09/03/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Good for the Jews?" or "Go Know!"

You rush into her small linoleum floored kitchen some 60-70 years ago and tell my delicious immigrant grandmother the Yankees won the pennant or that King Edward VIII just abdicated his throne, something she had no way of knowing anything about, and she was sure to reply, dumbfounded but whimsical, either "Good For the Jews?" or "Go know." I was dumbfounded not whimsical yesterday, Sunday, when I picked up the first section of my New York Times. On the first page, two fat, excruciating news stories. One dealt with the rash of suicides among Iraqi vets, deep and detailed cases of several suicides among hundreds of others. The second dealt with 1.5 million of the 8 million plus out of work Americans facing cutoffs of their unemployment benefits.

Just a few pages away, inside the first section, were lavishly produced full page ads for two new gloriously endowed perfumes. Of John Varvatos' stunning new fragrance, the copywriter gushed, "... an intricate yet bold blend of rose absolute and a coffee bean accord... presented in a heavy metal flacon for a rock and roll vibe." A few page turns later Marc Jacobs, on another lush full page, trumpets his startling new fragrance, "... an intoxicating swirl of rich layers, wrapping the skin in sensuous florals, blooming with the signature note of fuchsia peony."

I imagine my grandmother, Baba, overhearing a conversation about this ironic juxtaposition and then asking one of her inevitable questions, "Good for the Jews?" "Well, Baba," I might respond, "It could be seeking to prove something to us about the strength of the human spirit, meaning that no matter what besets us as a people, there is a part of us that will find beauty and loveliness in the harshest of realities, (God's presence, if you will) in the bleakest of circumstance."

"So, good for the Jews," she'd sigh contentedly. "On the other hand, Baba, it could just add up to more evidence that we've become a "Have or Have Not society."

And together we'd say, "Go know!"