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January 14, 2004

So neo really is short

Daniel Radosh

So neo really is short for Jewish?. Just back from the swank Week Opinion Awards luncheon at Harry & Tina's. I was a judge for Blogger of the Year, not a nominee for anything, though I did win five bucks off Choire Sicha in the incestuous media equivalent of a bar bet (will Seth Mnookin wear a suit?).

I don't usually go for such posh events -- by which I mean I'm not usually invited -- but this one was fun if only to finally get to meet in person folks like Choire and Elizabeth Spiers, who is prettier than you might expect, in a small sort of way, but also very quiet; I don't think I heard her say three words (though perhaps she just had nothing to say to me). Also had a nice chat with Cynthia Cotts, though forgot to ask her for advice re: Lingua Franca, as I'm pretty sure my summons hasn't arrived only because it went to an old address.

But I'm not here to drop names. (Oh wait, yes I am. Sid Blumenthal = unusually shiny). I just need to mention one eyebrow-raising moment. Award winners were given $1,000 which they were required to donate to a library of their choice. Tom Friedman, in accepting his prize, said, "Like all good Jews, I've started my own synagogue. With William Safire. So this is going to the library there."

Say what?

As the Sun's Gary Shapiro pointed out later, the "Like all good Jews" part was obviously an allusion to the old joke, but in the non-setup/punchline world, most Jews do not in fact start their own synagogues (indeed, many perfectly good Jews can barely bring themselves to attend already existing ones). Much less "with William Safire" (is Brooks the cantor?) Did he really mean they started their own shul? Or that they joined a sleepy one together and revived it through the force of their personalities? Or was this simply a jokey way of saying he'd be laundering the check in order to keep it? (I happen to know that Friedman commands $40,000 per speaking engagement, so while we can rule out necessity as a motive, we can't rule out greed).

I'll leave it to more commited satirists to, I dunno, write a Friedman/Safire shabbos service. I just want to know, for real, what the fuck? Despite the fact that Friedman made his comment in a room full of journalists, no one, to the best of my knowledge, had the wherewithal to ask him (though everyone was buzzing about it). There was a lovely young woman from the Times with flaming orange hair who seemed to be taking notes, so keep your eye on Boldface Names in the next few days; that's our best bet for the answer, though Choire also claimed that he'd work his sources. I'll work mine too, I guess, in the form of asking any reader who have heard about this to fill me in.

Update: Harry & Tina's? "Yes, it's like a matinee of Tony & Tina's. It's a performance and you're trying to figure out who acting and who's not." That's what my co-judge Jeff Jarvis has to say about the event (along with much else, including some stuff about the actual awards, which I guess I forgot to go into; lucky bastard was blogging from his Treo 600 before he hit the street). I was supposed to be at the kid's table with him and the rest of the bloggers, but through a mix-up I ended up sitting at a more respectable table, and thus had significantly less fun.

More important update: Shapiro, for one, is a real reporter after all. He picked up the telephone and filed this report for The Sun: In accepting his award for Columnist of the Year, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, referring to where his award money would go, said, "Like all good Jews, I started my own synagogue."

Blogger Daniel Radosh of radosh.net was among the many puzzled as to what Mr. Friedman was referring. Reached through a Times spokesman, Mr. Friedman said he and a group co-founded Kol Shalom, a synagogue in Bethesda, Md.

In a phone conversation, the executive director of the synagogue, Deborah Finkelstein, filled in the rest: The synagogue, which was founded in October 2001, is "conservative egalitarian." It boasts William Safire as an original member, and Middle East envoy Dennis Ross is another member. The synagogue has an office but not yet its own building.

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