“Ford is an interesting cat—a nice guy and a snake, all at the same time,” a friend told me.
Luke is a complex character, a man of many layers, and I set out last week to profile him for the cover of this week’s Jewish Journal. I spent six hours with him—eating together, praying together—and tomorrow I’ll put some of the audio online. Here’s a snippet from the print story:
His techniques were unorthodox, and not simply because he kept kosher and Shabbat while profiting from pornography. Trading in rumor and innuendo, lawsuits became part of the gig because he was willing to publish one-source stories and anonymous accusations as fact.
“There are three reasons why people come into the adult industry and two of them are wrong. The first is sex, which is mechanical, and the second is money, which is incidental. The primary reason is for the glory, and Luke has made himself glorious,” said Bill “Papa Bear” Margold, once dubbed “the renaissance man of porn” by Playboy. “He is the first site you go to see what is going on. Even if he doesn’t know what is going on, you go there to see that he doesn’t know what is going on.”
But his notoriety as an adult-industry blogger complicated Ford’s search for a spiritual home in Los Angeles’ Orthodox community. The first shul to give him the boot was Aish HaTorah in 1995 for being too antagonistic and again in 1998 when Rabbi Moshe Cohen discovered Ford’s double life as a porn journalist.
“He was one of the Torah weirdos,” said Rabbi Aryeh Markman, the shul’s executive director. “You get all sorts of people showing up in shul and we bust them. ‘I’m happy you’re looking for a place to daven. But this isn’t one of them.’ And you throw them out. ... The antithesis of Torah is porn.”
He lives in a guesthouse occupying half a converted garage. In a narrow room smaller than a college dorm, a few blankets—Ford’s bed—lay on the ground between his desk and the bathroom door, against which two white pillows rest. A bookshelf is lined with Judaica items and books on the Talmud, Jewish history and English literature; most of the books he reads come from the library.
There is a fridge and microwave; cassette tapes of recorded phone conversations are piled on the floor, a smorgasbord of bottled vitamins and medication cover a white dresser with gilded accents. “The Hovel,” as Ford endearingly refers to it, feels dank and smells worse, but for $600 a month, it’s home.
Ford posts the story, slips into the bathroom to wash his hands, then locks up and begins the half-mile schlep to shul.
“This is a good place,” an elderly man says to a teenage boy as Ford reads a Talmud commentary before a minyan has arrived. “You’re welcome here. You can come in the morning; you can come in the evening. You will feel good here.”
Certainly, that is true for Ford. This is the place that gives his life structure and purpose and stability. This is the only shul that’s let him continue davening there after discovering the depraved world within which he works. Judaism is not about a personal relationship with God, and without an accepting community there is no religious observance. For a convert like Ford, there is no Jewish identity absent Judaism.
“Orthodox Judaism in general, not just going to shul, gives me much needed structure,” Ford says after the service ended. “I have no core. I’m way too flexible on the things I do. This gives me some structure, and it’s important for me to bounce off the same people everyday…. It gives my life meaning, it gives my life rhythm, it gives my day a beginning and end. And it reminds me that there is a God.”
He returns home and hops in his van—a distinctly dented and rusted old GTE work van—and heads out to the Valley. He’s got a porn party to infiltrate.