Glen Berger. Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Wandering Jew leads Glen Berger on path to ‘Underneath the Lintel’

Glen Berger’s 1999 play, “Underneath the Lintel: An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences,” began when “I was getting over a breakup, living with my parents again and was fairly miserable,” Berger said from his home near Hudson, N.Y.

The playwright, 49, didn’t find solace in the Judaism he had studied at a Reform synagogue during his childhood in McLean, Va., which he had abandoned after his bar mitzvah. “I didn’t know if the religion spoke to me enough at that point to say, ‘This is something I’d like to continue,’ ” he said.

But during that troubled time, Berger “had an epiphany,” he said. “I got it into my head that there was a type of music that I really wanted to get my hands on. I kept going to the stores and would spend way too much money buying Balkan accordion music or Gypsy this and Armenian that. I kept orbiting around a kind of music I kept hearing in my head but couldn’t quite find.”

Berger had almost given up when, on a whim, he purchased a recording of klezmer songs from the 1920s. “As soon as I played it in my car on the way home, I knew this was it,” he said. “On a deep DNA level, it just spoke to me. There was a minor-key melancholy that at the same time was defiantly jaunty. It was shocking to me because I realized, ‘Oh, this is Jewish.’ ”

Berger also realized that much of his previous work had been inspired by his heritage, but in disguise. His 1991 play, “The Wooden Breeks,” spotlighted a lighthouse keeper who spends his days and nights studying tomes on natural history.

“I came to see that he was actually like a talmudic scholar,” Berger said. “And I’d written one-acts where I was describing these towns with crooked streets, which I thought were like 16th-century British villages. But the more I saw photographs of Jewish ghettos, the more I realized those places in my head more resembled shtetls. I concluded that if I couldn’t quite get into Judaism through the front door, the pure religiosity of it, maybe I could get in through the side door.”

And so Berger sought to write a play that evoked the spirit of klezmer music he perceived as “dancing despite it all.” His mind turned to the 13th-century legend of the Wandering Jew, a cobbler who supposedly refused to let Jesus rest in his lintel (doorway) on the way to his execution and was cursed by the condemned man to wander the earth until the end of days.

While the legend is anti-Semitic, Berger sought to reclaim the character as a more sympathetic figure who is harshly punished for trying to save his own life from threatening Roman soldiers.

“Underneath the Lintel,” which runs at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood from Oct. 10 to Nov. 19, became a metaphysical thriller, a one-man show narrated by an unnamed Dutch librarian who believes he is on the trail of the Wandering Jew. It all begins when he comes across a Baedeker’s travel guide that had been returned through the library’s book slot, 113 years overdue. Determined to track down the person who had returned the book and collect the fines, the librarian zeroes in on a dry-cleaning receipt from London that had been stashed in the book’s pages. When the address listed on the receipt turns out to be in China, the previously sedate librarian sets out on a worldwide quest to find the book’s borrower, whom he comes to believe is immortal.

Along the way, a series of clues helps him piece together the puzzle: among them, a love letter written in Yiddish by a woman in an Eastern European shtetl in 1906, and photographs the librarian finds in the archives at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.

“He is an ordinary man proceeding on an extraordinary journey, just like the Wandering Jew himself,” Berger said.

“Underneath the Lintel” premiered at the Actors’ Gang in Los Angeles in 2001, went on to have a successful off-Broadway run and to be showcased in hundreds of productions worldwide. It will feature Arye Gross when  it opens Oct. 10 at the Geffen Playhouse.

The playwright acknowledged that the Wandering Jew is a metaphor for the Jews as being eternally cursed for rejecting Jesus and supposedly abetting his execution. Some viewers have regarded the play as anti-Semitic; others have seen it as anti-Christian for portraying Jesus as being petty on his way to the cross.

“But a myth can be repurposed to suit our own needs,” Berger said. He cited a 1932 Yiddish-language film that features a compassionate depiction of the Wandering Jew, which was meant to serve as a warning against growing Nazism in Germany.

As for allegations that the play is anti-Christian, Berger argued that he depicted Jesus as a human being who becomes understandably cross with the cobbler who refuses to let him rest in his doorway.

“But the play actually has very little to do with Jews and Christians, and more to do with the active search for meaning and purpose in one’s life,” Berger said.

Gross, who also is Jewish, agreed.

