Wednesday, July 26, 2006
I saw this one coming for months. She was dating a guy who did not remember her birthday and it's the straw that's broken the camel's back and she's on blogging hiatus. She's been in a downward spiral for months and it's made for fascinating reading in that car-crash way.
Hillary appears to comes from a close and caring family but her dating life is killing her.
"Low self-esteem and a bad upbringing comes in handy later in life," notes a friend.
There's a long comment thread on why the guy didn't call her on her birthday. My answer is -- he's just not that into you.
Joy Comes in the Morning
This is a terrific novel by Jonathan Rosen.
The protagonist, Deborah, a Reform rabbi did not go to the mikveh, even though her ex-boyfriend Reuben, Orthodox, had asked her to. "The hypocrisy of his wishing to honor ritual purity while sleeping with her out of wedlock -- and after having explained to her why he could never marry her -- had astonished and depressed her." (pg. 222)
I've told at least a dozen women I've been with that I could not marry them (mainly because of our unbridgeable religious differences, yet I was happy to put aside such things to sleep with them).
What's The Difference Between Young Orthodox Women In Los Angeles And Their Peers In The Rest Of The World?
One source of mine maintains that Orthodox women in L.A. (religious from birth, 18-24) tend to be more sheltered than their peers around the world.
Are Orthodox maideles from Brooklyn and West End Avenue and Riverside Drive less likely to be shocked by certain human realities than girls who grow up in L.A.? Are N.Y. Orthodox women more mature than their L.A. sisters? In New York City you take the subway and you see Orthodox girls everywhere. They cannot hide from the blend of humanity. How often, outside of a few blocks, do you see them in Los Angeles?
If you want to live Jewish and you are 18 and ambitious, you have to leave L.A. UCLA has not been able to maintain a critical mass of Orthodox Jews. There's no Stern College equivalent in L.A.
I'd like to hear from Orthodox men in Los Angeles who've flown to New York for a date. A friend of mine is researching this for a magazine article.
If an L.A. Orthodox girl is not married at 18, and not headed for an elite college or Israel, she may well languish at a community college.
If you are Orthodox and single in L.A., people assume there is something wrong with you. If you have something on the ball, you leave L.A.
I sense from my own observations that there are comparatively few Orthodox women in L.A. aged 18-24. Most of them seem to move to New York (upon graduating highschool and doing a year in yeshiva in Israel) to go to school and to find a husband. Many of my single Orthodox male friends in L.A. fly to New York for dates.
What's up with that? Why do Orthodox girls leave L.A. at 18 for Israel and New York? A part of the answer is that much of the best in the diaspora's Orthodox community, particularly among the youth, move to Israel.
New York's Jewish life is more intense than L.A.'s.
There's a much bigger Orthodox singles scene in Manhattan and New York than in L.A.
A Walk Through The Jewish Divorce Ceremony
An essay from In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction:
That's what Shmarya reports. My sources say no decision has been made yet on who will be Shaarey's new rabbi. "The powers that be at S.Z. have promised us a rabbi with star power," says a Shaarey member. "The equivalent stature of Aron Tendler who was known around the world. It's not going to be Rabbi Summers. It might be Asher Brander."
Pico Robertson posts:
LA Jew posts:
Anshe member posts:
Rabbis Are Like Strippers
"Everyone has a private spiritual core but only a few people exhibit it in public." (Joy Comes in the Morning, Jonathan Rosen)
'Why did the religious Jews make you feel ashamed?'
I feel shame because I remember how close I was with them and then I feel how appalled they must've felt and feel when they realize who I am and what I've written. I tasted sanctity with them and then profaned their world.
Hot Young Chix - An Issue Facing The Nation
Often when I'm interviewed for documentaries there's some old geezer in charge and he's assisted by a couple of hotties. Do these chix get their jobs purely through their professional skills? Are they hired in part because of their looks? Do the geezers hire the chickies because they want to be around chickies (and possibly sleep with chickies) or because the geezers believe that their documentary subjects will be more likely to open up to chickies?
'What is the point of showing suffering Lebanese?'
That was Dennis Prager's angle Monday morning. He called such reporting "utterly unproductive."
"Is anyone making a difference [with Lebanese suffering]? Yes. Israel is making a difference because they are on the front line of the war against terror.
"Now you know why the world sees the U.S. and Israel as such villains. Because of television reporting.
"It's just cheap -- inexpensive, easy, it garners interest but it doesn't teach us anything. Are we so stupid that we don't know what the suffering of a child is about? I don't think that CNN in its history reported on one Tibetan child suffering under the Chinese.
"In WWII, the Germans would have allowed British and American cameramen to show German suffering.
"Every time you see an Arab child suffering, and it is a terrible thing when any child suffers [should show the terrorist attacks on Israel that provoked Israel's offensive].
"Is it the point of news to show the suffering of war? There's something voyeuristic about this. It's easy reporting. It's easy to rivet the human eye on to children suffering."
Prager says the Lebanese failed to control Hezbollah and thus brought this suffering (the Israeli attack) on themselves.
Why is the suffering of the Lebanese less newsworthy and less important than Israeli suffering?
Prager and Judaism would argue that's because the Jews are God's Chosen People and represent God on earth and serve as the world's miner's canaries revealing evil because evil focuses first on Jews.
According to the Times lead paragraph, the primary thing that Israeli supporters did Sunday in Los Angeles was "clog" Wilshire Blvd. The verb chosen for the paper's lead sentence was "clogged." The subject of that sentence was "Israel's supporters."
