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Lukeford.net Lacks Ethnic Diversity

Chaim Amalek writes: Lukeford.net has become way too jewish in recent months. Old jewish producers, jewish lawyers who then became jewish producers, rabbis, jewish writers, jewsjewsjooz. Even when you occasionally interview a Roman Catholic, it concerns what he wrote about the jews. At least your old site had some ethnic diversity to it, thanks to all the lapsed Christian prostitute/actresses you'd interview. This new site is nothing but all jews, all the time. And nary a person of color in sight on your site - don't they exist in Los Angeles?

Khunrum writes: Chaim brings up an excellent point. Why don't you interview some defrocked pedophile Roman Catholic priests for a change? Where did I just read that 70s rock star Gary Glitter spent Christmas Eve behind bars in Phnom Phen and was then deported. You guessed it, he was doing a Father Gary on underaged youngsters...

Producer Daniel H. Blatt

I spoke with Dan Blatt 1/7/03 by phone about Edgar J. Scherick after running into him at Scherick's funeral in December, 2002.

Producer Daniel H. Blatt chooses his words carefully, like a lawyer. We first met at his home a year ago.

We sit down on Monday, January 7, 2002, and talk about his life and work.

Blatt has a younger sister Ruth Blatt Merkatz (who's got a Ph.D. in nursing and started the female section of the FDA), and younger brother Philip (a doctor).

Daniel stands 5'8" and walks with a severe limp due to nerve damage in his right leg. He still plays golf regularly (handicap 11).

Born in 1937, Blatt attended Philips Andover Academy from 1951-55. In 1959, he graduated from Duke and in 1962 from Northwestern University School of Law.

He then worked for various law firms in New York City as well as served on the civil rights group Lawyers' Constitutional Defense Committee in Jackson, Mississippi in 1964. The LCDC recruited and dispatched attorneys to represent freedom riders and civil rights protesters arrested in the Deep South as well as supported the ACLU's amicus brief in Loving v. Virginia, the landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional.

After serving on a thousand legal cases, Blatt burned out on his profession and moved into entertainment. From 1970-75, he was Vice President of Palomar Pictures, overseeing 1972's Sleuth, 1972's The Heartbreak Kid, 1974's The Taking of Pelham 123 and 1974's The Stepford Wives.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1976, Blatt independently produced seven feature films (1985's Let's Get Harry, 1983's Cujo, 1982's Independance Day, 1980's The Howling, 1977's I Never Promised You A Rose Garden) and almost 30 TV movies including 1999's The Virginian, 1995's Kissinger and Nixon, 1989's Common Ground, 1987's Sworn To Silence, 1986's A Winner Never Quits, 1984's V- The Final Battle, 1983's Sadat, 1977's Raid On Entebbe, and 1976's A Circle Of Children.

Judy Brownstein Blatt of Los Angeles divorced Daniel in 1991. They have two daughters, Jessica, 22 years old, and Chelsea, 18. A graduate of George Washington University, Jessica, now works at the Endeavor Talent Agency.

Judy received an M.A. in psychology in 1994 after a TV/film acting career, and now works in the mental health field in Santa Monica.

I walk up to Blatt's home at 9:50 AM. His garage is filled with trash from the extensive remodeling going on inside. I knock on the door and when it opens, I'm jumped on by a friendly red dog. Blatt's beautiful blonde assistant brings me in and I wait on the couch for 20 minutes, playing with the dog.

Daniel finishes his phone call to Germany and we sit down at his table while workmen labor around us.

Luke: "Has your background in criminal law helped you deal with Hollywood?"

Daniel: "Not really. Though I've done a lot of lawyer shows."

Luke: "Which projects have had the most meaning for you?"

Daniel pauses for 30 seconds and looks through his resume. He speaks in a low voice. His words are few initially until he gathers steam.

"I like them all. The first one I really produced, The Raid On Entebbe, had a lot of meaning to me.

"My parents (Kurt and Trudy) fled the Nazis in Germany in 1934. I grew up in a household where persecution of the Jews was drilled into my soul overtly and inovertly.

"My father was a doctor working at a Jewish hospital. Shortly after the Nazis took over, he noticed regulations for Jewish doctors. He took my mother to Paris for their honeymoon for two weeks and then met his brother Max in Barcelona. Then they came to America.

"After my parents arrived, they brought my mother's side of the family over to Buenos Aires, Argentina. My mother didn't see her family for 17 years.

"My father brought his side of the family to America. They didn't have any money. Travel wasn't easy. There was a depression.

"The Raid On Entebbe represented the Jews reacting to victimhood in a positive way. I grew up in a very Jewish house. Then after I was Bar Mitvahed, I said 'enough of this' and I moved away from it. And then suddenly to be brought back into this thing was almost like a gift, a circle that I'd completed. Also, Sadat was part of that cycle."

Luke: "Did working on that Entebbe movie affect your Jewish identity afterwards?"

Daniel: "Yes, that's what I was trying to say."

Luke: "How?"

Daniel: "It was coming back to my roots."

Luke: "So did you start keeping shabbos?"

Daniel laughs. "Let's not go that far."

Luke: "Have you visited Israel?"

Daniel: "A couple of times.

"The raid on Entebbe happened July 14, 1976. We started shooting in October. And it aired on January 14th, 1977."

Luke: "Did you have to buy the rights?"

Daniel: "No, it was a big thing. Everybody wanted this story. Every studio. There were three Entebbe movies made."

Marvin J. Chomsky directed the first Entebbe movie to air - 1976's Victory at Entebbe which was shot in four days.

"The bargain-basement production values that mark this quickie shoot-em-up, filmed and released literally months after the dramatic Israeli commando raid," writes John Barnes on IMDB.com, "would be enough to consign this turkey to the dustbin of TV history. But it gets worse. The audience can play spot-the-star as Hollywood legends Liz Taylor, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Helen Hayes etc., turn in embarrassing cameos. Unintentional hilarity is the only possible response to the scene in which Linda Blair offers a box of chocolates to the flight crew and the terrorists holding them at gunpoint. Mirth gives way to anger, however, when the film depicts unruly hostages being deliberately shot down by Israeli soldiers during the rescue scene! With rescuers like these, who needs hijackers? Raid on Entebbe which came out a year later with Charles Bronson is much the superior account of this operation."

Raid received glowing reviews such as this one at IMDB.com: "This was a superb account of the Israeli raid to rescue Jewish hostages held at the Entebbe airport after a hijack in 1976. The dilemma facing the Israeli government as it tried to decide on a course of action was believably portrayed, the plight of the hostages seemed very real, and, even though one knows what the outcome will be (this, is, after all based on an historical event) I was glued to my seat watching. The cast was excellent (I thought Yaphet Kotto did a marvellous job of portraying Idi Amin.) Even Charles Bronson (whom I have never considered a particularly good actor) did a creditable job as the Israeli officer in overall command of the operation."

Menahem Golan directed 1977's English/Hebrew Entebbe movie Mitzva Yonatan.

Daniel: "The Sadat miniseries was difficult to make. We shot it over 42 days in Mexico. The Egyptians didn't like it for three reasons. One, it was obviously pro-Israel. Two, they felt it didn't portray them accurately. Three, Sadat was a hero to the world but not to them."

Luke: "Have you ever been to Egypt?"

Daniel: "No. I could never go now."

Luke: "You'd never get out."

Daniel: "I thought my 1989 miniseries Common Ground was good. It was adapted from Anthony J. Lukas's Pulitzer Prize winning book."

From IMDB.com: "Fact based story about the racial tensions that occurred in Boston in the 1970's because of court ordered busing to end desegregation. The story focuses on an African-American mother determined to get her children a quality education and a white lawyer trying to deal with inner city problems."

Daniel: "It's a story of America trying to deal with its racism and failing."

Luke: "How would you feel if a bunch of blacks suddenly moved into your neighborhood?"

Daniel smiles with the recognition of a painful truth. He chuckles. "It would reduce the property values."

Luke: "Did you come to any personal conclusions on bussing because of this project?"

Daniel: "Yes, that it doesn't quite work."

Luke: "Another beautiful liberal ideal that doesn't work."

Daniel: "I did a lot of these stories about real people who believed in something and tried to effect change."

