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April 25, 2014 / 25 Nisan, 5774
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Saving Paula Abdul


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I confess: I live in Boro Park and I own a television. I don’t readily volunteer this information to my religious compatriots, but if anyone would ever ask, I wouldn’t lie about it, either. To me, owning a television and lying about it are on two altogether different levels, commandments-wise. But thankfully, the question has never arisen.

However, I realize now (after one of the most embarrassing faux pas of my life) that the truth eventually emerges, one way or another, and you can never really hide who you are. But in this particular instance it was I myself who unwittingly broadcast my personal deviations from my society’s norms, for one and all to know.

This is how it happened: One of my secret pleasures in life is watching American Idol. Yes, it’s kitschy, but I love it anyhow.

Perhaps it’s because I always secretly yearned to be a singer, but couldn’t inasmuch as my father wore a beard, shtreimel and peyos. Perhaps it’s because I empathize with the hopes and dreams of the contestants, the chances for redemption and the “big break” that the show represents, or perhaps it is the inevitable tales of heartbreak and loss that punctuate so many of their stories. Whatever the reason (maybe it’s just the pure entertainment and nothing deeper), I simply love the show.

I know it is unbecoming, and when I told my Chumash teacher one semester, “You know, I’m missing American Idol because of your class,” he thought I was joking. When I made a similar statement to another teacher (I attend a lot of shiurim and classes) she asked me what American Idol was. Yes, it’s incongruous for me to love American Idol so much. But I do.

For me, part of the show’s charm is the way the judges interact with the contestants and with one another. My favorite judge has always been Paula Abdul, the perfect foil for Simon Cowell, the misanthropic judge whom all America loves to hate. Where Simon is mean and dismissive, Paula is perpetually warm, loving, tender, gentle, and sincerely sorry to proffer any criticism at all to contestants who don’t make the grade.

She always has a nice word to say, and makes everyone feel loved. The first time I watched the show, I muttered to myself, “Truly, she’s a heilege neshoma” (holy soul). My ethnocentric impulses were electrified when I later discovered that she is Jewish, and a patron of Chabad in LA. That made me an even bigger fan.

So, when I heard this week that Paula was being ousted from the show, I was outraged. Does no good deed go unpunished, I fumed? The one really sweet, nice judge on the show is the one being given the boot? I couldn’t take the injustice.

As an inveterate letter to-the-editor writer, a fighter for righteousness, truth and integrity, I decided I had to do something. I could not let Paula go down without a fight. Thankfully, on a website for Paula fans, I learned that a campaign was afoot on Twitter to save her. But I had a little problem: What was Twitter, I wanted to know?

As a woman of a certain age (i.e. technologically challenged and although not entirely computer illiterate, amazingly inept), I first had to figure out what Twitter was. Then I had to employ all the brain cells that I had left to navigate my mouse to the Twitter website. There I followed a link to the “Save Paula Abdul,” campaign. And there is where I made my embarrassing mistake.

From what I understood (and apparently I understood nothing), all I had to do was to write a one-line statement about how deeply I cared about Paula, and wanted her back on the show. So I wrote “She is the nicest, sweetest, most wonderful person. Save Paul Abdul,” and I clicked the icon that winked at me, catapulting my statement into cyberspace, and to what I thought were the machers at Freemantle Media and American Idol. I was proud, I admit, that I had managed such intricate maneuvers on the computer without the usual help of my 12 year-old son. “I don’t have to be intimidated by the Internet anymore,” I thought in jubilation. “I can do this on my own!”

Boy, was I ever wrong.

In the morning, I found my e-mail box flooded with letters from concerned Orthodox cohorts from all over the world.

“I’m so sorry to hear about your friend Paula Abdul,” one wrote. “What’s wrong with her? Should we say Tehillim (Psalms)?”

Another wrote: “What an interesting name. Is she a baalas teshuva?”

A third said: “So what can we do to help save your friend? What blood type is she? Does she need bone marrow?”

Apparently, my one-line Twitter statement had not gone to anyone at American Idol but everyone in my mailbox instead, igniting worldwide concern (I have an extensive address book) among my religious peers about my unfortunate friend named Paula. From the phrase (which the Twitter Campaign had made into a slogan) “Save Paula Abdul,” everyone who received my e-mail assumed it was a medical issue that had been inflicted upon her. No one thought it was a television cancellation.

Sadly (at least for now, at least for me), this means that at this very moment devout rabbis, pious rebbetzins and former teachers from various seminaries are probably scratching their heads and asking one another in confusion, “Paula Who?” Renowned baalei and baalot chesed have most likely already embarked upon telephone campaigns to organize massive Tehillim rallies for Paula, and countless others are asking the question of the day, “Ver is dos Paula Abdul?” (Yiddish for “Who is Paula Abdul?”)

Actually, the scenarios above would be quite cheering; it would mean that no one has a clue that Paula is a television personality, and I would be safe from their censure. But what am I going to do when someone figures it out?

I’m in deep trouble with two groups: Members of my religious community who will be scandalized that I watch television; and members of my intellectual community who will be scandalized that I watch television. All the intellectuals I know who own televisions defensively mutter things about PBS, Discovery Channel and National Geographic. But American Idol? Masterpiece Theatre it definitely is not.

So, now I’ve been publicly “outed” and worst yet, by my own hand. My heartfelt, well-intentioned effort to save Paula Abdul has boomeranged bitterly. I think I’m going to need some saving myself.

Paula, I tried my best, I really did. I gave up my reputation, my credibility, and my good name to keep you on American Idol. What can I tell you? It’s in Hashem’s hands now. We can only pray.

And believe me, I’m praying, too. Praying that most of the people in my address book are members of koshernet.com or torahnet.com and can’t Google your name through the filters installed in their systems.

But I’m looking for a house out of state just in case.

Meanwhile, I hear that people are lining up in droves at Maimonides Hospital to donate blood for Paula Abdul, whoever she is. Klal Yisrael loves you, Paula.

*What are you, meshuga? You think this is my real name? I still have shidduchim to make.

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I confess: I live in Boro Park and I own a television. I don’t readily volunteer this information to my religious compatriots, but if anyone would ever ask, I wouldn’t lie about it, either. To me, owning a television and lying about it are on two altogether different levels, commandments-wise. But thankfully, the question has never arisen.

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