Tuesday, March 21, 2006

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An Email Exchange With Jewish Voice & Opinion Editor Susie Rosenbluth About Rabbi Aron Tendler

Bella writes Suse:

I know that the truth is of no great importance to you. But the victims of Aron Tendler (which include myself) have been going to the Rabbis of the community for over 20 years to tell our story. Rabbi Shalom Tendler, Rabbi Hier and Rabbi Bess have known for years. So to suggest that your situation in NY has anything to do with us, is abserd. The family is sick...Matis, Aron, Mordechai and their cousins who posed in Penthouse in 1960, are all sick. Stop blaming the victims. We don't even know Mordechai or any of his victims. We are all former students (and congregants) who he carried on relationships with for over 14 years. He molested a 16 year old girl boarding in his home as well as planned to have sex with another 16 year old, and that is why he was removed. He should have been thrown out of the school system but Shalom protected him. You don't care about the truth that is obvious, but we just thought you would like to know the "truth." And for the record, we are not anonymous, The RCC and SZ know our names and spoke with each of us directly. You should get them help instead of enbling them.

I wouldn't suggest anyone davening with Aron privately or they will probably be molested by him. He has admitted to us that he was molested as a child and that he masturbated all the time as a child. He has a huge problem. He needs help. He is running away because he is afraid to death that Esther will hear ALL the details of how he has been cheating on her for 20 years, not to avoid what his brother is enduring. Your paper is a disgrace.

Susie responds:

Anonymous letters like yours are usually as valuable as unsigned checks. I will keep note of your email address, however. I do not know Rabbi Aron Tendler. I never met him and spoke to him only once by phone in preparation for my article. I did speak to people at YULA and I did speak to members of his congregation. For the record, Rabbi Tendler sent me to no one. I found the folks to speak to on my own.

Child abuse is not a crime that should be reported only to rabbis. Molesting a 16-year-old should be reported to the police. Why weren't these cases reported to the police? Why was the District Attorney's sex-crimes unit not alerted?

When I searched for any reports of abuse against Rabbi Aron Tendler (abuse is what you are describing, not the silly civil case in which Rabbi Mordechai Tendler is currently embroiled in New York Superior Court), there were no reports that the police or District Attorney's office had.

The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles had no more luck than I had.

I am not for a moment suggesting that what you are saying did or did not occur. I am saying that a man is innocent until proven guilty, and, to date, the only accusations directed against either Rabbis Tendler, as far as I know, are anonymous, Internet nonsense. Accusations like those--like yours--are worthless.

Bella responds:

YULA covered it up. And I don't know who you spoke to but it they were both my friends and I saw first hand what happened...there was no investigation...they wanted to keep it quiet as do all jewish communities.

But over 15 people came forward to tell what happened (all those years back) all ontheir own with the same stories. You don't know our names but others do and to think I will tell "you" my name to prove a point is quite foolish. No one at YULA is even still there so they have no idea what happened. The JJ sat on this story for two months and once the letter was sent out they reported on it in a very weak manner...yet seemed to think YULA was responsible when I spoke to them. But no one ever takes responsibility in this community.

You obvisouly didn't speak to his victims at SZ. I hear from congregants daily thanking us for getting rid of him, so not too su e who you communicated with other than those who are pro Aron which seems to be the basis of your whole paper. They were scared and being threatened...who was going to belive them at 16? Dr. Powell wanted him out and made that very clear but Shalom protected him. Shalom spoke to one of Aron's victims 3 yeats ago after she tried to take her own life because of what Aron did to her...she didn't report it then because she was living in his home and he had a tremendous hold over her until about 5 years ago. Whatever I say will go in one ear and out the other and we don't care if you believe us. But perhaps you should get ALL the facts before you run such an article about a man who destroyed so many poeple's lives. It is quite irresponsible of you.

Again, The RCC and The Board @ SZ as well as The OU know exactly who I am and who we all are. This isn't about blogging, this is about a very sick man who manipulated women who came from broken homes and while trying to seduce us talked against us to anyone that would listen. It took us 20 years to get rid of him but we finally did. And we are very proud. Robert Schacht (A board member) told one of Aron's victims one month ago that "The amount of women coming forward is astonishing and we want him out"...so not sure where you are getting your info.

They are hardly "worthless", as The RCC fired him a year ago and he was just thrown from SZ. Look at the facts and take off your blinders. A guilty man has seen justice. And if we weren't credible then he would still have a job.

Susie responds:

I obviously did not speak to the hundreds of members at SZ. I spoke to whomever I could. I don't believe you because when a man has sex with a minor girl, and as many people as you say knew about it in fact were aware, the police get called somewhere along the line.

Until the police are called here, I'm afraid you don't have my ear.

I have also spoken with several people here on the east coast who have recently (last year or two) moved here from Los Angeles, where they were, according to their own stories, very close to Rabbi Aron Tendler. To a man and woman, these folks say he is wonderful and that they do not believe your story.

If your story is true, you must prove it. A man is innocent until proven guilty. If, as you say, he was fired because of verifiable accusations, give me names and I will interview people, ask the questions all of us who have healthy skepticism must ask, and write my story. If you ask me simply to trust you--an anonymous person who says, in effect, here I am, trust me--I say: forget it.

The story you ask me to believe, as you relate it, is something out of the 19th century (maybe 18th), not the late 20th. Sorry.

Bella responds:

I never said he had "sex" with a minor, I said he molested a minor and Dr. Powell knew what he was doing with a another 17 year old and tried to get rid of Aron...so stop saying it's me it' s over 50 women who all went public and that's why he's gone. Call the RCC and ask them why they fired him one year ago and why he quietly walked away from a position held for over 20 years. Even girls at YULA say they remember he used to flirt with them.

Everyone told me contacting you was a waste, you are probably being paid by The Tendlers...and for the record a huge law suit is in the works agianst Aron and YULA for enabling that bastard for all these years. I wonder how you would feel if he molested you or your daughter. Shame on you. I know my own sexual epxeriences with him and I have taken a lie detector test and I will show up in court to testify and even then, after you see over 50 women who have been telling their story for years testify, and he is found guilty as will Rabbi Hier, even then you won't believe us. To be honest, we are so happy he is out, what somene like you thinks (one of the sick sheep) is of no consequence to us. As a woman you should be ashamed to protect such a sick family. I wonder what hashem is going to say to you one day but that's your problem. Shalom knew, Powell knew, and Bess new, call them yourself. And you reported erroneously about YULA...I just spoke to an insider at YULA and she said they have been telling everyone that no one at YULA now was their at YULA 20 years ago...so you and The JJ are lying, but we aren't surprised. There is a very powerful lawyer who sued The Vatican who is taking this case...so lie and do what you have to do but we will have the last laugh.

Susan responds:

I hope, as you say, this will go to court. Because we have open courts in this country (thank G-d), the case will undoubtedly be covered by the free press. If the accusations can be proved, Rabbi Aron Tendler will be found guilty, and the consequences will be much more dire than simply walking away from a synagogue job, which, I understand, will be replaced, probably by members of the shul who want to stay with him.

If the accusations sound like yours (flirting--in whose opinion?--taken to be "molesting"), you'll be laughed out of court.

If Rabbi Hier is found guilty, it will shake up the entire country--his power base is significant throughout the Jewish, and non-Jewish, world.

I have no doubt Hashem would agree with me and the Constitution of this great country that we call home, that a man is innocent until proven guilty. That's what the beit din system is all about. Prove Rabbi Tendler guilty and we'll all cheer for you. If he is found not guilty, his supporters will cheer and you can gripe that it's O.J. Simpson redux.

I count myself in neither camp. I am a supporter of the truth. Thus far, Rabbi Aron Tendler's opponents have been anonymous (at least as far as the public is concerned) and have contented themselves with smear jobs geared to forcing him from jobs. The people you claim know who the accusers are will not make statements of any kind for or against Rabbi Tendler, so, for all intents and purposes, for the public at large, the anonymous accusers are on their own.

Your problem seems to be that you cannot accept the innocent-until-proven-guilty concept. Instead, you insist that anyone who holds by that principle is either in the employ of the accused (I am not) or cannot understand how a victim might feel (I do indeed and for reasons I have no interest in sharing with you). I just insist that victims be treated with respect, which means having to take responsibility for bringing the accused to court and not simply satisfying themselves with anonymous innuendo.

At this time, I have no reason to believe any part of your story and neither, it would seem, has anyone else in authority. The onus is on you and this "very powerful lawyer" to prove Rabbi Tendler guilty.

Like the rest of the world, I will watch with interest.

Be aware, you've given me enough in this email, should I desire, to take you to court, should your identity ever become known. You've called me a liar and an accomplice, and have accused me of taking bribes. I will save this email.

Unlike you, who takes name-calling so easily, I do not. As I said, I have no idea whether you are telling the truth or not.

While you are concerned about what Hashem thinks of me, if I were you, I would worry much more about what He thinks of someone who contemplates having "the last laugh," as though ruining a man is a cause for levity. Shame on who?

