Thursday, October 5, 2006
Erin Aubry Kaplan: Juan Williams, Turncoat
There's a word for people such as Erin Aubry Kaplan who strive to never criticize a member of their own group -- primitive.
"If the way back to Orthodoxy is through Aish, then today's young Jews would be wise to keep running."
My most pleasurable experiences of Judaism have been through Aish HaTorah (and I'm not only talking about the women I met there). I've never known such love (before and since). I remember (circa 1995) Richard Horowitz (West Coast Aish Director) gave up three hours of his workday (and offered to pay for my probable parking ticket) to talk to me.
In the end, however, I wasn't willing to make the sacrifices necessary to remain a part of that community. It's my loss.
The Coming Legal Superstorm Against Bloggers Gathers Force
My attorney Justin Levine writes 10/306:
How's My New Book Coming Along?
Because the white slave trade has such a bad name, I find it embarrassing to tell people how I truly earn a living, so I usually just say I'm a spy or that I'm working on a book on American-Jewish literature.
I'm interviewing a lot of authors but have no idea how I'm going to tie it all into a book. So, in short, I'm making no progress. But thank you for being a member of my faith community.
I'm Glad You're A Member Of My Faith Community
A rabbi used the term "faith community" the other day. I can't hear that term in a Jewish context without laughing (because Judaism is primarily about behavior not beliefs).
What Would The Luke Ford Reality TV Show Look Like?
* My search for a wife
I got a mate of mine from shul to play my father on my new TV show. He's only 12 years older than me but looks so haggard (from raising daughters) he could pass as my dad.
What's the happiest day in a rabbi's life? When he finds out that it is the Jewish Journal who's investigating him.
Since taking over Beth Jacob in 2000, Rabbi Weil has ejected about 70 people.
Amy's interviewed such ejectees as Aaron Biston and Gadi Shapiro.
The Jewish Journal was looking at this same story (Rabbi Weil ejecting people) in 2001 but never published anything.
Gadi Pickholz of the Israel Fathers Rights Advocacy Council (IFRAC) emails (and I've removed most of the names for my well being):
Cock 'N' Bull
My friend Jeff* was sitting at home Friday night and he just couldn't face the loneliness, so he jumped in his mate's car and they drove off to the British pub Cock 'N' Bull for the Grand Final of Australian Rules Football.
"I might be getting my own reality TV show," says Jeff. "It'll be a kiddish HaShem (sanctification of God's name). I'll shed the light of Torah."
"Will the crew works on Shabbos?" asks Jeff's friend.
"I would never ask them to do that. I won't be filmed on Shabbos."
"It would violate Jewish law."
Dennis Prager At Nessah
Once a month, Dennis Prager speaks at the Orthodox Persian shul Nessah in Beverly Hills. The shul advertises this in the Jewish Journal.
For a while, Prager would drive to the shul to speak, which violates Orthodox Jewish law. So the shul got a lot of heat and they had to ask Prager not to drive to the shul.
Audio (Quality starts out horrible but improves two minutes in when I moved to the front row.)
From David Horowitz's email promoting Thursday night's talk:
I chitchat with Janet Levy, a firebrand conservative political consultant who was jolted out of apathy by Israel's second Intifada (in August 2001) and galvanized to fight Islamic terrorism (after a long career in software).
Her husband's a liberal. They must have interesting conversations over dinner.
Janet delivers the introduction: "The role that political correctness plays in airline security is shocking."
She protests the Transportation Safety Administration giving CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) a special tour. "We shouldn't be talking to Muslims," she says.
She protests Muslim sensitivity programs for airport screeners.
She protests the view that Jihad is an inner struggle rather than a worldwide violent one against non-Muslims.
I sit next to Kevin Jacobsen, the speaker's actor-husband.
I'm bummed because there's no dessert and no tea and no coffee. I take comfort in cheese and crackers.
Annie says the Department of Homeland Security does nothing to protect us and is all about ego, money and control.
Annie talks about various flights with male Muslim passengers who behaved suspiciously.
"Flight attendants all sign waivers that they may not discuss flight accidents or incidents with members of the press."
This dress code was only repealed a month ago, after four years of lobbying by air marshals, hundreds of articles, and 20-months of Congressional investigation.
After Annie's talk, an old woman asks what can be done about Arabs' emotional volatility. She fears that if they are scrutinized at airports, they could become lethally enraged.
I say that the solution lies in a hug. Have you hugged a Muslim today and told him how glad you are that he lives in your country and that you want him to bring over all his relatives?
The Truth about Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel (Part 2)
Adam Harishon writes:
"Rarely does the abuser or the enablers take responsibility for what occured. A formal insincere apology need not be taken seriously. It is often part of a manipulation to reverse things and make the survivor feel guilty." -- Rabbi Yosef Blau
"1969 Organization: New York Radical Feminists was founded by Shulamith Firestone. She is older sister of [Mordecai Gafni's supporter] Rabbi Tirzah Firestone."
Kendra Jade's Book Club
She calls me back Sept. 24.
Kendra: "When I was younger, every little thing that would go wrong, I'd say, 'That's it. This is over. I can't do this anymore.' I'd break up with him every three days. In therapy, I learned that it's not that you really want to break up. You want reassurance. I grew up f---ed up. I wanted people to prove that they cared."
Luke: "What are you reading these days?"
Kendra: "I'm reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. It's touched me in a lot of nice places. I need to read things that are in agreement with what I'm feeling. I'm also reading The Count of Monte Cristo."
Luke: "Have you read Aphrodite Jones?"
Kendra: "I love her. She has a way of writing for an unintelligent reader. It's not complicated. It draws you in. The reader can relate.
"You need someone who can relate to what you do. That's a problem in my relationships because I don't even know what I do anymore."
I'll Be in My Trailer: The Creative Wars Between Directors and Actors by John Badham and Craig Modderno
According to the back cover, Craig's "3,000 plus bylines have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times..."
