September 25, 2018

COVER STORY: When Night Falls in the Desert

There seems to be a geographical determinant in literature. The New York novel concerns the individual (searching for himself), his associate/antagonist in the quest, the City itself. 

The hero in the Chicago novel is searching for a living. His and her task is less effete. The city here is neither friend nor foe, but neutral — it is an environment whose savagery may and must be overcome, whose lawlessness is not that of the impersonal/established, but of the Frontier. It is a mechanism getting, spending, inventing and destroying, and neither the city nor its heroes have time for “self.” 

(“The Great Gatsby” is an effete work, schoolchildren are taught to consider it as such, and write about the symbolism of the light at the end of the pier. Dreiser’s “The Financier” is a trilogy about Street Traction.) 

New York was settled in the 17th century, Chicago in 1835. And it seems Los Angeles has never been settled at all. 

New York’s lifeblood has always been trade, between established locations: with Europe, and the Eastern Seaboard. 

Chicago, which Mencken called the first non-European city in America, grew as the Factor/Merchant to the West — the magnificently situated interchange between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, and the Frontier. Qho had the time there, or the inclination, to consider “self”? Only the effete, writing for the Little Magazines and so forgettably aping the New York (and, thus, the European) mode. 

Now see Los Angeles, a coastal wasteland between the barren desert and the salt sea. 

Its literature begins with Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast” (1840), a sailor’s account of California coasting, shipping and trading, and the vicissitudes of that lifeless coast. The literature recommences with the novels of the 1920s and the infecundities of the motion picture business. 

What is the nature of the land, as Moses asked his spies going to Canaan: Is it good or bad, fruitful or barren? The nature of Los Angeles is this: It is a desert. 

Its first wealth came from petroleum, that good desert crop. It is most famous as the Mother of Movies, which are enjoyed in the dark. 

As is everything in The Desert: The daylight, for the desert creatures, scorpions, lizards, or movie producers, is to be endured. Life truly begins when the sun sets. 

The true literature of Los Angeles is a record of commerce with and in the dark. It is the detective novel and, particularly, the Noir. The literature of Los Angeles is pulp fiction. 

The denizens of this desert-at-night are concerned neither with finding the “self,” nor with making a living in a difficult world; they want to kill their spouse for the insurance. 

The L.A. Noir is not a struggle between Good and Evil, it is one in which Good has not even been entered. 

The nominal heroes of these pulps are — however interestingly written — flags of convenience. What do the Continental Op or Philip Marlowe actually want? To find a killer, of course; but why? They may have personality but, finally, it derives flavor rather than substance. 

Consider the Bible as Literature. 

There are these miscreants living on the frontier. There is no one who is on the up and up. We have liars, thieves, adulterers, murderers, the near-infanticidists, the incestuous, the cheaters and the cheated; things which cannot possibly get worse get worse continually; and the whole damn place comes under the influence of the Oppressor (the Cattle Baron, the Outlaw King, the Black Hat — here called Pharaoh). 

A hero arises. He is asked to Clean Up the Town (see “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “Blazing Saddles”). This is the staple of the Frontier Myth: the reluctant hero. 

But with the Exodus from Egypt, the desert narrative changes from the Frontier Novel to the Noir. 

Now the desert story is not sheepherders against cattlemen, the Sown against the Wild (the Bible story prior to Moses), now we enjoy the tale of a unitary, though corrupt, entity (L.A., or in this case, the Jews), and its pressed-into-service Sheriff. 

Philip Marlowe wants to keep his feet up on the desk and drink. Moses wants to herd sheep. The P.I. is drawn into the hunt by the beautiful or pathetic dame, Moses by God, and they both go among charges trying to instill a bit of order. These arbiters of the Desert Loathsomeness are, finally, a writer’s convenience. Remove the P.I. and we have the truer version of Los Angeles, the Noir tout entiére of the pulps (Horace McCoy, not Raymond Chandler). There is a good historical precedent for these novels of desert perfidy, and their reluctant Sheriff: It is the Bible. 

Both sets of desert dwellers lie to them, plot against them, and try to get away with murder. 

Episode by episode, in the Noir and in the Chumash, a bit of truth is revealed, and the particular upheaval is quelled. It will break out again in the next novel and in the next parashah. At the end of each sequence the hero, essentially a catalyst, returns to his desk or his tent sadder but no wiser than before: It’s the Jews, or it’s Chinatown, and there you have it. 

What is Moses’s objective? The same as that of Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade: to do the dirty job he was assigned as honorably as possible. What is his reward? That’s his reward. 

The P.I. goes back to get drunk, and Moses (like every movie cop who’s trying to do some good) gets fired for subordination. 

For there is no good in the desert. The sun goes down and all the crawling things emerge and try to eat each other. 

The novel’s nature, it seems, is determined by the nature of the writer’s geographic situation. Proust is trying to recapture memory in the taste of a cookie. The influence of Civilization (consider it effete or magnificent) lessens on its Westward way until, fetched up in Los Angeles, we find again the saga of savages caught between the desert and the salt sea, their blinded confusion by day, and their dark deeds at night — the stories of the Bible come again. © 2018 by D. Mamet


David Mamet is an award-winning author and playwright.

The Playwright and the Magician

What do you get when a master writer meets a master magician? If it’s David Mamet and Ricky Jay, you get an evening of fascinating and highly entertaining conversation. The recent sold-out event to primarily discuss Mamet’s latest novel, “Chicago,” was produced by Live Talks Los Angeles at the New Roads School’s Ann and Jerry Moss Theatre in Santa Monica.

A heralded author of contemporary American literature, Mamet has written 23 plays, eight collections of essays, two novels, five children’s books, two books of poetry and 18 films, including “The Verdict” and “Wag the Dog,” for which he received Academy Award nominations. He won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1984 for “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Jay is the acclaimed sleight-of-hand artist, actor and author. He’s the only magician ever profiled on the television series “American Masters” and is the subject of the documentary “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay.” He is the author of a half-dozen books on swindlers, con men and unusual entertainers, and has appeared in seven films and three one-man shows directed by Mamet.

A big-shouldered, big-trouble thriller set in mobbed-up 1920s Chicago — “a city where some people knew too much, and where everyone should have known better” — “Chicago” is Mamet’s first novel in more than two decades. His style of writing dialogue, marked by a cynical, street-smart edge, precisely crafted for effect, is so distinctive that it has come to be called Mamet Speak. Mixing his fictional creations with actual figures of the era, “Chicago” is suffused with Mamet Speak and explores questions of honor, deceit, revenge and devotion.

What inspired Mamet to write his first novel in 20 years? “I’m crazy about Chicago,” he said. “It’s a working people’s town. And I’m fascinated [by] the 1920s.” Mamet said he was further inspired by Rich Cohen’s 1999 novel, “Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams,” which traced a generation of Jewish gangsters from the candy stores of Brownsville to the clubhouses of the Lower East Side.

The two longtime friends indulged in freewheeling conversations as they discussed Mamet’s theater training with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, writer-actress-comedian Elaine May, writer-cartoonist Shel Silverstein, Anthony Trollope’s novels and singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie. They even discussed the cartoon character  Woody Woodpecker, of whom Jay said, “Woody Woodpecker was not actually funny; he was funny for a woodpecker.”