Blatt's proud of several movies he made with Christian themes like Miracle On The 17th Green, A Town Without Christmas, and Tecumseh: The Last Warrior.

Luke: "In your Kissinger and Nixon movie, did you deal with Kissinger?"

Daniel: "Only when he was trying to sue me."

Luke: "Why did he threaten to sue you?"

Daniel: "Because he said that what we were saying about him wasn't true."

Luke: "Wasn't it based on the book by Walter Isaacson?"

Daniel: "Yes it was."

Luke: "Why didn't he sue Isaacson?"

Daniel: "A book is read by a few thousand people. A TV movie is seen by millions of people.

"Our movie had two terrific performances by Ron Silver and Beau Bridges. Kissinger grew up in Washington Heights which is where my Aunt Gretchen lived. When I watched Ron Silver portray him with the little belly and the ferocious temper. He couldn't suffer fools gladly. It was like watching my father.

"When you're telling stories about people, I've realized that the cradle to grave approach doesn't work. When I did Tecumsah, it was cradle to grave. They made a mistake in Ali in trying to cover the whole story. And you wind up with no story. You don't get a sense of the character. Kissinger and Nixon was them negotiating the peace treaty in 1972. And if you do it properly, you will learn everything there is to know about the characters."

Luke: "What did Kissinger deny?"

Daniel: "In the original script, there was a lot of stuff about wiretapping between him and the president. Kissinger said he'd never behave like that. He wanted to be portrayed as a man who only wore white clothes and a white hat."

Luke: "Because of his legal threats, you changed the script?"

Daniel: "We made some changes because of fear of a lawsuit."

Luke: "If Isaacson had documented it, how could you get sued?"

Daniel: "It came down to how far the corporation wanted to go taking a legal risk."

Luke: "How did Kissinger like the final product?"

Daniel: "I don't know. He certainly didn't call me."

Luke: "I thought the movie was sympathetic to Kissinger. He came across far more admirably than did Nixon."

Daniel: "Yeah. Kissinger engineered that great peace treaty. But he was questioning our portrayal of his methods. 'I never told a lie. I never wiretapped. I never misled the president. I never told a lie to the North Vietnamese. I didn't leave the South Vietnamese hanging in the wind. I totally trusted Haig.'"

The New York Times review of Isaacson's biography says: "Mr. Nixon's Presidency was pathological, and Mr. Isaacson's book abundantly shows that Mr. Kissinger was part of that pathology. Their psychological excesses set precedents for some of the country's most ignoble humiliations. As Mr. Isaacson points out, the wiretapping of colleagues and friends that was secretly authorized or abetted by Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger "ultimately led to the plumbers, which led to Watergate.""

Luke: "Was Kissinger a big womanizer or did he just like to be seen with women?"

Daniel: "I didn't follow him to the bedroom. He certainly liked to be seen with women."

Luke: "Who are some of the most difficult actors you've had to work with?"

Daniel: "You'll get me in trouble."

He motions to me to turn off my tape recorder and then gives me a few names. When he's ready to list off which actors were great to work with, I turn my tape recorder back on.

Luke: "Were you disappointed with any of your movies?"

Daniel: "They were all disappointing. Initially I see all the things that could've been better. Then I look at them later and I realize they weren't bad. You get too close to a picture."

Luke: "How do you measure whether a picture was a success? By an internal or external barometer?"

Daniel: "If you consider yourself an artist, you do it for yourself. But in today's world, you have to measure your audience. We don't operate in our own world, we operate in a commercial world."

Luke: "Are there any critics you respect?"

Again I must turn off the tape recorder.

Daniel: "If my family and friends like my movie, they call. If they don't like it, they don't call."

Luke: "What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?"

Daniel: "I like working on scripts and on post-production. Shooting is not my favorite."

Luke: "Working on scripts and post is where you have the most control. Is that why it is your favorite? Because there are fewer variables?"

Daniel: "Yes."

A workman asks Daniel for permission to squueze past to grab a garden hose.

Daniel: "You can do whatever you want. This house is now your house, not mine."

Blatt turns back to me. "When you're shooting, you're dealing with limited time. You've got to be careful. You're limited in how many times you can ask to do it differently. Egos, tension, time and money."

Luke: "Why can you tweak a script and make it better than the professional screenwriter can?"

Daniel: "First, I've made all these pictures. I've got a track record. For a good screenplay you need a good plot, a story that keeps moving. Scenes have to have conflict. And in each scene, you should learn more about your characters. In the end, it's about your characters. When you think about all the great movies, it's about the characters. When you think about all the great movies, you don't think of the plot. You think of the characters. You need characters that are interesting, unpredictable, faulty."

Luke: "What do you think are your strengths as a producer? Finding good material?"

Daniel: "Yes, and that I am a leader. And I'm not afraid to work. And I have a lot of enthusiasm."

Luke: "What makes a good leader in producing a movie?"

Daniel: "It's like playing sports. If you grew up playing sports, you saw what it was like to have a good coach or a bad coach. First thing, you have to be honest and knowledgeable. You have to see the entire picture and be able to get the best out of every person. Every person who works on a picture is an artist in his own way whether it is a costume designer, prop guy, writer, DP... Each person has to be treated to be differently. Some people you have to be tougher on and some people you have to encourage. And if they're not doing a good job, you have to get rid of them."

Luke: "What sports did you play as a teenager?"

Daniel: "Football, basketball and golf. I played quarterback at Andover."

Luke: "Do you think Hollywood is the greatest business in the world?"

Daniel: "It's not boring. I don't know if it is the greatest."

Luke: "What's it like raising kids in Hollywood?"

Daniel: "It's tough on a marriage because you're not around much."

Luke: "Your sister was such a driven woman."

Daniel: "We were all driven. That's what we were taught. 'You've got to work hard.'"

Luke: "You didn't like the sight of blood. That's why you went into law?"

Daniel: "When I was a five year-old kid, I followed my father as he made housecalls. When I was six, I had already seen dead people. The office was in the house. He was a GP (General Practitioner) - he did everything except real surgery. I still remember the sign - $3 for a doctor's visit, $4 for a housecall.

"I grew up in the little town of 2500 people, Halvestol, New York. It's 60 miles outside of New York City. It was a tough blue-collar town."

Luke: "Aren't German Jews regarded as the elite of American Jews?"

Daniel: "They'd like to think that. I grew up thinking that German Jews were the smartest. Then they sent me to Andover. And there I was told we were the cream of the crop."

Luke: "What do you remember about The Stepford Wives?"

Daniel: "It's had an interesting afterlife. It's had a greater afterlife than it had an initial run. It's a famous film now."

Luke: "What did you think of the content of the film. It was an angry feminist film."

Daniel laughs: "Maybe it was in front of its time. I went to visit a friend in Woodland Hills. She says, 'Come up here and visit us. We're in Stepfordville.' I thought it was an interesting concept."

Luke: "Could you make a film you passionately disagreed with?"

Daniel: "I couldn't."

Luke: "So your films are a reflection of your sensibilities?"

Daniel: "Unless you're independently wealthy, you have to make a living. There are some things that you do to get by. But if someone has done more than five films, you can look at the body of work and see the humanity of the person behind it."

Luke: "Some people then really scare me. Like Director Martin Scorsese and his bloody violent vision."

Daniel: "He's got a dark violent view. If a person has had the opportunity to have a say in what he's making, and then you look at the pictures in totality, eventually you will see a common thread. I'd like to think that my pictures reflect my belief that one person can make a difference. If people are passionate about some issue, they can effect change. Tecumseh was about one man who wanted to unite all the Indian tribes and drive the white man out of North America. Tecumseh was a Christ-like figure. He was born under a sign."

The O’Keefe Family: Normal, or an Unbearable Show?

Cecile du Bois writes: On the WB in the upcoming spring, we anticipate many shows; some shows will be incredibly stupid, and some others will be hits, but most of them will be cancelled within a few months.

