Book: “Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient and Then Turned 16”
Author: Moshe Kasher
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Have you ever heard the one about the boy born in New York to two deaf Orthodox Jewish parents, who gets taken on a Forrest Gump-themed vacation to Oakland by his mother and then ends up in and out of therapy, addicted to drugs, becoming a criminal to feed his habit and then, at the age of 16, decides to turn his life around, years later becoming one of the great up and coming stand up comedians? No? Well, it’s the kind of cautionary fairytale I’m sure Mother Goose would pen if she happened to live in an urban 21st Century apartment littered with drug paraphernalia, records and cups filled with piss.
Unbelievably, this is exactly Moshe Kasher’s story and one he shares with us, from Genesis to Exodus, in Kasher in the Rye. When reading, you get a sense that writing the memoir was a cathartic exercise for Kasher. There’s something raw and primal about exposing your demons, unsheltered and naked for the world to see, and screaming that you’ve come through the fire.
Part of what makes this journey so feasible for the reader is that you feel as though you’re in a room with Kasher while he simply regales you with stories of his youth. “Yeah, I smoked weed, dude, it was awesome. It’s not like they say it is, you know? It felt awesome. Like jerking off but you’re just cumming the whole time. It’s crazy.”
The strokes of his comedic craftsmanship are layered throughout the pages to the point where you can easily lose track of the fact that he’s dealing with real people and tragedy. I must admit, I laughed out loud when I read the book. I mean how can you not when, amongst other things, there’s a juxtaposition between his Oakland experiences and those at Sea Gate visiting his Chassidic father; it’s the classic fish out of water tale, you know, pot to peyes.
However, there are elements of sadness that equally permeate through his words. There’s something tangible in the slow decay that is Moishe’s younger self just looking to be part of something, anything.
The book is broken-down into five sections, and speaking with Kasher (pictured left), he himself admits, “By the time you get to the fourth section I don’t know if there are any laughs left in the book.” I suppose there comes a point where there’s nothing funny to say, no funny innuendo to include and where the only thing left to do is to admit your problems and hope you have the courage to deal with them. While there are moments of great sympathy for his plight, Kasher never dials in the guilt; it’s simply his story and he’s telling it.
As Kasher puts it, “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel” even while you watch him slowly descend one painfully wrong turn after another. It’s Kasher’s wit, charm and honesty that drive the book.
And as outrageous as it all seems, many aspects of his story are relatable and it’s here where an emotional connection to Kasher’s memoir is found. Not the whole steadfast descent into the seedier underbelly of urban Oakland life but rather the youthful experiences of divorced parents, resulting familial relationships, drug experimentation, school bullying, and most importantly finding one’s way through it all.
(Moshe Kasher was recently in Montreal for the Just for Laughs Festival and is currently doing everything he can to hawk his excellent book while being a serious stand-up comedy machine. Check him out at www.moshekasher.com)
Fredy M. Luni is going back to school to make something of himself. Keep reading what he has to say about Jewish stuff happening in Montreal and his musings on being kinda new to this city.