Meet the Orthodox ‘American Ninja Warrior’ training to be a rabbi


Like his fellow competitors on “American Ninja Warrior,” 25-year-old Akiva Neuman pushed himself to his physical limits — climbing, jumping and running through an intense obstacle course — in the hopes of making it to the national finals in Las Vegas.

But unlike the dozens of athletes who competed with him at the Philadelphia qualifiers, which will air June 27 on NBC, Neuman prepared by saying the Shema. He also wore tzitzit and a kippah throughout the competition.

Dubbed #ninjarabbi for the occasion, Neuman is an Orthodox Jew and rabbinical student at Yeshiva University. He will finish his smicha while he starts a full-time job at Deloitte in the fall —  yes, in addition to “Ninja” training and studying to be a rabbi, Neuman is also pursuing a master’s degree in taxation at St. John’s University.

 

Tune in to watch the sure-to-be compelling profile of Neuman — after all, the show’s emotional, behind-the scenes stories have been parodied by Drake on “Saturday Night Live” — and to witness his supporters cheering “rabbi, rabbi,” while he shows off his strength, speed and agility.

As of press time, we don’t know whether or not Neumanwho lives in New York, makes it to Vegas. In the meantime, read on for six interesting facts about the “ninja rabbi.”

He found out about the show while at the gym.

Neuman was working out at the gym with a friend when he saw “American Ninja Warrior” for the first time. (The show, which was based on a Japanese competition, is now in its eighth season in the U.S. and has something of a cult following. In fact, The Wall Street Journal recently asked “Is ‘American Ninja Warrior’ the Future of Sports?”)

“It had my name written all over it — it’s competitive and athletic, but it’s not cutthroat, and there’s a certain level of camaraderie required,” Neuman tells JTA. (The coaches, contestants and viewers cheer each other on.)

“I thought, what’s the worst that happens? I get rejected? So what?”

Neuman also figured that being an Orthodox Jew could be his hook. He submitted a video that showed him sitting with an open Talmud surrounded by religious books; it also shows him rock climbing and running.

“I love ‘American Ninja Warrior,’” he says in his video. “But I also do this stuff because if I didn’t I’d be onshpilkes!”

But most of his working out is done at home.

Neuman says he’s always been athletic and competitive; he was the captain of the soccer and hockey teams at his yeshiva high school, where he also played basketball. But considering that he’s studying for his master’s and rabbinical ordination — and he has a young child at home — his workouts usually have to be done early in the morning or at night.

“I’m probably only working out four or five hours a week, but to build muscle it’s all about consistency, even if you’re just doing a little at a time,” he says.

In Neuman’s must-watch submission video, he’s seen at home making impressive use of a pull-up bar and doing pushups while his 6-month-old son, Yaakov Shmuel (aka Koby), reclines on an activity mat.

And he really does that stuff, he tells us.

“Just 10 minutes a day of physical activity can change your attitude, your health, and it gives you more energy,” he says.

He’s also a synagogue youth director — with an athletic streak.

“I have my days, nights and weekends covered,” says Neuman, who in addition to studying works as the youth director at the Young Israel of Holliswood in a suburban Queens neighborhood.

He’s known for getting the kids active.

“We usually start with a game, so the kids can connect, and then we go from there,” moving on to prayer or studying texts, Neuman says.

On Yom Ha’atzmaut he organized an Israeli army-style boot camp for the kids.

“He is always combining physical activity with Torah in ways that motivate and inspire the kids,” says Ronit Farber, a member of the synagogue.

“The first time we met Akiva, we had him and his wife for dinner,” says Rachel Klein, another Young Israel congregant who was one of several community members who traveled to Philadelphia to cheer on Neuman with posters that said “Team Akiva,” as well as “American Ninja Warrior” in Hebrew letters. “After dinner, his wife had to drag him home because he was busy playing soccer with our kids all over our house.”

Neuman is also a star performer in the annual Purim shpiel, adds Klein, “dazzling the audience every year with his dance moves, flips, tricks and splits.”

Akiva Neuman, center, with his wife, Chani, and son, Yaakov Shmuel. Photo by Emuni Z.

