Email Luke Essays Profiles Archives Search LF.net Luke Ford Profile Dennis Prager June 15 A year after Ariel Avrech passed away at age 22 his father mourns.

Seraphic Secret

My friend Robert Avrech is getting 100 emails a day, mostly from Jewish parents grieving the death of a child.

Luke at Ariel Avrech's Unveiling Friday. Picture by Robert Avrech.

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

Malcolm Hoenlein is a story unto himself. He and Abe Foxman are the true players in the Jewish community. I wouldn't call him a "thug," though. He's a real politician. While there is plenty negative to say about him (and Foxman) if that's what you are looking for, the big picture are men who has pretty much dedicated their lives to a cause and really believe that they are getting up every morning and serving the Jewish people. Not that there's not plenty of ego and power-hungriness and flaws in the equation -- perhaps scandal if you know where to dig. Again, politicians. And they're not operating in a democracy, but a bureaucracy.

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).

Bag Lady

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).

A Baptist Among the Jews

I enjoyed this book over Shabbos when claustrophobia drove me out of shul into the shade to read and reflect.

No religious group has angered American Jews more than Southern Baptists, whose leaders have repeatedly launched initiatives to convert Jews to Christianity. Howe, a practicing Southern Baptist, had no such intention when she joined a Jewish philosophy study group. Soon her interest in Judaism led her to Orthodox, Conservative and Reform services, to holy day celebrations and a Torah retreat, and to Hasidic and Jewish Renewal study groups. As she befriended Jews of all persuasions, from fervent Hasids to a vibrant female rabbi, Howe found herself in a "love affair with Judaism," reveling in its dedication to study, passion for God, sense of divine mystery and "wild and joyful" celebrations. Though the book is based on Howe's personal experience, it is also rich in description and reflection as she looks at women in Judaism, historic and contemporary Hasidism and her own expanding view of God. In the end, in spite of hoping that she has a Jewish soul, Howe remains a Baptist: "Were I to become a Jew, I feel I'd have to throw myself heart and soul into that faith tradition, when what I want in my life right now is to throw myself heart and soul into experiencing God in as many ways as I can." Can a Baptist successfully portray contemporary Jewish life and worship? Evangelical Christian editor John Wilson, in the foreword, and Reform Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, in the afterword, believe Howe has done so, and each recommends the book to his own community.

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

The Yehupitz Rav (a rabbi of an Orthodox shul in the middle of nowhere) writes:

www.lukeford.net is a recently discovered blog that...well,... fascinates me.

I know someone on high must disapprove with my fascination. But it's there. A relative through marriage told me about Luke's escapades on protocols.blogspot.com in a very critical manner. It was as if he was telling me, "I hate this guy. Look at his blog and you'll hate him too." But then I looked and read and I can't help but admire the fellow in a straightforward way.

Why? Because when he's right, he's right. And when he's wrong, he is so honest and straighforward about knowing that he's wrong that it doesn't pay to rebuke him. There's humor, but there is no self-deception. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, he doesn't evade reality.

There. I've said it.

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.)

Life is bigger
It's bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no I've said too much
I set it up

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no I've said too much
I haven't said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour I'm
Choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool
Oh no I've said too much
I set it up

Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I've said too much
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

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:

I have a suggestion for a new L.A. Times poll: Who are the staff reporters/editors/columnists that L.A. Observed readers think would most improve the paper by being laid off?

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:

Peter did get in a small dig at Shawn Stern, who'd railed against Bush for a couple of minutes during the Q&A and is still something of a punk poseur, by mentioning onstage they knew each other from the raw, anti-establishment halls of Beverly Hills High School.

"And I guess even then I was something of a reactionary," Peter said -- although of course he hated Reagan too at the time ("because punks were supposed to") -- as he recalled how irritated he was by the sight of some naked pictures of his English teacher running through a field of flowers, which she'd left on her desk for all the students to view.

"Was she hot?" Luke asked, predictably.

"No," said Peter. "And Shawn was her big favorite, because he was this long-haired stoner dude then, who always acted as if he were in an episode of 'Room 222.'"