Here's the most awkward sentence I've read in a while: "After we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1965 I took several jobs while in high school to support our family once my father died two years later." (Craig Modderno)
Later: "Since I was an only child whose father died two weeks prior to the start of my senior year and a prime lottery candidate for a winning ticket to the front lines of Vietnam, Woody's extreme kindness and patience whle explaining his filmmaking process was a noble gesture towards a confused young man seeking his way in life."
Later: "I got an assignment to do a cover story with Paul Reiser..."
Does Craig mean they are writing it together? No, he means a "cover story on Paul Reiser."
Later: ""What are they really like?" is the question I'm most asked of the celebrities I've spoken with."
Shouldn't that be "about the celebrities..."?
"We may all lead a simple life, but Hollywood does its best to shed some perspective on the glamorous life that we're missing. So when John Badham, a nice and bright man who has directed several films that I like, asked me to co-write this book with him I was instantly interested."
That's the best he can say about his co-author?
"Bette Davis, who had a respect for and love of her craft even long after she was offered the quality roles in which to prove it..."
"Hopefully this book will give some fresh insights..."
The version of the book I have is riddled with typos.
He emails me from Chicago September 25, 2006:
Novelist Andrea Seigel
We did this via email (Andrea returned the answers Sept 23).
* To what extent do you identify with your protagonists in your two novels?
they're all, at the very least, slivers of me. so if i didn't identify with them, then i'd be someone completely alienated from herself.
* How did your friends and families react to your novels? Particularly the first one?
everybody was congratulatory. they expect this kind of shit from me.
* How long have you had this cynical persona? What things are you naive about?
i've had it internally since, probably fifth grade. externally since, probably, ninth grade. i'm naive about what "being in love" means to other people.
* You signed your email "andreaa." Why the extra "a" at the end?
that's kind of a long, boring story, but it's partly because 1. when typed, i dislike the visual symmetry of my name (starts low, swoops up, returns with an equal and constant lowness on the other side) and 2. because in the days before the internet i used to be a bbs'er, and my handle was "andreaa," so i got really used to signing off that way.
* How do you feel about the work of Brett Easton Ellis?
i think it's genius, and not in the empty way that a lot of people throw around genius. i literally think what he's doing with his endless combinations of various levels of assholes are evidence of an extraordinary intelligence.
* What causes your right eye to twitch? I have the same thing. For me it is lack of sleep.
i have no idea, but it hasn't been twitching since i returned from new york.
* How do you feel about your author photos and how do you choose them?
i'm pretty indifferent toward the first one. i'm living with the second. i chose the first because i had this look on my face like, "what can you possibly want from me?" which i thought was appropriate. when 'panda' came out, this girl in a book club called to tell me that the members of her club had spent a half-hour discussing how bad that author photo was. they thought i looked like an unattractive slob. they wondered why i "hadn't done more with myself." i chose the second because it was one in a set of ten that all looked almost exactly identical, so there wasn't all that much of a choice. i wore a smocked strapless romper-type thing that i liked because it reminded me of my childhood, but my publisher cropped out my clothing. i generally don't like any photos of myself.
* In your blog, you say looking sad is your nature. Is that true? Do you struggle with depression?
yes. this is true. i have a naturally sad face when it's at rest. some people confuse sad with mean. i would say that i struggle with manic-depression, minus the bouts of stealing.
* How did you like Catcher in the Rye?
i liked it fine. it's not one of my favorite books. it was one of the smoother reads on my sophomore year a.p. english syllabus.
* When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
* What did your parents want most for you and from you?
what they want most for me: stable success from me: a softer nature
* What's the story of you and God and Judaism?
oh my god, this is like writing my torah portion speech. i can't do it again. the short story: i was bat mitzvahed right around the time i became an atheist. when i get on a plane, i talk to something and say, "please, please, please let this be okay." i think that if there's any sort of power capable of hearing those kinds of thoughts coming from all people, then that power doesn't give a shit about who's following what kinds of rules or rituals, since it can obviously see straight into people's psyches and figure out the truth of that person's beliefs within a nanosecond.
* What are the juiciest things your peers say about writing and their careers as writers?
they say nothing juicy. i'm serious. i mean, we often talk shit on specific people, but there's nothing particularly scandalous to be said about writing. it's one of the unsexiest endeavors ever.
* In what ways are your perceptions of life keener than other people's?
i can't answer this question without sounding like an asshole, and while i often sound like an asshole-- i'm just not there tonight.
* How has your choice of vocation affected you, relationships?
it has nurtured already overwhelming loner tendencies in my personality. it has, i'm sure, prevented a lot of relationships and damaged some, too. it has been good for my thinking and bad for pretty much everything else in my life.
* How do you know when you've done good work?
a little voice in my head says, "good girl." i'm not kidding.
* What have you sacrificed to be a writer?
the excellent health coverage i was getting at the disney channel.
* What do you do best and worst as a writer?
best: voice. worst: plot.
* Why do you write what you write?
why do you rent the movies you rent?
* Were there any events in childhood that prefigured your adult work?
i think pretty much every single social gathering i encountered past the age where i was allowed to just sit in the corner and drool and talk to my stuffed dog went into making my adult work what it is.
* What do your books say that has not been said before?
again, another question requiring an assholic response that i just don't have the heart for tonight.
* Surely you feel that your view of life that is unique? How so? How do you find your understanding of life differs from everyone else?
i do. but you can't talk about these things. because supposedly everyone is a huge, fucking mess inside. that's what i hear. all i know is that while everyone may secretly be struggling in the room at a party, i'm repeatedly the only one in the room incapable of even attempting a public fake-out.
* How important is it that your reader sympathizes with your characters or likes them?
well if people are capable of simultaneously hating and loving themselves, then i'm fine with them hating my characters, too, since that doesn't preclude the love.
* How has your writing affected your life?
it's both sustained and wrecked it.
* Do you like your protagonists?
they have their moments.
Luke's Dating Anthem
We don't have to go synagogue to have a good time, oh no...
