Jewish humor, magazines dying out?

Not long ago, I linked to some stuff at New Voices, described as a “national Jewish student magazine.”

Now, New Voices has an interesting piece on the state of Jewish magazines, which includes this nugget from J.J. Goldberg, editorial director at the venerable Forward:


For Goldberg, the real problem is the lack of audience. “I learned this a long time ago,” he says. “If you want to sell subscriptions to a Jewish periodical, it tops off at around 60,000. That’s the number of Jews in America that will subscribe to a Jewish publication. Everybody wants to sell to them because Jews read. The publishers keep on publishing Jewish books because they know that so many of their readers are Jewish. But they’re not reading Jewish books. Most of the Jews aren’t that interested in Judaism. There’s this assumption that you can do something great and it will succeed. You can do something great, but [that doesn’t mean it’s going to succeed.]”


On a semi-related note, New York magazine has a cover story this week about Woody Allen’s next movie, which will feature Larry David. The headline is: “Last of the Schlemiels.”

The mag tries to make the case that we are looking at the end of Jewish humor as we’ve known it.

Of the movie, Whatever Works, they write:


This movie is literally vintage Woody Allen. In fact, it calls to mind a brand of Jewish humor that has, in recent years, been all but scrubbed out—neurotic, depressive, abrasive, excluded. And to serve as its embodiment, he drafted Larry David, the guy who, through six seasons of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, has done more than anyone—even Allen—to keep that sensibility alive for a generation to whom it’s now almost completely foreign.


The story comes with a great two-page spread on the history of Jewish humor. Or, as they put it: “5,769 years of the Jewish joke.”

If you go HERE, and click on “view as a PDF,” you can see the whole thing, from Yiddish theater and the Marx Brothers to the Catkills, Mel Brooks and Lenny Bruce to Seinfeld, Jon Stewart and Judd Apatow.

Studying the Mormon role in the marriage debate

We’ve heard about the strong role that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had in promoting California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between man and woman (and not man and man or woman and woman).

Now the Wash Post writes that gay marriage advocates around the country are studying the Mormon Church’s involvement — both out of respect for the church’s commitment and to defeat the church down the road.

The article notes:


Mormon officials have tried to stay out of the controversy that followed the California vote, when the church’s prominent role in the marriage fight became clear. A spokeswoman in Salt Lake City declined to say whether the church is involved in debates going on in states such as New Jersey and New York, except to say that leaders remain intent on preserving the “divine institution” of marriage between man and woman. The faith holds that traditional marriage “transcends this world” and is necessary for “the fullness of joy in the next life.”


By the way, the Rev. Joe Agne, pastor of Memorial United Methodist Church in White Plains, is being honored as “Person of the Year” by the Westchester County LGBT Advisory Board.

Agne recently invited the Loft, Westchester’s main gay and lesbian community center/advocacy group, to move its HQ to Memorial United’s church building.

Recognize the guy on the left?

Curious about Cat Stevens — the classic ’70s singer/songwriter who converted to Islam and disappeared for decades from public view?

He’s back with a new album and seems to be interested in regaining some sort of a public profile.

He was on Tavis Smiley’s show on public TV a few months ago, and I just noticed that you can watch the whole thing on Tavis’ website HERE.

He now goes by Yusuf, by the way (Stevens, not Smiley).

Yusuf just performed at Island Records’ 50th anniversary show in London — and was introduced by a well-known Christian, U2’s Bono.

Larchmont native named bishop of Allentown

A Westchester native has been chosen the next Roman Catholic bishop of Allentown, Penn.

Monsignor John O. Barres, currently chancellor of the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., will be ordained a bishop and installed as Allentown’s fourth boss on July 30.

Barres grew up in Larchmont.

In our digital library, I found this note from Oct. 21, 1989:

“ORDINATION: The Rev. John Barres, son of Oliver and Marjorie Barres, parishioners of St. Augustine’s Church, 18 Cherry Ave., is to be ordained today in Wilmington, Delaware. He is to celebrate his first Mass at St. Augustine’s tomorrow at 12 noon. A reception will follow in the school auditorium.”

That’s St. Augustine’s in Larchmont.