Mamet and Jay also discussed the similarities between drama and magic. In both, you set up the audience as best you can to go along with the internal logic, and, Mamet noted, at some point, “you’ve just got to ask for the money.”

Only the audience can teach you to write drama, Mamet said. His response to the question, “What can I do to prepare for a career in writing television?” was, perhaps, the perfect Mamet response: “Cut off your genitals and eat them.”


Mark Miller is a humorist and journalist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written on various sitcom staffs.

David Mamet: ‘Tournament of Charoses’

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Calendar: October 11-17

SAT | OCT 12

“THE HEBREW HILLBILLY”

Yeehaw! Shelley Fisher’s Hollywood journey begins in Memphis, Tenn. — and growing up Jewish in the Deep South with dreams of performing can make for a colorful childhood. This one-woman musical show, with 14 original songs by Fisher, Kenneth Hirsch and Harold Payne, is a deeply personal and hilarious ride. Directed by Chris DeCarlo. Through Nov. 3. Sat. 8 p.m. $35. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (800) 838-3006. SUN OCT | 13

“A DAY OF JEWISH LEARNING AND MUSIC”

Like harmony? Torah? Community? So does the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music! Come be a part of a day of prospective students, cantorial soloists and cantors. Whether you are there for the new repertoire, the professional networking or the spiritual nourishment, you’ll leave with a tune in your head. The program will be followed by an evening of song and story open to the community. Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $25. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jack H. Skirball Campus, 3077 University Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 749-3424. ” target=”_blank”>theautry.org.

SEDER ARTS NIGHT

Don’t worry, it’s not officially Passover — but that doesn’t mean we can’t create some order. Attend a Nu ART SEDER and help directly fund new, creative and uniquely Jewish or community-led projects aimed to inspire. Attendees get a delicious vegetarian meal and a chance to vote on artists’ project submissions. Sun. 7 p.m. $18. RSVP to sederlosangeles@gmail.com. Gabba Gallery, 3126 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. TUE OCT | 15

“CREATIVE COLLABORATION IN MUSIC AND ARCHITECTURE”

Frank Gehry, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Nicolai Ouroussoff are in discussion about the process of planning, developing and constructing the Walt Disney Concert Hall. With a Harvard graduate and internationally reaching architect, a conductor laureate and former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and a Los Angeles Times and New York Times architecture critic moderating, the evening will be a special peek into expert passions. Tue. 7:30 p.m. Free (ticket required). Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 443-7000. WED OCT | 16

“THE BEETLE”

With his first child on the way, a rusty yellow Volkswagen Beetle and a nervous wife, Yishai Orian did what anyone would do in his position — he made a documentary. Follow the writer/director as he journeys to meet the previous owners of his beloved car, an auto-renovator in Jordan and, finally, his own newborn. Funny, exciting and sad, the documentary is a testament to letting go and moving forward. Wed. 6:30-8 p.m. Free. UCLA, Perloff Hall, Room 1102, Los Angeles. (310) 825-9646. ” target=”_blank”>laphil.com.


THU OCT | 17

GIL HOFFMAN

 

Let’s assume you can’t ever get enough of Israeli political commentary — well, neither can this guy! As the chief political correspondent and analyst for The Jerusalem Post, Hoffman is well connected to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, interviewing every major figure across the Israeli political spectrum. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, he wrote for American papers before joining the Israel Defense Forces and eventually became “the most optimistic man in Israel.” So, listen up — the man has things to say. Thu. 9:30 a.m. Location to be determined. (323) 761-8000. “>performingartslive.com.

A politically correct seder [CARTOON]

Passover cartoon

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A response to stiff-necked playwright David Mamet

This piece is a response to “A note to stiff-necked people” by David Mamet which first appeared on JewishJournal.com on Nov. 1.

David Mamet recently asked the following questions of “Jews planning to vote for Obama.”  Herewith, my responses.

Are you prepared to explain to your children not the principles upon which your vote is cast, but its probable effects upon them? 

Yes.   My children will be struggling with climate change for their entire lives, which is one major reason I am voting for Obama.  I live in New York, and I do not want to see a Hurricane Sandy every year.

Irrespective of your endorsement of liberal sentiments, of fairness and “more equal distribution,” will you explain to your children that top-down economic policies will increasingly limit their ability to find challenging and well-paid work, and that the diminution in employment and income will decrease their opportunity to marry and raise children?

I would explain that, if there were any evidence of it.  I’m not sure what “top-down economic policies” you are referring to.  The “trickle down economics” of the last Republican administrations have widened the wealth gap, caused middle-class wages and savings to fall, and led to the financial crisis by aggregating risk at the top.  Moreover, the Republican refusal to invest seriously in education means that China is going to kick my children’s collective butts in the coming century.  For these reasons, the best vote for my children is a vote for Obama.

Will you explain (as you have observed) that a large part of their incomes will be used to fund programs that they may find immoral, wasteful and/or indeed absurd? And that the bulk of their taxes go to no programs at all, but merely service the debt you entailed on them? 

I will.  The largest shares of the federal budget are the military (spending which Romney wants to increase), Medicare, and Social Security.  All the rest is window-dressing.  As for the debt, Romney’s absurd additional tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% — including you, Mr. Mamet – cannot be paid for and will increase the burden on my children.

Will you tell your children that a liberal government will increasingly marginalize, dismiss and weaken the support for and the safety of the Jewish state?

If I told them that, why would they believe me instead of the Israeli generals who said that the Obama administration is the most pro-Israel in American history?   Really, what’s causing the marginalization of the Jewish state is the right/far-right alliance in the Israeli government which is undermining Israeli democratic ideals.  I will tell my children how I lived in Israel for three years, and how I continue to care about the state now – which is why I support the majority of Israelis who want peace, not more confrontation.

Will you tell them that, in a state-run economy, hard work may still be applauded, but that it will no longer be rewarded?

Yes.  Fortunately, only conspiracy loons on the far-right believe that the U.S. economy is state-run. 

Will you explain that whatever their personal beliefs, tax-funded institutions will require them to imbibe and repeat the slogans of the left, and that, should they differ, they cannot have a career in education, medicine or television unless they keep their mouths shut?

No, since this is demonstrably untrue.  Please provide a single example.

Will you explain to them that it is impossible to make a budget, and that the basic arithmetic we all use at the kitchen table is not practiced at the federal and state level, and to suggest that it should be is “selfishness?”

No, since this also is untrue.  First, as economists (rather than playwrights) understand, the  federal government is not a household.  Household debt is very bad; government debt is sometimes bad, sometimes good.  What is “selfishness” is to increase that debt so that the wealthiest 1% of Americans can enjoy a tax cut, can pay no taxes whatsoever on overseas income, and pay no taxes upon inheriting millions of dollars.

Most importantly, will you teach them never to question the pronouncements of those in power, for to do so is to risk ostracism?

Of course I will not teach that.  I personally have been ostracized from parts of the Jewish community for my support of a moderate Zionist organization, J Street.  However, I would rather be ostracized than abandon my love of Israel and the Jewish values on which I grew up.

