My friend Robert Avrech is getting 100 emails a day, mostly from Jewish parents grieving the death of a child.
Help Me Make a Match for My Friend in New York
I'm not saying exactly who he is, as shyness and modesty are among his many endearing traits. Let's just call him "Chaim." And let's also have an open mind and not harbor ancient hatreds based on a man's name. Anyway, this person writes me as follows:
Yeah, this picture is a few years old and my hair is not as black, but you can still see what I look like, ladies. To cut to the chase, I want a wife. A woman of intelligence and virtue who will be my help-mate, have sex with me, use my sperm to fertilize her many viable eggs, and provide me with the strong, beautiful children I desire. Of course, this means that she must be young, for only young women have the fertility and cheerful disposition that I crave in a mate. Possibly she is the sort of woman who dresses modestly to avoid the unwelcome stares that her beauty would otherwise bring her. She is sick of conventionally successful, attractive men with all their bullshit, and is looking for something else. And I am nothing if not something else.
I suspect that this woman is Christian, since most Jewish women aren't into me and have other traits that I do not desire in a mate. I have yet to meet this woman on my own, which is why I am appealing to you, Luke. With the help of your far-flung network of readers and all the kind-hearted women with whom you have social intercourse (who also have adult daughters, sisters, etc.), I think she is reachable. If any of you know of such a woman, please contact Luke Ford, who will make the necessary arrangements.
PS I have decided to withold my picture for now, but if any plausible candidates make their desires known to you Luke, I will forward a copy of one to you.
Malcolm Hoenlein Is Not A Thug, Nor A Crook
I need more drugs and whores in these stories of Jewish journalism.
Levi, go back to your old job ..... I don't get it -- you presumably left the p--- and celeb journalism because you were blacklisted by the Jewish community. But now you complain that you are ostracized anyway. So why not be blacklisted and make money instead of be blacklisted and broke? And seriously, it's not like you are really about to marry a pious woman and have ten kids. Israel really is the place for one as confused as you. We've got all the drugs, whores, religion, scandal and constant turmoil you seem to crave.
Platonically Making Love With Paris Hilton
Last week, I had a platonic date with a shiksa (just to remember what it is like to go out with a woman, it's been so long). She gave me a badly-needed air freshener (for my van) with an ad for The Simple Life 2 on it. I'm concerned that given my enormous influence in my kehilla that I might cause otherwise observant Jews to slip and fall and watch TV.
So I scraped together my pennies to buy an air freshener, but it has a Christmas tree design, and I'm concerned that this would promote idolatry.
After my platonic date, we platonicly went back to my place and platonicly made love. Just kidding! My morals are too firm.
Once A Month If I Become An Ass-Driver
I've been studying the learned works of American Jewish journalists Andrew Silow-Carroll and Larry Cohler-Esses. What's up with these hyphenated last names? What does the Torah say? If my woman does not take my last name, and abandons her own, I don't think I could make love to her twice a month as the Torah commands (once a month if I become an ass-driver).
I heard a story from a Jewish lady who taught school for 17 years. Then she went to Loyola Marymount (a Roman Catholic university) to become a school psychologist. In class, she heard lots of theories that she knew from her years of teaching were bogus. One time each class, she asked a sharp question. This rattled her goyisha teachers. Married, she wore hats to cover her hair. This rattled her goyisha teachers and they tried to run her out of the program. Finally they told her that her hats would scare people off and she must get rid of them. So she bought a sheitl for $350. One of her professors pulled her aside to ask what was going on. She said she had bought a sheitl. He said she looked like a bag lady. She went home and cried. But she stayed in the program, graduated (because they were afraid they could get sued, so they stopped abusing her), and now works as a school psychologist (but not in the Jewish district of the LA Unified School district, because they are the most likely to sue and cause trouble).
I enjoyed this book over Shabbos when claustrophobia drove me out of shul into the shade to read and reflect.
Men in Black Parade
After davening this morning, Chaim Amalek and our single over-30 mates from yeshiva headed over to West Hollywood, still wearing our tefillin, for a men-in-black parade.
After we got our signs together praising Torah, self control and reparative therapy, and began marching, we discovered to our chagrin we were in a gay pride parade. What to do? Should we separate from wickedness or should we try to influence the marchers to observe the Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah (which include a prohibition on homosexual sex)? What do you think we did?
I know a gay man raised Orthodox who has tentatively titled his autobiography, Men in Black.
Many of us yeshiva bochers would be married already except we refuse women who are not virgins. Thanks to the deplorable laxness of Los Angeles Orthodoxy, such innocence is not easy to find. Nor three wisemen. After Chaim and I, who's left? Lord Peter Luther Christian, OBE?
A Rav Appreciation
Cathy Seipp writes: "Actually he does know he's wrong when he's wrong; he just refuses to admit it or do anything about it. Still, I feel it my duty to rebuke him at least sometimes."
Who Says You Can Never Go Home?
On June 21, 2001, I was ejected from Young Israel of Century City for my sins. It began a dark year in my life. On June 20, 2004, for the first time since my ejection, I turned the handle of the front door of YICC and stepped inside. I clutched a book, The Jewish Idea and its Enemies, by Edward Alexander.
The occasion was the Ariel Avrech Z"L Yarzeit Lecture & Brunch.
When I left YICC in 2001, I left almost all my friends behind. Then, in the fall of 2002, I saw on a poster at Torah Ohr that Ariel needed a living lung lobar transplant. Without thinking through the serious surgery required and the likelihood of longterm pain and problems, I volunteered to give part of my lung to Ariel (when my doctor found out, she was strongly opposed). My primary motivation (aside from helping Ariel) was to prove to my former community that I was a mentch and not a rasha (wicked person) as many believed.
According to the USC transplants official, I was the only person who volunteered. The call to give never came. Ariel died July 1, 2003. In the shiva following his death, and in the davening, I renewed my acquaintance with former YICC friends.
Today at YICC I avoided making eye contact with anyone except my friend Robert, Ariel's father.
I did not want to go today. I have too much pride. But my obligations to a friend superceded my own wishes.