He takes the fact that he’s representing Jews seriously.

“I know that the general feeling is that Orthodox Jews aren’t fit — especially not rabbis. And I wanted to show that that’s not always the case,” Neuman says.

But he knows that by wearing religious garb while filming — it was his idea, and the show was fine with it — he instantly becomes a national symbol of observant Jews.

“I bear it with great responsibility, and I’m also really nervous about it,” he says.

That’s part of the reason Neuman said the Shema right before he started the course.

“I wanted one more experience to be closer to God, and was thinking, ‘You have to help me through this, because I’m not just doing it myself,’” he says.

He sees physical fitness as a matter of Jewish principle.

“We’re the people of the book, and that’s our focus. My intellectual growth — both in terms of my Torah learning and secular learning — is the focus for me, too. But we also need to take care of ourselves physically,” Neuman says.

“There’s a commandment that says we have to guard our souls, and the Rambam [Maimonides] elaborates that we’re also commanded to take care of our bodies. We’re scoring points by exercising, and fulfilling what God wants of us.”

Athleticism runs in the family — hopefully.

Neuman and his wife, Chani, grew up near each other in Highland Park, New Jersey. She’s sporty, too.

“When we were dating, we used to go to Dave and Buster’s a lot,” he says. “She always beat me in basketball.

“We keep joking that next year it’ll be the rebbetzin’s turn,” he adds.

And the two are banking on the fact that their athleticism will carry on to the next generation.

“We’re waiting for him to crawl first, but as soon as that happens, we’ll have a soccer ball at his feet,” he says of Koby. “We’re actually hoping he runs before he walks.”

Drake is not dead: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet


There are a couple things you can count on occurring at least once every couple weeks on social media. One, some kind of hoax will go viral on Facebook whether it’s a scam for free airline tickets or Bill Gates passing out money if you “share this post.” The other is news of a celebrity’s passing, when he or she is actually very much alive. When you combine hoaxes and Facebook, the false news spreads quickly, leaving millions of people either perplexed or mourning their idol. The most recent victim of the Internet prank is Drake, Canadian singer, rapper, producer, and star of your favorite Hotline Bling meme.

Read more at Digital Trends.

Two shot dead in Toronto after Drake music festival party


Two people died and three others were hospitalized early Tuesday morning in Toronto in shootings that started at a party affiliated with rapper Drake's annual music festival, Toronto police said.

Police said on Twitter a man and a woman were killed at around 3:30 a.m. local time (0730 GMT) at and near the Muzik club, which hosted the official after-party for Drake's three-day OVO Fest.

A police spokesman said there were three crime scenes. The incident started inside the club and then moved into the street.

It was not immediately clear whether Drake was at the after-party.

Grammy winner Drake is from Toronto, and his OVO Fest is in its sixth year. In 2014, there was a shooting outside Muzik after a party that wounded two people, according to media reports at the time.

“We're satisfied at this point that the organization involved was doing their best,” said Toronto police spokesman Frank Bergen, speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning.

Drake named his new Toronto club after his Jewish grandparents


Jewish artist Drake already has a reputation for being hip hop’s most sensitive rapper.

But that hasn’t stopped him from scoring some more points in the books of bubbes and zaydes across the country.

The Canadian-born Grammy winner announced on Instagram last week that his new nightclub – located in the Air Canada Centre, where the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs play – is named Sher Club, after his Jewish grandparents Reuben and Evelyn Sher.

“Rest in peace to my grandparents Rueben and Evelyn Sher,” Drake wrote on Instagram. “My grandmother was the first person to ever play catch with me and my grandfather was the biggest sports fan in the world. I opened this club in the memory of both of you.”

Yes, you may sigh a collective “aw.”

The club, designed by luxury architect Ferris Rafauli, is billed as the “ultimate pre- and post-game destination.”

Drake has never been shy about talking about his grandmother and his Jewish roots more generally. Tablet points out that he tweetedabout his grandmother’s death in 2012 and put an actual voicemail from her at the end of his 2011 song “Look What You’ve Done.”

This is all coming from the guy who posts annual Hanukkah celebration photos on the Internet and proclaimed his Jewishness in an SNL monologue.

