Stringing together the tales of a lifetime's joy and pain to share with others is a way to enhance "longevity of soul," Rabbi Baruch Korff said Tuesday night during a lecture at Westminster College.
Korff, who made headlines in the early 1970s by arguing that then-President Richard Nixon should not be prosecuted for crimes relating to the Watergate break-in, spoke anecdotally about his life's experiences during the lecture, which was entitled,"What's Past is Prologue."A Holocaust survivor who witnessed the murder of his mother, Korff told stories that were unbelievably tragic and slyly funny.
From a story about how Jordan's King Hussein ordered kosher food for him from Vienna rather than the much-nearer Israel he moved to a rhetorical question about the complicity of democracies in the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews and then explained why he worked to overcome official resistance to Mormon proselyting in Israel.
"The Jew who has no cover deserves to be converted," he said, adding that he's had many opportunities as a pulpit rabbi to convert Christians to Judaism.
The punch line of one of the many stories he told the dozen or so people in attendance summed up the theme of his somewhat discursive lecture: "A man either lives forever or not at all."
One way for him to live forever, he said, was to talk about his life experiences, something Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has facilitated by arranging speaking dates during a 10-day tour of Utah's colleges and universities.
At one point in his talk, Korff said he was in Utah to share the inspiration he had gained when he met Hatch. But though his praise of the Republican senator was high, Korff denied an attachment comparable to his affinity for Nixon, which led to the formation of 230 chapters of the National Citizen's Committee for Fairness to the Presidency.
Korff said his current goals are much simpler. "I must be able to share my past," he said.
His friendship with Hatch was making that possible in Utah, and "any man who can offer me longevity of soul, I embrace him," he said.
Korff said he served five U.S. presidents and has been a ghostwriter for several members of Congress.
But it was his association with Nixon that made him famous, he acknowledged.
Even after Nixon admitted his complicity in the Watergate break-ins and subsequent cover-up, Korff continued to defend him. In a 1975 interview, the rabbi said that presidents are not accountable to the same laws as private citizens. "Some are more equal than others," he said in the interview.
Tuesday night, Korff said his defense of Nixon was actually a defense of the presidency, which, if weakened, "would lead to a banana republic" in the United States.
The lecture was the first in the tour of Utah's colleges and universities, said Hatch aide Greg Engeman.