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The Personal Is Political—and Vice Versa

An excerpt from Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s new novel, ‘Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate’

Letty Cottin Pogrebin
May 18, 2015
(Andrea Tsurumi)
(Andrea Tsurumi)

Some couples meet cute: He finds her wallet, she picks up his mail by mistake, her beagle mounts his schnauzer. Zach Levy met Cleo Scott at the founding conference of the Black-Jewish Coalition of New York.

Zach was aware going into it that tensions between the two communities had reached a boiling point. Jesse Jackson had recently called New York City “Hymietown” and, in response, a group called “Jews Against Jackson” had run a full-page ad in the Times describing the black candidate for president as “a national disaster,” and excoriating him for once saying he was “tired of hearing about the Holocaust,” for hugging Arafat and Gaddafi, and for refusing to repudiate Louis Farrakhan. Alarmed by these provocations, two prominent New York clergymen, Rabbi Sheldon Kahn and Reverend Jeremiah Birmingham, convened fifty community leaders—half of them black, half of them Jewish—to “foster respectful dialogue and intergroup harmony.”

The first meeting of the nascent coalition was held on Sunday afternoon, April 15, 1984, in a large lecture hall at the New School in Greenwich Village. The sign-up sheet contained so many boldface names from politics, law, business, and the arts—including “Bacall, Lauren” and “Belafonte, Harry”—that “Levy, Zach” felt like an interloper. Though his name tag, which said, “ACLU Attorney/Chair, Families of Holocaust Survivors,” clearly entitled him to be there, Zach’s reasons for accepting the clergymen’s invitation were personal. A national poll that revealed a sharp increase in anti-Semitism among educated African Americans had aroused in him his mother’s fears and his father’s warning—“Once the intellectuals turn against you, the masses will follow.” He’d been recently rattled by the vitriolic ravings spewed by callers to a black talk show that he’d tuned in to by accident. Unnerving on a daily basis were the Jew-hating lies barked by proselytes of the Nation of Islam on a street corner Zach passed on his way to work. A clean-shaven black man wearing a white shirt and dark suit ranted incessantly about “the Jewish conspiracy” while his bearded partner, in a kente cloth robe and white crocheted cap, hawked incense, fragrance oils, and pamphlets promulgating anti-Semitic canards. The lawyer in Zach would defend their right to speak freely but the child within him hyperventilated when he heard the incendiary screed, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, described as if it were the Magna Carta.

Each participant who arrived at the New School received a packet of background materials including a timeline of key events in black-Jewish relations starting with the earliest days of the civil rights movement. “Ocean Hill Brownsville, 1968,” was the first event labeled a “clash of interests.” Zach remembered vividly what happened that year. He was a senior in DeWitt Clinton High School when the clash between black parents and white teachers over community control of the schools sparked a two-month teacher strike and riots in the streets throughout the city. Mostly, he remembered the Ocean Hill Brownsville brouhaha because his parents, who raised their voices about once a decade, had a big fight about it. Rivka believed that parents were entitled to take control of a school system that had failed their kids while Nathan insisted that the teachers, whom he called “the workers,” had the right to defend their jobs. The quarrel ended when Nathan stormed out, slamming the front door so hard that a framed picture of David Ben-Gurion shaking hands with John F. Kennedy popped off the wall and crashed to the floor, shattering the glass. It was the loudest memory of Zach’s childhood.

Another item on the timeline, “Andy Young Affair, 1979,” reminded Zach of the heated arguments that erupted among his friends five years before. The African Americans had uniformly blamed Jewish pressure for the resignation of the young black US Ambassador to the UN, while most of the Jews had supported Carter’s contention that, by talking to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Andrew Young had violated American law and thus could no longer represent the nation.

About the recent “Hymietown incident, 1984,” the timeline noted, “Jackson does not deny using word but calls it ‘innocuous street slang.’”

Now, as Zach watched blacks and Jews file into the lecture hall, he was struck not by gradations of their skin color but by their wildly varied hairdos—there were buzz cuts, Beatle bangs, shaved pates, spikes, dreadlocks, Afros, and pony tails on the men; and on the women, straight hair, ironed hair, ballet buns, ringlets, corn-rows, and sprayed bouffants. People’s clothing, too, ran the gamut, everything from church finery to tribal dress, business suits to sweat pants.

