For the Good of Our Race, Fix Me Up with Heather MacDonald
Chaim Amalek writes: You had dinner with Heather MacDonald? Luke, assuming that this entailed more than sitting in the same room with her but actual social intercourse, I am very impressed. I've been reading her stuff for quite a while and think I'm in love. Do you think a character like AMALEK has a shot with her? I'll bet if nothing else, she'd want to know the "real me" if you spun it right.
My interests are not entirely base - I really want to talk to her about how, as a practical matter, we can defeat the Pataki/Liebeskind plan for erecting a gigantic minaret in memory of the audacity of Muhammet Atta where once the mighty World Trade Center stood. I also want to discuss what we must do to get a governor who belongs in the phylum of men (chordata, if I remember this stuff) and not worms.
Heather is the woman all those loser blogchicks wish they were.
Luke Gets Mail
Mark Cridland writes: This came to me through Dennis Prager some years ago, before his pomposity chased me from the radio. At the time, he sort of brushed through it in a hurry, confident that his largely goyim audience wouldn't care.
There's a principle in some sector of Jewish life that goes like this: A forty-year-old father of three who has sex with a twenty-four-year old unmarried woman is an adulterer. But the 24yo is NOT considered an adulterer. How come? Can you ask a rabbi to explain this?
Boomer & younger Americans are terribly petulent and simplistic about 'equality,' and endlessly enamoured of aphorisms like 'good for the goose, good for the gander.' But I suspect this wrinkle in Jewish custom is based on a subtler understanding of masculine and feminine nature than you'd see in bestsellers about Mars & Venus. As the fundamentals of marriage are now being violently reconfigured, this sort of stuff really needs to be appreciated. Anyway, if you find out what it's about, go try to sell it to Alkon & Seipp. Wear a helmet.
Luke says: It is from the Bible. You can, technically according to Biblical Law, only commit adultery if you are a married woman or are having sex with a married woman. According to Biblical Law, a married man was allowed to take on concubines (unmarried women). As Jewish Law developed through the rabbinic period, an unmarried man or woman can not commit adultery, only a married man or woman.
How Jewish Institutions Deal With Gossip
Why would the Jewish Journal approach these issues from the perspective of how Jewish institutions can deal with scandal? Why would most readers be interested in how Jewish schools can spin things? Can you imagine a cover story on how the Bush Administration can deal with scandal?
If a bunch of bad things happened in the Los Angeles Public School District, even that lame paper The LA Times wouldn't approach the story from the perspective of how can the administrators best control gossip.
The Jewish Journal, like the rest of the Jewish establishment press, has a kneejerk response to most anything Jewish: How will this affect our ruling institutions? How will this affect the powerful, the ones who feed us information and fund us? This is trade journalism. It is journalism by and for the ruling class of a particular group or industry. It is not journalism.
Trade journalists are whores. They write to please those who fund them. They are in the pockets of their advertisers. They lick the boots of the powerful and of those powerless groups that romantically appeal to them, like leftist lesbians.
Free Follicle Booster
Two years ago, I lived alone in my hovel, eating potatoes and oatmeal and watching movies. My only friends were imaginary - Chaim Amalek, Khunrum, Helpful, Putative Marc. I cowered in fear before the LA rabbenim.
Then I met Cathy Seipp and Jill Stewart. I joined the Los Angeles Press Club, got on some excellent psychotropic medication, and found myself living the life - dates with hot women, fancy parties, power, fame, money, increasingly high levels of spiritual and Jewish attainment...
Thursday night was no exception. I went to Yamashiros (1999 Sycamore) with LA's cognitive elite. It was my first time at this schmancy restaurant (mandatory $4.25 valet parking) which overlooks Los Angeles. I'd love to write about the witty and wise banter that occupied my four hours at this high class joint, but I was told on no uncertain terms, by several people, who I may not name, that this entire evening was off the record.
One individual who will soon be profiled in Los Angeles Magazine let me know that all our interactions in the future are to be off the record. He really knows how to hurt a guy.
You get the best material when people don't realize you're going to quote them, but unfortunately you can only burn people a few times before they wise up and apply the clamps.
It was cool driving up and driving out in my monster van and grabbing everyone's attention.
Friday morning I drove off to get a $15 (with tip) haircut at Supercuts. My old lady told me that my hair is thinning and I need this special shampoo.
Why is it that ever since I joined the LA Press Club, and the money started flowing into my pockets, that every waiter and hair dresser has been putting the squeeze on me to get appetizers, drinks, deserts and hair products?
For the first time, I succumbed today and bought this Nioxin Bionutrient Actives package of products (scalp therapy, treatment, cleanser) for $55. "Treatment for early stages of thin-looking hair..."
The pack said I was saving 29% and they threw in the free Follice Booster. Does this stuff work? Will women find me more attractive after using it? Is it good for the Jews?
JMT writes: You give some poor boat person Supercuts employee a $1 tip on a $14 haircut, then you turn around and waste $55 on snake oil? What the hell is wrong with you?
What's the best way to find out news on certain dates?
I'm writing something and I want to add more color about what the weather was like and what the news was on February 2, 1998 for instance...
Dave Deutsch writes:
Fool right-wingers sucking up to Jews
Luke, This is Guy Fawkes from New York. Want a laugh?Check out this right-winger from vdare.com. A feeble and pathetic effort to curry favor with Jews so that American Jewry will be more disposed to solving (or at least not getting in the way of solving) our OUR own immigration policy.
Why do right-wingers feel the need to curry favor with Jews? Have you ever taken a look at National Review on-line? What are these people really hiding? Why this insecurity? Regarding American public policy, can't we ignore Jews for just a little bit?
Isis Unveiled Spots White Guy With Leaf Blower
Isisunveiled writes: "I hate leaf blowers for the obvious reasons—noise and pollution. I slowed down and took another look to make sure. Yep, definitely a white guy—early twenties with a beard. It was the first time I had seen a white gardener. A few days later, I was on my morning walk and passed him. We exchanged glances and I sensed he was wondering if I was judging him for being white. I wanted to ask him if it was weird being a white gardener. Did the Mexican and Guatemalan gardeners give him dirty looks or beat him up? Did he charge their same rate? Did he really work as hard as them?"
Hide Your Stuff! Luke Ford Is Coming
Alexander the Poet writes: Inspired by a recent event where Luke Ford, a journalist was invited on a film set, and a notebook with salaries was left open on the table, and Ford took a look at it, and posted it on his site, and got heat for doing so. It should be noted that whenever Luke Ford is invited anywhere, to expect such things. Luke Ford is known for doing that kind of stuff. So it is best advised to hide anything you have when you invite Luke Ford over. Otherwise, don't be surprised to see it posted.
"Hide Your Stuff ! Luke Ford Is Coming" by Alexander The Poet 07.10.03
If you leave the room,
You were negligent,
Secrets Of Luke Ford Revealed
Dave Deutsch writes: You really have one of the easiest jobs in the world. What do you do to fill your blog? Listen to the radio and copy down stuff from Dennis Prager’s show. Go out to lunch with Cathy Seipp and write about what she had. Email me and write down my responses. Send my responses to somebody else and write down his responses. If things are really tough you email Dave Robb, write his response, and then invite a debate on the matter. And every now and then you conduct an interview by phone. Hell, I don't write you for a day and you have nothing. If it weren’t for the part where you don’t seem to make any money at it, it would really be the perfect job.