I took my old seat. I saw people who'd felt betrayed three years ago when they found out about my second life. They had hosted me for Shabbat and Jewish holidays. One former friend sat two seats away today. I avoided eye contact. I didn't want to face what I've done. I either read my book, buried my face in my hands, or looked straight ahead.
Losing my religion. REM. (As Rabbi Mordecai Finley says, every important philosophy has been explicated in a pop song.)
Summer began today. As the temperatures rise in the Northern Hemisphere and the days lengthen, Judaism gets sadder as we enter the three weeks of mourning leading up to the saddest day in the Jewish calendar - Tishu Be'Av.
Jack writes: " Thanks so much for not getting up and asking if being a funny Rav helps get chicks."
Waiting in line for the brunch, I busied myself in my book. I wanted to avoid all interaction. I wanted to run out the door but the desserts looked too good. I took a seat at the most isolated table in the room but an ebullient group of four people in their fifties drew me into their conversation despite my sincerest wishes to stay silent.
I said I did not like to take orders. That's why I was attracted to Orthodox Judaism. Because of its wide open atmosphere. "You've never been married," observed one man.
I said "Grace After Meals." I drove home and listened to "Losing my Religion" by REM.
Which members of the LAT most deserved to be blown up in an Iraqi cafe?
Now that's a nasty comment. It makes Cathy Seipp's suggestion pale by comparison in nastiness:
There's a ton of deadwood at The Times, so I shed no tears over a round of layoffs. Losing a job is traumatic if you haven't suffered real losses in life such as the death of loved ones and immobilizing illness.
Now, to take the headline seriously for a moment. I do not believe that life is the ultimate value. I believe that God and goodness are ultimate. Therefore, if a person is doing more harm with his life than good, it would be better for that person to repent and do good. If he is not going to repent, then it is better for that person and for the world that he die.
No, I do not know of anybody at the LAT who I would wish dead. Nor do I think it would be seemly to make a poll on such.
I have a serious question. During the Intifada in Israel (since September 2001), the LAT has tilted more than the NYT and other news media against Israel. Is it wrong to pray for the death of those journalists who dedicate themselves to misrepresenting the Jewish state? A couple of Orthodox rabbis I know say that such prayers would be holy.
I'm getting all philosophical because I just came back from a Saturday night screening of Another State of Mind, a 1984 documentary about punk rockers.
I despised the punk scene when I was in high school (1980-84) because I saw it as nihilistic. (Even though I hated punk, I had cordial relations with many punkers.) I hate nihilism because it inevitably leads to evil. It saps the moral foundations of a good society (the nihilistic 1920s of the Weimar Republic led to Nazi Germany).
I watched this documentary and I hated the punk scene all over again. Most of the people in the doc seemed to be leading sad worthless lives. It's no surprise to learn that many of them today are dead of drug overdoses and other self-destructive behavior. It doesn't surprise me to hear Shawn Stern, still a punker (rich Jewish kid from Beverly Hills) hail the death of Reagan and describe George Bush as the worst president ever.
PS. I have a friend writing an article for a major magazine about the LA drug scene. He needs contacts who are heavily into this. Email Luke.
PPS. A sample of my conversation with Cathy Seipp Saturday night.
Cathy: "Is that a new cologne you're wearing?"
Luke, feeling pleased: "No."
Cathy: "Is that Grecian Formula? Did you just put it on?"
Luke, not pleased: "Yes."
Cathy Seipp writes:
Friday morning.Long drive. Black suit. Black strangling tie. Sinai Cemetary in Simi Valley. Sun shines. Hills like brown elephants. Dead grass. Broken boulders. Mexicans dig ditches. I park my hideous van.
A crowd of people I used to pray with daily. Rabbis and yeshiva students repeat Psalms. Brief talks. Words of literature, words of Torah. Floods of tears. I stand at the back, clasping my book Consolation.
Line forms. We pick up rocks and place them one at a time on the grave.
"The grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace." (Andrew Marvell)
What Are The Obstacles To Good Jewish Journalism?
"What are the chief obstacles to doing good Jewish journalisms?"
"Your assuming there isn't much good Jewish journalism. Some people do it well. The Forward does it really well. The Jewish Week in New York can do it really well on certain topics."
"How often do you think they do it really well?"
"It depends on what your goals are. If your goal every week is to muckrake and to uncover a scandal, you have to assume there are a lot of scandals that are going under the radar. I'm not sure how true that is. One judge of Jewish journalism is not just covering a community's bad news but making sure the debate about Jewish life reflects a broad range of opinions. Jewish journalism is doing a better job of that over the past ten years than it ever did. Partly because when Rabin came to power, it broke down the taboo on the right of criticizing Israel. Let's separate the reporting from ideas journalism. There are definitely more ideas in play in Jewish journalism than there have been in the past. The ZOA (Zionist Organization of America) is glad to criticize the Sharon government as harshly as ten years ago, Peace Now criticized the Shamir government.
"Yeah, there's probably not enough hard news investigative reporting in Jewish journalism but that doesn't mean that Jewish journalism is a rubber stamp for some of the biggest ideas in Jewish life."
"Is the New Jersey Jewish News owned by the local Jewish Federation?"
"It is. It is an obstacle. It puts a constraint on us and the things we can report about. Within the world of Jewish Federation owned newspapers, my Federation tries to extend as much independence as possible. I get to write my editorials. I don't have to submit them to an editorial board. I don't have to submit my articles to an editorial board. I do have to have a consulting relationship with them that I would rather not have. About half of Jewish newspapers are in that boat. Being independent doesn't mean you're a good paper and being with the Federation doesn't necessarily mean that you're bad. When you're independent, it doesn't mean that you don't have constraints coming from advertisers and your owner. I've worked for individual owners who sometimes have more axes to grind than the community boards that run or advise a Federation paper.