I'm curious if those who support left-wing causes, such as the massive rallies a few months ago for illegal immigration, also "clogged" L.A. streets? Or do only Jews clog our town?
A search of "clog" on dictionary.com reveals only negative connotations to the word (and its variations), including:
A search of "clogged" (as well as "clog" and "clogging") on LATimes.com reveals that the newspaper has never used the word to describe any other rally in America (going back as far as March 24, 2002).
I'd be shocked if the Times ever described black or Latino protesters as "clogging" streets.
The Times story (by Teresa Watanabe and Valerie Reitman) only quotes Jews on the Left -- Rabbi Steven Jacobs, Jewish Journal Editor Rob Eshman, David N. Myers, Michael Berenbaum, Daniel Sokatch, and Zev Yaroslavsky.
The one possible exception is Jewish Federation L.A. leader John Fischel, who is difficult to place on the political spectrum but could certainly not be considered right of center.
Look at the second sentence of the story: "Both lamented civilian casualties in Lebanon but expressed strong support for Israel."
What kind of twisted thinking places lamenting civilian casualties in Lebanon in opposition to expressing strong support for Israel? Why did the Times choose the word "but" instead of "and"?
The Times evidently believes that lamenting civilian casualties in Lebanon is the opposite of expressing support for Israel.
Protect Israel By Thinking Pure Thoughts
Not only do I watch Fox News and pay my synagogue dues, but I also protect Israel by abstaining from female flesh.
Launched into my fifth decade of life, I don my kipa and tzitzit Sunday afternoon, sew my shirt together (first time I've picked up a needle in about a decade) and (skipping the sunblock because Psalm 121 says God will keep the sun from harming me, though, oy, we're in the days of the great slaughter, when the towers fall... the sunlight is seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days... with burning anger... his tongue is a consuming fire) haul my aching back to Wilshire and San Vicente Blvds to join 1,500 or so other Jews rallying for Israel.
I walk past a hundred people (about a quarter seem to be Jewish) rallying against Israel.
I hope there's a rumble.
I find a trash container in the shade (the temperature must be close to 100 degrees) and sit on it and read a book on creative non-fiction.
Anne Dillard advises me to not write about myself.
Though I'm a vegetarian, I check out the different ways my fellow Jews cope with the heat. The more Orthodox are completely covered up. Some look good. Some wear black suits. Most look dumpy.
The more secular Jews wear less but don't seem to cope with the heat any better for their bareness.
I see many religious Jews who make me feel ashamed. Some of them I hope will pass out before me but none do. Still, it's cool to watch your enemies suffer. I'm in the shade and I feel a breeze.
I see dozens of people I know but approach none of them. I don't want to come off as emotionally needy.
Who Would Jesus Bomb?
There's an enormous roar for the Governor.
A few anti-Israel protesters carrying the Palestinian flag wander by. A Jewish kid with a bullhorn tells them: "This is the wrong corner. Suicide bombers are on the other side of the street."
If each of my loyal readers patronizes one fewer hooker this week and instead donates that money to Israel, together we can make a better world.
Mayor Villaraigosa's office is taking a tally as to whether the mayor should had attended Sunday's rally. firstname.lastname@example.org
I agree with President Bush who said after 9/11 that the United States will not distinguish between terrorists and those who harbor terrorists. Lebanon has chosen to harbor terrorists. So Lebanon will pay the price for choosing to make a deal with the devil (Hezbollah) just as Afghanistan and Iraq paid the price for harboring terrorists.
Israel got bombed. Israel now wants to destroy those who bomb it. That seems just. How would you like the United States to act if it got bombed by terrrorists in Canada or Mexico or Cuba?
Israel is doing the opposite of causing maximum civilian damage. If Israel wanted to cause maximum civilian damage, it would use its nuclear weapons and kill millions of people.
I call Steve (who blasted his nemesis Mark Sarvas, a fellow Jew, in an essay published on Salon.com on Yom Kippur, Oct 13, 2005) Friday afternoon, July 21, 2006.
Steve: "My parents were psychiatrists. I don't think I wanted to do that. I've got lousy memory when it comes to my childhood. My earliest memory [about work] was that I'd work for a newspaper. I did that after college for almost a decade."
Then Almond got an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "The MFA is the artificial welfare state for people who are passionate about writing and reading. There aren't many environments where people are word-drunk.
"People used to make a living at writing before MFAs were around, but then there were venues where you could make a living as a short story writer. The culture was a reading culture.
"There's more great writing than ever. There are just fewer readers."
Luke: "What was it like writing a novel with Julianna Baggott?"
Steve: "It was a thrill at the beginning. Then it got complicated and rancorous. That's what happens when you have two fragile narcissistic characters sharing a byline and a fictional world. We went at it fiercely. That was good for the book, to knock each other around. It wasn't pleasant. It was exhausting. The emotional veracity of those letters was predicated on Julianna and I putting each other through the wringer."
Luke: "Are you and Julianna a couple?"
Steve: "No. She's been married a dozen years. I just got married [to Erin, a writer from California]. But the writing of the novel was intense. We were in an intense relationship for six months. Would we want to write another book together? I can only guess that she would say no.
"My wife is a fan of Julianna's. I'm sure Julianna's husband heard a lot of 'That f---ing Steve Almond' comments. My wife heard a lot of 'Juliana's driving me crazy.' We each had someone in our corner to tell us to be less sensitive, that what matters is the book, to rub us down with salts and then send us back out into the middle of the ring to beat on each other more."
Luke: "How involved are you in Jewish life?"
