Khunrum emails: "Was this a kind of Yiddisha Woodstock? Did you hustle up any female companionship?"
Yes and no.
Let me start at the beginning.
Friday. I can’t find a ride, so I drive away at 11a.m., arriving at noon. I dump my stuff in my room and with a copy of Jay McInerney’s trash novel "Story of my Life" in hand, set up shop near the entrance.
I’ve long found that an air of intellectual pretension, a seeming absorption in a book and a higher cause that picking up chicks is a great way to pick up chicks and encourage wayward lasses to begin conversations with me that they’ll later come to rue.
(I’m only writing like this because I know it’s what you expect from me — the lowest common denominator — and it’s what I’m most comfortable churning out, but please realize that all this horny blogging is just a metaphor for my love for G-d, Torah and Israel and really has nothing, absolutely nothing at all, to do with cheap thrills. I’m ready for a lasting commitment. Ladies, why am I not married?)
A cute blonde volunteer sits next to me. She has no choice. I’ve got the good seat. All must pass me. I’m ready to see and be seen.
Just as I’m about to wave my book around and look fascinating, this old geezer with long white hair plonks down beside her and starts going off about some non-Orthodox day school in Melbourne, Australia.
Bollocks! Foiled again!
I decide to broaden my horizons and give the older chicks a chance. Later Friday night, in a strictly hush-hush and off the record conversation with one of Jewish journalism’s leading lights, I find myself using an expression that had never before occured to me: "GILF."
There are about 650 attendees. About a third are Orthodox (compared to less than 10% at the last New York Limmud). Public space at the conference is kept holy aka shomer mitzvos. It’s nice not having to deal with ringing cell phones and the other detritus of non-Orthodox Jews when I’m trying to have a transcendent experience on my Shabbat with that tiny percentage of Jewry who do things as G-d intended.
I find nothing disturbs my prayers more than finding used condoms and pork rinds on my way in to shul.
Beginning with the end in mind, I supplement my Shabbos davening with lengthy selections from The Get: A Spiritual Memoir of Divorce.
Everybody is nice to me at LimmudLA. Rabbi who normally look away when I pass by now wish me "Gut Shabbos" and talk to me like I’m a human being.
It’s almost enought to make me want to be nice back.
An organizer says: "I spent most of the conference talking to people in the halls. I was most surprised and fascinated by the utter lack of complaints (OK, except your chanteuse DF’s plea for more Reform/Reconstructionist Jews). Everyone was practically giddy, even people who are usually hard to please. It was almost too easygoing. This is not what I’d expect from a Jewish crowd. The most interesting explanation I heard of why people were so happy was that they didn’t feel any pressure to be anywhere or do anything at any point in time, so there was space for them to choose whatever they wanted to, which in turn made them want to go to sessions. We get so suffocated by Jewish institutions wanting our time, money, and attention, that it kills desire."
I go to bed about midnight every evening and arise shortly after 7 a.m. In between, I walk around shining as the Bible instructs (light unto the nations and all that).
We share our first words and I know they’ll stay with Todd for the rest of his short not-so-observant life.
I know Todd’s at the conference to get grants for his non-profit, so I talk him up wherever I go.
"Yeah, this is my roomie Todd. He’s a nice guy — when sober… He came wandering into our room at 2 a.m. He’s quite belligerent when drunk. He had three girls with him. I urged him to share…"
"Yeah, this is my roomie Todd. He talks in his sleep. Yeah, at the top of every hour, 3 a.m., 4 a.m., 5 a.m., he screams out the sh’ma. It unnerved me at first but I’ve learned to respect his commitment to the oneness of G-d."
Not sure if I did Todd any good, but I got to perform and that’s what’s important.
One morning I came out of the shower and announced to Todd, "If you work out, you too can have a body like this."
During LimmudLA, I become fascinated with the plight Soviet Jewry.
My new cause is fueled by one Soviet Jew in particular — author Sana Krasikov (the Forward, the Atlantic, the New Yorker). She has a book of short stories coming out ("One More Year") and she’s easy on the eyes.
After confessing my amazement that I had just attended a presentation (by Sana) on the first Soviet-Jewish generation, a Russian bloke confides in me that his interest in the session was similarly not purely intellectual.
I just thank G-d that Sana didn’t give any sessions on the history of something gross or I’d be in truly bad shape right now.
Must not follow my eyes after which I prostitute myself.
Must not grumble.
Must seem at least semi-sane on my blog to repay the generous confidence of my new Orthodox friends.