Something else fascinated him even more—the fact that nearly everyone who came into the hall hesitated before taking a seat. VIPs Zach would have expected to be decisive and sure-footed, eyed the room warily and ventured down the aisle with a tentative gait, suggesting that they were struggling with the same worry that had bedeviled him when he first arrived—the possibility that his choice of seat might betray a bias he didn’t feel. Worrying about “how things look” being a habit Zach had learned at his mother’s knee, he sympathized with the white man who was seemingly weighing whether to sit beside a black, a Jew, or neither. Zach smiled when the man chose a seat in an empty row, effectively shifting to the next person the decision of whether or not to sit near him.

Watching a stylish white woman—Chanel suit, silk blouse, pearls—come down the aisle, Zach couldn’t help labeling her a JAP then immediately berated himself for even thinking the slur when the poor woman was simply well dressed and well coifed. Funny, how we internalize our own caricatures, he mused as the white woman effusively greeted a black woman in an orange tracksuit, smothering her with hugs and laughter. And how wrong we can be.

Soon afterward, a bearded Jew crossed the color line and sat beside a black man in horn-rimmed glasses. Then again, Zach realized, the black man could be an Ethiopian Jew and the bearded man could be a light-skinned African American. The permutations of race, religion, ethnicity, and peoplehood were complex and the intersection of competing interests and priorities was potentially as gnarled and fraught as the crossroads of four major thoroughfares on a day when its traffic light was broken. Zach wondered how a black Jew would self-identify at today’s meeting. If intense conflicts arise, which side would she or he be on? Would such a person feel schizophrenic, change sides depending on the issue, struggle with split loyalties? Like most Caucasians, Zach took his race for granted, as if whiteness were normative, and thus enjoyed the daily luxury of not having to think about being white—which gave him more time to think about being Jewish.

Even the political luminaries stopped jabbering when the real star power showed up—Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, Lauren Bacall, Tony Randall, and Mandy Patinkin—followed closely by the two who had called the meeting: a tall, rangy black man in a clerical collar and a diminutive white man crowned by a royal blue yarmulke.

Zach turned to the back of the room to check the wall clock against his watch and saw the latecomer float in, a slender black woman wearing tan leather pants and a moss-green sweater set who wafted down the aisle like a sprig of spring. She sat two rows down and three seats over from Zach’s, providing him with an unobstructed view of her arresting profile, her long, graceful neck, the hollow beneath her cheekbone, her dark, close-cropped hair. She rooted around in her brocade satchel and pulled out a pair of glasses with tortoise shell frames that had been wrapped in a pink square of fabric. Unfolding the temple pieces, she exhaled on the lenses and polished them with the microfiber cloth. Her movements were efficient, yet languorous, the actions of someone who, even in her most quotidian behaviors, feels at one with her body and at ease in the world.

Jeremiah Birmingham, senior pastor at the Good Shepherd Baptist Church towered over his coconvener, Sheldon Kahn, rabbi of the Manhattan Jewish Temple, who stood even with the minister’s Adam’s apple. Their stark physical contrast almost seemed calculated to symbolize their message: if we can get along, so can you.

Welcome Sisters and Brothers!” Birmingham called out in a rich alto. “As we wrote in our letter of invitation, Shelly and I are deeply concerned about the growing rift between Jews and African Americans, but we’re confident it can be bridged if community leaders such as yourselves lead the way. Each of you has been handpicked because of your prominence and because you command many troops. By the end of today’s session, we hope you’ll agree to be foot soldiers in an army of reconciliation.”

The minister stepped back, the rabbi forward, as though they’d rehearsed the choreography. “Jerry and I have declared war on every racial and ethnic stereotype—including the idea that Jews suck at basketball,” Sheldon Kahn joked, in a voice that seemed far too big for his frame. “I may be vertically challenged, but I’m here to tell you this Jew can shoot a three-pointer. Right, Jerry?”

“Gospel truth!” Birmingham bellowed, squatting slightly to hip bump the little rabbi. “As God is my witness, Shelly went ten for ten in my church schoolyard.”

“One stereotype down, hundreds to go!” rumbled the rabbi from a tunnel deep in his chest. “Working together, we can vanquish them all. In our many years of interfaith work, Jerry and I have seen Christians, Jews, and Muslims change from other to brother in just a few dialogue sessions.”

“Which doesn’t mean we’ve converted each other,” Birmingham cut in, with a grin. “I already know my blessed savior. Shelly’s still waiting for his. But that’s okay because, like our Father in heaven, we celebrate difference. If God didn’t love and respect difference, why would He have created man in his infinite variety?”