"It is up to a good editor to see that a full story is told. We've been able to. I've been here a year-and-a-half. I was at the Forward before that. We've been able to tell stories honestly, though sometimes not with the telling detail that I would prefer. You start thinking, can this story be told without embarrassing the participants more than they need to be embarrassed? Can the story be told without doing damage to the institution itself beyond the damage it deserves? I'm not embarrassed by this restraint. We're a small paper serving a small community which is a small subset of a small ethnic group. We have a kind of responsibility that you don't have if you have a big wild and woolly city weekly that doesn't have to worry about the sensibilities of a small voluntary community. I have 45,000 subscribers."
"What were the benefits and costs in journalism of moving to your present position?"
"Benefits: You have a nice intimate relationship with your readers who are rooted in their geography and want to know about their friends and neighbors. The Forward is a national paper that sets an agenda for the organizational world but you don't meet your readers beyond the board rooms of the big organizations. The down side is independence. Independence is nice at the Forward. It's nice to be able to say that the only thing that matters in this story is -- is it true? Is it fair? Is it accurate? At some level, every good journalist should ask, is it serving a purpose? You don't have to ask: Whose oxe is being gored? What are the prices of a volunteer philanthropist not liking the story? That's liberating. Because it's a national newspaper, every week the Forward can go out and find the 15-20 best stories in the country. I'm a local weekly. I have to find the best things that are happening in my geography. Some weeks are interesting and some weeks are pro forma."
"When and where did you begin in Jewish journalism?"
"I go back to the late '80s at the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. I was a freelancer. I got hired by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (30 months). Then I was at the Washington Jewish Week for 30 months. I became editor. I had a great staff, including Larry Cohler. We had an independent owner who was erratic but gave us latitude to write some interesting things, including the Israel-US relationship. We built up an interesting reputation for telling the truth at a time when that was not that accepted in the Jewish world that you would write something that would not reflect well, especially on Israel.
"I resigned after my late boss demoted me, ostensibly because I was too young (I was in my early 30s), but at the same time AIPAC was distributing a memo saying I was a leftist who shouldn't be editing a Jewish weekly. Apparently an AIPAC "monitor" caught a speech I gave at a picnic for Washington-area left-wing groups, and alleged that by my speaking at a picnic for left-wing groups, I was endorsing their agenda.(I spoke everywhere I was invited -- that's one of the responsibilites of being an editor.) But AIPAC had clearly been upset with Larry Cohler's reporting and had previously approached me directly about taking him off the story. I refused. I can' say the publisher was responding directly to that memo -- he was famously erratic and went through about ten editors in twelve years. But I know close friends of his were in possession of the memo. My [late] boss went through about ten editors in twelve years. AIPAC thought that by my speaking at a picnic for left-wing groups, I was endorsing their agenda. I was in my early 30s."
"Do you carry resentment to AIPAC to this day?"
"Not to this day. My life has moved on. I wasn't all that hurt by it professionally. At the time, I thought it was unfortunate that a Jewish organization would be involved in suppressing debate around the country. AIPAC has changed its stripes because suppressing debate now means suppressing the right. Norman Podhoretz wrote as soon as Rabin came to power that it's ok to criticize Israel. It's ok to critize the Left. It put AIPAC out of their control-the-message business.
"In all my years with Larry, I never remember printing a correction, clarification, or retraction. What AIPAC hated at the time, and what they still hate about the Forward, is that they don't think these things should be written about. They make the case that we need a unified voice when it comes to Israel because we are a beleaguered people. By reporting on dissent in the community, you give fodder to Israel's enemies.
"But consensus in the Jewish community does not exist. By not providing a voice to those who dissent, you disenfranchise a large part of the community. The Conference of Presidents can say, why are you printing these guys who have no standing in the community? Well, they have no standing in the community because they lost the vote. It doesn't mean they are not dues-paying members of the community. We need to be a voice for both.
"Malcom Hoenlein (executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of major American Jewish Organizations) recently spoke to the American Jewish Press Association on the topic of dissent in the community. He seemed to be troubled by articles that report dissent in the community. I think he had the Forward in mind. Jewish newspapers go to reliable people knowing they will disagree with the mainstream. And that's not responsible, according to Hoenlein. If the Conference of Presidents comes to a consensual idea, it's not responsible to go to Tikkun for a contrary opinion."
"You don't have any time for that view, right?"
"Who am I to read Tikkun out of the communal debate? If Bush doesn't get 30% of the [Jewish] votes come November, nobody is going to be surprised. We've known all along that he still has vulnerabilities in the Jewish community.
"Republican Jews, to take another example, are a minority in the Jewish community, but we are obligated to publish their views.
"I'm not even sure what Malcom would expect of us. Just to report Conference of Presidents proceedings as is without hinting about the debates that roil beneath the surface is a false picture of Jewish life."
"People like him who consume an enormous amount of journalism really don't have the first clue about it."
I think to myself, "You can call what Malcom wants for the Jewish press many things, such as propaganda, but you can't call it journalism."
"Quite the opposite," says Andrew. "Malcom is a savvy player. He knows full well what we do. He thinks Jewish journalism has a different responsibility than mainstream journalism. And it is true: There is an advocacy part of what we do that demands that we work closely with the greater aims of the Jewish community. Then the debate comes who sets those aims. Malcom feels that as the professional at a group that represents consensus among the presidents of the top 52 Jewish organizations he's the closest you are going to get to it. They set the advocacy agenda. Jewish journalism should not undermine that agenda. It's a point of view about journalism. I think he understands journalism entirely."
I scream in my head: "It's a point of view akin to Goebells. Journalism as the hand maiden of the Authority. Malcom Bloody Hoenlein should take his place with the former Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf as a bloody-minded propagandist out of 1984. What he wants has as much to do with journalism as ham and eggs have to do with Orthodox Judaism.
"In an age of spin, Malcom Hoenlein offers feeling and authenticity. His message is consistent -- unshakeable, in fact, no matter the evidence -- but he commands daily attention by his on-the-spot, invective-rich variations on the theme. His lunatic counterfactual art is more appealing than the banal awfulness of the Reliable Sources. He is a Method actor in a production that will close in a couple of days. He stands superior to truth."