Bella responds:

I can't even read the rest of your e-mail...your a sick woman. If performing oral sex on a woman and getting into bed while Esther is in the next room, with another young girl, will be laughed out of court than you live in a jewish world I want no part of. I will make sure that every paper in town sees your e-mails to me. No one is going with Aron unless they are going to Israel where all the sickos in that family go. Your not a journalist, your a tendler cult member. DO NOT CONTACT ME AGAIN.

Susan writes:

One thing you should know about me: I ALWAYS have the last word, so if anyone will end this dialogue, it will be you.

My response to your email is, as things stand now: "Says you." If your accusations can be proven, I will cover that. As of now, all I have is your feverish prose, the word of an anonymous woman who is not only crudely accusing Rabbi Aron Tendler, she is accusing me.

I have never met Rabbi Aron Tendler--I spoke to him briefly to prepare for the article and I spoke to others in his community.

Please make certain that "every paper in town sees" my emails to you. I sign them because I am proud of them (which is more than one can say for you).

The operative phrase is: A man is innocent until proven guilty. If that qualifies to make me, in your words "a sicko" or a "Tendler cult member," then just who is the "sick woman" in this dialogue?

By the way, I didn't start the dialogue, you did, and I ALWAYS respond to folks who write to me at The Jewish Voice.

Jewish Whistleblower writes me:

Luke, it is a waste of time and breath to even get into a conversation or dialogue with Rosenbluth.

She is no different than any other koolaid drinker in the Catholic community that screamed and shouted down victims/survivors and their supporters with nonsense about the rights of child molesters and the piousness of Church leaders and doctrine.

The fact is that we have a Constituion that allows me to call Aron Tendler a child molester and Mordecai Tendler an exploiter of women because it is simply factually true.

The fact is halacha REQUIRES me to speak out and expose hypocrites like the Tendler brothers, see the article by Rabbi Dratch on the Jsafe website.

The fact is that Susan Rosenbluth was aware of child molester Rabbi Baruch Lanner in Teaneck, NJ. She saw the rabbonim there cover it up, she knew the allegations were credible and accurate and she remained silent for over a decade allowing more children to be molested and more lives to be destroyed.

A few months ago Susie published an article where she referred to Rav Moshe Tendler as a Halachic advisor she consulted as to publishing a story. That's the level of objectivity she has in reporting on the Tendler family, she followed their father's instructions in the past on what can and should be reported.

Susan's articles have all lacked basic fact checking and review. There are so many glaring errors and simply false statements, that it would be easier to state what she got right. She claims that bloggers tried to have Aron thrown out of the RCC. Well, Susie claims to have spoken to people in the know, how did she not discover that he hasn't been on the RCC for months? As to the failure of YULA to phone the police, isn't that exaclty what they said in their statement to the police? They clearly covered up the abuse by failing their moral and legal obligations to contact the police. The same style cover-up was conducted in NJ with Rabbi Baruch Lanner and Susie was happy to give her silence to that cover-up as it protected her precious advertising revenues. Mainly the only thing Susie is good at is spelling the names of people in her articles correctly.

Susan Rosenbluth is simply part of the problem in our community. She is a defender of the rights of the abusers. No other newspaper I know of makes hundreds if not thousands of copies available to the family of a sexual predators they defend in their pages so that they can distribute the smears in that newspaper as part of their campaign. Yet that is exactly what has happened for several months in Monsey. Susan is not a journalist, she is paid executioner, destroying the names of decent people and protecting the true rashas.

Susie responds to me:

A critique from an anonymous blogger? I've always said that an unsigned letter is worth about the same as an unsigned check. Do you know who JWB is? I don't, and, therefore, I have no interest in responding to him, her, it.

I will respond to anonymous people who write to me personally. I will not respond to anonymous publications, and especially not to those which allow all manner of disgusting posts. No one believes in freedom of speech more than I, but I also believe in decorum.

I was giving serious consideration to accepting your invitation to a phone interview addressing how I as "a Jewish journalist approach these types of matters." But, quite frankly, your association with JWB, Canonist, Vicki Polin, et al, requires me to decline.

Jewish Whistleblower writes:

Apparently, the only thing Susie is good at is brow beating a survivor of clergy abuse in some of the most high-handed and unprofessional series of emails that I have ever seen emanating from someone who claims to be a journalist. Susie manages to utterly distort the facts. Susie is clearly just cruel and uncompassionate. To treat a person like this just brings into clear focus the absolute lack of heart my community has towards the victims/survivors of abuse.

I know fully understand how one of Aron's survivors could try to commit suicide.

But be assured Susie, the community is changing and ancient dinosaurs like you are on the way out.

Bella, stay strong, Susie is not worth your time or energy. She is the past of a dark period in Jewish history, while you are our future. Focus your energy on the civil lawsuit. Bring midat din to this world, to the Tendlers of the world, we need it.

'Flash Point' Killings: Murder Most Casual

The article does not mention race. All these neighborhoods are black.

Why Does Rabbi Chagai Batzri Have Two Wives?

Ahuva Zonnberg writes: "How was Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky Drasha at B'nei David Judea entitled, "Why does Chagai Batzri have two wives? An unfolding story of Halacha, decency, and public policy in our very own community." Can we, please, get a report on its content?"

I noticed extra security at the shul Shabbos morning. The Batzri family turned out in numbers.

Rabbi Kanefsky began by mentioning he welcomes the Bazri family's feedback. Then he stated the problem: Because Rabbi Batzri's first wife refused to allow a Beit Din to adjudicate the disposition of their assets, and instead took the case to secular courts, she violated Jewish law. Rabbi Batzri refused to give her a get (divorce). He then got permission from Rabbi Ben-Zaken to remarry and did so about a month ago.

Rabbi Kanefsky mentioned that Rabbi Gershon one thousand years ago forbade Ashkenazi Jews from having more than one wife (though polygamy had died out among them hundreds of years earlier). Yes, Rabbi Batzri and his wife Luna were Sephardic, but the Sephardic decisors of Jewish law, such as Rabbi Ovad Yosef, also oppose polygamy and oppose the loophole through which Rabbi Chagai Batzri remarried.

Rabbi Kanefsky mentioned he spoke to the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox rabbi's union), the RCC (Rabbinical Council of California, the most powerful Orthodox authority in California), Rabbi Ben-Zaken (who permitted and enabled Rabbi Batzri's second wedding) and Rabbi Batzri. Rabbi Kanefsky said there was reason to hope that a solution would be found soon.

Afterwards, Rabbi Kanefsky was warmly and widely congratulated and everyone I heard talking about the matter praised his talk.

I believe he is the first rabbi to dicuss this matter from the pulpit (bima). He was also the first Orthodox rabbi to talk to a support group for Orthodox homosexuals (though the rabbi insisted that the talk be opened up to a wider audience than just the support group). Rabbi Kanefsky reluctantly participated in a debate about same sex marriage at the University of Judaism in May of 2004.

Rabbi Kanefsky says that girls should get the same Torah education as boys. I believe he would support giving women aliyot (called to the Torah to recite a blessing during its reading) if it was politically and socially feasible. His synagogue (BnaiDavid.com) is the most religiously liberal of any Orthodox shul west of New York City. Because of his support for women's prayer groups, he was asked to leave the RCC's kashrut committee (which was presided over until recently by Rabbi Aron Tendler).

Most of his Sabbath sermons are aggadic (stories and inspiration). Some people love that. Others prefer when he teaches text and law.

As a child, Yosef Kanefsky was known as "Mr. Logical." He hasn't changed.

Chaim Amalek writes: "There is no basis in Jewish law with which to oppose polygamy. The only reason it is denied to Jewish men by Jewish rabbis is out of fear for what the goyim might think. Aren't we well past caring about what THEY think about us? Gershom's edict was written to last a thousand years, and that thousand years is up. And it never applied to Sephardim, and anyway, who was this Gershom - the Jewish pope? Besides, if you favor letting men marry other men, why pick on the polygamists?"

A Critique Of Modern American-Jewish Literature

My friend "Yaakov" writes:

Allegra Goodman -- Boring beyond words. Has no idea how to tell a story. Just another Cynthia Ozick wannabe. One is enough, thank you very much.

Tova Mirvis -- Better. She tries to tell a story. But when she hits act three, drops dead.

Dara Horn -- Unreadable. Post Modern goyishe junk transmuted into Jewish life. Again, no idea how to tell a story. Too much time in writer's workshops.

Nathan Englander -- Talented, but a terrible liar and much beloved by Jihadists for he makes religious Jews look and act like hypocrites and liars and everything the Jihadists say we are. Basically he's Philip Roth with long hair.

Rebecca Goldstein -- I read the first ten pages of each of her books. No idea what was going on.

Every one of these writers have one thing on common: no craft. No idea how to tell a simple three-act story. No notion how to take a character from point a to point b and make that character grow and change.

Nooooo, they're all to post modern for that.

These writers are just ghastly products of university writing workshops. They read each other's work. The public could care less.

These writers are simply ghastly and I have no doubt that nobody even reads them except maybe one another -- oh and their white shoe enablers at the NY Times. The same useful idiots who brought us, ta-da! Raymond Carver. Now there was a massive dose of Thorazine.

