By Bruce S. Ticker
PHILADELPHIA–The Catholic Church historically inspired persecution against our people, and in the last half-century church leaders merit recognition for reconciling with us. After that immense effort to do right, the church has embarked on a new course of action: Confuse the heck out of the Jews.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, normally known to be a fine gentleman, implied to his flock that a second crucification might be approaching. Who was blamed for the first one?
Then a Vatican priest, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, on Good Friday, of all days, likened the disparagement of Pope Benedict XVI to anti-Semitism. To call this comparison a stretch is a polite understatement. He was wise enough to apologize two days later, on Easter Day.
This frantic rhetoric is rooted in the sex abuse scandal that has finally been dropped onto the pontiff’s lap. Predictably, from Benedict on down church leaders have been defensive to the point of exploiting others, like the Jewish people.
Fortunately, I doubt if their approach will cause Jews any genuine harm. The Vatican’s influence in Europe and North America has thinned over the years. Most Catholics in those regions will probably not take these references seriously. I also give Dolan and Cantalamessa the benefit of the doubt that they intended no offense, and for the record I have long had both positive and negative feelings toward the Catholic Church.
The words uttered by Dolan and Cantalamessa are still potentially threatening, and both should have known better. The New York Daily News reported that Dolan told parishioners at Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, “(Reforms) could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.”
Asking if the church and the pope “need intense scrutiny and just criticism,” Dolan added, “All we ask is that it be fair and that the Catholic Church not be singled out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency and family in the world.”
Thousands of miles east, Cantalamessa was delivering a Good Friday sermon in St. Peter’s Basilica – with the pope in attendance – when he said the timing of Passover and Easter the same week prompted him to think of the Jews, according to The New York Times. “They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence, and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms,” he said.
The priest, who holds the title of preacher of the papal household, then quoted from what he noted was a letter from a Jewish friend whom he did not identify: “I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the pope and the faithful by the whole world. The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi swiftly emphasized that the sermon reflected Cantalamessa’s thoughts and was not an official Vatican statement. He did not mention that Cantalamessa made these comments while serving in his official capacity for the Vatican, and the location was St. Peter’s Basilica.
So many distortions, so little space.
Benedict is not Jesus, and it is always risky to draw comparisons with a larger-than-life historical or religious figure. The New Testament recounts that Roman soldiers placed a crown of thorns atop Jesus’ head before he was crucified. The church for most of its existence blamed Jews and their descendents for the death of Jesus. Will the Jews be blamed for Benedict’s fate? Or will they replace us with another scapegoat?
When Dolan pleads for fair treatment, the scrutiny is in fact long overdue. It could be far worse.
Sexual abuse is a serious crime, and anyone who shields sex abusers could also be vulnerable to prosecution.
If the church is being singled out, maybe that is due to the vast numbers of victims. These are hardly isolated incidents. It is a direct result of a scarcity of competent leadership. If the church had enacted firm policies and enforced them, church leaders would not feel they were under siege at this time.
It is ironic that Cantalamessa would compare this siege to anti-Semitism since the church perfected hatred of Jews to an art form. The knights who entered Jerusalem during the Crusades massacred not only Muslims but Jews as well. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella murdered, tortured, expelled and forcefully converted Spanish Jews to Catholicism.
Jews suffered from “collective violence,” but what church leaders (with one reported exception) have been subjected to violence over this?
Would nuns and priests stand for such excuses from students and parishioners?
Church leaders must confront these charges like adults. When mistakes are made in the media, they are welcome to correct the record, but it is time they took full responsibility. Just leave us out of it.
Bruce S. Ticker is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia. He can be contacted at
LOS ANGELES — If you ask Jules Feiffer how he likes L.A., he will launch into a story about the time he spent 90 minutes driving around in traffic, becoming so lost and frustrated that he fled back to New York, thus forfeiting a substantial paycheck by abandoning the job he had come out here to do. Feiffer, it seems, actually lives in the world of his own cartoons.
The iconic cartoonist ventured out here again recently, however, to appear in conversation with Carl Reiner for Andrea Grossman’s Writers Bloc. The two men were not long-time friends, but their obvious respect and affection for each other’s work gave a warm and hilarious fillip to the evening’s discussion. The focus was on Feiffer’s newly published memoir, Backing Into Forward, in which he tells the very personal story of how he became the neurotic voice of a generation.
Two days before his Writers Bloc appearance I had the opportunity to interview him and ask him about some of the incidents in the book. He had arrived in L.A. earlier that day, but his energy level belied his 81 years as we sat in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton and he sipped Glenlivet on the rocks.
He has always worried, he said, about things “almost all of which never happened.” But his career, especially in Hollywood, had more than its share of ups and downs. “I never did anything for the money,” he contends, “and I had my standards. Standards here are the bottom line.” He did, however, write a number of TV pilots: “the usual crap that writers do, half of which I’m proud of,” he says. “I dumbed them down—but not enough!”
