July 19, 2001
Chandra Levy’s Jewish Angle
According to one Washington, D.C. rabbi, the calls started coming in within days of the first reports about the missing young woman with the Jewish name, and they haven't stopped.
Callers want to know: Does anybody in the community know the attractive Washington intern? Did she attend Capitol Hill Jewish events? Was she religious?
Washington, D.C. has been buzzing about Chandra Levy for two months now, since she disappeared without a trace while preparing to return to her California home.
Her relationship with Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.), which the lawmaker reportedly admitted to police, gave the story added spice for many.
It was the same with reporters seeking the "Jewish angle," the link that would make this a Jewish journalistic bombshell. Her Jewish links? The Levys are members of Congregation Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Modesto. However, Chandra Levy's mother, Susan, is reportedly "a Jew with a belief in Christ."
The case has churned up the biggest tornado of gossip, innuendo and scandal-sheet press coverage since Bill Clinton's indiscretions with another intern.
The story has all the elements of great political melodrama, but there's one problem: this is a human tragedy unfolding before our eyes, not a made-for-television movie. And a Jewish community that should know better is not immune from the circus of thrilled speculation.
The media frenzy has been overwhelming and unrelenting.
Cable television news programs, with hours of dead summer airtime to fill, are vying with the supermarket tabloids for the most sensational, least responsible news coverage of a disappearance that, so far, has produced very little real news.
The lack of hard information has not held back reporters and editors, who seem to think they'll win a Pulitzer for creative speculation.
Talk radio is worse. A popular program in Washington D.C. features the subject almost every night. Callers dissect this poor woman's life and weave breathless, ignorant theories about her fate; they hurl accusations against the congressman with self-righteous pleasure.
O, but the very fact they are participating in this orgy of sensationalism and deriving so much obvious pleasure from it makes a mockery of that sympathy.
Many can barely contain their glee at the specter of yet another self-righteous politician being bared as a hypocrite. Condit's public demand three years ago that Bill Clinton come clean on his relationship with Monica Lewinsky is aired almost daily, as if his hypocrisy is as important a story as the disappearance, and possible death, of a promising young woman.
Self-righteous politicians, many with their own tawdry pasts, stoke the fires for partisan gain.
Then there are the armies of conspiracy theorists who pounced as soon as the first whiffs of scandal wafted over the Potomac. Not surprisingly, many of the theories have a Jewish twist.
Chandra Levy may have been a Mossad agent, one well-known conspiracy "investigator" writes on his Web site. He should know: he's the guy who revealed Lewinsky's ties to the Israeli intelligence agency.
It's not surprising that millions of people believe theories that would be funny, if the context didn't render them tasteless and offensive.
What is disturbing is how many derive a kind of voyeuristic pleasure from the lurid speculation, oblivious to the fact that this is an unspeakable personal tragedy for the Levys.
That brings us to the audible buzz in the Jewish community.
Some of the interest about that part of her life may reflect the natural impulse to try to get a handle on a tragedy that is difficult to grasp.
She's one of us, we think; we can relate to the pain of the parents even more when we think of Chandra Levy as a child, attending Sunday school, going to services.
There is also sadness that yet another young, attractive Jewish woman has apparently gotten entangled in a political scandal. That scandal may have nothing to do with her disappearance, but it's painful to watch.
But there is also an element of gossipy excitement for some, a guilty thrill in knowing and talking about the fact it is a Jewish girl involved in this mystery that is gripping the nation.
Jews, too, read each day's installment of sensational non-news about the case, tune into the tabloid television news shows, listen to the armchair detectives on talk radio who are certain they have solved the case.
But mostly, the reaction in the Jewish community is sadness and concern for a family that is undergoing not only the disappearance of a child, but a savaging at the hands of our tabloid culture.
This isn't a Jewish story, and it's not a political soap opera; it is a human tragedy about people who are suffering in ways most of us cannot imagine. It is a story of unbearable anxiety over the fate of a child, something that should not be transformed into the latest cable-news sensation.
The Jewish angle is that there really is no Jewish angle.