Steve: "I write this crazy Jewish sex column. My wife tells me she's converting to Judaism. I've never believed in God. I'm deeply compelled by Jewish history. I identify culturally. My mom would use Yiddish words. They sneak their way into my work. I'm proud of the moral and intellectual tradition of Judaism.
"A lot of the great writers -- Philip Roth, Saul Bellow -- they have a Judaic perspective on life, an anguished apprehension of the suffering people go through in trying to love those around them.
"The Old Testament is the best writing on earth. It has the best stories.
"When I walk into a room, I'm drawn to the Jews. I usually recognize them. We have an attitudinal link to one another. It's the home team."
We talk about the internet.
Steve: "Any literary website has a certain amount of interviews, reviews and serious consideration of what interviews means. That's great. Then there's the other half -- the Fox News part -- malicious, gossipy, aggrieved, envious."
Steve: "Boston College had a lousy record on gay rights and other things. Then I found out they were inviting Condoleeza Rice and I just thought it was a f---ing cynical thing to do. To cash in on her fame and make sure you get lots of donations and send the message to students that it is OK to lie as long as you get power."
Hanala calls me at 4 p.m. Friday, July 21.
Luke: "How has your life been affected by the publication of your book?"
Hanala: "It's surreal. I wrote it for ten years. It's like being pregnant for ten years. I finally gave birth. So now it is tremendous relief but are you going to like my baby. I've yet to get a bad review."
During her AA meetings (Hanala's been sober for 23 years), she often sketches. "I have a recurring theme of a little girl pulling her hair out. That was me expressing how I really felt. One of them had this T-shirt that said, 'My parents went through the Holocaust...'"
Luke: "Could you walk me through a typical day in your life?"
Hanala: "I'm a spin instructor. I used to weigh 160 pounds. I will either teach a class or take a class [in the morning]. Dealing with depression my whole life, I need the endorphins. I don't think I'd be sober today if it weren't for the gym.
"I'm doing a lot of interviews and promotion. It used to be that I was writing all day, or not writing and feeling guilty. Dating. Until a year ago, a lot of my days were taken up with my husband. I was in an 18-year marriage. I left last year. Leaving him was like getting sober all over again.
"I have a drug and alcohol counseling business.
"What I hate about my life: I hate hormones. My head gets busy telling me that I'm not doing enough, that I'm getting old. 'Have you looked at the cellulite? Have you checked out the wrinkles?'
"I've realized I should never try to solve my big problems after 8 p.m. After that, my head isn't working. Everything is so dark. I still have nightmares. My parents used to scream in their sleep. My father screamed in his sleep then we all screamed when he was awake. My mother says she still screams about the Nazis. I showed her my house in the Pacific Palisades with a gorgeous view down the ravine to the ocean. And fifty years after the war, she said, 'There are a lot of places to hide. The Nazis would never find me here.'"
Luke: "How do you feel about getting older?"
Hanala: "I'm not. I'm getting younger because I teach spin and I periodically get my face sandblasted (laser). I came to LA to get into TV and instead I got a tan. Unfortunately, that translates into skin damage. That's starting to show. But they have these wonderful things that are very painful and expensive but I'm willing to pay the price for my mistakes in the past."
Luke: "Anything you like about getting older?"
Hanala: "I have the kind of self-confidence that I thought only other people could have. Now I can talk to you and have a good time. In the past, I would've been sweating."
Luke: "When you date, do you tell people your real age?"
Hanala: "I'm openly telling people that I'm the child of Holocaust survivors, so we know I'm not 30. Yeah, it's hard to say. I like when people see me first. And then go, 'Wow, you look great!' Rather than me saying how old I am and then they're looking."
Luke: "What do you love and hate about dating again?"
Hanala: "I hate feeling lonely. But I felt lonely in my 18-year marriage and there's nothing worse than feeling lonely when you're with someone because not only are you lonely, but you're stuck. With being single, there's the hope that I will find someone who's funny.
"I have a feeling that once I'm doing more of what I want to do, once I get back to television, and next time real TV instead of cable access, I will meet a lot more people and the whole dating thing will become more natural. I'll know who I'm about to date because he's a popular TV star like me. We'll know each other. And then we'll do movies and sleep with other people."
Luke: "How do you feel about monogamy?"
Hanala: "I believe in monogamy. I was monogamous for the 18 years of my marriage. I don't believe my husband cheated on me. He didn't have the self-worth. He didn't believe that any other woman would have him."
Luke: "What does it mean to you to be on TV?"
Hanala: "I'm comfortable in front of an audience. TV is my dream job."
Luke: "Do you feel most alive when you're on camera?"
Hanala: "Yeah. I love it."
"My parents are hysterical. When I asked my mother why she married my father, she said, 'He dressed nice and he had a bike.'
"My sister is as funny as a chair. She has no sense of humor."
Luke: "Your time as a [community access] TV host has prepared you for interviews."
Hanala: "I didn't do too much interviewing on my show. It was all about me. I was more of a storyteller.
"I talk in my book about how my mother is narcissistic. If my mother wasn't cold, I didn't need a sweater. I picked up some of that narcissism. If your needs aren't being met, you learn to get them met any way you can."
Luke: "How did your ex-husband react to your book?"
Hanala: "He's heard about it. People have told him that I didn't pain him in the best light but he can't make himself read the book, just like he can't make himself see our dog. It's too painful.
"There's so much I didn't tell because I don't want to hurt him. He probably didn't like me telling certain stories but tough. Let him write his own book."
Luke: "Do you participate in Jewish life?"