"How did the doctor go?" [Cathy's dad Harvey] said the other day, when I returned from an appointment.

"Fine," I said. "It's nothing."

"So I guess now you can marry Luke."

"I'm not marrying Luke!" I yelled. Biting my tongue before adding: "Yeah, I passed the syphillis test, but there's still that hymen reinstallment procedure he expects of all potential brides."

The Unveiling

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.

The end.

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?

I chat Friday, June 18, 2004 with Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.

"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."

Andrew writes later:

Maybe the primary obstacle is that there may not be a constituency for tough, iconoclastic reporting. I suspect that most of our subscribers, and subscribers to Jewish weeklies, do not want a newspaper that makes them feel uncomfortable about aspects of Jewish life. They feel we have a role to play as advocates, as comforters, as entertainers, and bulletin boards, but not as gadflies or the "afflicters of the comfortable." When we were publishing good investigative stuff at the Washington Jewish Week in the early 1990s, I felt there was a small elite of readers who appreciated what we were doing (the kinds of readers who gravitate to Protocols and the woefully under-subscribed Forward), a similarly-sized clique that felt we were bad for the Jews, but a remaining majority that didn't care much for that kind of reporting and flipped quickly to the recipes, synagogue announcements and wedding notices.

I don't blame them, necessarily. It's a divide within religious life as well -- there are many folks, and I'd guess they are the majority, who take part in religious life as if they were slipping into a warm bath, looking for comfort, solace, and reaffirmation of their basic beliefs and prejudices. Only an elite takes part to be intellectually challenged and spiritually discomfitted. (I think this is true in all the movements, by the way.) That's not to say that the complacent crowd is neither intellectual nor up for a challenge -- only that they seek those challenges outside of affiliated Jewish life.

The question for me as an editor is, do I lead or follow? I think I try to split the difference -- gently and responsibly lead them to uncomfortable places, but also provide the kind of stuff that affirms their basic commitment to their Jewishness. Does that sound wiggly? Perhaps. But I don't think there is an editor in the country, at any newspaper or media outlet, who doesn't weigh the platonic ideals of the journalist's profession against what he sees as the appettites of his community of readers.

There's one other factor that must be said, and that's the talent pool in Jewish journalism. Journalism and the media are already "Jewish" professions and serve as magnets for the best and brightest of our community. Papers like mine are small, alternative, fairly low-paying -- and unable to provide the prestige and opportunities available in the mainstream. That doesn't mean that I haven't worked with really talented people -- and still do. But the reality is that we're less able to compete for the "major league" talent, and on the whole the product suffers as a result.

The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch

Surfer writes:

There is an important angle that is not being addressed when the media reports that there are x number of new Lubavitch institutions since the Rebbe's death (as in evaluating lists of Lubavitch institutions) - giving the (mis)impression that Lubavitch is spreading like wildfire all across the world - and it relates to the veracity of the info. For one thing, it seems that some, if not many, of the 'new institutions' are actually more like branches of pre-existing ones, yet the media actually accepts the claims uncritically. E.g. Mendy & Shterny Goldstein moves to Illinois where he becomes a shliach in county x in 2000. In that year his new Lubavitch outpost appears in Lubavitch PR as a new 'Lubavitch institution'. In the next two years, Mendy and Shterny, following the Lubavitch pattern, open a 'gan yisrael pre-school', a 'gan yisrael day camp', a 'talmud torah', etc. The question is - did they open four institutions or one with three (possibly tiny) branches? If a pre-school has eight kids in it, is it a 'new institution'? Some of the things have few people in them, yet, they are given the same weight as a synagogue with hundreds of people. Is that fair?

A source writes:

Luke, I am sorry to inform you that as wonderful and informative as Fishkoff's book might be, it is also clearly and obviously "dominated by party-line, press release coverage". The wisdom of the Lubavitch PR machine is that she wrote a PR book for them and didn't even know it! I am a tremendous "fan" of Lubavitch.