The O’Keefe Family is one of those shows that will probably have a successful future yet remain unbearable to most of the WB’s audience. You always think of an offbeat family that is just slightly different than you, but the O’Keefe family is classified in a different definition of “weird”. The family is home-schooled, so attending a public high school is a different atmosphere. The father, a rigid educated man in his 40’s, has second thoughts about letting his children attend public school from the nest he and his wife built for them, teaching their children six languages daily, along with other subjects. On the other hand, the mother, a blond attractive woman in her 40’s, has a softer touch and lets the children go to public school.

The comedy jumps the shark. When the children strive to persuade their father to let them go to the school, the mother chimes in and recalls hearing in the library herson flirting with the girl Becky they see in the library often. The son drawls that he “likes her,” and his sister repeats that. As a lame joke, the father shouts “AND NOW MY DAUGHTER IS A LESBIAN!” While eavesdropping in the library, the mother looks like she is making out and having an orgasm by herself. The speaking “six languages” is overly played as the kids speak Portuguese publicly and the next-door neighbor thinks they are speaking the language of the “cult”.

The cheerleaders do a makeover on the daughter, but after her father commanding her to “wash off your harlot’s mask”; they scrutinize her and leave her in the hands of a “geek”. The high school atmosphere is so unrealistic that you cannot even believe that teens will watch this. Every other teenage boy wears a Mohawk and every other girl is a cheerleader. The portrayals of the characters are so nauseating; you may as well watch Seventh Heaven or Everwood. The show is just a spoof of Seventh Heaven, who knows what the future may hold for the survival of the WB. Ever since Buffy made its way to UPN, the quality of WB's shows plummeted while rival networks flourished.

Who Wants To Be An Academic?

Reflecting back on my pranking Who Wants To Marry A Multi-Millionaire?, I'm now wondering about a new reality show for Fox - Who Wants To Be An Academic? The winner, who never graduated from college, would get to teach at some Ivy League school and meet really hot and young and fertile, and very possibly Jewish, chicks.

These thoughts were stimulated by my desire to interview Ari Goldman and Sam Freedman at the Columbia School of Journalism about Stephen Fried's new book. Fried got a part-time teaching gig at Columbia thanks in part to Freedman. Could you see Luke Ford teaching journalistic ethics?

I might even wander over to the Religion Department and meet that hot shicksa-Jew-Christian Lauren Winner, not that I condone evaluating women on the basis of their looks.

Poet Leroi Jones writes Luke: Even when I draw you a roadmap, you choose to interview dispeptic jewish men who want to share share share their FFFFFEEEEEEEEEEEEELINGS with the world.

I believe that the well deserved reputation of Jewish men as nebishes who sue, sue, sue is leading Jewish women to seek the comfort of the anti-Jew, the shvartze. Very few shvartzes are to be seen shopping at Zabars.

I was a big man in Brownsville. That was back in the day - the sixties, when we took off after the Jewish-run teachers union.

Ishmael Reed writes: What makes you think Luke has a chance with Sarah Silverman? Luke doesn't have a chance with Sarah Silverman's personal assistant. Luke couldn't *be* Sarah Silverman's personal assistant. The job requires a reliable automobile. Don't think I haven't asked.

Cecile du Bois On Anti-Semitism In The Classroom

Cecile du Bois writes: Last year, I witnessed a classmate of mine beating the back of another classmate while calling him a "f***ing Jew".

When we were studying the Inquisition, we had to do skits of torture scenes. It was seen as "educational" and since I am Jewish, I had to act the part of the victim. The teacher assured me that it would be serious, but to the rest of the class, it was amusing. I marched to the teacher and complained about it, and she could easily see it happening, but she merely said that if it happens again to tell her. Well, I did not want it to "happen again", so I later told the principal at the school.

Still, even this year, I hear anti-Semitic phrases. "F***ing Hebe" and other phrases were commonly heard. Again, I complained to the principals, but this time, they came in to the classroom and warned that if anyone said another racial slur, they would be suspended or even expelled. From that moment on, I never heard "F***ing Hebe" again.

Still, I hear snorts of laughter coming from a phrase with the word "Jew" as the butt of the jokes. I sadly shrug and know that we are meant to be made fun of, for since we are the oldest religion, we may as well be the butt of the jokes. We can never wipe out anti-Semitism, but we could behave ourselves to make the anti-Semites look like asses. If we just shrug it off and stand up for ourselves, we are on the road to a world in peace, but if we make a big schtick out of it, we are just making ourselves equivalent to the anti-Semites.

Will This Be Dick Riordan's Ballyhooed Paper?

Ken Layne writes: "The next Salon-style thing will be based in Los Angeles. It will be a cross between Slate, Gawker and L.A. Examiner. And unless somebody wants to die, I'll get a paycheck from it."

Girl Meets God

Lauren Winner, a girl who converted to Orthodox Judaism and then orthodox Christianity, is the female version of Chaim Amalek, though much slimmer and more attractive.

From Publishers Weekly: "Raised by a lapsed Baptist mother and secular Jewish father, Winner feels a drive toward God as powerful as her drives toward books and boys. Twice she has attempted to read her way into religion to Orthodox Judaism her freshman year at Columbia, and then four years later at Cambridge to Anglican Christianity. Twice she has discovered that a religion's actual practitioners may not measure up to its theoretical proponents. (Invariably the boyfriends or their mothers disappoint.) It is easier to say what this book is not than what it is. It is not a conversion memoir: Winner's movement in and out of religious frames, but does not tell, her tale. It is not a defense of either faith (there is something here to offend every reader); and Winner, a doctoral candidate in the history of religion, is in her 20s young for autobiography. Because most chapters, though loosely related to the Christian church year, could stand alone, it resembles a collection of essays; but the ensemble is far too unified to deserve that label. Clearly it is memoir, literary and spiritual, sharing Anne Lamott's self-deprecating intensity and Stephen J. Dubner's passion for authenticity. Though Winner does not often scrutinize her motives, she reveals herself through abundant, concrete and often funny descriptions of her life, inner and outer. Winner's record of her own experience so far is a page-turning debut by a young writer worth watching."

From Library Journal: "The book is a humorous, sexually frank portrait of a deeply engaged faith shopper, "stumbling her way towards God." The memoir focuses on her undergraduate years (when she converted to Judaism and then to Christianity) and her life as a doctoral student in religious history at Columbia University. One has a sense that Winner's head is still spinning and that she is still catching up with her changes of heart. The turbulent narrative is at first hard to follow, but its disorder becomes a delight as the author's gentle, self-effacing humor emerges. Winner offers a rare perspective, connecting Christian and Jewish traditions in unexpected ways."

From Booklist: "And yet--while her struggles to take a life turned inside out and make it fit are absorbing, there is enough self-indulgent nattering here to provoke the occasional wince. Also, she sidesteps some of the more difficult questions as she tries to reconcile her Jewishness and Christianity. What, for instance, does she believe is the fate of those not saved?"

Novelist Betty Smartt Carter reviews Lauren Winner's book Girls Meets God in the Nov/Dec 2002 issue of Christianity Today:

[Lauren] lived for a summer with an Orthodox family in New York, learning to make challah and study Talmud, dressing in ankle-length skirts. While at Columbia University, she formally converted to Judaism by going through a ritual bath called a mikvah. Rabbis streamed in to witness the bath, though allowance was made for female modesty:

when I entered the mikvah room, the rabbis all turned their backs, and then, robe on, I plunged into the water. The rabbis heard the splash, and then they filed out of the room. I disrobed, and the mikvah lady supervised my three immersions….And then I was a Jew.

Winner is honest, though, in ascribing much of her disaffection to her own failure as a Jew. After her initial love affair with Judaism, she lost her enthusiasm for it. She didn't study enough, didn't keep the Sabbath. "If it was a marriage," she says, "me to Orthodox Judaism, I failed long before I met up with Jesus. I failed from the beginning."

Having failed as a Jew, Winner set about learning to be a Christian. Ever orthodox by inclination, she found herself theologically most in line with evangelicals. But this made her yet another kind of anomaly: an artsy Ivy League grad student with friends who watched The 700 Club. The juxtaposition exposed the snobbery of her academic community, but it tempted her to snobbery of her own. When she overheard a fellow graduate student suggesting that she might be a fundamentalist Bible-thumper, she wanted to tell him, "No, no, I'm not one of them, I'm one of you. I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, but I also wear fishnet stockings and drink single-malt Scotch."

