Jacobo’s Rain­bow

By – May 3, 2021

Jacobo’s Rain­bow opens on June 10, 1980, the fif­teenth anniver­sary of the day Jacobo Toledano was sent to jail, an event that would define the rest of his life.

In the ear­ly 60s, Jacobo leaves his tiny New Mex­i­can enclave of Arroyo Grande, where a small, insu­lar com­mu­ni­ty has exist­ed for over two hun­dred years. He has been care­ful­ly schooled to keep his back­ground to him­self. Aaron, his father, has often told him, Speak­ing is sil­ver, silence is gold.”

The tall, red-beard­ed Jacobo arrives at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Taos as an out­sider — a naïve, unso­phis­ti­cat­ed young man unac­cus­tomed to the nuances, cul­ture, and pace of mod­ern soci­ety. He becomes involved with a protest group advo­cat­ing for the Free Speech Move­ment and an end to the Viet­nam War. Its lead­ers — Myles, a self-aggran­diz­ing manip­u­la­tor, and the volatile and con­temp­tu­ous Clau­dia — con­vince Jacobo to join their cause. They instruct him to keep a run­ning jour­nal and make sketch­es of cam­pus events and con­fronta­tions. He par­tic­i­pates in the takeover of a uni­ver­si­ty build­ing, and dur­ing the takeover, he real­izes how much duplic­i­ty, hypocrisy, and hate lie beneath the sur­face on both sides of the con­flict. He leaves the build­ing with the valu­able and incrim­i­nat­ing note­book. Jacobo and Her­zl, a Jew tar­get­ed as the protest’s Judas, become the sub­jects of a police hunt after the takeover is crafti­ly defused by Myles. They steal a small boat and hope to row down the riv­er to the safe­ty of Arroyo Grande.

In Jacobo’s Rain­bow, Hir­sh­berg presents a how-to guide for polit­i­cal unrest, art­ful­ly paint­ing a pic­ture of how caus­es take root and find their lead­ers, and depict­ing the pub­lic and pri­vate per­sonas of false prophets as well as the men­tal­i­ty of hang­ers-on and mobs.

Anti­semitism is a major theme in the nov­el, which Jacobo becomes aware of from his Jew­ish friends’ sto­ries, which illus­trate the pre­car­i­ous­ness of Jews’ lives around the world. There are also hints and clues about the Toledano fam­i­ly. Their very names, as well as their sto­ries, say­ings, and cus­toms are part of the secret his­to­ry that Jacobo even­tu­al­ly shares with his friends.

Hir­sh­berg explores many oth­er themes, from the treat­ment of sol­diers return­ing from Viet­nam to the issues fac­ing Native Amer­i­cans. With a fast-mov­ing plot, well-drawn char­ac­ters, and an inspir­ing mes­sage, Hir­sh­berg has giv­en read­ers an engag­ing, thought­ful, and orig­i­nal story.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of the Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Pro­gram­ming and Health Coor­di­na­tors and as a mem­ber of the Advo­ca­cy Committee.

She has vol­un­teered as a docent at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the all- impor­tant lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of David Hirshberg

  1. What does the author mean in the Pro­logue when he writes, My guess is that you’re going to believe this is fic­tion; that would be a delusion”?

  2. How does the open­ing para­graph in Chap­ter One – Until 1960, all of us in Arroyo Grande were igno­rant of elec­tric­i­ty and auto­mo­biles, were unaware of plas­tic, steel, or homog­e­niza­tion, hadn’t been exposed to vac­cines, x‑rays, or Freud, weren’t acquaint­ed with Shake­speare or Hem­ing­way, had nev­er lis­tened to Gersh­win or Mozart, couldn’t have imag­ined Les Demoi­selles d’Avignon or The Star­ry Night, didn’t know what JFK, DNA, SOS, IBM, CIA, or RBI stood for, were unin­formed of the exis­tence of George or Book­er T. Wash­ing­ton and assumed that Eng­land, France, Spain, and Por­tu­gal were still the most pow­er­ful nations on earth. We used sas­safras roots as tooth­paste, made paper from pulp and col­ored it with plant dyes, played the lute and the lyre, and used per­cus­sion instru­ments made from ani­mal skins. And we nev­er went to sleep with­out our par­ents say­ing, Then all shall sit under their vines and under their fig trees and none shall make them afraid.” – man­i­fest itself through­out the book?

  3. Did the open­ing para­graph give any­thing away or were you sur­prised to learn about the ori­gins of Jacobo’s community?

  4. The author drops tells like bread­crumbs to presage lat­er events. Can you iden­ti­fy some of the impor­tant ones?

  5. What was the pur­pose of the Holy­man stories?

  6. Were you sur­prised that Jacobo bond­ed with Her­zl almost imme­di­ate­ly? To what do you attribute his feel­ing of closeness?

  7. Despite Jacobo not being a per­fect cit­i­zen, do you under­stand why he kept a cen­tral event a secret and if so, how do you think you would have behaved in a sim­i­lar situation?

  8. The two major’ minor char­ac­ters are Ben Veniste and Nava­jo Joe with whom Jacobo has many impor­tant inter­ac­tions. Do you see a sim­i­lar­i­ty in the rela­tion­ships that Jacobo has with each one? Or not?

  9. Have you ever faced the kind of anti-Semi­tism that’s fea­tured in the book and if so, how have you dealt with it?

  10. Aside from Jacobo, who is the sec­ond most impor­tant char­ac­ter in the book and why do you feel that way?

  11. For those of you who lived through the Viet­nam War era, what mem­o­ries did the scene in Viet­nam res­onate with you? Or the scene after­wards when Jacobo is still in uni­form and returns to the University?

  12. Do you see any par­al­lels with what went on in the Free Speech Move­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Taos and what’s going on at col­lege cam­pus­es today?

  13. Why do you think the author wrote of Her­zl that his mis­sion was to com­bat anti- Semi­tes” and not anti-Semitism?

  14. Were you affect­ed (or not) in the same way as Her­zl was dur­ing the run-up to the Six Day War of 1967?