We are Carlos Danger


By last Wednesday, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I had seen as much of Anthony Weiner’s private parts as if I had spent the afternoon with him in the shvitz.

The former congressman and New York mayoral hopeful had sexted the pictures to his 23-year-old crush, Sydney Leathers, and she, either disillusioned by his newly crafted family guy image, or just aching to get at least as much airtime as a congressman’s genitals, posted them for all to see.  

By Thursday, I got the whole story from Leathers herself, when she sat for an interview with Howard Stern. For me the telling moment came when Stern asked Leathers why Weiner used the screen name “Carlos Danger.”

Leathers said she never asked; she just assumed it played into his fantasy that he was living some exotic, adventurous double life.

“I think he thought we were in some sexy telenovela together,” she said.

This has been one Wet Hot American Jewish Summer, with an I-405-worthy pileup of Jewish sex scandals.

Weiner is the most late-night worthy, but right behind him is San Diego Mayor “Headlock” Bob Filner, whose female co-workers and colleagues, past and present, have accused him of very inappropriate touching.

Oh, and Eliot “Black Sox” Spitzer is back. After he was caught consorting with expensive prostitutes in 2008, he shamefacedly resigned as governor of New York. Now he’s running for New York City comptroller.

Spitzer claims he is a new man — which would be much more believable if Weiner hadn’t claimed the same thing after he was caught, the first time.

In a New York Times essay this week, Jodi Kantor wondered with great portent how the Jewish community was facing all the salacious news. When Jews go down to scandal, it’s usually of the financial sort — Madoff, Abramoff, the Spinka rabbis, etc. Weiner, Filner and Spitzer — which sounds like the name of the world’s creepiest law firm — have shown that Jews can also excel in an area once reserved for hypocritical televangelists and deeply closeted congressmen. 

Kantor’s thesis is that the hyper-sexual Jew depicted in Philip Roth’s 1967 novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” has, finally, dybbuk-like, inhabited the bodies and upended the careers of our erstwhile political heroes.

“Nearly half a century after the publication of ‘Portnoy’s Complaint,’ politics is finally catching up with fiction,” Kantor wrote, “as libidinous, self-sabotaging politicians are causing grimaces among fellow Jews and retiring outdated cultural assumptions — that Jewish men make solid husbands and that sex scandals belong to others.”

That’s her thesis, and I think before it enters the culture as some kind of fact — this is The New York Times, after all — it bears some unpacking.

Yes, some Jews are indeed feeling embarrassed by the improprieties of their landsmen. That we would utter a small, collective “oy” really isn’t that much of a mystery if you think of Jews not as a religion or a race, but as a family. We take undue credit when one of our own achieves fame — 187 Jewish Nobel Prize winners and Scarlett Johansson! — and we feel unwarranted embarrassment when a Jew, like any human, stumbles. 

But let’s be honest, it’s a pretty low-grade sense of shame — mixed with a shpritz of schadenfreude. Weiner was a cocky congressman — his own brother once called him the d-word (look it up, this is a family newspaper) — so his comeuppance isn’t exactly heartbreaking.

And as to Kantor’s assertion that somehow these scandals now dispel the idea that Jewish men make solid husbands or are above sexual scandal — those are two very different points, and the response is, yes, Jewish men make solid husbands, and no, we’re not above sexual scandal. 

Statistically, Jewish marriages last longer, according to demographer and jewishjournal.com blogger Pini Herman.

In a study of divorcing couples, each partner was asked to list their religion at the time of the divorce. Jews married to Jews had the longest median time married before divorce, according to the study.

“That is a [one-]third longer marriage among couples where both were Jewish, who eventually filed for divorce,” Herman wrote. 

Of course, that might just suggest that Jews suffer longer in bad marriages than others — but, hey, we try.

As for sex, Roth’s Portnoy merely gave free voice to the desires  that every American male, Jewish and not, secretly harbors.

“The perfect couple,” mused Portnoy about a lover, “she puts the id back in yid, I put the oy back in goy.”

That cri de crotch has been echoed by successive generations of Jewish entertainers, from Woody Allen to Howard Stern to Sarah Silverman to Lena Dunham, all of whom have unleashed their libidos through their art and, in the process, made what was dark, secret and forbidden the stuff of stand-up and sitcoms. The difference between the Jewish libido and the gentile one is we talk about ours.   

So, yes Ms. Kantor, like all men, every Jewish man fantasizes, at one time or another, about being a seductive man of mystery — Carlos Danger! — in a sexy tryst. But the vast majority of us know we do much better to take that fantasy and turn it into comedy — before our lives become the punch line.