My friend Bava Kama Sutra responds:

You might consider dropping him from your friend category.

It's interesting how so many people don't have a high enough self-esteem to be able to say, simply, I don't get it. Instead, if they don't like or get it, it's automatically "bad" and without craft or merit. It's interesting that The New Yorker seems to like Goodman very much -- but I'm sure that your friend's level of expertise is far beyond that of a simple magazine such as that. And, the public "could care less" -- really? Is that why The New Yorker publishes her work? Because the public doesn't care? My, what an ego your friend has -- he (for it must be a he) has conflated larger public opinion and his own worthless one. In short, what a moron. But to each his own.

What has this person written that is better than what these writers write? If he wants a simple (for the simpleton) "three act story," he should watch Sesame Street or some other childish rubbish. Go look at a picture book. Read a fairytale. But stay away from high art. We hate what we don't understand, don't we?

I'm just so tired of people calling literature bad if they don't like it. Why should everyone have to write the same kind of "3 act" story? That's not enough for some people, me for instance. Honestly, I think Goodman can be "boring," but it's only if you're looking for a certain kind of quick fix story as opposed to (though not necessarily so) artistry. And Ozick - - she's brilliant. She's not trying to write simple stories. Goldstein -- she's not my favorite but I see what she's doing. My students are reading her now and don't like her -- yet they loved Morrison. Who knew?

I don't care if you post my response, but don't use my name. I don't really think he's a moron, though. Who does he like to read, for example?

> I have so many friends, I can easily afford to drop them when I disagree > with how they express their opinions on literature.

I guess some of the literature I now like is an acquired taste-- like coffee, or wine, or beer. I never could develop a taste for beer, but the other two I like. I didn't start out liking Ozick (was more of a Grace Paley/Bernard Malamud fan), but now I couldn't go back.

I don't want your friend to think I'm mean. I'm really not. I'm nicer than you are.

> On my blog, I try to provide the kind of civilized discourse that is > essential to the smooth functioning of a democracy. (Allan MacDonell)

You like to antagonize. And now I realize that's the only reason you sent me your friend's comments. I'm so predictable.

> I was trying to promote democracy, it was either that or invade Iran.

Invade Iran.

Another Whining Jew

When Erno Nussenzweig, an Orthodox Jew and retired diamond merchant from Union City, N.J., saw his picture last year in the exhibition catalog, he called his lawyer. And then he sued Mr. diCorcia and Pace for exhibiting and publishing the portrait without permission and profiting from it financially. The suit sought an injunction to halt sales and publication of the photograph, as well as $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages.

The suit was dismissed last month by a New York State Supreme Court judge who said that the photographer's right to artistic expression trumped the subject's privacy rights. But to many artists, the fact that the case went so far is significant.

Did Erno think his stupid lawsuit would glorify God's name?

Shaarey Zedek Update

It seems like every week a new Orthodox leader is brought in to the shul to tell the members to behave themselves. This Shabbos it was the leader of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb (executive vice-president). He told the shul to stay together and not divide up.

I Want My 20-Minutes Back

Smiling Arab writes:

Twenty minutes. I'd like them back.

I'm not familiar with the genre of "incredibly boring interviews with incredibly boring people," but I think you're making it into your own personal niche. I have no idea why you're seeking out people more tedious and empty than the interviewer (that would be you) to talk to.

I especially liked the part about the Jewess and her family holding up cards with numbers on them at the dinner table to describe how their day was. It's like The Royal Tennenbaums without the incest, mescaline and Gene Hackman.

Maybe next week you can feature a special interview with a person raised by nuns that makes documentaries about cardboard factories?

Kaiser Sauze replies:

Arab, to be fair most people without a vested interest would have given up on reading that article/interview after the first 40 seconds. It's a niche piece, thus posted on his .net site. I am surprised you dedicated the whole 20 minutes.

Luke is an easy target, but do you really find him "tedious and empty"? I think his transparent moral duality and the fact that he bares his weakness in dealing with it is morbidly fascinating, almost courageous.

Smiling Arab writes:

Hmm, I think that came out wrong. What I meant to say is that Luke is probably the only reporter more interesting than any of his subjects. For whatever reason, he picks these dead souls wandering on the fringe of American literature, sociology and politics. It's funny when he breaks them down into the fundamental building blocks of matter, like that "sex-positive" hipster awhile back. It's less so when he takes dreary people at face value. I mean, women like this--happy lives, happy childhoods, no conflicts, one big happy face presented to the world--have pretty much destroyed literature for now and all of time. I don't blame kids for melting their brains into a plasma TV with Grand Theft Auto on it: by and large, Pong is more interesting than anything these people have to say, in print or in interviews.

Secondly, conflict--internal, external, displaced, implied--is Luke's thing. He may be as much of a honkey as any descendent of British thieves and pederasts but it's strictly an Asian trait to ascribe merit to the complicated man who struggles with issues compared to the Westerner that believes he's got it all figured out. The love/hate relationship that he has with his subject--which has been going on for, oh, six or eight years now--is what sets him apart from some mindless drone like sexycity, caging drink tickets from the drugged and generally taking up the space that could be better used by importing some Chinese prole willing to work 18 hour days for a bowl of dog food.

SabrinaLuvs posts: "Hey Arab! People on the board like what you have to say so I'm curious to know what you would consider interesting to see Luke write about on his site thats more interesting than the writer himself?"

Smiling Arab writes:

Fine, Arab's five helpful steps to recover Luke's mojo:

1. More Jim Goad. It's bizarre, you already know the most brutal, savage writer of this generation yet you ponder whether or not the Holocaust destroyed the linear narrative of Jewish literature with Homely Spice.

2. More Amalek. I know he's your pretend friend and everything but he hasn't been around since Holly came back around. I realize I'm encouraging your split personality here but DANCE MONKEY BOY, DANCE.

3. Fewer shrill harpies in your life will improve your complexion and make for better reading, so get rid of Cathy Siepp and the rest of the weird yentas. More Kendra, more Mary, and what happened to Rob Spallone stealing double-A batteries from the Kwik-E Mart?

4. Schedule more interviews with producers and directors. The best Luke story ever was when Buck Adams had a nervous breakdown on set while your tape recorder whirled away. While you're at it, "What kind of kids did you hang out with in high school?" is not an interesting question, though I'm amused that you're asking it both of whores and creepy Jewish chick writers concerned about the non-anthropological perspectives on their community.

5. More discussions of Torah, because it cracks me up whenever I see written in plain English what you crazy Orthodox believe.

Finally, the one that will really set you on the right path: Interview David Duke. The man is a whore and will speak with anyone that will ask. You, Luke Ford, are the perfect man to wave a microphone in his face:
a.) You're Jewish (well... not to real Jews, but to Duke you are), he burns crosses, it's hilarious,
b.) Unlike your yenta posse, he's actually led an interesting life, and he'll probably ask you for a few numbers of porn chicas if the rumors are to be believed,
c.) He's had more plastic surgury than Houston, so you can recycle most of your porn star questions, and
d.) Because deep down, despite waving your tefillin around to all and sundry, you agree with him on just about every social issue except for the gas chambers, and I think the two of you seeing eye-to-eye on things will bring about the kind of closure that Jew and Gentile need.

Hollywood's Brutal Truths

Robert J. Avrech blogs:

A few days later I call Esther. I listen to her ramble about her non-career, about her "awesome" talent, about how no one understands her, about her dwindling bank account, about her abusive boyfriend, about her miserable agent; and I politely bring the conversation to an end when Esther viciously rants about how much she hates her mother who has never supported her artistic dreams...

A Joke Before The Sabbath

St. Peter runs to God to tell him, "We've got trouble. There are six shvartzes by the Pearly Gates. It could be trouble."

God says, "Go check it out and report back."

A few minutes later, St. Peter returns. "They're gone," he says.

"The shvartzes?" asks God.

"No. The Pearly Gates."

What Do You Call Jewish St. Patrick's Day? Shabbat

An Orthodox friend calls complaining about his many Orthodox male friends who get drunk regularly on Shabbat.

He tells me that it is wrong for me to sleep with shiksas. "They're fine for practice," he says, "but you can't marry them because they can't turn on your oven."

According to Jewish law, a Jew may only eat cooked food prepared by a Jew or under a Jew's supervision. The Jew has to turn on the oven.

This Jewish boy has not been able to marry. Finally he calls his mom and says he's found a nice girl. "Mom, she's not Jewish. She's an Indian. Native American they call it these days. But they're very welcoming. They've accepted me into the community. Her name is Running Water and my Indian name is Fighting Bull."

Mom replies: "I also have an Indian name. Sitting Shiva."

In another version of the story, the mom warns her son that the girl will be anti-semitic.

"No," says the son. "It will be fine. We've made an agreement. She won't call me kike and I won't call her nigger."

Two Hasidim pray with fervor. One finishes Shemoneh Esreh (the main Jewish prayer) and he says in Yiddish, "I'm going to get a shiksa."

The other Hasid is still davening and is not permitted to speak. He sticks out his hand and makes the sign for peace, meaning "two."

Why do religious Jewish girls wear two-piece bikinis? To separate the meat from the milk.