Besides the sense of being a stranger in at least two worlds, she faced internal struggles: gnawing loneliness, sexual desire, and doubts about Christianity itself. Then there was her nostalgia for the old life. It turned out that Judaism wasn't so easy to walk away from. It had become part of her:

I gave away all my Jewish books and let go of all my Jewish ways, but I realized, as I spent time with other Christians, that Judaism shaped how I saw Christianity….I found my heart sometimes singing Jewish songs. I thought I had given away all my Jewish things, but…I'd just given away some books and mezuzot and candlesticks. I hadn't given up the shape in which I saw the world, or the words I knew for God, and those shapes and words were mostly Jewish.

The task ahead of her was to discover what it meant to have Jewish vision from within the Body of Christ.

A Chat With Author Paul Wilkes - And They Shall Be My People

I speak by phone with author Paul Wilkes 1/6/03 (his 1994 book was And They Shall Be My People: An American Rabbi and His Congregation).

Booklist says: Wilkes, an award-winning writer and a Catholic, spent one year with Jay Rosenbaum, the 42-year-old rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, a Conservative synagogue in an upper-middle-class community in Worcester, Massachusetts. Wilkes followed Rabbi Rosenbaum on his daily rounds--leading the services, performing weddings and conducting funerals, teaching children, and counseling couples. Wilkes interviewed the rabbi, the rabbi's wife, and some of the synagogue members. The rabbi had been at Beth Israel for six years, had started many new programs, and had begun to reverse the demographic trend, attracting younger families into what had been an aging synagogue. But he wanted his people to live more intensely Jewish lives. Consequently, the book explores the complex question, What is the place of the Jewish religion in today's lifestyle? In seeking the answer, Wilkes has written an important book, focusing on a religion at a perilous juncture in time.

From Kirkus Reviews: Sometimes perceptive scenes from the life of a rabbi, as observed through the eyes of a Catholic journalist. Both uneasy hybrids, rabbi and book seek the spiritual but often bog down in the mundane. Wilkes, whose In Mysterious Ways (1990) profiled a parish priest who was stricken with cancer, here attaches himself to Jay Rosenbaum, the 42-year-old rabbi of a midsize Conservative synagogue in Worcester, Mass., who is himself the son of a pulpit rabbi. How does a rabbi stem the Jewish tide of assimilation and indifference in a society where his people have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams? Wilkes has remarkable access to Rosenbaum's long days--not all parts of which are so interesting for a man who is both the synagogue's spiritual leader and chief bottle washer--and we are privy to the rabbi as he counsels noncongregants who want to raise their baby as a Jew even though the expectant mother has no desire to convert to Judaism; leads an acculturation class for Russian immigrants, where sometimes only one or two pupils show up; officiates at a ritual circumcision of the son of marginally observant Jews; visits a congregant who is dying of Alzheimer's; hustles to get congregants to join a trip to Israel that he's leading; tells a tale about a Hebrew-speaking parakeet to the Jewish day school's nursery school class; and haggles with the synagogue's board of directors over a new contract. Several congregants confide to Wilkes that the rabbi is unknowable; to the reader he appears under-appreciated, very caring and very frustrated, but also naive and presumptuous in his desire to make his congregants observant Jews. His wife, overweight and depressed, briefly confides her unhappiness with never seeing her husband; more from this insightful rebbitzen would have been welcome. Wilkes follows the rabbi on the congregational tour of Israel, but it's a choppy, pretty banal travelogue. Also annoying is his sometimes wide-eyed appreciation of his subject as evinced by his references to Rosenbaum as a Moses and as the person charged with the care of his congregants' souls. More respectful reportage than rigorous analysis, Wilkes's latest effort begs the question: If, as statistics proffered here suggest, two-thirds of American Jews today are not affiliated with a synagogue, who's going to buy a book on the nuts and bolts of a rabbi's world?

J3fer writes on Amazon.com: "I can't even begin to imagine the extent of the research Wilkes must have done, but he's managed to get every detail of this book exactly right... you find yourself forgetting it's not written by a Jew. There are many touching moments in this book, particularly when Wilkes focuses on the rabbi's chaotic family life and the sacrifices which, he fears, will all amount to nothing."

From Newsday 11/22/94: Both the strengths and weaknesses of the book result from this outsider's view. Wilkes is sensitive to issues of faith that occupy the clergy of all religions. But at times his unfamiliarity with Jewish history and ritual lead him to some real bloopers. This is especially true in the section on Israel, where he seems to take what he hears at face value - such as the statement that before 1967 Jews had been denied access to the Western Wall for centuries, when in actuality it was during the 19 year from 1948 to 1967 that Jews could not pray there. Despite these failings, this is a strong and honest book, and finishing it one can't help but admire Rosenbaum, his long-suffering wife and a patient and observant author for embarking on this journey. If during the course of reading the book I found myself wishing for something more, it would be for someone to write a novel about a rabbi that lived up to the promise of Paul Wilkes' "Temptations."

Northern California Jewish Bulletin 2/10/95: Rosenbaum is the center of this fascinating book, and Wilkes allots his voice extraordinary space. He's worth every paragraph; his literate musings and sermons address head-on the joy and conflict of Judaism.

"He was at once an informed, modern scholar capable of giving an interesting, contemporary exegesis of ancient truths and a beleaguered Old Testament figure, gnashing his teeth about the inability of his people to embrace and live out those truths," Wilkes writes.

A six-year veteran of Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester, Rosenbaum is "loved and respected by virtually all his people," a community leader, "an exemplary Jew." Considering the number of congregants who were qualified Torah readers and kept kosher homes, he is a success "by any rabbinical measurement."

The battle to make Beth Israel congregants "hear the voice of God" is the primary conflict behind And They Shall Be My People -- though plenty of others arise. Wilkes discusses the synagogue's turf wars with the federation and Rosenbaum's battles over salary and vacation days with the congregation president. He gives behind-the-scenes glimpses of ubiquitous life-cycle events, describing the preparation that a rabbi puts into a funeral, a brit, a get [divorce ceremony].

Wilkes disguises the identities of only a handful of sources, and his access to all is astounding: bedroom conversations, closed-door meetings, temple members speaking of their feelings about faith, the rabbi and each other. The rabbi's wife, Janine, is particularly candid about the vagaries of life as a rebbitzen.

"Sometimes the congregation acts as if they own both of us," she says. She unleashes a wave of frustration when asked about religion, talking wistfully about going from house to house on Shabbat as a child in Seattle. "But then you are the rabbi's wife... What you did before out of conviction and a pure desire becomes expected of you.

"Our Shabbat routine? Ha! We don't have one. We don't rest. Jay is exhausted; We eat, he naps, and he goes back to shul. How am I going to say this? Being the rabbi's wife has sadly bled religion out of me."

Yet Rosenbaum has other worries. While nearly all accord him honor, plenty of criticism goes his way. Rosenbaum tries to overlook the ceaseless grumbling and myriad obstacles. He is sustained by intermittent small victories: a wildly successful Purim event, a joyous wedding for 11 Russian couples, a hard-to-plan Israel trip that finally happens.

Chaim Potok, Legitimate Voyeurism, Forward, 11-04-1994:

"What is my dream?" Rabbi Rosenbaum says to the author. "Here it is: if Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester, Massachusetts, ever became a truly observant community -- just this one synagogue, it would change the face of Conservative Judaism in this country. And that's what we have to aim for -- what I have to aim for. Nothing less."

Despite his clear successes with many of the synagogue's programs, the rabbi gives voice to incessant frustration. He finds in his people no passion for observance. He is not alone in that ocean of discontent.

One of the most troubled individuals in the book is Rabbi Neil Gillman, a professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary whom the author met at the annual national convention of Conservative rabbis. Responding to the question of what went wrong, Rabbi Gillman states, "Conservative Judaism got very satisfied with...all the fine buildings we had the money to construct, but along the way, God got locked out of the synagogue....We never taught them that God listens when they pray....The Orthodox have community, the Reform go to the mall....We're in the middle....And the Conservative movement did a remarkable thing, marrying the best of the tradition and the best of what needed to change....But, internally, we stopped growing. And our rabbis are out there, feeling very lonely and isolated, wondering what to do next."

