A Woman’s Voice
Thoughts of Monica Lewinsky consumed me thisweek. Her name, her face, the too intimate details of her life. Icouldn’t escape the 24-year-old former White House intern whoseallegations against the president have brought on the worst politicalcrisis of the decade. No matter how much I know, I’m compelled to godeeper. There’s a story that the media is missing. For me, she’s aJewish girl, a Jewish daughter. She is my younger, more naïveself. She is one of our own.
I have never given a moment’s thought to GenniferFlowers or Paula Jones. Never wondered about their backgrounds, theirparents, their education. I assumed that they were part of aright-wing cabal, that they were after the presidential deep pockets,looking for money. They were from another part of the world, far fromthe New York/Los Angeles/Jewish axis that defines you and me.
Now, of course, I wonder: Will a nice Jewish girlfrom a well-to-do family bring down the Clinton presidency? Thequestion is too titillating to ignore, too unnerving to bear.
The media has portrayed her as a spoiled rich kid.Don’t be fooled by the $1.6 million price tag on the house where shegrew up or the $20,000 vacations or the fancy cars. She comes from afamily much like our own, from a home where the underdigested horrorsof the 20th century were played out each night at the dinnertable.
Of all the facts of Monica’s young life, this isthe one that grabs the throat: Bernard Lewinsky, Monica’s father, aradiation oncologist, was born, according to a biographical listing,in El Salvador in 1943. His parents, like most of the Latin AmericanJewish community, were refugees from European terrors. According todivorce proceedings reported in The New York Times, there was nightlybickering at the dining-room table, with the father’s insults sosevere that Monica fled to her room in tears.
Did the rage and anger expressed at the familydinner table somehow evolve into the Clinton affair? Is the Lewinskyfamily a variation on the “Shine” syndrome, in which a father’sunresolved contact with history explodes at the family’s expense? Andif not the Holocaust, what other scars of history were etched on thisfamily? Tragedy does not spring from nowhere. Why did MonicaLewinsky, questioned for nine hours by the Secret Service, resistcalling her father until her mother insisted, as newspaper reportssuggest? Why did Monica reportedly at first refuse her father’s help,even his attorney? Look to your own family for an answer.
I have seen not a single mention of Lewinsky’sJewish roots, other than her start in West Los Angeles’ ConservativeSinai Temple Hebrew school, where her mother, Marcia, did her turnassisting at Purim and Passover programs. As with Heidi Fleiss andRon Goldman, code words are today used to imply what once would havebeen explicitly named. “Beverly Hills” or “wealthy doctor father”have been allowed to suffice.
And, yet, the inability to recognize these Jews asJews is dangerous; it shows a desire to distance ourselves from theshaping forces of our past.
We have yet to accept our history for its good andits ill. We have yet to find a way to constructively analyze thepersonal cost of the 20th century on our psyches and our homes: theDiaspora, the pogroms, the constant uprooting only to strive again.Silence is deafening.
“There’s no Jewish issue here,” I heard over andover the past week. On America Online’s Jewish community chat lastweek, I repeatedly heard this script: “Monica’s Jewish?” “Then, howJewish?” “Does she belong to a synagogue?” “Well, then, does she keepkosher?”
I understand the impulse. I too want this scandalto end. In fact, I am prepared to argue that Bill Clinton’s sex life,even with a Jewish woman, is his own business. But I’d also maintainthat the character and lack of judgment of that Jewish woman is ourbusiness.
This character and judgment was at least partiallyshaped in a Jewish home. Jewish women tell me that they feel enraged,threatened, isolated and shamed by the events of last week. Some ofthis is the universally shared sense of betrayal by Clinton, a manwho, as Tom Friedman so well stated it, impeached his own character”with low crimes and Miss-demeanors.”
But Jewish women also understand the dynamics oftheir families, the way Jewish history and personal identity cometogether through our children. “This isn’t just Monica; this is mydaughter too,” said a woman whose own child is Monica’s age. I knowwhat she means: In order to make their way in the American world, westill train our girls to worship power, to get their successvicariously, to vamp for Daddy, and if not for him, then for thepowerful men who will take away Daddy’s discomfort and pain.
Do not confuse the pain Jewish women feel inregard to Monica Lewinsky with garden-variety feminism. This is notthe Packwood affair. Sen. Bob Packwood’s women detested him. WithMonica, the problem is more intimate; it is love.
I feel a kinship with Lewinsky, not in herstrengths but in her weaknesses. She is every single mother’snightmare, and every single Jewish mother’s tragic foreboding. BillClinton said that he had an “emotional” relationship with this childof a broken home. To which this Jewish mother says: God help us all.
Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist for TheJewish Journal, will host authors Lisa and Carolyn See at theSkirball Cultural Center on Sunday, Feb. 8. Her e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
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