Hanala: "I went to services a couple of times because I have a friend -- Rabbi Mintz at Chabad of Bel Air. His wife is the best cook in Los Angeles. But I'm more spiritual than religious. But I'm very religious. If I had to pick one religion, I'd be a Jubu (Jewish and Buddhist)."
Luke: "When you say you are very Jewish, what do you mean?"
Hanala: "My first language is Yiddish. If you saw me now, you'd see how my hands are moving through the air. Within two minutes of meeting me, you know my parents are Holocaust survivors. I talk about Jewish issues. Guilt -- the gift that keeps on giving. My sense of humor is very Jewish."
Luke: "Where are you and God these days?"
Hanala: "We're tight. I breathe God in. It's not like God is separate from me. I believe God is present in me unless I shut him/her/it out through negative thinking and hormones. Hormones will keep God away.
"I believe in karma. If you do things you are not proud of, you will suffer for them. I can't afford to have my self-esteem go down. That's how God gets me.
"God is about love. What happened in Nazi Germany was because there was no God because there was no love. Fear took over. Fear kills love."
Luke: "How many years of therapy have you had?"
Hanala: "Oh God, I could've bought a Rolls. With my therapist, it's been about eight years. If you saw where I came from... A lot of people say, 'Isn't that a long time? Don't you think you've had enough of that?'"
Luke: "What have you learned from therapy?"
Hanala: "Being raised by Holocaust parents, I learned that my silly feelings should be ignored. I had no right to feel bad, "Is a Nazis chasing you?" As I said in the book, Hitler spoiled my parents for regular suffering. So, in therapy I learned that my feelings WERE important, therefore I was important. After all, if we're not our feelings, what are we here for, to be money-making robots?"
Rob Barnett writes:
She's the daughter of Erica Jong (Fear of Flying) and novelist-professor Jonathan Fast.
She calls me Tuesday, July 17, at 1:24 p.m. PST.
Luke: "What effect did your memoir (The Sex Doctors in the Basement) have on your life?"
Molly: "I was walking down the street the other day with my mom and we went past [actor] Marisa Berenson [article] and she looked so pissed. I can never go to 57th Street anymore because Joan Collins lives on 57th Street. There's a BLT restaurant on 57th Street and I won't eat there anymore because Joan Collins eats there.
"It's made me even more paranoid than I was before and more neurotic.
"People hate me now. I've always been working for that.
"You get more people hating you for a successful book than for a book that says questionable things about them. Nobody's jealous of me. They'd be insane to be. They may be annoyed with me.
"I'm as cynical as I can be. I always thought that at 19, because I'd been a drug addict, alcoholic, in every casino, had an affair with every creepy psycho, but now I'm even more jaded.
"That's good news."
Luke: "Were there juicy stories you hung back on because you didn't want to lose friends?"
Molly: "Losing friends was not my motive. Being sued [was her motive for holding back on some stories].
"I will probably never write a memoir again because I've probably exhausted anything interesting about my life.
"Between my mom and I mining the same [material]. She got a DUI three years ago in LA. I really wanted to write about it. She wouldn't tell me, not because she was embarrassed, but because she wouldn't want me to scoop her. I knew something had happened. She came home early.
"She wrote about it in her book and it pissed me off because I had always wanted a DUI and never gotten one. When I was an adolescent drug addict, I always hoped that some day I would find myself in jail.
"I never did. It's very hard as a white semi-affluent...to find yourself in jail. My mother was able to accomplish something yet again that I could not. It's heartbreaking."
Luke: "How may years of your life have you spent in therapy?"
Molly: "Minus three? But I don't know that that's the measure of crazy anymore, unfortunately. I wish it were. Things would be more clear."
Luke: "Have you ever had sex with any of your shrinks?"
Molly: "No. It's New York. You'd have to find a really f---ed up shrink for that. My psychotic meter is good enough that I'd probably spot that."
Luke: "That's not something you've tried to bring about."
Molly: "No. I'm very appropriate about that kind of thing. I'm the opposite of my mother.
"I was wild with drugs. She was wild with sex."
Molly stands 5'8".
Luke: "How much of your life were you overweight?"
Luke: "At what age did you get that under control?"
Molly: "It's something you always deal with."
Luke: "How has it affected your writing?"
Molly: "It is one of the best thing going for me. It's something that most women struggle with. The more rarefied I am, the less useful I am. I know a lot of writers who, the more successful they got, lost contact with anyone who wasn't a sycophant. They wouldn't interact with normal people. Their experience became less valuable. As writers, the most important thing we have going is observing other people's lives. The least important thing is what's going on with us.
"Issues about my appearance have dogged me, even into my years as a married person. I'll never get closed off from that because I'll never be that successful."
Luke: "When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Molly: "I don't even know what I want to be now. I go through periods of wanting to do something worthwhile in the world, such as a decorator. Of course there's nothing worthwhile that attracts me. I'm not good at anything.
"I'm getting you so depressed. I feel like I get everybody so depressed lately.
"It used to be that people would hate me and then they'd meet me and say, 'You're so nice.' Now people meet me and say, 'I'm so sorry for you.'"
Luke: "What about an English teacher?"
Molly: "I'm very dyslexic. And I get weirdly into helping people and they'd be living in our house..."
Luke: "What were your parents expectations for you?"
Molly: "I don't know. They didn't really have any. I was able to start a cycle of disappointment at an early age."