In this book, what Rabbi Rosenbaum wants to do next is take about 30 members of his congregation to Israel. He hopes that Israel will somehow spark them into becoming the nucleus for the religious revival of the entire congregation. Mr. Wilkes dexterously threads the preparations for this trip into his narrative, providing effective scaffolding for what might otherwise have been a less dramatic book. And his account of the trip -- he accompanied the group -- is an extended piece of serious reporting on the inner dynamics of complacent people caught up in confrontations with their history and their own selves.

Instead of the hoped-for transforming miracle in Israel, a land more secular than America, Rabbi Rosenbaum experiences errors in scheduling, a grating jingoistic Israeli tour guide, complaints about food and hotel rooms and only fleeting epiphanies on the part of a few. He seems not to realize that when Israel effects a dramatic personal change, the flowering will not last long if there is no passionate seedbed back home to nurture it. The Israel trip changes little in the life of his congregation.

We leave Rabbi Rosenbaum wondering about his future and the Beth Israel board of directors mired in meetings about budgets and deficits. And we come away from this book and the Cassandra words of Rabbi Gillman with a disheartening sense of the Conservative movement in disarray and possibly fading into history: its seminary, a once great academy of Jewish learning that produced a number of noted pulpit rabbis and Jewish studies scholars for secular universities, now little more than a good professional school for rabbis; the movement itself an uncertain association of independent synagogues, some wealthy, others struggling, a few with exceptional educational programs, most of them devoid of a Jewish intellectual class and run in the main by service professionals and burghers, who tend to be religiously shallow, shy away from a Judaism of fervor, day schools and intensive Jewish education and are preoccupied with budgets and immediate performance, like corporate executives fixated on the quarterly statement.

The debate about what caused the sudden winking out of the postwar American Jewish renaissance, and whether there is any possibility of a future renewal, still goes on. This book contributes worthily albeit bleakly to that debate.

From the Inside Flap of the book And They Shall Be My People:

Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum is devoted to his congregation of mostly middle- and upper-middle-class Conservative Jews--yet their tepid observance frustrates and saddens him. The rabbi's sometimes troubled, sometimes joyful leadership of Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester, Massachusetts, is the focus of this timely, eloquent, and often moving book. Written by award-winning author Paul Wilkes, And They Shall Be My People presents a complex and human portrait of American Judaism at a critical juncture in time.

For Rabbi Rosenbaum, it is a time of new perils and persistent hope. American Judaism, he believes, has in some sense become a victim of its own considerable success. Now, with the struggle for economic security well behind most American Jews and with anti-Semitism on the wane, the health of the Jewish community is threatened by the easy seductiveness of the secular, mainstream American culture surrounding it. Daily, the rabbi confronts this new, complex challenge to his people's spirituality: How to be a people, a Jewish community, and still be Americans?

As a man of tradition, the rabbi believes deeply that conforming to the expectations of the secular world--higher attendance figures, a larger budget--is the wrong way to strengthen his congregation. He knows he must somehow show his congregation the riches and fulfillment of an observant Jewish life. But even the efforts he makes--taking special care to keep his weekly Shabbat sermons both contemporary and spiritually compelling and bringing a sincere sensitivity to the recurring life-cycle events, the Brit Milah, bar mitzvahs, marriages, and funerals, which mark and shape all Jewish lives--may not be enough to overcome the temptations his congregation confronts daily.

And They Shall Be My People chronicles the rabbi's dream of taking twenty-five of his congregants on a pilgrimage to Israel. There, he hopes, his fellow Jews will be inspired by the palpable history of the Jewish experience, the observant life made accessible by a society living more closely to its religious roots. The book helps us understand why Rabbi Rosenbaum so firmly believes that this experience will inspire his companions, and in turn the larger congregation back home, to renewed faith. And it allows us to see the rabbi in his daily life and work, to glimpse the myriad ways his faith and his role in the congregation shape his own life, his family relationships, and his congregation-providing joy in life, solace in death, a sense of spiritual identity, guidance in matters moral and practical.


I tell Paul Wilkes about Stephen Fried's new book A New Rabbi.

Paul: "I'm glad it's doing well and I'm glad there's another one out."

Luke: "Stephen didn't see the resemblance with your book. He read your book and liked it. But he pointed out that you were different because you weren't Jewish. I think that has nothing to do with the book. You capture Jewish life with telling detail. Did you get that response?"

Paul: "Interesting that you would mention that because that did have something to do with some of the reception of the book. I gave a talk at the Jewish Theological Seminary after it came out and I was afforded a 12-minute at a lunch hour, while everyone was opening their brown bag lunches. I don't think it was taken kindly that I wasn't Jewish."

Luke, amazed: "It wasn't."

Paul: "It was taken as if I were an outsider taking potshots at Jewish life and of course that's not what I do. I try to do be as good as journalist as I can be and tell the story. I'm Roman Catholic and I write a lot about the Catholic church. I just had a piece in the New Yorker a couple of months ago about a parish priest in Boston. It was a warts and all portrait. I'm critical of my own church as well as Judaism, if there's something to be critical about. Yes, I think there was resentment that a non-Jew would write about Jews."

Luke: "It blows me away."

Paul: "Within the Jewish community in America, there's always that feeling that a slight or epithet is just one comment or in the back of people's mind. There's a wariness of the non-Jew, that you won't understand what we go through. Of course you as a journalist and I as a journalist realize that if you are open to the experience, you can indeed come into the center of a story. I virtually lived as a Jew for a year. I wore a kipa all the time when I was with the rabbi. I went to Israel with him. I did a lot of reading on it. By the end of the year, I knew more about Judaism than 95% of my Jewish friends. Just by being there, not because I'm so smart."

Luke: "I loved your book. I couldn't put it down. I went right through it. You captured all the nuances of Jewish life and I don't think it matters a damn that you are not Jewish."

Paul: "I didn't feel it mattered either but that's ok. I'm a big boy. I can take it."

Luke: "Were you invited by other Jewish organizations?"

Paul: "Oh yeah. I gave a lot of talks after the book came out. I was certainly not invited to the rabbinical convention, the one that I wrote about."

Luke: "They didn't take kindly to your comments?"

Paul: "I don't think so. It was a case of we don't want to show anything untoward, unsavory or unpleasant. People will jump on that. That's the way that [Jews] are. It's not the way that they are. It's the way that human beings are. They just happen [in this book] to be Jewish and this is what they go through in dealing with a leader.

"A funny thing happened at the end of the book. The Worcester Telegram did a big story on it and said it's amazing that this rabbi seems so wonderful yet at the end of the book the synagogue was not going to give him a raise. I guess that's in the epilogue. Then of course they gave him a big raise and a new contract. I don't think they really appreciated who they had until he became more of a public figure. He just got a congregation in Seattle [Herzl Ner Tamid]. His wife, a daughter of [Holocaust] survivors, always wanted to get back there. That book, if they ever wanted to do any investigation on a rabbi, here it is. Yet they hired him. That's a proof of something."

Luke: "He comes across well in the book."

Paul: "I think so."

Luke: "Though with some illusions about his ability to get people to become observant. Few Conservative Jews are observant of Jewish Law."

Paul: "You're always looking [as a writer] for those moments in a story that give you insight. I think the whole thing over in Israel where his wife said, 'Let's make aliyah,' and he says no. In Israel they could be 110% Jewish, he says no. I always thought of that as a corollary to his people also saying, 'Yeah, I like the idea of it but I don't think so.'"

Luke: "What was the other fallout for him and his wife? His wife was quite bitter about the community."

Paul: "She's probably still angry to this day about the book."

Luke: "About the book? Not just the congregation?"

Paul: "About the book. She felt too exposed by it. Her weight problem. She was gaining weight and couldn't shop in the stores and all that.

"Before the book came out, I gave the galleys to the rabbi. I told him, 'I don't want any corrections. I don't want any comments. You're not going to rewrite the book. Is it accurate? That's all I want to know. Do I have the Jewish stuff right?' He read the book before it was published so I felt perfectly ok about it."

Luke: "How did he react to the book?"