As far as Michael Savage goes, I’m fairly delighted by the whole thing. Never listened to him, and so, while I’ve only heard second what he’s said or done, he seems of a type which I find eminently dislikable, and harmful to the overall good of the nation. It is funny how these cultural conservatives always talk about how liberals lack moral integrity and refuse to enforce accountability for one’s actions, but cultural conservatives are no better at taking a rap. Trent Lott publicly wishes that Strom Thurmond had been president (for the third time), and claims that he wasn’t aware of how offensive this is. Henry Hyde has his longtime affair brought up during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and claims that his “youthful indiscretions (he was in his mid-40’s at the time, not much younger than Clinton) shouldn’t be held against him. Michael Savage tells a listener he should get AIDS and die, and then claims he thought the mic was off? How long has he been in radio? Doesn’t this seem a little mealy-mouthed? What he said was pretty vicious, but certainly still within the spectrum of what one might expect from a type of nasty, right-wing radio talk show host. Is it strange to presume that a guy who spends a considerable amount of time being disrespectful to people might lose his both his sense of what’s decent, and of his own vulnerability to standards of decency?
And “decency” is, I feel, an appropriate term. Real decency isn’t about how short a skirt is; it’s about how much of a mensch you are. And as far as that goes, these talk-show hosts have been given a free ride. Many of them are simply indecent in the way they treat other humans. We constantly hear about the impact that violent media has on desensitizing people to violence. What about the effect that uncivil media has on desensitizing people to incivility? I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to find that most of these drivers who assault other drivers, or parents who assault their kids’ little league umpires were fans of right-wing talk radio (of course, I also wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t).
These shows are breeding a generation of Americans who think that public discourse should be as nasty, cruel, and indecent as possible, that any sort of vituperation is acceptable (regardless of the truth or falsity of it) as long as it supports your position. Limbaugh, Schlesinger and Co. essentially dehumanize those people with whom they disagree, and teach others to do the same. Obviously, not everybody who dehumanizes others is going to engage in violence against them, but it’s certainly a good place to start. We’re about to enter the 3 Weeks; it’s a good time to consider that the Second Beys Hamikdosh [Second Temple] was destroyed due to sinas chinom [gratuituous hatred], and to consider how to apply this lesson in our own lives. And kudos to Dennis Prager on this; his point is precisely the one I made in my missive on the use of the word “schvartze.”
As I teach my classes, you shouldn’t use a word to refer to a category of humans that you wouldn’t use if a member of that group were in the room with you. If you wouldn’t refer to “schvartzes” in front of somebody who’s black, that’s probably a good sign that you shouldn’t use it behind their back, either.
MEMO: Studio Exec's Notes on Ford Biopic Been reading the Luke Ford memoir. Great potential, but here are some thoughts:
* Reads a little too “ethnic.” The whole Christian to Jew thing is going to alienate a big part of the target audience, but I like the idea of his father being a fundamentalist. Let’s make him the son of a fundamentalist, who lost his faith, alienating him from his father, and then finds it again as a result of his searches in the world of porn. Only he can’t become a fundamentalist; make him a generic liberal protestant like the supergoy on “Seventh Heaven.”
* Just a thought, but how about his mother is an aborigine? Aboriginal? Person of aboriginality? Find out what the proper term is. Maybe his father broke with his Church because of the marriage. Maybe the search into porn is sort of a walkabout. This angle could give it an “urban” appeal. But we don’t want it to be too “urban.” I’m thinking Vin Diesel for the lead.
* The whole search for a replacement daddy skews pretty gay, but I like the concept as a motive. How about he’s really searching for his real father, who was kidnapped by a gang of Eurasian pornographers because of his opposition to the white slave trade?
* Our lawyers say that “Luke Ford” has to go. “Ford” could get us in trouble with the car company, and besides, if they want us to use it, they should pay for it. As far as “Luke” goes, it depends. If he’s going for the Gospels, I’d recommend “John” or “Matt.” If he’s going for the Wilsons, I’d recommend “Owen.” Personally, I think he should be “John Nash.”
* He needs a love interest, maybe an ex-porn star who tries to get girls out of the industry, who reawakens his faith in God. Maybe it will turn out she’s also half “Indigenous Australian.” (thanks to my assistant on that one—nice kid, Harvard grad, I think he’s Jerry Bruckheimer’s third cousin) I’m thinking J-Lo or Halle Berry.
* We really respect the work you did in exposing HIV in the porn world, but it’s a tricky topic. How about if, in the search for your father, you uncover and capture a serial killer who’s secretly killing porn stars, and its being hushed up by the authorities because of his political connections and because of society’s lack of concern for what happens to these girls? Maybe the J-Lo character will have to go back to making porn to serve as bait. Wow, great idea—it turns out that the killer is actually his father, who was actually running the gang of Eurasian white slavers!
We think that these changes really make this saleable without in any way harming the integrity of your work. Working title is “Suffer a Harlot.” Anyway, we’re all very excited about the project, and can’t wait to see where you take it from here.
When I began reading your site, I presumed that most of your interlocutors were fictitious (that means that the people who write to you are fake). I believed that for a couple of months, until you began engaging me in a correspondence with this Chaim Amalek fellow, at which point I was willing to concede that this non-existent entity was communicating with me, and consequently, probably existed (it made me feel like Avraham). Then I just read his profile, where you say he doesn't exist, which sends me back to where I started (it's like Chutes and Ladders, but childish). So what's the story? I get the whole alter-ego bit for the website (and I actually know somebody like him--a baal teshuva chasidic rabbi who is a member in good standing of the Third Way, that progressive offshoot of the National Front), but doesn't it seem a bit schizoid to maintain the fiction in a correspondence? So what's the rumpus? I'm fine either way, and have no problem maintaining the fiction, if fiction it is, but I do feel that the dialogue might be a littler more fluid if I can actually ask you what you think, as opposed to merely guessing what somebody else might think. Anyway, lemme know what's what.
Luke says: Chaim Amalek is a fictitious character. There may or may not be a real person behind him who is not me. Chaim likes and respects you.
Dave writes: Understandable, I'm a charming and charismatic person. Chicks dig me, and I'm popular with teenage boys. The real question is why I don't have my own TV show already (other than, you know, the lack of effort).
Luke asks facetiously (all sex outside of marriage is forbidden to the religous person and the Jew, at least according to Orthodox Judaism and conservative Christianity): Is an Orthodox Jew allowed to have sex with shiksas during the three weeks of mourning running up to the Ninth of Av, when we mourn the destruction of the two temples?
Dave replies: I think it's actually in the tocheicha [penitential prayer on Yom Kippur] --"And though you will fear the shgotzim, ten of you running from one, afraid of the wind, the shicksas will run to you."
And again in Kinos [mourning prayer]--"O, woe unto the princes of Israel, who once shtupped the bad-ass Israeli mama-jamas, and now must lay with the flat-assed nordic women."
Consequently, one might argue that it's particularly meritorious to shtup shicksas during the three weeks as a remembrance of the churban [destruction of the temples].