Sunday night, for her last presentation on some fancy pants bit of literature, Sana persuades her four attendees to give her high-brow efforts the big skip and join her at Clive Lawton’s lecture on Jacob (amazing stuff!).
Every time I looked down during limmudla, I saw that my zipper was down.
Hmm. Perhaps because I was not blogging, I had to find another way to embarrass myself.
Saturday night, a friend walks out of an elevator.
As I’m walking in, he says, "I wouldn’t go in there if I were you."
It turns out that somebody has left behind a very rude smell.
Isn’t there a Torah law against that?
Most of my Orthodox friends daven Orthodox but some of them shake it up and take in the more risque and less orthodox offerings (though they were warned by their Orthodox compatriots that this was a desecration of G-d’s name). One Orthodox guy I know deliberately walked around the LimmudLA bare-headed just to see what it felt like.
One day I’m going to walk around and just be nice to everyone for 24 hours, just to see what it feels like. I might even wear my kipa.
I run into Deborah Lipstadt in an elevator.
I introduce myself.
She asks me what I do.
I say I’m a blogger.
"I’ve read some of your stuff," she says.
Dr. Lipstadt was sued for libel by Holocaust denier David Irving. I was sued for libel by hooker Laurie Holmes for calling her a hooker.
We both won.
Maybe there is justice in this fallen world.
On Sunday morning, actor Ron Rifkin, 69, talks about his Jewish journeys. Raised Orthodox, sent to yeshivot, he’s never been to Israel. "I don’t travel well."
He left Orthodox Judaism at age 32.
He says President Bush is stupid.
He gives me permission to blog his talk and put the video on the internet.
Ron Rifkin: "I come from an Orthodox, sort of Hasidic, background. I was born in Williamsburg. I went to Yeshiva Torah V’Das. I went to Yeshiva Yitzhak Elchanan in the Bronx, Washington Heights."
"For my bar mitzvah, I said shacharis. I lened the whole sedra. I did the haftorah. I made a speech and I davened musaf. I was the star of that Shabbos. I was already an actor. I could still do the whole sedra of Noach by heart."
"My first Broadway show was an understudy to Joel Gray. I was shomer shabbos. I knew I had to be at the theatre every Friday night and Saturday and I lived in Great Neck at my parents house on Long Island, so I took a hotel room on Friday night and Saturday so that I wouldn’t have to ride on Shabbos.
"But eventually I decided that I needed to travel to see what that was like and I remember it was a quarter to go through the tunnel and I remember handing the guy a quarter sobbing. It was the first thing I had done on Shabbos that I wasn’t supposed to do."
"I was 22. I still cry about things like that. When I hear Shlomo Carlebach, it freaks me out. It’s the greatest sound in the world. It’s the sound that comforts me the most. I haven’t lost that. I’ve just reinvented it. But Orthodox Jews wouldn’t approve of that."
"I fell in love with a girl who was a dancer on Broadway. She was very beautiful. I didn’t know how to meet her. It was Hanukkah time. I sent invitations to all the Broadway theaters and said I was lighting Hanukkah candles for the next eight nights at the Les Atkinson theater, fifth floor, and whoever wants to come… That’s how I met my wife. We’ve been married 41 years."
"I’m trying to figure out what part Judaism plays in my life. When I listen to music, the music of my soul is the sound I grew up with in Brooklyn."
"When I got married, my wife, who’s Jewish, had to go to the mikveh. She didn’t know what mikveh was. It was a traumatic event for her because my mother said, ‘My mother went, my grandmother went, I went, you’ll go.’
"My wife was blonde. She had hair down to her waist. She had false eyelashes."
"Her parents were commies. They went to shul on Yom Kippur. She didn’t know what kosher was. But she can sing yiddish songs and she knows all of Shlomo Carlebach and it makes her so happy only because she sees how happy it makes me."
"It was 1966. I asked Rabbi Wolf in Great Neck to make sure the mikveh she went to was modern. I had a little MG. We parked on 76th street. This little yeshiva bochur opened the door and asked, ‘What’s a shiksa doing here?’
"The rabbi wouldn’t marry us unless she wore long sleeves. She designed a dress with breakaway sleeves. As soon as we were married, she took the stitches out. It was August.
"We kept kosher. I was still shomer shabbos. We moved immediately to LA. We lived on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills. We went to Beth Jacob. My wife came to shul every Shabbos. She wore a hat and gloves and learned. She still doesn’t read Hebrew.