I keep my temper and protest gently to Andrew, "That's not journalism. That's Pravda."
Andrew: "Umm, maybe. I won't go that far. I just know it's a different view of what we should be."
"You can't hold any truck with that."
If you did, you might as well turn in your gonads to Malcom Bloody Hoenlein, and when he thinks it is ok for you to have your balls back, maybe he'll give them to you.
Andrew: "I tend not to. Which is not to say that we don't think about a responsibility to Jewish life. We do have an advocacy role to play. I'm not neutral on Israel. I'm proudly pro-Israel. If there's a point of view expressed in the Israel Knesset, it's probably fair to have it expressed in the American Jewish community. There's Tommy Lapid, Ariel Sharon and Yossi Beilin. These are all good Jewish Israelis whose opinions should be expressed in our paper. It doesn't mean we'll print everything. It doesn't mean that I don't weigh the effects of what we do on Jewish well being."
"Is there much self-hating Jewish stuff written anymore?"
My neshama longs for the days of controversy over Portnoy's Complaint (Phillip Roth) and Israel Shahak.
"By my opinion, I don't think there ever was. I don't buy that Portnoy's Complaint was self-hating. Where the self-hating stuff is supposedly going on today is on the far Left of the mainstream political debate. You've got a lot of Jews involved in The Nation magazine and MoveOn.org. They are very critical of Israel. Tony Jutt who wrote that piece in the New York Review of Books questioning Israel's legitimacy. They would be described as self-hating. Not about American Jewry, but about Israel."
"But they're not funny. Remember the funny purportedly self-hating stuff of 30 years ago?"
"Most of the interesting Jewish literature now is being written by the more observant core Jews. Roth and Wallace Markfield (To an Early Grave) were writing in reaction to assimilationist tension. Now the interesting stuff is by Allegra Goodman, Nathan Englander, who are looking at what is happening among Jews who are religious and involved. The assimilation thing has been played out. There is less reason for self hatred. The self-haters, if there ever were, opted out of Jewish life and the ones who stayed in are getting ever more Jewish."
What did you think of The New Rabbi?"
"I think it is a terrific book. I belong to a Conservative synagogue. I can look out from my pew and see some of the people named in the book. I'm surprised by the reaction from all the Conservative rabbis about the damage he did. I thought it was a pro-rabbi book. It showed that lay leaders can be incredibly petty. It showed how difficult it can be for a rabbi to be a politician who has to please an entire congregation. The famous stuff about Perry Rank [that he wore his kipa side-saddle] made the synagogue look bad for focusing on such superficial things. It didn't make me think less of Perry Rank. I'm baffled [at the accusations that] Fried spoke lashon hara in this book. He did a lot of homework, got the cooperation of most of the people in the book, and told a useful story. I wouldn't want to be a rabbi and not read that book."
"I was ticked off at the criticism by so many Conservative rabbis. These guys must be incredibly thin-skinned and control freaks."
"There's a little of that. There's a certain amount of self importance in the role. It's one thing for you and I and Stephen Fried and Ari Goldman to agree that rabbis are public figures. If they don't see themselves as such, however, there's going to be a period of transition where they don't fully understand their role as public figures. They may find themselves saying things that a public figure would not. I don't know how much education is going in the Jewish Theological Seminary about press relations. If you come up as a politician or a civil service executive, you have a press office.
"In community journalism, we say you're a public figure, whether you're the head of a pre-school or a day school principal, but they don't see themselves as such, so they're not savvy with the newspaper. They can get screwed. They don't know how to play the game. I tell my reporters all the time that we have some responsibility to tell them that we are going to be writing about this. Think about how you want to message this. Make sure you are speaking for the synagogue and not just yourself."
"Is there good American Jewish journalism by Israeli papers?"
"Not much. I haven't been that impressed. The Israelis take a patronizing tone to nutty American Judaism, meaning Reform and Conservative Jews. Israelis don't have a grasp of American diversity.
"Federation papers can do a good job. The serious people you want to attract to Jewish causes are not going to be attracted to a newspaper that is pediatric or geriatric. If they see themselves and their concerns and their dissent reflected in the pages of the paper, they're more likely to respect the community and take part. That's how I sold myself to my current position and I think they buy it."
"Any reflections on your time guest-blogging on Protocols?"
"You're talking to the inside of the inside. Really smart people. I get a lot of ideas from them. They're insiders who are talking out of school every now and then. In between the rumors, there are the germs for a good story."
A source writes:
Shmarya Failed Messiah writes:
Reviewed by Stephen Fried for the Washington Post:
The Sad Truths Behind Jewish Journalism
Aaron writes: "The problem with Jewish newspapers, as I see it, is simply that they've never really outgrown thinking of themselves as essentially community newsletters. A newspaper has an obligation to be somewhat contrary in its approach, if only to maintain a readership that thrives on controversy. A newsletter, on the other hand, prints things that are nice, so that people can get nachas out of the stories. If a newsletter does print negative stories, it's only doing so to mirror what its general readership believes, the better to maintain that readership. It's foolish to hope for real journalistic integrity coming from a Jewish "newspaper." The best I ever hope for is some really good gossip."
I've Decided to Become the Watchdog of the Jewish Press
Chaim Amalek writes:
Nicole Kidman In Hot Water
Brian writes: "I would've traded my entire collection of Garbage Pail Kids to make out with Nicole Kidman."
Georgy writes: "I have a better idea: make the movie about a ten year old girl!! That should really shake up the fuzzy-wuzzies."
Stenny writes: "I'm afraid I don't see whats wrong with it. This is art and must be understood that way. The point of the movie is not perversion but self discovery. In the mind of the character played by Nichol the child is not a ten year old but rather is her long lost husband. If she is trying to rekindle what she has lost then I see no problem with it. I am sure the child will from his experience with her have a revelation and realize who he really is. This sounds like a good love story to me."
Ryan writes: "Lets also have a movie about a couple of 12-year olds who , in their minds, are adults (not a terribly uncommon attitude), and have them hump away on screen for 2 hours and call THAT art."
