Columns - 2001

    A More Graceful State

    by Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice Columnist

    Let me be clear about one thing going in: The title of this month's column in no way is meant to reflect on the state of California or anything associated therein. Especially the drivers. Or power companies.

    I write this column on my laptop powered by a complex rigging of seventeen bic lighters wired into the battery case. Why not? Apple just did a recall on my power adapter anyway.

    Allegedly the recall is because the adapters have overheated in six cases out of a million or two. Personally, I just thought it was a nice touch that it keeps my sandwich warm while I work.

    The real need for a recall is more general and widespread: We plug the adapter in the wall and there's no power. The fix is not to replace the adapter. It's to plug it into a socket outside of the Pacific time zone.

    When I first moved out here six years ago and, as my father instructed, tied a long rope to a large rock in western Nevada in anticipation of the big earthquake, I should have used an extension cord.

    Anyway, since very little of this has anything to do with Judaica, except that my father and I are Jewish, let's get down to the matters at hand.

    Last month the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which represents 1800 Reform rabbis, met out here on the Left (in more ways than geographically) Coast to address many long-standing controversial issues that the movement has tried to address for years.

    Not the least of these issues is to finally determine the answer to the age-old question: How many Rabbis does it take to feed the fish in the Monterey Aquarium?

    While they were here, touring the aquatic museum made famous for being magically moved two hours north to Sausalito in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage to Better Sequels", the Reform rabbis grappled with several pressing issues so critical and important to the survival and welfare of Judaism in the twenty-first century that they would never appear in this column.

    So, after trawling around the question of putting a five day moratorium on Pacific shrimp being unkosher, they handled the question of conversion ritual, and how the movement from here on will encourage, though still not require, certain rituals for converts to Reform Judaism including taking a dip in the rabbinic jaccuzzi ("mikvah", in Yiddish), and a symbolic circumcision.

    Excuse me? That's fine but, of course, no mention was made as to these symbolic activities for the rest of us. Talk about hitting below the belt.

    Tabled was the discussion of what we were going to do to people who convert FROM Judaism. A future column will be dedicated to the possibilities, if we can get past the network censors.

    But this column is not about Reform conversion practices. It's about something that will in its time cross the path of far more people: The Fox Family network premiere of a new series called "State of Grace".

    For those of you without cable, let me catch you up: There's a network called Fox Family.

    Apparently, Rupert Murdoch was told that he's not allowed to be so rich unless he has one media outlet dedicated to something positive for society (unlike other things he owns, such as other networks, the Dodgers...)

    "State of Grace" revolves around two twelve-year-old girls (which is not equal to one twenty-four year old) growing up in a potentially fictitious town in North Carolina in the often fictitiously described mid-1960s (according to those who actually remember the '60s).

    On the show, one girl is very rich, and one is very Jewish. Amazingly, and to the show's credit, the same girl is not both. Which brings us to our investigation into this impending southern and Jewish television phenomenon.

    When commercials aired announcing a television show with a young Jewish girl befriending a non-Jewish girl in the 1960's South, this columnist grabbed his Dixie cups and salivated at the possible shreds the show was ready to be ripped into. Alas, it teetered between mildly funny, mildly stereotyping, and legitimately touching (to those of you non-macho enough to admit to being touched, which I'm not) enough to be spared my poison keyboard.

    But would that stop me? Never.

    The show instantly strikes one as a girls' "The Wonder Years". Ironically, whereas that show had Daniel Stern voicing the adult version of the child protagonist, now that we actually have a Jewish character, we're hearing from the slightly less bat-mitzvahed Frances McDermond.

    Dinah Manoff is no longer part of an empty nest. She now has a precocious daughter who quickly trades episodes with her new friend Grace in wanting more to be in the other's family rather than their own.

    The Judaica is a subtext, and so fortunately are the steretypical portrayals. There's allusion in the first episode to the father being a Holocaust survivor, and to the fact that no Jewish family is complete without an Uncle Heshy who has no knowledge of the invention of the tie.

    The show is also educational. For example, it tells us by the second episode that "Heshy" is short for "Herschel", but it took Grace's aunt to reveal that. But this makes sense since non-Jews have shown us many seemingly obvious things in the past, not the least of which is that some homo sapiens are capable of eating matzah AND enjoying it.

    But whether we're watching the protagonist Hannah feel awkward around her family in public, or witnessing the rich southerner Grace under fire, the show's saving grace is that its weekly visits to graceland have the potential to be something more than the weakest link in summer television.

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley, which is easier to do with the power out all the time. No power, nothing technical to write about can be in use. (But he's also smart enough to buy a house between two hospitals, so he's exempt from rolling blackouts. Why the lighter-powered laptop? I'm writing this at work, of course.)

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.