This Shabbat, I will be celebrating the 46th anniversary of my bar mitzvah. It will be hard to top the 45th as I wrote about in this blog last year. You can read that story (and I hope you will) at https://rabbirobdobrusinblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/a-bar-mitzvah-present-to-cherish-45-years-later/
But, when I look back at my Bar Mitzvah itself, there are three presents which stick out in my mind. First, the gold watch my parents gave me which I still have. Second, the autographed Red Sox baseball which still sits on my desk. And, third, the most inspired present any 13 year old could receive in 1968: a 2 year subscription to MAD Magazine.
I can still remember the stunned sense of joy and appreciation I felt when I opened the letter from a friend of my father’s to see that that was the present he had given me.
From the time I was in 5th grade until the early years of High School, I devoured MAD Magazine as did most of my friends. The satire ranged from somewhat funny to absolutely brilliant. The subject matters sometimes resonated with my adolescent mind and sometimes didn’t. But, it didn’t matter. Every bit of the magazine from “The Lighter Side of…” to the movie satires to “Spy vs. Spy” to the song parodies to what were called the “Drawn Out Dramas”, the miniature cartoons scattered around the margins which sometimes required magnifying glasses to read, MAD was the epitome of teenage humor.
I tend to think one of the secrets of the success of the magazine was that it was just over the edge enough to keep our interest but not so “dirty” that our parents would have been forced to throw it out. In fact, I distinctly remember being able to convince my father that in fact it was tremendously creative as he threatened to throw out an issue that he found offensive for some reason. That was fortunate because that was the issue that actually contained a record you could play on your record player at home, a song called: “It’s a Gas”. (I’m not going to give you the link but you can find it on Youtube if you don’t remember it- just remember we were 13 at the time, but I have to confess it still makes me laugh hysterically.)
I didn’t realize how lasting the memories of MAD magazine were to me until a couple of years ago when I was trying to find an appropriate 60th birthday gift for my older brother. I was looking around in the bookstore when I came upon a 50th anniversary collection of the best of MAD from the 60s. I bought it and read most of it before I sent it to him and realized that I remembered much of what was in the collection even though I hadn’t seen the magazine (except for a few I bought at a used bookstore a while back) for several decades. All I had to do was read the title of the feature and it all came back to me immediately. And, my brother had the same feeling when he opened it. Whether the material in MAD stood the test of time could be debated but it certainly stood the test of memory.
At the end of April, Al Felstein died. He was editor of the magazine for some 30 years including the years I was an avid reader There was an obituary about him in the New York Times. It was a rather long obituary and a lot of it was a celebration of MAD. The accolades were well deserved. He must have been a genius.
So, another piece of my youth is gone. But, it gave me a lot of great memories. MAD together with Rowan Martin’s Laugh In epitomized for me my growing sense of “maturity” (God help us) and appreciation of the higher forms of culture. If you remember MAD as I do, take a minute to think about how it inspired you. I know it made me laugh but I also think that reading the humorous, creative twists of language, might even have helped me develop as a writer of sermons.
Whether or not that is true is immaterial or as Alfred E. Neuman would say; “What me worry?”
May the memory of Al Feldstein be for a blessing.