Molly attended highschool at Riverdale Country in the Bronx. "My mother had been a brilliant academic. My father had been an incredible musician and admitted to Princeton on his musical ability. My grandmother had this crazy marriage where Dashiell Hammett had been in love with her and tried to run off with her. She'd gone off with Madame Curie. You can never live up to that.
"I was this lackluster drug addict student whose friends were druggies. The school was JAPpy.
"Ohmigod, I'm making myself so depressed. Usually I have this pathology where I can talk about my life with complete and utter abandon, with a pathological attachment to it where 'This happened and then that happened...'"
Molly used drugs from 12-19.
Luke: "What do you love and hate about Jewish life?"
Molly: "I'm not very Jewish. We're members of a [Reform] synagogue and I've become exponentially more bourgeois in my adult life. I like that you're not allowed to swallow and no crucifixes and no little pictures of Jesus. I would not be cool with a lot of religious art.
"Reform Judaism. What's not to like?"
Luke: "Will you send your son to Hebrew school?"
Molly: "I don't know. I was never bat mitzvahed. I never went to Hebrew school."
Luke: "Is your husband Jewish?"
Molly: "Yes. It's great. We have all the Jewish genetic diseases. We have a one in four chance of having a baby that's going to die. People say, 'You have such great genes.' I have horrible genes."
Luke: "What's been your relationship to Judaism?"
Molly: "When I discovered I was Jewish at 13, I was shocked. It's pretty great. With Reform Judaism, there's not much to swallow. I grew up ostensibly Catholic. My nanny raised me Catholic. I know the Rosary."
Luke: "Can you say it?"
Molly: "I could probably. 'Our father who art in Heaven...' Oh, that's the wrong words. The Rosary is the one with Mary.
"I've had enough Rosary beads. I've never taken communion. That would be a sacrilege. But I've gone to church. I've prayed on my knees. I think I know more about Catholicism than many Catholics."
Luke: "Has God played any role in your life?"
Molly: "He hasn't struck me down, but no, not especially. I have some belief in God but I'm too embarrassed to talk about it. I'd much rather talk about being a drug addict."
Molly went to NYU and Barnard but did not graduate. She doesn't drink or smoke or lend her bum to other blokes.
Luke: "[Tobacco] is a gateway drug."
Molly: "A gateway to fun and happiness. I can't do it because I have a small child.
"You can't hate yourself with the same kind of zeal when you have a child. The love I have for him is exponentially greater than the love I have for anyone else in the world."
Luke: "Including your husband?"
Molly: "Yeah. And my husband feels the same way. If I had to save Max or him, I'd save Max. He'd save Max too. We've had that conversation."
Luke: "What have you learned from being written about?"
Molly: "Not to Google myself. I haven't done it in two years.
"I care. Part of me is like, 'I'm nice. Why don't you like me?'
"I've had a lot of people interview me who did not like me and I've been able to turn it. I'm a junkie. I know how to do that.
"But if I know how to do that, why haven't I gotten further in life? Shouldn't I be able to do anything?"
Luke: "Your next book?"
Molly: "It's gorey. It's upsetting. I hope all the fancy program ladies will stop talking to me after this. The hope is to alienate everyone."
Luke: "Isn't it tough to write something gorey when you have a kid?"
Molly: "No. I pride myself on my ability to compartmentalize."
Luke: "You don't think about your kid reading your books?"
Molly: "No, because I never read any of my mother's books. They didn't interest me.
"Do you have enough?"
Luke: "One more question. Would you rather have written a great book or have a great marriage?"
Molly: "It seems like neither is ever going to happen. I guess I'd rather have a great marriage. I'd rather be happy than successful or famous. That's the one lesson of my childhood."
Luke: "Why did you keep your name and not take your husband's?"
Molly: "That was never going to happen. That's not even a real question, is it? Why didn't I get my husband to change his name? I wanted our son's name to be hyphenated but he put his foot down."
When Mike McPadden Went Straight
I don't see why writing a lot about sexual predators is any less honorable than writing a lot about terrorists. Some people have devoted themselves to studying terrorism for 30 or more years. Or the Holocaust. I fail to see how studying evil and those who commit evil is not honorable. Yes, taking advertising from pornographers is not honorable. Plenty of things I do and have done are not honorable. Reporting accurately on those who abuse their public positions is however honorable.
What Is Modern Orthodoxy?
The Modern Orthodox rabbi packed in his Modern Orthodox congregants Saturday afternoon as he told them what Modern Orthodoxy was -- "The Harder Path, but the Right Path."
The air conditioning was delicious. The food was delicious. The self-satisfaction was delicious.
"We are right," they thought.
Modern Orthodoxy has been losing the war with its more religious counterparts over the past 40 years. Most teachers at Orthodox day schools are religiously right-wing and a substantial portion of Modern Orthodox kids are either becoming charedi (fervently Orthodox) or leaving Orthodoxy.
The rabbi definied Modern Orthodoxy as a "dynamic engagement with Modernity" from a base that accepts that the Torah is the word of God and that the rabbinic tradition (particularly the 15th century legal code Shulchan Aruch) is authoritative.
The rabbi said "Modern" is not a diminutive.
In the real world, the more an Orthodox Jew emphasizes that he's Modern, the less observant and Torah-knowledgeable he tends to be. "Modern" in Orthodoxy tends to be a cop-out. It usually operates as an excuse to get out of observing (and believing in) inconvenient parts of the tradition.
Every Jewish religious movement (from Reconstructionist to Reform to Conservative to Orthodox) claims to be the hardest, though in practical fact, the more religious, the more rigorous behavior is required. We can't judge the difficulty of the intellectual rigors a Jew puts himself through. We can only gauge behavior and behavior shows that the more religious deny themselves more of the pleasures of the secular world while doing a better job of keeping their kids Jewish.
