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Anti-Semitic? No, it was just a joke

To the editor:

In response to Helen Biegel’s Thursday letter to the editor, which addressed comments I made on the TV show “Chelsea Lately” that were published in Norm Clarke’s June 29 column:

I’m not anti-Semitic, and I’ve never said anything even remotely anti-Semitic. And, more importantly to everyone, I’ve never felt the slightest anti-Semitic feeling. My upbringing didn’t allow for any chance for anti-Semitism, but it also doesn’t allow me to list my friends in self-defense. A little research into my family, my closest friends, and … well, everyone I work with, and my positively pro-Semitic actions would be able to clear that up. But it’s not your job to research, so let me try to explain.

I spoke on a TV show (with a clearly non-offended Jewish hostess), and I still believe my tone of voice would have made what I was saying more clear, but even without that, I think it takes a bit of work to label what I said anti-Semitic.

I made a joke about illusionist Criss Angel. In a list of things I said ribbing Mr. Angel, I made a joke about the size of his cross. My joke was that the symbol of his religion that he chooses to wear around his neck, instead of on his sleeve, is almost big enough to be practical for crucifying an actual Jesus Christ.

It wasn’t all that original a joke. Ironically, the antecedent was a Lenny Bruce routine about the wearing of crosses. I can’t see how referencing the greatest American comedian (born Leonard Alfred Schneider) could be perceived as anti-Semitic, but I guess it was. Instead of naming “Jesus,” I referred to Jesus as “a Jew” (Which, according to the Bible, and Mr. Bruce, Jesus was). My assumption was that most people in our Judeo-Christian culture would recognize who was being talked about, but I was wrong.

I don’t want to be disingenuous. There was certainly some shock intended in the use of the word “Jew.” But the shock was supposed to point back to Mr. Angel wearing a giant cross around his neck and where that image came from. It was hyperbole about the size of Mr. Angel’s cross, a bit of a shock from the word “Jew,” and an allusion to Mr. Bruce’s routine about Catholic schoolgirls wearing crosses around their necks.

Part of my job (besides making magic tricks work) is being understood, and I’ve certainly failed at that. I hope this explanation will help those who misunderstood and were offended.

And to the reader referenced in Thomas Mitchell’s Sunday column (“You just can’t please everybody”), I beg you to do a little research on how I’ve lived my life and consider that I wasn’t showing my “true colors,” but rather making a Criss Angel joke, with a Lenny Bruce reference, that didn’t work for you.

And I would like to apologize. One of the worst feelings in the world for someone who earns his living speaking is to be misunderstood. How people interpret what I say matters very much to me. I didn’t expect it to be reworked in print, but I certainly have enough experience to know that this happens and, if I were more professional, I would have been ready for it.

I apologize for being sloppy enough to be misunderstood, but I can’t apologize for being anti-Semitic because I’m not, and I never have been.

PENN JILLETTE

LAS VEGAS

THE WRITER, AN ENTERTAINER, STARS IN “PENN & TELLER.”

Sordid allegations

To the editor:

If the allegations in Sunday’s Review-Journal article concerning both Dr. Dipak Desai and the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners are even close to being true, then I feel ashamed at being listed as one who is licensed by such a board and in the same profession as the accused physician (“Dr. Desai’s rise and fall”).

Don’t get me wrong. I always wanted to make a “good” living in the practice of medicine. You also wanted to make a good living at whatever profession or line of work you chose for your life. I have responsibilities to myself and my family.

However, being a physician differs from all other professions and job descriptions. We are healers who always place the patient’s best interests above our own. We take an oath to that effect, and the profession has no meaning if that oath is nothing but empty words.

While others may claim that description to fit their profession or job description, only in medicine is it a way of life. The medical licensing board of Nevada, if guilty of allegations of patronage and abuse of authority, has failed the public. If past politicians were manipulated by the filthy lucre of a fallen “healer,” they have failed the public. If other doctors knew of such abuse and did nothing to stop it, they, too, have failed the public.

And above all, if the doctor at the center of this scandal did what is alleged, he has not only failed the public, he has failed both himself and his profession.

Jack L. Kane

LAS VEGAS

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