Are you prepared to sit your children down and talk them through your vote on the future you are choosing for them?

Of course.  As a gay man married to my partner, I will explain how Mitt Romney wants to destroy their family and make it impossible for them to be the legal children of their two fathers.  I will explain how a small handful of neo-conservatives are making a ‘deal with the devil’ with fundamentalist religious know-nothings who believe that rape is sometimes a good thing and that evolution is a “lie straight from hell.”

Please remember that we have the secret ballot and, should you, on reflection, vote in secret for a candidate you would not endorse in public, you will not be alone.

Fortunately, I am not a hypocrite.  I do not do one thing in private and another in public.  For the sake of my children, my country, my Jewish people, and the world in which I live, I am proud to be voting Obama.

David Mamet: Uncle Maury and the Chris-Craft

Imagine a new member to the family. The real or prospective son- or daughter-in-law is not sat down and explained the family ways, nor given diagrams, lists and rules for behavior. They are told stories.

The stories the family tells, the order and frequency in which they occur, their importance in the history (indicated generally by the hilarity with which they are received), and, indeed even the inevitable family disputes as to facts of time, place and dramatis personae, instruct the newcomer in expected performance.

Why is it remembered that Uncle Maury thought a Chris-Craft was a raft for Christians? It certainly means something, else, why was it both remembered and repeated with glee?

Perhaps it was meant to explain how unassimilated or naïve he was, and how the current family, in contradistinction, can’t be distinguished from the Gentiles. Perhaps it is told in love, teaching the newcomer how the family, though now indistinguishable from its Christian neighbors, harbors a profound respect for the Immigrant Generation, who build us all a life, while lacking understanding of the American Language.

I may have a third meaning. The newcomer will most probably not be consciously aware of a meaning (whatever meaning) the story carries. But he will remember it, and the circumstances of its telling, and the attitude of the family.

The Torah is a family story. It may be understood as the Family of the Jews or of the West or of Man, but it is the story of a family. It begins with the dyad and continues through their descendants and into the Nation State.

Each generation and its individuals are described and treated primarily as actors in a family drama; Abraham and his wife and sons, one of whom he almost slays; Isaac, and how he found a wife; Jacob, the mother’s boy, and the way he fooled his father and alienated his brother Esau.

Jacob had 12 sons, and the squeaky wheel, Joseph, was hated by them. They took him out and lost him. Then the no-good son became the effective king of Egypt and brought the others down there. Which brings us to the story of Moses, his brother, his sister and the Family Business.

If these stories were retold in a modern vernacular, it would be seen that they, in their wonders, anomalies, unsettling dissonances and ironies, are no different in kind from Uncle Maury and the boat; Aunt Shirley and the losers she keeps marrying; Sherman and Hy, and their lifelong squabble over the Carpet Store; or the way Aunt Harriet was due to get on the Plane That Crashed, and the Little Old Lady told her not to go.

Those who might protest the inconsistencies or impossibilities of the Bible should listen closely to the jokes and squabbles at the next Seder.

They will find the Family Table stories have their own trope, and are repeated much as the Torah is read; with special emphasis; both to make them memorable, and to reveal their hieratic nature. And they will note the disputes arising over every story. No, that was not Aunt Harriet, that was Aunt Sal; and it didn’t happen at the Lake, but that year in the Mountains. They will see, further, that the commentaries (“I told Bess that I never liked him,” “Susan did the exact same thing in 1955 — I wonder if it runs in the family”) are themselves canonical, thus, effectively the Talmud of the family tale.

What boor would say, “I do not believe that one can smuggle a twelve hundred pound swordfish across the U.S. border, or that a woman can marry not one but three husbands with Exactly the Same Name?” The family myths, presenting themselves as entertainment, are, like all great entertainment, deeply satisfying, ennobling and constructive of community unity. They are not presented as a test for the rationality of their recipients, as if they were a “Find the Errors in This Picture” puzzle in some magazine for children. The newcomer will find, as he enjoys, wonders at, (and thus, imbibes the ritual presentation and the commentary) that he is not so much learning about the family, but becoming one of them.

An actual introduction to the characters of the myths is irrelevant. Though they exist in their own right, they, as characters in the family Torah, are archetypes, who may, at best, bear a name similar to that of the uncle whose hotel burned down on his wedding night, or the woman passing the charoset.

This is the genius of the Torah. It is the bedrock of Western Civilization, and the stories it tells, if we Jews and Christians repeat them, read them, study and argue about them, make us a part of the Family of the West, as their rejection makes us visitors.


David Mamet is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony- and Oscar-nominated playwright, essayist, screenwriter and film director. His latest book is “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture” (Sentinel).

Letters to the Editor: David Mamet, Dennis Prager, USC Hillel

Their Country, Right or Wrong

In “At What Cost?” (July 27), David Mamet asserts that the national debt has doubled under President Barack Obama and that government has increased massively in size. Both are inaccurate; see for yourself at factcheck.org. If the armed forces have been depleted, they’ve been depleted by wasting resources and lives on a pointless war in Iraq for which there was never any valid justification and which has destabilized the Middle East and presented Iran with unprecedented opportunities. President Obama has in fact boasted inaccurately of military spending cuts that he actually has not managed to make. The crippled economy was brought to us by the two terms of President George W. Bush.

As for Mamet’s vague claim that there has been “a decrease in the freedom of the individual and of the states,” I can’t imagine what that could be — I got a jury duty notice recently, but that’s about it. His piece was a sad illustration of the old adage regarding the man who knows (and repeats ad nauseam) the cost of everything but the value of nothing. Our rabbis have given us a hefty legacy of the obligation of all of us to care for one another. We’re all in this together, and we rise or fall together as a community. Whether one isolates oneself at home reading too much Ayn Rand or not, no man is an island.

Deborah Singer-Frankes
Los Angeles

Kudos and bravo to David Mamet for his spot-on article about the current state of affairs in this country and how tragic is the road we are currently heading down. I have voted Democratically my entire life, however as Mamet captures in his article, the past four years have all but broken our country — certainly another four years of Obama will put the nail in the coffin. For the first time in my life I will be voting for the Republican nominee, and I do hope there are thousands out there like myself who understand the ramifications of what is going on and who wish to preserve what this country stands for, having been built on principles of capitalism, the American Dream and freedom — not socialism and government control.

Mia Adler
Beverly Hills


Prager Is Blowing Smoke
Dennis Prager’s article on the tobacco tax (“Why I Voted Against the Tobacco Tax,” June 29) cites no scientific evidence or logical arguments supporting his opinion. Instead, he uses the standard debating tactics of straw arguments writing about the evils of alcohol and abortion. (Does he wish to bring back Prohibition?) The tobacco companies spent $50 million to defeat Proposition 29. Scientific evidence clearly shows that raising the cost of cigarettes decreases their consumption. Decreasing cigarette consumption will lead to fewer tobacco-related illnesses, which cost $193 billion in annual health care and lost productivity. Rather than restricting civil liberties of the smoking population, a tobacco tax would help cover the added costs of smoking-related illness in these Americans. Statistics provided by the American Lung Association indicate the lifetime medical costs for smokers is 32 percent higher, smokers take 25 percent more sick days, and, on average, companies spend $1,100 more per year on health care for smoking employees.

