LOS ANGELES (JTA) -- Have I got a secret agent for you!
When Hamas is smuggling missiles, and Iranians are building A-bombs deep underground, to whom can Israel turn? 007? No way. He’s busy playing baccarat or keeping the world from being fried by space lasers. He hasn’t time for the Middle East.
But Israeli secret agent Israel Bond, code named Oy-Oy 7? Now, he’s the man to call, or was, when author Sol Weinstein first created him in the 1960s.
With the recent reissue of Weinstein’s four novels parodying the works
of Ian Fleming, we can discover if Bond -- that is, Israel Bond -- can
once again rise to the occasion and save the day.
Originally published in 1965, the books feature the yiddeshe derring-do
of an Israeli secret agent whose cover is as a salesman for Mother
Margoles’ Old World Chicken Soup. Looking at them now, the titles seem
much like a precursor to the bubbling over of American Jewish pride that
was to follow the Six Day War in 1967. In other words, they are good
for the Jews.
According to Weinstein, the four books -- “Loxfinger,” “Matzohball,” “On
the Secret Service of His Majesty, the Queen” and “You Only Live Until
You Die” -- were reported to have sold a million copies. Looking back at
that figure now, he feels it was lower.
“Certainly a few hundred thousand,” he said. “I was wallowing in total obscurity, and now I was a semi-unknown.”
Before the publication of the books, Weinstein was a writer for The
Trentonian, a New Jersey daily. “Loxfinger,” the first title in the
series, originally appeared in condensed version in Playboy Magazine. It
imagined a Jewish secret agent fighting evil in a world where swimming
pools are filled with chicken soup and the Israeli spy headquarters is
shaped like the giant can the soup might have been poured from. It’s
such a Jewish world, the praying mantises come with their own prayer
shawls and poison darts are shot from mezuzahs.
The book is unadulterated Jewish slapstick, a world away from the sober
Federal District of Sitka created by Michael Chabon in “The Yiddish
Policemen’s Union.” In the 1960s, I remember seeing one of the titles,
“Matzohball,” on my parent’s nightstand. Having just seen “Thunderball,”
I felt in on the Jewish joke: Israel Bond was our secret agent, saving
Israel from destruction in a quick-reading cartoonish plot.
Now over 40 years later, with the battle for Israel’s security
front-page news and Jewish humor 10 notches broader than the Borscht
Belt, are the books still goods for the Jews? Hitting the market when
1960s-themed shows like “Pan Am,” and “Madmen” are drawing an audience, I
wonder if “Loxfinger” would now work as a touch of Jewish retro, a test
of how yesterday’s Jewish sensibilities would play today.
As I read “Loxfinger,” I saw how Weinstein’s hero still successfully
played off of Ian Fleming’s tall, suave and murderously gentile James
Bond. Everyone, including the original Bond’s archenemies, know that he
likes his vodka martini shaken, not stirred. Israel Bond, we soon
discover, prefers egg creams -- and not just any old way.
“The seltzer should be cold enough to stand on its own with a 3.5 ratio
of pinpoint carbonation,” says Israel Bond in “Loxfinger.” “A fourth of
the glass should be filled with Walker Gordon non-pasteurized milk,” he
continues. “Only Fox’s U-bet syrup should be used … mixed delicately
with an 1847 Rogers Brothers spoon, dairy silver of course.”
“And maybe served with a little kasha varnishkas,” said Weinstein, when I asked what his character might like to drink it with.
Like 007, Weinstein’s Oy Oy 7 has a license to kill, but when he is
attacked by a bear in his hotel room, he is reluctant to use it. He only
has his milchig knife with him and does not want to mess up his
But his most dangerous weapon is his wit, or at least half of it; the
puns and one-liners he flings with far deadlier aim than Oddjob tosses
his derby (That’s a “Goldfiner” reference, kids. Look it up). In a hotel
room he picks up the phone and asks, “Operator, this is a Princess
phone isn’t it? Good! Well, I’d like to speak to Princess Margaret.”
I asked Weinstein, now in his 80s and living in New Zealand, and who
wrote jokes in Hollywood for Bob Hope, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.,
to explain his incorrigible punning. “I’m a paronomasiac,” he answered,
which he defines as a person addicted to wordplay and puns.
Even the book’s femme fatale, always a key element in a Bond tale, does
not escape his pen. “If Ian Fleming can have a character named Pussy
Galore, I can call my character ‘Poontang Plenty,’” Weinstein reasoned.
In fact, in contrast to the Jewish sexual neuroticisms of Philip Roth
novels, Weinstein’s Bond is a bold, self-assured, wise-cracking Jew --
“quite a hunk of man,” even if Weinstein has him hailing from “the Land
of Milk and Magnesia."
As to why reprint the books now? “I want to make a few bucks," said
Weinstein, whose reply this time seemed to come from a man for once
playing it straight. “I want to spread a few laughs around, and some
Jewish feeling.”The Goods: “Loxfinger,” “Matzohball,”
“On the Secret Service of His Majesty, the Queen,” and “You Only Live
Until you Die,” available in paperback 12.99-14.99 (also in Kindle
versions). Also,“The Israel Bond Omnibus,” all four titles 29.99. All
available from Combustoica http://oy-oy-7.com/, and amazon.com.
Do you have a product that might be good for “Goods of the Jews?”
Please send candidates to firstname.lastname@example.org.