Far Rockaway, Queens, used to be a bastion of Modern Orthodoxy. Kids grew up in the seventies rarely davening mincha (the afternoon prayers). Now Far Rockaway is a charedi bastion.
The rabbi said Modern Orthodoxy has three distinguishing characteristics:
* It welcomes truth from any source.
Hmm. Everybody says they accept truth from any source. Modern Orthodoxy by definition does not accept truth from any source. It only accepts those non-Jewish truths that don't clash with Orthodoxy's essential beliefs, such as divinity of the Torah and the historicity of the Exodus from Egypt. For instance, the Rabbi Joseph Hertz chumash (Pentateuch with commentary) only contains non-Orthodox commentary when it supports Orthodox positions. By contrast, the Artscroll Chumash (charedi) contains no Gentile commentary.
* Places a premium on human dignity. Thus hearing aids are allowed on Shabbat and women's prayer groups, bat mitzvahs (bar mitzvah ceremonies for girls are only 80 years old) etc.
The problem with this argument is that "human dignity" is a flexible conception and common sense argues that it must be balanced against numerous other considerations such as moral standards and Jewish law.
* Accepts reality and does not try to fit it into a comfortable preconception.
For example, Modern Orthodoxy does not look at the vast majority of Jews who are not Orthodox as people who need to be brought to the truth through such things as Shabbatons about the Torah codes. Modern Orthodoxy understands that most Jews are not Orthodox as a result of the Enlightenment, rationalism, the Holocaust, etc.
Marc D. Stern writes in Tradition magazine (36:2):
The rabbi said Modern Orthodoxy was not rollerskating with a yarmulke on or studying Torah at Starbucks. He said these were flip characterizations of Modern Orthodoxy that do no justice to its intellectual and moral seriousness.
The rabbi said the essence of Modern Orthodoxy was struggling to engage with the wider world from within the authentic Orthodox tradition.
I contend that only intellectuals want to intellectually struggle, and they're numbers are never going to account for more than 1% of a religious denomination. Any religion based on such struggle is not going to work. Most people will do what they do because of habit. Most people will try to lead the meaningful part of their lives with people such as themselves (meaning that most Orthodox Jews are only going to interact with Gentiles and the non-Orthodox to earn a living, and then, because of Orthodoxy's strict laws, it's only easy to relate to fellow Orthodox Jews in an intimate way).
If Modern Orthodoxy is based on intellectual struggle, it's going to fail because only about 1% of its members are going to intellectually struggle, and of those who do struggle, some will leave Orthodoxy all together and others will leave Modern Orthodoxy to become more religious.
"Modern Orthodox" is a contradiction in terms. They are incompatible if you take either Modernity or Orthodoxy seriously. When the Modern Orthodox study sacred text, they do so as though the Englightenment never happened. Then they go earn their living and seek out their entertainment (with substantial exceptions) as though they weren't Orthodox.
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein writes:
That's easy to answer. Almost everybody. Only intellectuals are moved by such writers. Only intellectuals give a damn about Milton and Newman and co.
Second. It makes no difference to the moral level of a person's behavior whether or not he appreciates "the ethical idealism of Plato" or the "incisiveness of Newman." Most people are not morally improved by studying great thinkers. They are morally improved by fearing God and what their friends, family and community will say if they do something bad.
Third. What Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (a Ph.D. in English, he wrote his doctoral thesis "on the rational theology of the Cambridge Platonist Henry More -- It's a frigid soul that isn't moved by that subject," writes a reader) provides are beautiful words that feel good to hear but signify nothing. Modern Orthodoxy is shot-full of such intellectual pretensions (see Saul Berman). When the rubber hits the road, it is deed that matters over creed, and that's where the Modern Orthodox are losing to the Charedi Orthodox.
Appreciation of Milton and Plato is never going to make a difference to a Jewish religious movement. These are esoteric concerns of intellectuals far removed from the moral struggles of ordinary humans.
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein wrote: "There is hokmah ba-goyim, and we ignore it at our loss."
The Modern Orthodox Jew (literate in Hebrew and adept at leading prayers) reading this section out loud to the group could not pronounce "hokmah ba-goyim" because he did not know what it was.
It means the wisdom of the non-Jews.
I love what Rav Aharon Lichtenstein writes (Leaves of Faith, pg. 94):
The Modern Orthodox rabbi said people should be conflicted and troubled by homosexuality because on the one hand people may be predisposed that way, but on the other hand the Torah condemns that behavior.
But what's the conflict? Homosexual behavior is a sin. And let's be real -- it is a far more serious sin for a man than most sins because it takes him away from having a traditional family life, the bedrock of Judaism and civilization.
There was an awkward moment during question time when the religiosity of a specific and well-known (in the community) child was raised as part of a challenge against Modern Orthodoxy.
Why Do Rockers Wear Such Tight Pants?
I'm watching over and over again my DVDs of Journey and Air Supply and I feel uncomfortable about the tightness of these guys' pants. What's up with that? Surely it's not healthy. Maybe that's why these blokes look so haggard today.
I can't ask my friends about this because they'd say I'm a fag.
I've been interviewed over 100 times and I always give a better interview to an attractive woman (though I've never had sex or even kissed anyone who's interviewed me). I want to be swept away by an interview, to forget myself, to get excited and be charmed and enthralled by my interviewer. I want her to see things in me that I don't see in myself.