“What interests me about the play is its focus on the moment in one’s life where you have to follow something that wasn’t in your plans,” the actor said. “It happened to Abraham, when suddenly there was a voice telling him to destroy idols and later demands him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. His hand was stayed, but still it’s an example of how something can show up in your life and you now have to follow a different road.”

The lintel of the title becomes a metaphor for standing at this kind of crossroads. And should one choose the wrong path, Berger said, the play explores “how you literally and figuratively keep moving forward.”

“Underneath the Lintel” will run Oct. 10 through Nov. 19 at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. Tickets available at

French rabbi receives threat to ‘punish’ Jews for complaining

The chief rabbi of Lyon,  Richard Wertenschlag, has received a letter threatening to “punish a Jew for every complaint the Jews make on TV.”

The threat came in a two-page letter delivered to Wertenschlag on Aug. 10. It contained two photos of a concentration camp, according to Dr. Richard Prasquier, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, CRIF.

Wertenschlag, who reported the letter to the authorities, opened the letter on Aug. 12, according to CRIF.

The authors of the “small, dense handwritten text” signed with the words “the righteous network.”

They added, “Every time you go on television to complain, a Jew – man, woman, child or family – will be punished.” Further down, the authors wrote: “See you soon at a synagogue, which has already been chosen.”

Wertenschlag called the letter “the expression of anti-Semitic rage and unimaginable hate.”

He said he had received an earlier hate letter in April, which was both “anti-Semitic and anti-Arab,” but decided not to go to police at the time.

Last month French police arrested two youths in Lyon for allegedly attacking a 17-year-old Jewish boy.

The boy is a student at Ozar Hatorah, a Jewish school in Toulouse where, on March 19, a Muslim extremist murdered three children and a rabbi.

Yad Vashem hit with anti-Israel, anti-Semitic graffiti

Vandals spray painted anti-Israel and anti-Semitic graffiti at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.

The slogans written in Hebrew, including “Hitler, thank you for the Holocaust,” “If Hitler did not exist, the Zionists would have invented him,” and “The war of the Zionist regime is not the war of the Jewish people,” were mostly found at the entrance to the museum and concentrated near the Warsaw Ghetto Square and the memorial to the deportees.

Police reportedly believe that haredi Jewish extremists, who are opposed to the state of Israel, believing that it should not be established until the arrival of the Messiah, are responsible for the crime, which occurred early Monday morning.

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, who is a Holocaust survivor, called the vandalism a “blatant act of hatred of Israel and Zionism,” and said that it “crosses a red line.”

Police look into anti-Semitic bullying incident in Northern Ireland

Police in Northern Ireland are investigating claims of anti-Semitic bullying of a boy with Asperger syndrome.

Matthew Lough, 14, told the BBC that he had been bullied at his County Antrim school since revealing during a class on the Holocaust that his great-grandmother was Jewish.

He said one boy was suspended after Lough was hit in the head and knocked to the ground. Police told the BBC on Thursday that they are investigating a March 14 assault.

Others, Lough and his mother told the BBC, have attached swastikas to his school bags and have taunted him with anti-Semitic epithets.

His mother, Sharon Lough, credited the school, Carrickfergus College, with taking swift action, but was concerned at the persistence of the anti-Semitism.

“He has been very unsettled at night-time, having nightmares,” she told the broadcaster. “I would never, ever tell my children not to mention their heritage, because they are so proud of it. I would never deny my Jewish heritage, never.”

Former Phoenix principal sues over gas chamber exhibit

A black Jewish woman is suing the Phoenix school where she formerly served as principal for failing to respond to complaints about a fake gas chamber set up outside her office and then firing her.

Millicent McNeil, who was fired from the Mission Charter School last May 13, filed a $2 million lawsuit in Maricopa County Court claiming that she was underpaid because of her race and religion, and that the school ignored her complaints about the gas chamber, which was part of a Holocaust exhibit, Courthouse News reported.

She alleges that teachers at the K-8 school, saying they were setting up a Holocaust exhibit, made her hallway and office door into an entrance to a faux gas chamber. McNeil says they painted a swastika on the wall outside her door, painted her door black and placed a photo next to the door of a lever that would activate a gas chamber.

McNeil also claims that the teachers wrote “Majdanek Bad Und Desinfektion,” or “Majdanek Bath And Disinfection,” above the door—imitating the sign for gas chambers at the Majdanek concentration camp—and the German word for “women” directly over the door.