“Excuse me.” The latecomer with the long neck and green sweater set was on her feet. “Sorry to interrupt, Reverend, but I feel like I’m drowning in Y chromosomes here. Are we women part of this effort? So far, we’ve heard brother, father, man, war, foot soldiers. Where are the sisters in this battle for hearts and minds?”

A few women called out, “You go, girl!” Others applauded.

“With all due respect, you guys have been on some kind of testosterone trip,” continued the speaker, the mellifluousness of her voice at odds with its brusque claims. Zach recognized the voice, couldn’t place it, but noticed that it had aroused in him a vague disquiet. After decades of representing women plaintiffs in sex discrimination cases, he could understand why the clergymen’s boyish banter might raise a feminist’s hackles. Still, this wasn’t the time or place for Helen Reddy. The clergymen had convened this group to discuss black-Jewish relations—not sexism. Zach waited for Birmingham to cut the speaker off. Instead, the pastor tipped his brow and sent her a small salute.

“Point well taken, Sister, thank you. As it says in Proverbs, chastisements purify the sins of man—uh, woman, too—for whom the eternal loves, He chastens.”

“He, him, his,” the woman answered back, with a half smile. “You can’t help yourself, can you?”

Zach had expected tensions between blacks and Jews but not between two blacks.

The Reverend defended himself. “You know full well that I don’t think God is a ‘he’ any more than I think He’s—” Birmingham caught himself, “than I think God is white, black, or green. Divinity transcends gender and color. Forgive me if I seem to be suggesting otherwise.”

“Old language habits die hard, my dear,” interjected Sheldon Kahn.

The black woman swirled slightly toward the rabbi. “If you don’t mind, sir, I’d prefer not to be called dear. I’m not a little girl.”

Kahn’s cheeks flushed bright red around the borders of his snow-white beard. “Forgive me. I meant it as a term of affection.”

“Even so. This is supposed to be a serious meeting about serious matters. Calling me dear is belittling. It’s inappropriate. Dear is to woman as boy is to black man. Dear is what a man calls a wife who bores him. Allow me to introduce myself, Rabbi Kahn. I’m Cleo Scott.”

Zach sat upright in his seat. That’s why her voice had been unsettling. He’d been listening to her every Sunday night for the past few months, at first with dismay, more recently, with growing admiration.

“Sister Scott hosts a talk show on WEBD,” Birmingham said, eliciting an audible hubbub. Though WEBD was a relatively small radio station whose programming was primarily targeted to a black audience, and though her face was not always recognized, in some circles, for instance among many in this lecture hall, Cleo Scott was a star.

Zach’s initial dismay had been aroused when he happened on her program for the first time on the night it was deluged by a flood of anti-Semitic callers. But his negative feelings had been displaced by admiration after the following week’s show in which she had presented a dramatic rebuttal to the extremists and since then, he had become a fan, increasingly impressed by her ability to straddle the line between passionate advocacy and fair-minded journalism. Without fear or favor, she marshaled a broad spectrum of opinion on the most controversial issues of the day, challenging the bloviators to back up their pronouncements with facts, changing her own views when faced with compelling opposing arguments, and confessing her disappointments and vulnerabilities without trading on pathos. Merely from listening to her on the radio over the past six or seven weeks, Zach had come to recognize in Cleo Scott a kindred spirit, someone who, like him, was trying to actualize a rich but complicated legacy by being a spokeswoman for her people while also serving as a principled interpreter of events in the wider community. And she knew her history.

“You and Jerry aren’t the first black-Jewish pair to initiate a common enterprise,” Cleo was saying to Rabbi Kahn. “W. E. B. Du Bois, whose initials happen to be the call letters of my radio station, cofounded the NAACP with the great muckraking black journalist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and the activist rabbi, Stephen Wise. I doubt that Rabbi Wise called Ida Wells-Barnett dear.”

Sheldon Kahn bowed slightly at the waist. “I’m truly sorry. I beg your pardon.”

Cleo raised her arms in the universal gesture of surrender. “My parents taught me to accept an apology with good grace so I’m going to sit down now. But I’m going to get up again if you and Jerry don’t show the same respect toward the women in this room as you’re asking blacks and Jews to show toward one another.”

Zach was glad he came.

Cleo sat down and stayed down while the clergymen attempted to advance the day’s agenda. “We’re here to build on the alliances of times past—the struggle for voting rights, civil rights, economic justice,” Birmingham said. “We need each and every one of you to commit to become founding members of the Black-Jewish Coalition and to join together in solidarity and strength.”

