Most magazines are content to stir things up with their articles and leave it at that. Most magazines are also content to adopt catchy but relatively meaningless titles--Fame, Money, Sport--that readers can readily identify with.
Tikkun sets itself apart on both counts. Having stirred things up in its pages since summer, 1986, this bimonthly "Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society" arrives in town Saturday for a two-day conference at UCLA guaranteed to whip at least some reader-participants into a fine philosophical froth.
Writing in the January-February issue, film maker Woody Allen calls Tikkun "a generally wonderful journal--politically astute, insightful, and courageously correct on the Israeli-Palestinian issue." Others send the Oakland-based publication bomb threats--largely because of its positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Stirring up such disharmony might seem contrary to the magazine's goals. Tikkun, after all, is Hebrew, meaning "to mend, repair and transform the world." But healing comes through struggle, editor Michael Lerner believes.
To explain his new magazine three years ago, he issued a founding statement that rivals the Talmud in length and complexity. It was an idealistic call for readers to come together and explore how humanity might contend with the specific dilemmas of this age, based on the teachings of the Prophets and the wisdom of more modern thinkers, such as Martin Buber.
He called for a progressive political and economic agenda embracing a commitment to family, community and spirituality. He asked readers to stand up against oppression from the Right and Left, including what the editor saw, and continues to see, as right-wing Israelis' injustices against Palestinians.
That position continues to stir anger. But it was a profile of Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson that drew the most heat from Right and Left and triggered a spate of newspaper articles.
Lerner, who conducted the interview himself, went in hoping Jackson would disavow previous remarks interpreted as anti-Semitic.
"It turns out there was a problem with his relationships with Jews," he said.
Last fall, strapped with financial problems, Tikkun sent letters to its subscribers that can only be described as pleading.
"It sounded slightly more desperate than we intended," Lerner said. The result, though, is that the magazine--circulation 40,000--raised $100,000 and is back on solid footing for the moment.
Tikkun continues to run an article or two in each issue that only progressive rabbis with doctorates from Hebrew University will want to read. But it also contains fiction, poetry and articles of broader appeal--which won Tikkun the Utne Reader award for best essays on politics and culture.
The current Tikkun addresses such problems as abortion (in a well-crafted book review by Katha Pollitt), racism in America ("things are getting worse and getting better at the same time"), and the debate over the causes of mental illness.
A similar agenda will be discussed at the conference, with talks and seminars on matters such as "Israel and the Palestinians," "Blacks, Jews and Ethnicity in the 1990s" and "The Difficulties in Making Progressive Movies and TV."
A goal of the conference, Lerner said, will be to try and set a course for American liberal and progressive forces, which seem to be adrift at the moment.
"People are very unhappy," said Lerner, who is a psychologist. "From our perspective, this is rooted in a general alienation people are experiencing."
The UCLA gathering is called a "Conference of Liberal and Progressive Jews" but is open to, and should be of interest to, thinkers of every persuasion--as is the magazine. Which raises a question--one that Allen asks of the magazine in its current issue: "Why a Jewish critique? Or a Gentile critique? Or any limiting perspective? Why not simply a magazine with articles written by human beings for other humans to read?"
Lerner says he has had an ongoing argument with Allen on this subject. A fairly convincing response, however, is in the editor's founding statement, where Lerner argues there is strength in beliefs rooted to specific history and traditions and "hostility to religion within liberal and progressive circles must be overcome."
Besides, he writes, Judaism has a lot to offer "liberal and progressive forces, non-Jewish and Jewish alike."
Mailer Spills It All for M
Anyone who has mentally chastised J. D. Salinger or V. S. Prichett for their reclusive refusal to grant interviews should read the Q & A with Norman Mailer in February's M magazine. By the fifth question, readers will mutter: "Why don't all American authors learn to keep their mouths shut?"
In this hooter of an interview, cover boy Norman discusses such touchy subjects as public displays of cleavage and the touch of silicone mammaries: "There isn't as much human communication back and forth between your hand and the breast."
Although seemingly embarrassed throughout, Mailer lets his gently bullying interlocutor--a woman--coax from him such deeply revealing insights as the fact that he weighed 160 pounds when he wrote "The Naked and the Dead."
A clue as to why Norman (Question: "Should I call you 'Big Norm?' ") Mailer spills his guts might be found in his comment that flattery is an extremely effective seduction technique.
Earlier in the same sappy piece, Mailer revealed that in his experience, women seem more attracted to Clint Eastwood than they do him--at which point the interviewer injects, "Well, I've had the pleasure of dancing with Mr. Eastwood, and I find you both equally attractive."