Gottlieb called his Rabbi and said, "I know tonight is Kol Nidre, but tonight the Yankees start the playoffs. Rabbi, I'm a lifelong Yankee fan. I've got to watch the Yankee game on TV."

The Rabbi responds, "Gotlieb, that's what VCRs are for."

Gottlieb is surprised. "You mean I can tape Kol Nidre?"

Rav Aron Tendler Moves His Considerable Assets So They Can't Be Attached

Facing a lawsuit for misbehavior, Aron has moved the ownership of his Valley Village home and his other assets into safe places.

How's Aron doing? He's fine. Almost nobody at his shul Shaarey Tzedek is shunning him. He's widely loved. He has a devoted following.

Saddam's Secrets: How an Iraqi General Defied And Survived Saddam Hussein

Wednesday Morning Club. 11:35 a.m.

I run into Michael Finch at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. His hand is bandaged.

I inquire about his injury. He unpeals the bandage. There's a nasty cut.

"Michael, when did you begin to cut yourself?" I inquire.

"I just did it today opening boxes."

"How long has this been going on?"

"Since I started working for David [Horowitz]."

"Michael, this is an obvious cry for help. I know a lot of Jewish psychiatrists. I can fix you up with one. I think it is time for an intervention."

I discuss this troubling matter with Elizabath, Horowitz's assistant.

"I think we should support and empower Michael to do whatever he wants," she says.

"I just don't think that cutting yourself is a healthy way to express your feelings," I whine.

Whenever I become emotional, I feel an Air Supply song coming on.

It turns out that Elizabeth (her husband Sean is the tall skinny guy behind the WMC camera) was the 16-year old star of the 1985 Air Supply music video "Making Love Out of Nothing at All."

I can make the run or stumble,
I can make the final block;
And I can make every tackle,
at the sound of the whistle,
I can make all the stadiums rock.
I can make tonight forever,
Or I can make it disappear by the dawn;
And I can make you every promise that has ever been made,
And I can make all your demons be gone.
But I’m never gonna make it without you,
Do you really want to see me crawl?
And I’m never gonna make it like you do,
Making love out of nothing at all.

I'm disturbed by the number of people who worked for Horowitz and cut themselves. There should be a congressional inquiry. I'm willing to testify. I'm willing to name names. I'll out every cutter. I think it's gross. It's not the Torah's way.

I did not care for today's lunch -- it was filled with flavor and ingredients. I approve of neither.

I scan the room and see no single chicks under 40. I don't approve of that either.

I sit next to Hyman Jebb Levy of Lastar.org (Sephardic Tradition And Recreation). I volunteer to come say a few words of Torah to his kids.

My friend Jeffrey tells me to save him a seat. Then he runs into my friend Marie, a tall blonde, and they run off together to their own table and I'm left making love out of nothing at all.

Jeffrey is so supercial. He sees a pretty face and then he forgets all about me and everything we've shared.

Where was Marie when I was helping him get that monkey off his back? Who held his hand when he was throwing up in the toilet? Who bailed him out of jail when there was that morals charge?

According to the PR email:

Saddam's Secrets: He was Saddam Hussein's top military advisor and a truth-teller in a regime where truth was relative. He was also a devout Christian in an anti-Christian country. For the first time, General Georges Sada shares his amazing journey and speaks of the military secrets he was asked to keep. Secrets that only those closest to Saddam would know. In this exclusive book, the General paints a picture of Hussein, his regime and his country that is at once personal and truthful, compelling and sobering.

General Georges Sada graduated from Iraq's Air Academy in 1959 and was trained by elite forces in Great Britian, Russia and the U.S. An Ace fighter pilot who trained other pilots, he went on to become air vice marshal in Saddam Hussein's military. His acts of bravery, including saving the lives of forty downed coalition pilots in the gulf War, have earned him hero status. Now retired, Sada is director of the Iraqi Institute for Peace and also serves as spokesman for the newly elected prime minister of Iraq.

General Sada (who trained in the US, USSR, France and England) says he retired as a two-star general in 1986. "I was supposed to be promoted to three-star general but I had to join the Baath party. I refused. When I was asked why not, I said there were two essential principles of the party that I did not agree with. The Baath party is dedicated to the Arab cause and to Islam. I am Assyrian and Christian."

After Iraq annihilated Kuwait in 1990, Saddam brought Sada out of retirement to advise him about the capabilities of the Allies air forces. On December 17, 1990, Saddam said he wanted to send 86 planes to attack Israel with chemical weapons if the Allies attacked him. General Sada argued against this. He said most of the Iraqi planes would be shot down on the way to Israel, and if they released any chemical weapons on Israel, Israel would respond with nuclear weapons.

Saddam wanted to send 12 divisions into Saudi Arabia to destroy its infrastructure. Sada argued against this.

Sadam's people wanted to kill captured Allied fliers during the war. Sada said this was a violation of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war, and that America would go after personally anyone who did this. The prisoners were not killed. Sada was imprisoned for about two weeks because of his stand, but on February 5, 1991, he was freed on Saddam's order.

General Sada said the Allies air forces would destroy Iraqi forces and communications. Other Iraqi military leaders disagreed. It turned out that Sada was right.

After the war, Saddam said he did not want to see Sada's face again. He did not want him in the Iraqi military. But he didn't want him harmed.

Sada said Saddam killed more clerics, more Baath party members, more Sunnis (his own people), more Tikritis (Saddam's home town), more military officers, and more Kurds (203,000) than anyone.

General Sada thanked the United States for liberating Iraq (a country of 27 million people).

Dara Horn Interview: 'It's Like A Bad Blind Date'

On March 10, I emailed Dara:

Dear Ms. Horn,

I would love to interview you about your books and your vision for a new Jewish literature for my humble blog www.lukeford.net.

If I could secure said interview, it would raise me greatly in the esteem of a...friend of mine.... She says that traditional linear narrative is impossible after the Holocaust and I need to know if this is true.

Dara, 28 (though she looks 27), calls me Wednesday, March 15, at 4:30 p.m.

Earlier in the week I had confided to a friend: "I just don't have anything to say to her or ask her. I've just done a ton of reading on her (in addition to reading her two novels over the previous few months) and she speaks and thinks so differently from me, oh boy. I'm going back to the basic questions I ask anybody about where they find meaning in life. This could be a big flop."

I shared with my friend my questions for Dara about her life.

She responded that I should ask Dara more specific questions about her work. Why does she incorporate yiddishisms? Is this her response to the Holocaust? To the gaping literary hole created by the extermination of almost everything Yiddish? Is she a post-Holocaust writer? What does she think about that? Does she see her work as fitting into that genre? In Jewish literary studies, the big post-Holocaust writers are Melvin Jules Bukiet, Art Spiegelman, Norma Rosen and Thane Rosenbaum. The newcomers to that genre are Horn, Nathan Englander, Steve Stern, and Jonathan Safran Foer.

Luke: "Is it OK if we speak on a first name basis?"

Dara: "Fine with me."

She laughs and breathes hard. My spirits lift.

Luke: "I'm tape recording this so I can transcribe."

Dara: "OK, sure."

Luke: "Let me start with some simple questions. When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

Dara laughs. She speaks rapidly. "Nobody has ever asked me that in an interview before. I was obsessed with dinosaurs at one point, so I wanted to be a paleontologist. Every kid wants to be an astronaut. The Challenger blew up. I decided I'd be an astronomer. I was writing always, keeping journals. A certain friend [Elif Batuman, who's doing a PhD in comparative literature at Stanford] and I, when we played together, we would write down in our journals everything that had happened in our games. She now writes for The New Yorker.

"I was always writing but it didn't occur to me until I was a teenager that this was something a person could do. And even after that, I didn't think about it as something one could do for a living, it kinda isn't. You have to be doing other things."

Luke: "Was there a seminal event when you realized your destiny was to be a writer?"

Dara: "Gosh, I can make one up. I published an article in Hadassah magazine when I was 14. Then I published another article when I was 15. It was nominated for a national magazine award. It was the first time a Jewish publication was ever nominated for the award. It was a big deal. They had a big awards event with all these editors. I was the only person there with braces."

Luke: "Were you impossible to deal with after that?"

Dara: "It was too surreal. It wasn't the kind of thing you could explain to people you knew at school. 'I'm doing this thing over the weekend. I'm going to this lunch at this hotel for something I did for a magazine.' 'Oh, that's cool.' It didn't make any difference for my daily life at school and homework. I don't think I became too insufferable. Maybe my [three] siblings would disagree."

Luke: "Are there any similarities between your writing as a child and teenager and the writing you do today?"

Dara: "Probably. I never wrote any fiction until my first novel. I always saw myself as writing non-fiction. The first things I published were travel articles.

"One thing that is similar is my interest in Jewish literature. Also, an archival impulse of recording things. As a child, I kept journals and diaries. I had the fear that one's experiences disappear if they aren't written down. I never thought about it very clearly when I was a child."

Luke: "Is there any consistency in the feedback people have given you as both a human being and as a writer since you were a child?"

Dara: "Hmm. Interesting question. Feedback meaning?"