Kahn jumped in. “With commitment, comes healing. We’re stronger acting together than apart. We have the same pressing needs . . .”

“One question,” interrupted Cleo Scott, on her feet again. Enough already, Zach thought, steeling himself for another digression. He was surprised when she hiked up the sleeves of her moss-green cardigan that the gesture struck him not as pugnacious but erotic. Getting turned on by naked arms was a first for him. “Please don’t be offended, Rabbi, I’m not picking on you, I’m just trying to understand how what blacks do can benefit the pressing needs of Jews. From everything I read, the main threats to your community are assimilation and intermarriage. If that’s true, I can’t for the life of me figure out how twenty-five black folks can stop your kids from quitting Hebrew school after their bat or bar mitzvahs, or stop them from marrying goyim.”

She must have known that line would bring down the house yet she didn’t crack a smile, just stood there with her bare arms crossed, waiting for the ruckus to calm down. “I appreciate how much work has gone into organizing this meeting and I support the idea of collaboration in theory. But let’s not kid ourselves. Our horses aren’t starting from the same gate. Your forebears and mine have a radically different relationship to the American Dream. You came here to escape oppression; we came shackled. When blacks were a few centuries off of the slave ships and Jews first arrived in steerage, maybe our situations were more comparable. But we’re not in the same boat now. These days, most of your relatives are lounging in deck chairs. Mine are still pulling oars and bailing water.”

She looked around the room, left to right, and back. It was the unhurried pause of a speaker accustomed to being both listened to and heard. Her self-assurance was impressive. Not an um or a fidget. Shoulders relaxed. “I hope this doesn’t sound hostile, Rabbi, but I think it’s important to be honest with one another from the outset. Our two groups have vastly disparate needs and resources. Blacks need more of everything material and Jews, materially, have more to give. Obviously, then, the payoff for each side won’t be equal. Before we can create a meaningful coalition, I think we blacks need to know if the Jews in this room are okay with that imbalance?”

A man with an argyle vest and Brillo-pad hair called out, “I’m okay with that imbalance. What I don’t want to hear is that our suffering was equal.”

“Your name, sir?” asked Rabbi Kahn.

“Jack Fingerhut, Professor of Jewish Studies. I’ve been in many so-called dialogues over the years, so I think I know what’s coming next. Ms. Scott is going to equate American slavery with the Nazi genocide. She’s going to say the Middle Passage was also a form of extermination. She’s going to bring up white Europeans’ exploitation, enslavement, and killing of Africans in Africa. I’m going to insist they’re not the same, that the Holocaust was both quantitatively and qualitatively worse than any other crime against humanity. The Holocaust was about the total annihilation of a people. Ms. Scott is going to call me a racist. I’m not; I’m a historian. Slavery lasted for more than two centuries and the Holocaust for only a few years, but bondage is not the same as systematic, industrialized slaughter for the sole purpose of obliteration. Your people suffered unspeakable misery and dehumanization. But there was no grand design to wipe blacks off the face of the earth.” He shot a cold look at Cleo. “Are you okay with that?”

Cleo bristled, “I hate when these discussions devolve into a competition of tears. First of all, Professor, you have no idea of what I’m going to say. Second, the salient point is not moral equivalency; the salient point is this: The Holocaust didn’t happen here. Slavery happened here. Therefore, slavery is every American’s responsibility.”

Fingerhut demurred, “The Holocaust is every human being’s responsibility, Ms. Scott…”

Birmingham slapped the podium. “Cleo! Jack! We have a lot of ground to cover this afternoon. Let’s move the agenda and save the colloquy for later.”

Zach had not intended to speak but because he sensed the vulnerability beneath Cleo’s unflinching bluster, words came out of his mouth. “If we don’t address Ms. Scott’s question first, there may not be an agenda.”

The little rabbi raised an eyebrow. “Name please?”

“Zach Levy. I’m a lawyer for the ACLU. Also the board chair of FHS, an organization that represents families of Holocaust survivors. I think this coalition has great potential but the lady over there—”

“Cleo,” she interjected.

“—Cleo,” Zach continued, “has asked us to confront something real: the fact is, our two groups don’t have equal needs or resources. She’s asking if we Jews are willing to accept that the rewards of whatever we do here may also be unequal.”

