I was hoping to start our correspondence a little earlier this morning, but the schedule of a working mom is not always predictable. My three kids are home from school today for the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth. It’s one of those holidays that is great for the kids and a bit difficult for the grown-ups. It’s a celebration of the fall harvest and the Jewish people’s life in the desert while they waited to receive the torah. A significant part of the holiday is constructing the “sukkah,” a temporary hut with a natural wood roof that lets in the moonlight (and the rain). Eating in the sukkah in Manhattan is quite a feat of religious observance. Not only do you have to find open space to construct the sukkah, but overzealous neighbors have been known to report these structures to the Building Department, whose inspectors are often all too happy to cite individuals for code violations. So much for New York the great liberal city!? Which brings me right to this week’s great religious and civil-liberties controversy. How’s that for a surprising segue. Have you followed New York’s mayor’s latest foray into questions of public funding for museums, freedom of speech, the artistic imagination, the role of the chief executive as the arbiter of good taste, and of course electoral politics? There are so many lessons about urban politics in this latest Giuliani outrage/public lecture that I couldn’t resist bringing it into our conversation. Calling the Sensation exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum “sick stuff” and threatening to cut off its city subsidy did not surprise anyone who’s been living with this mayor for the past six years. An amazing column in today’s New York Post by Gersh Kurtzman echoes Jodi Kantor’s piece in Slate last week. Kurtzman’s “No Shortage of Filth To Rile Righteous Rudy” points to exhibits at the Whitney and MoMA that are certainly equally if not more offensive than the exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. While the mayor may find the “dung and the virgin” exhibit offensive, as I would, it’s an easy target to score points with upstate conservatives in his not yet announced Senate campaign. So much for responsible public policy. He hasn’t said, let’s bring the funding issue to the City Council, which shares authority over the budget allocation. He would rather be out there defending decency. Never mind everything else he’s tolerated in this city when he considers it an economic development tool. I think we are reaching new levels of cynicism in New York City politics, which can only further alienate people from civic engagement.
I know that there is an important relationship between celebrating Sukkoth in the city and the Brooklyn Museum Exhibit. I just haven’t had time to get to it. I really look forward to your reply.