was my best friend. He was my teacher, but he was also my friend. I know it seems scandalous; he was ten years older than I, and there was all sorts of talk, all sorts of gossip, but ... fehhh," he said and waved his hand in disgust. I waited for him to continue. He took another long sip of iced tea.     "My father told me to look for him in Leningrad," he continued. "The Red army had set up some kind of refugee relief bureau. They would go there and I would join them in six months."     "So you were planning on joining them? You didn't plan to wait out the war in Poland?"     "The hiding place, Judah. Voytek wasn't ready to give up everything. It's not like you see in the movies. This wasn't some kind of Anne Frank closet. This was the forest, Judah, the fields. It was impossible ..." His voice trailed off, and he frowned. His pasty white forehead filled up with wrinkles. "When he turned on us, I knew it, I knew I had to find a gun, to fight somehow, just to stay alive. But ..." he shook his head, and looked up at me with sad gray eyes. "Everyone who crossed that bridge died you know. No one survived the war. They all ended up at Aushwitz."     I nodded.     "And you know, you understand, almost everyone who didn't cross the bridge also died."     "I understand," I said.     "Anshel, Malki, Jacob, Sasha ..."     I nodded.     He shrugged. "This was the war," he said. "It got almost everyone."     I sighed. I can see, I thought to myself, I'm not going to get anywhere today. But that was Max; he had his good days when he could talk uninterrupted for hours, and give me a genuine feel for his experiences. And there were days -- most days actually -- when all he could do was shake his head and marvel at the number the people who'd been murdered, and I could barely understand a single word he said. That day I decided to leave him with his ghosts. I patted him on the shoulder and headed back to my office.     The first thing I noticed when I opened the locked door was that someone had shifted Moishe and Esther's manuscript from my couch to the center of my desk. The second thing I noticed was that the Robot manuscript, which I distinctly remembered leaving scattered on the carpet, was nowhere to be seen. But no one ever came into my office without either myself or my secretary Sandy knowing it. And Sandy knew never to allow anyone to touch my papers, not even the janitors. She had left for the day, so I couldn't ask, but at this point, I was more annoyed than puzzled. Who cares how the thing ended up on my desk, I thought, I don't want it, and I don't want to read it! I had deadlines from four comic book publications; I had to copy edit eleven stories for Astounding Tales and I had at least two dozen manuscripts to go through from agents I respected. And I was way behind where I wanted to be with Roach -- my own graphic novel.     The last thing I wanted to do was read a story about a planet of Jews.     But I did read it. Right then and there.     I'm not sure how it happened. I know I intended to look for the Killer Robot story, maybe even call Sandy at home and ask her to dig up another copy if I couldn't find it. But right after I sat down at my desk, I noticed inky fingerprint stains on the title page of Moishe and Esther's manuscript. Apparently I'd been perspiring, and had gripped the pages so tightly, I left an impression -- like a fossil. I was fascinated because I'd never seen fingerprints on paper before. I thought about some of the crime stories I'd edited, and for a split second I fantasized about using the "Planet of the Jews" manuscript as a murder weapon, then burning the pages so no one could trace the crime to me. For a moment, I actually thought about who I would rub out, and when. But instead, I picked up the story and read it straight through.     I loved it, I was profoundly moved by it. It brought tears to my eyes, several times. Four or five pages into it, I realized it was quite possibly my all-time favorite science fiction story. I had never read a manuscript that affected me so deeply.     Which is not to say it was any good. I couldn't tell. I was so personally affected by the story, there was no way I could judge its esthetic merits. I thought it was probably okay. It seemed to work well at the artistic level of our audience, which is to say bright thirteen-year-old boys would probably read it with a certain amount of pleasure. But I couldn't be sure. For some reason, judging this story seemed suddenly like judging my own work; I felt too close to make editorial decisions. But I knew I wanted to publish it. I decided to take it to Alan, our editor-in-chief.     "Is this some kind of joke, Judah?" he asked, studying the cover. He was in the middle of eating a submarine sandwich. "A planet of Jews," he said between mouthfuls. "Jesus, can you imagine? But the joke's not working, Judah. I know you don't like to write prose. Even the novel you're working on -- what is it called -- Ladybug ?"     "Roach" I said.     "Yeah, yeah, right. Roach. That's a graphic novel, right, not old-fashioned prose? So this is some kind of humor piece, but I don't think ..."     "It's not a joke, Alan." I said.     He looked at me, the lamp reflecting off his thick glasses, the way sunlight often bounced off of his bald head. " You wrote a short story called `The Planet of the Jews?'"     "Me?" I asked. "What makes you think ..?"     He pointed his chubby thumb to the credit lying at the bottom of the title page. It read: By Judah Loeb.     "Jesus Christ," I whispered, staring at the page. "They used my name."     "Who?"     "Moishe and Esther," I answered. "Two Jews, I mean, two writers. A team. Orthodox Jews -- with side curls, a sheitel , the whole bit. They showed it to me today." I shook my head, thinking about the credit. "Alan, I don't know how I could have missed it."     "Never mind, Judah," he said, shaking his head. "You say two Hasids handed you this story. They just gave it to you? Today?"     I nodded.     "What's the matter with you, Judah?" he asked, his wire glasses sliding down his nose. "You now we don't publish ... wait a second." He sat up. "Judah," he said. "Is this about your father? I told you to take some time off. I told you! I should have insisted. It just wasn't right, you didn't even ..."     "This has nothing to do with my father!" I snapped. Perhaps a little too sharp.     "Okay," he answered, his eyes widening. "Okay!"     I sighed. "Look," I said. "Just read it. That's all I ask. If you don't like it, we'll give it back to the Jews -- I mean, back to Esther and Moishe. But I think you'll like it."     He took a large bite out of his sandwich and studied the title page. I could tell he was looking at my name.     "Please Alan," I said.     He turned to me, his face suddenly appearing rounder and fatter than I could ever remember. "I'll read it," he said finally, and took another bite. "For you, Judah, I'll read it. I'll read all about the planet of the Jews."     That night, at 1:30 a.m., the phone rang. It was Alan.     "It's wonderful," he said.     "Hmm," I answered, groggy.     "Superb," he added.     "Oh," I said, switching on my night lamp.     "Judah, I cried, I literally wept. I don't know what came over me! I cried when the old Jew -- you know the Rebbe -- when he got knifed in the back. It was just too much. And that scene on the planet by the sandy beach -- it gave me the chills . Judah it was so inviting, so ... so enthralling, I ... I just don't know what to say!"     "That's how I felt."     "But the thing is, Judah," continued, "I loved the thing, but, well, I'm not sure if it's any good. I'm not sure it really works . You know what I mean? Is it really a decent story? I don't know."     "I don't know either Alan."     He paused for a second. I could hear him catching his breath. "Judah, did you know I'm Jewish?" he asked.     "I figured you were, Alan." His name was Alan Shapiro, so it wasn't terribly surprising.     "Never meant that much to me, to tell you the truth. I hated Hebrew School, hated the whole damn ... well, never mind. I just never considered it important. But somehow this story, it made me ... it made think about things I'd never thought about. I started having ideas I never dreamed would be in me. Spiritual shit. It was incredible, invigorating. Judah, you know I'd love to talk to you more about this stuff. We could have a wonderful discussion, you and I. About my life, your life. About Judaism. About God. Our parents. About this story."     "Of course, Alan. But it is -- uh -- it's almost two in the morning."     "Oh, is it?" He sounded startled. "I've just been re-reading the story, and thinking, and reading some more, and thinking, and -- I guess I just lost track of the time. Of course, of course Judah. We can talk some other time. But there is something I need to ask you. What is the deal with the credit? You say it was written by some Hasidic couple."     "Orthodox, Alan." I said. "Orthodox."     "Whatever."     "Well, it's strange, Alan. They've got some kind of interest in me. I think they knew my father, and well, I guess they want me to have the credit."     "Look, Judah, we can credit it to Jesus Christ, for all I care. I just want to run it as soon as possible."     I was finally wide awake, and a little startled. I'd never known Alan to make a publishing decision based on his own preference. There were always consultations with our marketing people, polling of focus groups, editors' conferences. How a story personally affected him was simply not relevant. I was not sure I'd heard correctly.     "You mean, we're going to publish it?" I asked. "Just like that?"     "We're publishing it!"     The next issue of Astounding Tales sold more copies than any other magazine in our company's history. Thousands of fans, not all of them our regular thirteen-year-old male readers, wrote to us, clamoring for a sequel. Within days we sold the anthology rights, and started taking bids from Hollywood agents. Newsweek ran a full page feature just on the reaction to the story in the science fiction world. I received requests for interviews from The Jerusalem Report and Forward . We were the new sensation. Copyright © 1999 Philip Graubart. All rights reserved.

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