The Day The Orthodox Rabbi Spoke About Global Warming
Second day Rosh Hashanah. "There's an elephant in the room," said the rabbi. "There's a menace to our congregation."
"Uh oh," I thought. "I'm going to get it now. The rabbi's been reading my blog."
But no. He launched into a sermon on global warming, tying it into the binding of Isaac story (the Torah reading for the day).
When Abraham's son saw his dad's knife heading towards his heart, I wonder if he had a flash about global warming?
The shul bulletin ("printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper") read: "Most of the scientific community...now believe that the green house effect is real, and that rising average global temperatures pose a long-term global threat to life as we know it."
"I want a rabbi who inspires me to repent, not recycle," groused a friend.
"But recycling is repentance," I wanted to rejoin. "It heals the broken vessels."
The last time the rabbi spoke out on such a political issue, he commanded us to love illegal immigrants because we had been immigrants in Egypt.
I was so stirred I was ready to cancel my non-existent Minute Man membership and start dating Mexicans (of the Orthodox variety of course).
As I walked out of shul Sunday (after putting in two hours), I told the Gentile security guards (yet again the goyim keep pious Jews from praying to God -- unless they have ticket to services), "Six hours of prayer is enough to make one turn Christian. A religious service for you lasts an hour. You should thank Jesus."
Al Goldstein writes on page 41:
Al tells Ron Jeremy: "You are incapable of intimacy... You say you want to be a father, and you say you want a relationship. You have a very stunted relationship with Devon Shire, who is also stunted, so you two have a great combination.
"Devon, do you ever think of this man as being married, with children, in an intimate relationship of caring and concern?"
CULVER CITY, CA—Despite owning 15 units in the central Los Angeles area, landlord Cathy Seipp can only count on receiving on-time rent payments from one of her tenants: full-time crack dealer Nathan "Buck" Cruz, 24.
Cruz and Seipp have a tenant–landlord "match made in heaven."
"I couldn't ask for a better tenant," said Seipp, 52, who praised Cruz for personally delivering his $950 monthly rent in cash. "He's dependable, quiet, and hardly ever has any complaints or repair issues. He's a property owner's dream."
Seipp said that Cruz was a stellar example of how a person of limited means in a low-income neighborhood can live responsibly, quietly, and with dignity. Along with what she called a "refreshing" example of personal and financial responsibility from such a young man, Seipp said she was amazed at Cruz' efforts to keep the apartment in excellent condition. Besides installing a brand-new, fully reinforced door at his own expense, neighbors have reported hearing Cruz vacuuming his apartment regularly, and occasionally detect a faint odor of cleaning solvents.
I call her Thursday afternoon, Sept 21.
Luke: "When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Francesca: "A gymnast."
Francesca grew up in Austin. "I wasn't in the popular crowd. I was in the almost-popular crowd."
Luke: "When did you realize you were a writer?"
Francesca: "I had a situation come up (my mother was getting married for a second time while I had yet to marry) more than I had a burning desire to write. I had been doing television for ten years, writing to the pictures. TV suits me well because of my short attention span.
"Mine was an easy novel to write. I was just sticking my neck out there and seeing what happened rather than beating myself up over every word.
"My second book is a lot harder than my first one. Did I write one novel and luck out? Or am I a novelist?
"I don't think I'm giving you the answer you're looking for."
"I now spend more time writing than anything else. It's neat to be a part of a writer's community.
"I have no pretensions that I am a great novelist, a huge literary force. I hoped to write a book that would be fun for people and make them feel good and that they are not alone, that would not be difficult where they have to pull out their dictionary every two words, but something they can relax with and laugh with... People tell me they had a fun time reading the book."
Luke: "When you were younger, did you have people tell you that you were going to become a novelist?"
Francesca: "Never. I'm way too chatty to become a novelist. Novelists are comfortable spending a lot of time by themselves and having intense internal monologues. I am learning to become that way but generally I am energized by being around other people. The lifestyle of the writer is difficult for me."
Luke: "What do you love and hate about being interviewed?"
Francesca: "I just love it. I get to talk to people who are interested in me. I think that's fabulous. Given this lifestyle of talking to yourself all day, I love it when somebody calls me and asks me questions. Having been the interviewer for so long, it's nice to know all the answers."
Luke: "What are the qualities of a good interview?"
Francesca: "When the personality of both people can show through, which means that the interviewer makes the interviewee feel comfortable and friendly. A good human interaction will make for a good interview instead of asking questions that don't have personality, more direct questions. Sometimes when the interviewer reveals something about him or herself, that puts the interviewee at ease."
Francesca says her family helped her edit her novel. "My dad, had he been alive, would've been most proud of my novel. He published three academic books and one autobiography. He would've liked to have written a book that was sold in an airport and had commercial success."
In her essay in The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt, Francesca concluded her "Girl Meets Goy" piece with a reflection on her latest squeeze -- a Taiwanese guy she writes off immediately because he's not close to being Jewish. Being Muslim would be closer to being Jewish than being Taiwanese Buddhist Daohist.
This turned out to be the guy she married earlier this month. "It's the personality I need more than the religion. My husband is agnostic and very supportive of my Jewish cultural identity. Being with someone who's not Jewish highlights your Jewish identity and makes you think about your identity."
Luke: "You weren't intimidated by your mother's erudition?"
Francesca: "No. My mom can't even write a letter because she is so worried about what people will think and whether it is written well enough. I have no shame. I barrel forward. If people don't think I'm Dostoevsky, fine."
Luke: "You don't sound terribly angst ridden."
Francesca: "Is that the requirement for being a good writer? This second novel is kicking my ass. I'm worried about it."
Luke: "What are you best at with writing?"
Francesca laughs. "Dialogue? Is that what you're looking for? I'm a big talker. Writing a conversation comes easily to me. Figuring out a plot, that'll trip me up more.
"In journalism, you stick your neck out all the time and there's all kind of rejection and embarrassing situations. When you write a novel, you have thick skin already. I can get to the point."