Dr. Andrew Wachtel
Inaugural Board Member,
American Lung Association of Los Angeles
Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine,
UCLA School of Medicine


USC Hillel’s Mission

In response to David Suissa’s article “Passionate Judaism” (July 20), I’m compelled to share that USC Hillel does not offer another denomination to which we hope young Jews will affiliate. While we look at participation, we are equally focused on creating meaningful Jewish experiences for students who never enter our doors and for whom being Jewish is a choice. We do this by going to them. 

USC’s recent trip to Israel, the Casden Institute, HUC, USC’s Jewish Studies program and the Shoah Foundation Institute all paint a picture of a vibrant Jewish story on our campus. USC Hillel has spearheaded activities such as a retreat for LGBTQ students, a Jewish & African-American initiative to connect our two communities, and a basketball tournament to raise money — to name a few. Birthright, the Campus Entrepreneur Initiative (CEI) and the Jewish Film Competition will engage and help more than 1,000 students build Jewish community this year.

Regarding the engagement of students, there is no magic bullet; however, when we widen the lens, you can see how our Hillel collaborates to inspire one Jew at a time. Mr. Suissa and others, if you want the real scoop about USC and campus life, e-mail me anytime.

Michael Jeser
Allen & Ruth Ziegler Executive Director
USC Hillel Foundation


An Embarrassing Peep(s) Show

This showcase of Mike K. in My Single Peeps (July 27) floored me and, frankly, embarrassed me as a Jew. I have no animosity nor prejudice toward Mike K., and I wish him well, but to showcase someone wearing a tattoo and in the porn industry — as he quotes, “It’s something that I know how to do better than anyone else” — is way out of line for a “Jewish” publication.

You should try to keep this more in line with what is proper for a Jewish publication and not try to placate everyone who might read it. The quality and selection of some articles leaves something to be desired for the Jewish community at large.

Saul Bernstein
Los Angeles


Dear Editor:

Steve Greenberg’s disgusting cartoon in the Jewish Journal portraying Orthodox Jews as bloated obese non-working, military exempt, separationist charedim, crushing the weight of the Israeli chair, is deeply offensive, and demonstrative of the self-hating-Jewish anti-Orthodox animus that permeates the Jewish Journal. The menacing black faceless grotesque Orthodox behemoth threatening Israel’s existence is reminiscent of anti-semitic caricatures of Jews in Nazi Germany’s Der Strumer. If the point of Greenberg’s cartoon was to show how the Orthodox population has increased from 400 to tens of thousands, then he could have drawn the 2nd panel of his cartoon of the increased masses. Instead, he stooped to the gutter, and portrayed Torah scholars as caricatures of evil.  It is simply shameful.

Respectfully,
Baruch C. Cohen, Esq.

David Mamet: At what cost?

It has been suggested that the purpose of a college education is to ease the transition into adulthood. After several decades teaching college-age students, I would agree, only substituting delay and prevent for ease.

Eric Hoffer wrote in “The Ordeal of Change” (1963) that the secret of America was the trauma undergone by the immigrants. They — my ancestors and yours — came here with nothing, most ignorant of the language, most ignorant of the land and the cultures, and ignorant of what would be expected of them. Having suffered to learn the above, they were, in effect, born anew. Their strength was the lack of fear of challenge. They had paid for the immunity.

Little, and nothing of worth, is acquired without cost. Even the love of family, and even the love of God must be earned, kept and reciprocated. But the organization or individual who refuses to acknowledge cost, who demands goods, services or status as a right rejects the essence of Americanism and the hard-won heritage left us by those who paid.

There is a cost for education. Teachers must be paid. That education not paid for is appreciated by students in direct proportion to its cost.

There is a cost for housing. Someone must improve the land and build the structures. Private enterprise must strike a bargain with buyers or potential buyers and find a mutually attractive price. The cost of subsidized housing is decline in building (what builder or landlord would work to sell at a loss?) and/or quality, and increase in graft and corruption. (Someone along the line — administrator, bureaucrat or clerk or functionary — is, finally, in charge of doling out sub-cost housing; and he has a powerful incentive to subvention and theft, as the potential occupant has to bribery.)

There is a cost for food. That one-seventh of Americans are now receiving some sort of government dole in food is not a sign of compassion, but of money leached from the actual economy (free exchange of services and goods) — which money must, if left in the free market, produce jobs, which produce groceries.

There is a cost for health care. The result desired by most Americans is not improved insurance, but improved care. Semantically, this misunderstanding is about to bankrupt our country. The profession of medicine exists to promote care. Insurance exists to increase premiums and decrease service and claims. That is what insurance does. To reconfigure the patient-doctor relationship into one of patient-bureaucrat is, as we watch, the destruction of the profession of medicine, and a triumph of the notion of equality. Under Obamacare, there will be third-rate, grudging, non-responsive health care for all. The cost of this illusion will be national bankruptcy.

There is a cost for security. The cop on the corner carries a sidearm, as the community has licensed him, secondarily to use force, and primarily to advertise the community’s intention to protect itself. This advertisement would be less effective were he only to carry a bumper sticker.

The same is true globally. Peace is preserved in the world not through the proclamation of good intentions, or the sick suggestion of guilt, but by the creditable advertisement of power and of the nation’s willingness to use it. An individual, a community, a country may delude itself that “we are all alike, and if we could just sit down at a table …” and so on. But we are not all alike. The homeowner and the burglar cannot coexist happily. Nor can Israel and Islamic jihad. One must suffer.

Mobility has a cost. Energy must come from somewhere, and its location and difficulty of extraction will carry a price. The wealthy can buy electric cars and vote for entire landscapes defaced by windmills*, but how will the trucks bring them their food?

Knowledge has a cost. Magic phrases may hide but cannot change the eternal, difficult realities of war and peace, poverty and wealth. Our denial, in four years, has cost this: the doubling of the national debt, the massive increase in the size of government, a decrease in the freedom of the individual and of the states, the depletion of our armed forces, a crippled economy.

There is no way to “ease the transition” into national health, but we may accept the trauma; which is to say, face our difficulties and, like all other immigrants, figure out the price and choose to pay it.

Our choice in November is between a businessman, with expertise in cost-benefit analysis, and a community organizer who offered to trade us our cow for the magic beans. And now it’s time to reckon up the cost of his performance.

* Landscapes are also defaced by strip mining, but only one of the two processes provides useful energy.


David Mamet is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony- and Oscar-nominated playwright, essayist, screenwriter and film director. His latest book is “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture” (Sentinel).

Letters to the Editor: Job searching, Buy Israel, David Mamet, Global Warming

Job Search Process Is Ineffective, Demeaning

Even though organizations like JVS have WorkSource centers on Wilshire Boulevard and in Marina del Rey, the jobs through JVS are all online (“Still Unemployed: Out of Luck but Not Out of Hope,” Nov. 25). The process of finding jobs online is not effective.

Back in the day, faxing resumes and answering ads in the paper were more effective. Today, ads say “no phone calls please,” which is limiting.  

