MITZVAH: Laugh all you want — Rabbi Shmuley gets results.
I kept my appointment with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach this time and was rewarded. Each week on TLC’s Shalom in the Home (Sundays, 7 pm) the portly, effervescent Shmuley takes his Airstream trailer and his Freak Brother beard into a hive of domestic dysfunction and sorts everybody out. This time he was chipping away at the intransigent masculinity of New Jersey warehouse manager Anthony Vaccarella, in an attempt to get him to communicate with his 10-year-old stepson. “There’s a void in this boy’s life!” yelled Shmuley. “It’s not gonna be filled by a corpse watching TV!”
Vaccarella looked dismayed, but not as dismayed as he did 10 minutes later out in the garage, when he was showing Shmuley his high-school hot rod and suddenly intuited that it was about to be converted into a metaphor. “You’ve gotta get the parts, right?” said Shmuley. “You’ve gotta put the work in.” Vaccarella glowered at the cement floor. “Okay, I want you to put the same effort that goes into maintaining this car into maintaining your family.” Shmuley gets results: by the end of the show he had elicited from this brooding stoic entire paragraphs of emotion. “Your real dad and me, we’re not competing for you,” Vaccarella told his startled stepson. “We’re sharing you, trying to keep you happy. You’re the most important part of everything. You know I love you, right?” I wept, and embraced my son.
A touch rougher than Shmuley but no less rabbinical, in his way, is Captain Tred Barta, star of The Best and Worst of Tred Barta (Versus, Fridays, 9 pm). Tred is a slaughterous outdoorsman once called “the Butcher of Shinnecock” for his inroads into the local population of bigeye tuna. In addition to a number of world records for hunting he holds some very strong views, most of them connected to the commercialization or dumbing down of his sport. “We live in a society of immediate gratification,” preaches Tred. “Is this what hunting has become? Microwaveable?!” Last week, while waving a longbow at a couple of black bears on Kupreanof Island in southeast Alaska, he held forth powerfully on the practice of “fair chase”: “When you sit in a tree stand, 10 to 20 yards away from a heaping pile of jelly doughnuts, bacon grease, and bread stuffed into a 50-gallon drum and drawing in a Pavlov-trained black bear, and you harvest that animal — is that fair chase?! Is a 150-pound black bear taken on the stalk with a longbow and wooden arrows any less of a trophy than a 600-pound bruin gobbling jelly doughnuts?”
Tred himself makes an odd sort of predator. No lightfooted nemesis of the woods, he is a short, snouty, noisy, thick-featured man, rather dumpy in his waders and camo gear. “Homemade wooden arrows, stone points, longbow!’ he puffed, “I’m chasing my dream!” His prey seemed embarrassed by his attentions; at the sound of Tred’s ego crashing in the underbrush the bears would look up, sigh, and then canter demurely away. “I’m gonna put the wood on ’em!” grinned Tred. His bloodlust was not attractive, but what the hell — at least he kills his own meat. Unlike the rest of us bacon lovers, he has an existential relation to his lunch: not for Tred the factory farm, and the imprisoned hairless super-sow with more drugs in her system than the late Anna Nicole Smith. “Wind in my face — fair chase!”