After posting that piece this morning about my friend Rabbi Jack Moline being named president of the acclaimed Interfaith Alliance, I realized that what I wrote didn't do my admiration justice. I've said here on this site that Jack is my friend, but it's important to put that in perspective. After all, I live in Los Angeles, a city where if you met someone two years earlier, many people call that an "old friend."
In fact, I met Jack back in high school, at New Trier East in Winnetka, Illnois, a northern suburb of Chicago. (I wrote about the school about and its many illustrious alumni here.) Among other things, he and I did a comedy radio show together on the school station WNTH. We also put together an extensive radio documentary, "What Makes People Laugh," that included interviews we did in Chicago one day at the National Association of Broadcasters convention, among them one of the guest speakers, Joan Rivers. Also, for inexplicable reasons, he cast me in a tiny role in the student-written musical, Lagniappe (for which I wrote the lyrics), perhaps one of the few glaring mistakes in his life, despite it being a non-speaking part. I recall him having the hardest time getting me to hold my arm out properly during the big reveal during the finale -- that's how talented I was at acting -- until he got SO frustrated that he finally ran up on stage, grabbed my arm, thrust it out, and snapped, "Like this!!"
And we also went to college together at the beloved Northwestern. In fact, it was thanks to Jack and a bizarre mix-up that I got to live on campus. Being local, I didn't initially get campus housing my freshman year. I was talking with Jack during the summer before classes started, and he suggested I get on the waiting list, like he had, since you never knew who would drop out. As good fortune had it, I ended up getting a dorm room by the first day, but the joke was that I'm pretty certain that the housing office screwed up -- because when I ran into Jack the first week classes, he was amazed to find out that I already had a room. Since he was still on the waiting list! Obviously there was a screw-up, since by all rights he should have gotten a dorm room long before I did. But apparently that was his first religious lesson -- that All Good Things Comes to Those Who Wait, Even If It's Because of a Screw-Up....
It was while at Northwestern that Jack and I took a class together in interpersonal communication. (Obviously, this held him in good stead later on.) The way things worked out, we teamed up for a big class project and resurrected our old "What Makes People Laugh" documentary, and updated it with actual research. This included a live presentation, which culminated in one of my fond college memories. If I can be immodest even after all these years, we magnificently constructed the "finale." Near the end of the 15-20 minute talk, Jack begin to wind things up with our summation -- this conclusion was a long monologue, explaining (with great scholarship and detailed facts) our findings after studying the history of comedy as to why people today are so sophisticated that we therefore don't laugh at slapstick anymore...as I stood silently next to him. All the while he was talking, though, he was filling up a pie tin with shaving cream. During this, you could hear the large class begin to titter and see them squirming in their seats, turning to one another, not quit believing that he would actually hit me with a pie in class. And still Jack droned on with eloquence, continuing to fill the tin higher, as I just blithely ignored it all and stared out.impassively. The anticipation grew and grew, and the titters built to chuckles. And it all led to the final moment when, with great emphasis, Jack concluded his talk. "And that is why," he said, "people today will no longer laugh at slapstick." And he just stood there. As did I. Both unmoving, just looking out into the large room. Remaining there for about eight seconds. The anticipation grew to a pitch, along with the uncertainty. Simply waiting. Until at just the right moment-- WHAM!! -- he thwacked me in the face with the pie. And the room exploded with laughter.
Yes, this is the new president of the Interfaith Alliance. He always had great comic timing. (My only quibble is that we used shaving cream. Note to prospective Borscht-belt comics: use whipped cream...)
In fact, it was Jack (er, sorry, the eminent Rabbi Moline...) who by chance helped give me a leg up into the movie industry. We were both living in Los Angeles at the time -- me, right after getting my Masters degree from UCLA film school, and Jack with his wife Ann, going to Hebrew College here (or whatever it was called), studying to be a rabbi. As I wrote on the pages a few years ago --
At the time, I was working for the California State Park Service, at Will Rogers State Historic Park. It was a seasonal job, though, and I would be temporarily laid-off soon, timed as it happened for the summer. Jack called and told me about summer job openings at the Universal Tour, where he was. I applied, and we worked there together. (He was particularly impressive when the trams drove through the "Parting of the Red Seas" exhibit,) After the summer, he went back to school, and I soon applied to work elsewhere at the studio, getting hired as an assistant in the PR Department. Eventually, I got promoted to Publicist, personally met E.T., and then got hired to be assistant to the president of the studio, Bob Rehme. After he (Rehme) moved on to head up another company and I left the studio, I ran into Bob one day. He asked what I was doing, I gave him my screenplay, "Harry Warren of the Mounties" -- and it got great coverage at his company, they bought it. It was my first movie sale, and I got into the Writers Guild.
Jack, alas, eventually moved away from Los Angeles, choosing to continue to pursue religion as a career, as opposed to sticking with the glamour of tourguiding, and he and Ann eventually ended up in Alexandria, Virginia, raising their family and him serving as rabbi of Agudas Achim Congregation, where he was later named by Newsweek magazine as one of the 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America. (No doubt, they'd heard about the pie throwing.)
His temple was conservative, but that only made one of my favorite stories from Rabbi Moline (er, sorry, Jack) all the more notable. He was giving his sermon on Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the year in the Jewish religion. A day of fasting and devout reflection. And at one point during this sermon, he reached under the podium, brought out a Big Mac Double Bacon Cheeseburger, and said to his congregation, "What would you people do if I ate this right now?"
Hey, I told you about his sense of timing. I suspect most people would love to practice their religion in a house of worship like that. And if they did, it would probably be a more peaceful, loving world.
Make no mistake, Jack Moline he is a very serious, thoughtful, profoundly decent, nurturing, smart, devout religious leader. And make no mistake, he has always -- always -- had a wonderful sense of humor. I suspect that's clear at this point. I remember him wandering around his apartment in L.A. smoking a cigar while wearing his George Burns t-shirt. A decade or so later, when an accomplished rabbi, he was one of the "public figures" who was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine about why they watched the TV nighttime soap, Melrose Place, at the height of its huge popularity. Jack's answer was simple, "Two words. Heather Locklear." He also wrote one of the funniest books on religion I've ever come across. Growing Up Jewish: or Why is This Book Different from All Other Books, for Viking Press. (It included a guide for selecting a college for your child, and wanting to know how many other Jewish students should also attend the school, so that it wouldn't be too many or too few. "The number is six," he wrote.) I believe the book is out-of-print, but you can find it here
And now he's president of the Interfaith Alliance. They're really lucky to have him. But then, I think everyone is lucky. We are all better off for it. By a lot.
And now he can add that to his resume which includes Senor Vice-President, Telecommunications, for Elisberg Industries. And okay, he's lucky for that, since at the time there was only one opening on the corporate board. For that matter, there's still only one opening. He sets a high standard to follow.
And that's what I left out mentioning before. How it slipped my mind is beyond me.
At least I said he was a big Cubs fan.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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