Purim spoof: Jewish NBA player “Completely not jealous” of Jeremy Lin


Jeremy Lin’s NBA debut, in which he scored more points in his initial five games than any other new player, resulted in a fan frenzy that Charlotte Bobcats third-string small forward Elon Steinman “totally gets.” 

“I’m not envious at all,” says Steinman, “It’s just, well it’s nothing. I mean look, I can get fans excited too… ABOUT STEINMANIA!”

Steinman is referring to the commotion surrounding his “exhilarating” play as “Steinmania.” So far, all social media mentions of Steinmania amount to 8 Facebook statuses, several tweets and 223 fan groups on JDate. A recent search for #Steinmania on Twitter was outshined by a major sale the Stein company was having on pianos, further dampening Steinman’s self-described “virility.”

Steinman averages three points every game, as well as “countless half assists,” which is what he has defined as him passing the ball to a player who then passes it to a scorer. “If we’re counting half assists, then oh boy, I have at least four real assists,” Steinman gushes, “don’t even get me started on quarter assists.”

Despite Steinman’s preferred moniker, head coach Paul Silas is quick to call the rookie’s play-style “Steinmanxious,” a technique which Silas describes as “the guy puttering around the court, nervously looking for someone to pass to while minimizing his own time actually handling the ball.”

“The critics like to say we got him on board because of nepotism,” says coach Silas, glancing at a portrait of president of basketball operations Abraham Steinman, “but he’s new, and I believe that he can develop as a player and really come to play a unique and powerful role on this team. Seriously though, did you see that Lin three-pointer at the end of the Raptors game? It would’ve been Linsane if it wasn’t so Lincredible!”

Steinman is quick to dismiss any kind of a connection between his status on the team and his family. “I haven’t had anything handed to me,” says Steinman, while a masseuse hands him a drink, “I grew up just doing my time in private school, taking private basketball lessons whenever I could.”

The NBA third-stringer refers to his fans as “an army of Steinmaniacs.” A scan of the crowd at the last Charlotte Bobcats game revealed a lone “#STEINMANIA!!!!” sign, held by a Rachel Steinman, who emphatically shouted “that’s my boy!” and “not so rough, he’s just a baby!”

When their play time was threatened by the 2011 NBA lockout, Jewish NBA players Jordan Farmar and Omri Casspi both entertained the notion of playing for Israeli team Maccabi Tel Aviv. Despite his extremely limited time on the court, Steinman would not even consider such ideas, stating: “The climate is bad for my skin, allergies, and hypoallergenic cat Rivka.”

“It would be nice to at least get an ice cream,” says Steinman, referring to the now controversial flavor “Taste the Lin-sanity” that Ben and Jerry’s introduced, which featured fortune cookies. “It would be vanilla flavored, because let’s not go too crazy, and have little bits of hamentashen crumbled in! My mother has a recipe that is to die for!”

A spokesperson for Ben and Jerry’s could not be reached for comment.

Valentine’s Day: Use what you’ve got


Valentine’s Day can be a tough time for a young Jew. Fancy restaurants do not cater well to our people. The last time I took a lady to a snooty eatery, the special was baked swiss-cheese-topped-pork stuffed into a lobster served on a picture of Jesus.

Why do we put ourselves through this fahklumpt meshugas? Why not treat your special someone to a romantic night right in your own home? What if you prepared this same sexy evening, from ingredients that you have left over from Jewish holidays? The possibilities, my friends, are endless.

Set the mood with candles. Hanukkah candles.

You’ve got a menorah just sitting on a shelf as a decoration? If that menorah had a Jewish mother it would get yelled at for being so lazy. Put it to work softly lighting the room, and watch your significant other marvel at your ability to create ambiance and your resourcefulness. If she asks why a menorah, look deeply into her eyes and say “because I never stop believing in miracles,” and kiss her, you smoothie.

What’s for dinner? What isn’t?