Lionel Chetwynd calls me back Thursday, Sept. 21.
Lionel: "At a screening, an older guy said, 'I used to be the late night engineer at [one of L.A's independent television stations]. One night we ran High Noon. We had an old copy. There were these credit cards with the names scratched out [as producer].'"
"HUAC [House Un-American Activities Committee] was indefensible and Carl Foreman was a victim."
Luke: "How did you come to know Carl Foreman?"
Lionel: "He was living in England and a producer at Columbia Pictures when I worked there [1968-1972]. We would go for lunch. He'd give me advice on writing. He'd read my attempts at writing. If something was going on, I could always call Carl. He was a mentor."
Luke: "Why aren't you appalled that he was a former Communist and that he wouldn't name names?"
Lionel: "For me making judgments on former communists, the line is August 1939 when Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. Carl left the Communist Party over the Hitler-Stalin pact. He woke up to Stalin. That's what he told me. He went before HUAC and said he was a Communist Party member but that he'd given his word to his friends that he wouldn't name names [of other Communist Party members] and so he didn't. It was a matter of personal honor.
"The Communist Party line was that you did not plead the Fifth Amendment [against incriminating yourself], you did not admit to being a Communist, and you did not recognize HUAC's authority to hold these hearings. The American Communist Party took its cues from the Soviet Union."
"The naming of names was a farce because HUAC already had the names."
"The film doesn't make a judgment. It presents the experience in his words and interviews those who were there at the time and are still alive. No one who was there at the time has come forward to say that this documentary is false. And I sent it around to a lot of people who were there at the time."
Luke: "Do you think Elia Kazan was wrong to name names?"
Lionel: "We're not talking about the film anymore.
"It's a personal calculus. Kazan is called to task for his hypocrisy of naming names. In the catalogue of the great sins of the period, I don't think he's outstanding. What Carl Foreman did was honorable."
"I do not speak well of those who destroyed people's lives for having been a member of the Communist Party."
Luke: "What about destroying someone's life for being a member of the Nazi Party? What is wrong with destroying someone's life for having belonged to the Communist Party?"
Lionel: "I'm uncomfortable with the publication of books like Red Channels, where people who were not members of the Communist Party but had supported one movement or another suddenly found themselves published in this book and that this was used as evidence that they are subversive. Employment was denied them.
"Some parts of the civil rights movement was Communist. Paul Robeson was a Communist. But that doesn't mean that the entire civil rights movement of the period was a Communist front [which is essentially what Red Channels alleged]."
Luke: "Do you believe that the American Communist Party was a force for evil?"
Lionel: "Yes. Do I believe that everyone who belonged to the American Communist Party was a knowing agent of evil? No. In the 1930s, during a time of great economic upheaval, there were all manner of reasons why someone could've looked at the communist message and it held promise."
Luke: "Couldn't you say the same thing about the Nazis? And if not, why not?"
Lionel: "Because Nazism was at root a political ideology based on racial purity. Communism presented its face in the 1930s in the United States as a platform for economic equality. They were dealing with different issues."
Luke: "Where did you get the idea that making this Carl Foreman documentary would redeem you in Hollywood?"
Lionel: "I wasn't doing it for redemption. I thought that this would be the one thing I could do that they wouldn't attack me. This is something that even the Hollywood Left can embrace -- the story of a victim of the Blacklist and the evil that HUAC wrought. "
Luke: "You're saying that the Blacklist and HUAC were evil?"
Lionel: "I'm using the phrases of others.
"This is much more of a gotcha interview.
"I thought that much of what we were saying was consistent with the conventional wisdom of Hollywood about the Blacklist. We were doing it through Carl's eyes, not necessarily my eyes. It seemed to us that this project would resonate with the Hollywood Left in a way that our other projects would not."
Luke: "But there was some yearning to make nice with the powers that be?"
Luke: "Why did you make the film?"
Lionel: "Because I owed it to Carl."
Luke: "His second wife [Eve Foreman now Eve Williams-Jones] was very pretty."
Lionel: "She turned his life around."
Luke: "I can see how."
Al Goldstein At His Bar Mitzvah
Al wore this bar mitzvah suit for his first hooker.
Goldstein has a new book out: I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life.
From page 17:
UnOrthodox Jew Retires
The anonymous but influential blogger who broke stories about such predatory Orthodox rabbis as Yehuda Kolko has retired.
The end of free speech in Europe and possibly elsewhere
Book description: "Beneath the entertaining and instructive war stories lies the truth: how directors elicit the best performances from difficult and terrified actors. You'll learn how to use proven techniques to get actors to give their best performances - including the ten best and ten worst things to say - and what you can do when an actor won't or can't do what the director wants. Includes never before published stories from veteran director, John Badham, as well as Sydney Pollock, Mel Gibson, James Woods, Michael Mann and many more."
A friend writes: "I was just at Whole Foods -- they have a Rosh Hashanah display where the most prominent item is matzah boxes."
Aaron Biston (email@example.com) calls me at noon Sept 19. "My ex-wife's boyfriend sent a strong letter to Rabbi Weil. 'How dare you make my stepdaughter cry. How dare you impose upon her in public.' He called back my ex-wife to apologize. My ex-wife said, 'You have to apologize to her. It has to be in writing because she doesn't want to talk to you.'
"If anyone else has been ejected from Beth Jacob by Rabbi Weil, they should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can protect their rights.
"He talks about getting sexual predators out of the synagogue. People like him who kick people who are not predators out of synagogue are a menace to society. It's ethnic cleansing."
After talking to me, Aaron went home Tuesday night and found this email from Rabbi Weil sent at 11:27 a.m.
Aaron disputes Rabbi Weil's statement of facts. Aaron says he was not found guilty of fraud. That no judgment was entered. That Aaron knew this member prior to coming to Beth Jacob, et al. That Aaron never discussed business with this member at shul.
Jewish Whistleblower writes:
We talk on the phone Monday, September 18, 2006.
