On Life and Religion: A Conversation with David Mamet

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By: Gary Fayman


David Mamet doesn’t mince words. During his conversation with Daniel Housman, Mamet spoke about the effect of the Coronavirus and even the bird flu from the late 2000’s – which he addressed in his play November. Mamet emphatically states, “These plagues have always been with us. The problem is if any organization gets so big that human beings can’t keep track of it, we end up with chaos.”


Image: David Mamet speaks with JNF-USA supporters



Judaism and chaos appear to go hand in hand. As a people, have we actually learned from our mistakes? Mamet recounts a quote from Rabbi Harold Kushner, who once remarked, “There’s nobody in the Torah that you want your kids to be like.” Using the story of Jonah and the whale as an example, Mamet refers to the story as a Ralph Kramden/Jackie Gleason (the main character in the 1950's classic sitcom "The Honeymooners") dynamic between Jonah and God. Jonah warning the people of Nineveh that the city will be destroyed if they don’t change their ways is essentially a joke/gag; everything else in the Torah, according to Mamet, is a record of our waywardness. As human beings, “we’re cunning, but we’re not very smart, and we’re certainly not very wise.”


So, why are Jews drawn to write? The Old Testament has imperfect characters. Does the Bible prime us for a realistic understanding of human nature? Mamet proclaims that it has provocative stories that have furiously kept us together for the past 2,000 years. The Bible has saved us because Judaism is a hierarchical religion that we’d eventually elaborate from. What keeps us as a people together is questioning the stories, asking what they mean – that’s why for thousands of years, Jews have been the storytellers and the writers.


Image: JNF-USA Arts and Entertainment Taskforce member, Daniel Housman, speaks with David Mamet.


With everything going on in the world, the U.S., and Israel, JNF-USA is reminding its partners (donors) that they’re cherished members of the organization’s family. In that spirit, the organization is helping the community feel connected, engaged, and inspired, through a new series of on-demand content. From space exploration to challah baking, there’s something for everyone at jnf.org/ondemand.

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