Producers, he says, “were always great fans. They loved everything I suggested. Then I would flesh it out and they loved it even more. Then I would write the script and they would say, ‘No, this isn’t what we had in mind,’ and their notes would have nothing to do with what we had talked about.
“Some people just weren’t meant to work together,” he adds. “I could never work with somebody else’s vision.”
One man he did work with, though, was Mike Nichols, whose initial comedy routines with partner Elaine May gave Feiffer heart. “They let me know that I wasn’t alone. They were saying what I was drawing!” he says. Later, when he sent Nichols a play script, Nichols told him it wasn’t a play, but a movie, and offered to direct it if Feiffer would adapt it as a screenplay. “I told him I’d have to think it over,” Feiffer says, “and it took me nearly 30 seconds to agree.”
Feiffer and Nichols moved into David O. Selznick’s house to work on the film that became the classic Carnal Knowledge. “We had a ball,” Feiffer says, “but Hollywood hated the film and I didn’t get another offer for 10 years.”
That next offer came from Bob Evans, who wanted Feiffer to do a screenplay for Popeye, with Dustin Hoffman playing the spinach-eating sailor. “Evans was a joy to work with,” Feiffer says, but then Hoffman decided he wanted a script that was more Beckett-like and Kafkaesque—not the script that Feiffer had created at all. “Evans stuck with me,” Feiffer says, and they gave the role to “that new kid from Mork and Mindy—Robin Williams.”
Feiffer has always written about and drawn the people he knows. Like his mother, who is every Jewish mother in his plays and cartoons. And he readily identifies the whimsical dancing woman of his most angst-ridden cartoons as “a cross-dressed version of me.” A woman, he says, who typified Greenwich Village in the ‘50s, she was “sweet and desperate, full of pretension, full of hope, and full of shit.” And then, of course, there was his Aunt Alva, a woman who “hated men so much that she glued down her toilet seat!”
Another relative, a cousin, was the opportunistic lawyer Roy Cohn, who served as the right-hand hatchet man of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the infamous trials conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early ‘50s. “Those trials affected me very strongly,” Feiffer says. “They were like hits in the solar plexus; they destroyed a whole generation.”
He recalls one time when he was writing a political play and he wanted to include a “smoke-filled back room” scene. He wanted to make sure his dialogue would be authentic, so he went to Cousin Roy, then a power broker in the New York Democratic Party, for some advice. “Roy gave me a long, involved Civics lesson,” Feiffer says, “but what he was actually telling me was to go f—k myself. He was certainly affable about it, though.”
Feiffer enjoys the fact that he has been friends with some of the major creative thinkers of his time: Bellow, Malamud, Roth, et al. He says when he got out of the Army in 1953 it was “in” to be Jewish. “It was just in the air,” he says. In his memoir, however, he acknowledges that familiar feeling of being a “fraud” as a young man, primarily because of his lack of a college education. “It has to do with being young and immature,” he says now. “All of us struggle with that, and when we have a success we feel lucky, as if we got away with something. It takes time to recognize that you are who you are, and you’re not a fraud!”
In 1956 the Village Voice began to publish his cartoons, and he stayed with that paper for the next 42 years—even getting paid after a while. At the same time he was venting his political and social outrage in plays such as Little Murders and earning a 1961Academy Award for his animated short, Munro, about a 4-year old who is drafted into the Army.
Which led to his children’s books (beginning with his illustrations for Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth) and his gigs as an adjunct professor at Stony Brook Southampton, and at the Yale School of Drama, Northwestern University, Arizona State, and Dartmouth. “I’ve always been against teaching,” he says. “I find it condescending, supercilious, and unhelpful.
“But my books are helpful because I’ve set out not to be helpful.
And with my cartoons I look for the ones I loved as a kid and I only steal from the old masters.”
Fortunately, nobody can steal from Feiffer. He is most definitely one of a kind.
Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World
By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO – A small collection of plaques and monuments occupy the “Gateway to Presidio Park” near the corner of Taylor Street and Presidio Drive. As cars hurtle from the Interstate 8 Freeway to Old Town San Diego, or back, this gateway is an easy place to miss, but it must have been otherwise in San Diego’s first 100 years of European settlement.
This little patch of land at the foot of Presidio Hill is said to have seen the Franciscans, who founded California’s mission chain, plant landmark palm trees in 1769. The fur trapper and adventurer, Jedediah Smith, arrived here from the northeast in 1826, the harbinger of increasing American pressure on what was then a Mexican outpost. And, in 1853, U.S. Army Lieutenant George Horatio Derby came here to build a dike to force the San Diego River to empty into what then was known as False Bay, but which is called Mission Bay today. Derby’s Dike was a failure, but Derby as the humorist bearing the pseudonyms “Phoenix” and “John Squibob” was a big hit.
One of the plaques here commemorates a tree that no longer is standing. It had to be sawed down in 1957 after it was all but murdered by gunslingers. Tree surgeons noted that the “Serra Palm” was ailing, and investigation soon revealed the reason why. It had six .44 caliber lead bullets in its trunk, possibly fired into it by someone who used it for some ill-conceived target practice.
