There’s a little moment in this mini-series that is often filled with little moments where it comes out that, while on a farm in Kentucky, Sandy Levin had freshly killed pork for his farewell dinner. Sandy tells his kid brother Philip that as a big secret because he knows that his parents wouldn’t have approved of breaking kosher like that.
That feels symbolic for what this whole show seems to be doing.
I’ve written at length over the last two episodes about the little things this show has been doing to show the fascist influence that is sweeping across President Lindbergh’s America. We still see that here. Rabbi Bengelsdorf is so pleased at how well “Just Folks” worked for temporarily moving Jewish children out of cities and into the more rural parts of the country that he wants to expand it to moving whole Jewish families out of cities and to the rural parts of the country in a more permanent manner. As I said for Part Three, many fascist movements emphasize the real “character” of a country is in the more traditional, rural parts of it, and the emphasis here is that somehow people who live in cities are somehow not Americans (or whatever country these things are happening in).
By the by, it is also true that many people feel that way that aren’t fascist. Many American conservatives who just believe in stuff like small government like to say things like that, that the “real America” is in the small towns and farmland across the country, but they don’t talk about forcibly moving urban dwellers out there for whatever reason. I’m talking about a specific element of fascism, not all philosophies that share a plank or two with that political ideology.
But then as I watched this episode, I asked myself if there was something more going on here involving Sandy Levin. Yes, other things happen here. The Levins as a whole spend a Shabbat with Evelyn and Bengelsdorf, and suffice to say, Bengelsdorf and Herman do not get along. Bengelsdorf speaks with a Southern accent, and at one point he even proudly mentions an ancestor who fought for the Confederacy. Herman then makes a point about what the Jewish faith says about slavery. Really, these two men could not get along worse if they tried, and again I wondered how much of this stuff was added to reflect current events and how much came from the original novel.
However, it does seem to all come down to fight for Sandy Levin’s soul. His Aunt Evelyn has helped make him the poster child for Just Folks in New Jersey, and when she and Bengelsdorf are personally invited by the First Lady to attend a state dinner that will include known Nazi Joachim von Ribbentrop, something to show that Lindbergh’s America still has Jewish friends, Evelyn thinks it would be a great idea to bring Sandy along. Sandy, for his part, is all for it. Herman isn’t, and Bess, who normally stays quiet on such things, likewise won’t allow it. Yes, Sandy does compare his father to Hitler, but the newsreel footage showed Evelyn dancing with the German foreign minister, and younger son Philip is forcibly dragged from the movie theater when he tried to sneak in to see it.
Herman still has a better relationship with his younger son…the same boy an FBI agent tried to trick into giving out information on cousin Alvin. The now one-legged man is suspected of being a communist, and the FBI isn’t being subtle about making Alvin’s already difficult life even worse.
It’s not hard to see why the Levin adults can see what’s going wrong and why it might not be so obvious to an impressionable young boy, but the way this episode framed it, it comes down to whether Evelyn and Bengelsdorf know what’s better for a boy like Sandy than his own parents, and he’s at that age where he’s starting to push back. It’s too much for a lot of people, and it’s also much easier to lash out at those closest to us than do nothing when, really, there’s not much that can be done.