Paul: "How did he react to the book? Hmmm. I don't know how he reacted. I think he probably appreciated that he had his 15-minutes of fame, that he was a celebrity. I think he's doing a good job. I don't think he likes close scrutiny. Not too many people do. When he heard the reaction of other people to it, he probably thought, 'Oh boy, what did I do here?'"

Luke: "I take it you guys don't stay in touch."

Paul: "I've written 20 books. I've written about a lot of people. Some like me and some don't like me. Most feel fairly treated by me. We talked a couple of times since then. It wasn't like we were the best of buddies. I don't think we were the best of buddies during the book. It's always been cordial. I was asked to give some talks at Barnard College at a Jewish studies course. The rabbi never wanted to share a stage with me. That never happened."

Luke: "Have you stayed in touch with anyone from the book?"

Paul: "No."

Luke: "Anyone in the book get angry at you afterwards?"

Paul: "Yeah, yeah. The president of the congregation felt like I wasn't fair to him. To tell you the truth, I was probably more charitable [in the book] than I needed to be. I didn't put everything in there that I knew. I didn't put in all the comments that his wife made about the congregation. If it didn't make sense for the story, I didn't put it in for the prurient interest of it. You're a journalist, you know. The people who are basically good people are going to come out ok and the people who are schmucks are going to come out like schmucks.

"Congregations tend to be tough on their rabbis and he needs to be his own man. The rebbetzin has to be her own woman or else they will eat you alive. The politics of it are tough. They are tougher in synagogues than in Catholic churches where guys are appointed by their bishop. In many Protestant positions, they are appointed also. I think it is much tougher in synagogues, and, sadly, not attractively so. I felt strongly that what they put [rabbis] through is not humane. It's not religious. It's not kosher to do that to somebody as if it's a business deal. This is a spiritual leader you're trying to find."

Luke: "Jews complain a lot. We're demanding. We're difficult in restaurants. We demand a lot more than other people and we really put the rabbis through the ringer.

"Stephen Fried begins his book by deploring the low state of journalism in Jewish affairs. There's little narrative journalism of American Jews."

Paul: "That's exactly why my little venture was not warmly received."

Luke: "American Jewish journalism is so boring."

Paul: "I'm not a student of it. I stumbled into my book [on Conservative Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum]. You always stand the chance, especially as a non-Jew, of being considered anti-Semitic. I just won't even look at that. It's not the way that I am. I'm going to call them the way that I see them with charity. I'm also Catholic. I'm a religious person. I'm not going to beat someone up just for a great anecdote in the book. If it doesn't make any sense, I'm not going to use it. If it does make sense, I have to."

Luke: "In the process of writing the book, did anyone try to make it difficult for you because you weren't Jewish?"

Paul: "No. I always felt like an outsider. Not only didn't I know the tradition, it wasn't in my bones like Catholicism is. People were fascinated that someone was doing a book. Nobody knows what it's going to be when you're doing it. When you're around and become like wallpaper, you become so ordinary that they don't realize that eventually there's going to be a book come out of it.

"I'm an easy-going guy. I like people and people sometimes like me. I didn't have any conflicts."

Luke: "I couldn't find any negative reviews of your book. Were there any?"

Paul: "Oh, praise God. I don't even know. I don't even read them. You've got to keep going. This book followed a book I wrote on a Catholic priest called In Mysterious Ways. That priest didn't even read the entire book I wrote on him. That's how much he cared about it. I'm sure Rabbi Rosenbaum read every word. I'm of the first category. I do the work and let other people say what they want to say."

Luke: "Are rabbis public figures and should they be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as leaders in other fields?"

Paul: "No, I don't think they are public figures. They're moral leaders. They're moral stature and moral vision should certainly be taken into account but they're not politicians where you have to scrutinize everything about them. They should stand for something. There's a New Testament quotation about if salt loses its flavor, what use is it? The same is true of a rabbi. God knows that many become salt-free. There's no bite anymore because they are afraid of alienating anyone, of making anyone angry. That's a pitiful state when that happens.

"I just gave talk to a group of priests in Minnessota. They were talking about their bishop. I said, 'Guys, if your bishop isn't calling you on the carpet at least once a year, you're not doing your job. You should be pushing the envelope.' The rabbi is not just a branch manager. You have to have a point of view, and sometimes it is not the point of view of your congregation. The perfect example is the craziness of this war that we're thinking of going into. I think this is a perfect time for someone to stand up and say, 'This is not something we should be doing.'"

Luke: "How did your wife like the book?"

Paul: "Her father is Jewish. She felt a little amazed that a Gentile could write about it. Your wife is always your biggest critic. She went to Israel with me. A lot of my Jewish friends read it and I didn't hear of any inaccuracies.

"That book started off as a profile for The New Yorker. Then Tina Brown came to town, taking over for Bob Gottlieb. Tina Brown was not interested in Conservative rabbis in Worcester, Massachusetts, so it never became a New Yorker profile and went right into being a book."

Luke: "Where are you on the Catholic spectrum?"

Paul: "Liberal is a bad word these days, so I would consider myself a progressive Catholic. I take Holy Communion to the hospital each Thursday here in Wilmington, North Carolina. I tithe. My boys went to Catholic grade school."

Luke: "What sense did you get of the vibrancy and viability of the Conservative movement? Many of my Orthodox friends say it won't last."

Paul: "My father-in-law (Larry Goschberg) says the same thing, the guy to whom I dedicated the book. Larry was raised by Orthodox parents, then went lax, and then his son went to yeshiva and became religious and so Larry backed into it again... I think modern Orthodox has a great appeal to me. The black hats I don't feel the same way [towards]. Within certain parts of the Jewish community there's that exclusivity element, the 'I am and you're not'. I find that unattractive. I don't think anybody has the corner on the God market. We all ought to walk humbly before our God and not say we have the way and nobody else does.

"If I were not a Catholic, I would probably be a Jew. I would not be a Presbyterean or a Baptist. I think these are authentic substantials traditions [Judaism and Catholicism] that give you something to chew on and live by. The branch of Judaism that I found made the most sense was Mordecai Kaplan's Reconstructionist movement. While a small movement, it was very spiritual and intelligent and the practice runs a range."

Luke: "Do you believe in a personal God?"

Paul: "Do I believe in a personal God? I live in North Carolina where there are Baptists, and are you saved? Is Jesus Christ your personal savior? That's not my language."

Luke: "Does God know you?"

Paul: "I think so."

Luke: "You believe in an eternal personal creator God?"

Paul: "In my mind, the jury's out on heaven and hell and all that stuff. I believe that when someone creates you, then know you. If that's the life force within me, then that life force knows me. And I seek to know Him. I think Abraham Joshua Heschel was right that we are in search of God and He is in search of us."

Luke: "But Heschel was the enemy of Kaplan?"

Paul: "Shows you how much I know."

Luke: "What are your thoughts on the Conservative movement?"

Paul: "They say it's an Orthodox rabbi leading a Reform congregation. But I saw attractive elements in his synagogue in Worcester. People who were shomer shabbos (guardians of the Sabbath), living the righteous life, in the most simple and Godly ways. The role of rabbi is important, his moral stature, his view of Judaism and his own balance in his life. I saw some people I wanted to be around who were living a rigorous Jewish life."

Luke: "I admit I bring my own personal baggage to this question, but in my personal experience, I've found many rabbis, like teachers and professors, who are control freaks. They don't react well when they're not controlling their own image."

Paul: "I think you're exactly right. When I was at the Jewish Theological Seminary, they were talking about the old days when 'Our Torah scholars are going to be trained like scholars at Harvard.' This guy said, 'We trained generations of rabbis who loved Judaism and hated Jews.'

"That's a big part of it. Everybody loves being up on the bima [pulpit]. Everybody loves to be a center of attention at a bar mitzvah. But to get into the nitty gritty of people's lives. As Dostoevsky said, 'Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing.' Judaism in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing. It's very difficult. It's wonderful when you read about it but when you live it... I'm not talking about kashrut [dietary laws]. I'm talking about living in community, being supportive of other people and their pilgrimage in life. That's the part that a lot of rabbis don't do as well."

Luke: "I think that's a particular weakness with JTS and its emphasis on scholarship and PhDs."

