Michael Widlanski, Visiting Israeli Scholar at UCI, Has Problems with Orange County Jews

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A visiting professor at UC Irvine from a Tel Aviv university sees similarities between olive trees and Jews thriving in Southern California.

"Much of the California flora and fauna," writes Michael Widlanski, "is long on form but short on content, displaying a kind of fruitless, rootless beauty that can be swept away by natural and unnatural disasters like a forest fire or intermarriage."

Widlanski, the Schusterman Visiting Professor at UCI for 2013-14, makes the observations in The Algemeiner, "the fastest growing Jewish newspaper in America."

The author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat (Threshold/Simon and Schuster) and contributor to The New York Times, Cox Newspapers and The Jerusalem Post, was apparently inspired by olive trees growing near Fashion Island in Newport Beach, where "they seem to symbolize a life-style and a culture."

"Southern California's olive trees are taller and emptier than olive trees anywhere in Israel, because the California authorities specially treat the trees. They do not bear fruit, but they look good. ... They are a good metaphor for California and, most sadly, for its Jews."

Widlanski cites: the lax attitude toward marriage outside the faith; the sad shape of kosher sections in local supermarkets; Israelis changing their names to better fit in; the lack of enrollment in Jewish days schools where Hebrew is taught; and Chabad rabbis and California teen-age Jews getting drunk together ("They pretend to be spiritual while getting spirited").

Observing child-rearing in Orange County takes Widlanski up the cliffs overlooking Laguna Beach, where he sees people "running and walking, enjoying nature, many parading with their babies--not children, but usually dogs, many in baby carriages." He believes you'll see more babies--human babies--in Israel.

Widlanski's conclusion: Judaism here is "as superficial as a California suntan."

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!



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