I hang my head with shame when I reflect that there have been several women I've interviewed who I've ended up seducing (though never on the spot). I know this is a violation of my Jewish and professional ethics, but it's a lot of fun, and frankly without some sexual tension, it's hard to get a great interview.
On the other hand, I've never seduced a woman without (informally) interviewing her.
Oh, the shame! The obloquy! What would Kevin Roderick do? I bet he's never boned anyone he's interviewed. I must do better.
I fear I have taken the journalistic commandment to massage a source too literally.
'May God Bring Salvation'?
I was listening to Dennis Prager Friday morning. He said he doesn't look to God to bail us out. If we don't take care of Islamic terrorism, it will destroy us.
I went to a rally for Israel Thursday afternoon. We recited Psalms (I've never cared for the Psalms, ugg) exhorting God to bail us out.
Friday morning, I got an email from a rabbi full of practical suggestions of what we can do for Israel during this time of war.
Then he closed by saying: "May God bring salvation."
I know religious people are supposed to talk this way (the more religious you are Jewishly, the more you hold by divine providence), but I don't buy it. I don't believe that God will bring salvation for our terrorism problem. It is up to us to bring salvation. God has told us what is right and wrong. Ultimately, God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked. But I don't think God is going to bail us out of our Islamic problem or our personal problems. If we are in a bad relationship, it is up to us to improve it or get out. If we are able-bodied and don't have a job, it is up to us to get a job. If we are bipolar, it is up to us to get a doctor and get on medication.
I don't blame God one bit for the Holocaust. I blame Germans and Europeans. I don't blame God for Islam-launched rockets falling on Israel. I'm not the least concerned with blaming the Muslim terrorists either. They're doing what they said they will do -- try to exterminate Israel.
We know we have a problem with Hezbollah and company and, frankly, it is up to Israel to take care of it. Israel has the capability of solving this problem by killing the bad guys. Israel should have taken action after the first bomb landed on its territory. I blame the Israeli government, particularly the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, for allowing rockets to fall on Israel. Olmert and co have fallen down on the job and it is up to them to get back up and solve things.
The Benefit For A Woman Of Sex on the First Date
Aimee Bender writes in The Girl in the Flammable Skirt:
Author Joseph Lanza writes on page 200:
What does that mean? What's bong water? Which verses are like bong water?
Luke Thompson says:
If bong water is so nasty, how can it be compared to Air Supply lyrics? Which lyrics?
Defrocked Rabbi Drops Case Seeking Anonymous Bloggers' Identities
I got nauseated reading this collection of short stories. My stomach knotted up and I could barely swallow my dinner. Almost every story delivered at least one punch to the stomach. Almost every story made me fear that something horrible was going to happen (and I was usually right).
I call Jon Wednesday morning, July 12.
Luke: "I could barely eat my dinner last night. I was wondering why and then I realized it was because I had just finished your book."
Jon: "That's great. Can I get it in writing?
"There's a great quote from Franz Kafka that literature should serve as a pickax that shatters the frozen sea within. I aspire to that. I think I did my job in your case."
Luke: "My stomach wrenched up from the time the old man molested the boy in the first story."
Jon: "And that's one of the nicer stories."
Luke: "Why do you choose the material you choose?"
Jon: "If you were watching the news today, what's happening in Israel is insane. They have a war on two fronts. Israel is intense. Have you been to Jerusalem?"
Jon: "There are a lot of disturbed people in that city.
"The first story I wrote was An Unwelcomed Guest about the backgammon game. It puts the conflict into a nutshell and sets it in a kitchen.
"I just turned it into a one-act play.
"I try not to point fingers. I've got my own bias. In my fiction, I try to keep it [pure of ideology]. I've had people say I'm anti-Jewish, that I'm anti-Arab, that I'm pro-Jewish, pro-Arab. Married couples have had those feuds. I tried to paint the picture as clearly as I could and show the complexity of the situation. It's not open to a solution. There's no peace in the Middle East because people wait for the only possible solution -- the Messiah.
"I don't why the stories are so dark. I could've written humorous stories. The King of the King of Falafel is a light story."
Jon: "I must be a dark person. I close my eyes and I start writing and my subconscious starts to spew things out.
"I try for a blend of darkness and humor. I'm influenced by [William] Faulkner. There's visually dramatic scenes and the mix of race and religion. There's bitter acidic humor.
"You mentioned in your email that you are horrified that my novel is darker than this. That might explain why I've had some difficulty getting it published."
Luke: "I had an invite to see a film [Factotum] about Charles Bukowski this week and I said, 'No! I hate those type of films.' I've never read Bukowski."
Jon: "He's mildly amusing. I heard him speak on poetry. 'Writing a good poem is like taking a good s---. It's painful. It kills you. And then you feel great.'"
I dislike profanity but I hate the s-word (and toilet humor).
Luke: "Isn't a dark belief in life the logical result of no belief in God?"
Jon: "I'd say yes but I don't think that applies to me. While the stories are dark, there's truth to them."
Jon's a deist. "Somebody said, 'Suicidal people don't write novels because hopeless people don't create.'
"The act of writing and creating a world is taking the mantle of God on our shoulders. We all have the urge to create. It's the destroyers who really don't believe in God."
Luke: With what emotion did you write your stories?
Jon: "I came back home after I ran out of opportunities [in Israel]. I remember thinking, 'I have to find a way to get over Israel.' It'd gotten under my skin. I couldn't stay there because I didn't speak Hebrew well enough to get a job. I didn't want to drift around forever.
