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April 5: The Jewish Philosopher

April 5, 2013

1-yidisher-filosofC. Israel Lutsky, who held forth in Yiddish on WEVD as an advice-giver, folk philosopher, Talmudist, scold, and pitchman for Carnation's Milk for more than thirty years into the 1960s, was born on this date in 1898. Although the letters he read and responded to were often written by his own cohort, such charlatanism, writes the Yiddish Radio Project, "never diluted the strength of his convictions, or his determination to see his advice followed to a T." The "C" in his name stood for "cantor" — "a role in which he had early success before going on to become an amateur pulgilist, a vaudevillian, a socialist organizer, a cub reporter, and ultimately a radio personality," a role in which "he demonstrated a hypnotist's talent . . . turning private grief into public catharsis and transforming platitudes into pearls of wisdom." In 1937, six years after his radio show premiered, Lutsky launched the Jewish Philosophers League and an associated magazine, which gathered annual dues and ran dances, drama classes, boat rides, and other cultural activities. The late Isaiah Sheffer, creator of "Selected Shorts" on National Public Radio, served as Lutsky's English-language announcer until he was fired for garbling a Carnation ad. To hear the Yiddish Radio Project's documentary about Lutsky (with Carl Reiner, Isaiah Sheffer, and others), click here and look for "NPR."

"Day in, day out, for three decades running, Lutsky began his program with a freshly written tribute to the wonders of Carnation Milk. He lauded the economic efficiency of Carnation's plants, the mysterious nutrional benefits of its powdered milk crystals, the allergy-preventing properties of its canned milk . . . In short, the Jewish Philosopher was a snake-oil salesman . . . and . . . Carnation Milk was so pleased with his impassioned promotions that they awarded him a pension at his retirement." —Yiddish Radio Project