White Man, Stop Whining About Dusty Baker
Chaim Amalek writes: All too often the Black Man must bear the unfair psychological burden of being regarded inferior to the white man in intellect (especially by high I.Q. types like jews and asians who read books like "The Bell Curve"). Here is one sphere where the Black Man can make the case that he is superior to the Caucasoid, so let's cut him some slack and hear him out. The man may have more than a little bit of history on his side.
Do you know why AmerIndians were not gang-pressed into slavery by the white man? Well, at the very beginning they were, but they quickly proved to make lousy slaves - they had a habit of dying in bondage. Negroes, on the other hand, proved to be substantially hardier for slave duty in tropical climes. That's why the white masters of the West Indies imported so many slaves from Africa that the racial composition of those islands changed from %100 Carib Indian to almost totally black - the blacks could take it, the natives could not. Also, before the development of quinine and such, west Africa (and other places from whence we drew most of our Negro slaves) was known as "the white man's grave", which is why the white man didn't get around to actually partitioning the place amongst the themselves until the late 19th century.
So let's cut the guy some slack, and respect the brother's courage. I wish our swishyfied white men had as much manly spine. (Democratic party activist Michael Moore has commented that if more Black Men had been on the flights hijacked on 911 in place of all the swishy white people, the World Trade Center would still be standing. But he failed to note that this would have denied Daniel Liebeskind, famous designer of Holocaust memorials, his "precious" - the commission he was given by our human worm governor George Pataki to build a bunch of short ugly buildings on the site.)
A more important issue is why so few bloggers (at least those whom Luke quotes) are black. It seems to me that there is something in the culture of internet web logs that is excluding non-Asian people of color, and this has got to stop. As a first measure, I propose voluntary racial quotas on the links on a page, with some set fraction set aside for non-asian people of color. Such would cost white bloggers nothing, and help to diversify their world view.
Difference Between Good And Goody Goody
On the Dennis Prager radio show: British author Paul Johnson was the fascinating guest in the first hour. He said that France and England had to import many of its clergy from Africa. Johnson noted that the center of Christianity is shifting from Europe and the West to Africa, the Southern Hemisphere, South America, and Asia.
Dennis does not bring up Johnson's longtime former mistress (she used to spank him) who denounced him in the press as a hypocrite several years ago.
Johnson says that as you get older, the more clearly you remember the things your parents taught you.
Paul says he could not write a history of Islam. It would take knowledge of Arabic and a lifetime of learning to master the texts.
Paul writes a weekly essay in the Spectator each week. He says he reads a tremendous amount, a lot of it trivial, like novels.
This is one of Prager's best ever interviews (except the half dozen times he interrupted his guest with extraneous comments, such as he attended the University of Leeds, though Johnson barrelled over all of these interruptions).
Second hour. Prager says he was a michiefmaker and troublemaker in school. He hated goody goodies. He also hated bullies and bad people.
Recently, Prager told his youngest son that he should rephrase what he wanted to say to make it kinder. The son said he didn't want to because he didn't want to be a goody goody.
Prager spent the hour discussing the difference between good and goody goody. Prager offered the example of him running red lights when there was no traffic coming in either direction. Prager looked at those drivers who didn't run red lights as goody goodies.
My answer is that a goody goody is anyone who is finer, kinder, more generous, more ethical or more religious than you are. It is a human instinct to dislike people who are more ethical than you (because their example inherently pricks your conscience) and to dislike people less ethical than you (for obvious reasons, including that they could hurt you).
None of the disinctions discussed on Prager's show struck me as convincing differences between good and goody good (that G&G is showy, done for attention, to flatter, religious automatons). I think my answer is better.
THIRD HOUR: If a white had made Dusty Baker's comments that blacks and latins do better with heat, he would've been fired. Al Campanis, former General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers who said that blacks did not have the mental capacities to be managers and executives in major league baseball, and that they did not swim well, was fired.
Jimmy the Greek Snyder was fired after saying that blacks were bred to be athletically superior. That's identical to what Dusty Baker said. What's clear is that we don't judge blacks and white over identical comments. DP says neither Dusty's or Jimmy's comments were worth getting riled up over.
Prager complains about all the popups on the news page he's trying to read. Why doesn't he use the Google or Alexa bar which stops popups?
Prager says he has a problem when blacks refer to each other as brother in racially mixed company because it is exclusionary.
Khunrum writes: Afro~American Chicago baseball manager Dusty Baker recently made a comment that white players don't do well in the heat of summer. He said Hispanic and especially Afro players are used to the heat since they were brought here from Africa as slaves. Some honkys are up in arms calling for Dusty's resignation or termination. Whites, (Al Campis, Jimmy The Greek and others) have been shit canned for controversial remarks in the past. Question to Luke readers, should Dusty Baker be give a pink slip? Is there a double standard when it comes to this issue?
Fred writes: This is truly egregious. He should be forced to write on the blackboard 100 times, "I will not make any politically incorrect statements in public ever again."
Khunrum writes: Nah! I like Dusty...we'll give him a miss this time....Besides, I agree. What white guy likes running around in the heat? Mad dogs and Englishmen maybe.
Luke, Next time you interview Dusty, ask him what he thinks about the Bell Curve. Also ask him if he has ------- any white chicks.....in the summer without air-conditioning.
Prager said Michael Savage deserved to get fired for saying that a homosexual male caller who was harassing him should "get AIDS and die." It didn't matter that Savage thought he was off the air.
Prager says he's learned that it is a good idea to narrow the difference between how you speak publicly and privately.
Luke's Battered Van
My friend Amy Alkon is a nationally syndicated advice columnist. Last week, she got a letter from a woman concerned about picking up a man in her shabby car. Amy told her not to worry:
"My friend Luke Ford drives a van that looks like the one any felon in a 70s TV show would have driven, complete with a passenger door that's stuck shut for all but the strongest women, and he manages to get chicks just fine (although his current girlfriend didn't take too kindly to his forgetting to let her out when he spotted my boyfriend and me getting out of a car and came over to say hello)."
I sent this to a friend who's known me for 25 years. She writes:
Mission To Liberia - Good For The Jews?
Daniel writes: Why haven't you taken a position on sending our goyishe army to Liberia, to straighten out the darkies? Good for the Jews, or not?
Toxic and Imbalanced or Interdenominational Bridge Builder?
I asked the head of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (UJ), Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, to participate in a UJ panel on Jewish journalism. I directed him to my discussion of Stephen Fried's book The New Rabbi. This book symbolizes to me great Jewish journalism.
Rabbi Artson replies, copying the email to Gady Levy, head of adult education at UJ: "Dear Mr. Ford; I did review your website, and find it imbalanced and toxic, particularly toward rabbis and Conservative Judaism. I am not willing to participate in your panel."
Dave Deutsch writes Luke: "I was actually pleasantly surprised by your discussion of the book, not because it was coherent, but specifically because its lack of toxicity. In your less "journalistic" (I won't say "professional," because I'm still not sure how you put food in your mouth) writings, you do take a pretty acid tone towards non-Orthodox Jews. I presumed that this would be the basis for the accusation. But in your interviews, I found just the opposite. Not only were you not judgmental, but, if anything, you were an interdenominational bridgebuilder, since your comments regarding the power-tripping of rabbis was across the board, even bringing in the example of the black-hat wristslapping of Yehuda Reinman. You didn't write the books in question, you didn't even really praise the books in question. So while you may at times be toxic and imbalanced, you wouldn't know it from the stuff you wrote here."
