C. Israel Lutsky, the Jewish Philosopher
Before Dr. Laura, before Dr. Ruth, there was C. Israel Lutsky, the Jewish Philosopher.
From 1931 to the mid-'60s, Lutsky took to the air daily with letters from listeners
seeking advice. He replied with spoonfuls of folk wisdom and dollops of abuse.
Charlatan or sage, Lutsky was one of the most beloved and listened-to figures
from the golden age of Yiddish radio. No other radio personality delved so deeply
into the personal lives of his listeners. From men lamenting overextended family
business to women bemoaning no-good children, Yiddish-speakers of all stripes
solicited Lutsky's counsel on issues too sensitive for the ears of friends and
relatives. His pronouncements on their fate veered in tenor from the singsong
melody of Torah study to the gravity of an Old Testament patriarch in no way
averse to sputtering rage. That the letters he expounded upon were written by
his copywriter never diluted the strength of his convictions, or his determination
to see his advice followed to a T.
Short, pugnacious, and dapper to the point of risibility, the cigar-chomping
Lutsky was an entertainer above all else. The "C" in his name stood
for cantor, a role in which he had early success before going on to become an
amateur pugilist, a vaudevillian, a socialist organizer, a cub reporter, and
ultimately a radio personality. In this long-lived function he demonstrated
a hypnotist's talent in bringing his correspondents to life in listeners' minds,
turning private grief into public catharsis and transforming platitudes into
pearls of wisdom.
In short, the Jewish Philosopher was a snake-oil salesman, and as such knew
it wasn't enough to gather a crowd. He needed to sell, sell, sell -- and he
did it with cantorial fervor. His longtime sponsor, Carnation Milk, was
so pleased with his impassioned promotions they awarded him a pension at his
But shilling for sponsors was only the tip of the iceberg. Lutsky launched
the Philosopher's League, a kind of lonely heart's club devoted to spreading
his teachings. And he went multimedia, publishing a magazine dedicated to himself.