The Bar Mitzvah Crasher
In 2002-2003, Oppenheimer roamed the country, from Arkansas to Alaska, from Boston to the Louisiana Bayou, to explore how American Jews celebrate the bar and bat mitzvah today. Out of these travels emerged his classic book, Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America. In this talk, Oppenheimer shares some classic stories of sneaking in, getting free drinks on the house, and, in a moving twist, seeing his relatives’ tombstones in a Louisiana graveyard. But he also draws lessons about coming-of-age transitions, lessons that apply to Christians, Jews and other believers and non-believers alike.
American Religion Today (aka “They Believe What?”)
Did you hear the one about the conservative Catholic who realized she was a lesbian so decided to remain unmarried and celibate forever? The Orthodox Jewish coffee obsessive who travels the country figuring out what is, and isn’t kosher in Starbucks coffee shops? The acting teacher who turned dozens of Hollywood actors into Scientologists? The atheist philosopher who was brainwashed by evangelical Christians as he began to lose his faculties, then wrote a book about his newfound belief in God? The elderly Zen priest who seduced female students for forty years, driving some of them insane in the process? In this speech, Oppenheimer talks about the best – and worst – of the stories he has covered in nearly 20 years on the religion beat. And he draws lessons about how a little prudence, and a sense of humor, can help bring out the best in religion, and avoid the worst.
We are currently experiencing a great renewal of open, active atheism. Dozens of colleges have student groups for atheists; airport bookstores are stocked with best-sellers by atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris; and a couple members of Congress now identify as non-believers. At the same time, in polls, a majority of Americans still say they’d rather not vote for an atheist candidate for president. Writing for the Times and elsewhere, Oppenheimer has been one of the leading journalists on the atheism beat, exploring both the positive side of this phenomenon and, in some cases, the dark side, as in his major investigation of sexism in the atheist movement. Ultimately, Oppenheimer addresses the major impact atheism will have on America going forward.
In Caribbean Spanish, there is a slang term for a man who has only daughters: chancletero, which refers to a man who wears slippers (nobody is sure how the term came to refer to daughters, but Oppenheimer has some bizarre theories). Having spent nearly eight years working part-time and sharing child-care duties with his wife, Oppenheimer loves to share his stories of stay-at-home parenting, and to talk with PTAs, parenting groups, and education groups about the valuable role that men play in child-rearing. Drawing on stories from his popular “Fatherland” column, and from whatever spill he had to clean up last week, Oppenheimer engages his audience in an honest discussion of the highs, and messy lows, of fatherhood – or what he prefers to call dadhood.