Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Anita Renfroe didn’t become a star overnight. It took a few months of her “Mom Song” video bumping around YouTube to go viral, and then, almost overnight, she became an unlikely and lovable entertainer.
Renfroe is a suburban mom from flyover country â specifically, Cobb County, Ga., home of Newt Gingrich. She is round and soft, loves butter, carbs and sugar and worries routinely about her weight. She is maternal to just about everyone, even people she doesnât know very well. She pinches pennies and worries that her spotless house isnât clean enough. Renfroe is a former stay-at-home mom who for some years home-schooled her kids. Now that those children are past the age of consent, she still cannot stop telling them what to do; she is always just a little bit anxious.
Renfroe is also a devout Christian and for about eight years has been slowly building a career as a comedian on the Christian womenâs circuit. Like Mike Huckabeeâs easy humor, Renfroeâs wit comes as a surprise to nonevangelicals. She performs what she calls âestrogen-flavored musical comedyâ in large halls and arenas, often with an inspirational group called Women of Faith. At those performances she sells her DVDs and humorous books with religious undertones: âIf Itâs Not One Thing, Itâs Your Mother,â âIf You Canât Lose It, Decorate Itâ and âPurse-onality.â âI love the way God lets you use everything in your life,â she says about her chosen career as a comic. âItâs cool how it all comes together.â
The headline for this article from the New York Times Magazine, “Did You Hear the One About the Christian Comedian?,” reminded me of this sort of lame article I wrote a few years ago. (Coincidentally, the magazine’s piece has bristled a lot of Christians because of the condescending tone, discussed here.)
Comedian Mark Fitter’s greeting is also his opening joke.
“Hi, my name’s Mark, and I am a pastor of a church.”
Audience members and bar patrons laugh and clap. Someone shouts, “Amen!” Another, “Hallelujah!”
Performing on the same bill as comics whose repertoire revolves around lewd innuendos and blatant bawdiness, the Victorville resident cracks clean jokes.
“You know, the tough thing about being a pastor is most people only see you work on Sundays,” Fitter said as he performed at Tuesday at Omaha Jack’s Grillhouse and Brewery in Rancho Cucamonga.
“And most give you a hard time about it. ‘Hey Mark, it must be great having a job where you only have to work one day a week.’ That really ticks me off because I don’t work one day a week I only work an hour per week.”
Cheesy reporting aside, there is an industry of Christian comedians—just like there are Christian karate instructors and Christian tattoo parlors. Between 2002 and 2005 alone, the Christian Comedy Association grew tenfold, from 35 to 350. Clean comedy is not always humorous (something I witnessed Sunday at a celebration of Biola’s 100th birthday) but its wholesome, often encouraging and sometimes entertaining.
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February 28, 2008 | 3:50 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I headed for the hotel hot tub.
There were a few Limmudniks already there, and one man with his back to me, lounging in the bubbles. I stepped in beside him, said my requisite, “Ahhhhh,” then turned to say hi.
And noticed—I could not not notice—that his chest was covered with a large tattoo of a swastika.
The man was big, maybe 6-feet, 250 pounds. And when I say there was a swastika on his chest, I mean it was blue black, inked in one-inch wide lines and went from nipple to nipple. My first thought, of course, was, “Maybe that’s the Navajo swastika.” My second was, “Please let that be the Navajo swastika.” My third was, “No, that’s not the Navajo swastika.”
Rob Eshman got to talking to the guy—his name was Don—and learned that the tattoo was a membership card for the Aryan Brotherhood, which his tubmate had joined in an Arizona prison. Don said he wanted to get the tattoo removed but couldn’t afford the expense. Rob offered to walk back into the hotel lobby and raise the money; he said he could get it in 45 minutes.
The man had a tense, unsettled energy. He was twice my size, and we were alone in a hot tub at night, practically naked. It didn’t seem the place to explore his ill will toward the Jewish people. I just wanted to keep things practical.
We set a time to meet later and exchange numbers.
At the appointed hour, Don wasn’t anywhere to be found. I didn’t know his room number or last name, and I tried in vain to find him.
In the meantime, telling the story to others at Limmud, I had raised enough in pledges for Don to get his swastika removed, get lipo, a facelift, a ranch house in Encino—whatever he wanted. But Don was gone. I laid out the whole story to Jessica at the Hilton front desk, and she passed my e-mail and phone number on to all the guests registered from Phoenix, but they claimed never to have heard of Don.
