Cliff interviewed by JEWLIT
November 11, 2004
Posted by Steve Bergson, moderator of JEWLIT (the Jewish Literature Reading Group) at Yahoo.com
Bergson: We’re talking about “I, Gezheh” in our discussion group.
METH: I recently rewrote it for inclusion in god’s 15 minutes.
Bergson: What did you add to it?
METH: Just tightened it. It’s already been reprinted several times, so I’ve tweaked it up more than once. The story first appeared in comics form in Aardwolf #1, which sold 12,000 copies in its first month. Then it ran in Gauntlet. Then it was collected in Strange Kaddish and then Barnes & Noble On-Line purchased it. It’s not my best work, but it’s been passed around more than anything else I’ve done. I still get letters about the story. In fact, I’m almost done with the sequel, just ten short years later.
Bergson: There’s a sequel?
METH: It will likely appear in my next book.
Bergson: Why write a sequel? Didn’t you get enough flak for the original?
METH: I don’t write these things for the reactions they will get—I write them because they need to be written. The sequel is a better story, I think. Funnier, anyway. It’s not a sequel is the classical sense—the characters are different—but it does deal with Chabad politics.
Bergson: Well, let’s be honest, Cliff. You were trying to send a message out to your readers.
METH: When I wrote “I, Gezheh” I didn’t have any readers.
Bergson: (laughing) Okay, here’s a question that’s been bugging me. The most relevant part of the piece was your introductory remarks, which could be considered inflammatory by themselves. You said [paraphrasing], “What Lubavitch was and what it is now (post Schneerson) are complete opposites. And that is such a shame.”
METH: I agree with me.
Bergson: How do you think it changed? Why is it worse?
METH: As an Israeli of my acquaintance once pointed out, “If the Rebbe knew he had such Hassidim, the Rebbe would have been a misnagid.” Your question requires a long answer, but I’ll try to sum it up. The bottom line was, after the Rebbe’s death, there was no longer accountability. Little men with huge positions were able to fortify their own power bases; to build untouchable fiefdoms that they could control. Not for money, mind you—this wasn’t about money. It was about kavod. Pure ego. Some of the head shluchim—heads of states—became tyrants and did cruel things to their employees and constituency. It was this—and not the ceaseless separation-anxiety of losing the Rebbe; the death-denial by the Mishochistim—that caused the great schism in Chabad.
Bergson: By the way, “Beta Tau’s” for Baali Teshuva [in “I, Gezheh] was obvious, but brilliant.
Bergson: Something else I noticed within the story, which was done on purpose to get our collective attention—right at the end—“Thank Gob.” Gob, not G-d.
METH: That was intentional. These characters had corrupted everything down to pronunciation.
Bergson: I went to a lecture by Naomi Ragen last week. She commented that she hates when a story critiquing Orthodoxy ends with the main character becoming less observant. In “I, Gezheh,” Phoebus actually becomes a rabbi—went all the way to the top, it seemed. Not quite what I expected would happen.
METH: Phoebus becomes a Stepford Hassid. That was the point. His inquisitive mind had been replaced by dogma.
Bergson: “Stepford” as in the “Stepford Wives”?
METH: As in, all veneer and no substance.
Bergson: Do you realize that people tend to think, “This guy just hates Chabad. Probably hates all Jews.” When I hear that, I refer them to your quotation in reverence to Rabbi Schneersohn at the beginning of the story.
METH: I’m observant, Steve. There’s a picture of The Rebbe in my livingroom. And—you’ll excuse the expression—some of my best friends are Lubavitchers. My father-in-law, who I adore, is a serious Chabad Hassid living in Crown Heights. I critiqued Chabad for Chabad—not against it.
Bergson: Does he know how you feel about the movement?
METH: Yes, he knows. And I suspect he agrees with much of it, only quietly. Let’s get this clear: I’m not against the movement; I’m against the corruption of the movement. And I’m disgusted with politicians and snake-oil salemen posing as spiritual leaders.