"One day I said I wanted to taste trafe. I was 32. It was time for me to start my journey [out of Orthodox Judaism]. I am by nature a very spiritual person."
"I still am most comfortable in an Orthodox shul."
Luke: "What do you miss and what do you not miss about being Orthodox?"
Ron: "I don’t know that I miss anything because everything I loved about being Orthodox is in me — the smells, the sounds, I can still daven if I want to. There’s a lot I don’t miss. I don’t miss the prejudice. I went to yeshiva. Very strict yeshivas. In the fifties, those yeshivas were very tough. It’s not something I miss… I don’t miss the anger and hostility that is part of that world towards people who aren’t.
"After I stopped being shomer shabbos, I became a devotee of a Hindu monk. Friday night I’d get in my Volkwagon and drive to Oakland, CA to be with this teacher and put a red dot on my forehead [and bow down and meditate]. I thought, if my zayde could see me now… I left that world after five years."
Luke: "Do you miss Orthodox community?"
Ron: "I don’t miss that. I don’t like to join groups. I’m a very private person. That part of it was never exciting to me."
"My mother (one of 14 children) died recently. She was 96… I haven’t put tefillin on in 30 years. I went to my shul in Tribeca and this is what I don’t miss. I’ve been a member of this shul for years. I’m a lefty. I put tefillin on my right arm. I forgot something about. The rabbi was looking at me and didn’t come over to help me and that freaked me out."
"I called this rabbi in Queens to officiate. He takes me to the yeshiva. He says, your family for 60 years have been contributing to this yeshiva. I had no idea."
"My real name is Saul Rifkin. I graduated college in 1959. To be an actor in those days Saul Rifkin, I took my sister’s name Ronit. I wouldn’t change Rifkin. I thought, if I ever did well, I want my parents to be proud of me."
"When I was an apprentice at Summerstock, I had a small part and I had to light this guy’s cigarette. I said to the director, I can’t do it on Friday night and Saturday. I can’t strike a match. He said, you have to do it.
"This was a Southern uptight guy.
"They took the part away from me. It was one line."
Question: Have you encountered anti-Semitism?
Ron: "Not really. We, the people in show business, are very open. We’re not really prejudiced at all for the most part and people who become actors or writers or dancers or musicians are very respectful of people’s roots."
"I have run into anti-Semitism from Jews. I’ve been told I’m too Jewish… There is an idea in show business that you shouldn’t be too Jewish."
Luke: "Do you get embarrassed by the behavior of other Jews?"
Ron: "I get embarrassed by vulgarity, by people who are rude, by people who aren’t kind and respectful. Somebody who walks around with tzitzit hanging out or a sheitl or a skirt down to her ankles, no."
"I could lay tefillin every morning and say shacharis by heart and it was all by rote. I was shuckling and suddenly I thought, what am I doing? This has become a habit. I need to find out what my connection to G-d is…"
Luke: "What did you take away from your five years of [Hindu] practice with that monk?"
Ron: "Not to judge anyone. Ever. And not to be judged."
"I lived at the ashram for a while. My wife called me Hinjew. It was a fantastic time for me. I just knew that when it was over, it was over."
Luke: "What about when you encounter evil?"
Ron: "What does that have to do with what I took away?"
Luke: "I asked you what you took away from five years of Hindu practice. You said you took away to never judge anyone. If you never judge anyone, how then do you relate to evil? Jews react passionately to evil. We judge."
Ron: "I’m talking about judging people’s spiritual beliefs. I don’t want people to judge me based on the fact that I’m not shomer shabbos and I don’t want people at an ashram to judge me because I didn’t meditate for two hours Wednesday morning."
Luke: "We judge other people’s political beliefs, their competency with their work…"
Ron: "I’m a Democrat. I was having dinner with my cousin and I said, ‘I can’t believe I’m sitting with a blood relative and she voted for Bush twice.’
"My wife was kicking me under the table."
"We have to be very careful how we express [our political beliefs]."
"It would be very hard for me to be friends with someone who voted for Bush."
Man: "What about working for someone like that?"
Ron: "I would choose not to."
"I have very strong feelings about this administration."
"This administration makes me crazy. I could kill, that’s how crazy it makes me. People are dying. There’s a war we shouldn’t be in."
"When people say, you won’t go to Heaven unless you accept Jesus…"
Luke: "Does that bother you?"
Ron: "I think it’s stupid."
Luke: "Are there prominent people in America who you fear?"
Ron: "What’s your thing about fear?"