Siergen writes: "I recall a movie in the early 1980's where a teenage boy appeared in a bathtub with topless adult woman. No kissing in the tub as I remember, but they later had a sex scene in bed. I think it was called 'Private Lessons.' Didn't cause much controversy at the time, but maybe the actors weren't famous enough, or maybe child abuse was still something people didn't talk about..."
John writes: "Attitudes have changed markedly on underage sex since the early 80s. Recally _Pretty Baby_, where a mother in a brothel, Susan Sarandon, introduces her 12-yr old daughter, Brooke Shields, into prostitution. This was a mainstream movie, which could not possibly be filmed today."
'Private Lessons' was about a 15-year-old; 'Pretty Baby' was controversial at the time.
Lvnv writes: Memo to Boston Archdiocese: Have you tried the "but the alter boy was my reincarnated lover" defense? Better yet, any future pedophilia must happen in public view. That way: it's not buggery. It's performance art! Listen to me and you'd have saved a couple mill.
Dave writes: Have any of those foaming at the mouth seen the scene in question? If not, why are they assuming this is somehow pornographic? Diane Keaton went much further in a Bertolucci film, in which she played an opera diva with a druggie adolescent son. In one scene she gives him masturbatory relief (c lothed, but unflinching) and the entire relationship descends into frank incest. It was shocking (the son was played I think, by then teen Matt Dillon) but it was not arousing, nor was it meant to be.
Morgan writes: I'm reminded of Interview With The Vampire and a 12 year old Kirsten Dunst kissing 30some Brad Pitt.
Fester writes: If Mohammad can marry a 6-year-old, Nicole can bathe with a boy of 10.
Questions For Gary Rosenblatt
Editor of The Jewish Week.
Steven I. Weiss writes:
Rabbi Kelama writes: "Ask him if he can tell the difference between a black woman, a jewess, and a WASP based on the sense of smell alone because, well, I gots to know."
Stephen M. Tolany writes:
1 Who Knows posts: Does anyone know what's up with Matis Weinberg? He appears to have gotten away with everything.
Brother Bob writes:
We speak by phone Tuesday night, June 15, for two hours. It's 8:40 p.m. my time, 11:40 p.m. in New York.
"I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, February 26, 1981. My parents are Modern Orthodox. My father (Allan) was in finance and my mother (Iris) in education (Jewish and secular). They've retired to Florida. I have an older sister Jenny, married (to Reuven), and a younger sister Sharon. I grew up in Atlanta.
"My father thought I'd become an engineer. I can tell you one thing my parents weren't expecting from me -- that I'd be a college dropout.
"That I'd become a writer is somewhat predictable given how much reading and writing I've been doing. As long as I've been literate, people have been telling me that I should be writing more.
"I don't think of myself as a writer. It's just part of what I do as part of other work. I might write well and easily but what I'm trying to do is to get at the truth, or a message, or an interpretation. The writing is secondary."
"What was your relationship like with Orthodox Judaism as a kid?"
"I lived in suburban America. It's different from New York. There certainly wasn't a strong sense of the label Orthodox. It was more about being religious. The first time I heard the term 'Orthodox,' was when I was in second grade at a school where I and a couple of other kids were a handful of Orthodox students in a couple of hundred. The other kids told me that I was Orthodox. I'd ask them if they kept Shabbos. There was this quiz they would ask me to give them to see if they were Orthodox. But I had no sense of being Orthodox.
"Every once in a while, the term Modern Orthodox would come up in my house because of the move to the right thing in Atlanta. What were these black hats and kollels (institutes for fulltime Torah study by married men, as opposed to yeshivot where the men are typically not married) and chumrahs (strict interpretations of Jewish Law)?
"I didn't have any cognizance of Conservative and Reform until I was 16 or older. Until we left Atlanta and I was in Minnesota. I had some sense that those to the right of us were not us."
"Have you always believed in God?"
"Where are you right now?"
"I'm not sure. I'm not sure what historically Judaism has asserted as belief in God. Not just from Marc Shapiro's books, but when I pick up the writings of Maimonidies and Talmudic scholars, even among frum scholars like James Kugel, who stands out in his level of service of belief, he's elite in the Biblical studies world... I find myself disagreeing with the more liberal elements of his scholarship. What he asserts, most Orthodox Jews today would disagree with. "
"How pervasive is atheism among the Orthodox Jews you've known well?"
"Almost none. Among teenagers, you'd find a fair amount who'd say they were atheists. By the time they are in college, have either gone off the derech, or they've become super frum. You don't find a lot of tweeners.
"It might be growing.
"Modern Orthodoxy, more so in New York, is overwhelmed with defining what is Modern Orthodox and what is not."
"Is there anything in Jewish religion that you feel passionately about and want to take up arms?"
"I used to feel that I was going to change the world. That I should bring about a messianic utopian age. I never cared much about the Jewish theology of messianism. It was a vocabulary for what I felt like I should be doing. I could see things coming to a head and I wanted to be part of that. I've always assumed that the Jewish messianic age would come before my grandfather died.
"The First Cause idea is a compelling philosophy. Monotheism is compelling. That God would communicate with people seems compelling."
"Do you care whether women get aliyot (called to the Torah on Shabbos mornings and festivals)?"
"I'm agnostic on a lot of these questions. Other than outright abuse, I don't care that much about what happens in Judaism. As far as friends go, I'm good. As far as the community goes, I've been kicked out of so many things, that I can take it or leave it. As far as where it goes, I'm agnostic. These things don't keep me up nights. Rituals will figure itself out.
"I know that a lot of people who hate the idea of women getting aliyot won't eat at the house of people who participate in those kind of things."
"Let's list off the places from where you've been kicked out?"
"After eight months (1996-96), I was kicked out of HTC (Hebrew Theological College) Skokie Yeshiva. The official reason was for being outside the dorm at 4:30 a.m. I had a good friend who I felt was in danger. I'd risk my life for him. I left the dorm to see that he was OK and to bring him back. In the course of that, I got held up and they kicked us all out.
"I just laughed. Whatever. What are you going to tell my parents? My parents aren't going to accept that.