There are no responses from online applications (at least for me), and they make you go through more hoops of fire to get a low-paying job. For instance, Bloomingdale’s makes you answer 200 questions before you can even apply. Then you get an e-mail stating whether you are “invited” to meet with them or rejected.  

The whole process, including phone interviews, is degrading.

Diane Goodman
Los Angeles


Buy Israel, but Not From West Bank Settlements

We wholeheartedly agree with the Buy Israel Week concept. We warmly endorse products made in Israel and we do it enthusiastically, but we make a clear distinction between what is made in Israel and what is manufactured in West Bank settlements. Settlements are an obstacle to peace. They are intended to jeopardize the two-state solution. We do not buy products made in the settlements, and we hope others won’t either.

Unfortunately, the Buy Israel Week supplement (Nov. 18) ignores the important distinction between products made in Israel and ones made in the West Bank, where military occupation is hindering peace for Israel.

Buy Israel? By all means! But don’t buy into the misrepresentation of West Bank settlements as a part of Israel.

Arthur Stern and Sanford Weiner
Regional Co-chairs
David Pine, Regional Director
Americans for Peace Now


Have Compassion

David Mamet rails against excess chesed causing weakness (“Conflict, Choice and Surrender,” Nov. 18). But what about chesed deficiency?

Aside from its intrinsic value, compassion is a major source of strength; it usually engenders credibility and respect. Flexibility is an obvious strategic advantage in being able to form alliances. Even in cavemen days, the willingness to understand another point of view and ability to compromise was orders of magnitude more powerful than wielding a larger club. Don’t we all know at least someone who, despite superior talent and hard work, fails due to lack of flexibility? Regimes whose names are all too familiar may get some temporary gains from severe chesed deficiency but go down in ignominious defeat.

Mamet also tells us to look away from ulterior motives and focus on outcomes of political and economic proposals. The problem is that if we could agree on the outcomes, we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place. Trickle-down economics produces prosperity. Really? As such, biases and credibility do count a great deal. This brings us back to chesed. Chesed deficiency is also a malignant process, eventually expanding beyond the adversary and turning on one’s own. Maybe this explains Mamet’s characterization of Reform Judaism.

Hyman J. Milstein
Studio City


Global Warming: It’s Science, Not Left vs. Right

Here goes Dennis Prager again (“Man-Made Global Warming: Why Many of Us Are Skeptical, Parts 1 and 2,” Oct. 28 and Nov. 11). He sees everything as left versus right, and the left is always wrong. Here he calls the serious scientific concerns over the human impact on global warming the latest “doomsday scenario” in a “long line of left-wing hysterias.”

What he ignores is that in a 2009 survey conducted by Peter Doran, University of Illinois at Chicago associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, of 3,146 earth scientists (selected from the nonpartisan American Geological Institute’s Directory of Geoscience Departments), 90 percent agreed that mean global temperatures have risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and 82 percent agreed that human activity has been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures.

Doran found that climatologists who are active in research showed the strongest consensus on the causes of global warming, with 97 percent agreeing that humans play a role. Doran said that climatologists are “the ones who study and publish on climate science. So I guess the take-home message is, the more you know about the field of climate science, the more you’re likely to believe in global warming and humankind’s contribution to it.”

Doran concluded that “the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes.”

If only Prager could understand “the nuances and scientific basis” of this important issue rather than force it into his obsession to demonize liberals.

Stephen Rohde
Los Angeles

Dear David Mamet: Reform Judaism doesn’t surrender

Read David Mamet’s opinion piece here: Conflict, choice and surrender

David Mamet’s recent, meandering tirade demands a response, even if cogency permits only a partial rejoinder. So, I will limit myself to where he begins and I where I “live,” with the Reform Movement.

He accuses Reform Judaism of categorically surrendering “Hebrew, the Talmud, kashrut, ritual, the Eastern European Jews, and currently toys with condemnation of its co-religionaries in Israel.” Thence, Mr. Mamet connects the Reform Movement to anti-Israel sentiment located on a spectrum that spans naïveté and, implicitly, self-hatred.

In the end, his condemnation avoids facts and invokes, in their stead, inapposite truisms. If “Napoleon taught us the logical end of purely defensive warfare is surrender,” Mamet has yet to demonstrate that Reform Judaism does indeed surrender. He omits the evidence, because it contradicts his argument.

The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which educates and trains clergy and leadership for the Reform Movement and beyond, maintains a campus in Jerusalem. There, we send all of our non-Israeli rabbinical, cantorial and education students for a full academic year, as we have since 1970. Despite market pressures to ease up on this requirement, HUC-JIR has held firm, because in part in defines us.

In Jerusalem, we also run a program for Israeli Reform rabbis, who invigorate Israeli Judaism with the progressive values (Hebraic and Zionist values) to which most Israelis subscribe. These committed leaders split the horns of the false Israeli dilemma between religious and secular life. And in so doing, they put Jewish religion at the heart—rather than at the margins— of the project of the Jewish State.

Reform Judaism also created the Israel Religious Action Center and the Association of Reform Zionists of America (find their link under the “Israel” tab at URJ.org), both dedicated not only to the core Zionist goal of a thriving Jewish State but also to its Jewish soul.

In ritual and halakhic terms, Mr. Mamet offers nothing more than an anachronistic caricature, and in so doing, debases the Jewish communal conversation. Hebrew is a staple in Reform services, as is the millennial tradition of mutual aid. In theory, we are more flexible on matters of halakha than other non-Orthodox movements, but it’s not clear to me that our practice differs all that much. Shabbat services in Reform synagogues are lively affairs. Torah study for adults and religious schools for children flourish, and Reform Jews’ connectedness to Judaism—traditional and progressive—thickens day by day.

As for our condemnation of fellow Jews in Israel: It is true that we will condemn someone for gratuitous violence, as we did in response to the recent arson attack on an Israeli mosque. And it is true that we will argue with fellow Jews for much less. But Mr. Mamet chooses to overlook the crucial fact that we argue with our coreligionists and, I trust, they requite le-shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven. We struggle with God Himself for the same purpose, namely, to work out the relationship between the sanctity of our Covenant, on the one hand, and the messy frailty of our worldly experience, on the other. Reform Judaism will not apologize for willingly, zealously engaging in that struggle, including both its traditional and modern aspects.

For the sake of that argument, allow me to concede that it is true that in the nineteenth century, the Reform Movement did begin to take major steps in distancing itself from traditional forms of Judaism. It is also true that a large part of the American Reform Movement was non- or anti-Zionist leading up to 1948. For that very reason, Stephen S. Wise created a Reform alternative, known as the Jewish Institute of Religion, an avowedly Zionist academy. Following Israeli independence, the Hebrew Union College merged with the Jewish Institute of Religion, embracing its Zionism.

The same Stephen S. Wise founded the American Jewish Congress, a more aggressive advocacy group than the older American Jewish Committee, which preferred a more staid form of stadlanut. In both guises, however, the Reform Movement—together with American Jews of all stripes—pursued the interests of immigrants from Eastern Europe both prior to and during the Holocaust. Likewise widespread solidarity characterized all American Jews’ aid for our brethren held captive in the Soviet Union.