Contacted by JTA, a school official had no comment on the case.

Opinion: Our golden calf

How would most American Jews react to the following historical assessment by a noted Yiddish scholar, professor Gennady Estraikh of New York University?

“It is hardly an overstatement to define Yiddish literature of the 1920s as the most pro-Soviet literature in the world.”

I assume that most would shrug it off as no big deal.

But is it no big deal? If a historian at New York University had written, “It is hardly an overstatement to define Catholic literature of the 1930s as the most pro-Nazi literature in the world,” how would Jews react?

We all know the answer. Jews and others would trumpet this as another example of the inherent bigotry and anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church.

But the fact that Jews were producing the most pro-Soviet literature in the world at the time that Lenin was creating the greatest totalitarian state, the least free country, indeed the largest prison in human history means nothing to most Jews.

The most pro-Soviet press in America and in Europe was Jewish. So was the leading Marxist/socialist in Germany during Germany’s short-lived Weimar democracy, Rosa Luxemburg; the Stalinist dictator of Hungary, known for his brutality, Matyas Rakosi; two of the three leaders of the Polish Communist Party at the end of World War II, Hilary Minc and Jakub Berman; the Communist dictator of Romania Ana Pauker; three of the five possible Bolshevik successors to Lenin: Leon Trotsky, Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev; Howard Zinn, the radical historian who believed the world was worse because the United States existed; Noam Chomsky, who has devoted his life to undermining America and Israel; and so many more.

Leftism, not liberalism, has been the Jews’ golden calf — except that the calf never led to all the evil that leftism has. From Karl Marx, the grandson of two Orthodox rabbis, to the many Jewish professors who teach Western young people about American and Israeli perfidy, leftist Jews have a lot to atone for.

Leftism has so poisoned many Jews’ minds that it has otherwise decent Jews believing and saying terrible things.

Take, for example, the best-known American commentator on foreign affairs, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times. He recently wrote that the reason members of Congress gave standing ovations to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was that the ovation “was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

The charge that the support of all the congressmen and senators, Democrats and Republicans alike, can be bought and paid for by the Israel lobby is a classic anti-Semitic libel. Friedman’s left-wing defenders have written that Friedman never wrote “Jewish lobby,” but for nearly every person reading the term — not to mention all anti-Semites — “Israel lobby” means “Jewish lobby.”

The point here is that Friedman is an identifying Jew who has no interest in harming Israel. The only reason he would write something so profoundly helpful to anti-Semites and Israel-haters is that he is on the left.

It was leftism that that led another Jewish New York Times columnist, Frank Rich (now with New York Magazine), to belittle Kristallnacht, when he wrote that American Tea Partiers engaged in a “small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht.”

Kristallnacht, the “Night of the Broken Glass” of November 1938, is considered the opening act of the Holocaust. Why would a Jewish writer trivialize the Holocaust and cheapen Jewish suffering by likening Kristallnacht to Tea Party rallies? Because of his leftism.

A few years ago at UCLA, I debated a UCLA professor on the question: “Is there a moral difference between Israel and the Palestinians?” The professor argued that the two parties were morally equivalent; I argued that there was a huge moral gulf separating them. Who was this man? He was the head of the department of Jewish Studies. Another example of leftism perverting a Jew’s conscience.

And the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, in a speech to the Islamic Society of North America, said, “Why should anyone criticize the voluntary act of a woman who chooses to wear a headscarf or a veil? Surely the choice these women make deserves our respect, not to mention the full protection of the law.” The rabbi’s commitment to left-wing multiculturalism was so strong, it led him to defend —even “respect” — the Muslim practice of covering women’s faces with a veil, one of the most dehumanizing behaviors to women practiced in the world today.

If we Jews are ever to be the “light unto the nations” we are called to be, we will first have to abandon the golden calf of leftism.  Among other reasons, it makes otherwise good people do and say bad things.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (

After anti-semitic vandalism, life goes on at Calabasas High

Read more on this story here.

On April 27, just hours after three Calabasas High School students had been arrested in connection with the anti-Semitic and racist graffiti scrawled on their school’s campus late on the night of April 22, life at this well-groomed, suburban public school seemed to be back to almost normal.

When school employees arrived in the early morning hours of Saturday, April 23, they found the paved walkway between the 11th-graders’ parking lot and the school campus covered with swastikas, along with various other walls and lockers. But by nightfall that same day, the only evidence that remained was a few spots of faded concrete.