Luke: "I like passionate emotions, like love, hate, fear."
Ron: "I fear intolerance."
"I stopped acting from 1982 to 1990. I didn’t like the parts I was playing. This kid wrote a play for me and I won a bunch of awards."
"I don’t have the kind of intelligence people in politics should have. Barak Obama is really brilliant. Hillary Clinton is really brilliant. George Bush is really dumb. Look at the difference when they speak and what they talk about and their use of the English language. That’s enough about George Bush. He’s an idiot."
Sunday. 10 a.m. Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller and his sex therapist wife Doreen hold what they say is their first joint session in a quarter century. It’s about deviant sex and it’s filled with pages from the Talmud and the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.
The room is jammed with about 150 Jews.
Doreen’s practice is filled with Orthodox Jews. One woman came to her because she and her husband had been unable to consummate their marriage. Doreen introduced her to dildos. The wife learned to penetrate herself. Doreen told her to have her husband watch. The couple said no because then their children would be born deformed.
We study the Talmudic texts which say that if a man looks at that place, his children will be born deformed.
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is in his twenty-seventh year at UCLA Hillel as director. He previously served as Hillel Director at Ohio State and as Rabbi of Congregation Ahavat Achim, New Bedford, Massachusetts. He was ordained in 1971 at Yeshiva University where he also earned a Masters Degree in Rabbinic Literature. Rabbi Seidler-Feller is a lecturer in the Departments of Sociology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA where he teaches courses on the “Jewish Experience in Contemporary America”, on the “Social, Cultural, and Religious Institutions of Judaism” and on “Philosophers and Mystics”. He serves on the Governing Council of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, on the Advisory Council of EDAH, a voice of Modern Orthodoxy and is a founding member of Americans for Peace Now. Chaim is the founder of the Streisand Center for Jewish Cultural Arts at UCLA Hillel and was a rabbinic consultant to Barbara Streisand during the making of the film Yentl. Chaim is the recipient of the Youth Education Stairways (YES) Award as exemplary clergyman in recognition of these efforts. He is married to Dr. Doreen Siedler-Feller and is the father of Shulie and Shaul.
Dr. Doreen Seidler-Feller is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA Medical School where her responsibilities include supervising residents and interns and teaching third-year medical students selected topics in the psychology of doctoring. She also has a private practice of Clinical Psychology. Dr. Seidler-Feller received her MA in Clinical Psychology in 1973 from The Ohio State University and went on to receive her PhD in Clinical Psychology in 1980. For five years, she was an assistant professor at California State University and for four years, she lectured in Psychology at The Ohio State University. From 1968-1969, she was teaching associate and taught in conjunction with playwright Arthur Sainer.
Sexual Repression and Obsession in Traditional Jewish Practice: The Case of the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh
Although the Jewish tradition is generally open-minded regarding sexual behavior within marriage, certain repressive ideas have gained currency over the centuries and have determined sexual attitudes within elements of the Orthodox community. The claim of this workshop is that the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, a popular 19th century halakhic work read broadly by Yeshiva High School students, is largely responsible for the dissemination of these ideas. Among the issues to be discussed will be masturbation, tzniut in dress and modesty in sexual intercourse. We will read the texts, explore the origins of these teachings, look at alternative sources, and discuss the psychological impact of these prohibitions and inhibitions.
Doreen: "In the course of working with her, I had brought her to the point where she was comfortably able to insert a dildo, which she acquired from me, dildos of various sizes, as a bridge to working with her partner. I told her to ask her husband to look at what you are doing so that he can orient himself."
"She came back to me the next week and she said to me, ‘He can not look there. It is not allowed. If he looks there, my children will be blind and disabled.’"
"I was shocked by that. I don’t like to give people prescriptions they can’t follow. I don’t want to injure them. I don’t want to be insensitive. That’s the basis for this study session because I was at a loss to understand what she was talking about."
Rabbi Seidler-Feller: "When I was at yeshiva high school, the only source of information we had on sex was the kitzur Shulchan Aruch… Once in a while we’d have a rabbi who’d say things like, ‘Keep your hands out of your pockets.’
"There was a whole mode of transmission that was allusive and suggestive but nobody talked directly to us so the boys looked in the book. Over the years, I thought, how damaging."
"I went on the YU tour of 1964 and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin was our tour guide and all these guides, me too, had these private sessions with Rabbi Riskin. You could talk openly with Rabbi Riskin."
"Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried (author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch) was Hungarian… That reinforces those who of us who have particular prejudices [about Hungarian Jews]."
"I lived in Borough Park. I was surrounded by Hungarian Jews."
A man in the audience tells Doreen that men are dogs and fixated on sex.
Doreen: "Why? Because sex serves a wide range of functions for you, not only those connected to being a dog, but to being intimate with another human being, succulence, nurturing… You’re being reductionist to the point of absurdity. We have to think more broadly about male sexual desire… [The Talmudic sex ethic] depends on a mechanical construction of the model of a man."
Rabbi Chaim: "How can we as religious people deal with lust? Shouldn’t the holy person be clear of all lust?"
"I see young students who are becoming more religious. They don’t read the Rambam. The Rambam is the loser in the battle for the Jewish world. They learn the manuals, which quote all the most stringest opinions."
"This [extreme attitude towards sex] comes from the mystical tradition."
"The Zohar says that masturbation is the worst sin. It’s the only sin for which there is no forgiveness… It caused the flood."
Doreen returns to the troubled couple she mentioned at the start of the class: "I taught him how to insert the dildo without looking."
I say, quoting Dennis Prager, that society’s greatest challenge is channeling male sexual drive into useful ends.
Gail Labovitz asks me if the male desire to rape is socially conditioned.
I didn’t get a chance to answer. I’d like to think my whole life is an answer to that question.
Just between you and me, I’m a product of MTV. Without it, I’d never lust after women (aside from my future spouse, and then only during the permitted times of the month).
Sunday afternoon, Jewish Journal Editor Rob Eshman moderates a panel on Jews in Hollywood. The discussion is a mind-numbing collection of pious cliches (livened up by the contributions of actor Josh Molina who sat with me at dinner Friday night). Here’s 15-minutes of audio.
Josh says he went to yeshiva through eighth grade at Westchester Day School and once walked out of an audition because he would not eat pizza during Passover.
In 2002, Molina went to a rally for Israel. He was to sit in the celebrity chairs at the dais. At the sign-in table, nobody knew who he was.
Josh wondered why so few Jews in Hollywood support Israel.
Joan Hyler says that suicide bombers in Israel over the past few years pushed Amy Pascal (head of Sony) to get involved on behalf of the Jewish state.
Jill Cutler: "We just sold a television show to AMC. Our lead character is not Jewish. His father is the comic relief of the show. Somehow we got into a conversation about my grandmother. She lives in a Jewish home for the aging. So the father who is not Jewish lives in a fancy old age home in New York and he chooses to live there because Jews know how to take care of their own."
"We’re looking to show Jews in as positive a light as possible, but not in your face, it enhances the story."
Here’s Jill’s bio on the LimmudLA website: "Jill Cutler is currently President of Winkler Films, Oscar-winning director/producer Irwin Winkler’s production company. From 1991 to 2006, Jill was a motion picture literary agent for Creative Artists Agency. During her time at CAA and Winkler Films, she has worked with some of the most high profile screenwriters, producers and directors in Hollywood."
Ron Rifkin says he’s been asked to play Shylock about ten times and always refused because "I don’t like the way Shakespeare talks about Jews. I know it’s a great play…"
Josh Molina(?) says: "In general, the portrayal of Jews on screen is very positive, with Ari Gold a rare exception. It has something to do with Hollywood being 50% Jewish."
Ron Rifkin: "I don’t know if I agree with you, but I can’t think of examples now."
On the verge of falling asleep, I go upstairs and take a nap.
I hear great reviews on Rabbi Elazar Muskin‘s presentation at this time on the history of the yarmulke.
I meet a bloke named Brent. He has a shaved head and works at EBay. Each time we shake hands, he twists my hand under his, even though I resist. He says it’s a business trick he does to men to establish dominance.
It ticks me off. I’m the uber-blogger. Don’t try to dominate me or I’ll blog about you.
I’m told the session on Arabs and the internet was "all porn. It’s good for your image that you skipped it."
Talmud Professor Gail Labovitz (she has a Ph.D. and rabbinic ordination from JTS) has a way with titles. I attend her "Guerilla Girls of the Talmud" class Friday night. She discusses five women in the Talmud who challenge the patriarchy.
During the rest of the sessions we share, I always see this ardent articulate feminist knitting yarmulkes as she engages in the great questions of life.
Gary Wexler keeps interjecting in all the classes I share with him. It’d be annoying if his points weren’t so smart.