Don't get me wrong. I respect the Lubavitcher Rebbe's vision more than Fishkoff does. I live it daily. But I also know some of the underbelly of the movement. I don't mean the nonsense on the failedmessiah blog, the biggest collection of anti-Chabad naarishkeit I've seen in a long time. I mean things that not even you know, but every adult Lubavitcher knows. They totally hid all of that from her and she remains oblivious to it all.

I have no interest in spreading the dirt on Lubavitch. But I don't fool myself and think that Sue looked for it either. Either she's not too investigative, or she set out to write a fluff piece and succeeded. Either way it's a good book.

I understand that she didn't want to write a tell-all negative trash expose on Chabad, like Postville. I still maintain that there could have been more balance in the reporting. There is a lot of unfortunate ugliness in the Shlichus system that she managed to totally ignore.

Shmarya Failed Messiah writes:

Few people realize that the first 'mainstream' book on Chabad was Despite All Odds, published about 15 years ago (Simon and Schuster, I think). The book was an inside job: Word has it that the title was chosen by Rabbi Shmuel Lew, a senior Chabad rabbi in London, the 'facts' were for the most part supplied by Chabad, as was the author, rumored to be the third writer asked to do the book -- the first two turned it down. Chabad bought copious quantities of the book, which made it profitable, and used them for PR and fundraising purposes. There was never a question that the book would be a pro-Chabad whitewash; indeed, that was the book's sole purpose. I remember that the book claimed a number for the Chabad community of Minnesota that far exceded the number of Orthodox Jews in the state, let alone Chabad-followers. So,

Fishkoff was smart. She wrote a whitewash of Chabad (with just a tiny smattering of critical reporting for 'balance'), and prepared to speak at Chabad events, Jewish book fairs and Federation meetings, knowing all along that the book would be propelled onto the Jewish best seller list by Chabad, and kept there by them for a very long time. Fishkoff pimped Chabad to make money (and achieve fame) for herself. Chabad pimped Fishkoff for the same reasons. Fishkoff is the prostitute of Jewish journalism, the Xaviera Hollander of the Jew-news-biz, and in many ways is a much more tainted figure than those subjects of Luke Ford profiles of old. But she will not be exiled from her local shul or barred from participating in community events as a result. Quite the contary.

There is always room at the community table for moral and intellectual prostitutes. It is only the wage slaves of prostitution, the women who open their legs for the almighty dollar and those who pimp them (or those who write about them) that are excluded. In today's Jewish community, sexual prostitution is osser, but the prostitution of Yiddishkeit is not, and arguably it is the latter that has the more lasting and wider reaching negative impact, not the former.

Reviewed by Stephen Fried for the Washington Post:

It's always good news for journalists--and readers--when the tools of investigative reporting and narrative non-fiction writing start being used on a subject previously dominated by party-line, press release coverage. Over the past decades, we've seen this happen to the journalism of crime, sports, politics, the high and low arts, business, law and medicine. And it finally appears to be happening in the coverage of religion. In December, Publishers Weekly noted the rise of narrative non-fiction writing on religion (which could explain why religion book sales held steady during a year when nearly every other category was hammered.) And the recent Pulitzer Prize for public service reporting on the Catholic Church scandal is certain to signal to the next generation of journalists that there are rich veins worth mining in religion reporting.

Some will do strip mining. Others will be more mindful of environmental impact; sometimes too mindful. In many cases, the approach will depend on whether the work was inspired by their own growing affection or disaffection with religion.

In "The Rebbe's Army" (Schocken), Sue Fishkoff, a freelancer for Jewish publications and an editor at a California alternative weekly, tells us right up front how she has been personally affected by covering the Chabad-Lubavitch. She was especially touched by the main subjects of her book, the shlichim-the bearded emissaries of the controversial Jewish right-wing movement, known for buttonholing people, inquiring about their semitism, and trying to convince them to engage, right then and there, in a meaningful Jewish ritual.

The Lubavitchers have, she admits, "activated within me what they would call my Jewish soul." And her book does an admirable job of showing just how this unique army of guerilla proselytizers, who aim to "convert" non-observant American Jews back to some version of their own religion, have succeeded in reactivating souls in many creative and ambitious ways.