So while they may not like certain four-letter words that feature prominently in his songs, Jewish grandparents everywhere would approve of Drake’s gesture.

Drake and Madonna share kiss at Coachella


Last night, April 12, Madonna showed up as a surprise guest during Drake's Coachella Valley Music and Arts performance, which closed out the annual, three-day Indio, CA music festival, and she planted a kiss on the Jewish rapper while performing her 2005 song, “Hung Up,” Rolling Stone reported. The crowd cheered wildly to the theatrics.  

While TMZ reports that Drake did not appear to enjoy the kiss, you can watch the video below and decide for yourself. 

Coachella takes place again next weekend, April 17-19, with the same lineup as last weekend. It will be interesting to see if Madonna shows up again, and, if so, if she kisses Drake again.  

Drake did not seem to enjoy kissing Madonna


Madonna’s performance with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 VMAs was a huge pop culture moment. And when she made out with Spears – and the camera quickly cut, hilariously, to a shocked Justin Timberlake – it was even bigger.

Then the tender age of 44, Madonna’s antics were sensational but not overly strange. Twelve years later, she’s involved in another high-profile makeout sesh, this time with former Canadian Bildungshow star Drake, nearly thirty years her junior.

And it definitely gets weird.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Drake to headline Coachella


Coachella, one of the summer's largest and most prolific music festivals, confirmed Drake as a headliner of this year's installment.

The Jewish rapper performs on April 12 and April 19.

Every year, music fans anxiously await the announcement of which bands and artists will appear at Coachella, which takes place from April 10-12 and April 17-19 this year.

The setting of the multi-day festival, which unfolds over three days and over two consecutive weekends, with duplicate lineups appearing each weekend, is the picturesque Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. It's like the coolest thing to do all summer-long, with droves of Los Angelenos heading out to the desert to take part in the festivities.

Surprise, unannounced guests are a thing at Coachella, which means there's a chance Drake's friend and frequent collabator, Nicki Minaj, will come out onstage with him. Let's just hope that Minaj leaves the Nazi-inspired symbolism behind.

Tickets for Coachella–full name: Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival–go on sale tomorrow, Jan. 7, at noon.

For more information, visit coachella.com. Full lineup below. 

Nicki Minaj’s new video filled with Nazi imagery


Nicki Minaj's new music video for the song “Only” (Lyric) ft. Drake, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown is filled with stylized Nazi-esque imagery.

According to Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, “Nicki Minaj’s new video disturbingly evokes Third Reich propaganda and constitutes a new low for pop culture’s exploitation of Nazi symbolism.” Foxman added, “The irony should be lost on no one that this video debuted on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the 'Night of Broken Glass' pogrom that signaled the beginning of the Final Solution and the Holocaust.”

It's also interesting to note that Drake, one of the featured artists in the video, is Jewish.

UPDATE: Nicki Minaj has apologized via twitter:

The video's director and creative artist, Jeff Osborne, went a different route:

“As far as an explanation, I think its actually important to remind younger generations of atrocities that occurred in the past as a way to prevent them from happening in the future.  And the most effective way of connecting with people today is through social media and pop culture. So if my work is misinterpreted because it’s not a sappy tearjerker, sorry I’m not sorry. What else is trending?”

You can watch the video and form your opinion here:

The ultimate bar or bat mitzvah playlist


Tired of listening to Kool & the Gang at b’nai mitzvah parties? Here is a playlist of 13 songs that will bring the shy boys and boy-crazy girls to the dance floor, while following in the talmudic tradition of adding a little commentary to the big day.

“When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)”
The Beach Boys (1965)
That would be today, fellas.

“I’ll Be There for You”
(theme song from “Friends”)
The Rembrandts (1995)
Invite 300 of your closest friends!

“Get the Party Started”
Pink (2001)
Best. Entrance. Song. Ever.

“Fire”
Jimi Hendrix (1967)
Don’t forget bubbe and zayde during the candle lighting.

“I Want to Take You Higher”
Sly and the Family Stone (1969)
Lift that chair in the air!

“Shiver”
Coldplay (2000)
Is it me or is the synagogue freezing?