A romantic dinner comprised of Jewish leftovers from around the house could be any number of tantalizing combinations. When you think of a sexy dish, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Gefilte fish, I knew we were on the same page. What if you upped the ante and served up some Manischewitz-marinated Gefilte fish?  That latke mix box you’ve got lying around doesn’t make latkes, it makes, “salt-encrusted potato medallions.” You just created a fancy dinner and freed up pantry space (for more Gefilte fish).

Sukkot: The gift that keeps on giving.

What is the point of a gift like chocolates? They’re gone when you eat them, and then you forget about them. A gift should be something practical, something you can really use in your daily life. I say, take the wood and hammers you used to make your sukkah, and gift them to your lady. She’ll always have them as a reminder of your romantic gift-giving skills and thoughtfulness. Who knows what she could create with them? As long as she doesn’t build a chuppah, you can’t go wrong.

Sprinkle rose petals on the bed? More like sprinkle matzah.

Why would you waste perfectly good flowers creating a sexy atmosphere when you’ve got what you need collecting dust in the back of the pantry since last April? Keep those flowers in a vase and crumble (let’s be honest—it’s already crumbled) some matzah on that bed. What you lack in traditional symbols of love you will gain in the cute, uniting task of gathering all the tiny matzah bits when they get everywhere. And have you ever been with your lady on top of a bed of matzah? I won’t make a find the Afikomen joke here, but she will, and she’ll thank you for it.

Put all these steps together, and you’ve got yourself a sexy dinner for two followed by an intensely romantic evening. A successful evening and using all your Jewish holiday leftovers? Now that’s a good Tuesday. Just be sure to save the Purim noisemakers for some fun in the bedroom.

Happy Jewish New Year! [VIDEO]


For more Gold, see Merry Erev Xmas with Elon Gold and special guest comedians at The Laugh Factory in Hollywood. Two shows from 8-10pm on Sat., Dec 24th. Call 323-656-1336 ext. 1 or go to

Black and Jewish (Black and Yellow Parody)


‘Bridesmaids’ Kali Hawk & ‘Vampire Diaries’ Katerina Graham shout out Drake, Lenny Kravitz, Lauren London and Rashida Jones as they pay homage to Black & Jewish celebs in a new Funny or Die video.

Black and Jewish (Black and Yellow Parody) from Kat Graham

 

Yom HaAtzmaut special: California on Hebrew [VIDEO]


California on Purim [VIDEO]


Let My People Post Passover Videos


FADE IN.SCENE: A fat, white Jewish boy wearing a backwards baseball cap, pink sunglasses and a snarl, walks down the street to the tune of “Baby’s Got Back,” but instead of saying “I like a big butt and I cannot lie,” he’s rapping these words:

Dawgs, I like matzah balls and i’ll tell you why
If I don’t get ‘em it makes me cry.
When the smell rolls in and I imagine the taste, and around them in your face
You get Tums!
Wanna eat that stuff – cuz one just ain’t enough!
My clothes they keep on tearing, I’m fat but i’m not caring…

It’s “Matzah Ball Rap,” one of the many Passover videos virally spread around YouTube, the premiere medium to get out a message—whatever that message may be. Since the Passover seder is the most attended Jewish ritual of the year, the Jews of YouTube have lots to say about it, with videos—funny, satirical, animated and somewhat educational.

In other words, a perfect medium for today’s younger generation of Jews looking to connect to their heritage.

There are the rap songs, like the animated hip-hop video by Smooth-E (comedian Eric Schwartz) called “Matzah: Hip Hop Fo’ Jews” (I feel like a freak/because every time I pull out something to eat for this week/I can’t do it/because I’m Jewish/and I can’t eat bread/and my rabbi said only/MATZAH!), which was featured on the “Tonight Show.” Then there are the melodic spoofs, such as Michelle Citrin’s “20 Things to Do With Matzah” (Passover’s over and wouldn’t it be neat/if you could use all the matzah you didn’t eat/Catch it like a Frisbee with your friends in the park/ or jump in the water and pretend you’re a shark), which in the last year registered almost half a million hits.