Two paragraphs below, however, she tells us something that pretty well describes where her considerable efforts come up short. She says that she and many other Jews she interviewed "have been touched by how Lubavitchers incorporate into their daily lives the Jewish values most of us give little more than lip service." She notes that the Lubavitch "visit the sick" and "comfort the grieving" and "take care to avoid embarrassing others" and whenever she visits one of their homes she is "urged to stay for dinner." The implication is that the rest of organized (and disorganized) Judaism has given up on all that, which is what her Lubavitch sources seem to believe. Having just spent the better part of the last five years covering synagogues and rabbis, mostly in the more centrist Conservative movement, I can assure Fishkoff that there are plenty of non-Lubavitch Jews all over America who would visit her, comfort her and feed her--and then try to feed her again. (My mom, for example.)

This was the first of many instances where I found myself wondering if Fishkoff could have included more perspective from the Jewish clergy, lay leaders and even secular Jews outside the Lubavitch movement-the main audience for her book, I'd think--to confirm that the claims made by the shlichim, God's sales force, could bear up under contemporary journalistic scrutiny. Especially in the chapters that explore how Chabad Lubavitch have influence in Washington and Hollywood, I would have liked to see fewer quotes from the gregarious Chabad rabbis-Levi Shelton in D.C. and Baruch Shalom Cumin in L.A.-and more from those they purport to influence, including White House spokesman Air Fleischer who is identified as a "regular at Chabad events."

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."

Luke, If you are really researching Jewish journalism, you should look up Larry Cohler, who now writes for the NY Daily News, I believe. He was the great "stir the pot" investigative Jewish journalist in the 1980's and '90's -- Washington Jewish Week, then NY Jewish Week, and some other places -- who pissed off the establishment on a regular basis. Federation types used to turn green at the mention of his name.

The basic problem in Jewish journalism, aside from Federation control -- is needing to make a living. People hit their 30's and need to support families. Therefore, they have to join the establishment papers -- as editors if they want to make any kind of money, or move into better-paying work.

Or, if they are excellent journalists, like Larry, they break out of the Jewish ghetto. Or like the late Robert Friedman, they write about Jewish issues for the Village Voice, etc. I'm sure that someone like Steven is eventually going to stop being young and hungry and move on to the mainstream. He's already gotten stuff in New York Magazine. Before him, Jeff Goldberg climbed from the Jerusalem Post to the Forward, to NY Magazine, to NY Times Magazine to the New Yorker (where he just wrote about...Israel)

So you are left with few to no smart and talented people who, once they get the contacts and have the experience, are willing to work indefinitely in the trenches of being a reporter for a Jewish paper long-term. No Seymour Hershes. Hey, if you are willing to live in your hovel indefinitely, you're the man.

What's interesting is that there is occasionally some good critical journalism about the American Jewish community going on -- by Israelis. In Hebrew, of course, though some of it is now translated into English by Ha'aretz and other places with web sites. The advantage is that they are outsiders and not part of the community so they don't mind being critical. The downside is that they often aren't inside enough to get the stories, or to care deeply about them.

Also, once upon a time, there was a really good investigative journalist named Charles Hoffman at the Jerusalem Post, who got fired along with the rest of the crew in 1990. He really took the lid off of the Jewish Agency at one point, and if you can ever see his book "The Smoke Screen," I recommend it. Again, he needed to earn a living, so after he left the Post he went to work for the Joint in the former Soviet Union. Sadly, he died at an early age -- here's his obit.

I've Decided to Become the Watchdog of the Jewish Press

Chaim Amalek writes:

This problem you've identified within jewish journalism isn't limited to the Jews - pick up any Negro newspaper (e.g. The New Amsterdam News in NY) or any other publication catering to a minority that thinks it's embattled, and you will see the same problems.

