The Rise and Fall of the Reconstructionist Publishing Service House

(This is parody in case it’s not obvious.)

The Recon Publishing House’s 1998 resource book, Jewish, Alive & American was a smash hit that may have clouded the publishers’ ability to read the market landscape going forward.

Earlier this week, the Reconstructionist Publishing Service House (RPSH) announced the indefinite suspension of operations and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the district court of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The news sent shockwaves through the liberal Jewish world, as RPSH had built a reputation as an innovative progressive Jewish influencer. RPSH’s profits used to soar on reissues of the works of Reconstructionism’s founding thinker, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. The publishing house holds the copyrights to all of his works, including his classics, Judaism as a Civilization, The Future of the American Jew, and the surprisingly popular Not So Random Thoughts. But even Kaplan’s lesser known works have done well, especially the “Judaism as a…” pamphlet series that reshaped mid-20th century Jewish thought with editions such as “Judaism as a Hypervigilant Neurosis,” “Judaism as a Needle Nosed Pliers,” and the forever beloved “Judaism as a Confusing Morass – Parts 1, 2, and 3.”

But the major success came in 1998, when synagogues of many denominations bought massive numbers of Jewish, Alive & American, a brilliant curriculum for a 30-week course that was simultaneously part “Intro to Judaism,” part conversion-to-Judaism prep course, and part sociological history of Judaism. Accessible yet well-researched, and filled with exciting group activities, JA&A, as it became known, raised the profile of the smallest liberal movement of Judaism, and brought unexpected profits to RPSH.

Perhaps the dazzling success of JA&A fomented the subsequent overreach that appears to have sunk RPSH. At first, Chief Editor Bartenura Bartzilam sought to amplify JA&A’s success by creating multi-media editions. This was the turn of the 21st century, so RPSH released a CD-ROM version as well as a DVD lecture series. Neither did all that well, but Bartzilam doubled down, committing millions to the development of an audio book series in 16 languages that lost money. Bartzilam nearly was fired, reportedly, after having funded a traveling puppet theater company tasked with the mission of bringing JA&A to untapped audiences among interfaith families with children ages 3 to 8. It turned out that there was no interest in the program at all, and in the lone public performance offered at a Jewish day school in Denver several of the children reported having nightmares in reaction to some of the scarier-looking puppets.

Continue reading “The Rise and Fall of the Reconstructionist Publishing Service House”

Can I ask you a personal favor?

This morning I got an email at work that came from an email address belonging to someone I know. The subject line just read “Checking in…” and the message read “Hi Maurice, can I ask you a personal favor?” and was signed the person’s first name.

Classic spammer approach via someone’s hacked email.

I checked with our IT person to ask if there was any potential virus or other danger to our computers if I were to reply, because there are no links or attachments. He wrote back saying 1) no likely danger and 2) don’t do that this is your work email account are you nuts?

So I did not reply, and instead I wrote to the alleged sender separately to let them know that they had probably had their email hacked.

But this has led me to think up what could be fun replies to the spammer’s question…

Spammer: “Hi Maurice, Can I ask you a personal favor? Thanks, [person’s first name]

Me: [any one of the following]:

  • Call me at the station. We’re booking a bunch of perps but I can step away for a minute.
  • I told you, it’s over. Your wife knows. My husband knows. This is so painful – you have to stop.
  • Is it money again? Only if you’re going to your meetings. Have your sponsor call me.
  • Bruh, you still owe me for the other night. Remember, I have pics. You don’t want that s*%& on Instagram homes. Lol.
  • Sure – but I have to head out. Can u call me on my cell 911-665-6765?
  • Hey baby, only if you do me another favor 😉 😉 xoxoxoxoxo
  • Помогите, моя собака горит.
  • Giúp tôi với, con chó của tôi đang bị cháy.
  • So then the rabbi says, “Salad? That’s no salad! That’s my wife!” [then just continue with absurdities]

Ben & Jerry’s attacks West Bank settlements: new front breaks out in Starbucks’ War on Christmas

In a stunning development that has world leaders scrambling, Ben & Jerry’s Corporation and the Government of Israel are now officially in a state of war. The outbreak of hostilities is the latest strange expansion of the ever-growing War on Christmas begun by Starbucks back in 2011, and which has come to involve dozens of popular snack and beverage vendors in an epic struggle to destroy once and for all the holiday of Christmas and other central icons of Western Civilization such as Columbus Day, the Confederate battle flag, and – apparently – the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Until last week, it seemed July 2021 would end much as July 2020 had – with stalemates in the War on Christmas remaining entrenched, literally and figuratively, across multiple fronts in North America and Europe. But then at dawn on Monday, July 19, thousands of teenage ice-cream store workers converged upon several West Bank settlements and outposts wielding metal scoopers and taste spoons, and demanding that the residents of the settlements surrender unconditionally. Within hours, the settlements of Beitar Illit and Ariel had fallen to Ben & Jerry’s unstoppable phalanxes of cheerful dessert-dishers.

