This story is absolutely true.
Following the impeachment proceedings for Bill Clinton, I was speaking with a friend of mine who, like me, was extremely active in interfaith activities. He was very close to the president. In addition to being the pastor of the church that the Clintons attended, he was one of the faith advisors on whom the president relied as he addressed the fallout from the case. He had also become a trustee of his denomination’s seminary.
Notice these credentials: pastor, personal confidante, interfaith activist.
He was also a guy who was careful to respect my sensitivities about food (kosher), calendar (Shabbat) and Scriptural references (Tenakh).
In the course of the conversation, he bemoaned the news that Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor in the impeachment case, had just joined the board of the seminary, making it necessary for the denomination to deal with all of the baggage that came along with the barroom brawl that impeachment had become. My friend was no fan of Starr’s conduct in the mess.
I said, “And we have Monica Lewinsky.”
I will pause so that you can cluck your tongue at two members of the clergy speaking judgmentally about two public figures. We shouldn’t have done it, period. Not the point here.
My friend replied, “Monica Lewinsky is Jewish?”
Aside from the fact that that sounds like a riff on one of Homer Simpson’s most ridiculous lines (“Mel Brooks is Jewish?”), the truth is that the factoid of Ms. Lewinsky’s heritage is really of no importance to anyone but Jews.
So I am just stunned that stories are appearing all over the Jewish press rehashing what her role in this presidential scandal meant – and continues to mean! – to the Jewish community. One columnist for a major national Jewish news service wrote a long recap of an article written 25 years ago by another public figure – now a respected broadcast journalist – in which he discussed Ms. Lewinsky’s identity, among other things. A number of articles have appeared to wring hands over the various ways that she offered an insight into the values of Jewish tradition, Jewish community, Jewish place in America.
All of them bemoan the way she has been treated, repeating observations and tropes that have not been mentioned for more than twenty years. During that time, Monica Lewinsky has lived her life without trying to exploit for personal benefit the notoriety into which she stumbled as a very young adult.
Just as important to the antisemite-watchers among us, there has been no upsurge in prejudice against Jews in this country because of Monica Lewinsky. Apparently, even the white supremacists don’t care.
So folks – leave her alone. The public obsession with her private life is more about the writer than the subject. Her indiscretion took place a generation ago with a very high-profile individual. If you are in your 40s (or, like me, 60s), you almost certain did things like gossiping about someone to their denigration that you have (I hope) atoned for and put behind you. And I bet that you did not say to yourself, then or now, “this is going to reflect on the entire Jewish people until I die.” You don’t want to talk about it, and you don’t want someone else to analyze it for an uncomprehending public.
I repeat: Leave her alone.