NEW YORK — The guest expert’s talk at the local JCC/synagogue/federation is wrapping up.
Speaker: … and in conclusion, if we don’t remember this history, we are doomed to repeat it. As Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” And finally, as Rabbi Tarfon put it so eloquently, “It is not our duty to finish the work, but neither are we free to neglect it.”
Moderator: Let’s thank our speaker for what we all can agree was a beautiful and powerful presentation. At this point we can take a few questions, but please, let’s try to make them questions, not statements [general laughter]. Please wait until one of the interns can bring you a microphone and — OK then, looks like you are not going to wait.
First questioner: … in the Bronx in 1937. And what I’d like to know is, if what you say is true, how come our young people don’t know more about it? What can we do to have this taught in every elementary and secondary school?
Speaker: Well, first of all …
Various audience members: Can you repeat the question?
Speaker: The question was, “If what you say is true, how come it isn’t taught in school?” That’s basically what you asked, right?
First questioner: Yes. Because what you said was very provocative, but I worry that our young people don’t know much about it. And that our schools don’t do a good job of teaching about it. So we should have more schools teaching this. And by schools I mean elementary schools, junior high schools, day schools, public schools, high schools …
Speaker: Yes, I think I got it. So let me give a fairly lengthy answer about that while ignoring the large number of hands being raised around the room.
Moderator: Next question. Yes? In the back. Please wait for the microphone.
Second questioner: … as a demolition sergeant serving with the First Battalion, 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division. When I was back stateside, my brother and I started a small appliance repair company, after which …
Moderator: Please sir, let’s try to limit this to questions …
Second questioner: My question is, when I was in the service, there was anti-Semitism, sure, but mostly we all got along. And it really didn’t matter where you were from: Jews, Italians, Irish, Orientals. As my mother, of blessed memory, used to say …
Moderator: Sir, is there a question for our speaker?
Speaker: I think I know what he is asking.
Moderator: You do?
Speaker: I do, and I will now answer it at such length and with such a plethora of details that we’ll all forget what was and wasn’t asked.
Moderator: I see a lot hands raised, so let’s try to keep our questions short and to the point. You, there.
Third questioner: I actually have three questions. The first is …
Moderator: Please, if we can limit …
Third questioner: … if Roosevelt knew, why didn’t he bomb the rail lines? Second, if the Palestinians say they want peace, why did they reject all the previous offers Israel put on the table? And third, why do Jews continue to vote for Democrats when …
Moderator: None of those are the subject of our talk!
Speaker: That’s OK, I can answer by providing a rambling anecdote about meeting Ruth Westheimer at a car show, and then by urging you to buy my book, which is on sale in the lobby directly after this talk.
Moderator: Next question, please.
Fourth questioner: Yes, thank you. Did you read Bret Stephens’ column this morning?
Speaker: I did, but what does that have to do with …
Fourth questioner: What did you think?
Speaker: Well, I thought …
Fourth questioner: I thought it was brilliant. [sits down]
Fifth questioner: THE NEW YORK TIMES IS ANTI-SEMITIC!
Moderator: Please wait for the microphone to come to you.
Fifth questioner: I DON’T NEED A MICROPHONE! I STOPPED SUBSCRIBING TO THE TIMES FIVE YEARS AGO, BUT EVERY DAY I READ MY NEIGHBOR’S COPY AND IT IS FULL OF LIES ABOUT ISRAEL!
Moderator: Thank you, sir. But again, we are looking for questions, not statements. Let’s get a younger person. OK, you’ll do.
Sixth questioner: Excuse me, but I want to read this [pulls paper our of pocket] and do so painfully slowly so I get it right. “We know that feminism and critical race theory have gifted us with intersectionality as a heuristic and analytic tool. We also know, per Neusner, that the probative value of category formations helps a culture organize the social order. And of course there is Levinas, who sought to reconfigure the ethical tradition of Jewish monotheism in the language of first philosophy” …
Moderator: Is there a question?
Speaker: I think I know what she is asking.
Moderator: You do?
Speaker: Yes I do. Actually, I don’t. But I will answer by deftly avoiding the question and explaining that I need to clarify something raised by a previous questioner. And then I’ll add an anecdote about the time I met Yitzhak Perlman at a pet store.
Moderator: I think we can take one more. There, the green sweater.
Seventh questioner: Mine is a four-part question …
Moderator: Oh, for Pete’s …
Speaker: I’ll be happy to stick around if you want to ask me something directly, knowing full well that it will keep me away from the snack table until all the good cookies are gone. But that’s how generous I am with my time.
Moderator: Thank you all for coming, and good night!
—JTA News and Features