Venerated Broadway producer Manny Azenberg is by no means a religious man. His “beit midrash” is the Broadway stage. His “hevrutas” are the likes of Neil Simon, Woody Allen, and Mel Brooks. His collection of “seforim” includes: Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Lost in Yonkers, The Goodbye Girl, and Rent. Not exactly “halachic responsa”, if you will.
In 1988, one of his hevrutas, namely Woody Allen, wrote an op-ed in the NY Times calling for all Jews to oppose the treatment of rioting Palestinians by Israeli troops in Gaza and the West Bank. Allen had never been to Israel and still, to this day, has never been to Israel. When he was once asked why, he gave the following response: “I’m not a tourist. I travel regularly to three cities that I know and love — Paris, London and Rome — and that’s it. I don’t like to leave home because I’m a bit neurotic, and when I do leave home, it’s mostly for work. I don’t like flying and I don’t consider myself a curious person who wants to see new places.”
A cop out answer if there ever was one, especially from a no nonsense guy like Allen. In the words of Gene Simmons from KISS: “If you have never been to the moon, you can’t issue policy about the moon.”
Upon reading the op-ed, Manny Azenberg understood that same sentiment all too well. This is why in the early 90s, he decided to do something about it, and for 20 some odd years he’s been running a sort of “Birthright” trip for Broadway and Hollywood types…both Jews and non-Jews. The trip is 10 days long and is made right after the Tony Awards.
When I asked Manny, who is actually married to a non-Jew, why he’s been running such trips year in and year out…he answered simply: because Jewish identity is very important to him. I consider him a tzaddik as a result, despite our religious differences.
For the first evening of this year’s trip, Manny decided to give the group an in-depth lesson on the Middle East, given that many of them only hear about this region from thirty second sound and video bites on CNN and Fox News.
For the lecture, he hired no one but the best. Preeminent Middle East scholar from Bar Ilan University in Mordechai Kedar. This is a man who can give you an in-depth history of Kurdistan, at 3am, in his sleep, standing on one leg, in Arabic.
After literally cornering him at one of his lectures in Tel Aviv and offering to help him on a project, I was privileged enough to be invited by Mordechai to this particular talk, which he gave at a small cafe in the center of Jerusalem.
The only account I can give that would do it any justice was that it was extremely informational, entertaining, frank and eye-opening. The eye-opening part came not so much as a result of the information, but rather the reaction of the mainly left-wing audience members, many of whom hail from New York or LA, where the Jews in the group are completely unaffiliated.
In short, it got to a point where the group answered in unison about President Carter being weak during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, and coming to a unanimous understanding that in the Middle East, as Dr. Kedar would famously say: “Peace belongs to the invincible”.
At the Q&A portion of the night, Kedar was asked about Syria. The following is his take:
(turn the volume all the way up on your speakers)