"It turns out they lied about a lot of things to my parents.
"A lot of the stuff I got in trouble for was protesting what was happening to other students.
"At one point, the principal called me into his office. He said, 'We don't like to spend a lot of time with individual students.' He pulls out an index card and lists off a whole bunch of supposed indiscretions.
"All of us out of towners in the dorms were a crew. We were lonely. So we started singing Happy Birthday at lunch to whoever was having a birthday. One day I sang it to one guy at breakfast. The principal pulled me aside and said he didn't want to see that kind of episode from me again."
"How did your parents handle your rejection?"
"I was under some form of house arrest for a month or two. I had a job I was allowed to bike to. They were extremely unhappy. I wasn't allowed to communicate with anybody. It really hurt me.
"I got my driver's license at 18 and then it expired when I turned 21. I don't have a license.
"I was at YU (Yeshiva University) from August 1998 until June 2002 [when, shortly before he was to graduate, Weiss was expelled]. I got a letter from the academic advisor that said to not come back to YU and don't get involved with our stuff. The ostensible reason was grades."
"How did your parents react?"
"Negatively. Good for them for doing it to you. My grades were poor. They weren't expulsion-poor. A lot of what the school was upset with me all along was what my parents were upset with me too. They didn't want me standing out in the crowd and doing activism against the school administration.
"I started blogging in October 2003. I started Protocols in December 2003."
"How did you meet the other elders on Protocols?"
"From the editorial board of the YU Commentator (student newspaper), Yehuda Kraut, Pinchas Shapiro, Avraham Bronstein, and Sam Singer. I always wanted to get Jason Cyrulnik, editor-in-chief of the Commentator in Volume 65, which was '00-'01. Oxblog is a group of guys from Oxford who are smart and funny and got together to talk about cool issues. My friends and I had these late-at-night discussions...
"I got linked [at IATribe.com] by Mickey Kaus.
"I wanted Protocols to be us taking on the world. The name Protocols was a joke but it was also meant to mean something. Soon enough we started focusing on Jewish stuff.
[Rabbinical student] Avraham Bronstein and I did most of the posting with occasional help from Singer and Kraut. We got into this raging vitriolic argument with Jewschool. It was the coolest thing in the world.
"We were discussing an article in a Lakewood rabbinical publication about the Noahide Laws. I put up a post."
"Chakira [Josh Harrison] posted the relevant portion and translated it. That led to the longest comments thread we'd had. Chakira got a lot of heat for translating it. All of a sudden, a lot of people in the [YU] rabbinical school, started paying attention [to Protocols]. People in the kollel were sitting there with printouts of the comments from Protocols. Some of the comments became very embarrassing for Avraham Bronstein [a YU rabbinical student]. There were various people leaning on him who really changed him as a person and a blogger. He asked if we could moderate the comments. I said no way. He said there is a venue for this discussion but blogging isn't it.
"When something happens and you are called by the world or by the community to take part, you don't get to choose the forum. If thousands of readers are saying, this is the issue, it's easy to say that you are going to lock yourself up in the Orthodox world, and blogging is not my media. You're failing those people. It's not OK to say no comment on an issue when tens of thousands of Jewish readers care about it. Even if the older rabbis don't plug into it because they are completely computer illiterate, a fair number of the middle-aged and younger rabbis already are.
"If you set yourself to raising the level of discussion, those people will self censor. When you posted some stuff that was absolute crap, I think your posting gets better when there are other people involved -- Rivka, Andy, Radosh, Kraut. When they post, it makes you more conscious of your posting. I told Avraham that it was important to have an unmoderated, uncensored forum for discussion. The comments that turned off Avraham and the people who pressured him were easily responded to.
"The Protocols readership continued to grow after he left. I think it was a loss for readers. I don't think he kept up what he was doing when he switched. He lost. Some parts of him, when he gave in to that pressure, turned off."
"There's a stultifying conformity to Orthodox life in general which is the opposite of blogging."
"There is and there isn't. A lot of the issues have to do with New York [where everybody can run into each other].
"There was a shift in Protocols from primarily me to primarily you. There are a lot of better things to focus on than what is going on with Luke Ford to what is Luke Ford observing in the Jewish community. If you stopped writing in the first person, I think you'd find some good stuff. I thought the response [to Luke] was disgusting. I can see the IP addresses. I can see who those people were who were leaving those [disgusting] messages.
"My writing and thoughts are an open book. My work is uncommon. I do good work. I work hard. I'm very serious about my work, whatever work I choose to do. People who tried to do what I was doing failed."
"Could you marry a black Jew?"
"How is Fiddish going to be different from your work on Protocols?"
"At the Forward [freelance starting September 2003, fulltime since April 15, 2004], I'm focusing on more things that are not in my immediate purview (Orthodoxy). As far as tone and quantity, I think I've gotten it back up. I do want to do a number of jokes about Stern women doing a number of services for us at the Forward. Fiddish will be of a higher quality because I have more resources at my disposal."
"Do you find that women want to sleep with people who write for the Forward?"
"I don't know. I haven't met that many women, since I've been working for the Forward, who are propositioning types."
"Keep me posted."
"The first time I get a proposition from handing out my card, I'll let you know."
"Tell me about your visit to Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills."
"I was here for a wedding. We had our own minyan Friday night. I was with a guy who's doing a PhD in Zionist intellectual history. He said to me, dude, the stained glass has pictures of the Holocaust. I look over there and there are pictures of Jews in Auschwitz with barbed wire. Holy crap.
"The next day, I realized that there were people below them with rifles who were Gestapo. They have ancient Judaism [in stained glass], Holocaust, then the third panel is a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, and the fourth panel is Israel's 50th anniversary. The mechitza, which is half wood and half stained glass, has more Holocaust images. It was freaky enough with the stained glass. I couldn't imagine if I was sitting right next to one of those panels and looked up to see Gestapo."
"Did it help you davening?"
"No, but I was catching up on my reading anyway, The Rebbe's Army by Sue Fishkoff."