Elite units of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) initially responded by surrounding the conquered settlements with tanks and infantry, but each of these situations turned into a stand-off after Israeli troops discovered that the ice cream workers had surrounded the captured settlements with moats of hot fudge and caramel sauce and used a drone force to dump tons of Sprinkles on the approaching rescue teams.

According to several sources, the Ben & Jerry’s commandos were able to get past Israel’s vaunted security measures by offering free ice cream and presenting themselves as innocuous and harmless teenagers working their summer jobs.

As thousands of Israelis vowed to throw away any pints of Ben & Jerry’s they had in their freezers (after eating most of the remains because it would not be right to waste food), newly sworn in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convened his cabinet to address the first major military crisis of his administration. By midweek, Israeli war planes had laid waste to much of northern Vermont.

Continue reading “Ben & Jerry’s attacks West Bank settlements: new front breaks out in Starbucks’ War on Christmas”

Top 10 ways that Bibi is (really really) different than Jesus

You may have heard news that one of the world’s foremost Christian Zionist leaders, Rev. Mike Evans, published an anguished and angry op-ed excoriating Israeli Jews who are supporting the ouster of Netanyahu and the upcoming swearing in of a new coalition government to be headed by Naftali Bennett. Now I’m a rabbi, not a New Testament scholar, so I might be showing my ignorance here. But given that Evans specifically describes the anti-Bibi Jews as forming a chorus shouting “crucify him!” in their satanically-inspired desire to end Bibi’s time as Prime Minister, I felt I should do a little fact checking to see whether Evans has a point? Is Benjamin Netanyahu Christlike?

After what can only be described as minutes of painstaking research, I regret to share my perhaps surprising conclusion: no, Netanyahu is actually really really not like Jesus. Like, those two are super different.

Top 10 Differences between Netanyahu and Jesus Christ

  1. Bibi: Quote most remembered for: “The Arabs are voting in droves!” / JC: Quote most remembered for: “Love your enemies…” (Matt 5:44)
  2. Bibi: Wields state power and wants to keep it / JC: Defied state power and was ultimately murdered by the state
  3. Bibi: Doesn’t keep kosher but engages in l’shon hara (harmful and cruel speech, which is forbidden in Jewish law) / JC: Kept kosher and warned about the moral consequences of l’shon hara – urging people to pay attention to the words that come out of their mouths
  4. Bibi: Doesn’t observe the Sabbath / JC: Observed the Sabbath and commented on special circumstances when other Jewish values should take priority over strict ritual observance of the Sabbath
  5. Bibi: Has lied to so many people, friends and foes alike, so many times that even those politically aligned with him want him out of power and no one can trust his word on anything / JC: the opposite
  6. Bibi: Put on trial for 3 different cases for corruption. Claims that the trials are a sham but they’re actually not. Faces possible fines or jail time. / JC: Put on trial for staying true to his spiritual and moral convictions. The trial was actually a sham. He was actually crucified by the imperial authorities.
  7. Bibi: followers of his party have been shrinking over time / JC: followers of his party have grown into the billions
  8. Bibi: alpha male narcissist / JC: charismatic altruist
  9. Bibi: demagogue / JC: demigod (not trying to cause a theological kerfuffle here… just going for the easy laugh. Also, no disrespect intended.)
  10. Bibi: has lived a life of privilege and luxury / JC: not so much, though did have special access to unlimited loaves of bread and fishes

The spectacular rise and fall of Maurice Harris, ex-employee-of-the-month

REUTERS – Wyncote, PA

July 8, 2019

He came into office with a bold vision and a cocky style, determined to win the hearts and minds of the entire organization and build a base of support that would allow him to hold the office of Employee Of The Month (EOTM) for years to come. Few wanted to get in his way – this talented Jewish juggernaut from Missouri with the knit kippot and delicate hands (do NOT say they’re small around him, btw.)

WIN_20190709_15_24_11_Pro
A disgraced leader fends off photojournalists in his office.

But now Harris’ “Camelot” has come crashing down, following weeks of allegations of mismanagement, and then a cascade of scandals that left people in the Comms department chanting “Lock him up!” and the Development team refusing to accept his donation to the staff’s annual gift to the institution.

Hagana fighter Auschwitz tattoo
Harris’ first major lie to be exposed was his claim that this was a photo of him as a Haganah fighter in 1946. Forensic analysis proved that in fact it is a photo of Rabbi Elliott Tepperman. How Tepperman managed to time-travel remains unknown.

There are many contributing factors to Harris’ abrupt downfall and failure to garner even a second monthly term as EOTM, but most analysts agree that it was his barrage of self-aggrandizing lies and the investigative journalists who exposed them that finally sunk him. 

Did he actually summit Denali at age 45? It turns out no, as the Philly Inquirer discovered.

Is he actually married to the glamorous and brilliant prison-education expert, Melissa Crabbe? Have you ever actually seen her in the same room with him?

Are the Hot Pockets he stockpiles in the fridge actually vegan? They’re actually not even ingredient kosher.

Perhaps worst of all were the lies about his dating life.