Luke replies: "Thank you."
Dave responds: "No, thank you. Especially because reading it gave me a remarkable revelation: I know why converted. It was the reference to Philip Roth. There you are, a pathetic zhlub in East Peckerwood, Australia (or whatever the Australian equivalent is), never been laid, and you come across Portnoy's Complaint. It hits you. You watch Woody Allen movies. It confirms it: Shiksas dig yids. You became a Jew to get laid by shiksas, didn't you?"
Luke says: I converted to Judaism because of the big agenda of the Torah and the firmness of its moral code.
Dave adds: And let's not forget the full, rounded contours of her two tablets of law.
Reform, Conservative Jews Celebrate Bark Mitzvahs
From Forward.com: Larry Roth, co-owner of the Doggie Do and PussyCat Too Animal Salon in New York's Murray Hill neighborhood, has played no small part in this trend. Having hosted about 30 Bark Mitzvahs over the past 13 years, he's become something of an expert on the matter. So is this a rite of passage? For most people, he said, the Bark Mitzvah is "an excuse to have a party."
"It's mostly Reform and Conservative Jews who come here to celebrate a rite of passage for their dog," Roth said. "Some people celebrate it after the dog has lived 13 human years, and some people do it after 13 dog years." Roth's mother, Arlene, helps out at the salon. Her view, it seems, has gone one step further than "like mother, like son." "I think my dogs are very Jewish, since I am," she said.
While most Bark Mitzvahs are organized with tongue firmly in cheek, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom, a Reform temple in Santa Monica, Calif., sees a spiritual component that goes beyond dog biscuits shaped as Stars of David.
He has performed eight Bark Mitzvahs in the past 15 years. For Comess-Daniels, Bark Mitzvahs are about the spiritual connection some humans feel for their animals, not about a relationship between their dogs and God — regardless of all the linguistic palindrome jokes.
Dennis Prager says: If my dog is my companion, why can I not marry her?
For those for whom a Bar Mitzvah is just an excuse to party, why not for dogs? This is a commentary on our times. If you get rid of your religious basis, life becomes absurd. The reason so many stupid ideas arise on the university campus is that it is so secular.
I drove past a sign that said, 'Join our synagogue - we're a nurturing community.' We didn't have that language when I grew up.
Jewish religious life is moving left and right. There's no center any more. There's now bottled water with a kosher sign on it. There wasn't that when I grew up. You never worried that water was not kosher. The religious are multiplying religious laws. The left are abandoning tradition.
Famed music critic J.D. Considine writes:
Daniel Liebeskind, Holocaust Architect, writes Luke: "Your website is to the antisemite what a gun shop is to a hunter."
Luke Ford Addresses The Zionist Question
Chaim Amalek writes: I feel bad for this Good David, because as David, he is severely constrained in what he can say to a public audience, especially since he is a public school teacher. Here is a thought experiment to illustrate this point. I presume that David teaches in the New York City public school system. (Luke, delete that phrase if true and David does not want that known.) That means that unless he teaches in one of the elite (i.e., mostly white/asian) schools, most of his kids are black or Hispanic. So he must have certain thoughts about the innate abilities of such students, or the value of their home cultures in facilitating learning. But unless he spouts the party line on this, he is out of a job, forever. (It is easier for a teacher to be a member of NAMBLA than it is for him to praise "The Bell Curve.")
Now, on to the Jewish Question. At several points in his letter, this David attributes to me an argument built up around the issue of race; e.g., he says: "Now, as far as all this goes, race, as Mr. Amalek seems to use it, doesn't matter a whole lot to me."
Never in my chat with you (copied below) do I use the word "race." Please - this is a discussion of tribal/cultural identity, of which race is but one aspect. This David supports the right of the Jews in Israel to jigger their immigration policy to keep the country dearest to his heart majority Jewish because, well, he's Jewish, and he well knows that it is better to belong to the group that is in charge (through its majority status) than not. Euro-American nationalists in America want to keep this country majority "white" because, well, this is the country dearest to their hearts, and they want to be in the majority here for exactly the same reasons. Nobody who has thought about it who loves his tribe wants his tribe to lose power. Not Jews in Israel, not Whites in America.
David makes much of how America supposedly is "different" from other places by virtue of the "diversity" it possessed from the start, what with all those Amerindians, Negroes, and Caucasians. I would remind your readers what history teacher David well knows: the Europeans triumphed over the indigenous population by force of arms, ejecting Indians from their lands with far more heartlessness than the Zionists used to remove Palestinians from their lands; the Negroes were brought here in chains and kept there, in one way or another, until very recently. (And look at how well this has been working out.) That the Caucasians imposed their society and culture on everyone else through apartheid, slavery, bondage, and restrictive immigration laws. Some argument for "diversity"! Only recently have certain elites deluded themselves that "diversity", in its demographically strong form, is a wonderful thing. The people who built this nation feared it, and did their best to keep the white culture dominant.
What triggered this discussion was my contention that if diversity is such a good thing, then let's test that proposition out in Israel by demanding that Palestinians be treated as though they were Jews for the purposes of immigration into Israel. This would permit the creation of one state stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and not require that anyone be forcibly ejected from their land or penned in. Why would any liberal object?
David presents one good argument in opposition to such liberal immigration policies. Simply put, like many a liberal, he believes that the Palestinians are the blood enemy of the Jews. But that's only because Israel insists on treating Palestinians as enemies; aliens who do not belong on the land of their fathers and grandfathers, preferring instead to grant an automatic right of settlement to people (e.g. Brooklyn-born Jews) who have only the most tenuous link to that land. Treat them as friends with rights equal to that of Jews, limit immigration to those willing to live in peace with the Jews, and let democracy and the fecundity of Jewish and Palestinian women sort matters out. The vast majority of Palestinians are not nascent suicide bombers, but decent folk who want to return to the land that the Europeans gave to the Jews in compensation for all those Jews murdered by Europeans on European soil.
Even if one agrees that Israel should keep out Palestinians on the ground that that they are blood enemies who want to destroy Zion, what argument is there for keeping out well intentioned Christians who simply may want the same right to settle in Zion that is accorded to Jews? Fundamentally, Israel is presently a majority Jewish state, and the Jews who live there or who live elsewhere and support Israel want to keep their group in the majority. If there is any fundamental difference between that stance, and the desire of The National Alliance in the US, or the British Nationalist Party, among others, to keep their respective tribes in the majority in their lands, I still don't see it. Zionist liberals who argue otherwise are hypocrites, and the world is waking up to it.
Dave Deutsch, the world's worst Jewish comedian according to Heeb magazine, replies:
This is delightful. Back in college, I discovered this magazine called Instauration, which I dubbed "The Thinking Man's Hate Magazine." It purported to be an intellectual and sophisticated "racialist" journal (although the faux-intellectual air didn't prevent them from including two racist caricature cartoons, Willie, a black stereotype, and Marv, a Jewish stereotype, each issue). I presume Mr. Amalek is a fan. Anyway, the thing was a hoot. I read every issue I could get my hands on, but alas, had to give up my vice when I got to New York. This discussion is like being a kid again, though I don't think I have the time to do this too often (though I know it saves Luke from having to come up with his own narishkeyt).
