"I am neither an agnostic nor an atheist. I am, as a matter of fact, a Jew and although Jews are devoted in their belief in God, they are not above asking pesky questions sometimes."— Neil Simon

Neil Simon, the most successful and prolific playwright of the 20th century died on August 26, 2018 at the age of 91.

Many of his plays and films were based upon his own life – which was quintessentially Jewish – as he unabashedly used the cadence and culture of Yiddishkeit to provide the story lines, humor, and pathos. Simon was manifestly swayed by the sounds of Yiddish-accented English. For example, his first stage success, “Come Blow Your Horn” (1961) which centered on two brothers, not unlike his older brother Danny and himself, trying to figure out what to do with their lives. It featured the character actor Lou Jacobi (born Louis Jacobovitch) who reveled in Yiddish patois.

May you and your brother live and be well. God bless you, all the luck in the world, you should know nothing but happiness. If I ever speak to either one of you again, my tongue should fall out!”

Perhaps his most lauded semi-autobiographical work was the “Brighton Beach” trilogy in which he takes his alter ego, Eugene Morris Jerome, from childhood during the Great Depression in “Brighton Beach Memoirs” (1983) to basic training in the Deep South (“Biloxi Blues”) during WW ll (1985), and finally to his burgeoning career as a young writer in “Broadway Bound (1986).”

In honor of Neil Simon we look at some of his memorable quotes:

Neil Simon’s Characters On God

1937: The height of the Depression. The overburdened Jerome family already has three extra mouths to feed.

BROTHER: You really think there’ll be a war, Pop? ...

POP: We’re already in it. ... If you’re Jewish, you’ve got a cousin suffering somewhere in the world.

BROTHER: How many relatives do we have in Europe?

MA: Enough. Uncles, cousins. I have a great-aunt. Your father has nephews.

BROTHER: What if they got to America? Where would they live? Where would we put them?

POP: What God gives us to deal with, we deal with. –


MA: You’ll go to temple this weekend. You’ll pray all day Saturday.

POP: There are men in that temple who’ve been praying for 40 years. You know how many prayers have to get answered before my turn comes up?

MA: Your turn’ll come up. God has time for everybody. — “Brighton Beach Memoirs”

Neil Simon’s on Logic

EUGENE: I bought a quarter pound of butter this morning? Why don’t you buy a half pound at a time?

MA: And suppose the house burned down his afternoon? Why do I need an extra quarter pound of butter?

EUGENE: If my mother taught logic in high school, this would be some weird country. – “Brighton Beach Memoirs “

On Being A Jewish Kid During the Depression

EUGENE: How am I ever going to play for the Yankees with a name like Eugene Morris Jerome? You have to be a Joe or a Tony. All the best Yankees are Italian. My mother makes spaghetti with ketchup, what chance do I have? – “Brighton Beach Memoirs “

On Introspection

AUNT BLANCHE: [to her daughter] If you feel cheated that [your disabled sister] gets more than you, then I feel cheated that I had a husband who died at 36. There is no leg more crippling than a human being who thrives on his own misfortunes. After a while it becomes your life's work. If it's taken your pain to get me to start living again, then God will give me the strength to make it up to you, but I will not go back to being that frightened, helpless woman that I created! I've already buried someone I love. Now it's time to bury someone I hate. – “Brighton Beach Memoirs “

On Jews, Gentiles, and Anti-Semitism

EUGENE (to audience): If the Germans only knew what was coming over, they would be looking forward to this invasion. I’m Eugene Morris Jerome of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and you can tell I’ve never been away from home before. In my duffel bag are twelve pot roast sandwiches my mother gave me. – “Biloxi Blues”

Another recruit, Epstein, a scrawny Jewish “philosopher” who despite provocation from his sergeant, time and again stood tall.

EPSTEIN (to the Sergeant): I just don’t think it’s necessary to dehumanize a man in order to get him to perform. You can get better results raising our spirits than lowering our dignity. – “Biloxi Blues”

On Wisdom

POP: When I was a boy in temple, I looked at the old men and thought, ‘They're so wise. They must know all the secrets of the world.' I'm a middle‑aged man and I don't know a damn thing. Wisdom doesn't come with age. It comes with wisdom. – “Broadway Bound”

On Family

1949: The Table

KATE (THE MOTHER): My grandfather made this table. With his own hands. For my grandmother. Over 52 years she had this table. When I was a little girl, I’d go to her house and she’d let me help her polish it. When she died, she left a will. But she knew what I wanted. The table you eat on means everything. It’s the one time in the day the whole family is together. This is where you share things. People who eat out all the time don’t get to be a family.


EUGENE: Mom didn't do anything very exciting with the rest of her life except wax her grandmother's table and bask in the joy of her sons' success. But I never got the feeling that Mom felt she sacrificed herself for us. I guess she was never comfortable with words like I love you. A hard life can sometimes knock the sentiment out of you. – “Broadway Bound”

Among all of Simon’s works, his last major hit, “Lost in Yonkers,” (1991) stands alone as a serious, unsentimental and painful look at a family in crisis. At the center is an uncompromising Jewish mother and the effect she had on her grown children and two young grandchildren placed temporarily in her care. The humor wafts above the undercurrent of rancor, despair, and pathos.

Truth Has Many Faces” (Yiddish proverb)

1942

GRANDSON: I just want to say thank you for taking us in, Grandma. I know it wasn’t easy for you.

GRANDMA: Dot’s right. It vasn’t.

GRANDSON: It wasn’t easy for us either. But I think I learned a lot since I’m here. Some good and some bad. Do you know what I mean, Grandma?

GRANDMA: You’re not afraid to say the truth. Dot’s good ... You want to hear what my truth is? ... Everything hurts. Whatever it is you get good in life, you also lose something.

GRANDSON: I guess I’m too young to understand that.

GRANDMA: And I’m too old to forget it.


GRANDMA: It’s not so important data you hate me ... It’s only important data you live.