[T]he Babylonian captivity of the Israelites produced social and, yes, technological developments that permanently altered Judaism—that, one might say, made Judaism as a way of life separate from the cult of the Temple in Jerusalem. For it was in that captivity that the synagogue developed—the place for reading and interpreting Torah—and along with it the scribal system by which the debates of the rabbis were recorded, organized, displayed, and passed down to future generations in what we now call the Talmud. And when the Israelites were given the opportunity to return from exile and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple, many—among them some leading rabbis and their devoutest students—chose to stay in Babylon. They had come to prefer the new social structures they had made, and the new technologies formed to sustain those structures.
For those of us residing in the American Babylon, this sounds suspiciously like a parable; but it’s important to see that those who chose to stay behind were often neither frivolous nor culpably assimilated into Babylonian life. Moreover, wise historians doubt whether Judaism could have survived its ultimate diaspora were it not for the cultural forms originally built in that captivity.
In 1990, he married an American girl, a fledgling pianist from Florida. In 1991, he accepted a piano professorship at Indiana University at South Bend—a place best-known for Notre Dame’s football team. Transplanted to northern Indiana, he proceeded to recreate the intense mentoring environment he had known in Moscow, as well as the communal social life he had known in Tblisi. To date, he has recruited more than seventy gifted young pianists, mainly from Russia and Georgia. They bond as a family, with Lexo the stern or soft surrogate father. They make music and party with indistinguishable relish. Lexo’s big house, on a suburban street without sidewalks, is their headquarters. Since separating from his wife in 1999, he has densely decorated the downstairs rooms with an assortment of American, Russian, and Georgian books and embellishments; the upstairs walls remain blank. The basement comprises a Ping-Pong room, a table-hockey room, and a Finnish sauna. The swimming pool outside is used in winter for furious ice baths in alternation with languorous sauna sittings.
South Bend is welcoming, comforting, and incongruous. As new Americans, the members of the Toradze community eat pizza, play basketball, and barbecue salmon in the backyard. They are addicted to such gadgets and amenities as giant TVs and state-of-the-art audio systems. They shop for steak and vodka in the early hours of the morning in vast twenty-four-hour food marts. Their social rituals are Russian or Georgian. So is their informed enthusiasm for jazz, which preceded their arrival. Though they do not attend the football games, Lexo’s excitement was boundless when he discovered that the forward pass was a South Bend invention.