Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dear Noah Feldman

Dear Professor Feldman,

I’m sure you’ve heard or seen or read some of the responses provoked by your article in the New York Times Magazine. Your Q&A on Jewcy.com also resulted in quite the variety of reactions. If I may, I’d like to take this opportunity to respond in my own way, to address you as if you were a small child, and not a Harvard Law professor. Although if you are supposed to be in the fifth grade, then the fact that you’re teaching graduate school at Harvard is pretty sweet.

All schools need money to stay open. Especially if they’re located in Brookline, Massachusetts, where it’s reasonable to pay for a parking spot what most people end up shelling out for medical school. The most likely source of funds for these institutions of higher learning is alumni. As a member of the Harvard faculty, surely you’ve seen well-heeled older men and women strolling the grounds, trying to remember in which dorm room they lost their virginity, if only so they can put a plaque with their name on it above the door, memorializing those fantastic twenty seconds.

When these fine old folks read about their alma maters, they don’t like to read about fraternity hazing involving farm animals and industrial lubricants, or school presidents saying that men are better at math and women than women. They want to hear about Nobel Prize winners, or the new National Lampoon film (just kidding. Maybe if the Lampoon just stopped with the movies, everyone would be happier. I know I would).

Well, Noah, Jewish high schools are the same way. They need money, and they need it from alumni. And religious school graduates don’t like to hear that other alums have not remained similarly connected to the Jewish community, just like they don’t want to know about that school’s fading reputation, or its stodgy and antiquated pedagogical practices (maybe that’s a letter for another time).

Intermarriage, from a religious perspective, might possibly be seen, in some ways, as a failure. Maybe. And if that failure is repeatedly mentioned and rehashed in school publications, donors might not be so inclined to support that disappointing institution. They might send their money elsewhere, to schools more successful at maintaining Jewish continuity. Also, other alumni might be offended, not because you threaten their beliefs, or their commitment, but because you represent the collapse of a finely-tuned, delicate system dedicated to ensuring there are more Jews in ten years than there are now (barring wars, the return of Jesus, and the like). And they’d like that mechanism to succeed. And a school trying to maintain that system might not want to publicize the fact that sometimes, they’re just not that good at it.

So you see, Noah, trying to reconnect through your high school’s alumni newsletter might not be optimal. When people ask me what I think the best way to return, on some level, to Jewish living, I offer these options, in no particular order:

a) Spin a dreidel. Gambling is a great way to start doing something compulsively.

b) Get drunk on Purim. It’s like New Years and Halloween in one! Plus, like gambling, addiction helps you get back into a routine.

c) Picking up change off the ground. Sure, it’s easy, and stereotypical, but who doesn’t like having exact change at Starbucks?

d) Join the vast underground conspiracy. We’re always looking for new ideas for controlling world finances, the media, and educational institutions. And since you’re already ensconced at Harvard Law, you’re already on the inside. There are great benefits, and I’m sure they’d be willing to throw in a book deal as a signing bonus.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're confusing the Harvard Lampoon with National Lampoon. The Harvard Lampoon is a college magazine.

charles said...

I realized that as soon as I posted. All Lampoons look the same to me.

Pants Wearer said...

Anonymous: changed and changed. Also, if you post anonymously, I cannot send you the thank you flowers for your kind edits.