Part of the problem is that most journalists are heterosexual, and most hetersexuals (apart from yourself, of course) marry and have kids, which cost a lot (as another of your correspondents has noted). This suggests a solution that has been working, within limits, for the Roman Catholic Church for almost 2,000 years: hire gays! With rare exception, gays don't worry about tuition payments for young Peter or Paul, and as they are more apt to be hostile to the established order to begin with, they don't suck up as much on the job. (Jews tend to be more hostile than their better looking WASP competitors as well, but that's another story.)

You are neither a homosexual nor (really) hetersexual. And while you caption yourself a Jew, you don't have the burden of Jewish genes to make you angry at the world at large. You then, are the ideal man for taking on the role of watchdog over the Jewish Press and the Jewish Kehila in general. Just don't expect to make a lot of money doing this.

Gene Mutation Can Make Wandering Animals True to Mates

Scientists working with a rat-like animal called a vole have found that promiscuous males can be reprogrammed into monogamous partners by introducing a single gene into a specific part of their brains.

Once they have been converted, the voles hang around the family nests and even huddle with their female partners after sex.

"A mutation in a single gene can have a profound impact on complex social behavior," said Larry Young, a neuroscientist at Emory University who reported the results in the current issue of the journal Nature.

The research helps shed light on monogamy -- a rare social behavior -- and hints that perhaps specific genes could play a role in human relationships.

Nicole Kidman In Hot Water

From The Australian:

NICOLE Kidman is in for a rocky week if the US supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer is to be believed.

Her latest movie, Birth - made after the soon-to-open Stepford Wives - see the Australian Oscar winner Kidman play a young widow who falls in love with a 10-year-old boy she believes is the reincarnation of her dead husband. But executives from New Line Cinema, the production company, are reportedly considering pulling the $US50 million ($72 million) flick because of scenes showing Kidman bathing naked with the young lad.

Sources told the Enquirer that the film had undergone a string of creative battles and rewrites. Now executives have told the film's executive producers that the two scenes - showing Kidman and the boy stripping off and kissing in the bath - are "borderline disgusting" to watch. It is, according to the public relations company charged with promoting the film, "a publicity nightmare".

Birth, co-starring the legendary Lauren Bacall, is directed by Jonathan Glazer, better known for his work in music videos than feature films. He has directed clips for British super bands Massive Attack and Radiohead, his first feature film being the gangster caper Sexy Beast in 2000, starring Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone.

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.

Brian writes:

For those of you who defend the scene (as described) as a beautiful art scene, is there a limit to what you would allow Kidman to do with this 10-year old boy within the confines of producing this film? Do you believe that it would be ok for Kidman to actually have intercourse with the boy? If no, can you please describe what limitations should be placed on the actors in this case?

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:

Ask Gary:

1) How many rabbinic abuse stories he's confirmed but hasn't written about, due to pressure or whatever reason.

2) What does he think have been his most important journalistic accomplishments other than the rabbinic abuse stuff?

3) How has being a Federation paper affected his paper and its coverage?

4) What does he think of the Federation papers he hasn't worked for?

5) When and how does he want to end his journalistic career?

6) What are his Web stats?

7) How important is the Web page to his operation?

8) What blogs does he read?

9) What else does he read, daily, weekly and monthly?

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."

Me writes:

I'd like to ask a similar question but in a slightly different form and in several parts:

1) How many victims of rabbinical abuse approached you before and how many approached you after the Lanner story?

2) How many did you determine were false or accurate?

3) How many did you choose not to pursue or write about and why?

4) Did you recommend to victims or people contacting you to take any course of action or contact anyone to address their allegations? By my count there are at least 6 substantial cases that Rosenblatt was approached on that went unreported. There are 4 cases mentioned in this article.

"Perhaps most disturbing has been the number of people urging me to investigate specific rabbis and Jewish educators in the Orthodox community, naming names and offering me details. One is said to be a pedophile with a history of arrests who is a principal in a Brooklyn yeshiva; another pedophile reportedly now works with Jewish youth in Florida; a womanizing rabbi has changed his name and moved to Israel, I was told; and a local rabbi is said to have an unhealthy interest in teenage boys." 5th case mentioned here (although Gary knew that case 5's father-in-law and former Vice-President of the Rabbinical Aliance of America was also a convicted pedophile, so that would bring the count to 6 unamed cases):

"...and concerns about another member of the rabbinic group who is alleged to have abused children in previous posts."

