Jacobo’s Rain­bow

  • Review
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