February 28, 2008 | 10:06 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Olmert’s life is complicated by more than just Israelis’ opposition to compromises on Jerusalem. In the last several months, he has also faced a revolt by diaspora Jews, who are making demands strangely analogous to the claims of Muslims in the broader Arab world. Abbas can’t give up on Muslims’ historic claims over the holy sites of Jerusalem, and Olmert is hearing similar voices from the Jewish community, especially in the United States. The more extreme advocates for diaspora input say he does not have the right to compromise on Jerusalem without broader Jewish consent. More moderate voices concede that the final decision will be taken by Israel, but they demand to be consulted, whatever that means.
Israelis do not necessarily like the idea of diaspora Jews meddling in the affairs of the state. A survey conducted for the Jewish organization B’nai B’rith International a couple of weeks ago revealed that Israelis’ view on this issue is largely driven by their political stance. The more traditional an Israeli is, the more he opposes concessions in Jerusalem: Fifty-one percent of secular Jews, 80.1 percent of somewhat observant Jews, and 91.1 percent of strictly observant Jews oppose concessions in Jerusalem.
And what about the right of American Jews to be part of the decision-making process? Thirty-one-point-seven percent of secular Israelis do not want them involved, but for religious Israelis the opposite is true: Almost 60 percent want U.S. involvement, probably hoping it would make Olmert’s life more difficult when it comes to the holy city.
This is an unbelievably, endlessly challenging issue. Jerusalem is the eternal homes of Jews around the world. It is also linchpin of any peace plan and the most difficult element for either side to compromise on, a reality Jeffrey Goldberg discusses in “Prisoners.”
When I was researching my story on Jewish hawks, I asked Gary Ratner, western head of the American Jewish Congress, who speaks for Jerusalem. He said, “Diaspora Jewry have an absolute right to weigh in. Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people, not the Israelis.”
Yesterday, though, I spoke with Tom Dine, the man who built the American Israel Public Affairs Committee into the mastodon, save for extinction, it has become, and he said the only way to increase Israeli security in its hostile neighborhood is to realize a practical peace plan with the Palestinians. That means, he said, budging on the boundaries of Jerusalem.
“I know it is an emotional issue,” he said. “I used to throw out that red meat when I was at AIPAC.”
Prime Minister Olmert learned that the hard way when he floated the possibility of dividing the Holy City. (An Orthodox rabbi in L.A. similarly caught flak when he asked American Jews to let Israel do its own negotiating.)
The prime minister’s suspicions were further inflamed by a letter from Ronald Lauder, the leader of the World Jewish Congress. Lauder, a supporter of Olmert’s rival, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote that “[w]hile recognizing Israel’s inherent prerogatives as a sovereign state, it is inconceivable that any changes in the status of our Holy City will be implemented without giving the Jewish people, as a whole, a voice in the decision.” Olmert retaliated by canceling a planned speech to the WJC’s board of governors.
Elsewhere, Olmert kept his anger in check. His advisers told him his attitude had alienated U.S. Jewish leadersâleaders Israel wants to keep onside. According to a recent American Jewish Committee survey of Jewish-American public opinion, a majority of diaspora Jews oppose compromises in Jerusalem. Complicating matters even further, the more active on Israeli issues the Jew is, the more he is prone to oppose concessions.
So, in a conversation with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in mid-January, Olmert was more conciliatory: He told the attendees he wants their voices to be heard on the future of Jerusalem. Last week, meeting many of those leaders in Jerusalem, he tried, again, to calm things down. He told them Jerusalem “will be the last issue that is negotiated upon. It is the most sensitive issue and the most difficult.” And he assured them he will listen.
But the exact role of world Jews was not determined, and it never can be. Not in a way that can satisfy both diaspora leaders and Israelis. Either non-Israeli Jews have a voice and some influence in this process, on the premise that Jerusalem belongs to all Jews, or they don’t, because Israelis get to make decisions related to their country, their security, and their daily lives. Olmert is right in thinking this question is nothing more than a trap. If he consults with diaspora leaders and goes on to reject their advice, they’ll say he didn’t act in good faith. If he accepts their opinion as a real factor, how will he ever be able to reach an agreement?
February 28, 2008 | 9:11 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
You know when a friend dies and you are so paralyzed by grief that you can’t mourn their loss in words? That was how I felt yesterday afternoon when I got an e-mail about the staff cuts visiting my former paper tomorrow.
* 22 jobs will be eliminated Friday, bringing us to 100 total in the newsroom.
* the layoff package will be the same as the voluntary buyout package last year.
* anyone who wants to voluntarily step forward and take a buyout (same terms) has until noon Thursday to let ron or melissa know.
* those affected include both PT and FT; both guild and non-guild
* ron will stay.
* ron will notify those affected on friday.
* those who take voluntary buyouts will affect the list of those on friday.
* if you have jobshare suggestion, etc., let him know.
* industry and us are screwed, but i still believe in what we’re doing and have some hope.
