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).

Jews vs. Gentiles

When Gary Turner first heard about the Jews versus Gentiles baseball game, he wondered, “What is that about?”

When Mark Schneiderman’s wife, Leslie, first heard about it, “she couldn’t stop laughing,” Schneiderman said. “Then she said, ‘You’re going to get killed.’ ”

The laugh’s on Leslie. The 12-man Dodgertown West Jews routed the Dodgertown West Gentiles 9-2 on Jan. 7 at Mary Star of the Sea High School in San Pedro.

“It was a lot of fun,” Mark Schneiderman said. “We played pretty good baseball. Everybody’s wondering when we’ll do it again.”

The game arose out of the Dodgertown West players looking for a different way to pair off. They have been playing together since 1984, when a small group of men who had just returned from a Dodgers fantasy camp in Vero Beach, Fla., wanted to continue the friendships that developed. The facility was called Dodgertown for the 55 years the Dodgers used it, so calling it Dodgertown West seemed natural. Only those who have attended at least one fantasy camp are eligible to join.

More than 130 players — the majority of whom are Jews — compete on six different teams, with the rosters changing every six months.

Previously, the players paired off as Orange County versus Los Angeles County. Turner, who pitched for the Gentiles, realized how odd Jews versus Gentiles might seem, “but we’re all such good friends [and] this seemed like fun,” he said.

Catcher Aron Levinson said playing this way made it seem like they’re really playing for something.

“We’ve been persecuted so much in the past, and it’s a way to show the league that Jews are good athletes,” he said.

Sandy Koufax proved that decades ago, Turner said. Schneiderman said he didn’t think he’d see a Koufax-like performance, although starting pitcher Steve Moritz held the Gentiles in check. The Jews led 9-0 into the bottom of the ninth inning before the Gentiles scored.

As is common with friendly rivalries, the trash talk spewed freely.

Turner predicted a Gentile victory and guaranteed he would strike out his good friend Schneiderman. Schneiderman, who grounded out against Turner, said there was “about as much chance of that happening as [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad converting to Judaism.”

Since indications are that the players want to play Jews versus Gentiles again, David Liptz, one of the game’s organizers, said he wants the next game to be in the desert so the Jews could be the home team.

Just One Voice

It’s nice to honor Righteous Gentiles when they’re dead. It’s even nicer to acknowledge them while they’re still alive.

Which brings me to the Rev. Doug Huneke, pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, Calif.

Over the summer, the Presbyterian Church (USA) passed a resolution calling for divesting from companies that do business in or with Israel. Despite outrage from Jewish groups, the 3-million-member organization stuck by its decision, which was passed by a lopsided 431-62 vote at the group’s General Assembly.

Just in case you thought this action was a momentary lapse of good sense, be aware that last Sunday a 24-member U.S. Presbyterian Church delegation traveled to Lebanon and met with the south Lebanon commander of Hezbollah. After meeting with the terror group, the leader of the delegation came out with a strong condemnation — of Israel. He reiterated his church’s threat of divestment from Israel.

That’s where Huneke comes in.

In the September issue of his church newsletter, a letter to his congregants in he excoriated his church leadership for its moral myopia. The letter is titled, “A Personal Reflection on General Assembly (GA) Actions on Israel, and the Practice of Conversion.” Here’s an excerpt you should read:

As [do] most of my friends in the rabbinic community, I struggle with many of the decisions of the Israeli government. Like most people in the world, I do not see an easy solution to the crisis that besets the Palestinians and the Israelis…. [But] the debate rhetoric at GA resounded with ignorantly dangerous and inflammatory comparisons of Israel to apartheid South Africa — there is no truth in such rhetoric, but the damage was done even though the final resolutions did not use such language. This denomination carefully divested its portfolio during the crisis in South Africa, but it has done little else of such magnitude in this risky venue since. For instance, it has not called for divestment of firms doing business in China, one of the world’s worst offenders of human and religious rights, and we’ve not taken divestment actions against nuclear N. Korea or Iran, and not against Sudan for Darfur (with one exception before Darfur reached the headlines). We have not divested ourselves of firms doing business in Saudi Arabia (remember where the 9/11 hijackers came from and where the bin Laden funding has found favor and laundering). The action against Israel is selectively discriminatory, provocative and harmful. One does not need to do more than scratch the surface to determine the animus of those who promoted this action. This denomination has consistently and mildly decried violence in the Middle East. It has not, to my knowledge, however, forcefully and publicly condemned Mr. Arafat, the arguable leader of the Palestinian Authority (arguable given the displeasure of the Palestinian population with his style of corrupt, violent and dishonest leadership) nor the heinous crimes of the various terrorist groups operating in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. What our leaders have done is offer weak support of Israel’s right to exist and expressed concern for refugees but remained frail in its stand against the genocidal, anti-Israel, anti-United States terrorists.

Most of our leaders and our denomination, generally, are not anti-Semitic, however, the effect of these kinds of actions is anti-Semitic. Such actions encourage the evil terrorism of Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and most certainly the likes of groups supported by bin Ladin that exist only to annihilate Jews and Israel….This GA has given aid and comfort to terrorism and encouraged it with gutless resolutions that satisfy the bureaucracy’s need to appear to be politically correct.

At the end of his letter, Huneke put his dues where his heart is, and pledged to withhold his congregation’s annual contribution to the various arms of the church.

The letter is a model of moral clarity from a man who has long been at the forefront of Christian-Jewish rapprochement, “a courageous Christian friend,” in the words of Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

We can only be thankful for such courage. In September, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Van Nuys) and 13 of his colleagues sent a bipartisan letter to the leader of the GA, deploring its divestment resolution and urging that it be rescinded. That is an important statement, but Huneke’s letter, coming from within the movement, is an even more vital corrective. Last week, an internal Israeli security report forecast an increase in attempts, both in Europe and the U.S., to isolate and punish Israel in the coming years.

In walking away from the Oslo accords, Arafat gambled that the more he internationalized the issue, the better deal he could eventually get. Church leaders have fallen for his trick, casting their lot with a man whose own critics within the Palestinian movement credit him with untold bloodshed on both sides.

Huneke’s voice is, to my astonishment, a dissident one. But it is the gospel truth.

See the entire text of Huneke’s missive href=”http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=13132″ target=”_blank”>by clicking here where you can also send him a personal e-mail.