Within Us


Once upon a time, as God created the world, He decided to make beings in His image. As he generated his own reflection in man and woman, the angels got word of the
project, and were consumed with jealousy.

 
“How unfair!” they cried. “Those humans will have it all. They get to experience life on earth with all the perks: laughter, tears, ice cream, wasabi, softness, scratchiness. And as if that ‘being alive’ stuff weren’t blessing enough, they get immortality as well!” (If God is eternal, so, too, would be anything made in God’s image.)

 
The angels were furious; no being should merit both ice cream and infinity. If heavenly beings were denied earthly experiences, why allow humans celestial ones?

 
So, they plotted against the humans. They decided to hide immortality from them, and assembled to determine how it could be done. One angel suggested, “Let’s hide it far up in the mountains; I hear humans don’t like to shvitz much.
They’ll never climb that high.”

 
Another disagreed: “That won’t work. Those granola hippie Jews God put on the West Coast will surely hike to the top of the mountains and discover it. Better we hide eternality far out in the sea. Most folks won’t go farther than a cruise ship will take them.”

 
Again, others dissented. They realized that any God-like being would eventually access the heights of heaven and the depths of the ocean.

 
Finally, a wise old angel made a brilliant suggestion: “Let us hide the infinite between and within the humans. That will be the last place on earth they would think to look for it.”

 
And so it was.

 
Parashat Nitzavim illustrates the result of the angels’ prank. They succeeded in ensuring that the last place we look for God is right in front of us. The text beseeches the people to take a stand “this day” in testament that the “only God is Eternal,” but acknowledges that we have no idea how to affirm that truth. It speaks to our ignorance of accessing the Infinite, and tries to remedy our delusion. We need not struggle to reach the Divine.

 
Lo bashamiyim hi.

 
“No, it is not in heaven,” God explains. “It is very near to you.”

 
Contact with the Eternal is between us and within us.

 
The parsha speaks to our fantasy that we must search far and suffer long to retrieve this blessing. Were it not, the wording would be different. God would simply state: “Hey guys, check out this groovy commandment I’ve placed right in front of you.”

 
Instead, He addresses our misconception that good things are hard to come by. He elaborates: “[It is not] beyond the sea that you should say: ‘Who will cross the sea for us and bring it over to us that we may do it.”

 
In other words: “No need for drama, difficulty or complication; you don’t need a personal assistant to get this for you. Just open your eyes and see: infinite life is right here, within you.”

 
But we remain blind, instead assuming that if something good happens easily, it is suspicious. We spit three times, even knock on wood, or mumble a “God forbid.” We prepare for disappointment, assume a mistake, because in our estimation no blessing comes effortlessly. Life is hard. Good fortune takes work. Right?

 
Not according to the text.

 
Lo bashamyim hi.

 
Our divine legacy is found within us and between us: “See, I have set before you this day life and blessing or death and curse. Choose life.”

 
Easy. Stick with God for an endlessly good time. You’ll receive immortal prosperity through generations that will flow through you, always have what you need, and live a life of endless possibility.

 
Still, we continue cursing ourselves with dissident struggles — idolizing dramas of the difficult and inaccessible rather than recognizing the abundance we have now. The angels shake their heads as we look everywhere for our hats except our heads, running away from God while He waits within us; She is right here between us.

 
We need only see that the trees surrounding us don’t struggle to grow, they just grow; fish don’t try to swim, they just swim. It is their nature. And it is our nature to exist eternally in God’s image.

 
The angels are tired of laughing at us. They forgive us our good fortune and seek to help us remember. We stand this day, testaments of the infinite Divine presence. There’s nowhere else to look, no place else to be, nothing else as perpetually filled with blessing. We need only accept this present of a moment, this gift of being human.

 
We can stand here and now, present to all the feelings that the angels so covet, in eternal gratitude for having them. We can “Choose life, therefore that [we and our] descendents may live – by loving [our] God; listening to God’s voice.”

 
By adoring our experience, by hearing His voice in one another’s words. We choose life and death: by dying to our attachment to what was and will be.

 
By surrendering to this moment as being nothing but what it is, by appreciating the blessing of our curses. We choose it all, for it is revealed to us as One and the same present from our creator. Eternally within and between us, and we don’t have to shvitz or swim to get it.

 
Rabbi Karen Deitsch will be teaching at the University of Judaism’s continuing education program this fall. You can reach her at karendeitsch@yahoo.com.