Paul: "If you want scholars, that's fine but if you want rabbis... To train a balanced person who has a home life and a sense of humor, who knows Torah but also can walk and breathe and live and isn't, as many rabbis were, these green hothouse plants."

Luke: "Is the style of clergy changing in Christianity too?"

Paul: "Within Catholicism, we're seeing, sadly, because of our thing about celibacy, we're seeing too many third-career second-rate people who finally feel that they will have control over their lives and other people's lives and that they will finally get the respect that they've always thought they were due. On the other hand, I know a lot of great priests. I've written about both sides of this thing. I've written about some of the creeps but most of the time I've written about good guys.

"I don't think congregations are looking for someone just like you and me, someone to hang out with and have a beer with. You want someone who is different, who speaks on a higher plane and yet can speak to you. That's what the prophets did and Jesus did. Had the common touch yet there was another agenda there, a higher calling."

Luke: "Were you happy with the way your book was received?"

Paul: "I guess so. It's had its own life. It didn't sell a zillion copies. It was hardcover and it went into paperback. It was just reissued a year-ago in paperback again. I felt it was a real view into American religous life that we hadn't seen a lot of. Look, I'm a freelance writer. I've been able to sustain myself for 35-years doing this. I'm just happy that I'm able to do books and feed my family."

Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum writes: "Dear Luke, I appreciate your asking for my opinion, but I'm regretfully have to decline. I learned quite alot from working with Paul and from the publication of the book. But, there were also some hard feelings created that took a long time to heal. Time to move on."

Jack writes: Great stuff with Wilkes, enjoyed it. More of this please, fewer producers (EXCEPT THE KIND WHO WILL SEND YOU FIERCE REBUKES IN BLOCK CAPS, THOSE ARE ALWAYS A HOOT) ... thanks.

I Must Interview HBO's Carmi Zlotnick

Jack writes: If you ever get the chance, you might want to interview Carmi Zlotnick, who is Sr. Veep for Creative Affairs and New Media at HBO. He's a wonderful guy, an observant Jew, and one of the few people in the business I've ever met who really lives his faith in practice. (I don't know that he's Orthodox). And he's observant in a way that doesn't make Christians (like me!) feel all excluded and weird. You know how some people ( and this certainly isn't limited to any religion) get all religious just to exclude others? I hate that!

Joe Millionaire - Based On The Luke Ford Story?

I had my own adventure with the Fox TV show Who Wants To Marry A Multi-Millionaire?.

Now it seems Fox has taken my story and turned it into a show. From EW.com:

WHAT IT IS Twenty-five women gather in a romantic castle in France to claw and catfight their way into the heart of one Evan Marriott, 28, a handsome bachelor who's supposedly inheriting $50 million. Before ABC can cry copyright infringement, however, Fox has given ''The Bachelor'' formula a sick twist: Marriott's millions are Fox's fiction. As a construction worker, he makes a paltry $19,000 a year and has no millions in his future. Expect viewers to watch breathlessly when one lucky finalist rides the roller coaster of heartbreak. (''I won! Wait, you work as a WHAT?'')

WHY WE CARE Think of this as ''The Bachelor'' for bitter, hard-hearted cynics. ''We're making fun not only of ourselves, but of the whole crazy concept of finding true love on TV,'' says a Fox spokesperson, adding that viewers will go behind the scenes to watch Evan learn how to impersonate a smug rich guy, giving fans the full effect of his devilish deceit. ''There are so many more layers than 'Who is he going to marry?''' And let's face it: We'll enjoy peeling back every one of them.

THE VERDICT The perfect threesome: sex, lies, and videotape.

Leroi Jones writes to Luke: How many women have ever believed YOU were a millionaire? Besides, that guy is a lot better looking, younger, and manlier than you.

Luke, you know the world of goyim inside and out. Are goy men more manly than (nonorthodox) jewish men? Do they complain less? Are they more inclined to use their fists to settle disputes than to threaten others with lawsuits? Do they make less of a show of their emotions and their emotional needs?

If you had a son, who would you want him to emulate: Art Spiegelman, or Charles Shulz; Steven Spielberg, or John Wayne?

A Chat With Author Stephen Fried About The Competition

I speak by phone with Stephen Fried (pronounced Freed), the author of The New Rabbi, Sunday 1/5/03 for almost two hours. Stephen was snowed-in at his Philadelphia home.

Luke: "Your book reminded me of They Shall Be My People by Paul Wilkes. [Wilkes spent one year with Jay Rosenbaum, the 42-year-old rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, a Conservative synagogue in an upper-middle-class community in Worcester, Massachusetts.]"

Stephen, taken aback: "OK."

Luke: "Did you read that book?"

Stephen: "Sure."

Luke: "Didn't you see a lot of similarities?"

Stephen: "Not really, because the guy who wrote it wasn't Jewish. To me, the books are only similar because they're both set in a synagogue. He came to that book because he's a writer about religion and this was his next religion to write about. I came to this book because my Dad died and I began rediscovering my own religion and saw this as a way of doing journalism on that. The intents of the books are totally different."

Luke: "What's your critique of his book?"

Stephen: "That he picked a congregation where not much happened. And because he wasn't Jewish, there were parts of the book that struck me as 'Margaret Mead among the Jews'."

Luke: "What do you mean?"

Stephen: "He was an outsider observing the mores, an anthropological study. He was only interested in writing a book about the life of a synagogue. A lot of my book is based on my own life and search as a Jew and my relationships with the people involved. They were different because I was a Jew coming back after mourning. A Christian journalist from The New Yorker is going to have a different way of doing things. I imagine he would be more likely to write a book like mine about his own religion.

"I remember the controversies about his book. People were amazed that his wife [Janice] had spoken out so boldly."

Luke: "She was so bitter about the congregation."

Stephen: "[Paul Wilkes] is a religion writer and I'm not. I had different goals than he did. But if people read my book and want to know more about synagogue life, they would be well-served by reading his book or Kaddish [by Leon Wieseltier]."

Luke: "I found Kaddish impenetrable. He's a terrible writer."

Stephen: "I don't think he's a terrible writer. There are things in it that are wonderful and things in it that are difficult but I think it is an important book. I'd be lying if I said I read every word of it. His dad died about a month after mine. We started working on our projects about the same time. I was fascinated to see somebody do an exploration of Judaism in the aftermath of their father's death. I found it interesting to see where his mind went during minyan compared to where my mind went during minyan. Both these books grew out of the time you have during minyan sitting around thinking about things. He's read a lot more stuff than me and I've interviewed a lot more people than him."

Luke: "What did you think of Samuel Freedman's book Jew vs Jew?"

Stephen: "I liked it. It's much more about political issues between the Jewish denominations. Sam and I have become friendly. His book about the black church, Upon This Rock, is closer to the kind of project I did. Sam was the first person to agree to blurb my book. I'm teaching at Columbia now in part because of his support. Freedman blazed the trail for real journalism about Judaism and with Upon This Rock encouraged journalism about other religious organizations."

Commentary from Leroi Jones

The Jew Stephen Fried strikes a rather whiney, plaintive tone in that snippet, don't you think? Many a baby boomer Jew seems week, feminine, not at all manly. And they expect the rest of us to respect them.

History has some brutal surprises in store for these weak, sniveling Jews. They simply do not perceive the degree to which they are hated and held in contempt by stronger, braver people willing to do more than file lawsuits.

PS Why do so many Jewish writers tie everything they do to their own personal traumas? Just because they have them (and don't we all?) doesn't mean the rest of us want to hear about them. I do not care about his feelings about anything. Tell that sissy to be a man and keep it all inside.

Luke says: There Leroi goes again, trying to stop me from making meaningful connections with important Jews. How will I ever move out of my hovel? I might have to get a job.

The New Rabbi: A Congregation Searches for Its Leader

I had to look hard, but I finally found a negative review for Stephen Fried's new book.

Johnathan S. Tobin, editor of Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent, writes:

Who, for heaven's sake, would want to read such a book?

Fried loses Jewish brownie points and a lot of my respect by taking notes during Shabbat services, and even surreptitiously recording Herber's first High Holiday sermon...

But for those expecting this book to be a Jewish institutional version of Peyton Place, I have bad news. There is plenty of lashon hara ("gossip") here, as some of the players in the transition took Fried into their confidence and dished as much dirt as they could. But none of it is juicy enough to fill a script of even the tamest of television soap operas.

