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BY
DAVID HOLZEL

Sometime
during that era of the dim past known as the 1980s, my best friend, Glenn, gave me a two-foot-high plaster statue of Groucho Marx. From the start, this Groucho has been a sort of household god, a mini-deity of the kind the ancient Israelites clung to before they were tamed into total monotheism. Although its powers didn't exceed that of the average doorstop, the household god brought soothing and comfort to a barbaric age that didn't know from chocolate.
The flesh-and-blood Groucho was one of my adolescent idols; plaster Groucho has followed me through most of my adulthood -- out of one marriage and into a second (applause for Sheri), through the sublime and ridiculous of a career, fatherhood, in good times and bad. He has chipped with age, but still clings to his cigar, his expression ever ready to release a wisecrack. "Well, you know what I always say: Love flies out the door when money comes innuendo." [Monkey Business, Act II, Scene 4]  

So how did Groucho get tangled up in the Jewish Angle? That's another story altogether. That has something to do with Linette, a graphic artist whom I used to work with. Linette introduced me to the universe of zines--handmade magazines--having published one herself with her then-boyfriend now-husband.

Zines are democratic and joyfully amateur. Zines took publishing away from Condé Nast and Time Warner and put them in the hands of anyone with something to rant about and access to a photocopier and a stapler. The concept liberated me and brought me a sense of cachet that I hadn't had in a while

The idea took me back to the days long before personal computers, and I discovered that what I had been doing with my stories and song lyrics and ditto machine as a kid was publishing my own protozines.

Now enlightened, I started working on my own zine. I named it Shpilkes, and dedicated it to the art of living anxiously. I got as far as soliciting some articles from my friends (never written) and beginning one piece of my own on writer's block. Then, for a reason I know longer remember, I stopped working on it.

Meanwhile, I was writing a series of
monthly newspaper columns called
"The Jewish Angle." The idea of the
Jewish Angle was to approach Jewish
culture from a new direction. That if
all we Jews are left with is the
Holocaust and defending Israel and
some random Yiddish words, we
might as well turn out the lights
right now.
 

The idea of the Jewish Angle is to do what Jews do anyway -- look at everything in a Jewish way. There is a Jewish way to look at certain movies that are not in the least about Jews. There is a Jewish approach to Christmas that is neither to embrace it nor turn our backs on it. Ordinary artifacts of American culture can trigger a lesson on Jewish tradition. And we don't have to be so humorless about it all the time.

In the Jewish Angle, I wanted to combine the voices of Garrison Keillor and Andy Rooney. And I wanted to avoid the obvious -- the Holocaust and Israel. In the couple of years that I wrote the column regularly, I didn't stick to the manifesto entirely. The voice sounded like mine. And I wasn't able to skirt the Holocaust and Israel.

In the summer of 1997, having been gripped by Manifest Destiny, I went online for the first time. By Thanksgiving of that year, and with the help of my cybermentor Steve, I birthed the first pages of The Jewish Angle ezine.

I began by throwing some of those earlier columns on the web, plus a few other things. In the years since, I've thrown a lot more of those columns on the web, plus a few other things.

Six full years and more have passed, my friends, since The Jewish Angle took its first, halting steps on line. How we've all changed since then.

The web has changed, too. And those changes make the idea of a webzine sound somewhat antique. We're deep into the age of blogs and online journals--from your synapse to my screen in an instant.

The ongoing, unfolding, continuous nature of these forms do attract regular readers, perhaps more so than a site that is updated only periodically.

I am, by nature, an editor. My thoughts go through a rigorous process of strangulation before any of them make it into text. Sometimes I regret this, other times I'm glad of it. I do know that if there were no interdiction, no selection, there would be no craft to this writing.

So no logs or public, perpetual journals for me. And we'll wait a while to see what the next creative opportunities the steady march of technology provide. Meanwhile, these words will remain.

I still truly believe that they would have been enjoyed by Groucho, Kafka, David Ben-Gurion, Maimonides, Nachman of Bratislav, Hillel, Shammai and George Jessel, if they were all not dead. We still have half a chance
.


(c) 1997-2004 by David Holzel
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