Minor point: I teach at a yeshiva, where I freely spread both my liberal views on both race and Israel. As far as views on innate abilities or home cultures and learning, I think I've expressed them fairly well on your site. I find race a fairly uncompelling causative, and I think there are huge problems with African-American culture and its anti-intellectualism (this is hardly unique to them, though--read Gay Talese on growing up Italian and bookish).
Mr. Amalek doesn't use the word "race"; he uses the word "white." "White" is meaningless in a cultural or tribal sense, as is "black." What is "white" culture? Is it Christian? Sure, except for the Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc. who are white. And what is "Christian?" According to the Bob Jones University, Ian Paisley, Martin Luther, and so on, Catholics aren't real Christians. Are they therefore part of "White culture?" Is there a cultural inheritance that all whites lay claim to? Is it Greece? Rome? This is a problem. If you want to say that democracy or republicanism is part of that inheritance, you leave out a lot of whites (such as in the Former Soviet Union) who have very little experience with either. Is it linguistic? But there are whites who don't speak Indo-European languages (I may be wrong, but I don't think that Basque is), and non-Whites who do. For every white "ism" there is a white "counter-ism". If the Enlightenment is Western Tradition, what do you make of all the movements that have implicitly or explicitly rejected Enlightenment thought? Furthermore, for almost any way you define "white culture," you would have to include large numbers of non-whites who have joined in that inheritance. By what standard would you exclude Costa Ricans--democratic, Catholic, speaking a Romance Language--from the family of "White" culture, while including Belarus, which is a dictatorship, Orthodox, and using a Cyrillic alphabet? And, of course, its always fascinating how "white" nationalists so easily exclude Israel, which is governed by an Ashkenazi elite whose ancestry has been part of European culture for well over a millennium. Jewish blood, apparently, trumps white skin. Talking about White Culture is just a dodge. I may reconsider, but I'd have to see a definition of what this white "culture" or "tribe" consists of.
As far as American diversity, I never praised the methods by which it was achieved, but his criticism nowhere challenges my overall assertion, which is that America from the start was "multicultural." I didn't say America was either egalitarian or even particularly tolerant. But that's irrelevant to the subject at hand. Is he going to deny that American culture developed as an amalgamation of various African, Indian, and European cultures? He is both completely wrong on the facts, and apparently oblivious of the way cultural diffusion works, to say simply that Europeans imposed their culture on everybody else. The fact that most blacks were slaves doesn't mean that they didn't have an impact on American culture, and, in fact, northern visitors to the South in the 19th century commented on how Southern whites were starting to talk like blacks, not the other way around. Tap-dancing, which is a distinctly American form, developed from contacts between the Irish and blacks in New York's Five Points. The fact that Indians were being killed and dispossessed doesn't mean that the European settlers didn't adopt certain Indian foods, farming, and fighting techniques. There was considerable mixing of races and cultures, particularly on the frontiers and in the lower classes (John Adams, for example, who was the lawyer for the soldiers accused of what the American papers called "the Boston Massacre," successfully defended them by blaming the trouble on low class black, mulatto, and Irish troublemakers). And this points again to the flaw in his "tribalism" argument. Who makes up this white tribe? Certainly, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Irish weren't part of it, were they? When the Italians began arriving, they weren't part of it, either. So again, what defines this mysterious white tribe? What defines this dominant "white culture?" Is Catholicism part of it? What about the Germans, who, hard-working though they may have been, were often both Catholics, and possessed of the horrifyingly savage practice of drinking beer on Sunday? As I said, and I have yet to hear it refuted, American culture began as multicultural, and has, like all cultures, been in constant evolution. As for his comments about the failures of integration, that's just the point I made last time. Racists created the problem, then blamed anti-racists for their efforts to deal with it. It's like shaking up a beer, then handing it to someone, and when he opens it, blaming him for the mess. Deny people basic rights, brutalize them, deny them an education (incidentally, the first public school systems in the South were created by prodding from black legislators during Reconstruction) deny them employment opportunities until the collapse of the industrial economy removed those opportunities, deny them decent housing opportunities, etc. etc--and gosh, many of them didn't turn out to be productive citizens. Must be the fault of the liberals.
He can't accuse me of hypocrisy regarding Israel's immigration policies, since I specifically said that I felt that European countries should have the same right to limit their immigration--the only country I exempted was the United States. Here's what I wrote on Europe:
I can't see how he thinks that's hypocritical. I agree now, as I did last week (and he may read my missive to confirm this) that France, Germany etc., had a right to limit immigration in order to maintain their cultural hegemony. I specifically exempted America because of my reading (which he has yet to challenge) of America's diverse cultural history.
His comments about the Palestinians are irrelevant, both because I didn't didn't disagree, and because they ignore my other points about Israeli culture. Israel is a Jewish majority state, and I want it to stay that way. I want to preserve Jewish culture there, the same way I respect the rights of Englishmen or Frenchmen to preserve their own cultures (though not to discriminate against people they've already admitted--I think that prohibiting Muslims from wearing a chador to public school would be wrong in any country). Consequently, I believe that Israel's discrimination against its Arab citizens is wrong. All Israeli citizens, including the 20%+ non-Jews, should be treated equally (I should qualify, though, that I don't see Israel as a strictly Western democracy, since I accept that the Rabbinate should have authority over marriages involving Jews--this may be inconsistent, but, since I believe in this big God guy who creates worlds and splits seas, and so on, I feel entitled to a little free irrationality in matters of religion, and don't claim to otherwise). Perhaps one day, in the future, there could be a federation of a Jewish Palestinian and Arab Palestinian state, in which rights are guaranteed for both parties. Conceivably, that could occur, but only after a long time of peace. Presuming that things got much, much better, and proper guarantees were put in place, why not?
As for now, however, letting in "good Palestinians" is still stupid and irrational, and still not comparable to the American example. There were "good Germans" and "good Japanese" during WWII, and it would have been stupid to admit them, because even if they are good, they are still coming from an enemy population. This is an incredibly weak argument. That good German might have had a cousin left behind who would be tortured unless the good German spied. Similarly, the good Palestinian might have family or personal ties that would lead him to betray Israel. I still see no relation to this and the Bodega guy across the street from the school I teach at. I would say that the US should be pretty circumspect about would be immigrants from the Muslim world today, not because of the cultural situation, but because of the military situation.
As for Christians, I don't know where he gets the idea that they can't move to Israel, and become citizens. From Russia, countless Christians have come. According to the Law of Return, you qualify for immediate citizenship if you have one Jewish grandparent. Moreover, while they don't qualify for the law of return, there have been a number of evangelicals who have moved to Israel, and gone through the naturalization process to become citizens, no problem. That they don't have a right of return is as fine with me as the fact that non-Germans don't have a right of return in in Germany, and volkdeutsch do. That seems fairly consistent.
Now, can I finally go back to reading about Luke's loathing for the conservative rabbinate?
A Chat With Stephen Bloom, Author Of Postville
I speak by phone July 1, 2003, with author Sue Fishkoff (The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch).
Luke: "What did you think of the book Postville?"
Sue: "It was a fascinating lurid read, filled with stereotypes and lies."
Luke: "What were the lies?"
Sue: "A lie by omission. The town [of Postville] and the Lubavitchers reached a modus vivendi, an agreement, before he turned in the final manuscript, but he chose to end his story while they were still at loggerheads. That was deceptive. He could've at least put that in the epilogue."
Luke: "Anything else?"
