The Arty Semite

David Rakoff and the Voice of God

By Jason Diamond

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
David Rakoff

I can think of three popular ideas about what God actually looks like: the bearded man wearing a white robe who sits on a cloud deciding when to make earthquakes and who sometimes shows up in a burning bush; George Burns in “Oh God!” and, long before he actually played God in “Bruce Almighty,” many of us believed that when we left this mortal coil it would indeed be the voice of Morgan Freeman welcoming us to the afterlife. But I’m of the very tiny minority that believes that when God speaks, he sounds just like David Rakoff did.

Rakoff, who passed away last night at the age of 47 after a battle with cancer, had a distinctly clever voice in his writing and his speech. He was the sort of writer who didn’t need to try and be funny; instead, it came out in his essays like quick flashes of color — albeit dark colors, since his humor could be described as “black.” He didn’t dwell on how witty or intelligent he was, he just kept producing works that proved he had these qualities in spades.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to crowd into the small Laurie Beechman Theatre in Midtown Manhattan to see the first-ever showing of Rachel Shukert’s Passover Parody, “Everything’s Coming up Moses.” While I’d heard Rakoff’s voice a dozen times before through his contributions to This American Life, and had the pleasure of speaking with him on a few occasions, the show’s debut was very different. Rakoff had a voice that I can honestly only describe as a gay, Canadian, Orson Welles. It was the sort of voice you hear and immediately find yourself trying to imitate each special syllable. But when he played God in what was a light-hearted and campy musical in a tiny space on 42nd Street and 9th Avenue, he did it so perfectly and with such dignity and aplomb that my idea of what God sounds like was changed forever.

In his 1999 satirical essay for Salon, “The Writer’s Life,” Rakoff wrote: “All is Writing, I tell them. And, of course, Writing is All, I tell them, as well.” Obviously Rakoff, playing the part of the stuffy man of letters was joking, but anybody who was familiar with his work knew that the play on words was not without truth. Rakoff was one of our great humorists: a man whose warmth was evident in every sentence he assembled, and whose voice will never be forgotten.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Obituaries, Jason Diamond, David Rakoff, jewish, this american life

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.