Luke: "'Oh, you're intense. Or intelligent. Or questioning.' Any common threads. Writing is the person. For instance, even when you were four years old, your parents told you this, and even today your husband tells you the same thing."

Dara: "I've always been a nerd. I've always been obsessed with trivial details. I've always had a good memory. As a teenager, I was co-captain of my quizball team in highschool. We would go on local TV, like the character Benjamin [Ziskind] in my book The World to Come. I was very interested in things most people have little interest in. That crystallized in my interest in Yiddish, which is the epitomy of my interest in Jewish literature and my nerdy interest in things that normal people are not interested in.

"People who knew me as a child would say that I was very strange. I wasn't interested in cartoons and videogames. I would play games that I and my friend would invent together. We created this new galaxy and different creatures that lived on the various planets.

"My siblings and I wrote poems together and we still do for people's birthdays. I was raised in making things up.

"I never could throw anything away. I'm a pack rack."

Dara grew up in Short Hills, New Jersey. Her parents still live in the same hills.

"In some ways, they've led a traditional life.

"Short Hills is infamous for Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus (published in 1957). Short Hills was where Brenda Patimkin lived.

"Philip Roth is influential where I grew up. My mother's family is from Newark, New Jersey. After World War II and after the riots in the late 1960s, there was this massive Jewish exodus from Newark and everybody went west to other towns in New Jersey.

"Goodbye, Columbus says the Patimkins were the only Jewish family in the town, that they were there by some sort of special arrangement.

"I read the book when I was a teenager and I thought it was hilarious because the public school I went to in Short Hills was about 40% Jewish. It's not the same world he describes in that book.

"When people think of American Jewish writing, people think of Philip Roth. Well, I think that was true 40 years ago."

Luke: "How do you emotionally react to Philip Roth?"

Dara: "I'm not a huge fan for a couple of reasons. A big one is just the misogyny. It's annoying. It has nothing to do with American Jewish literature but it doesn't resonate with me. Philip Roth is a guy's writer. It's annoying that he's considered the quintessential American Jewish writer when his writing has nothing to do with anything anyone my age has ever experienced. Some day I should be lucky enough that people should say that about me."

Luke: "If you caught your husband enjoying Portnoy's Complaint and laughing uproariously, what would you do to him?"

Dara: "I wouldn't be surprised. I thought it was a funny book when I read it as a teenager.

"My favorite Philip Roth novel is America Pastorale because it was written as historical fiction."

"I went to private [secular] elementary school from first grade to sixth grade. Then I went to public school."

Luke: "What kind of clique did you hang out with in highschool?"

Dara: "No one. Have you ever had a writer who had a clique in highschool?"

Luke: "No."

We laugh.

Dara: "I don't think writers tend to have friends in highschool. It's a prerequisite for being a writer. If you ever have a writer tell you that he had friends in highschool, I'd be interested to know.

"I am lucky that I am close to my siblings. We were all close in age and we all went to school together. It didn't matter that I didn't have a clique in highschool because they were my clique. We had kids night out where the four of us would go out on Saturday nights.

"I'm second in the birth order."

Luke: "Were you the peacemaker? What was your role?"

Dara: "I don't know. I'm certainly not in any role of authority. I am the middle of three sisters. My older sister and I are four years apart. My younger brother is 13 months younger, and my sister is two years younger than him. I was the boss of the younger two in games we would play as children. We would do skits and plays and I was often writing the skits.

"My sisters are also published writers. My younger sister Ariel had a novel (Help Wanted, Desperately) come out two years ago. My older sister (Jordana Horn Marinoff) is working on a novel. She's worked as a journalist."

Luke: "Is it true that as a child, you had a dream that your siblings bowed down to you?"

Dara laughs. "It is not true. They would've killed me. They wouldn't have sold me into slavery.

"I was very much at their beck and call. I still am.

"My brother is also an artist. He's an animator for Comedy Central."

Luke: "Do you think that's art?"

Dara: "He's an artist. I don't know if what he does... I don't think even he would call what he does art. He's not high-minded about art. He just likes to draw."

Luke: "Were you always the smartest one and the one getting the most accomplishments?"

Dara: "Oh gosh. No. We all excelled in different fields. My brother shined in art. He had his work exhibited as a teenager. My sisters were also talented students in school and Ivy League graduates. We cooperated. We'd trade assignments. My brother was never a good writer and I was never a good artist so I would help him write an essay for school and he would help me with a science project where I had to draw diagrams."

Luke: "Were you a teacher's pet?"

Dara laughs. "These are leading questions, aren't they? My goodness. I did well at school."

Luke: "Did teachers adore you?"

Dara: "I had some teachers who adored me."

Luke: "Were you adorable? Were people like, 'Oh Dara!'"

Dara: "No. I was very obnoxious. I don't think I was very likable as a child and teenager."

Luke: "Were there any subjects you were bad in?"

Dara: "I was never fond of math."

Luke: "But you still got A-grades?"

Dara: "I did OK in math."

Luke: "Did you get As?"

Dara gives a guilty laugh.

Luke: "Tell the truth."

Dara giggles. "These are questions that no one has ever asked me. Perhaps that is for the best.

"Yeah, I was a big nerd in school."

Luke: "I promise I won't ask you the difference between genre and literary fiction.

"I've read all your other interviews on the web."

Dara: "It's humbling being a nerd because you don't have much of a social life and in the hierarchy of school, nerds are at the bottom of the totem pole. While teachers really like you, nobody else does."

Luke: "Did you ask someone to the Sadie Hawkins dance?"

Dara: "No. I really didn't date anyone until I met my husband at 19.

"That's right. I had one boyfriend before."

Luke: "Were you invited to the Junior Prom and the Senior Ball?"

Dara: "I was not invited to the Junior Prom. I went to the Senior Ball with a friend.

"I was highly unpopular at all these things. I wrote an essay about this ("The Last Jewish American Nerd") in The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide To Guilt.

"No, I was never invited to the prom. People always wanted to be my lab partner."

Luke: "Is your husband allowed to criticize your writing?"

Dara: "Oh wow. But of course. Oh wow. Ohmigod. My husband is encouraged to. It's very helpful to me. It's helpful to have people tell you what's wrong with your writing and you won't think they're saying it because they have some personal vendetta against you. It's important to have people critique your writing who, even if they don't like your writing, will still like you. That's not true of editors and other people you deal with professionally. If they don't like your writing, that's pretty much the only reason they're talking to you.

"My husband reads, generally, chapter by chapter of what I write. It's annoying for him. It's like being serially published. By the time I finish another chapter, it's been months since he finished the last one.

"My siblings and my parents read a lot of it also."

Luke: "Did you spend much of your childhood in your head alone fantasizing and dreaming?"

Dara: "I didn't because I was always surrounded by my siblings. We were always playing these imaginative games. I didn't come home from school and plant myself on the couch with a book until I went to bed. I was lucky that I had playmates who were always with me.

"The idea of creativity as a group effort is not talked about a lot when it comes to writing, but it is important to create with other people, and not just in your head."

Luke: "Were you a happy child?"

Dara: "Yeah. Our parents ran our family like an institution. Everything was regulated. At dinner, it became rowdy and my parents decided that each child would have five minutes to speak and no one else was allowed to interrupt. Then we had to devise all sorts of ways to get around these rules. We'd hold up cards with numbers on them telling people what we thought of their day.

"We went to about 40 countries around the world."

Luke: "I read that."

Dara: "So you know everything there is to know about my life already.

"That [travel] had a big impact on my writing.

"I was a lucky child. I had parents who encouraged me and my siblings. In my house, you were always fighting for attention and you always knew you were not the center of the world. That's important not just for writing but for life."

Luke: "Which fiction have you seen yourself in most clearly?"

Dara: "Seen myself? I'm reminded of Kafka's comment that 'I have nothing in common with other people or even myself.' I don't look for myself in fiction."

Luke: "What about your experience of life?"

Dara: "Hmm. I'm not really interested in reading about myself. What do you mean?"

Luke: "You read something and you go, 'That's how I've experienced life.'"

Dara: "Not, 'This is taking place in my highschool.'"

Luke: "You emotionally resonate with it."

Dara: "Gosh."

Luke: "As a teenager?"

Dara: "Gosh, this is an interesting question. I've never thought of it that way."

Luke: "I confess it's Portnoy's Complaint."

Dara giggles. "'This is my life.' Probably not in quite that way, but I don't know you.

"So you're looking for a character I identify with?"

Luke: "No. This book is how I experience life."

Dara: "I'm afraid of giving an answer I'll regret."

Luke: "That's what I'm hoping for."

Dara laughs. "I know you are."

Luke: "I want you to say something that you will eternally regret that will be captured on my blog."

Dara laughs. "And it will be there every time someone types my name into Google for the rest of my life."

Luke: "Yes."

Dara: "Gosh. I should just pick something."

Luke: "Pride and Prejudice."

Dara: "Gosh no. The plot of which is, 'Will you marry me?' Four hundred pages later, yes. No, that's not my experience of life.

"I'm going to walk around my apartment and look at my books. The problem is that I have just moved to a new apartment."