On April 26, three male 11th-graders, who have been described as “4.0 students,” confessed the vandalism to investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Their names have not been released because they are minors. After their arrests, the three were released into their parents’ custody.

A spokesman said that the Sheriff’s Department will push for hate crime enhancements in addition to felony vandalism charges against the alleged vandals, which are expected to be filed shortly, once the investigation is completed.

Local news outlets have devoted significant coverage to the incident. A TV news van sat parked in front of the school for much of the afternoon on April 27, right beside the site of the school’s new $18 million performing arts center, which is expected to be completed by next year.

But while some on campus expressed anger at the students believed to be behind the graffiti, by the afternoon of April 27, a calm atmosphere prevailed at Calabasas High School. For every angry student or parent, Jewish or otherwise, there seemed to be equal numbers who seemed unfazed.

Alan Bell, a Jewish father of an 11th-grader, sat in his pickup truck, waiting in the carpool line. “I think she was concerned, but I don’t think she was bothered,” Bell said of his daughter.

“This has happened before,” Bell added, referring to a January 2010 incident when a Jewish student at Calabasas High School found a swastika carved into the hood of his car. Nobody was found in connection with that case.

“As a student body, we’ve really come closer together,” Josh Levin, an 11th-grader who was recently elected student body president, said of the aftermath of the vandalism.

“There was a point when students were very angry,” Levin said. “There were petitions online to have physical retribution and things like that, but there were a bunch of student leaders who said this isn’t a good idea. It’s not good to fight violence with violence.”

Alan Levy, a Jewish 11th-grader, seemed more surprised than distressed. “It’s pretty ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t know why anybody would do this.”

The “why” question remains mostly unanswered.

Principal C.J. Foss said that the students who vandalized their school were angrier with the school in general than they were at members of one specific ethnic or religious group. “They felt like they had been mistreated, that they had been insulted, and they wanted to hurt back the school,” she said.

The graffiti included racist remarks against blacks and Latinos, and swastikas, which are often considered to be equal-opportunity offenders. Nevertheless, the scrawlings — which included the names of four Jewish students in the 11th grade as well as the names of two 11th-grade teachers — appeared to have been particularly anti-Semitic.

Foss said that was due to Calabasas High School’s large Jewish population. Estimating that at least 60 percent of the school’s students are Jewish, Foss said that the alleged vandals focused their anger on “high-profile” Jewish students.

“One of them said he didn’t even know one of the boys” whose name was included in the graffiti, Foss said, “but he knew that he was the president of the Jewish club. And if the perception of the school is that this is a Jewish school, and you want to hurt them, I think that’s why they chose the Nazi flag and those symbols.”

Members of the media, law enforcement and school administration have said nothing publicly about the three 11th-graders. But on April 27, rumors were circulating among the students at Calabasas High about which of their classmates had confessed to the vandalism.

“My kids are saying that by next week we’ll know who they are, because we’ll know who isn’t showing up,” Sheri Salimi, the mother of two Calabasas High School students, said.

According to a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, when the three alleged vandals confessed, they told investigators that the students whose names they had scrawled across the walkway had been “picking on” them throughout the school year.

But those who knew the students whose names were mentioned in the graffiti didn’t believe that was the case.

“I know many of the kids personally, and to say that they were really harassing other students or things like that would be the biggest shocker in my mind,” Levin said.

Levin was sitting in the outdoor lunch area at Calabasas High School on April 27, taking a short break from his late-afternoon class in broadcast media. Behind him, a dozen girls on the school’s dance team huddled around a picnic table eating a pizza, laughing.

“There’s going to be a high school bully anywhere you go,” Levin said. “I guarantee you, all the students named on that list are not the typical high school bully.”

Principal Foss sees this as a reminder of how important engaging students on the fringes can be. “We all spend a lot of time on the campus,” she said, “and I purposely try to go up to the kid that’s sitting by himself, engage him in a conversation. It’s something I’m very concerned about and spend a lot of time with.”

Considering how some disaffected students at other schools have expressed their frustration in recent years, Foss said she has thought that Calabasas got lucky in at least one way: The students used cans of spray paint instead of guns to send their hate-filled messages.

“It has occurred to me,” Foss said, her voice dropping to a whisper. “And I have heard that comment from students.”

