Lazar: In hindsight, I must have been looking for a way to write about Jewishness that somehow managed to minimize irony and self-deprecation. The root was Meyer Lansky and his persisting desire to live in Israel. What about Israel suggested to him a life of dignity, meaning, and value, when he was in no way a pious Jew? That gave me a way to write about any secular Jew’s desire for dignity, meaning, value, etc. By writing about the “bad” man’s search for meaning, I was able to make that search matter in a more dramatic way (for me, at least) than if I had written about a “good” person’s search.
Rumpus: I call myself a bad Jew all the time, although I do not think I am the worst Jew.
Lazar: You are not the worst Jew—that would be Bernie Madoff. There are bad Jews and there are badass Jews. You’re more of a badass Jew.