Luke: "Is there any one book that has made you cry the most?"

Dara repeats everyone one of my questions that catches her by surprise. "I'm looking at See Under Love."

Luke: "I'm looking for something that reveals your emotional psyche and lays it bare."

Dara: "I don't have an emotional psyche."

Luke: "I'm looking for a Rorschach's test."

Dara: "Yes, I know."

Luke: "But I failed because I made it evident."

Dara: "Someone I don't like is Bernard Malamud.

"I really like Haruki Murakami but I don't think he reflects my experience of life."

Luke: "If it comes to you..."

Dara: "No. Now I'm looking through all my books..."

Luke: "What do you love and what do you hate about your life now?"

She repeats the question. She says "Gosh." She repeats the question.

"I love my family. I love that I finally feel like I am doing what I want to do. I hate that having this eight-month-old daughter I have to work around her. I don't like having to decide whether I should spend more time on her or more time on my work. While I feel lucky to be able to choose to spend more time with my baby or more time on my work, I still hate choosing. I hate that that's such a boring problem. I don't mind it. I have a babysitter. I hate that you can't talk to people about the problem."

Luke: "They'll fall asleep."

Dara: "It'll go nowhere and not be meaningfull.

"There are certain things I don't like about myself. I wish I was more organized. I wish I was more patient with my work and with people in my life."

Luke: "What do you love and hate about being interviewed?"

Dara: "I used to think I hated being asked the same questions over and over again, but now that I'm being asked different questions, I feel stymied."

We laugh.

Dara: "I feel like I'm in trouble.

"I'm still looking at my bookshelf as we talk to see if I can find a book that resonates with the way I feel. What I like is usually not my experience of life. I'd tell you 'The Death of Ivan Ilych' and 'The Kreutzer Sonata.'"

Luke: "Is there a movie that reveals your emotional landscape?"

Dara: "A movie? I don't have such a complicated emotional landscape. I'm a happy person. I'm a lucky person. My life could not be made into a novel because it would be boring."

Luke: "I'll have you in tears by the end of this."

We laugh.

Dara: "You're trying to dig out some dark secret of my past. Good luck. I don't have any dark secrets in my past. If you can find one, that would be very interesting to me.

"I've never been psycho-analyzed."

Luke: "I've had too many years of therapy."

Dara laughs. "You know all the tricks."

Luke: "Anything else you love and hate about being interviewed?"

Dara repeats the question.

Luke: "How many people who interview you have a clue what your work is about?"

Dara: "That's something I don't like. I don't like it when I do an interview with someone who is asking me the questions off my publisher's material or asking me something after having just read the back of the book. The interviews I've liked best are ones where people have spoken to me about the book, not about me."

I laugh. She laughs.

Dara: "I feel like I have something to say about the book. Questions about me? It's like a bad blind date. We don't know each other. Who are you? It's like filling out a personals ad. I like long walks on the beach.

"I'm used to talking about my book. I'm much less used to talking about myself."

Luke: "As you travel, what depresses you and what inspires you about Jewish life?"

Dara: "Are you from England?"

Luke: "Australia."

Dara: "OK, now I can. I lived in England for a year. I found Jewish life there depressing for several reasons. First, the lack of variety of Jewish religious life. I grew up in an egalitarian community. I was a professional Torah reader as a teenager. I was very involved in my community's religious practice. When I went to England, there was nothing like that. There was just traditional Judaism with Jim Crow seating in the synagogue.

"I remember they had this newsletter from the Hillel [type college organization] that said, 'Jewish law respects women because Jewish women are mothers.' We're in college. No one here is a mother. I found that depressing. I don't necessarily find traditional Jewish life depressing. I find the lack of openness to other possibilities depressing.

"What I truly found depressing was the anti-Semitism and the lack of outrage against it. It was the European Jewish community. These people were used to lying low. People would say things that in America he'd be strung up for but British Jews would just laugh it off.

"What I find inspiring -- when you travel the world and find so much consistency from one community to another. You can be anywhere in the world and walk into a synagogue at 10 a.m. on a Saturday and you know what will be happening. That's not true of anything else in the world.

"Being Jewish is a very unique and particular way of being human that makes the world a little bit smaller. You can experience the whole variety of the world within this smaller community. You can expect people to welcome you any place in the world."

Luke: "Do you believe in the God of the Torah and have you always done so?"

Dara: "That's an interesting question that no one has asked me before.

"I do believe in God. I would hesitate to say that I believe in the God of the Torah because that means so many different things to so many different people."

Luke: "Whatever that phrase means to you?"

Dara: "I do."

Luke: "Have you always?"

Dara: "Yeah."

Luke: "Oh man."

Dara laughs. "I'm such a boring interview. I don't have any crises of faith.

"I'm going through a time now where I'm less into it. People always say that having a baby is such a spiritual experience. I say the opposite. Once the baby's there, it's distracting from spiritual thoughts. As a mother, I have less mental energy to devote to religious thought. That's something I regret about my current life. I wish I was more passionate about my religious beliefs."

Luke: "I assume you are a Conservative Jew and I assume it is hard to be passionate about Conservative Judaism?"

Dara: "These denominational labels are on the way out. Am I a halakhicly observant Jew? I'm not strictly shomer shabbat, but I observe Shabbat in my own way. It sounds stupid. I take the elevator on Shabbat but I don't do my professional work on Shabbat. I don't write my books on Shabbat. But I turn on lights so people will say, 'She's not shomer shabbat.' I eat in non-kosher restaurants. So I don't keep kosher? I only eat vegetarian food at non-kosher restaurants.

"I'm not Orthodox."

Luke: "Is it fair to say that it is hard to get passionate about Judaism if you are not Orthodox?"

Dara: "I totally disagree with that. I am very passionate about Judaism. I just happen to be at a moment in my life where spiritually I don't feel particularly moved. I've been thinking about that for the past month.

"I always have been passionate about Judaism. I consider myself blessed to have been born into a tradition where religion is similar to literature. In how many religions do people go around dancing with books? Would I have been a writer if I hadn't been Jewish? Probably."

Luke: "Are there parts of Jewish life you find artistically stifling and other parts you find inspiring to your creativity?"

Dara: "Jewish literature after the haskala (Jewish enlightenment aka 19th Century) has been inspiring. That tradition is something you can reinvent is a radical idea that is the essence of modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature. It's not either/or. It's not either you live a traditional Jewish life or you forget it forever and are severed from it. It's not a matter of degree. It's something completely different. It's taking the tradition and doing something with it that changes what it is.

"That's what people have done every generation.

"You see a radical change in the literature. You don't really have self-aware fiction until the 1800s.

"I grew up in Jewish suburbia, which most people find empty."

Luke: "Did you feel like some things weren't being done in American Jewish literature?"

Dara: "Well this I have surely talked about in other interviews. I guess I can say it again.

"In the Philip Roth generation, you had writers who didn't know much about [Judaism], or if they did know, it wasn't reflected in their writing. They were only interested in social life. If you read Philip Roth, it's anthropological. There's not a lot of looking back.

"I was interested in writing fiction that was informed about Jewish tradition.

"I saw in Hebrew and Yiddish literature something that I didn't see in American-Jewish literature [in English] -- fiction as a commentary on the Torah, a midrashic exercise where you are creating a story that is related to Torah text. I thought it would be neat to have it in English. There are other writers who do this, but not many."

Luke: "Has the Holocaust changed literary structure?"

Dara: "Is this the question mentioned in your email?"

Luke: "Yes."

Dara laughs. She repeats my question. "That's giving a whole lot of credit to Hitler for changing people's ways of creating art."

Luke: "That's what I say."

Dara: "I don't think so. It certainly ended secular Yiddish literature.

"Did it change narrative structures? Narrative structures have changed in the past 60 years but I don't think that the Holocaust is the reason for them.

"Can you tell something about what the reasoning is behind this?"

Luke: "I can't understand what she's saying. I really tried."

Dara: "OK.

"I have some ideas about what this might mean."

Luke: "Sure. Go ahead."

Dara: "[Theodor] Adorno has this stupid quote that 'writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.' I think that's stupid."

Luke: "So do I. I don't have the foggiest idea about what she means. Something about midrash opens the tear in the text and fills it. Oh, I shouldn't even. I have such a hard time understanding what she's doing."

Dara: "There's a woman I'm always on a panel with named Alicia [Suskin] Ostriker."

Luke: "She's into Ostriker in a huge way."

Dara: "I don't know much about it either. The only reason I know about it is because I am always on panels with her. I don't particularly... I do slightly midrashic things also. I'm a feminist in that I think that men and women should be treated equally but it is not something that terribly informs my work.

"I don't like people going around saying, 'I'm not a feminist' because I don't think they really mean that. That's because 'feminist' now means kook."

Luke: "Or ballbuster."

Dara: "I don't like the pejorative use of the term.

"I happen to be a woman. I happen to be a writer. I don't think that I am a woman terribly influences my work. There are women for whom it does influence their work in a conscious way.

"Linear narrative. I'm writing my doctorate on narrative theory."

Luke: "Oh boy."

Dara laughs. "I should know more about this than I do.