There are the cute ones, like Sam Apple’s “Who Let the Jews Out,” to promote his book “Schlepping Through the Alps” (Ballantine, 2006), and the utterly ridiculous ones, such as the movie preview “I Know What You Did Last Seder” (four Jewish teens are in great danger when a rabbi discovers they have been eating leavened bread during Passover).

Others are more substantive than songs, with modern-day interpretations of the Passover story, such as “Let My People Grow,” an animated sketch—by Stephen and Joel Levinson, based on their seder skits growing up on Dayton, Ohio. This one frames the Jews’ desire to leave Egypt as a breakup. (Jewish Slave Girl: “We think it’s time to move on, you know, get a place of our own.” Egyptian master: “But you can’t leave now! I mean things were going so well! Listen, this pyramid is almost done—just finish it up … ”)

“I think there’s a lot of stuff to be had in the Jewish world: a cynical, modernist retelling of the Bible,” Joel, a full-time YouTube videographer who earns his living winning YouTube contests, said about “God and Co.,” Nextbook’s video series of Bible stories. “God is portrayed in a way that he isn’t usually portrayed.”

Just as the Internet and its blogs have upended traditional media like newspapers and television, YouTube has changed the way many young people think about religion. The Passover videos are just one example of how the Jews of YouTube—usually 20- and 30-something comedians, musicians and writers—are using their culture and creativity to redefine the tradition.

“Being Jewish is a part of me—it’s not the only part of me, but it’s part of my story,” said Smooth-E, a comedian who has made dozens of YouTube videos, including Jewish ones like “Crank That Kosha Boy,” which has generated more than 3 million hits, perhaps because it spoofs SoulJa Boy’s popular hip-hop song “Tell Em (Crank That).”

“As a Jewish artist, I’m telling my story. I kind of have a skewed view—I look at matzah and think that I love the tradition, but matzah stops you up like traffic on the 405 at rush hour,” Smooth-E said, referring to a Los Angeles highway. “It’s not disrespectful, but we can all relate to it.”

There are different reasons behind Jewish videos on YouTube.

Some are inadvertently America’s Funniest Home Videos-style funny, like “Seth’s Bar Mitzvah,” which features a family singing karaoke horribly off-key. Others are serious affairs, like castigating the United Nations for its stance on Israel, or explaining Jewish rituals such as the seder.

But the ones that gain the most traction are the scripted, funny videos. Some promote Judaism, but in a more subtle—and timely—way.

Take Citrin’s “I Gotta Love You Rosh Hashanah,” a parody of the “Barack Obama Girl” video (“Yom Kippur leaves me feeling empty inside/Passover reminds of the tears that we cry/but I don’t want to think of our tragic history/cuz I’m comin’ home for Rosh Hashanah”).

“The crazy part was the response I got from people—‘You make me proud to be a Jew’ and ‘You’re so cool,’” Citrin said, noting that she heard from children, grandmothers, even a Holocaust survivor.  Hebrew school teachers told her they use it in their curriculum, and people still stop her on the streets.

“People really connect to it,” said the 28-year-old folk singer from Brooklyn.

Others use YouTube videos to promote a specific cause, such as Sarah Silverman’s “The Great Schlep,” which encouraged young Jews to urge their grandparents to vote for Obama—and grabbed more than 3 million views.

“Talk to your audience where they hang out,” said Matt Dorf, of Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications, who worked with the people behind “The Great Schlep” campaign, and Birthright Israel, a Jewish organization that makes good use of YouTube.

Birthright has hired artists like Citrin to make videos and holds video contests for program alums.

“It’s where their people are,” Dorf said of the18- to 26-year-olds eligible for Birthright’s first-time free trips to Israel. “You’re not going to speak to them with a full-page ad in The New York Times.”

Where do people hang out?

On Web sites like JDate, which like Birthright recently hired Brandon Walker—the songwriter of the 1.6 million-viewed video “Chinese Food on Christmas.” For Birthright, he wrote a Passover one, “Get Down Moses,” and for Jdate he wrote “February’s Here” (“Never thought I’d be the type to use a dating site online/but February’s here and I don’t have a Valentine …”).