I catch several sessions with the world’s sexiest grandmother, Professor Arna Poupko Fisher. On Friday afternoon, she wears these long black riding boots and talks about her shopping spree at Barneys.
She has her own horse at home in Cincinnati.
Dr. Fisher says a woman came up to her at LimmudLA and said she was amazed at how much she had changed over the past 15 years.
Then Dr. Fisher was chareidi and married to a rabbi. Now she’s more modern and married to a businessman who became Orthodox for her.
Arna says she got her driver’s license suspended because she got so many tickets. When she eventually got everything under control and was driving under the speed limit, she spotted a cop one day and said, "Aren’t you impressed with how I’m driving? I haven’t had any tickets in months."
The cop responded: "You’re all we talk about, Dr. Fisher."
At Dr. Fisher’s Sunday afternoon session on Jewish belief, I pop up, "With an insignificant number of exceptions, the only people who are going to observe the Torah are those who believe it comes from G-d."
That’s the only religious belief that truly matters. Belief in G-d is not a big deal, notes Dennis Prager. It is whether you believe the Bible comes from G-d. If you do, you’ll take it seriously.
All the rest of theology beyond ethical monotheism doesn’t matter much.
Clive Lawton is my biggest discovery at LimmudLA. He helped found the UK Limmud in 1980.
Here’s audio of his Saturday night talk on "What are Jews for?"
* That Jewish day schools in Los Angeles are a $150 million per annum business (of which only $120 million are covered by tuition).
* I’m told that LimmudLA is less intellectual than LimmudNY. That LimmudLA needs to do more outreach to intellectuals (academics, rabbis and the like) as well as to Persian, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews.
At Debbie Friedman‘s concert Sunday night (I sit next to Rabbi Seidler-Feller), she says before singing her perennial "Mi Shebeirach" healing prayer, that she wants us to bless each other. We’ll sing the song once together and then we should let her sing it once to us.
"You can’t put out and receive at the same time," she says. "If you want to resist something, put out."
There’s widespread laughter.
It wasn’t Debbie’s best choice of words.
Monday morning. I catch Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller’s lecture on "A Jewish perspective on the relationship between Judaism and Islam."
The rabbi says it is important to dialogue with other religions but it was very difficult to dialogue with Islam. After two years, he gave up.
"To do real dialogue, you have to be able to talk not only about all the good things in your tradition, but you have to be able to talk about the bad things. Masochism is not my way. If I’m going to reveal some of the negatives [about Jews and Judaism], politically, that’s what they’re most interested in, and the Muslim participants sit there absorbing it all and never letting go of themselves, you’re just human. I became resentful and I left.
"I came back to a meeting and told them why I left. Everybody was upset and resentful. There were some good people there…"
"I want you to be able to recognize fundamentalism…[including] in your own community. Thank God our fundamentalists are not militants, some are."
"If we had listened to Daniel Pipes, most probably there would not have been a 9/11.
"So why didn’t we listen to Daniel Pipes? Because you couldn’t. He made everything so bad that no one could believe him."
"You have to speak a language people can absorb. If you say they are all bad and the only good Muslims are Zionists, no one’s going to believe you. First of all, those Muslims, no one cares about them except Jews. Why do we need Muslims to be Zionists? We need Jews to be Zionists."
"We need strong Muslims who believe in their cause who we can argue with… I’m not hopeful."
"The Muslim critics are mostly in the West. Muslim critics are very scared…that they’re going to die."
"Nietzsche called it a slave morality. We developed our morality in the conditions in which we were oppressed. Therefore, we developed a whole theory about how to deal with those who are vulnerable in society. No empire developed a theory about how to deal with those who are oppressed."
"My teacher and friend Krister Stendahl taught me…that when they (his Harvard students) study [New Testament] texts in their class which are anti-Jewish… Number one. Contextualize. That passage has to do with the First Century. It has nothing to do with Jews today. Number two. If you can, reinterpret those texts."
"Every religious tradition has baggage."
"It has to be identified and reinterpreted if possible."
"We’re supposed to wipe out the seven nations. That’s not a good verse. The worst thing you can do is justify it."
"One of the reasons for our survival is the interpretative tradition."
"Stendahl says contextualize, you have to give it some history. History is important. History neutralizes the sense that it is divine ordinance. You have to live on two levels. That you believe it is God’s word and that it has history. Once you historicize something, it gives it a sense of life. It lived in the world. You give it some context. It is not eternal."
"Second, reinterpret. Third, if you can’t reinterpret, sometimes you have to make a judgment and say that it is immoral. That is very difficult."