"How do you find three hours of davening on a typical Shabbos morning? Does that warm your soul or cool it?"
"Davening doesn't warm my soul. Very little about Jewish ritual warms my heart."
"Would you break the Sabbath to save the life of a non-Jew?"
"How did you like Rabbi Weil's attack on Reform and Conservative in the sermon you heard at Beth Jacob?"
"My first thought was, how many Conservative and Reform in the wedding party were there. I was just surprised. I've never heard that before. I've never heard from the pulpit a rabbi make such a statement about other strains of Judaism.
"His point was that Judaism was predicated upon the exclusiveness of the prophecies of Moses. That the liberal strains of Judaism never understood this."
"Did his bobbing head help or distract from your concentration on his words?"
"His tendency to move about on the pulpit was certainly distracting."
"Do you think that the Jewish soul is different from the non-Jewish soul?"
"I don't really think much about the soul."
"What other things surprised you during your recent visit to Los Angeles?"
"A friend was driving me around and there's a several block area [on Pico and Robertson Blvds] where there is a Chabad-something on every block.
"The Holocaust aesthetic of Jewish Los Angeles. Your van and hovel were surprising. You reminded me of an old friend and that helped me to understand you more. I was surprised by Cathy Seipp's ragtag group of friends. Luke Thompson has an interesting look to him.
"It wasn't difficult talking to secular people. It was difficult talking about religion."
"Have you ever dated a black girl?"
"I haven't really dated much."
"Do you think girls are icky?"
"No. I've known icky girls."
"Would you prefer to marry a male or female?"
"I'd prefer to marry a female. I don't dig the whole anal sex thing. I'm big into the integrity of my stool. I'm not a homosexual."
"Do you think you could get used to it?"
"If it was just me and another guy on a deserted island for the rest of our lives, yeah. I'm sure I could get used to it. I don't know. Maybe I wouldn't want to. What if he was ugly? What if he was you? What if he was some lecherous older man?"
"What if he was a young hairless asian boy?"
"I definitely would not lay hands."
"You say you get angry about abuse. At what age can one consent?"
"Abuse isn't just an age issue. There's a power issue. It's a problem when a teacher hooks up with a student at college. I think it's an abuse of power. If it is that important to be with that person, wait a year.
"When I was 13 , I found some erotic writing on the BBS system of the day. I got in trouble helping a friend email them to the entire [Jewish day] school [in Atlanta]. I was just thinking about this, prompted by some of your sick comments. It occurred to me that I had been reading kiddy porn written by adults for adults. For me at the time, I was reading about 14 year old girls. Wow. At my age, that was great. I didn't want to read stories about disgusting old women who were in their 20s. There's an element of consent for teens amongst themselves. But if it is a 16 year old and a 28 year old teacher or communal leader, that is definitely a problem."
"When you were 15, had your 28 year old attractive female teacher wanted to get it on, do you think that would've been wrong?"
"This has come up in Nicole Kidman's new movie. She's taking a bath in front of a ten year old kid who has a crush on her. If you had asked me at ten years old if I wanted to take a bath with Nicole Kidman, I would've said, where do I sign up? At the same time, there's just as much chance for later regret and feeling the inequity once the residue of the moment wears off.
"I remember when I thought sex was a bad thing [about 15 yo] and I was asked would I get it on with Cindy Crawford, I said no. My friend got so angry at me because he thought I was lying. But I think there's a lot of room there to feel wronged by some older woman.
"If I were looking back at my childhood, make sure you get the details here right, and at 15, I'd made out with a 15 year old, or I'd made out with a 32-year old, I get the feeling that at this point in life, I'd rather have made out with a 15 year old."
"Now I'd rather make out with a 15 year old too. Is that wrong?"
"When you were 15?"
"No. I'm 38."
"You're a dirty old man."
"I would never ever do it. I just joke about it.
"What do your parents think about your life right now?"
"They're happy I've got a fulltime job. They don't care what it is."
"Do your parents read your blog?"
"Occasionally my father would read Protocols."
"How does he like it since I've taken over?"
"I don't think he's checked it. I don't think he's checked out Fiddish.
"I've never been called a slur."
"Like a kike."
"If you died today, would God be happy with you?"
"I wouldn't be happy with me. I'm not where I should be in life."
"Do you think about what will happen to you in the afterlife?"
"I don't think about the afterlife much."
"Do you worry about when the Messiah will come?"
"Which political party do you identify with?"
"I don't know. I've been registered as a Democrat for a few years."
"What are the principle obstacles you face in doing good Jewish journalism?"
"The bad Jewish journalism out there."
"Who's particularly horrible out there? The Jewish Week?"
"It's easy to bash The Jewish Week. The only thing they do that is actively bad is when they get basic elements of Judaism wrong.
"The main problem with Jewish journalism is one organization [the Jewish Federations who fund most Jewish newspapers]. Almost an entire ethnic media is subservient to one organization. They don't even go looking there for stories. They want to have friendships with these people. A lot of these Jews in journalism want to be friends with their sources and their sources friends and with their communities when they go home. The way they go about it creates bad journalism.
"Comps are a problem with a lot of Jewish journalists. Major Jewish journalists get major major comps. Free cruises. Free trips and hotel accommodation.
"I know of a journalist who approached a major Jewish organization for a comp. They said no way. He then went on to write a story bashing that organization without mentioning the comp.
"I got comped for a $150 OU (Orthodox Union) dinner. I think that's more of a Forward issue than my issue. The story that came out of it was not necessarily the story the OU were after.
"The weeklies receive almost all the money and all the attention of the older generation while actively failing to capture the younger generation. One of the few things that allow these papers to maintain any relevance is Shabbos, when many people will sit down with the paper."
"Are Jewish organizations trying to bribe Jewish reporters with drugs and hookers?"
"I haven't even heard a rumor."
"That's a shame."
"I don't think that goes on in most regions outside of LA."
"How many homosexuals did you meet YU?"
"I met a couple dozen at one shot."
In that infamous YU bathhouse?