According to, he was born in Port Chester, probably at the now closed United Hospital.

According to Delaware Online, Barres’ parents were both Protestant ministers who met at Yale Divinity School and became Catholics in 1955. His parents later worked for the famous Bishop Fulton Sheen — who baptized young John.

What a story.

By all accounts, Barres is a cerebral fellow — a theologian with a master’s in business administration — who will be missed in Delaware.

It sounds like Barres, 48, will have to re-energize a diocese that has been dealing with parish closings.

”I have no blueprint,” he said. ”I am opening myself to the Holy Spirit.”

Photo: AP/Joe Gill

Tomorrow: adolescent catechesis workshop; lecture on Darwin and Christian belief

Here are two events you might want to know about taking place tomorrow (Friday, May 29):

First off, the catechetical office of the Archdiocese of New York will offer an all-day adolescent catechesis workshop at the Riverview in Hastings-on-Hudson.

The program is called “Knowing Jesus, Growing as Disciples,” and is aimed at all Catholic educators who deal with adolescents.

It’s from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The price is $40 per person, including lunch. The Riverview is at 1 Warburton Ave.

For information or registration, contact Kathleen Alonzo at 212-371-1011, ex. 2864 or

Second, the writer George Sim Johnston will speak at 7 p.m. at the Montfort Academy in Katonah about Christian views on the theory of evolution.

His lecture is called: “Did Darwin Get It Right? Christian Belief and the Theory of Evolution.”

He wrote a book with the same title in 1998. If you want a preview of what Johnston might say, I found an abridged version of a lecture he gave on the subject in 1999.

At the time, Johnston had great problems with classic Darwin:


There are other serious problems with classical Darwinian theory. Among them are the fact that scientists see very little “struggle for survival” in nature (many species tend to cooperate and occupy ecological niches which do not compete); the fact that all the major body plans we see today in animals and insects appeared at once in the Cambrian era, a fact which does not fit Darwin’s model; and that many species like the lungfish have not changed at all in over 300 million years despite important shifts in their environment, which flatly contradicts the constant fine-tuning Darwin attributed to natural selection.

Darwin himself was increasingly plagued by doubts after the first edition of the Origin. In subsequent editions, he kept backing off from natural selection as the explanation of all natural phenomena. Darwin’s unproven theory nonetheless became dogma in the public mind.


The Vatican hosted a major conference on evolution this year. And Pope Benedict XVI himself has talked about seeing no conflict between faith and the “much scientific proof in favor of evolution.”

In his 1999 talk, Johnston said this:


The Catholic Church has never had a problem with “evolution” (as opposed to philosophical Darwinism, which sees man solely as the product of materialist forces). The Church has never taught that the first chapter of Genesis is meant to teach science.

Pius XII correctly pointed out in the encyclical Humani Generis (1950) that the theory of evolution had not been completely proved, but he did not forbid that the theory of evolution concerning the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for Catholic faith obliges us to hold that human souls are immediately created by God – be investigated and discussed by experts as far as the present state of human science and sacred theology allows.

In his catechesis on creation given during a series of general audiences in 1986, John Paul II stated that “the theory of natural evolution, understood in a sense that does not exclude divine causality, is not in principle opposed to the truth about the creation of the visible world as presented in the Book of Genesis.” He hastened to add that “this hypothesis proposes only a probability, not a scientific certainty.”

The Church’s quarrel with many scientists who call themselves evolutionists is not about evolution itself, which may or may not have occurred in a non-Darwinian, teleological manner, but rather about the philosophical materialism that is at the root of so much evolutionary thinking. The Church insists that man is not an accident; that no matter how He went about creating homo sapiens, God from all eternity intended that man and all creation exist in their present form.

Look familiar?

We got this picture emailed to us today from an employee at the Il Sorriso restaurant in Irvington.

Apparently, some of the kitchen staff think this potato offers an image of the Virgin Mary.

One employee wrote to us that the staff was praying hard for the restaurant business because there have been a lot of closings and lay-offs.

He wrote: “The staff took this as a sign from God.”

Two ELCA pastors get top synod posts

I’ve been slow in getting to the recent Synod Assembly of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

I’ll write more about it soon.