Stephen M. Tolany writes:

Ask Rosenblatt why fringe left groups are presented as if they were mainstream Orthodoxy. Ask him why so much coverage is given to completely marginal figures like Chaviva Ner-David (the woman who wanted to be an Orthodox rabbi). Ask him why Yeshiva University is constantly and repeatedly portrayed as an extremist right insitution when it is in fact, somewhat to the left of the mainstream.

Ask him why there is almost no coverage whatsoever of the yeshivish/traditional Orthodox community, and why the little coverage there is tends to be negative. Ask him why nearly every article The Jewish Week has run about Chareidi/"yeshivish" Orthodoxy in America is about scandals and financial corruption.

One example: When Rav Avrohom Pam, late Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaath, passed away, The Jewish Week ran a story about the man. The headline was something like "rabbi who spoke out against financial impropriety mourned". The one-page article focused mainly on a few statements Rav Pam made on the subject, and neglected any description of the man's life and long career as a Jewish educator.

Reading the pages of The Jewish Week, an outsider would think that all of Orthodox Judaism--save for fringe left groups--is mired in fanaticism and financial impropriety. Is presenting the majority of the most religiously committed segment of the Jewish population this way really advancing Jewish unity? Ask Gary Rosenblatt why his paper is on a crusade against Orthodox Judaism.

And ask him why so many of the articles and op-eds about the Lanner debacle used Lanner as a springboard for criticisms of the whole concept of kiruv. Tell him that many in the Orthodox community feel that The Jewish Week took advantage of the Lanner scandal to GENERALLY discredit--even defame--Yeshiva University roshei yeshiva, the OU, NCSY, and kiruv in general. Ask him what he would respond to such allegations.

ODude writes:

Tolany hits the nail on the head. I second the motion. I once emailed him with a similar complaint.

His response? (I paraphrase)

"I certainly DO write positive things about the orthodox community! Didnt you see the articles about great things the orthodox feminists are doing, and how the shuls are becoming more egalitarian?"

No kidding.

ME writes:

Even the former President of the OU, Dr. by Mandell I. Ganchrow acknowledges that there were serious problems at the OU/NCSY in his book "Journey Through the Minefields: From Vietnam to Washington, an Orthodox Surgeon's Odyssey". He has a whole chapter on Lanner. Rosenblatt did good with the Lanner story. He was one of the very few who stood for principle in this situation. Lanner would still be working with children and women if not for Gary's stand. Excerpt from Ganchrow's book:

"The Executive Board meeting, which lasted nearly five hours, was not an easy affair. Rabbi Butler made an emotional speech. Afterwards, several members of the Executive Board invoked halacha in order to condemn lashon ha'ra (speaking ill of people) and rechilut (gossip). Others said we should ignore the press and simply hunker down in support of our staff. I noticed that not a single person discussed the implications of the gross violation of halacha involved in protecting those who abuse children."

1 Who Knows posts: Does anyone know what's up with Matis Weinberg? He appears to have gotten away with everything.

Brother Bob writes:

You can ask him how he can cover the Edah conference & give it front page coverage while chairing a session at that very same conference. You can ask him about his Israel policy, where he went from ultra-done in 1999 to super-hawk in 2001.

Steven I. Weiss - The Uber Jewish Blogger

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."

A leading ultra-Orthodox organization has launched a campaign to shift attention from a controversial book on Jewish superiority, choosing instead to attack the Forward's reporting on it.

Agudath Israel of America has refused to condemn the book by Rabbi Saadya Grama, published in Hebrew under the title "Romemut Yisrael Ufarashat Hagalut," which can be translated in several ways, including "The Grandeur [or Superiority] of Israel and the Question of Exile."

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"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?"


"Why not?"

"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 [1994], 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."