Reform Judaism dedicates the human and financial resources to, and stakes its political and social capital on, those efforts. If you are affiliated with a Reform synagogue, you are directly supporting them.

Let us, therefore, examine the notion of “surrender,” attributed to us by Mr. Mamet. Reform Judaism is the plurality of affiliated North-American Jewry, actively furthering the interests “Hebrew, the Talmud, kashrut, ritual, the Eastern European Jews, and [our] co-religionaries in Israel.” Far from surrendering these things, the Reform Movement does the hard work of bring North-American Jewry closer to them.

Mr. Mamet may not like our style. Fortunately for him, Reform Judaism will not accede to a monopolization of the Jewish conversation.

Letters to the Editor: David Mamet, Marty Kaplan, anorexia

Mamet: Out of Touch With Today’s Reform

As an observer and researcher of American Jewish life who teaches this subject at both USC and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion [HUC-JIR], I was looking forward to learning from David Mamet how “Reform Judaism has met with few conflicts it did not attempt to resolve by submission” (“Conflict, Choice and Surrender,” Nov. 18). I was curious to see how the author of “The Wicked Son” would make the case against the ordination of women and gays, patrilineal descent and outreach to the intermarried population. Or, maybe he would be criticizing Reform-led efforts to limit the power of the Orthodox religious establishment to shape Israeli social policy. I am always on the lookout for cogently argued, “in your face” essays that I can use in class to engage my students. I was disappointed to find Mamet stuck in the early 20th century, complaining about the Reform movement abandoning Yiddish, Hebrew, the Talmud, kashrut and ritual. These last four have all made their way back into Reform Judaism. With regard to Yiddish, does Mamet want Rabbi Mordecai Finley to switch back to the Mamaloshen? Unless I really missed something, the rest of Mamet’s editorial is an angry, incoherent rant. As faculty member of Trojans for Israel and faculty adviser of USC Christians United for Israel, I would now think twice about asking Mamet to make the case for Israel.

Bruce A. Phillips
Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies
Louchheim School of Judaic Studies
HUC-JIR and the University of Southern California


Kaplan Krossed the Line

Being that I am very much a senior citizen, I can vividly remember the late l960s, when venom-filled leftists would spell America with a “k” to imply that America was Nazi-like. It must be mentioned, in all fairness, that sensitive, thoughtful devotees of the left were sickened by this.

This type of vicious hatred is manifested in Marty Kaplan’s article “Keeping up With the Kandidates” (Nov. 18) — implying that candidates with a solidly conservative outlook are Nazi-like. Kaplan crossed the line of civility and The Jewish Journal must now bear the burden of having published something that venomous.

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Van Nuys

Editor’s Note: As is implied by the title in question, the use of the “k” was meant to refer to the Kardashians and the entertainment focus of the campaign, not to any historical reference.


Prager’s Anorexia Argument ‘Perfectly Flawed’

Dennis Prager’s outlandish argument that anorexia is one of 12 “left-wing hysterias” is naive and lacks any understanding of this serious disorder (“Man-Made Global Warming: Why Many of Us Are Skeptical, Parts 1 and 2,” Oct. 28 and Nov. 11). Prager’s whole point is that because there are only on average 200 reported deaths per year of anorexia (instead of 150,000), then the disorder is not that significant and is just over-hyped by “left-wing hysteria.” His argument is perfectly flawed. 

Any simple Google search on “deaths from anorexia” would point him to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Their sites says specifically: “Although eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder, the mortality rates reported on those who suffer from eating disorders can vary considerably between studies and sources. Part of the reason why there is a large variance in the reported number of deaths caused by eating disorders is because those who suffer from an eating disorder may ultimately die of heart failure, organ failure, malnutrition or suicide. Often, the medical complications of death are reported instead of the eating disorder that compromised a person’s health.” 

Prager obviously has no understanding of how serious and devastating an eating disorder is.

Aaron Flores
West Hills


On the Ground in Mauthausen

I read the moving story of Motek Kleiman (Survivors, Nov. 18). The story, like many survivors’ experiences, depicts an almost unbelievable journey through “hell” and eventual liberation.

What caught my attention was Kleiman’s experiences in Mauthausen, where he approaches an Austrian colonel and escapes with him to Vienna.

To set the record straight on the conditions in Mauthausen and its sub-camps, I would like to offer a few observations based on personal experiences of surviving the last four months of the war in Mauthausen and its sub-camp, Ebensee. The Nazi camps’ personnel wore SS uniforms, and it would be difficult to identify the origins of a particular SS man. Jewish inmates would not dare to approach an SS guard, and certainly not an officer. This would result in punishment and certain death. Furthermore, an escape from Mauthausen with its electrified barbed-wire fence, watch towers, etc., and surviving such an escape, would be a real “miracle.”

Sam Goetz
Los Angeles

Conflict, choice and surrender

Read a response to David Mamet here:

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David Mamet’s political manifesto explains the reformed liberal playwright

Let me say right away that I am an ardent and devoted fan of David Mamet. I have only a very small collection of movies on DVD, but two of them are “The

Spanish Prisoner” and “House of Games,” both of which I’ve watched repeatedly. My wife, Ann, and I were in the audience for Mamet’s production of “Boston Marriage” at the Geffen and again when he produced a magic-and-memoir show featuring Ricky Jay. 

A few years ago, while serving as president of PEN Center USA West, I placed a call to Mamet’s office on a point of PEN business. When my secretary, Judy Woo, announced his return call, my heart raced — and I told him so. It was a high point of my literary life to speak with one of the Immortals on the phone.

But I fear that Mamet is no fan of people like me, whom he dismisses as “the Left” in the pages of “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture” (Sentinel: $27.95). “The Good Causes of the Left may generally be compared to NASCAR,” he announces. “[T]hey offer the diversion of watching things go excitingly around in a circle, getting nowhere.”

Put “House of Games” on pause — this is Mamet’s political manifesto, and he is ready to unburden himself on a long list of hot-button issues that are handled far more subtly, if at all, in his plays and movies.

Much of what is written in “The Secret Knowledge” will be off-putting to liberals — or, as Mamet puts it, “the Liberals” or “the Left.” (He capitalizes lots of words and phrases: “Family,” “the Black Neighborhood,” “Machine Politics,” “Old Rich Guys,” “Social Eugenicism” and much else, although I did not catch the reason why.) “The Liberal young are taught to shun work,” he insists. “The philosophy of the Left is not, in fact, a love of, but a rejection of wisdom. And it is contrary to common sense.” And, of course: “The State of Israel is, in itself, an incurable affront to the Left, for it is a demonstration of the possibility of choice.” He even comments on the dress code of the Left Coast.

“The young on the Westside of Los Angeles dress themselves in jeans worn, sanded, and razored to resemble something a six-month castaway might crawl ashore in,” observes Mamet, who hails from Chicago but now spends a lot of time among us. “Why? They are trying to purchase a charade of victimization, as the ethos of the Liberal West holds that these victims are the ones of worth.”