“Gimme Little Sign”
Brenton Wood (1967)
No party is complete without a signing board.

“Suit & Tie”
Justin Timberlake (2013)
You’d better dress up, boys.  

“Happy”
Pharrell Williams (2013)
Clap along if you feel … like “Havah Nagilah” is played out.

“Beautiful Day”
U2 (2000)
Sure is.

“Parents Just Don’t Understand”
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (1988)
Sorry, Mom and Dad, but the next 13 years will be even harder.

“Hold On, We’re Going Home”
Drake (2013)
Not if this Jewish rapper has anything to say about it.

“Best Day of My Life”
American Authors (2013)
Until your 16th birthday, that is.

 

Drake samples Lauryn Hill, name-drops Jennifer Lawrence, Johnny Manziel in ‘Draft Day’


Listen up people! Literally — our favorite Jewish Canadian rap star has a new song out, and you can hear it right here.

It’s called “Draft Day,” and it features some familiar beats from Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing),” plus includes mentions of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, and, surprisingly (in a very pleasant way) Jennifer Lawrence.

Click here to listen

Watch: Drake’s ‘Worst Behavior’ video


If you have 10 minutes to spare, check out Drake’s short film/video “Worst Behavior.”

It’s packed with shots of Memphis, f-bombs, and cameos from Drake’s dad Dennis Graham, Juicy J, Project Pat, and a very entertaining white guy dressed up like Drizzy’s OVO owl.

Jewish highlight: “I imported mine/Bar mitzvah money like my last name Mordecai/F***you bitch I’m Mordecai/My mom probably hear that and be mortified.”

Yeah, that’s definitely possible.

Drake cancels Philadelphia concert


Drake’s tour is off to a rocky start, much to the disappointment  of fans in Philadelphia. His show there Saturday night was postponed an hour after it was set to begin due to a mechanical problem, according to Philly.com.

“Due to the elaborate nature of tonight’s show and an unexpected technical issue, Drake’s ‘Would You Like A Tour’ concert at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia has been postponed until Wednesday, December 18th,” A spokesperson said in a statement. All ticket holders will get their second chance then.

This isn’t the first drama associated with the “Would You Like A Tour?” tour. Drake reportedly fired opening act Future after the rapper dissed Drake in a Billboard article, telling the mag, “Drake made an album that is full of hits, but it doesn’t grab you. They’re not possessive; they don’t make you feel the way I do.”

It’s all good between them now, though. Tonight they’ve moved on together to Montreal, where Drake’s Canadian home court advantage will hopefully bring some better luck.

Can Drake reinvent the Toronto Raptors à la Jay-Z?


The Toronto Raptors are gearing up for a makeover from none other than Drake, the city’s very own Jewish rap sensation.

We know, you’re probably wondering if it’s even possible to infuse cool into a losing team with a tougher, redder Barney for a mascot. But according to the Toronto Star, the execs behind it all are modeling the re-branding on another very successful rapper-basketball joint venture: Jay-Z and the Brooklyn Nets.

“Hip hop’s cool uncle took an (incredibly tiny) ownership position in exchange for polishing the shield,” the Toronto Star says of Jay-Z. “He didn’t have to do much. Switch from Yankees to Nets ball-caps. Show up to a few games. Whisper in the ears of a few guys who grew up on The Blueprint.  The result is an almost instant contender, the sort of marquee brand future hall of famers want to be associated with.”

Now it’s Drake’s turn. In addition to hosting the 2016 NBA All-Star game, the self-described “Raptors fan to the death,” will launch a team-based clothing line and consult on the redesign of the their image for the 20th anniversary of the franchise in the 2014-2015 season.

The hope is that Toronto will soon become a city NBA players are willing to go to. And that Drake does something with that dinosaur.

Watch: Drake’s ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ video


Drake’s new album “Nothing Was the Same” was released yesterday, as was the video for the single “Hold On We’re Going Home.”

While this short musical film does not feature the Jewish Canadian rapper undergoing a religious rite of passage, it does take place in the very Jewy locale of Miami, where a gun-toting Drake rescues his kidnapped girlfriend. Not exactly shul, but we’ll take it.