Luke: "When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Lionel stumbles. "Boy, nobody's ever asked me that. I didn't have a pleasant childhood. I wanted to get a job. I wanted out. You know what? I can't answer that question. That's interesting. Can we move on?"
Luke: "What did your parents want from you and for you?"
Lionel laughs. "I didn't have a close relationship with my parents. They didn't like me. My father wasn't around much, which left my mother in a state of existential franticness. I was born in England in the East End of London. We were cockneys.
"We emigrated to Canada in 1952. I grew up in Montreal. I left school at 14. My father had gotten into trouble and money was needed. I went back to school and got expelled. I went to work in a telephone manufacturing [plant]."
Luke: "What did your mother want for you and from you?"
Lionel: "Just a contribution to the weekly household funds. I understand the question but it's not within the context the life we led. She had no ambition for me whatsoever. 'Go out and get a bloody job and bring your pay packet home.' I understood that to be the order of things. When I joined the Army, I sent money home."
Luke: "Did you hate authority?"
Lionel: "By the time I got to highschool, that was a problem, but by the time I got into the Army, I embraced authority."
Luke: "Did you get into trouble?"
Lionel: "Yes, for rambunctious behavior. Today they'd pump me full of ritalin. My teachers resented me."
Lionel: "As a conditional student, I got into junior college without finishing highschool. I got my B.A. from St. George.
"Since my days in the Army, I nurtured this fantasy of being a writer. There's a lot of spare time in the Army."
"I had narrow horizons for most of my life. You're asking me big questions. I didn't frame things in those terms. It took me a while to see myself as having sufficient autonomy to form those choices."
"When I got to college, I got involved with the socialist end of things, the New Democratic party. I did some union organizing. Then there was a seismic shift in Canadian politics with people such as Pierre Trudeau (the most famous member of the "three wise men from Quebec" along with Jean Marchand and Gerard Pelletier) leaving the regular left and went to the Liberal party [left-of-center]."
Luke: "What kind of Jewish involvement did you have?"
Lionel: "Not nearly as much as I do today. Montreal was and is a continuum of ghettos between the English and French. The English are then divided into Protestants, Catholics and Jews. Within the Jews, there were various economic distinctions. I was not given to going to the Jewish summer camps. Certainly the Canadian Army was not a great center for Jews."
Luke: "Where was God in your life?"
Lionel: "I always believed in God but it was not shaped by religiosity or ritual. I did organize my own bar mitzvah."
Luke: "Did your relationship with God make life less lonely?"
Lionel: "Yes. I always had a sense of the future. I had a sense of my own destiny. That I could be more than I was. A lot of that came from my instinctual belief in God, which I did not get from my upbringing or my parents."
Luke: "Where your did your facility with words come from?"
Lionel: "No idea."
Luke: "Did you have relatives in your life?"
Lionel: "No. [British activist, writer, and broadcaster] Claire Rayner is my sister. My father's family was successful."
Lionel's parents died within a few days of each other circa 1981. "At their request, they were buried in an Anglican churchyard. Much of the time they did not acknowledge they were Jews."
Luke: "How did you get your first Hollywood credit [co-screenwriter for The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz]?
Lionel: "I was living in London. I met [fellow Canadian] Ted Kotcheff. He directed my first effort - a stageplay called Maybe That's Your Problem. Not a magnificent success. I still have the reviews. They were the worst reviews one could imagine. That I had the courage to walk down the street in London after these reviews is amazing.
"As Canadian expatriates tend to know, Ted and I talked about how small-minded Canada could be. I told him there was only one Canadian novel of significance -- The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. He said that he owned the rights to the novel and gave me the opportunity to write the screenplay."
Luke: "Why did you say Duddy was the only significant Canadian novel?"
Lionel: "Canadian novels had been of the Robertson Davies variety in which nobody goes to the bathroom and nobody has sex. We used to say that Canada is a Scottish country. It was settled by the Scots and it has all the marks of that world -- dour, quiet, constrained, proper, Presbyterian world. The Kiwis are the middle-class English of the 1930s and the Australians are the Irish -- where the men beat up the women and then go see a porn movie. We always envied the Australians. They seemed so carefree compared to us. We were a tight-ass people.
"Duddy Kravitz was Mordechai Richler's first. He wrote the same novel over and over again. Duddy Kravitz was a new voice for Canada. A non-dour, non-Scottish novel in the spirit of Philip Roth speaking about an ethnic experience that didn't exist in Canadian literature. You read the novel and said, 'My God. Does this mean that we belong?' It was a novel about Canadians like me.
"Suddenly I was making money writing. It was a joyous experience. If you can take the ego hits, you can lead a good life around your kids at home.
"I had an agent, Bill Haber, who told me, 'You have no star desire.' At the time, I thought, 'Like hell I don't. I'll show you.' In retrospect, he was right.
"It was the height of the me-generation. People are more forgiving now of those who want to have families and lives and normal things."
Luke: "Did you have a relationship with Mordecai Richler?"
Lionel: "No. He always resented my involvement. He wasn't a pleasant guy. He was frequently petty."
Luke: "How did you journey from left to right?"
Lionel: "Jimmy Carter was president. I had supported Jimmy Carter. I had two young kids. I was struggling to make my way. It's hard to be faced with a double digit inflation rate. Interest rates were 16%. Stagflation. A disaster. I cared about the Cold War, Israel, Russian Jews. Everywhere you look, we were losing.
"He gave this moral lassitude (malaise) speech. He said it was our fault. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced to Ronald Reagan. I was mesmerized by the optimism, by his clear moral sense. I had the opportunity to write some speeches for him, particularly on the Middle East."
Luke: How did you come to write 1981's Miracle on Ice?
Lionel: "Frank Von Zerneck called me. I grew up with hockey. I love it. There was no familiarity time. When I got to Herb Brooks, I was up and running. Our time together was exponentially levered."
Luke: "What did you think about Miracle?"