The tree was reputed to have been planted by Father Serra and colleagues not long after San Diego’s founding on Presidio Hill on July 16, 1769, but this claim was disputed by the historian Herbert Howe Bancroft , who contended no trees were planted in San Diego at least until the beginning of the 19th century.
Planted by Serra or not, the tall palm tree and a companion behind a little white picket fence were emblematic of San Diego’s Spanish colonial period, and were the subject of popular picture post cards from the city’s early 20th century. After the sad day of June 6, 1957, when the Serra (Date) Palm was cut down, the spot where it stood remained vacant until July 16, 1995 when California People for Trees planted two new date palms in commemoration.
The palms marked a “beginning” and an “end,” according to the plaques one can find along Taylor Street. They marked the beginning of the so-called El Camino Real (The Royal Road), which connected the network of Presidios, Pueblos and 21 Missions that dotted the landscape of California over a length of more than 600 miles. At the same time, the palms marked the “end” of the journey for some of the soldiers with Serra’s expedition who had been buried in the cemetery over which they had towered.
The cemetery had received burials from 1769 almost to 1848 when California became an American territory in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. Sometime afterwards the cemetery was destroyed, when the hill behind the palm trees was cut away. It was not until 1968 that remains of the cemetery were discovered by archaeologists.
Among the bodies found buried there was that of Henry Fitch, the Yankee sea captain whose romance with the young beauty Josefa Carrillo caused a scandal when they eloped in 1829 to Valparaiso, Chile, following Governor Jose Maria Echeandia’s refusal of permission for them to marry.
The tall, skeletal Governor Echeandia has been cast as the villain not only in the Fitch-Carrillo romance, but also in the saga of the fur-trapper and explorer Jedediah Strong Smith, whose arrival in San Diego in 1826 is marked by another plaque along Taylor Street.
First the Spanish, and later the Mexicans, dealt with Americans arriving in San Diego by ship, looking to trade their cargoes for cow hides (known as ‘California dollars’) or to surreptitiously hunt the whale that migrated along the California coast.
However, Smith did something no American had done before – he came to California by an overland route from the east, following the Colorado River to the Mojave Desert, then finding his way to the Cajon Pass, and eventually reaching Mission at San Gabriel.
Aware that he was then in Mexican jurisdiction, Smith wrote to Governor Echeandia for permission to explore the California coastline north—a request that Echeandia considered tantamount to an application from the American to spy on his territory.
Echeandia summoned Smith from San Gabriel to San Diego on a trip that, according to the plaque, completed the first known overland journey of a traveler from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific coast. The California governor sent a soldier either to escort Smith or to guard him, depending on point of view. Upon his arrival at the Presidio, where Echeandia’s quarters commanded a view of San Diego Bay, Smith tried to explain that his arrival in California was something of an accident. Hunting for beaver, he had run out of supplies and thought he could save himself and his party by obtaining provisions from the Mexican settlements.
Echeandia was suspicious of Smith’s story, figuring the purpose of the young American’s mission was actually military. He debated whether to send Smith on a long trip to Mexico City, where higher authorities could deal with him, but ultimately agreed to let Smith return to American territory after a visiting American ship captain –William H. Cunningham—signed a document stating that Smith’s intentions were honorable. The governor attached one condition to his approval—Smith had to give up the hoped-for trip north and return the way he had come.
Smith returned to San Gabriel, retraced his steps eastward, but then veered off to the north to explore inland California. While some may accuse him of having lied to Echeandia, Smith’s self-defense was that he considered California to be a narrow strip along the coast, and thought that he had passed out of Mexican territory.
As Echeandia had feared, Smith’s arrival meant that California’s eastern mountains and deserts no longer could keep California invulnerable from penetration by the far more densely populated United States of America.
The Mexican and American war that ultimately proved such suspicions ended in 1846, the United States took formal possession of California with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848, and California, thanks to the Gold Rush, gathered sufficient population to be admitted as the 31st state of the United States in 1850.
A problem that neither the Spanish nor the Mexicans as rulers of San Diego could solve soon baffled the Americans as well. What could be done about the San Diego River’s tendency to change its course, flowing some years into San Diego Bay and some years into False Bay? The river’s fluctuations occasionally wiped out homes and farms along its banks. Deciding something had to be done, the United States Army dispatched Lt. George Horatio Derby of the U.S. Topographical Engineers in 1853 to build a dike.
Derby hired sixty Kumeyaay laborers to help permanently divert the water to the shallow False Bay, and to thereby prevent the silting up of San Diego Bay. The problem was that the dike that they built could not hold back the river after the first good rain.
Finding humor even in his own failure, Derby, writing as Phoenix, said he had been sent to ‘dam’ the river and had done just that – several times. Damn, dam, damn.
I s there a historic place in San Diego you’d like to read about? Please contact Don Harrison at email@example.com with your suggestion.