* will help with references etc.
* accrued vacation will be paid out too. exempt worker max is four weeks.
* this is the least of the worst options - dean saved ten reporting jobs
* it’s gonna be tough to look good workers in the eye and tell them we have no room for you anymore.
* decide for self whether it’s fun, worthwhile, worth saying in, or moving on.
* can’t sugarcoat things, can’t say there won’t be more cuts or that any paper will survive.
At Bible study last night, the fate of my former colleagues was my main prayer request. We journalists have long known these were bad times to be in the business; it’s been that way since I started four years ago. And that was one of the reasons I left the LA Daily News for The Jewish Journal.
But I don’t think anyone could have expected the cuts to be this stark and this severe. How could they? A nearly 20 percent reduction overnight. Employees given less than 12 hours to decide whether they should take a buyout or risk being laid off anyway. Others knowing that by staying they are costing a friend their job.
I know Ron Kaye, the editor, fought hard to save jobs, and fortunately he didn’t lose his in the process. He was so stricken yesterday, I was told he started crying during the staff meeting. Brent Hopkins’, the shop steward and eternal optimist who for seven years has fought the good fight, laments what comes next:
This is the worst day I’ve ever seen here at the paper and I’m sure Friday will be even worse. There is nothing I can say that will make it OK or even make it make sense. These are disastrous cuts that will seriously hamper our ability to produce the paper and Web content at the level our readers expect. It risks erasing all the great leaps forward we’ve made online and in print.
The next few months will be intensely painful, both for the people who lose their jobs and those who stay behind. As I’ve said to many of you, the real losers are the people who rely on this newspaper—they won’t be able to find the information they need anymore. Their events won’t get covered. Their sense of community will get a little shakier. Once the dedicated journalists who’ve made this place what it is leave, their expertise will never be replaced. Maybe people won’t notice it right away, but in a year, maybe two, maybe more, they’ll realize there’s a gaping hole left behind that can never be filled in.
This is particularly heartbreaking to me because you guys have given this place everything and asked for little in return. You’ve sacrificed yourselves for love of the craft and love of the community and the work you’ve done is amazing. The paper’s thinner and our coverage isn’t as expansive as it once was, but the stories, photos, layouts, headlines—everything—has been fantastic. I’m so proud to see the work you do on a daily basis and honored to be a part of it. I’m heartsick to see such a great operation so callously dismantled.
This is not the end of the Daily News and the people who stay behind will continue to put out as good a paper as they possibly can every day, but it will be very hard. Then again, it’s never been easy and the crazy folks who make this place so vibrant and alive will never let this company’s mismanagement snuff them out. You’ll continue to give more than the beancounters deserve and keep coming back before because y’all are the most wonderful, talented, bad-ass journalists around. Somehow, the spirit will survive, as it always does.
February 27, 2008 | 3:54 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
DENVER—State senators have taken up the cause of a Jewish boys basketball team whose playoff run may be halted because its players can’t play on the Jewish Sabbath.
The Herzl/Rocky Mountain Hebrew Academy team could be headed for a regional championship on Saturday, March 8, if it wins one more game. But the Denver team’s religious beliefs prohibit students from playing on the Jewish Sabbath between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday.
If Herzl/RMHA makes it to the regional championship and refuses to play a Saturday game, another school would be chosen to take its place, CHSAA commissioner Bill Reader said.
Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Sedalia, said there must be a way for the CHSAA to accommodate the team.
“It just seems like the bureaucracy has run amok here,” Wiens said.
(Image: UCLA Jersey)
February 27, 2008 | 3:39 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
The voice of conservatism died today when William F. Buckley Jr. passed away at his desk in his home study. This news is getting blogged about everywhere, so I will avoid the pontificating. Instead, I direct you to a lengthy obit in the NY Times, the wall-to-wall coverage of the magazine Buckley founded, National Review, and this sentimental appreciation from a former colleague of mine and protege of WFB.
To say “he will be missed” is not only to resort to the sort of cliche which Buckley despised, it’s also to be guilty of understatement. I can’t think of anyone with more friends to leave behind. The world knew WFB as a great intellect and writer, which he certainly was, but he was also as decent, gentle, kind and loving a man as those of us blessed to make his acquaintance would ever know.
It will take some time for me to formulate my thoughts and write something more about this extraordinary life, but till then I offer this excerpt from a profile I wrote about Buckley for Salon nearly nine years ago:
One almost forgets, when WFB refers to lunch with Henry, a stroll with Ronald or a trip with Milton, that he is speaking of a former secretary of state, a former president or a Nobel Prize-winning economist. But if Bill Buckley walks with kings, he has not lost the common touch. At a recent celebration commemorating Ronald Reagan’s 88th birthday, Buckley, the keynote speaker, was seated at the head table with Nancy Reagan, two former cabinet secretaries and the ex-governor of California. The moment the dinner ended, he ditched the dignitaries, dodged hundreds of autograph seekers and sneaked out to the parking lot to meet old friends for a nightcap.