United Teachers Los Angeles just says ‘no’ to Israel divestment push by union commitee

Under a tidal wave of pressure from the local Jewish community, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has decided to deny use of its headquarters to a UTLA committee planning to host a meeting to discuss the launch of a local boycott of sanctions against and divestment from Israel.

In an release issued late on Oct. 5, UTLA President A.J. Duffy said he favored canceling the planned Oct. 14 pro-Palestinian gathering because it will “only polarize our union members and members of our community.”

However, the UTLA’s Human Rights Committee might still choose to hold the gathering elsewhere, even though Duffy has lobbied several committee members to scrap it, UTLA communications director Marla Eby said.

“It’s still up in the air,” she said.

The planned gathering would be sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of a group called Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS), a new outfit that, according to its Website, includes author Noam Chomsky, who has been sharply critical of Israel, as well as revisionist historian Howard Zinn as board members and which has tight links with Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, a student-activist movement that peaked in the 1960s. The gathering is officially endorsed by the Los Angeles Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee and by Cafe Intifada.

Still, some Jewish leaders seemed to appreciate UTLA President Duffy’s efforts to put distance between the union and the Human Rights Committee.

“I’m proud of what the UTLA has done,” said Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the western region of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress).

Earlier, Rowen Taylor had said that allowing such a meeting to take place on union property would give the appearance that that UTLA endorsed divestment and a boycott, which it does not.

A draft letter to Duffy from several Jewish groups, including the Zionist Organization of America, AJCongress, the Jewish Community Relations Committee and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, among others, thanks him for sending “a clear message that UTLA does not endorse the [Human Rights] Committee’s action.”

Leaders from several major local Jewish organizations met at the L.A. Federation on Oct. 4 to discuss how to respond to the planned event. Duffy also attended the two-hour gathering. Duffy, several participants said, told the group he is Jewish, supports Israel and sympathizes with their concerns. He told participants that UTLA’s 30-plus committees enjoy much autonomy and that their positions don’t necessarily reflect the union as a whole.

Duffy said, in the release, that he had removed UTLA’s Web link to the Human Rights Committee and that UTLA would review its procedures for granting use of its facilities to union committees. In an interview Oct. 5, Duffy added that he found the brouhaha a distraction.

“Let me put it this way, I’d rather be focusing 100 percent of my time to the contract negotiations going on, rather than this [meeting],” he said.

Duffy said he had received far more pro-Israel calls and e-mails than pro-Palestinian communication.

Representatives from UTLA’s Human Rights Committee declined to comment. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) said he believes the group is “made up of a fringe of anti-Semites.” The congressman added that perhaps UTLA should create a new committee for teachers supporting Israel.

The Human Rights Committee’s mission statement calls for “social justice and the peaceful resolution of conflict for its members and other staff, students, parents, the community, the nation, and the global economy.”

After learning about the planned anti-Israel meeting, local Jewish groups united in their condemnation, characterizing the event as anti-Semitic and criticizing the UTLA for initially allowing its headquarters to be used.

“This is worse than a black eye. This goes to the heart of [UTLA’s] credibility,” said Stephen Saltzman, western regional director of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), before the UTLA announced the gathering could not take place on its property. “This is the largest teachers’ union west of the Mississippi allowing itself to be used by extremist radicals who want to launch a campaign to attack the state of Israel and do so with the implied endorsement of the people teaching our children.”

Paul Kujawsky, vice president of the Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles, and a fifth-grade teacher at Germain Street Elementary Street in Chatsworth, said he thought UTLA could make better use of its time grappling with such important local issues as high-school drop-out rates.

“As a union member, I’m furious that we are attempting to have our own foreign policy when there are so many important educational issues to be addressed,” Kujawsky said before Duffy’s announcement.

A release put out by the Los Angeles Chapter of the Movement for a Democratic Society said the meeting’s purpose is to support the Palestinian people and call for a boycott, divestment and sanctions.

“When Israel was created in 1948, 75 percent of the Palestinians were forcibly dispossessed of their lands and forced into exile,” the release says, adding that “Israel’s apartheid and racist system of oppression closely resembles that which South Africa once had…” An MDS spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Amanda Susskind, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said the strategy for boycott, divestment and sanctions is really a “campaign for the elimination of the state of Israel, spearheaded by extremist groups who use the same hateful rhetoric as states like Iran and terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.”