Sue: "That was the only lie. The stereotypes were almost anti-Semitic in his depictions of the fat, sweating, sloppy, Hasidic Jewish butchers."
Luke: "You don't think they could've been accurate?"
Sue: "They could have been accurate but the deceptive part of it was presenting that as a picture of Hasidic Jewry. If you go to a slaughterhouse in Chicago and you talk to the workers and you present that as a picture of Americans, that's no more or less deceptive or accurate. Yes, probably those descriptions of those particular people were accurate but it was the context that was misleading."
Luke: "So you didn't frequently encounter the Hasidim he depicts in your travels?"
Sue: "No, because who was I interviewing? The best and the brightest at the top of the foodchain. I would've encountered the same people he did if I had written his book. That said, it's a fascinating book. I read it all in one night. He's a very good writer."
On 7/2/03, I chat by phone with Stephen G. Bloom, author of Postville. He's on Sabbatical in Miami Beach.
Stephen: "I haven't read [Sue Fishkoff's] book. I read Samuel Freedman's review of her book in The New York Times Book Review, in which he cites Postville. He says her book is an interesting read but it's a valentine. It doesn't really deal with some of the more complex issues of the Lubavitchers.
"You're a good journalist for trying to pin her down when she says it's filled with stereotypes and lies. What were the lies? She sort of backtracks and says a lie by omission.
"I am in contact with many people in Postville on a weekly basis. The town of Postville and the Lubavitchers have never reached an agreement. I turned the manuscript in in mid-2000. There was not an agreement reached in mid-2000. There is not an agreement reached in the summer of 2003. I am not sure what she's talking about. I go up to Postville and talk to people in Postville and there's still a civil war being waged in Postville. I can give Sue Fishkoff, you, or anyone else, the names of dozens of people who will tell you that they want the Lubavitchers out. That the Lubavitchers have ruined that town. Crime has increased. The nature of that insular community is not the same.
"I'm not sure if Sue Fishkoff has been to Postville, if she's listening to the Lubavitchers and that's their story... I chose to end the story while they were still at loggerheads. They are still at loggerheads.
"She also talks about the stereotypes are almost anti-Semitic. I don't think so. My job is to report. My job is to go up there, open my eyes, and write what I see. If I see people who are sweating, doing a difficult job that requires a strong back and a strong stomach, I'm going to write that. That they are Jewish, should that enter into some kind of self-censorship? Absolutely not.
"Then she backtracks and you smartly say, 'Don't you think those descriptions could've been accurate?' She says they could've been accurate but the deceptive part was presenting that as a picture of Lubavitch. No way. This book is about Hasidim in a tiny town 23-miles west of the Mississippi River, in a corner of Iowa sandwiched between Minnesota and Wisconsin. It's not about Hasidic Jewry. It's about a town. The name of the book should tip off Sue Fishkoff that this book is not about the rebbe's army. It's about Postville. I'm not sure how more clearly we could've alerted the reader to that issue.
"Postville is a tiny town of 1400 that suddenly changed when 150 ultra-Orthodox fundamentalist Jews came and opened up a slaughterhouse.
"To the larger question you raise about reactions and social standing, did you read the epilogue in the paperback version?"
Luke: "Yes. You talk about two Hasidic women who congratulated you on the book."
Stephen: "I've spoken in a lot of public places. It's rare when I'm in a metropolitan venue and someone doesn't stand up and scream something like, 'Shame, shame, shame. For a Jew to say this about other Jews, shame on you.' I'm not going to surrender my role as a journalist based on erroneous inferences that some may draw that this is a story about Jews in general.
"I spoke in Chicago to the American Jewish Congress. I was introduced as a culinary Jew, as a lox and bagels kind of Jew. That did not sit well with me. It made me think that there is some kind of pecking order. That there are certain Jews who are less Jewish than other Jews. That if you keep kosher, you are a better Jew than others. If you go to synagogue every week, somehow you are a better Jew. It was a rating game. I didn't like being relegated to the bottom of that rating card. I think that fractures the collective nature of what it is to be a Jew."
Luke: "I know you emotionally didn't like it but didn't you intellectually realize that there was something to it, in that only the people who observe Jewish Law are going to perpetuate Judaism and the Jewish people?"
Steve: "No. If you and I were together, I'd probably be grabbing your shoulders right now and shaking you. Absolutely not. It's not in an intellectual way, it's in a visceral way that I found that offensive. My son Michael, his Hebrew name is Moishe, was just Bar Mitzvahed two weeks ago. To say that because I like lox and bagels that I'm not going to carry on the tradition of Judaism, shame on you. Shame on anyone. That's like the Orthodox saying, 'The Conservatives are the goyim.' That's like the Conservatives to the Reform, 'They don't know anything.' No, that's a bunch of bulls---. My kid is just as Jewish as any of those kids in Postville. And my kid read his parsha [Torah section] without mistake. My son wore a tallit and was able to carry a Torah around a synagogue. And to say that somehow because I don't keep kosher, I'm less committed to carrying on a Jewish tradition. No, that's the height of hypocrisy."
Luke: "Do you believe there's excellence in being Jewish?"
Steve: "I don't understand the question."
Luke: "There's excellence in journalism. You can be a good journalist, a bad journalist, or a mediocre journalist. You can be a good pianist or a bad pianist. You can be a good football player or a bad football player. Can you be a good Jew or a bad Jew?"
Steve: "Yeah, and it has nothing to do with how often you go to synagogue. It's something to do with what I believe Doc Wolf epitomized in the book [a Jew who did not practice Judaism and kept quiet about being Jewish]. The Hasidim confuse faith and religion. They believe if you know the 613 rules, you are a better Jew. No, no, no, no, no. If you precut toilet paper because you are not supposed to rip anything on the Sabbath, that means you are a better Jew? No. What makes you a better Jew is a sense that you are one of the Chosen people. Meaning, that way back Jews assigned themselves the role of being a model in their actions. That means that Jews ought to make this world a better place for those who follow us. All of those who follow us, not just Jews.
"My family and I take seriously the concept of repairing the world. Many of the Lubavitchers I met in Postville don't give a rat's ass about anyone else in the world except fellow Jews. I was a good person to write this story because I was allowed into the Lubavitcher family because my mother is Jewish. The Lubavitchers believed that I needed to be proselytized. Lubavitchers believe it is a mitzvah to make a Jew turn into a very observant [of Jewish Law] Jew. That wrapping tefillin is a mitzvah.
"In the five years I did this book, I interviewed 350 people in Postville. I learned that the Lubavitchers in Postville didn't care about the non-Jews. They look through the non-Jews. And it burned me because that is not what a righteous Jew is supposed to do. The world is larger than Jew vs non-Jew. It hurt me deeply as a Jew to see my fellow Jews not even acknowledge the locals, 'the goyim.'
"Even the word goyim makes my stomach burn. I'm repulsed by that."
Luke: "How about the word shiksa?"
Steve: "I'm repulsed by the word shaygetz, shiksa."
Steve: "Particularly schwartze. Jews of all people ought to know that they don't use words that are exclusionary. I remember the first reading I gave of Postville took place in Postville. We had a standing-room crowd only. I took to task the Hasidim for using the word 'goy.' A Hasidic woman raised her hand and again shouted shame, shame, shame. She addressed the crowd, explaining that in Hebrew, 'Goy means nation. We don't mean anything by that. They are not of our nation.' I said, 'They are of your nation. You're in fricken America.'