Lionel: "There was a sense of deja vu with Miracle. When I heard Miracle was happening, and I read the script, I asked the Writer's Guild for an arbitration but they wouldn't give it to me. Herb Brooks is a wonderful guy but not a verbal man. I met with Herb for hours. I provided lockerroom speeches for him in the film but they weren't what he told he'd said. Then these speeches showed up, these quotes. Let me stop here. I want to take the high road.
"I'm so distrustful of the [interview] process, Luke. You've got to forgive me. It's stressful. Nothing personal."
Lionel: "No. At this point, you are supposed to reassure me."
Luke: "Right. I acknowledge your feelings."
Lionel: "Now I feel a lot better."
Luke: "I'm a friend of Cathy's."
Lionel: "You sound like Mike Wallice. 'But I'm a Jew. How can you suggest that I did anything wrong with that Ahmadinejad interview?'
"You're a Jew this week. You're a friend of Cathy's. That's good."
Luke: "How did you get brought on to the Sadat project?"
Lionel: "I pitched myself to producer Dan Blatt and enumerated all the reasons why nobody else could do Sadat like I could do Sadat.
"After it aired, I was put on trial in Egypt [in absentia] for bringing shame to an Arab nation. I claim that the reason I was put on trial was because I did such a good job of telling Sadat's story. I was sentenced in absentia.
"We had the original story of how Carter agreed to give up the Shah for the hostages to assure his reelection. I wasn't on set in Sonora and they canceled those sequences. And they added a scene that implies that Sadat went to Jerusalem because he was deeply moved by a letter he got from Jimmy Carter."
Luke: "After Miracle on Ice, you developed the niche of writing movies quickly after the historical event."
Lionel: "I see. The implication being what? That I'm a shlockmeister who can do it quicker?
"One cannot deny the obvious. That's true. I work quickly. I annotate my scripts. I have several sources for each scene. It sounds like Cyrus Nowrasteh (The Path to 9/11) should've annotated more thoroughly."
Luke: "Were there any special obstacles writing the Carl Foreman movie?"
"The second Mrs. Kramer knew nothing about what had gone on [Carl was blacklisted]. She decided that we had no right to discuss this.
"PBS decided that this wasn't a good movie to have out there because it impugned the great liberal god Stanley Kramer.
"I established this rule that we would only interview people who could speak firsthand about what had gone on. She couldn't do that because she wasn't there.
"The central thesis of our film was that the blacklist was frequently used to settle personal accounts."
Luke: "In which of your products has the final product been most disappointing?"
Lionel: "So Proudly We Hail represents the biggest lost opportunity. I never pulled it off. I wrote and directed it so it is my own fault. I was given every opportunity but it didn't work. I don't know why it didn't work."
Luke: "What did you think of Fahrenheit 9/11?"
Lionel: "The story was that Michael Moore got so pissed at DC 9/11 that he made Fahrenheit 9/11. It's a propaganda movie. I did Celsius 41.11[: The Temperature at Which the Brain... Begins to Die], which certainly got less attention. It's also a propaganda movie.
"If I'm looking for verisimilitude, I shouldn't be going to his movies."
Luke: "Didn't you find some part of his movie entertaining?"
Lionel: "He's as entertaining as hell. That's the problem. That's why you've got to hate him."
Luke: "That footage of Wolfowitz licking his comb."
Lionel: "That's cheap. That's what his films are about. Wolfowitz has a life of distinguished public service."
Luke: "What's it like to grow old in Hollywood and still find work?"
Lionel: "I don't know yet being such a young child... So many of my friends no longer work. It's troubling. It's been said, 'In Hollywood, you do not retire. You are retired. They'll let you know when it's over.' One day I'll be just another guy in white shoes sitting in Nate 'n Al's [Beverly Hills deli] having breakfast and wondering who those young kids are over there. That hasn't come yet and I'm not going to contemplate it until I have to.
"The town is unforgiving about age. As we say: 'Whatever happened to him?' 'It dried up.' It was decided that his soul had leprosy and he was no longer needed."
Luke: "How much has your conservative politics affected your career?"
Lionel laughs. "It has not been helpful."
Luke: "Yet you have a huge list of credits."
Lionel: "Yes. But you'll notice a period of interruption [from 1987-1991].
"My wife smoked during her pregnancies because that's what people did then. Our youngest son teases her, 'Do you know what I could've been?' He has a fine law degree. He was a columnist for a national magazine. He was covering the White House at 23 for the Wall Street Journal. He was professional baseball player. He's 6'2".
"There were places where I was denied work. The famous remark by a gay executive, a major buyer, about me: 'We don't hire him here because he's a conservative and they can not write caring characters.'
"I forced the guy to have lunch with me because we had the same lawyer and I confronted him with what he said. He freaked out and wouldn't say anything. I said, 'Relax. I'm not going to sue you. But I'd have thought that you as a gay man would've shied away from that kind of vicious stereotyping.' He clammed up. I had dessert and coffee. I made him stick it out.
"I won't say his name. One can figure it out if one checks on my credits. It will become apparent where I didn't work.
"People hire in their own image.
"One reason I have a lot of credits is there a certain thing I do, which I do well. Historical material. But there are disadvantages to not being in the mainstream in Hollywood.
"Opposing the Writer's Guild strikes in the 1980s, more than anything, turned my world upside down. It was interpreted as an expression of right-wing politics, which it wasn't. I'm a big believer in the Guild. It was an expression of my dissatisfaction with the leadership of the Guild at that moment."
Wendy returns my call Sunday, September 10, from the Portland airport. She's on her way to San Francisco.
Luke: "When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Wendy: "A psychologist and therapist."
Luke: "Just like your mom. What did she want for you?"
Wendy: "For me to be a businesswoman, a lawyer or doctor. It was important that I be professional and make money. Nothing artistic."
Luke: "What crowd did you hang out with in highschool?"