"Both of my books are non-linear."

Luke: "Yeah!"

Dara laughs. "I've often wondered if I would be capable of writing a linear narrative."

Luke: "Yeah!"

Dara: "I've wanted to try and never succeeded. I've often thought that for my next book, I should pick one character, one place and one time..."

Luke: "Yes!"

Dara: "And just do that and be done with it. But I don't know if I could. I don't think it has anything to do with the Holocaust or feminism, it's that I'm easily bored and I have trouble focusing on one thing for that long.

"That's the stupid answer. The more complicated answer is that [linear structure] is not what is exciting to me about writing novels. It's the ability in a novel to see the connections between things that you wouldn't otherwise see. For example, in real life you don't have the opportunity to look back on your life and your family's history and see what led you to where you are now. We can guess. It's the way you are doing this interview. What kind of kid were you? Did people every say something to you as a child that they say to you as an adult? You can speculate on these things but you can't really know them.

"In fiction, you have this amazing opportunity to create a past that causes the present.

"This gets into the question of how we influence each other's lives. This is something you can not see in real life. You can't see what impact your life has on other people. In novels, you can see those ways, you can create this web of influence.

"I don't see how this has anything to do with the Holocaust.

"I guess you could say that there's a breakdown in certainty in the world...and that's reflected in writing. There's no authoritative narrative voice that can be relied upon to be the answer. But there was literature like that well before the Holocaust. In Yiddish literature, you had this post-Holocaust type writing before the Holocaust. I remember reading this poem in Yiddish called 'The Wolf' by H. Leyvik. It begins with a description of a town that's been destroyed told from the perspective of the one survivor. Eventually he turns into a werewolf. It reads like a Holocaust poem but it was written in 1920 after the Petliura Pogroms where 100,000 murdered."

Luke: "What did you think of Wendy Shalit's [January 30, 2005] article in The New York Times Book Review about people misrepresenting Orthodox Judaism?"

Dara: "It wasn't really about literature. I remember thinking it was dumb.

"Ehh, 'dumb' sound pejorative. I don't mean it pejoratively."

I laugh. "You don't mean 'dumb' pejoratively."

Dara: "I would take it back but since you're taping, what can I do?

"Fiction writers like to hide behind this idea of art for art's sake when it is convenient for them. There are writers who get a thrill out of pejoratively presenting religious Jews or women or other groups.

"There are a lot of books that positively present religious Jews and what bothers me is that they treat is as anthropology. I was a judge for a short story contest and there were so many stories that took place in religious communities that were always explaining everything to you. She was covering her hair because of her modesty. When I'm reading Salman Rushdie, he doesn't feel the need to explain to me in three paragraphs why this character is covering her hair. Obviously there are cultural things that go over my head when I'm reading Salman Rushdie but I prefer to miss them than wait for the subtitles.

"As a fiction writer, you need to invite a reader into a world. When people write about a culture that is alien to their readers, they feel a need to present this culture and that can be done positively or negatively. What makes it effective is when it's presented to you in a way that you don't feel like you are in a zoo.

"I think we're past the old idea, 'Is this good for the Jews?'"

Luke: "Would you agree with Wendy that authors Tova Mirvis, Nathan Englander and Jonathan Rosen just don't get Orthodox Judaism?"

Dara: "I don't think I've read their work carefully enough to answer that question. What does it mean to get Orthodox Judaism?"

Luke: "To love it."

Dara: "To know it is to love it?"

Luke: "I guess."

Dara: "That's presumptuous?"

Luke: "Maybe."

Dara: "I feel that I know a fair amount about Orthodox Judaism and I don't feel obligated to love it. I don't feel obligated to love my own form of Judaism, whatever you want to call it. There are things I dislike about Judaism, mainly things I dislike about myself."

Luke: "What do you hate about Judaism?"

Dara: "The pedanticness. It's a problem in my personality and in Judaism. This obsessive need to go over every single word and assume that every single word is infused with this deep meaning. There's this OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) quality to it. There's so much of Judaism that you feel could've been made up by an OCD person or a little kid with OCD tendencies. 'This week I'm not going to eat bread.' 'This week I'm only eating outside.' 'Today I'm not turning on lights.' 'I'll eat milk and I'll eat meat but I won't eat them together. I have to wait six hours in between.'

"This is definitely an annoying thing about me. I've been annoying since I was a child for that reason."

Luke: "How smart does one have to be to get your novels? Are you writing for an elite? Do you have to have a 140-plus IQ to understand your novels?"

Dara laughs. "I hope not."

Luke: "Would 120 do? Would room temperature [IQ] do?"

Dara: "That would really ruin my publishing future. No, I don't think so."

Luke: "You think an average Jew can read and understand your work?"

Dara: "I think an average anybody can read and understand my work."

Luke: "Aren't they really difficult and intricate and really demanding?"

Dara: "They are definitely intricate and complex but I think they're presented in an acceptable way. All these [subjects] are made accessible to the general reader. I don't think you need to be Jewish to understand my books."

Luke: "You think the average person can navigate all these jumps in time and references to various literatures?"

Dara: "I think the average person can navigate the internet which has a lot of jumps in time.

"The purpose of writing is communication. I'd feel like a huge failure if I felt that people couldn't read my book and it was inaccessible."

Luke: "That last jump in The World To Come was a different way to go."

Dara: "People react strongly. They either really like it or really hate it.

"In serious literary fiction, you are not allowed to do stuff like that. You are not allowed to be earnest in serious fiction. You always have to be ironic. If you say something earnest, it is considered unsophisticated.

"In Yiddish literature, there's a lot of earnestness. They don't put emotions in quotation marks. They say what they mean. They're not afraid to throw in all kinds of parables. In our culture, they seem corny."

Luke: "Why couldn't the book end with the two main characters, Ben and Erica. Then they entered the world to come. What a downer."

Dara: "This is an ambiguous ending. You can either read it as they both died or they both survived.

"I just did an interview with some other blog and the person said, 'I got to the end of your book and I felt like somebody had just given me a million dollars. I was so happy about the ending. The characters all got together.'"

Luke: "What was he smoking?"

Dara: "But it's true.

"When it says he enters the world to come, does this mean they're dead?"

Luke: "Yes."

Dara: "But when you get to the final chapter, it says that this world to come is only a forgery, only a copy of the real world to come."

Luke: "So they got married?"

Dara: "It could be either way."

Luke: "Why not just be one way?"

Dara laughs. "If it had just been one way, you wouldn't ask the question."

Luke: "What do we get out of asking the question? In one way, we can get emotional fulfillment."

Dara: "It shows you what kind of reader you are.

"In the beginning of the book, there's the conversation between Chagall and Der Nister about the story called 'The Haunted Tailor.' At the end of the story, Shalom Aleichem says, 'Don't make you tell you the ending of the story. It should've ended happily. It ended sadly. Because I'm not the depressive type, I don't feel like getting involved.'

"Der Nister says, 'We should perform that one in the theatre.' Chagall says, 'But it doesn't have an ending.' People like endings. They like redemption. Der Nister says that's not realistic. There are no real endings in real life.

"There are two kinds of readers -- the Chagall reader who wants the redemptive ending, and there's the Der Nister reader who appreciates the open-ended possibility.

"What do you get out of asking the question? What do you want out of a book? What is the purpose of a story?"

Luke: "I want it to warm my heart. It's a novel. If I am reading it for pleasure, I want to go on an emotional journey."

Dara: "Do you want to control that emotional journey? Do you want to feel secure that it is going to take you to a destination you want to be in?"

Luke: "Yeah, I like a happy ending."

Dara: "Is there such a thing as a happy ending in life? No. If two people get married in a book, that's the happy ending. In real life, a wedding is followed by a marriage, which might be good or bad.

"There are no happy endings in life. There are only happy beginnings."

Luke: "The purpose of reading a novel, unless you're an academic, is pleasure."

Dara: "But there are more pleasurable things than reading a 400-page book."

Luke: "Really?

"You want to experience life keenly and deeply in the concentrated form of a novel. You want to go on a journey and grow and experience things you don't get to experience in your life, like happiness."

Dara: "This has the potential to be a happy ending. It doesn't end with a death. It ends with a birth."

Luke: "If that's a happy ending..."

Dara: "Why not? You don't think so?"

Luke: "No. I did not experience it that way."

Dara: "It's an open-ended ending. It's a Jewish pattern. If you think about the Tanakh or the Torah (Hebrew Bible), it doesn't really end. The Gemara [Talmud] doesn't have an ending even though it is called the Gemara (completion).

"It's interesting that we feel like we need these endings in literature."

Luke: "Isn't the traditional three-act narrative structure built into our very being? That we demand from our stories a beginning, middle and end? Rising conflict, release of tension, followed by realization."

Dara: "This book has that."

Luke: "Do you think that traditional narrative structure is built into..."

Dara: "It's been destroyed after the Holocaust. No, I'm kidding.

"My book definitely has a beginning, middle and end. When you get to the end, it transfers the story into your mind. You as a reader become a participant in the story. Your impression of what happens at the end becomes part of the book.