"There was a farmer who came up to me afterwards. He was too laconic and shy to say this in public. When that lady said we're the goyim, it reminded of those who said in the south, niggers. When you say to them, 'Don't use that word!' The good ol' Southern boy will say, 'We don't mean anything by it. That's just how we talk.' It does make a difference.
"I don't think Jews of all stripes need to use words like schwartze. I know it means black in German. It's a divisive term that subjugates people."
Luke: "Do you think it is wrong of Lubavitchers to ignore non-Jews?"
Steve: "They can do what they want. The way I carry on my life, I want to include people. There are too many bountiful things in this world for me to put blinders on so I can't allow myself to say hello to somebody on a Saturday morning in the middle of Iowa because his mother isn't Jewish. No, that's what you call racism. It's based on blood. Lubavitchers don't even see the guy on the sidewalk because to acknowledge him would be the beginning of assimilation. Then his children will play with my children and that's the end of our faith. I don't think it is the end of my son's faith if he plays stickball with Hispanic kids. I want him to do that."
Luke: "How would you feel if he married a non-Jew?"
Steve: "That's his decision. Isn't it presumptuous for me to tell my son to marry somebody based on solely on who somebody's mother is?"
Luke: "I don't think so, but I affiliate Orthodox. We're talking about the clash of Orthodox Judaism with modernity."
Steve: "Joe Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew and I don't think he would walk down the street and ignore someone who is not Jewish, particularly if the person is over 21 and can vote."
Luke: "Did you get much of that patronizing, you're just a lox and bagels Jew, from institutional Jewish life?"
Steve: "No. Most rabbis have written me and they're tickled by the book. They think the book took guts to write and needs to be out there.
"I want to address the issue of does the book spur anti-Semitism. It's why the book has received favorable comments from many rabbis. If there is anyone who is creating anti-Semitism in Postville, it is not the Steve Blooms who are going in there and observing, it is the Lubavitchers who are not wanting to fit in in any way, shape, or form to that community. It's the Lubavitchers who are cutting into line at the Post Office because, perhaps, that's what they do at Crown Heights.
"When I first got up there and I tried to connect to both sides of the story, it took a New York second for Sholom Rubashkin to acknowledge who I was. The first thing he said wasn't 'You're Stephen Bloom,' but, 'You're a Jew.' It took two years for the locals to muster enough moxie for them to backdoor into the issue. It was Ida May Olsen and Clifford Olsen who, apologetically, said, 'Are you Jewish, Stephen?' Two years of going up there every weekend. For most of the Postville locals, there was no vision of what a Jew is, except perhaps Seinfeld. They'd never met a Jew before. And in come 150 ultra-Orthodox Jews, many of whom are very obnoxious, who essentially flip the bird to the locals. If Postville people were different people, they'd think that's what all Jews are like. People have told me that my entry into this theater of sorts gave them optimism that all Jews were not of that ilk.
"The book has never been acknowledged by the institutional body of Judaism. It was never really reviewed any of the Jewish magazines like Reform Judaism or Moment. I thought that was peculiar. It's one of the first books that takes to task a group of Jews.
"About a year and a half ago, I got an email from Hadassah, saying that Postville had been picked as one of the six books that Hadassah was going to urge all of its members to read. It's a congratulatory email. They wanted to know if I had a reader's guide to the book. I was surprised but proud that Hadassah could be open and large enough to accommodate a book like Postville.
"A week later, I get another email from Hadassah. 'Mr Bloom, we're sorry. We made a mistake. Postville isn't one of the books.'"
Luke: "Any explanation?"
Steve: "They said it was a clerical mistake."
Luke: "Yeah, right."
Steve: "Hadassah is the only Jewish magazine to review the book. They said it was a great book but at the end of the review, they say that Mr. Bloom is a self-loathing Jew."
"This was not an easy book to sell [because it made a group of Jews look bad]. I have an agent in New York City. We had a literary auction. There was someone interested from the Free Press. He'd read the proposal and he wanted to interview me. He said, 'First off, I'm uncomfortable with your conclusions. The Jews come out the bad guys.' I said, 'This book is not for you,' and hung up.
"There were 18 publishers who had the chance to bid on this book and only two bid on it. I ended up with Harcourt, who were terrific.
"When I handed in the manuscript, the editor said two things to me: 'One - this is terrific. Two - I'm really glad you're Jewish, because I don't think we would be able to publish this if you weren't.'
"I teach journalism at the University of Iowa and I make a point of telling my students that there's a difference between accuracy and truth. It's accurate to say that 6,000,000 Jews were killed during World War II. It's not truthful. Truth carries a higher responsibility.
"Most journalists would parachute into Postville, hang out for a day or two, go back to Chicago and write their story. It would be a 'Golly, gee whiz' story. That's the story I did write in fact. Postville began as a piece in the Chicago Tribune Sunday magazine. I wrote 8,000 words and it was 'Golly, gee whiz, who would've thunk it?' Wow, Hasidic Jews, guys with hats and beards, in a state that has ten times as many pigs as people.
"There was something about that story that propelled me deeper and deeper into Postville and also into myself. It initially hurt me when I would read flippant comments about the depth of my observations.
"Postville is painful because it is me, my family. I put it all on the line.
"The hatchet pieces were in Orthodox Jewish newspapers. There was a newspaper in Chicago where the review began, 'This is the worst book I have ever read in my life.' The Lubavitchers in their own organ said that I should convert to Protestantism. They said that I should not be welcomed in any synagogue. So they're the only righteous Jews?
"When I report, I never use a tape recorder. I always use a notebook. I keep it in my backpocket. I get people comfortable with me. About the sixth or seventh time [Stephen sees them], I start taking notes. It's a time-intensive, labor-intensive business. It's not, 'Gee whiz, tell me what you've got,' and then leave."
Luke: "Why don't you use a tape recorder?"
Steve: "It inhibits people. I find that 97% of what people say is background information and is not quotable. How old are you?"
Luke: "I'm 37."
Steve: "I find that in the newsroom, there's a line of demarcation at about 45. People over 45 do not use tape recorders. People under 45 do.
"It's difficult to have a conversation with somebody with the tape recorder rolling. I don't like tape recorders and often times they don't work. Are you taping this?"
Steve: "That's fine. I'm a writer who is particularly interested in language. I want to listen to how the Hasidim and the locals express themselves. There's a great line in the book when Clifford Jay Olsen says about the locals, 'The Jews are coons on a hound's back.' I always think that quotes are for opinion, not for recitation of fact. The only time I would use a tape recorder is when I only have one opportunity to interview a person. If I am interviewing a Colin Powell or a jury foreman at a press conference after a murder conviction."
Luke: "Did you notice a difference in reactions to your book from Jews and non-Jews?"
Steve: "Yeah. I'm not going to put it that way exactly. Three groups of people didn't like the book. Many academics did not like it because I put myself in it, there are no footnotes, and it sold well. It was nontraditional research. I do not look at myself as an ethnographer. I look at myself as a journalist. There's a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education that takes some cheap shots at the book."
Luke: "Oh? I love cheap shots."
Steve: "It's a strange review.