How girls can determine it they are really hot

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:

Here is a list of some other things that offend me: the BBC, the CBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, PBS, NPR, Air America, the NY Times, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, the Seattle Times, the Vancouver Sun, the Guardian, the Independent (which is even worse than the Guardian), Slate, Salon, Noam Chomsky (America's oldest teenager), Michael Moore, Amy-Jill Levine (an Orthodox Jew who teaches New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School [!]), and every university in the English-speaking world, save for Hillsdale College and maybe BYU.

The People Have Spoken

The fan mail is pouring in so fast, I can barely keep up with it.

Sane teenage girl Cecile du Bois writes:

With your irate tone lately on your main blog--'lukeford.net', you seem actually offended by the protocols comments. Whenever you log onto Protocols, don't you notice that it is supposed to be evenly shared with plural amount of Jews--not just one self-absorbed one? Sure, you occasionally produce interesting links and snarky commentary, but for the things about you--please post on your main blogsite. For this once, I have to agree with your whiny commenters--you do more posts than Wonkette does in a week but daily! Let others post too--its not 'lukeford.blogspot.com' now is it?

Like the Arabs taking over Europe, you're taking over this website. Chill out dude. Or else your rash commenters will have a 'puke in' and start their own blog--'Luke Ford Foes Blog'. You wouldn't want that now, would you?

Urbi et orbi et Luki

The kindly Joseph Mailander writes:

Luke, if your transition to Judaism doesn't work out to your satisfaction, and reform tribesters want you to be a less-Jewish kind of Jew, while Orthodox Jews want you to be a more Jewish kind of Jew, know that there is always room for you in life as a Roman Catholic.

In Catholicism, you can't bugger any boys anymore in any kind of high-profile way, but given your unshakeable view on sodomy, that shouldn't be much of a sacrifice. Also, the Catholic religion features lots of Jews at its core, to facilitate your transition. The tradition of wisdom works in the same way as the commentaries do: you make it up as you go along in life, bending the text to agree with whatever political views you wish to maintain at any time. In fact, somewhat similarly to Reform Judaism, there is no truly "holy" text at all, as Jesuits these days even routinely refer to the Easter "apparition stories"!

You can have sex with all the women you want, walk into a little booth, tell the man that your sorry for insulting Cathy Seipp "and any other sins of my past life since my last confession" and presto! the love of God is yours again in abundance. You can then play the bingo or its modern surrogate the State Lottery with complete confidence. Overall, it is a pretty good team, with lots of depth--the starting five may suck, but globally there are a billion substitutes ready to take their place. In fact, it is the world's best men's club. Every day is a festival day, so you won't have to work much. Think about it Luke. Life, and even afterlife, could be a lot easier. And your van would look great with a rosary dangling from the rearview mirror.

"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:

The hostility you might have experienced here, has nothing to do with you being a convert, and everything to do with you acting like a provocative idiot. You came into others’ “sacred space,” and urinated in their face, exposing all the muck in your mind that you chose to expose. You could obviously have written differently, as you are now, but you chose to affront. And people reacted accordingly. It made NO difference if you were a convert or a born Jew. The reaction would have been the same. Don’t hide behind the excuse of being a convert. People are not reacting to the “convert.” They are reacting to YOU, Luke. If you can’t take the heat, clean up your mess and get out of the kitchen.

Honey writes:

I don't think that's quite true - there were plenty of responses to Luke's posts that exploited his conversion and status as a convert as means for insult. Had any other blogger here made the same comments as him, they may have been taken to task, but not in words that challenged their claims to membership in the Jewish community.

Depricating writes:

Ezra's message is actually quite depricating and belittling of Luke. I find it insulting to everyone. What is this, Aish Hatorah? Cut the crap Ezra. On the conversion issue-- and listen up, Luke, because this is important-- people here felt that you, as a first generation Jew, should want to unconditionally love and embrace every aspect of frum Judaism.

In our naivete, most Orthodox jews believe that converts will live in peace and tranquility for the rest of their days, in worship of the sovereign G-d. Its important that you enrich their outlooks by intelligently portraying yourself as a valid Jew with fundamental problems with Judaism.

