Elliot Resnick has been conducting interviews for The Jewish Press for more than six years now. Along the way he has parried with an impressive range of characters: from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks to Governor David Paterson, Professor Alan Dershowitz to Cantor Sherwood Goffin, MK Danny Danon to Ambassador Yehuda Avner.
Resnick has collected five dozen of his best interviews in book format. Called “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books), the collection includes updates on nearly every interviewee plus several questions that never appeared in The Jewish Press.
The Jewish Press: How does it feel being interviewed as opposed to the one doing the interviewing?
Resnick: It certainly isn’t my customary position.
Why did you decide to publish this volume?
Over the years I’ve received some very nice feedback on my interviews, and I thought to myself: Why not put them together under one cover so that people can access them whenever they want?
Also, though I obviously don’t agree with everything my interview subjects say, I do find a great deal of their answers fascinating and thought-provoking. Take Rabbi Meyer Schiller, for example. He is a baal teshuvah and Skverer chassid – he wears the full regalia – and yet passionately believes in Torah Umadda, which is the philosophy of Yeshiva University, where he teaches. I wanted to share his unique perspective, and that of so many others, with a wider audience.
Who is the most interesting person you interviewed?
It’s hard picking a favorite. It’s much easier for me to highlight personalities who introduced me to whole worlds I knew next to nothing about. CBS News correspondent Dan Raviv, for example, taught me much about the history and methods of the Mossad; Cantor Sherwood Goffin initiated me into the world of chazzanus – trust me, it’s a lot more fascinating than you might imagine; Efraim Zuroff educated me on Nazi hunting; and Dr. Paul Kengor introduced me to Frank Marshall Davis, a card-carrying member of the Communist Party USA who mentored President Obama in his younger years.
So no favorites?
Not really. I admit, though, that I do have a soft spot for dreamers. Dr. Ari Greenspan, for example, thinks his organization, Ptil Tekhelet, has identified the chilazon and wants all Jews to wear techeles on their tzitzis like they did in ancient times. Rav David Bar-Hayim wants to restore what he calls “Eretz Yisrael Judaism.” In other words, now that half of world Jewry lives in Israel, Rav Bar-Hayim believes we should start paskening based on the Yerushalmi rather than the Bavli.
One final example would be Lenny Solomon of Shlock Rock. I admit that before I interviewed him I thought he was just a businessman who loved classic rock and pop. If you had asked me beforehand whether the man had any depth, I would have ventured “no” as my guess. I can’t tell you how surprised I was. He is extremely sincere and idealistic. He truly believes that his music brings Jews closer to Judaism and will bring Mashiach. I asked him about the propriety of setting Jewish words to non-Jewish music, and he started giving me marei mekomos.
I’m still not sure I agree with him, but he certainly is the real deal.
How do you prepare for your interviews?
I do a lot of research. If I’m interviewing a person about a book he wrote, I usually read the book, or at least enough of it to ask intelligent questions.
Otherwise, Google is my best friend. I honestly don’t know how people functioned in this business before the Internet. It’s usually a trove of information and always gives me gist for the interview. Of course, sometimes you just have to go with the flow. If someone you’re interviewing says something unexpected or interesting, you follow up on that.
The interviews in this book include several questions that didn’t appear in The Jewish Press. Can you give an example or two?
I actually called up Rabbi Moshe Tendler, Rav Moshe Feinstein’s son-in-law, before the book was published to ask him for further clarification on his father-in-law’s stance on Chalav Yisrael. He’s adamant that regular milk is completely muttar and says Rav Feinstein’s children and wife drank it. He also said that many American rabbanim permitted regular milk even before Rav Feinstein wrote his famous teshuvah.