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The New York Times devoted 1,500 words last Sunday to a biographical profile of Monica Lewinsky, the 24-year-old woman who allegedly had an 18-month affair with President Clinton and who has been accused of lying about it under oath.
The New York Times’ reporters are nothing if not thorough. We learned just about everything about young Monica.
But nowhere was there a word indicating that she was Jewish.
Perhaps that is as it should be. There was no mention of Linda Tripp’s religious background or Kenneth W. Starr’s either. That Monica Lewinsky is Jewish clearly has no resonance in the mainstream media. The implication of that astonishing fact seems fairly straightforward: To be Jewish is simply to be American. Beyond the fringe world of Internet hate groups, most of which consist of marginal men and women in our society who have regaled fellow chat room users with references to her religion, there is no ethnic imputation, no stereotyped past or present. Monica Lewinsky, for many Americans, is just another young woman from a privileged, upper-middle-class family. Beverly Hills and Brentwood conjure up more associations than her Jewishness.
And that is the way it should be.
But, of course, we know that she is Jewish; that her parents are members of Sinai Temple; that she was a bat mitzvah there some 11 years ago; that there were relatively few strong affiliations with Jewish organizations here; but, nevertheless, a good number of friends who were Jewish, including her father’s attorney, William Ginsburg, a medical malpractice specialist who now represents her.
And so the question — so what? — hangs above us in some unstated way. To The New York Times and most of its readers, that she was Jewish remains largely beside the point. We are way past those days of the old anti-Semitic canard about the Jewish Temptress. And for that, if nothing else, we should be grateful.
But what about us, the Jewish community of Los Angeles? Are we, too, so thoroughly part and parcel of this wider America that her Jewishness is only an incidental sidebar, a curiosity that merely causes a blink of recognition and a guess at her genealogy?
We know that Fred Goldman turned to his fellow Jews in Los Angeles for support during the O.J. Simpson trial, after his son, Ron Goldman, was murdered along with Nicole Brown Simpson. Indeed, his havurah, a study group, became a rock that helped sustain him throughout those gray days of despair.
To be sure, there is no comparison between a father’s unrelieved grief in the face of his son’s killing and the charges that confront Lewinsky. But do we stand apart with most other media consumers, reading with fascination, and not a little incredulity, the next unfolding chapter of the story? Is Monica Lewinsky, for us, as she is for The New York Times, simply another young American woman wrapped in a startling series of tawdry episodes involving the president of the United States?
Or is she, by reason of birth and background, part of what we assume to be family, a member of the tribe? Someone who may or may not have acted foolishly and improperly, may or may not have broken the law, but someone we recognize, embarrassment aside, without exchanging a word?
And if so, without judging whether she behaved well or badly, within the bounds of the law or outside of it, do we offer a hand, a shoulder, a word, even a murmur of friendly encouragement? Do we extend just a show of personal acknowledgment and a joining of hands, a nod that says we all rise and fall together no matter what direction our journeys have taken us? — Gene Lichtenstein, Editor-in-Chief