“People come still come up to me and say, ‘Oh my cousin from Argentina got it from his uncle in Israel who sent to his doctor in California,’ these bizarre stories,” said Walker, 26, who teaches music at a Jewish day school in Baltimore in addition to writing music. (“Chinese Food on Christmas” was originally a college class assignment to write a Christmas song that he first posted on the Web in 2003).

Walker wasn’t surprised by the popularity of his YouTube videos.

“Jews love to have a voice in pop culture,” he said. “We’re a minority and been through so much, but we’re so vocal and prevalent—I think that’s why we love stuff like this.”

With YouTube, Walker said, Jews get “to make our presence known in a positive, lighthearted way, which is not always the case.”

What is the line between lighthearted parody and wicked satire? Between being “good for the Jews” and “bad for the Jews”?

Rob Kutner of “The Daily Show” doesn’t think he crosses the line with Jewish spoofs—“Meshuganeh Men” (Miss Holowitz, what would you say if I told you I had a cozy room reserved for you in the Catskills this weekend and we could curl up together and watch the Eichmann trial?) and “Jewno” (I thought it would be worse—getting under 1200 under the SATs, donating money to the Jewish Bush presidential library, stopping a diet!”)—all written to promote the 92nd Street Y/Tribeca’s annual Purim shpiels.

“I think these are generally positive stereotypes,” Kutner said, although he does receive some negative feedback as well. “I figure words can never hurt me.”

Some YouTube Jews don’t care much about whether it’s good for the Jews or not. Consider “Miriam and Shoshana,” or as they are known on YouTube, “Hardcore Jewish Girls.” Dressed in buttoned-up white shirts and knee-covering dark pleated skirts, they play Orthodox yeshiva high school girls rapping—“School starts at 7:45 a.m./before that we get some ‘Schevitz in/‘82 ‘yo, study Torah/we’d read some to ya/but we’d bore ya”—as they chase boys and dream of being like Amy Winehouse.

Videos such as “Hardcore Jewish Girls” and “Modern-Day Jesus,” both produced by filmmaker Oren Kaplan, 29, are not out to promote a holiday or a cause or Judaism—just the artists themselves.

Kaplan noted that Comedy Central has optioned his “Modern-Day Jesus,” which he hopes will be a serious satire about religion and secularism.

“We get broader exposure on YouTube than through the film festival route and working our way up through Hollywood,” he said. “It allows us to throw stuff out there and see what people like and don’t like, and it allows us to entertain.”

It also caused a “conversation” on YouTube, where a rabbi made a video “banning” the video (“Hashem Yirachem [may God have Mercy]  on all those involved and all those who have seen it,”) and another person “unbanned” it (“I think Hashem will be very proud and give them a lot of brachas”).

Ultimately, though, Reb Moshe of Safed left it up there because the video had so many hits, it ended up getting him hired for other work, including a promotional video for the city of Las Vegas.

What about people who don’t get the joke?

“A lot of those involved with kiruv [religious outreach] seem to me overly concerned with how others think of the Jews,” said Kaplan, whose day job is a videographer for Disney.

“I have been socialized in a much more secular world. I don’t really see a need to be extremely careful what I put out there,” he said. “I know it bothers a lot of people, but then [I say] don’t watch it and don’t talk about it.”


Learning to embrace the YouTube revolution
By Amy Klein, JTA

Making videos is an essential step for Jewish organizations interested in getting their message out to a younger audience, new media marketing experts say.“Unfortunately, many people are not reading newspapers anymore and watching TV—there’s only one way to get people’s attention,” said Jason Frank, co-founder of Giving Tree, the marketing, production and consulting company for Jewish nonprofits that he runs with Molly Livingstone.

Frank said organizations should post videos to YouTube instead of just distributing them through an organization’s network or a niche site such as YidTube or JewTube, which has faced legal action by YouTube.

“No one’s really interested in watching only Jewish videos,” he said. “You have to promote something in the secular world.

“Finding a Passover rap is funnier if you find it on YouTube than on a Jewish video site,” Frank said, referring to the video “Matzah Ball Rap,”, which he and Livingstone made as one of a series they produced “to help promote Judaism and holidays in a fun way.”