Many conservatives say that government is unimportant, but behave as though every legislative or electoral defeat is a personal disaster. Buckley is different. He loves politics, he’s intrigued by its sport and he enjoys wrestling with big ideas. But he has other passions—sailing, skiing, playing the harpsichord, studying the English language and, of course, being with his friends, who are legion and just as likely to include a former research assistant as a former president of the United States.
Before all of them, however, comes Pat, his wife of 49 years, a Vassar-educated one-time Miss Vancouver. Whenever she admonishes Bill to fix his tie, or sends a dinner party into a fit of laughter with a well-timed wisecrack, he gazes at her with relentless affection. They are unembarrassed to call each other by pet names, no matter who else is present. Their son, Christopher, is the father of two and a successful humorist—facts that Pat and Bill proudly advertise.
But the work that helps to explain Buckley’s character more than any other is his 1997 book “Nearer My God: An Autobiography of Faith.” “It seems to me,” he once said of his faith, that “a balanced life begins by acknowledging the insufficiency of purely materialistic considerations, and therefore one instinctively looks out for the other dimension that religion supplies you with.” His is a quiet devotion, which he’d previously made little effort to discuss publicly. But his generosity, his patience, his compassion are all indicative of a grace that strives not only to believe the faith but to live it—even if humility bars him from saying as much.
February 27, 2008 | 1:56 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
An advocacy group called Christian Voice has been up in arms over the “blasphemous” and “pornographic” sculpture, and has added a clock to the top of its home page counting:
Time which billionaire Jewish art collector (and friend of the Chief Rabbi) Anita Zabludowicz has had to destroy her blasphemous, pornographic statue of Jesus Christ with a phallus attached, since getting it back from the Baltic Centre in Gateshead at 6.00pm on Saturday 20th January 2008.
Christian Voice has written letters to the chief rabbi and distributed fliers outside the synagogue as people should up for minchah last Shabbat. Christian Voice’s leader explained:
âJust as the sin of Achan in taking a valuable but accursed thing from Jericho brought judgment on the whole community of Israel, so his [Mr Zabludowiczâs] actions and those of his wife, in clinging on to this valuable but accursed statue, is bringing the slur of blasphemy against the whole Jewish community.
âThe rest of the council too are complicit in his and Anitaâs continuing scorn for the One whom Christians hold most holy of all, and that includes the Chief Rabbi, who appears to have told them to âCarry on blasphemingâ.â
(Hat tip: Bintel Blog)
February 27, 2008 | 11:53 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
In the interview, Hathout promotes himself as a “progressive” and an admirer of Malcolm X, calls terrorism as “the lousiest shortcut to failure” and stands by his criticisms of the Jewish state.
Q: You follow a more progressive Islam, one that respects a woman’s independence and a right to an education. Is this version winning out in the United States among younger Muslims or are they becoming more radicalized like their peers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia?
A: I underscore a version of Islam that I think is the real Islam ... from the higher sources, from the Koran and the model of prophet Muhammad. And we believe that our fair and neutral reading will lead to emancipation of women, equality of genders and to mercy and justice. ... I am afraid that this is sometimes overtaken by overwhelming anger and feelings of injustice.
Q: In 2000, during the height of the second Palestinian Intifada against Israel, you gave a speech using the word “butchers” to describe the state of Israel. Would you refer to a Palestinian suicide bomber in Tel Aviv as a butcher?
A: I refer to them as suicidal (people) who are committing crimes against civilians, and that’s absolutely wrong.
Remember, at that time, the Intifada was called the stone Intifada because they didn’t use weapons, they threw rocks. And I was very angry about (Israel’s harsh reaction), and I expressed that anger in the tone of my speech.
There was great brutality committed against the Palestinians ... which led me to say what I said. I clarified and, as a matter of fact. I apologized for the tone, not for the principle.
Q: What is terrorism’s appeal? Doesn’t it really just come down to the fact that it’s easier to hide in a crowd and lob bricks than to get involved in civil society, which always involves compromise and concessions?
A: Yes. Terrorism is the lousiest shortcut to failure. Terrorism does not achieve results. And I’m not talking only about this wave, I’m talking about history, whether in Russia ... or in Germany or in Europe or Ireland. Terrorism does not achieve things. What achieves things is the ability to deal with the opposite side ... to reach a compromise that does not violate human rights and justice.