Stylist claims Drake owes him $70k


Drake’s smooth look doesn’t come cheap — especially if you’re the one dressing him.

According to papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, the Canadian rapper owes former stylist Michael Raphael over $70,000 in fees and expenses, the New York Daily News reports.

Last summer Drake hired Raphael, the owner of a high-end Manhattan boutique he frequented, to help him with his “brand direction.” Translation: He hired Raphael to pick out his clothing. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

In preparation for the American Music Awards in November, for example, Raphael says he had to travel from Los Angeles to New York just to fetch a “custom-designed chain and pendant.”

Raphael also claims Drake asked him to move to Toronto, but did not reimburse him for rent. Then there were the thousands of dollars of items he bought for Drake at Foot Locker, Nike, and J. Crew. Drake fired Raphael in December, before paying him back any of the money he shelled out.

According to the New York Post, Raphael is seeking compensation plus an award for breach of contract. The grand total: $76,000.

Listen: Drake’s new song, “Hold On We’re Going Home”


His new album doesn’t come out until Sept. 17, but Drake has released another teaser in the form of a new track. It’s called “Hold On We’re Going Home,” and it has a more mellow, disco-ish feel than his usual raps.

It’s a big week for Drake, who also brought some major stars over to Toronto for the 4th annual OVO (October’s Very Own) Festival. The show included performances by Miguel, Lil Wayne and, best of all, Kanye West.

Drake wins first Grammy


The Jewish Canadian singer Drake won a Grammy Award, his first, for Rap Album of the Year.

Also, the indie pop band fun. won Song of the Year with “We Are Young” and Best New Artist at the 55th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles. Its lead singer, Jack Antonoff, is Jewish, and he thanked all the band's fans after fun. won in the latter category.

“We've been touring for 12 years and we haven't made money for a very long time,” he told the crowd, extending a shout-out to girlfriend Lena Dunham.

For Drake, his album “Take Care” brought him the Grammy before the televised portion of the show began. He beat out Lupe Fiasco, Nas, The Roots and Rick Ross.

Drake had been nominated 10 times before breaking through this year. He also was nominated for Best Rap Performance for his song “HYFR” and Best Rap song for “The Motto.”

Fun. also performed at the Grammys, playing its hit “Carry On” during a staged indoor rainstorm at the Staples Center.

In his introduction of the group, actor Neil Patrick Harris said, “As legendary gangsta rap icon Katharine Hepburn once said, 'If you obey all the rules, you don’t have any fun.' “

Other notable Grammy winners were the English folk band Mumford & Sons, who won Album of the Year for “Babel”; Gotye, whose hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” won for Record of the Year; and Adele, who won her seventh Grammy for her live performance of “Set Fire to the Rain.”

Drake’s profanity-laced ‘re-bar mitzvah’ video filmed in Miami shul stirs controversy [VIDEO]


Thanks to hip-hop superstar Drake’s latest music video, there are now far more eyes focusing on Temple Israel’s bimah than there are even during the High Holidays.

And even though the song’s lyrics are decidedly more profane than sacred, the Reform synagogue’s president said he hoped the video would help Jewish youth connect to Judaism.

The video, parts of which were filmed in the Miami shul’s sanctuary, purports to depict Drake’s “re-bar mitzvah,” showing the Jewish rapper reading from what appears to be a Torah. But the accompanying song, “HYFR” (Hell Yeah F***ing Right), has nothing to do with a bar mitzvah. Rather, it features profanity-filled and sexually explicit lyrics.

“But she was no angel, and we never waited / I took her for sushi, she wanted to f*** / So we took it to go, told them don’t even plate it,” Drake raps.

The video had garnered well over 1 million views by Wednesday, only five days after its release.

At first, Temple Israel’s president, Ben Kuehne, said that the video—lyrics aside—is “an embracing of religious passage.” He said, “It’s not a sacrilegious message; it’s not an antireligious message.”

But once Kuehne had a chance to review the video and the lyrics more closely, he said, “The complete video is certainly not consistent with Temple Israel’s longstanding history and reputation as a progressive voice in the Jewish Reform movement.” He added, “Temple Israel does not adopt, condone, or sponsor any aspect of the Drake video, and was not involved in its production.”