"Perhaps there is some relevancy to all your questions about my childhood, perhaps creativity is collaborative, it includes the reader."

Luke: "You've redeemed my nosy questions. We've got a beginning, middle and end now to the interview. Rising conflict, tension release, realization."

Dara: "We've experienced it all.

"You don't think my book has a happy ending?"

Luke: "No."

Dara: "With the final chapter?"

Luke: "No. It drove me nuts. I loved the love story between Ben and Erica the curator. I wanted more of it."

Dara: "Everyone likes different things."

Luke: "Some people like the gloomy Russian parts?"

Dara: "Ohmigod, there are people who say the Russian scenes steal the show. Der Nister is the best character in the book and it really should've been a book about him."

“Tendler Resigns Under Cloud"

DaveK writes on the Jewish Journal forum: "Let's look at the bright side. The last rebbe around here who couldn't keep his fly zipped and his hands to himself decided to get an aerial view of Yosemite by driving his car off a cliff."

Lapsed Catholics are the best

Cathy writes me: "I'm glad you came to John's party and met a nice girl instead of getting a sock in the jaw from Dave Robb!"

How To Tell If A Chick Is Not Into You

Chaim writes: She dickers with her jdate profile right in front of you, and asks which pic will help her get the best responses. Another tip-off: you sit down next to her and she gets up and moves away. Or, you reach over to kiss her and she shows you the palm of her hand.

Luke: She displays pictures of her ex-lovers around the house. She employs several ex-lovers and still has dinner and drinks and hangs out with ex-BFs.

Chaim: Hey, she's a collector. You are SO old fashioned. But she still ------ you, and that's what counts. The way to a woman's heart is to have access to her -----.

I thought up a way for you to still get in to Friday Night Live. Offer lectures on mixing Judaism with truth in reporting. How honesty and torah can mix. Or you could offer dating tips -- how to date alt-chicks on $5 a week.

Luke: Cathy told me to let Dolly throw me a 40th birthday party. I assured Cathy that Dolly knew her level.

Chaim: Cathy is wise. And of course you should let Dolly throw you that party. Why not? Make her spend some of that ill-gotten family wealth on a good cause. Besides, I want to see if she will hook me up with any of her hot young friends.

It could be just like Truman Capote's famous White Party of the sixties, when everyone who was everyone showed up (forty years ago to the day yesterday). Of course, you will have to invite all the rabbenim in your life so as not to give offense.

Jewish Voice & Opinion Defends Mordecai, Aron Tendler

Susan Rosenbluth reports.

A female former student of Aron's at YULA writes The Jewish Voice:

I know that the truth is of no great importance to you. But the victims of Aron Tendler (which include myself) have been going to the Rabbis of the community for over 20 years to tell our story. Rabbi Shalom Tendler, Rabbi Hier and Rabbi Bess have known for years. So to suggest that your situation in NY has anything to do with us, is absurd. The family is sick...Matis, Aron, Mordechai and their cousins who posed in Penthouse in 1980, are all sick. Stop blaming the victims. We don't even know Mordechai or any of his victims. We are all former students (and congregants) who he carried on relationships with for over 14 years. He molested a 16 year old girl boarding in his home as well as planned to have sex with another 16 year old, and that is why he was removed from YULA. He should have been thrown out of the school system but Shalom protected him. You don't care about the truth that is obvious, but we just thought you would like to know the "truth." And for the record, we are not anonymous, The RCC and SZ know our names and spoke with each of us directly. You should get them help instead of enabling them. I wouldn't suggest anyone davening with Aron privately or they will probably be molested by him. He has admitted to us that he was molested as a child and that he masturbated all the time as a child. He has a huge problem. He needs help. He is running away because he is afraid to death that Esther will hear ALL the details of how he has been cheating on her for 20 years, not to “avoid” what his brother is enduring. Your paper is a disgrace.

I Am Not A Real Man

Chaim Amalek writes me:

This is why you are not a real man. You castrate yourself and thank....for the suggestion that you do. No wonder real women don't go for you. Real women want real men, and you will not be a real man until you find the courage to have a steak and return to the faith of your ancestors.

If you learn that.... or such, will you now refrain from blogging about it?

If so, then you are no better than any of the other Jews who have refrained from speaking out for fear of jeapordizing their position within their community.

This is why people secretly don't respect Jews. It's all about protecting one's status and position, morals be damned.

Shul Unfriendliness

Jack writes:

Perhaps more important (in a way) than sexual issues in Orthodox synagogues is the lack of "hachnasat orchim" or "welcoming of guests."

This is a commandment in Judaism. The Talmud states: "Rav Dimi of Nehardea said: the welcoming of guests takes precedence over (the studying torah) in the house of study...Rav Judah said in Rav's name: the welcoming of guests takes precedence over welcoming the divine presence (in prayer) " (Shabbat 127a).

Abraham the forefather was the master of this precept. Besides being a mitzvah, welcoming guests is a critical part of growing a congregation and a religion.

Human beings are narcissists and when a guest is welcomed to a synagogue, he or she feels some self realization that enters the subconscious and may lead to that person become more attached to Judaism. Simply put, a handshake saying good shabbos and an invitation to a meal is a hook.

The first thing an intelligence case officer does is to buy a prospective agent a meal or a gift or put him on payroll. It puts a hook into the person. So too, welcoming a jew in shul puts a hook into him.

I have belonged to quite a few orthodox shuls, and except for Chabads, only one had any formal hachasat orchim program, and in that synagogue, no one left the place unless they were invited to a shabbat meal.

It is not a coincidence that the shul flourished in a city not conducive to even soft right-wing Orthodox Judaism.

It seems like successful orthodox synagogues have given up on welcoming guests or being welcoming in general.

Here is an experiment this shabbos if you are in an orthodox shul. Say good shabbos to everyone (both sexes) and shake hands or such other appropriate gesture of flesh to flesh contact with every member of the same sex you are near.

Do not be shocked if you are not returned the favor. Just keep doing it. I know that there are certain members of my shul who have a grudge against me for playing sandbox politics in the shul. I always say good shabbos to them, and usually quite loudly. Lately, as if in shock, they return the greeting. Thus, from a situation in which no good deed of "loving your fellow man" was done, two good deeds were created.

The University Of Judaism Vs. Skirball Cultural Center

Some in the LA Jewish community are angry that the University of Judaism got rid of many important teachers and made the life of others impossible (Rabbi Mimi Weisel, Dr. Beryl Geber).

Another issue, the U.J. leadership has refused to become a member of the Board of the Skirball Cultural Center. Can you imagine the irony that the President of St. Mary’s College, on the hills overlooking the UJ, is a member of the Board, but the UJ leadership has refused?

Some UJ leaders do not want ties with the Skirball because it is so open in its ways and is much more accessible to the general population. Much of UJ has this exile mentality whereby they do not want to include non-Jews.

"The Jewish community would like Los Angeles to see the UJ as a beacon of its cultural foundation," says an observer. "It wants the UJ to be open."

Free Luna Batzri

A Purim protest in Israel. The sign reads Free Luna Batzri. The day was International Free Aguna Day.

It's from the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv in the section called Judaism.

About a month ago, I walked into shul and saw a flier screaming about the following story:

Devora Lapidot writes me:

Rabbi Chagai Batzri, son of the head Dayan Judge in Rabbinc Court of Jerusalem, married a second wife. The problem is he never divorced his first wife, Luna. How did he do that? Easy, his father arranged a special permit to marry a second wife [about a month ago] given by a number of Sephardi rabbis. It was written by Rabbi Ben-Zaken of Beverly Hills. Rabbi's Batzri's new wife just joined the fold by converting to Judaism. His first wife Luna Batzri protested to no avail. They are still fighting in LA civil court over the division of their assets. Luna refused to go to Bet Din over the assets. She feared the rabbi's family connections will work against her chances for a fair trial. So, she went to the civil court. So, rabbi Ben-Zaken found her disrespectful and granted Rabbi Batzri a special permit.

Rabbi Batzri's story was aired on Israeli TV at length since then including interviewing his father. It was also written about at the daily newspaper HaAretz.

- How come Rabbi Batzri was permitted by the Rabbi's to marry a new wife without a Get?

- What about all the poor women remaining Agunot because the husbands refusal to grant them a Get (a Jewish divorce)?

- Isn't the Batzri case a clear of discrimination against women? When a husband refuses to grant a Get, the woman will never be married by any Rabbi. Reason: She is considered not single. But in case of a man...

- True! NOT ANY MAN! It helps to be a son of a Dayan. not just a Dayan... But the Head Dayan of the Rabbinical court of Jerusalem... Who has lots of friends... Who happen to be... Rabbi's! Suddenly and in a split second a solution was found how to free the rabbi. Free to get married again.

- Happy Ending? Not to his wife. Certainly not to the numerous Jewish women called AGUNOT, who are shackled for the rest of their lives to sadistic men that refuses to grant them a Get and blackmails in return for a Get.

- If you don't believe it - read Kolech.org. How many women are not as lucky as Rabbi Batzri?

The Bazri's case proves that: WHERE THERE IS A WILL - THERE IS A WAY..For men only! Shame on you Rabbis.