"I wrote the stories to get Israel out of my system, to work things out, to make sense of what I saw there. I did witness the aftermath of a suicide bombing. I did see charred bodies on the street. In my own mind, I did see a woman [without her upper torso]. I did see an untouched apple on the ground. It may or may not be true, but I do recall seeing that."
Luke: "This book gives reasons for why you don't live in Israel. Nobody would want to live here."
Jon: "That's weird because I do consider myself a Zionist. I do feel strongly about Israel. When I'm there, I feel like a better person. I feel like I'm a part of something vital.
"There are other sides of Israel. I could write a book about Tel Aviv, about hanging out at the cafes and going to the beach. [Ascent] is about my experience of working as a journalist in Jerusalem. It's not exactly an advertisement for living there."
Luke: "I can't imagine any sane person wanting to live in the world of this book."
Jon: "I guess you're right.
"Maybe there's a touch of madness in me?"
Luke: "As a journalist, you have to seek out these aberrant characters?"
Jon: "As a fiction writer, even more so. As a journalist, whoever is there to speak to you, you take.
"I am drawn to madness in my writing, to the clash of religions with a tinge of madness.
"I haven't been able to write fiction [since his baby was born eight weeks ago]. I've got my baby with me. I'm feeding him with my other hand now.
"A lot of Flannery O'Connor's characters are clearly mad."
Luke: "When you write about the religious, you're like a scientist poking at insects in a cage and saying, 'You are all very interesting' but you'd never become one."
Jon: "You're half-right. 'You are all very interesting and there but for the grace of God...' I spent five weeks at Aish HaTorah in 1993. I said I was leaving. The rosh yeshiva (head of the yeshiva) pulled me into his office and said, 'I want you to stay for a year. Give me a year and you'll thank me for it.' I said no. 'I'm a writer. I need to go back to Canada where people speak in my language. I can't be around Hebrew all the time. My craft is suffering.'
"He said, 'We've got a guy at the yeshiva who studied under Bernard Malamud. You want to meet him.' I met him. He said, yeah, if I want to go home, I should.
"I do feel that if I had stayed for a year, who knows? There are aspects of that madness that got under my skin. I can imagine drinking that kool-aid and thinking more extreme thoughts. Every person has mad aspects. Those mad people are unlived parts of myself.
"It was the same yeshiva David Koresh went to."
Luke: "I didn't know David Koresh went to Aish HaTorah."
Jon: "They won't admit it, but it's true. There's a Koresh street in the old city. That's where he took his last name.
"I just like that I did it [Aish]. I came from such an atheistic place. As a teenager, I was so against all religion.
"I did get in a debate [with Aish founder] Noach Weinberg and I pissed him off. He gave a lecture on the five levels of knowledge. He said that Judaism was superior to Christianity because Judaism was based on knowledge. His father told him we were at Sinai, and his father, and his father, and would your father lie to you? Whereas Christianity is based on faith.
"The next day he came in and gave a lecture on the five reasons there is a soul. And all five reasons were based on faith. I called him out on that. He stormed out of the room and slammed the door.
"I like to question and questioning was not really acceptable in that milieu.
"There was a gay Irish Jew there who wanted to be a part of Aish but they were keeping him at arm's length.
"There was another guy who had a Christian girlfriend. They said, 'If you don't get rid of the girlfriend, you'll have to leave.'"
Luke: "I don't think you could've read this book if you had your baby by your side?"
Jon: "Probably true. Four of the seven stories have young people brutally abused.
"I do have a different take on the world with Zev next to me. I finally understand selflessness. I understood how one would give one's own life to save one's child. I imagine my writing will change dramatically."
Luke: "This book seems to be very much the product of a single man."
Jon: "Are you talking about the anger?"
Luke: "I don't picture a happily married man writing this book."
Jon: "I think you're right.
"The novel I'm writing now is a lot lighter -- it's about a guy who fell off the Brooklyn bridge. But I've had trouble getting to it over the past year. I've been afraid to look at it. Maybe I'm afraid of my own success.
"I just wrote an article for an online parenting magazine called 'I'm hot, my wife's not.' It was her idea. It was the idea that a father's stock seems to rise in the world and a mother's stock seems to drop. People will come up to my wife and say, 'Are your nipples hurting? Are you still pumping? You look tired. Did you have hemorrhoids?'
"I can walk around like the biggest schlep but with a baby strapped to my chest, women look at me in a different way."
We chat about MFAs.
Jon: "We're seeing a lot more middle-of-the-road competent writing. But is competent what we're looking for in our fiction writers? I'd rather see a little bit of madness than this controlled New Yorker type of short story that don't seem to have a resolution. I don't understand why people would sit down to write one of them. My impulse is the opposite -- lots of plot and drama. So many of these books are just veiled autobiographies, which I don't find interesting.
"I remember giving my book to someone's mother in Israel. She's like, 'I'm probably going to hate this. You're probably one of those ironic twenty-something writers.' First, I'm thirty something. Second, I'm not ironic."
We chat about Nathan Englander and his new novel.
Jon: "I do wish him success though every writer's success kills a little bit of me.
"He's a slow writer. It took him about six years to write those eight stories in his first collection.
"I met him at a memorial service in New York last month. He seems shy. You expect him to be larger than life.
"So did you like my stories?"
Luke: "I just found them very upsetting. It was like the movie Pulp Fiction with people getting sodomized and shot and overdosing but you can't tear your eyes away and everything comes full circle.
"It's not what I'd choose to read on Shabbos."
Jon: "I warn people it's not bedtime reading."