“I don’t need a translator, Counselor,” Cleo snipped at him scornfully.

“I wasn’t translating, I was affirming,” Zach replied, torn between respect for her assertive panache and annoyance at her belligerence. He decided to engage. “Instead of upbraiding us, you might want to answer your own question. What’s in this for you? If you stay in the group, what do you expect to get out of it?”

“Me? I’m just trawling for guests,” she said. “I’ve got a show to do tonight.”

“Please!” Again, Reverend Birmingham smacked the podium. “Sit down, both of you.” As if shoved, Zach and Cleo obeyed in tandem. “Thank you. Now we’re going to go around the room and introduce ourselves. Name, affiliation, and one sentence about your hopes or goals for this new coalition. Everyone gets a minute and I’ve got a stopwatch.”

Fifty participants at one minute each, plus assorted reactions, counterreactions, and detours, took up an hour and a half. After listening to everyone’s hopes and goals, Zach allowed himself to believe the enterprise might actually accomplish something. Harry Belafonte was the last to speak. The singer, who had once delivered the keynote speech at an ACLU benefit, classed up a room merely by being in it. Flashing his radiant smile, he introduced himself as “an activist, entertainer, actor, and idealist,” and articulated his hopes and goals for the group as “mutual respect, collective action, and fomenting revolution.”

Zach Levy raised his hand. “Will the chair entertain a motion?”

“I suppose so,” said the rabbi.

“I move that we skip the rest of the preliminaries and just let people say what’s on their minds.”

Zach’s motion passed and, despite its incendiary potential, yielded a polite, yet sinus-clearing, candor.

The director of the Synagogue Council of America wanted to know why black leaders didn’t repudiate Minister Farrakhan when he called Judaism “a dirty religion.”

The head of the Urban League countered, “How come Jews only care about what we say when they want us to condemn one of our own? I don’t ask you to repudiate Meir Kahane. Why should I have to repudiate Louis Farrakhan?”

“Not comparable,” said the woman in the Chanel suit and pearls. “Most of us treated Kahane like a lunatic. Most of you treat Farrakhan like a redeemer.”

“He wears a clean shirt and bow tie,” said the African American man in the horn-rimmed glasses. “My generation’s heroes were Dr. King and Malcolm X; today’s black kids worship millionaire athletes and foul-mouthed rappers. When my sons use proper English, their friends accuse them of acting white. They have few positive role models. Farrakhan, at least, tells black youth to stay in school. So what if he makes a few unfortunate comments about Jews; nobody pays attention to that.”

Jews pay attention,” Zach protested. “We’ve seen where ‘a few unfortunate comments’ can lead.” He saw Cleo Scott take off her green cardigan and fold it in her lap, before she turned to face him.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Mr. Levy, but didn’t the ACLU defend the neo-Nazis’ unfortunate comments in Skokie? If you were able to tolerate their hate speech, why can’t you tolerate Farrakhan’s? Or does the First Amendment only apply to white people?”

Zach said, “We defended the neo-Nazis’ right to demonstrate. Not their ideology. We called their speech abominable. We didn’t condone it.”

Cleo turned away. A black assemblyman called out, “We’re not here to talk about Farrakhan, we’re here to talk about real problems, like substandard housing and racial profiling.” A Hillel director objected to anti-Israel activities by black students on her campus; she wanted to know why anyone would side with suicide bombers. A black community leader from Crown Heights said Hasidic Jews were disrespectful to their Caribbean American neighbors and got special breaks from the police.

Zach felt embarrassed when a Jewish woman in harlequin glasses asked if she could solicit the group’s help with a domestic problem, a personal black-Jewish problem: “My live-in nanny refuses to eat with our family. It just kills me to see her sitting at the kitchen table eating by herself. My kids think she’s punishing them for something; they don’t understand why she doesn’t like them. What should I do?” Advice came flying at the woman from all directions. “Honor your nanny’s wishes; she must have her reasons.” “Maybe your kids can eat with her in the kitchen.” “Ask her how you might make her feel more comfortable about eating with the family.” “Ask if she’d prefer to take a tray to her room.” Though Cleo kept her own counsel, Zach thought he saw her back stiffen.

Rabbi Kahn pointedly took back the reins. “Before ending the meeting, we want your thoughts on what our coalition might actually do together.” The participants called out their suggestions and Reverend Birmingham wrote each one on the chalkboard:

“Attend both communities’ cultural events to foster mutual understanding.”

“Coauthor op-eds.”

