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”

What Must Be Admitted about the War on Christmas

You may have noticed recent news stories describing the latest salvo in our nation’s ongoing War on Christmas – Starbucks Corp has been enlisted to de-Santa-fy its Christmas themed red/green holiday season beverage containers, and has launched a shock and awe campaign designed to place nothing but plain red cups with green trim into the hands of tens of millions of customers. As the War on Christmas enters its second decade, I fear this latest attempt to turn the tide in this ill-conceived war is doomed to fail before it even begins.

Facebook is buzzing with memes claiming that the West is finally starting to win the War on Christmas, but we're not fooled. How many more lives will be lost in this campaign, launched hastily by the Bush Administration and continuing on in various guises through the current Administration?
Facebook is buzzing with memes claiming that the West is finally starting to win the War on Christmas, but we’re not fooled. How many more lives will be lost in this campaign, launched hastily by the Bush Administration and continuing on in various guises through the current Administration?

What concerns me most is that we should have won this war long ago, but we went in without enough troops, and the illegal POW camp we set up at the North Pole betrayed our values and weakened our international credibility. Too many politicians and war profiteers have lied us into this quagmire of an endless and unfinished war on Christmas.

And our traumatized troops, when they come home, what do we give them? Jobs and trauma support? No! We give them shopping malls filled with so called holiday music and decorations. But these brave men and women who’ve faced the wrath of Santa’s terrorist elves, they KNOW this holiday stuff is really just Christmas stuff in disguise.

Enemy agents from Santa's network of terror frequently sneak post cards with terrifying images like this attack cat. These cards are left in elementary schools and on playgrounds, where young American kids are frightened into thinking they not only have to say "Merry Christmas" all the time, but that they must misspell it as well.
Enemy agents from Santa’s network of terror frequently sneak post cards with terrifying images like this attack cat. These cards are left in elementary schools and on playgrounds, where young American kids are frightened into thinking they not only have to say “Merry Christmas” all the time, but that they must misspell it as well.

We should either have gone into the war on Christmas with overwhelming force and the will to win decisively, or we shouldn’t have gone in at all.

At best we’ll leave the North Pole in a leaderless mess. I know that Santa is a brutal tyrant, and that the people of the Arctic circle deserve freedom, but even if we did oust him, what kind of crazies might take over there? Everyone knows you should never get into a land war in the Arctic. Even Putin wasn’t dumb enough to make that mistake, and he’s got Siberian trained cold weather shock troops. You know who is really the winner of this endless war? The weapons manufacturers, as always. The war on Christmas will be remembered as the great foreign policy debacle of the American 21st century.