"There is a pre-history of the Koran. The problem is that people who do research about the pre-history of the Koran can get killed because it is God’s word. When you proclaim that something is God’s word, it is a good thing to be moderate. It’s dangerous.
"That’s the story I was going to tell before. When we had a dialogue between Jews and Muslims, and they asked us all to come with a story from our Tradition. I was a wise guy. I chose the story where the [Talmudic] rabbis rejected God’s miracles. The Christians loved it. The Muslims were sitting at the edge. I told myself, good thing this is on Hilgard Avenue. If this were the Middle East…"
The rabbi draws his finger under his neck.
"People who do historical studies on the Koran are taking their lives into their hands. This guy wrote a Ph.D. at the University of Cairo on the literary analysis of the Koran and they rejected his Ph.D. and they made sure that his professor could not teach again."
"They have a very bad problem. We can’t work it out for them. We suffer for their problem. When I debate with Muslims, I talk about this. What right do I have to be critical of Islam? I say, I’m suffering for the things they’re teaching. I’m going to talk about it. It’s no longer theoretical."
The rabbi reads an excerpt from the Koran calling Jews apes and swine.
"When you call people apes and swines, that’s a causus belli."
"The garbage in the Koran was there all the time. It was there in Spain when Jews and Muslims got along well. In good times, no one paid attention to this. In bad times, it all came to the surface.
"There was no motivation within Islam [to deal with these garbage texts]…because Islam was dominant throughout its history. The theory of Islam is that Allah is with us. There is no mechanism in Islam for dealing with bad times. In 1967, Islam was in turmoil [because Israel won the Six Day War]. History is not history in Islam. It’s theology. It’s the unfolding of God in the world and the Muslims are supposed to be on top, particularly in their world. And the Jews come along and defeat them.
"We are the cause of the rise of Muslim fundamentalism. If you read the literature, the Muslims say that 1967 was a sign that the Westernization of Islam was a cause of the decline of Islam and we have to cleanse Islam to return to an Islam that never existed."
"The need for equality [between Muslims and non-Muslims in Muslim lands] doesn’t exist anywhere in Islamic writers."
A woman educated at Aish Ha Torah says: "I’m a little confused about Islamic history being the unfolding of God. I learned that history was the unfolding of God in Judaism and that everything that was happening now was part of the End of days scenario. Isn’t that the same thing?"
Rabbi: "Be careful with that. I don’t know anything about the End of days."
Woman: "I hear one thing from one group and another thing from another group. How do I know which group is right?"
Rabbi: "What we have to focus on is making this world better. You want the End of Days? Make this world better and you’ll have the End of Days."
"When you get into magic, you’ll have the Muslims say we are the unfolding of God in the world and Jews will say we are the unfolding of God in the world, and you’ll have a party and people will kill each other. That’s what people do when they want an unfolding of the End of Days… People are going to die for the One Truth."
"[According to the Koran:] Jews have Torah and mitzvot because God is punishing them."
"Not everything [the Torah] says the pagans did do we have evidence for. When you’re trying to say I’m right and the other guy is wrong, you’re going to try to make the other guy look bad."
"Why do they hate the rabbis? Because we choose to correct God’s word. We have the arrogance. Jews are arrogant. That’s a standard accusation in Islamic literature."
"All the sources for the Rambam’s Guide For The Perplexed are Muslim. There’s not a single Jewish philosopher that he can quote that undergirds his philosophical thinking."
"The Rambam says I’m not always going to give you the name [of my source] because you’ll get excited."
"For the most part, the glories we attribute to the Golden Age was a construct of scholars of the 19th Century as a polemic against Christianity."
"What’s so attractive about Islam? The prayer line and the haj. There’s a humility in Islam. If you’re a practicing Muslim, there you are on the floor with everybody. Same with the haj. The opportunity to be part of the oneness of being and you sense some transcendence."
"You have a tradition that prides itself on self-criticism and another tradition that tries to cover up. One people is called Yisrael, meaning struggle with God. One people is called Ishmael, which means obediance, submission."
"Muslims are individually humble and collectively arrogant. Jews are individually arrogant and collectively humble."
The rabbi gives me permission to put his speech online.
On the last session Monday, I catch the play "Modern Orthodox." It is more modern than orthodox, filled with sex talk and steamy kissing, yet several parents, including Orthodox parents, have no problem with their small children taking in this deviant hump-filled performance.