Wendy: "I had my down to earth friends. I'm more similar now to the way I was as a little kid than how I was in highschool and college, when I was very academic. I was obsessed with getting good grades. I never did anything extracurricular or fun. When I was little, I was creative. I liked to draw and make up things and write funny stories."
Luke: "Were there many Jews at your Trinity High School [in New York, nominally Episcopalian]?"
Wendy: "It was about 70% Jewish. There was a big cross in the front lobby. We had required religion classes. They had a chapel service but it was more like an assembly."
"I studied Psychology at Wesleyan [College]."
She began doing standup comedy in 2000. "I had all these thoughts and memories and stories in my mind. For years, I felt like I was going to burst. Being able to write them down and share them with people and make people laugh was like a drug."
"Writing the book was isolating. I didn't have an audience. I felt like I was perpetually bombing because I was all alone."
"The more I started performing, the less I performed in daily life. I stopped being a ham in daily life. I felt less of a need to perform in my personal life. I'd like to say that [success] made me a more confident person, but I don't think that's true. The more you put yourself out there, with the book, there's a whole new realm of paranoia. It just added to my neuroses. You're constantly worried. The amount of vulnerability is high. You felt like people were judging you. Everyone wants to be liked. It's tortuous. I had a lot of stage fright. Every time I was about to perform, I'd be sick to my stomach for hours beforehand. If I could do anything else, I would because it's painful to the psyche and physically draining. My stomach. I get very nervous. It's so masochistic."
12:13 p.m. 9/18/06. Wendy calls me back. "I'm confused. I'm exhausted. I just woke up."
Luke: "Great. I'll get you when you're vulnerable."
Wendy: "Oh geez, who's calling me?
"I moved to L.A. from Manhattan about two years ago. I left the little world I created. I got a book deal. It was a lot of learning curves at once. I had to learn how to drive and how to write.
"I had a short period of time to write the book. I wish there could be a disclaimer -- 'I'm never done this before.'
"The driving, there was a lot of honking around me at all times. I put a sign in the back of the car that says, 'New to driving.' Those in the back can see the sign and they don't yell at me as much. Those in the front and sides, I've gotten a lot of road rage.
"In New York, if I was going to a deli, there was no chance that I would kill someone. If I go on a minor errand in Los Angeles, I may kill someone. I feel that I am too neurotic and small to have that much responsibility and metal."
I hear a man's voice. "A package for Wendy Spero."
Wendy: "There's this man creepily wandering around the house. What's he doing?
"I took a door off a Mercedes on Melrose when I first got out here.
"Whenever I get into a car, I feel like I'm playing a game of pretend grown-up.
"You can see the evolution of my time in Los Angeles based on every dent in the car."
Luke: "What do you love and hate about living in LA?"
Wendy: "I'm getting a kick out of buying in bulk. In New York, you have to decide between the detergent and the juice. I'm small. I can't take home more than one large item at a time. There's something enormously empowering about going to this massive supermarket and loading up the cart with a 24-pack of toilet paper and feeling like the most accomplished person on the planet.
"I have a garbage disposal. I'm getting a kick out of the small things of suburban life. There's a pleasantness of LA It's both good and slightly boring. It's slightly isolating here because everyone is so spread out. I miss the people watching in New York. Unless you're at the Grove watching people by the fountain, I don't feel like there is a place for me to go and watch people."
"I was a psych major. I'm into cognitive therapy but I'm not into analysis."
Luke: "Success hasn't changed anything for you?"
Wendy: "My boyfriend would confirm that I am just as neurotic as when I first started. I don't even know what I'm trying to do."
"I got married (September 3 in New Mexico) during my book tour. There was no honeymoon. My husband said last night, 'I feel like you are going to leave at any moment.'"
Luke: "Is your boyfriend the same person as your husband?"
Wendy: "Yes. The word 'husband' is very weird. I don't feel grown up enough to have a husband."
"I'm not very religious. I am really Jewish. We had a very Jewish ceremony because we're both very Jewish in identity but not really in religion. I did have a bat mitzvah. I do sort of believe in something but I don't pray or think about God. The service was alternative. We had a female rabbi. She kept the word 'God' out."
I've known Aaron Biston (email@example.com) since about 1994. We're friendly. I've eaten meals at his home about a half dozen times.
I talked to him on the phone Monday, September 18, 2006, about his situation at Beth Jacob. A few months previous, he'd told me he'd been ejected from the shul.
(I emailed Rabbi Weil for comment before I published this story. I did not hear back from him. If he does comment for publication, I will put that immediately on my website.)
Aaron: "In March of 2005, [Rabbi Weil] told me to no longer pray there because I had lawsuits with a member of the shul.
"A week later, I go to the rabbi with my version. He says his decision is the same.
"In the negotiations to settle the lawsuits [in secular courts for about three years], this member of the shul wanted to make it a matter of settlement that I could no longer pray at Beth Jacob. The judge said that this is not to be negotiated.
"Those lawsuits have since been settled.
"Rabbi X [I am not using his real name] is another rabbi at Beth Jacob. He's known me for 25 years. He'll vouch for my character. Rabbi X called several rabbis and says that they said that what was done to me was not appropriate.
"My attorney wrote Rabbi Weil a letter. Nothing happened.
"In February, Jackie Mason wrote a long letter to Beth Jacob and all the board members explaining that he's known me for over 30 years and that he vouches for my character and that [the expulsion] is inappropriate. My 13-year old daughter wrote a letter saying that she's been davening at Beth Jacob since she was four. Now she's affected because she can't go there because her daddy can't go there. They have a teenage minyan that she'd like to participate in.
"I had another rabbi write a letter of halacha [Jewish law]. I sent all four letters to the board.
"The board said they convened to see if they could overrule the rabbi's decision.
"Nothing that was done to me was in writing. It was all verbal. I asked the rabbi to give it to me in writing. He said no.
"A month later, the board said they have not made a decision. They stopped returning my phone calls.
"Rabbi X says they are trying to wear down my resolve. They don't know who I am. Once I grab on to something, I never let go.