“Watch Roots and Holocaust together.”

“Speak in pairs at churches, mosques, synagogues, and community centers.”

“Create a school curriculum on the history of blacks and Jews in America.”

Cleo’s suggestion was to revisit the entire premise of the meeting. “I’m sorry, people, but I’m still not convinced we need this group at all. I mean why blacks and Jews? Why not Arabs and Jews? Aren’t Arabs your most threatening adversary? For us, the question is, why not blacks and Dominicans? Or Puerto Ricans? Or Koreans? We share our neighborhoods with Latinos and Asians. We patronize Korean markets and nail salons even though they never hire black people in those places. Doesn’t it make more sense for us to organize dialogues with those groups?”

Somehow Cleo didn’t sound adversarial; she sounded as if she were thinking out loud and inviting everyone to reason along with her. “I see it as a syllogism,” she said. “Blacks have issues with whites. Most Jews are white. Therefore blacks have issues with Jews. It’s not your religion we challenge, it’s your white-skin privilege. When I walk into a room full of Caucasians, I’m not thinking, ‘Which of these white folks is a Jew?’ I’m thinking, ‘Which of these white folks gives a damn that there’s so little research on sickle-cell anemia, or how many of these people care that more black men are in prison than in college?’”

Affirmative murmurs encouraged her to go on.

“On your side, it’s different,” she continued. “Jews have issues with gentiles. Most blacks are gentiles. But when you walk into a room full of African Americans, you don’t see us as Christian, you see us as black, and maybe you’re thinking, ‘Which of these schvartzas hates me enough to hurt me?’”

“I would never use that word for blacks,” Zach said aloud, in response to some audience snickers. “And I certainly don’t assume every black person wants to hurt me.”

Cleo ignored him. “Any Jew unfortunate enough to be listening to my show a while back heard several African American callers say some truly hateful things about your people, things that made me cringe. But you can’t tell me that black anti-Semites constitute a greater threat to Jews than white anti-Semites. Lord knows, there are more of them than of us, and white folks have a helluva lot more power to do you damage. So why don’t you start a dialogue group with French anti-Semites or Irish anti-Semites? Likewise, why don’t we blacks start a dialogue group with white Christian racists. Lots more of them per capita than of racist Jews. I’ll tell you why we don’t. Because our real enemies are too scary. The people who burn crosses on lawns and paint swastikas on synagogues—now there’s something the two of us have in common. Both blacks and Jews are too afraid to confront the real monsters.”

Zach protested, “We have more in common than common enemies. We have a connection that goes way back. All of us gave up a beautiful Sunday afternoon to come here today because we occupy a special place in one another’s heart.”

Cleo Scott had a half smile on her face when she looked at him. “Isn’t it amazing how some Jewish men know everything? Professor Fingerhut told me he knows what I’m going to say, now you’re telling me you know what’s in my heart—”

Reverend Birmingham cut her off. “I’d like a show of hands: How many of us are ready to sign on right now as official founding members of the Black-Jewish Coalition of New York?”

Rabbi Kahn counted thirty-nine yes votes, Zach’s among them. Not Cleo’s.

“This question is for the eleven people who did not raise their hands,” said the reverend. “How many of you are willing to attend the next meeting and then make up your mind about joining?”

Everyone else was in, including Cleo.

“Hallelujah!” Birmingham crowed. “The next meeting will either be at my church or Shelly’s temple. You’ll get a notice in the mail. Until then, peace!”

Zach was almost out the door when he felt a tap on his back. “You free tonight?”

“Excuse me?”

Cleo had tied the sleeves of her green cardigan around her neck like a scarf. “I’m done trawling. You’re the one I’d like to interview. Would you come on my show and continue our discussion?”

“Was that what you call a discussion?”

She grinned. “The program’s called, ‘Cleopatra’s Needle.’ Tagline, ‘We prick your conscience, we puncture inflated egos, we stick it to the power brokers.’ In other words, you can say whatever you want. I’m not afraid of controversy.”

“I know. I’ve heard your show.” Zach didn’t say which show.

“Great. So you’ll be my guest?”

“You mean your house Jew?” he asked. “Sure. Why not?”

Excerpted from Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate, by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, published May 2015 by the Feminist Press. Copyright 2015, Letty Cottin Pogrebin.


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Letty Cottin Pogrebin has published 11 books, most recently the novel Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate. She is currently at work on Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms magazine, is a writer, lecturer, and social justice activist.