"There are a lot of Iowans who don't like the book because they think I take cheap shots at Iowa. They say I make people believe that everyone is a country bumpkin who just fell off the turnip truck but these are my perceptions coming from San Francisco, where I lived for a long time. Interestingly, former Iowans love the book.
"Then the last group being those who claim that I am anti-Semitic. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews. I don't get many emails from them. Ninety nine percent of the emails I get are wildly enthusiastic. Many rabbis have written me, praising the book. Many Conservative and Orthodox rabbis, who don't like the Hasidim for their heavy-handed tactics, have written me to praise the book."
Luke: "You mention that crime has gone up in Postville. Is it the Lubavitchers?"
Steve: "No. When I was doing the research for Postville, the Hasidim would not hire Mexicans. That changed after I wrote the book because the labor shortage was so acute. The crime rate has increased in Postville based on a couple of things. One, that there is a slaughter house and they employ 500 people at that slaughterhouse. You don't need much to work at a slaughter house except a strong back and a strong stomach. Most of the men who work at the slaughterhouse are there alone. There's no family support system. So the liquor store is popular on payday. When you mix single men, no family support system, and alcohol, there's a higher evidence of crime."
Luke: "These generally aren't Jews working these manual jobs? These are immigrant laborers?"
Steve struggles. He hates to answer in racial terms: "Yeah. There have been several incidents of high profile crime in Postville. One incident involved two Hispanics. One involved a Russian and Ukrainian, both non-Jews. There was an attempted murder committed by a Jew on another Jew. So it's not exclusive to non-Jews.
"This is a self-selecting population. Jews who would go to Postville are not typically scholars. They're butchers. There are two no-goodniks, two bad [Jewish] guys in Postville the book, Stillman and Lew. If you have a problem kid, and you live in Brooklyn or Crown Heights, what better place would there be to send him than a Lubavitcher community in North Eastern Iowa? This community is not a cross-section of Lubavitchers. This book is not about Lubavitchers. It's about Postville."
Luke: "Do you have any Lubavitch friends?"
Luke: "Nobody in the Lubavitch community in Postville is talking to you today?"
Steve: "Nobody from that community is talking to me today."
Luke: "Is there any Jewish journalism you admire within the Jewish press? I find most of it a wasteland."
Steve: "There are a lot of journalists who are Jewish that I admire. Remember what I said about the editor from the Free Press? 'We can't publish this. It makes me feel skittish.'
"That's how it is. A lot of people said to me, 'Wow, this would make a great movie. It's like Witness. We could call it Vitness.'
"Well, the Jews come out as the bad guys. It can't be made into a movie for a lot of good reasons. Who's going to make it into a movie? Look at Hollywood.
"If you run that, people are going to say, 'Gee, is he talking about the Jewish conspiracy, a cabal that runs Hollywood?' No. But a lot of Jews make influential and important decisions in Hollywood and this would make a tough sell.
"I read Jewish Currents [a secular progressive Jewish monthly magazine]. I devour a lot of Jewish publications, like Reform Judaism, a great magazine. But when it comes to discussions of Israel and meaty issues like the Hasidim, no, there's a complete boycott of those kinds of articles.
"Jewish Currents comes out of New York City. It's not a slick magazine. They gave Postville a positive review. It's the closest Jewish publication I see that attempts to write about Jewish issues fairly, accurately."
Steve praises his friend Samuel Freedman and his book Jew vs Jew.
Luke: "It's a safer book than yours. He doesn't blow any covers."
Steve: "I don't think it went far enough but I'm not Sam Freedman. A lot of people have read Postville and said, 'Wow, that's a gutsy book. You lay it on the line.' I always looked at it as reporting and stumbling on the social laboratory called Postville and doing my job.
"People have used this book as a touchstone for their own personal situations. I've gotten many emails from gay men who have looked at the book and seen themselves as being persecuted, as the Postville locals look at themselves, by this powerful group of brokers. A lot of feminist women have written me, like Susan Brownmiller, who talks about how courageous the book is and how it should be viewed as a book about oppression of people who do not belong. Those who don't belong in this topsy turvy world are the locals."
Luke: "So your book hasn't impinged on your private life? You haven't gotten death threats?"
Steve: "No, I haven't gotten death threats. Some people on my street are smarting that I wrote about the Watermelon social, that we didn't get invited, and that when I gave the watermelon social, nobody came. They seem to read what they want to read into the book. They say I imply in the book that they are anti-Semites. If you read the whole book, you'll read that a year after I gave the watermelon social, another newcomer (non-Jew) gave a watermelon social and nobody came.
"There's a minor character in the book, Brenda Barnhart. She runs a bed and breakfast for Chicago city slickers who want to know what it is like to live on a farm in Iowa. I describe her as 'big-boned and handsome.' Boy, did I ever hear from her!
"Warning to any writers who are reading your website - make sure that before you write 'big-boned and handsome' about a woman, that you are certain that you want to write that.
"I gave a reading at a small bookstore in Marquette, Iowa, and she came in with four gnarly very large motorcycle riders and just screamed at me for 40-minutes. 'You know that for the rest of my life, I will be called 'big-boned and handsome.' Does any woman you know like to be called handsome?'
"I'm not going to shy away from accurately describing people but at the same time I want to make sure that that description is fundamental to the reader's perception of the image I want to create. In this case, it wasn't, so I took that out from the paperback."
I ask Steve for contact info for his wife, Iris Frost, a former features editor at the San Francisco Chronicle for ten years.
Steve: "You are the first journalist who's wanted to talk to her about the book, but that's fine."
Iris says her husband's book is wonderful and she hasn't had to deal with any social ostracism because of it. "Quite the contrary. Ever since the book has come out, people have flocked to us with kind words and gestures. There's a man in Ann Harbor, Michigan, who comes to Iowa City, and he brings us lean corn beef as a present. We get letters from people who say, 'I've never written to an author before...' Some of the people I went to high school with have emailed my husband, 'Is it possible that the Iris who grew up on Miami Beach is the person I went to high school with.' People have not turned their back but stood up to say this book meant something to them."
Luke: "Not even the neighbors who were upset with being written about in the watermelon social?"
Iris: "A lot of people who read that have whispered to me that if they had lived on my street, they would've come to the party."
Luke: "Did you have any concerns about how self-revelative Stephen was being with the book?"
Iris: "No, because I never read the book before it was published. I was busy with law school. I only went to Postville once or twice."
Luke: "Were your sympathies with the natives of Postville?"
Iris: "I didn't really have any opinion about that because I had not been involved in getting to know anybody in Postville.
"This book has struck a chord. People come to our door. One woman came with her five-year old daughter from Colorado. She just knocked on the door and asked, 'Would you be willing to sign my book and take a photograph with me and my daughter?' The book was meaningful to a whole group of people who grew up Jewish but not Orthodox but are the bulk of the reformed [I think she means Reform] Jews in this country. People like us who have Jewish traditions, Jewish roots and Jewish heritage but are not as religious or as committed as the Lubavitch."
Luke: "Have you had much experience with Lubavitch Jews?"
Iris: "No, not really. I was raised in a pretty ultra-reformed [secular] environment. I grew up on Miami Beach, where a large chunk of the community was Jewish. Being Jewish was not a big deal. It was not different. I had friends who were Christians."
Luke: "Is it still weird being a Jew in Iowa?"
Iris: "Yes but less than it was."