"I went to Beth Jacob three weeks ago. Rabbi Weil was not there. I went to Rabbi X's lecture. Rabbi X gave me and my daughter a hug and said you are always welcome to come to our shul.
"I go to Beth Jacob this Shabbos (Sept. 16) and I'm sitting there at the kiddish (snacks after the prayers) for half an hour. Rabbi Weil comes to me by himself and says, 'Please Mr. Biston. You must leave this shul.' I said, 'I'm sorry but you and I should not be talking to each other. You should have your attorney talk to my attorney. Please walk away.'
"He's not walking away. He's standing there. He's harassing me. He says, 'Mr. Biston, leave this shul this minute.' I said, 'You and I should not be talking, but if you insist, my daughter might be willing to talk to you. She's right next to me.'
"Rabbi Weil starts telling her what a bad man I am. That I'm sick. That I'm a thief. All these epithets other than four letter words. My daughter started to cry hysterically.
"I told him to 'Go f--- yourself.' He slapped me in my face, a light slap. I have a scratch on my face. As I'm walking out, I'm trying to walk into where Rabbi X is but Rabbi Weil and a security guard prevent me from going any further. I don't want to use any physical force.
"I walk with a cane because I had polio as a child. I was tempted to whack him in the face and kill him, but that's something beyond me.
"I went to the police. I filed a [battery] report. My daughter told the cop that Rabbi Weil slapped me.
"The community must know what kind of rabbi is running this synagogue.
"I'm considering filing a class action lawsuit against Rabbi Weil with all the [good] people he's ejected from Beth Jacob.
"I come from a family of rabbis. If you want to eject someone from a synagogue, you have to assemble a Bet Din (Jewish law court). This was not done in my case.
"I called all the Bet Dins in Los Angeles to call Rabbi Weil to a Bet Din. Nobody would take it."
Aaron says he's never been banned from a shul before. "I'm angry because I give tzeddakah (charity) to so many communities, from Aish Ha Torah to Rabbi Schwartzie's Chai Center to Chabad... I have a good name. I want to protect my name.
"Jackie Mason told me in February, 'Aaron, you are wasting your time trying to be Mr. Nice Guy, and write all these letters. You need to hire somebody to file a class action lawsuit or a libel lawsuit.'
"He gave me his partner Raoul Felder. Raoul referred me to an attorney in L.A.
"My daughter is going to a therapist now. My ex-wife is taking her to make sure she doesn't have any emotional trauma.
"If anyone has to leave, it is Rabbi Weil who must be banned from the shul.
"I plan to continue to come to Beth Jacob but I plan to come with two big black bodyguards next time.
"I'm going to Beth Jacob on Rosh Hashanah and I'm going to hand out the four letters (one from Jackie Mason, one from Aaron, one from a rabbi, etc).
"As Rabbi Weil talked to my daughter, he threatened to call the police. I think it's a civil matter, not a criminal matter. I asked the police if they would come. They said yes, you could be trespassing. Who decides if I'm trespassing? Only the board can decide that. Not the rabbi.
"I want an apology. Now I want a public apology."
From 1994 - 2001, I went irregularly (from a few times a year to every day in late 1997, early 1998 when I davened shacharit there and took a Daf Yomi class) to the Beverly Hills synagogue Beth Jacob.
With 800 members, it is the largest Orthodox shul west of the Mississippi.
One Sabbath morning, I heard Rabbi Steven Weil speak to the Happy Minyan (then housed at Beth Jacob) about creating a safe community and that to do that he's asked anyone (a dozen people at the time? two dozen? three dozen?) who might be a threat to stay away from the shul.
Afterwards, I pulled aside Rabbi Weil and told him that I agreed with the main idea of his speech -- that a shul should be a safe place. I told him a little bit about my story. Rabbi Weil said my situation was under review.
A few weeks later, Rabbi Weil asked me to stay away from Beth Jacob. I did. I found another shul to call home.
There are two types of organization structures for synagogues -- rabbi-run and board-run. Young Israel of Century City and Anshe Emes are run by their rabbis (Anshe is owned by the family of its rabbi). Most synagogues are run by their boards and the synagogue rabbi abides by the board's decisions.
Power can shift. For instance, five years ago at Beth Jacob, the board may have had had final word, but over the years, Rabbi Weil probably built up increasing power to the point where his word, most of the time, is law.
I believe Rabbi Weil took over Beth Jacob in late 2000. As he did in Detroit (creating much controversy), Rabbi Weil immediately started kicking people out of Beth Jacob to create a safe community. His predecessor, Rabbi Abner Weiss, (almost?) never kicked anyone out.
Some of those ejected by Rabbi Weil in 2001 got angry and talked about going to the Jewish Journal with their complaints. No story was ever published.
There's been a growing pressure cooker of steam underneath this story of Rabbi Weil's ejections for at least five years but only now, thanks to Aaron Biston, has it blown up.
Gadi (Gary) Pickholz (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes:
While he was kicking out people (mainly single men) for being a threat to his community, Rabbi Steven Weil continued the annual practice of Beth Jacob of honoring sexual predator Aron Tendler. Aron would be seated Shabbos morning on the bima and Rabbi Weil would say a few laudatory words about him.
I caught the 11 a.m. panel (9/16/06), "L.A. is my Beat."
Moderator Charles Fleming says that when you reveal you're a writer in Europe, people are fascinated to hear about your books.
In the United States, you are likely to hear, "Have you written anything I might've read?"
Rick Copp says that when you say you are a writer in L.A., people assume you write for film.
Marissa Batt says the L.A. D.A.'s office is the largest prosecutorial body in the world.
At noon, I took the 90-minute memoir-writing workshop with Harold Robbins' third wife Jann. She's got a book coming out about her relationship with Harold. She says he did not care about bad reviews but they drove her crazy.
Jann's working on a book with the widow Erica McClaine. It's told in the voice of Erica's late husband Clive, the British pornographer. The couple spent over $100,000 for useless alternative remedies for Clive's brain cancer.