Although “The Secret Knowledge” is a book about secular politics and culture, it is deeply rooted in Mamet’s Jewish upbringing and lifelong study. Significantly, he acknowledges Rabbi Mordecai Finley and a couple of Jewish media celebrities on conservative talk radio — Jewish Journal columnist Dennis Prager and Michael Medved — as sources of inspiration. Sometimes, however, he is not entirely clear about how his Jewishness and his arch-conservatism fit together. “I never questioned my tribal assumption that Capitalism was bad,” he writes of his early years, and I assume that “tribal” is a code word for “Jewish.” But he insists that he has put such childish things aside, and now he sees Judaism in a very different light.

“Why would any American Jew wish to become a ‘citizen of the world’?” he writes. “This fantasy is akin to one who believes in the benevolence of Nature. Anyone ever lost in the wild knows that Nature wants you dead.”

He speaks plainly about what he labels as the “first principles,” which he finds so compelling. “All people are venal by nature,” he declares. He quotes President Barack Obama for the proposition that “[t]he individual at some point, must be able to say, ‘I have enough money,’ ” and then asks: “But will Mr. Obama, out of office, say this of himself, and of the vast riches he will enjoy? One must doubt it.” He insists government cannot change human nature: “Those of us in show-business spend our lives trying to understand, subvert and predict the actions of the audience,” he writes. “It cannot be done.” Remarkably, he even argues that “[a] man the bulk of whose income is taxed has less incentive toward monogamy.”

Mamet’s conviction about the venality of human nature leads him to distrust all office-holders. “Thomas Jefferson was an adulterer; so was every President, most likely,” he insists. “That’s why men get into politics; it gives them power.” Rather than government, he looks to “community” for the survival of civilization: “Our task in life is not to guess which lever to pull, but to learn to determine, in the wild, as it were, how to support ourselves,” Mamet declares. “Is this not a return to savagery? Not at all. It is a return to community, for in the free market, success comes only from the ability to supply the needs of others.”

To his credit, Mamet is consistent. He opposes the bailout of what he calls “the hag-ridden” auto industry and is willing to take the consequences of tough love in the marketplace: “In a rational, which is to say free-market world, this situation would self-correct: the public would cease to buy a product which no one cared to make attractive, efficient, or affordable, and the business would change or go broke.”

My own take on the world according to David Mamet is that his earnest (and faintly survivalist) prescriptions simply do not scale up. As we saw in the economic meltdown of 2008, the richest and most powerful people and corporations in the world were happy to take taxpayer money to preserve their wealth and dominance, and I suspect that they are also perfectly happy to let the motley crew of Tea Party members, libertarians, Evangelical Christians and miscellaneous rightwing activists talk about “first principles” while doing what they can to put and keep a corporate-friendly Congress in power. If you don’t have a job and can’t afford health insurance, however, you are on your own.

Let me give one concrete example. At one point, Mamet trashes Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man who was capable of reducing my Jewish immigrant grandparents to sentimental tears: “In an attempt to Do Good for All, he dismantled the free market, and so, the economy and saddled our country not only with ‘social programs,’ but with the deeper, unconscious legacy of belief in Social Programs, irrespective of their effectiveness.”

A few pages later, he complains that “[t]he State of California sentences the farmers of the Central Valley to drought, and their farms to destruction, because a small fish called the delta smelt has been declared endangered.” What he skips is the fact that dams and canals of the Central Valley Project began under FDR, and the megafarms wouldn’t exist at all if water hadn’t been provided by Big Government.

But this is not the place — and I am not the person — to debate Mamet on the merits of his political philosophy point by point. To judge “The Secret Knowledge” as a reading experience, I found it occasionally aggravating, but always provocative and impossible to put down, and I was fascinated to find out what one of my favorite directors and playwrights thinks about the world in which we all live.

For that reason, it will not surprise Mamet to learn that my favorite passages in “The Secret Knowledge” were the anecdotes about a Glenn Curtiss 1915 seaplane, not because of its intended lesson about how the economy should work, but because it gave me an insight into the iconography of “The Spanish Prisoner” and Mamet’s observation that the Nigerian Internet scam is a contemporary replay of the 2,000-year-old con game that is featured in his flawless movie.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He blogs at

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Kushmet

Last Monday night, I was sitting on stage at American Jewish University interviewing Tony Kushner, talking Life and Judaism and Big Ideas to a man who is arguably America’s greatest living playwright, when, suddenly, the words of what is arguably the world’s cheesiest bubble-gum song popped into my head:

Torn between two lovers/Feeling like a fool/Loving both of you is breaking all the rules.

It didn’t come to me just as punishment for listening to too much AM radio in the ’70s. It was something Kushner said. He called David Mamet a name. I love Mamet, author of “American Buffalo” and “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Speed the Plow.” I love Kushner, author of “Angels in America” and “Homebody/Kabul.”

I would stand in the TKTS line on any freezing windy gray February day in New York for discount tickets to see anything either man has written — who can afford Broadway at face value? — and here I was, hearing one of them groan at the mention of the other.

Not at the artistry. Let me be clear. Because of the politics. Yes, it was not artist versus artist, but, wouldn’t you know it, Jew versus Jew. Mamet’s name came up because I asked Kushner about how it is that Phillip Roth and Arthur Miller bristle at being called “Jewish writers,” whereas Kushner and Mamet both identify strongly, even pugnaciously, as Jewish writers.

“Yeah,” said Kushner. “He’s definitely more pugnacious than me.” But then Kushner sighed. He is, in person, somewhat slight, with a beautiful looping Jewish nose, a high forehead, a chin veering toward weak, and enough curly brown hair to make a man of 51 look almost inappropriately young. What he said next about Mamet came out with almost a touch of despair. “He’s so butch.”

The audience laughed; it was funny because, to quote Homer Simpson, it’s true.

Mamet is built like a Battle-Bot, he has pecs on his pecs, a close-shaved head and in between writing lines like the opener to his book “The Wicked Son” — “The world hates the Jews. The world has always and will continue to do so.” — he practices jiu-jitsu almost every day — with his rabbi. That’s not just butch, that’s shtarker.

As a fellow artist, Kushner offered nothing but adulation for Mamet’s work. “I’m hugely indebted to him as a playwright. I think Mamet invented a new kind of stage language that everybody in America [has followed]. I certainly couldn’t have written Roy Cohn … had I not listened to Mamet. He’s a big influence. And I say that just gasping in horror at a lot of things he says politically.”

In “The Wicked Son,” Mamet’s non-fiction book of essays about Jews, he takes off after members of Kusher’s beloved New York Upper West Side Secular Left for their collusion with “Israel-indicting bodies,” their “blame the victim mentality” and their “idiotic, immoral cant.”

For Mamet, equivocation or hesitation when it comes to anything but the quick, sharp defense of the Jewish state is a sign of capitulation at best, apostasy at worst.

But Kushner embraces uncertainty. “I have very mixed and complicated feelings about the state of Israel as a Jewish American,” he said on Monday evening, “and I’m furious at being represented as this kind of marginal crazy who’s plotting to destroy the state of Israel. I think everybody harbors their own secret doubts, or at least most of us do, and everybody’s afraid to say them, because the orthodoxy is policed with such violence and vituperation.”

Kushner and director Steven Spielberg endured a wave of criticism from some within the Jewish community who felt their film “Munich” stretched too far in trying to humanize Palestinian terrorists, or in trying to insert moral quandary into the minds of Israelis assigned to kill those terrorists.