But I wanted to note some staff changes affecting two highly regarded ELCA pastors from here in the LoHud.

First, the Rev. Kathleen Koran, pastor of Trinity Lutheran in Brewster since 2002, has been named assistant to the bishop for congregations. She will assist Bishop Robert Rimbo, head of the NY Synod, to develop healthy congregations. She starts July 1.

Second, the Rev. Jack Horner, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Mount Kisco for 10 years, has been named assistant to the bishop for evangelical mission. He’ll be dealing with outreach and evangelical efforts, particularly at congregations that are receiving financial support from the synod or the national denomination. Interestingly, he’ll be working for both Rimbo and Bishop Stephen Bouman, the past bishop of New York who is now heading the ELCA’s Division for Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission out of Chicago. Horner gets going June 16.

More on the recession

The Alban Institute, a non-profit educational group in Herndon, Va., that tries to support religious congregations, is offering an interesting selection of on-line “webinars” on subjects related to money.

Or the lack of it.

There’s “Talking about Money, Like it or Not.” “Stewardship in Lean Times.” “Staff Anxieties in a Changing Economy.”

And more, more, more.

There’s even “Being Ready for a Rebound,” which is described like this:


This webinar provides perspectives on the current economic recession that can help you and your congregation start now to prepare for your future, rather than just weathering the downturn and delaying your dreams for a better day.

Join us to hear the guidance of two well-known and highly respected church leaders about how congregations and denominations can be more vital after the economic crisis, than than they were even before it began.

Take the Catholic economic justice quiz

The U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference has unveiled a website for “Catholic Teaching on Economic Life.”

There you’ll find podcasts, videos, key principles, policy papers, prayer resources and more.

There is also an “economic justice quiz,” which includes questions such as:

1. According to the 2007 U.S. Census, how many people in the United States live below the poverty line?” The choices are: 1.8 million; 5.6 million; 15.9 million; 26.7 million; and 37.3 million.

Want the answer? Look it up.

2. Which right of workers do the bishops not mention in Economic Justice for All, a Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy? The choices: to safe and decent working conditions; to choose to join together to form unions and associations; to wages without dligent work in exchange; to be treated as persons, not simply as means to a profit; to fair wages sufficient to provide for their families’ basic needs.

Okay, that’s an easy one.

3. The values of my faith lead me to believe that economic choices and institutions should be judged based on (choose one): whether they help the U.S. maintain its superpower status; preventing our country’s national debt from continuing to grow; how the poor and vulnerable are faring; how well my (or my family’s) stocks are doing.

The correct answer is obvious. But how many people would really choose another one?

4. Catholic teaching affirms that the free market (choose one): is important to promoting economic freedom, but its operation must be modified when it harms vulnerable members of society; provides equal access to wealth and success for anyone who is willing to work hard; is inherently unjust and ultimately leads to the poorest getting even poorer.

Well, these questions aren’t that difficult. But, again, you have to figure that a lot of people would consciously pick the “wrong” answer.

Where did the Episcopalians go?

For an assortment of reasons, I haven’t had much time to focus today on Obama’s choice of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Top Court in the Land.

She would be the sixth Catholic on the nine-justice court, which is notable because of what it says about the demise of anti-Catholicism. Who even cares that she’s Catholic?

Except for Catholics, of course.

For many Catholics — especially committed pro-life Catholics — the question may now become: Is Sotomayor Catholic enough?

She’s divorced. No kids. Her record on abortion — from what I understand — is somewhat unclear.

It’s early, but Sotomayor is being portrayed as a “social justice” Catholic.

The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson does a fine job compiling some early reactions from some of the top religion journalism bloggers out there.

He notes about the current Supreme Court: “Two of the justices are Jewish; the resignation of Justice David Souter, who is an Episcopalian, will leave, amazingly given the history of this nation, just one Protestant on the Supreme Court, 89-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens.”

Might we, one of these days, see an all-Catholic court?

I happen to be in the middle of a long profile of Chief Justice John Roberts in this week’s New Yorker. Roberts, of course, is also Catholic. But he probably wouldn’t be described as a “social justice Catholic,” at least by Jeffrey Toobin, the writer and CNN talking head.

Toobin writes this:


In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.