ERBAL sparks ignited at the 92nd St. Y as Morley Safer and Don Hewitt squared off on the Muhammad cartoon flap, which roiled Muslem sensibilities the world over.
Safer, a correspondent for 60 Minutes on CBS, blasted his network for its spineless reluctance to unveil the controversial cartoons on air. "Itís an act of cowardice," he charged.
Abigail Pogrebin lights the fuse for a heated huddle
on Jewish identity with Don Hewitt, left, and
Morley Safer at the 92nd St. Y
"I would show the cartoons," Safer said. "Itís a major story. Itís an issue of freedom of the press."
His former boss, Don Hewitt, who created the legendary investigative program in 1968 and served as executive producer for 36 years, reacted vehemently to his former colleague.
"Iím sick of this issue of freedom of the press," Hewitt said. "In a world full of meshugoyim, you donít want to cause more trouble. A lot of people are going to get killed for freedom of the press."
"Youíre fearful," Safer said.
"Iím not fearful," Hewitt shot back. "Do you realize the craziness thatís in the world? You donít pour gasoline on the fire. There are people dying and embassies burning because of freedom of the press. Iím not for inciting more violence."
Moderator Abigail Pogrebin bravely managed to steer the discussion back to the subject of her book, Stars of David, which consists of celebrities talking about their Jewish background. Safer and Hewitt are two of her subjects.
Notwithstanding his inclination not to incite more violence in the world, Hewitt offered a story to illustrate his Jewish feelings. Two Jews are lined up before the firing squad. One rejects the requisite blindfold, to which the second says, "Herschel, donít make trouble."
"Making trouble is what Jews like me and Morley make best," Hewitt acknowledged.
"Constant arguing is essential to what we are," Safer concurred.
When Hewitt, born Hurwitz 83 years ago, admitted that he had absolutely no Jewish education and no bar mitzvah. He sees nothing wrong with intermarriage. "The more the races of the world intermingle the world would be a better place."
Safer let him have it: "I feel if you are going to reject something, you should know it first."
As to his own degree of observance, Safer, 74, revealed that he keeps Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
As for observance, Hewitt said, "I donít partake of rituals. Iím a non-believing Jew. I kvell more with Fiddler on the Roof than anything."
Safer countered with an attack on how Broadway painted life in Anatevka. "That shtetl was a myth. In the shtetls people were demonstrating against prostitution, working for womenís rights. They werenít dancing all the time."