I asked Kushner why Mamet, among others, finds his position so unpalatable. “It’s because they’re trying to defend the indefensible,” Kushner said. “It’s trying to uphold the reality you can’t uphold. It’s a cartoon version of Middle Eastern politics that almost no one in the state of Israel recognizes. There’s easily 50 percent of the Israeli population that’s progressive.”

I’m not sure of that number, especially in the wake of the Hamas takeover of Gaza, but Kushner was clearly still feeling the sting of “Munich.”

“I can’t feel neutral about the state of Israel because I’m a Jew,” Kushner said, “and I would like to see Israel survive and prosper. I absolutely don’t believe in single-state solution. I believe in a two-state solution. I’ve never anywhere on earth said I believe Israel should be forced to give up its identity as a Jewish state … that obviously wouldn’t work. It would be the end of Israel.” But Kushner attacked those who disagree with what he considers his more thoughtful approach to Israel’s conflict.

“[Mamet’s] view really almost goes to neighborhood street gang turf war, the people on the hill and the people in the valley. It’s like that Billy Jack anthem. You can’t talk in those terms.”

“I understand we have a history of horrendous persecution and oppression,” Kushner said. “The Holocaust was only 60 years ago. Anti-semitism is everywhere in the world today. It’s scary to be a Jew. You’d be stupid not to be scared. So I get the fear that’s behind it. But, you know, being a minority is hard, because you’re outnumbered. So you have to start asking yourself really grown-up serious questions about how do minorities survive… and there are lots of interesting answers, and one of them is nationalism, and one of them, the one I prefer, is the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, a pluralist democracy.”

And so, my two favorite playwrights find themselves on opposite sides of a longstanding Jewish divide. “All sound creative art is rooted in a ghetto,” the critic Ludwig Lewisohn once wrote. Once out of that ghetto, the roots bifurcate, and we Jews have fashioned two strategies for survival. For the Mamets, salvation lies in toughness and certainty, the People of the Butch. For Kushner, our promise is in compromise and doubt.

“People say the artist has the ability to see the future,” the writer Eric Hoffer once said. “That’s not true. The artist has the ability to see the present.” But what happens when their prophesies collide? I know my answer: you try to live somewhere in between.

To hear of the Kushner interview, click on these files:

Kushner on Mamet
Kushner on parental influence
Kushner on Jewish identity
Kushner reads ‘Prayer’
Kushner on Israel

Debbie Friedman, L.A. Opera, Norman Mailer and David Mamet

Saturday the 3rd

Debbie Friedman strums and sings old and new favorites from her Jewish folk repertoire tonight at Shomrei Torah Synagogue. Twenty bucks gets you in the door, or splurge on the $100 patron seats for preferred seating and parking, plus a copy of her new CD, “One People,” and entree to the exclusive meet-and-greet with the artist herself.

7:30 p.m. $10 (ages 18 and under), $20 (general), $100 (patron). 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. R.S.V.P., (818) 346-0811.

‘ target=’_blank’>www.ticketweb.com.

Tuesday the 6th

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Jewish Book Month’s Table of Contents

With fall comes the annual harvest of books (and authors) to hit town for Jewish Book Month, Nov. 15-Dec. 16, with fare ranging from politics to social commentary to humorous memoir.The autumnal visitors will include David Mamet at the Central Library, Harry Shearer at Temple Beth Israel of Pomona and children’s book writers at the Jewish Community Library.Here’s just a sampling of dozens of other events that will reap food for thought around town:

Host: The Jewish Book Festival, presented by the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, Nov. 2-Dec. 3

Author: David Brog, Nov. 30
Book: “Standing With Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State”
Scoop: This Capitol Hill insider says evangelical Christian Zionists are Israel’s friends, not foes
Info: At Sinai Temple of Glendale: (818) 246-8101 (the event is sponsored by The Jewish Journal)

Author: Sandy Tolan, Dec. 3
Book: “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East”
Scoop: True story of the friendship between a Holocaust survivor whose only son died in a terrorist attack, and a Palestinian whose relatives were killed by an Israeli missile
Info: At Beth Shalom of Whittier: (562) 941-8744

Host: The Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles

Author: Michelle Markel, Nov. 19
Book: “Dreamer From the Village: The Story of Marc Chagall”
Scoop: Portrait of the artist as a shtetl kid who worked hard and made good
Info: At the Jewish Community Library: (323) 761-8644

Host: ALOUD at Central Library

Author: David Mamet, Nov. 8
Book: “The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred and the Jews”
Scoop: The Pulitzer Prize winner will dish on his scathing new tome with Los Angeles Times Book Review Editor David L. Ulin
Info: At the Central Library downtown; for reservations: (213) 228-7025 or www.aloudla.org

Author: Steve Wozniak, Nov. 30
Book: “Iwoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon — How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple and Had Fun Doing It”
Scoop: Geek sheds his low profile to tell all about how he masterminded the most globe-altering invention of this past century
Info: See above

— Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Plays by David Mamet

You Can Go Home Again

But in David Mamet’s ‘The Old Neighborhood,’ it’s a place marked by open wounds and unanswered longing

By Diane Arieff, Contributing Editor

When David Mamet, the son of brilliant but emotionally abusive parents, was growing up in Chicago, his mother told him, according to The New Yorker profile of the playwright, “I love you, but I don’t like you.”

The devastating line recurs in “The Cryptogram,” and to understand the frankly autobiograph-ical play, it helps to know something about Mamet’s childhood.

In his parents’ household, “the virtues expounded were not creative but remedial: Let’s stop being Jewish; let’s stop being poor,” Mamet’s sister, Lynn, says. “There was no room for us to make mistakes.”

The fierce resentment that marked the boy’s adolescence is reflected in most of the man’s plays, in which betrayal of one form or another is a central motif.

So it is in “Cryptogram,” a short play of almost unrelieved mental and emotional combat. Donny, the mother, is betrayed first by her husband, and then by the gay family friend, Del. And both, in their way, betray Donny’s 10-year old son, John.

In turn, John, a terribly complex and potentially suicidal boy, retaliates, intentionally or not, by making his mother’s life miserable.

This synopsis sounds grimmer than it is. Mamet’s uncanny ear for the rhythm of everyday speech and domestic infighting lends a sense of familiarity, and even occasional humor, and rescue the play from potential morbidity.

We read the play before seeing the show at the Geffen Playhouse, which was probably a mistake. Mamet’s typically fragmented, overlapping, staccato dialogue can be awkward and confusing on the printed page, but it comes alive in the speech pattern and split-second timing of a well-integrated ensemble.

Under the direction of Michael Bloom, actors Ed Begley Jr. as Del, Christine Dunford as Donny, and 12-year-old Will Rothhaar as John keep the dialogue at a sharp edge and the tension unbroken throughout the 70-minute play.

It is not an easy play to confront, but its intensity and honesty carries the day.

“The Cryptogram” plays in repertory with Mamet’s “The Old Neighborhood” through Feb. 14, at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. For tickets, call the box office at (310) 208-5454, or Ticketmaster at (213) 365-3500.