I wish my conscience wasn’t so exquisite or I wouldn’t be bothered by such things.
Leaving LimmudLA, I’m at such a height of holiness that it verges on the impossible for any woman to view me as an erotic object. It’s a small price to pay for being Your Moral Leader.
I offer Todd Schechter a ride to Los Angeles but warn him he’ll have to sit in the back. I don’t describe my van and the fact that there are no seats in the back.
So, Monday afternoon, I’m walking to my van with my friend Michal and Todd. We throw his stuff in the back. He looks in and sees with horror there are no seats. Only a grim iron mess. He turns green and mentions he had a bad experience in a van.
Not sure if some bad man picked him up in one when he was at a tender age and forced him to do things against the strict instruction of Leviticus. Todd does not elaborate.
He wonders how long a drive it is to L.A.
I figure if I tell him the truth, he won’t get in, so I lie and say "45 minutes."
I know this is against the Torah but it’s jolly fun for me.
Todd clambers in reluctantly and for the next hour and a half I get my jollies at his expense, swerving all over the road, commenting on how "the brakes seem to be working today" and singing Debbie Friedman’s "Mi Shebeirach" number until both Michal and Todd want to end their miserable existences and go on to the True World.
Around LAX, Todd confesses he’s nauseous. I tell him to give us a heads up before he chunders so Michal can videotape him.
That makes Todd go all up stubborn and stiff upper lipish though when I finally dump him out in Brentwood at the Coffee Bean and drive away, I imagine he collapsed in a heap and initiated his first personal relationship with G-d.
It’s the worst car ride in the life of this Horace Mann graduate (except perhaps with the mythical bad man who coulda touched him inappropriately and driven him to become a "social entrepreneur").
Perhaps I never let him out of my van? Here are the last known pictures of Todd Daniel Schechter still alive. He keeps up such a brave front in the face of terror. Donate now to Luke Ford through paypal if you’d like to see Todd set free so he can make another amazing presentation about bridging differences at the next stop on the Jew circuit.
From Todd’s MySpace: "A native New Yorker with big plans, I’m a smart ass, a little cocky, don’t like whiney or lazy people, and think disagreement is healthy. Having said that I can get along with just about any kind of person that’s out there. If you want a list of more stuff about me here it is but you really wont know till you find out: creative, demanding, understanding, passionate, opinionated, sensitive, adventurous, ingenuitive, energetic, self-aware, and up for anything. Love being active, doing things, but I also like to occasionally veg out at home too. I Like music, food, politics, theatre, film, dancing, eating, cooking, conversation, architecture, museums, walking, Skiing, Acting, Performing, Learning, Lectures, Teaching, Reading, Meeting people, Writing, Photography, Building, Fixing, laughing, stargazing, and just about everything else. You Dig?"
PS. I’ve got post-limmud letdown and I’ve had to make a video to express my feelings.
Palestinian stand-up comic Ray Hanania (who said this weekend that as a consequence of this Israeli-Palestinian comedy tour, he’s lost all his bookings with Arab audiences) blogs Feb. 15.
This devastated me. I went into therapy for years to talk about it.
As the years rolled by, I made new friends through my blogging.
At the moment, a ton of people stay away from me because my blogging creeps them out. A smaller number of people approach me because they like my blogging.
I try to keep my priorities clear: There are a few relationships that are so precious to me that I will not endanger them through my blogging. Aside from those relationships, my blogging comes first.
Because I live on the edge, I know a lot of people who live on the edge. I say to myself and to them — identify the relationships most important to you and do what you need to do to maintain them.
One day in seventh grade (1979), my teacher Audrey Judd wanted to get me more involved. I was socially isolated. She had me write a story that included all of my classmates.
I did. I loved it. My classmates loved it.
I’ll never forget the impact it had. I learned that when you write about people, you get their attention.
I know it’s not cool to admit this but I love to grab attention.
Hey, read me!
LimmudLA is just like seventh grade. Just as 30 years ago everyone was hyper about what I was writing on them, today the limmudniks are all hyper about what I’m writing on them. I gotta give props to the one person out of the many concerned who had the balls to talk to me. All the rest are a bunch of cowards.
That’s so cool! With fex exceptions, nobody cares what the Jewish Journal writes because it’s a boring newspaper. But Little Ol’ Levi, Torah Jew and Moral Leader extraordinaire, shines his Jedi light across the internet for Jew and goyim alike, arousing them from their moral stupor!
Now all I need are the right Air Supply lyrics to go with this drama — and a wife!