Your problems don't make you less of a Jew. In some senses, they make you more of a Jew. Judaism is about the process, not the result, and you are clearly more engaged in the process of truth-seeking than most of the people who post here.

That being said, there are ways to intelligently and respectfully post, and ways to post items clearly designed to cause anger and foment. The choice, Luke Oh Master of Protocols, is yours.

Joe Schick writes:

Luke, Is your cynicism related to Orthodox Jews or Orthodox Judaism? Most of your complaints seem to relate to how you are treated on a personal level (i.e. not being invited to shabbat meals) or the fact that some Orthodox Jews, in your words, prefer religion to reality. With respect to the latter, while there are situations in which one must suspend rationalist belief, overall Judaism is by far more rationalist than the other religions. I suggest you review some of the Rambam's works.

Depricating replies:

Joe, I think there shouldn't be much of a split between how Orthodox Jews act and Orthodox Judaism as an 'ism.' Unfortunately, there is, as people derive truths from the pervasive secular morality of our society. If people truly lived halacha in a humble and non-pharisaic way, yes, by reading Rambam and other sources, we would be alot better off.

I wasn't saying that Aish Hatorah is crap in and of itself. But I think attempts to bring Aish-style lovey-dovey-ness to someone like Luke, who clearly has spent his fair share of time at Aish Hatorah and similar institutions is very insulting and belittling to him. Aish does great work for those who choose to participate in its kiruv programs. I just resent the tone with which Ezra addressed Luke. It was patronizing and condescending, in a way that I have heard Aish hatorah employees and other kiruv professionals speaking.

Apology writes Protocols:

Luke, I was the 'puke' post from before.

1) I want to apologize for the tone of my post. After reading it just now I realize that it was disgusting, and wish to apologize.

2) I respectfully submit that your rationale for converting to Judaism is very very disturbing. If you went to a mainstream Rav and requested a conversion on the basis that you want 'color and excitement' and the contrast of the shiksa/nonshiksa distinction, ie-- that you want a sort of artificial (for YOU) moral backdrop against which you can sin, sort of like a white canvas on which to throw red paint, I would hope that that Rav would have scruples and intergrity enough to send you away.

Again, my apologies for crossing the lines of civility. I think my anger stems from the feeling many of us Orthodox protocols readers have that you are in some despicable way using Orthodox Judaism for your own personal twisted purposes. That is moraly reprehensible at best. I'm sorry to be so harsh, but it seems that this blog has taken a turn towards honest discussion instead of inane posts about pornstar nazis.

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.

Ezra writes:

Re: “Apology accepted” message. Boruch Hashem! Mr. Ford, in this previous message, we’ve finally received a slither of honest and sincere conversation from you. Even religious defensiveness. What a breath of fresh air! Come on Luke, start taking the readership here seriously. Traffic on Protocols doesn’t mean a thing. It’s quality of readers that counts. And there is a qualitative group here that want to give you a second chance, and respond to you seriously, and respectfully, if you would only write that way. This is a Jewish Forum. It serves a purpose not simply to vent angst, but for religious discussion of contemporary Jewish issues and thought. You’ve gone through some major transitions in your life. Yes, tell us about your perspective and experience of the conversion process. Even the humiliation. We might agree or disagree, but we’d hear the serious side of your self. You don’t have to pander to the riffraff to get attention here. You can keep the other stuff on Lukeford.net and your Jewish thoughts, conflicts, insights, and knowledge, here. It would be fascinating to hear your history. How - and why - you walked away from your father, Dr. Desmond’s faith, to join the Jewish people. It could be quite enlightening to hear the religious nature of your soul. What inspired you. Which mitzvot moved you. When you are up, what lifts you up, and when you are down…why. Tell us about the people you’ve drawn to observance, and what you said to them. Yes, Luke, we know you’re a bit out of kilter. You are not a conventional fellow. No offense meant. And we can accept that, too. You might finally have met your “shul” here. We are happy to reach out to you. But meet us half way Luke. Come brother, pull up a chair, and take a seat in the circle with the rest of us. And converse with us. We want to hear your neshama speak, Reb Luke. Will you let us?

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.