Menu JTA Search

BEHIND THE HEADLINES Cornered by Ken Starr, Monica found solace from Jewish heroines

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

WASHINGTON, March 18 (JTA) — Surrounded by Ken Starr’s minions, her world collapsing all around her, Monica Lewinsky’s thoughts turned to Hannah Senesh, a Jewish poet and war heroine who parachuted into Nazi-occupied Europe to rescue Allied prisoners and organize Jewish resistance. The Jewish presidential paramour was sustained by thoughts of the Hungarian Jewish fighter on that fateful day at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and later said she identified with the plight of Holocaust diarist Anne Frank, according to her authorized biography, “Monica’s Story,” written by Andrew Morton. “This is not how we should be living in America in this century,” she said of the “bullying” tactics of the independent counsel’s office. “It reminded me of the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’ We were living in constant fear.” For those who haven’t had their fill of all things Monica and are still wondering how a Jewish girl came to be the source of a constitutional crisis, the book offers bits and pieces that provide a slightly more revealing glimpse into Lewinsky’s Jewish identity. From her acknowledgment of having received spiritual counseling from New York Rabbi Mark Gollub to a confession to having once made “virtually inedible” matzah-ball soup for a charity group in Portland, Ore., there’s something for every variety of voyeur. According to the book, she learned about Senesh after seeing the 1988 film “Hannah’s War,” which depicts the life of the woman who became a symbol in the Zionist movement of devotion and self-sacrifice. Deeply concerned about the fate of European Jewry and her mother in Budapest, the Hungarian-born Jewish poet joined a group of parachutists organized by the Haganah in pre-state Palestine and infiltrated Hungary in 1944. She was captured by Hungarian police and cruelly tortured, but did not reveal any information before she was shot by a firing squad. “I wish that I had the inner conviction that Hannah Senesh had,” Lewinsky once wrote in an essay for school. “I am not nearly half as brave as she was. However, what I have in common with Hannah is that I too share a very close relationship with my mother. Hannah and her mother had a bond that could not be broken by anything and that is the same with me.” Detained by armed FBI agents and Starr’s deputies in January 1998, the day Linda Tripp betrayed her, Lewinsky said she found some comfort not only in Senesh’s story, but in reading the hotel room’s Bible over and over, pausing on a few lines in the 91st Psalm: “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God; in him will I trust.” Recounting her childhood, Morton describes Lewinsky’s resentment at being sent to a “strict” temple for Hebrew school and her desire to have an elaborate Bat Mitzvah celebration. “Monica anticipated a big celebration,” Morton writes. “Instead, Bernie [Lewinsky, her father] offered to spend $500 on a party in the backyard of the family home. A full-scale party was not beyond his means but he believed that that was quite sufficient to celebrate an event that was supposed to be religious. “Monica, knowing well how this would fail to impress her peers, let it be known in no uncertain terms that it most certainly was not sufficient, nor was it what she wanted.” Her father, who used to call Monica “my little farfel,” is described as being in a state of mourning when news of his daughter’s exploits became public, “crouched on the bed constantly saying Kaddish.” Later, he “had to listen in helpless, silent indignation as local Orthodox Jewish elders discussed the possibility of using religious law to cast Monica out from the faith,” according to the book. Her mother, recalling her horrific experience before the grand jury and Starr’s attempts to use her against her daughter, said, “My own family saw that technique used very effectively by Josef Stalin, which is why they left Russia.” The book even offers up a few dirty Jewish jokes that Clinton and Lewinsky exchanged, previously cited in edited form in the steamy Starr report. “Why do Jewish men like to watch porno films backwards? So they can see the hooker give back the money,” Monica told the president during one phone conversation. Clinton, in turn, said: “What do you get when you cross a Jewish-American Princess with an Apple? A computer that won’t go down on you.”

NEXT STORY