Nevertheless, Kuehne said, he hoped “Jewish youth will see the Drake video at least in part as a reminder to ‘re-commit’ themselves to their Jewish religion.”

Drake, whose real name is Aubrey Graham, was raised by his Jewish mother in Toronto and attended a Jewish day school. “I went to a Jewish school, where nobody understood what it was like to be black and Jewish,” he told Heeb magazine in 2010. “When kids are young it’s hard for them to understand the make-up of religion and race.”

The 25-year-old rapper today us one of the biggest names in hip-hop. He has been very public in embracing his Jewish roots, wearing a Chai pendant on the cover of Vibe magazine.

The video for “HYFR” opens with a clip of Drake as a boy at a bar mitzvah celebration saying “mazel tov” and then cuts to him as an adult wearing a yarmulke and prayer shawl as he is shown apparently reading the Torah at Temple Israel’s bimah. A caption at the beginning of the video says the rapper “chose to get re-bar mitzvah’d as a re-commitment to the Jewish faith.”

The staged footage of the purported ceremony is followed by party and dancing scenes filmed elsewhere. In many ways, it looks like a typical over-the-top bar mitzvah party—only in this case, the bar mitzvah “boy” is a famous musician who is joined by hip-hop producer DJ Khaled and fellow rapper Lil Wayne wearing a panda mask.

The camera pans a food table with bagels and what appears to be gefilte fish and smoked fish. Drake is shown being lifted in a chair and later pounding a cake with its Torah scroll decorations.

Kuehne said that those involved in the filming were “very respectful and used the temple outside and inside as we would have expected anybody to do.” He said that the producers of the video paid a standard rental fee for the use of the synagogue’s facilities.

Kuehne also said the synagogue’s Torah scroll was not used and that the scenes where Drake appears to be rapping in the sanctuary were inserted post-production. “None of the song’s lyrics were sung in the Temple Israel Sanctuary,” he said.

Yitz Jordan, an Orthodox Jewish rapper who goes by the stage name Y-Love, told JTA he is thrilled to see Drake publicly embracing his Judaism.

“I’ve been saying for years, ‘What’s it gonna take to put Drake in a yarmulke,’” Y-Love said. “I’ve been clamoring for Drake’s Jewish visibility forever.”

He dismissed the lyrics, saying he doesn’t listen to Drake for the content.

“You’re not really sitting there trying to learn about the system of wealth distribution in America,” Y-Love said. “I’m ecstatic just to see Drake in a yarmulke period.” He added, “This is going to help a lot of Jewish kids of color stand up in the hood. Drake’s doing this is really going to help those kids.”

The video’s director, Director X, told Vibe magazine that filming the video last month was a “lot of fun.”

“We were very respectful of the religion and all that happens there,” he said. “So everyone took care with thinking about what’s what, but at the same time, it’s Drake, he’s 24 having a re-bar mitzvah. So it does have a comedy element just by the scenario itself.”

The video’s YouTube page has been flooded with comments both praising and blasting Drake.

“What’s the point of committing to a religion, whose principles you are not going to follow…?” one commenter wrote. “This is just making a mockery of Judaism. I do not practice Judaism, and even I am offended.”

Another wrote, “We get it, you’re proud, which is great—celebrate it more respectfully.”

The video also had its defenders. “Drake is Jewish, his mother is Jewish and he was raised in Jewish religion,” one wrote. “In this video he shows his recognition and actually says that’s what I am.”

Grantland blogger Rembert Browne sees the video as an expression of Drake’s second coming-of-age.

“Coming to terms with who you really are, publicly, is a sign of adulthood, and with this video it’s apparent that his process of doing this is at the very least under way,” Browne wrote. He also said he never had seen Drake “as happy, on-camera, as he is in these party scenes. The look on his face screams, ‘Finally, I can be myself.’”

Top 10 Jews of Year – 2010


Our Annual (well, from now on) Top Jew of the Year list features Jews who embody the best in Jewish values.  And you don’t have to be Jewish to win: see our “Honorary Jew of the Year.”



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