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Comments: Week of July 28, 2008

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1. Mark Jacobson’s profile of Gitty Grunwald, the young woman who fled the reclusive Satmar community in which she was raised and is now fighting her ex-husband for custody of their daughter (Escape From the Holy Shtetl,” July 21), generated the most comments on nymag.com of any story to date. It would be hard to overstate the level of indignation directed at all parties. Many Satmars posted remarks, as did readers from across the spectrum of Jewish faith. Most simply wished to take a side in the debate—for Grunwald or against her; for the Satmars or against them. “I grew up in Satmar, went to their schools, and have a Hasidic wife—the whole package,” wrote one reader. “And neither I nor any of the people I know are these dumb stupid people who think stars don’t exist or any other lie used to portray thousands of people who are just trying to live their own way of life in this free and great country.” The opposing perspective came from a woman who knows Grunwald and also fled the sect: “Fight on, be brave, hang in there. We have a right to choose our lives. For all the negative comments that you will read here, those people have no clue what hellhole we come from.” Another contentious issue was whether religion really is relevant to Grunwald’s predicament: “This has more to do with family dynamics than it does with religion, as is most often the case where extreme rebellion is involved.” To many other readers, however, the story is all about different understandings of Judaism, as aptly summed up in this comment: “This story seems to illustrate nothing if not the diversity and passion of Jewish people in New York. The posts following the story clearly illustrate the fact that each person responding puts themselves at the center of that Jewish universe, excluding all others, and poses with satisfaction as if they were under perpetual attack.” Some worried about the impact the article might have on the case. There were those who felt the judge would not look kindly on Gitty’s bringing her argument to New York Magazine’s readers. Said one commenter: “No judge appreciates a ‘hatchet job’ that attempts to sway the outcome of a court case based on sensationalizing shortcomings of one of the parents’ surroundings … the magazine’s audience is a pretty large ‘jury’ to impanel, without giving them access to all the facts.” The fireworks were not confined to nymag.com. On the VIN News blog, a site that covers the Hasidic community, the story was trashed, prompting criticism from other Jewish bloggers who felt it had merit. And amid all the recriminations, there was at least one attempt to lighten the tone, from a blog called What Would Phoebe Do: “The conflict of authenticities between the old-time liberal New York Jewish great-grandparents and the hippie-gone-Hasid grandmother is quite interesting. If only the piece didn’t begin with a reference to the child ‘sitting, princesslike, in the child’s seat,’ soon to be followed by a mention that certain Hasids ‘only came to Wal-Mart for the big sales.’ Princesses, sales, princesses, sales … something is starting to click. This story, is it by any chance about Jews?”

2. Last week, Regis Philbin complained on Live With Regis & Kelly that he never gets written about in New York—and told of an encounter with a party reporter at the premiere of The Dark Knight. He was pleased with the quote he gave her but was worried it wouldn’t run. Well, Regis, click here.

3. We got 46 letters last week like this: “How dare you, you arrogant Establishment jerks, print such an outrageous political cartoon as a cover? Shame on you! May your magazine perish within the year.” What had we done? Nothing, it turns out. Those letters were meant for The New Yorker, which put on its cover the now-infamous image of Barack and Michelle Obama as gun-toting radicals. Now we hope they’ll forward our mail.


Clarification: In “Intelligencer: Ex-Gossip’s Lawsuit Lacks Appeal” (July 14), New York reported that Jared Paul Stern declined to comment on the status of his lawsuit. While he did decline to comment on the departure of his lawyer, Michael G. Dowd, from the case, he had made clear his legal strategy: “We will file an immediate appeal. The judge’s opinion was biased and disgraceful.” The appeal has, in fact, now been filed, by Dowd.


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