It is no slight to the members of Har Zion to relate that all of their blabbing to Fried creates a narrative that is less than scintillating. The life of their synagogue - and their rabbis - is just far too wholesome to justify this much investigation. And the work of the rabbinic-search committee and its conflict with the Conservative movement's Rabbinic Assembly is so intensely boring that it is almost fascinating to see how Fried puffs it all up into a 350-page book.

...[R]readers learn a lot more about Fried than any of us wanted or needed to know. These passages are among the least compelling of a not terribly compelling volume filled with the author's relentless attempts to jazz up the proceedings.

The phrase "summertime and the davening is easy" is perhaps the worst instance of this trait, but there are too many other examples to do justice to his pedestrian prose-style. Even worse are Fried's digressions to explain things to his readers.

But all these details require the author to periodically stop and explain what he is talking about. This slows the pace of the book from an amble to a crawl. And given the fact that the only people I can imagine choosing to crack open this book are those who are already knowledgeable about Jewish life, I wonder if these pedantic informational rest stops were more for the benefit of Fried's editor than anyone else.

The New Rabbi is a literary delight that is best enjoyed by its avoidance...

But after plowing my way through The New Rabbi, I'm inclined to think that "rabbi groupies" like Fried and some of the real-life characters in this book should perhaps find another hobby.

Movie Critic Manohla Dargis At Home At The Times

From 11/25/02 Los Angeles Times: "Dear Manohla, Don't you feel out of place at a newspaper with such a reverential attitude towards the industry it purportedly covers?" --Luke Ford, Los Angeles

Manohla replies: "I don't feel out of place here at all. In fact, I don't think the Times would have hired me if it were "reverential" toward the industry - do you?"

Bite Me writes: You don't think Manohla doesn't have her nose up the the industry? Please--she pays lip service to hip indy prod but she likes all sorts of lousy mainstream stuff. And she's a lousy, lousy writer.

The only reason she's decided she hates Twin Towers is because everyone else liked it. And she thinks she's daring by criticizing Spike Lee--not exploring the "grey area"--like in Jungle Fever or Mo Better Blues, or even the musical one (I foget its name)?

She's the Times token weird chick. Look at her "Ask the Critic" suck-up fest. If she was important, she wouldn't have time to prove her street chops by telling the readers she drives a 1966 "beater". I drive a '56 Packard--do I have even more stripes on my sleeve?

Black Women Enraged To Learn That LA Jewess Sarah Silverman Is Poaching On Their Men

Shahrazad Alee: Have you ever met this Sara Silverman?
Shahrazad Alee: Look at that punim!
Shahrazad Alee: You waste so much time with hags
Luzdedos1: Sarah is not religious enough for me
Luzdedos1: Hey, i just did a huge interview with Stephen Fried, author of THE NEW RABBI Shahrazad Alee: I don't care. Let's talk about women with great racks.
Shahrazad Alee: Yes or no: Sara Silverman is hot.
Luzdedos1: yes
Shahrazad Alee: Yes or no: she lives in LA
Luzdedos1: yes
Shahrazad Alee: Yes or no: if you mary her, you will prevent her from marriage to a goyishe shvartze
Luzdedos1: yes
Shahrazad Alee: Yes or no: that would be a MULTIPLE mitzvah
Luzdedos1: yes
Shahrazad Alee: So the truth is that you do not go after her because you fear you are not enough of a man.
Luzdedos1: true
Shahrazad Alee: Now we are getting somewhere. Confront your fears, Luke. Put Sarah up on your board front and center as the woman you will marry.
Shahrazad Alee: ASK your influential readers, well connected as they are, to make the introduction.

From the Forward.com: "Hard core" is a good term for Silverman's comedy. This controversial 32-year-old performer specializes in edgy jokes about race and sex as well as AIDS, rape and, of course, Jews and the Holocaust. Although Silverman has flirted with mainstream popularity for nearly a decade, but 2002 seems to have been the year that America was finally ready for her tough material. Early last summer, she introduced the Jewish American princess character Hadassah on Comedy Central's "Crank Yankers." A couple of months later, her off-Broadway show, "Jesus Is Magic," sold out its two-week run in New York City and then moved to Los Angeles. In October, Rolling Stone gave Silverman two pages in its "Hot List" issue, naming her its "Hot Stand-Up." And now the comedian is in the process of negotiating a series deal with HBO.

Despite the growing audience for Silverman's comedy, it's hard to imagine that TV — even premium cable — is ready for Silverman, at least as she appears in her live shows. Only a few punch lines into a recent gig opening for the indie-rock band Yo La Tengo at their Chanukah performances in New Jersey, Silverman remarked casually, "I was raped by a doctor — which is a bittersweet experience for a Jewish girl." Thanks to Silverman's sly timing and cocky attitude — not to mention her coltish beauty — the Yo La Tengo crowd erupted in guffaws of titillated disbelief. Silverman went on to tell equally jaw-dropping jokes about how Mexicans love to pass wind and how her half-black boyfriend was upset when she told him he would have made "an expensive slave." If Trent Lott ever heard Silverman perform, surely he would spin in his political grave.

What To Do About North Korea

Leroi Jones, poet alureate of New Jersey: Pull our troops out, let them deal with it themselves. S Korea has the industrial base and population to defend itself, and if they won't , f--- em
LeroiJones: Too many Americans have died defending the lives of gooks
LeroiJones: It should be China's and Japan's problem, not ours.
LeroiJones: And no more gook immigration, either. It leads to race mixing, which is contrary to God's Plan.
LeroiJones: If He hates the mixture of linen and wool, just imagine what he must make of miscegenation.
LeroiJones: Gooks are worse for Jews than Shvartzes, because they can occupy the same niches: commerce, medicine, business
LeroiJones: Shvartzes are not the competition and never were. But the Yellow Race is another story. The Jew is not necessarily the schvartze's best friend.
LeroiJones: Miserable slopes [slang for Chinese], always trying to foment trouble.
LeroiJones: Why are people allowed to speak of "hitting the slopes" in the context of skiing? We don't let people speak of going out for a walk as "I think I'll go out and gas some jews", do we?
LeroiJones: The cause of spinsterdom is feminism; negroes need fathers; liberals are the enemy of freedom.

Khunrum writes: Luke, This guy is Al Aronowitz's good buddy. They hang out together. He bills himself as "something Baraka" now. He is poet laureate of New Jersey and just insulted the Jews in a poem. He accused them of knowing about 9-11 in advance.

Disney Movies Are Gay

John Derbyshire writes on National Review Online: The career of the word "gay" is getting more and more interesting. Originally a common and useful word indicating "joyous," "merry," or "colorful," at some point in the early 19th century, London prostitutes took up "gay" as a descriptor for their trade. The general British public became aware of this in 1856, when Punch magazine ran a John Leech cartoon of two degraded-looking street women, one saying to the other: "Ah! Fanny! How long have you been gay?" In the 20th century the word was of course taken up by homosexuals as a euphemism for their own tendency.

Now something else is happening. I have noticed my daughter (ten years old next week) and her friends using "gay" in the sense of: "patronizing, babyish, boring, contemptible." Anything that it is beneath the dignity of an almost-ten-year-old to pay attention to is "gay." Toys and videos that she has outgrown are "gay." Activities imposed on her by teachers and parents that underestimate her age or intelligence are "gay." Disney movies are "gay." Even one of her teachers turns out to be "gay" — no, not like that, it's just that he talks down to the kids, and expects them to do things that are so-o-o nine-year-old. So "gay."

Cecile du Bois writes: I heard my classmates a year ago saying that, "that is so gay!", but i never quite understood what they meant, i thought that they were just being stupid.

John Derbyshire On Race

John Derbyshire writes on National Review Online: All American politicians are liars and hypocrites about race, from Democrats like Hillary Clinton posing as champions of the downtrodden black masses while buying a house in the whitest town they can find, to Republicans pretending not to know that (a) many millions of nonblack Americans seriously dislike black people, (b) well-nigh every one of those people votes Republican, and (c) without those votes no Republican would ever win any election above the county level. (Am I being beeped out yet?)