"When [gay Orthodox rabbi] Steve Greenberg gave a speech in an apartment off campus. Homosexuals at YU are in the dozens. The maximum number of people who have come out would be in the twenties or thirties. Most of the homosexuals [at YU] are very closeted. Those who aren't, only come out to close friends."
"Do you think that many of the rabbeim at YU are closeted homosexuals?"
"Most of them are married with kids. They don't talk about sex a lot, or homosexual sex."
"How do you feel about abandoning the blog (Protocols) you worked hard to build?"
"It was a big problem. Protocols is going in a different direction. I hope it won't go in an extremely different direction. If you're the main content provider, and you do good journalism, that would satisfy. Some of the readers have noticed you're trying to do that. Some of the readers have left. I definitely feel a sense of loyalty and respect for the readers of Protocols for finding Jewish blogs.
"I already had a pretty damn good internship. I already had damn good media contacts. My boss at the Forward, Ami Eden, I'd already spoken with him. There was an awareness of who I was among Jewish journalists, and even more among political journalists in the city. The Forward was thinking about hiring me and not letting me blog."
"What are your favorite Jewish books of the past year?"
"I've read fewer books in the past year and been doing more reading online.
"You can reach your sources in Jewish journalism, and get close. You can go talk to these rabbis and communal leaders. There's rarely sophisticated PR and that can you usually be gotten around. It becomes a problem when the Jewish journalist becomes one of the guys and not one of the people trying to get the truth."
I'm going to my first unveiling Friday morning. What should I expect? I bought a new outfit for the occasion. Am I hot or not?
Luke Ford, Gentleman Blogger
From Luke Ford Fan Blog:
The People Have Spoken
The fan mail is pouring in so fast, I can barely keep up with it.
Urbi et orbi et Luki
"Crikey, that shiksa's a beauty!"
LYT writes: There already are talking dolls of the Crocodile Hunter out there -- paint a black yarmulke on one, and presto, Luke Ford. I would also suggest altering the sound chip slightly, replacing the word "crocodile" with "shiksa," like so:
"Crikey, that shiksa's a beauty!"
"Cor blimey, that shiksa wants to take a bite out of me bum!"
"That's a bloody pretty mouth on that shiksa!"
For The Sake Of My Health
"We had to work a lot on your nervous system," said my bio-feedback guy at the end of today's 90-minute session. "Again."
"What does that indicate?" I asked.
"That you're under a lot of stress. Maybe you need to get ----."
An Honest Dialogue
Tick writes Luke:
Joe Schick writes:
Apology writes Protocols:
Luke replies: Luke replies: Apology accepted. Of course I wasn't as honest with my motives during my conversion. One, I was far more genuine and religious then. Two, do you have any idea how humiliating the conversion process is? It is horrible, even for far more genuine and fervent folks than me. Good converts frequently walk the other way whenever they see a member of their Beit Din.
About Protocols taking a turn for the worse. Well, where are all the frum contributors? Let them step up and post. I don't buy that I've frightened them off. If I have, they are a bunch of wimps. Nobody is forcing anyone to read. The traffic to Protocols is better than ever.
I post to Protocols because I love God, Torah, Judaism, satire, humor and reality. I post the most because I love posting the most. I've interviewed many of the authors of the best Jewish books of the past decade and I haven't made a penny from my labors. I do it because I love it.
Finally, my motivations for conversion. I do not know them. You certainly do not know them. A few off-hand comments on Protocols do not sum up my totality. You guys have no idea how many mitzvot I do. I sat through Daf Yomi for two years. It wasn't just for laughs. I've spent years davening seriously every day in shul. Not reading, davening.
You have no idea how many people I've influenced to take Orthodox Judaism seriously. I've played a significant role in at least dozen cases of persons who were secular becoming frum. Now, many of these same people despise me.
Weighing up the worth of someone is tricky. I can talk to secular people about Orthodox Judaism in an appealing way that almost none of you can. You can reach God and Torah through humor and satire and apparent hostility as well as through more traditional methods. OJ is strong enough to do battle with Luke Ford. You should be too. I thought Israel meant struggle. Let's struggle. Let's rock n'roll. Let's rumble.
Have you ever paused to consider why I may be caustic and cynical about OJ? I knew I'd only have to make a couple of provocative posts on Protocols, and all the hatred and suspicion of the convert that lurks in many, perhaps most, Orthodox Jews will come pouring out. It did. I sought your hatred and you gave it to me and we mutually fulfilled each other's prejudices. Yet, I obviously believe enough in OJ to go to Daf Yomi and daven in minyan every day for years.
Any claims I have made to great religiosity, or even to being an Orthodox Jew, have clearly been ironic.
My favorite prayer - Aleinu (the whole world will acknowledge God). It just gave me the chills because I quote it in English in my memoir. In the most weird places, I'd start singing it and Adon Olam. People thought I was weird. It gave me peace and energy. I also love that bit in the Amidah about Your miracles that are with us daily. And the stuff at the end about not replying to people who speak harshly of you. I've really worked on that and I think I've done pretty well. A midah of mine that I'm pretty proud of is that I rarely defend myself. I just take criticism and say nothing back most of the time. I'm also a good listener.
I love kids. Genuinely. They identify with me because we're both rebellious.
I love arguing Torah with those who are knowledgeable. Most shabbatot after davening, you will find me sitting with several Orthodox rabbis discussing Torah and life and Air Supply. The rabbis like me because I'm well read, deferential to their learning, and unconventional.
I don't have much of a religious agenda. Whatever makes people finer. So I have friends who are right-wing Orthodox to Modern Orthodox to secular.
I love sitting around the Shabbos table with joy and talking and listening. Unfortunately, due to my behavior, most of the Shabbat tables I've loved most I am now exiled from. My limit with company, however, is about three hours. Then I get antsy. I much prefer learning to davening. I'd be in Daf Yomi today if there were a Daf in town that would take me on. I'm more effective at kiruv than most Orthodox Jews because I chose OJ and that makes me more intriguing. I also have tons of Dennis Prager tapes and other materials that I used to lend out. I used to burn with fervor.