 

 

It was Bryan Schwartzman of the Comms department, pursuing his own investigative leads, who uncovered Harris’ series of false boasts about celebrities he had dated. In venues such as the annual meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Harris told notable Jewish leaders that he had been lovers with a remarkable list of people, including Bella Abzug, Elizabeth Taylor, Amos Oz, Gabe Kaplan (while he was playing Mr. Kotter), Stav Shaffir, and Talia Shire (while she was playing Adrian in Rocky). Had Harris limited his claims to people who are currently deceased, he may have been impossible to prove wrong. As it stands, he now faces libel lawsuits in 3 countries from Shaffir, Shire, and the estate of Oz. Alan Dershowitz has agreed to represent him.

In a desperate last act intended to win back his collapsing support, Harris spent forty times the EOTM budget to hire a professional meme creator to produce this “Recon rabbis are the sexiest…” eye-chart-style poster. These mammoth 4 foot x 6 foot posters were delivered to each employee and to all their known relatives. Needless to say, the tactic did not work, and the new EOTM, Hila Ratzabi, comes into office having to deal with the residual effects of the debt this expenditure has created.

eye chart RRA

Harris did not return our calls.

 

Upon Being Named Employee of the Month

June 3, 2019

Philadelphia, PA

Dear Fellow Employees (who are not employee of the month),

I am humbled and overwhelmed by this honor. As your new leader, I pledge to use this power wisely and only for the good of the organization. And now that the voices of the employees have been heard and a winner has been chosen, it’s time to put the harsh rhetoric of the campaign season behind us. I regret some of the things I had to say about my fellow employees in the blood sport that is the struggle for the peoples’ votes. Now we can come together under my guidance.

They say that some are born to greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. In my case, I think greatness has born itself a child and thrust that child upon the doorstep of our office building. That child being me.

employee of the month yeah baby

Continue reading “Upon Being Named Employee of the Month”

Rabbinic Pastoral Counseling in the Citizens United Era

A congregational rabbi’s reflections 8 years after the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court ruling changed her world.

FROM THE DIARY OF RABBI HELEN BLOTZ-KUGELMEISTER

It happened on a sunny April afternoon – the day I first met with one of the new kind of congregants who’d been joining our synagogue recently. The truth was I had been nervous about meeting with one of them for more than a casual hello. Our Senior Rabbi, my mentor, Mervin Snubelman, had told me that it was only a matter of time before we had to start counseling and officiating at life cycle events for these new people, and we needed to handle it well.

My assistant had booked the appointment after receiving an email from Bergman-Schneider, Inc., saying that the multi-billion dollar conglomerate would like to meet with me to discuss a personal matter. Ever since the truth that corporations are people was finally recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, Rabbi Snubelman and I had been reflecting on the greatness of America, which despite its many flaws, seems to find a way to extend equality and human rights to wider and wider circles of people over time.

Of course, Snubelman and I talked about how we also had to confront our own toxic upbringings regarding corporate personhood. After all, we had grown up in a society that for centuries had denied that corporations were people. Corporations had lived among us, worked with us, even employed many of us, and yet we had denied them their humanity. Even though Snubelman and I had been supportive of the movement to right this wrong, we still had been infected by a stubborn and structural anti-corporate racism.

Anyway, Snubelman had told me that whenever the first corporate congregant to seek pastoral help would come to me, I should carry on as I would with any other person and not overthink it. Now that Bergman-Schneider, Inc. had asked for an appointment, I had to step up and be the rabbi I had trained to be.

It all started off rather typically. Bergman-Schneider, Inc. came into my office and nervously took a seat. “Rabbi, I need help.”

“What’s on your mind?” I asked.

“I’m about to give birth to another corporation,” Bergman-Schneider, Inc. said. I tried to smile hopefully, but distress clearly registered on Bergman-Schneider, Inc.’s face. My heart was stirred. Bergman-Schneider, Inc. was carrying a heavy burden. Continue reading “Rabbinic Pastoral Counseling in the Citizens United Era”

Leaked Transcript of Israeli Police Interview of Conservative Rabbi

Note: Translated from the Hebrew. All names have been changed.

Officer 1: Let the record note that we’re beginning this interview at 05:44 local time and we are recording this conversation. We have a few questions for you, Rabbi Schechter. Where were you between 19:00 and 20:00 on the evening of June 5, 2018?

Rabbi: At the Beach Plaza Hotel near Haifa.

Officer 1: And what were you doing there?

Rabbi: Officiating a wedding between two Jews.

Officer 1: Who said you could do that?

Rabbi: Well, I’ve been doing it for 35 years.

Officer 2: Answer the question!

Officer 1: No, it’s okay, Rafi. He’s cooperating. Rabbi, can I get you anything? Cigarette? Coffee? Bamba?

bamba

Rabbi: No thank you.

Officer 1: Are you sure? There’s nothing like Bamba–

Officer 2: Stop coddling him, Shmulik. Rabbi, why did you do it!? Tell us now or it won’t go easy for you!!

Rabbi: The wedding?

Continue reading “Leaked Transcript of Israeli Police Interview of Conservative Rabbi”