Actually, not that many. Our family is small, and has experienced negative population growth in recent years. I have very few relatives named Eisenstadt, and I have had, in my fifty-plus years only a handful of conversations with unrelated Eisenstadts. When I lived in Park Slope, at 576 5th street, there was a woman living at 578 5th Street named Jane Eisenstadt, and we chatted a few times. Then there are the famous Eisenstadts, whom I only have read about. Probably topping the list is S.N. Eisenstadt, the Israeli sociologist and dedicated Weberian, who like the great Max himself, seems to have written or edited volumes on every possible arena of human social endeavor. In my field, there’s Abraham S. Eisenstadt, a distinguished American historian who taught for many years at Brooklyn College, and who is an expert on historiography. We spoke once. There’s the novelist Jill Eisenstadt, who was very fashionable in the 1980s and early 1990s, but seems to have less productive lately. And there are the talmudists, such as Meir ben Izkak Eisenstadt, known in the trade by his acronym, the Maharam Esh, one of the most gifted writers of responsa in 18th century Europe, and not to be confused with his 19th century successor, Meir Eisenstadter, another peerless talmudist. (My branch of the family has spent less time in the cheder, I am afraid.) And then there are the variant spellings, such as Stuart Eizenstat, an advisor to Jimmy Carter, and active for many years in obtaining financial justice for Holocaust survivors, and the most famous Eisenstadt (or Eisenstaedt) of them all, the photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, he of Life magazine, and the famous photo of the V-J day embrace in Times Square. Perhaps my favorite variant spelling is the mellifluous Oona Ajzenstat (pronounced Eisenstadt), who has written on the important French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. And then there are translations into other languages, most commonly Hebrew, and there are many Israeli Barzalis who have an Eisenstadt somewhere in their family tree.
All of this is to say, that Eisenstadt is a sufficiently uncommon name that when I hear of a new Eisenstadt, my ears prick up, eager to add another number to our smallish ranks. And this week, a new Eisenstadt was added to the list of famous Eisenstadts (sort of), Martin Eisenstadt. As was revealed a few days ago, Martin Eisenstadt was a creation of two hoaxers, who invented Martin Eisenstadt as a senior fellow of the non-existent Harding Institute for Freedom and Justice (named after Warren G. Harding, one of the least distinguished of American presidents, though if you ask me I prefer him to his predecessor). And Martin Eisenstadt had a blog, where he confirmed tidbits such as Sarah Palin’s ignorance of the status of Africa as a continent, and his blog posts were read and followed up by a host of other bloggers, and the little flares of rumor were soon fanned into a conflagration of hearsay. And the point of the hoax, like all hoaxes, is to demonstrate the credulity and gullibility of those who had been suckered. Or so argued the hoaxers, that living in a 24-hour news cycle, no filters remain within our news gathering apparatuses, which sucks anything that floats by into its ever-open, ever-insatiable maw.
This is no doubt true, but I will leave to our media critics and analysts, prime among them my dear friend Rob Snyder, to explore the finer and deeper points of this scandal. But my concern is more parochial. Why, invent an Eisenstadt? Why not, say, a Snyder? For starters, there is a Michael Eisenstadt, who toils at a neo conservative think-tank for Middle East policy, who perhaps gave them the idea. The hoaxers said that Jewish neo-cons tend to have very Jewish last names and very un-Jewish first names (Paul Wolfowitz, Jack Abramoff, Michael Chertoff.) I suppose that is true. Eisenstadt is a very Jewish name—I have never heard of a non-Jewish Eisenstadt—but not so ostentatiously Jewish to call attention to itself (Cohen, Levy, D’Israeli.) And many Eisenstadts, starting with myself, have rather un-Jewish first names, starting with mine, first belonging to the rock on which Jesus built his church, the humble fisherman in the Galilee that heard the good news right from the horses’s mouth, as it were. All I can say is that I am grateful the hoaxers did not invent a Peter Eisenstadt. (My phone would still be ringing.) And those who are reading this blog and have never met me, you will have to take it on my shaky assertion that Peter Eisenstadt exists beyond the occasional blog post.