I thought of this story recently in an incident with the American Jewish University (formerly, the University of Judaism) in Los Angeles after my organization, This World: The Values Network, approached the AJU to ask if they would partner with us on a West Coast version of my debate with Christopher Hitchens, the world-renowned atheist and humanitarian who is battling esophageal cancer, on ‘Is there an Afterlife?,’ which we had just staged at the Cooper Union in New York (the DVD is available on my website).
The AJU responded with an offer to have their Whizen Center host the event and pay me as a speaker, bringing in Rabbi David Wolpe and author Sam Harris to make it a four person debate. They made it clear, however that they had a very limited budget and could therefore offer a small stipend, to which I readily assented given my normal practice of accommodating important organizations with limited funds. I later discovered, however, that the tiny budget seemed to apply only to the religion, rather than the atheist side of the debate, a matter I raised with Dr. Robert Wexler and Mr. Gady Levy, who run the esteemed speaker program. I shared with them the point of principle that, while there may have been a misunderstanding here, the community ought to try and treat its own with the same respect it treats others and simply telling me that unless I accept their offer the event, which we conceived, will proceed without us is unacceptable. We are currently in discussions to fix the matter so that this important debate can be staged for the Los Angeles Jewish community.