Of all the new technologies—e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, podcasts—videos are still the best way to communicate a message, said Matt Dorf, managing partner of Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications, who consults with many organizations and helps them make videos.  “It spreads far beyond the reach they’d otherwise have. It gets their brand and message out there and it reaches the people they want to reach in a young and fun way—and it’s cost effective,” Dorf said.

But some established Jewish organizations don’t understand the new culture of YouTube and its economics, saidFrank, who works with many Israeli nonprofits. Many established groups, he said, are “more interested in traditional videos”—meaning a 30-minute video that might cost $20,000 and take three months to make. “They think it’s better if it’s more expensive.”

Dorf said American Jewish organizations want to tap into the market but aren’t always sure how to use the new technology.

“This is the new hip—they all want to be doing this. They just don’t know how,” he said. Also, “once you make it, how do you get people to watch it?”

That’s the question many artists ask when posting to YouTube, which in the past few years has exploded with tens of thousand of videos posted daily. Some are good, some are bad and some are so bad they are good—like the most watched video, “The Evolution of Dance,” which has registered more than 115 million hits. And all of them are competing for “eyeballs,” the term for numbers of people watching a video.

“The biggest misconception is that if they make a good video and they put it on YouTube, it will explode,” said Oren Kaplan, who runs his own production company that makes experimental videos.

“You have to spend a lot of time pushing it on a social networking site. You need to be a big part of the YouTube community, to have its members care about other members,” he said, referring to registering on the site and posting your own videos and commenting on others’ videos. “It’s not an overnight sensation. It takes a lot of work—unless it’s your dog running into a mirror.” (“Puppy vs. Mirror” got at least half a million hits on YouTube.)

Rob Kutner of “The Daily Show” has a built-in audience from his job, but said he is also “growing his distribution list” using YouTube lingo. He also recommends cross-promoting to other Web sites—he posts to Funny Or Die, Gawker and Defamer. An organization can send its videos to like-minded Web sites such as political, social action or Jewish.

What makes a good YouTube video?

“Simplicity is the mantra—you don’t get anyone’s eyeballs for more than 3 minutes,” Kutner said. “It has to have some sizzle or a star or something sexy”—for example, parodying something well known, as he has in his Jewish-themed spoofs of “Mad Men,” “Juno” and “Jewish Girls Gone Wild.”

Essential ingredients are a catchy title, good thumbnail (the still picture) and a controversial or timely subject, Kaplan said. For example, his company’s video “Writer’s Strike Gets Violent” came out within days of the 2007 strike. While it only received about 100,000 hits, Kaplan said, 80 percent were in Hollywood. And that’s an important lesson Jewish organizations can use: Sometimes videos can appeal to a niche market.

“The Great Schlep,” the edgy Sarah Silverman video, was aimed at urging younger Jews to convince their grandparents to vote for Barack Obama.

“The goal was to get people talking about it,” Dorf said.

That it did, going “viral”—the term for catching on quickly with a large audience—to the tune of 3 million hits.

Not every video has to be edgy, Dorf said. Hadassah, another of his firm’s clients, does videos showcasing its programs geared to an audience older than 20-somethings.

“Videos are not the be-all and end-all,” he added. “They have to be good and smart, carry a message and be well targeted.”

The overall verdict from these experts is that YouTube is here to stay—and Jewish organizations should get on board.

“This is the way people will have to start promoting themselves,” said the Giving Tree’s Frank.  “It’s unfair, but that’s the reality.”


10 YouTube videos for Passover
By Amy Klein, JTA

Here are 10 popular Passover videos of years past: many animated, many musical, not all kid-appropriate.

20 Things to Do With Matzah
Michelle Citrin and William Levin
A funny acoustic guitar song about using leftover Passover matzah.
“You can make a matzah pick and play the guitar/or you can make a matzah license plate for your guitar.”

Moses Rap: A Pesach/Passover Video
Matt Bar Beat and Music Production
Old-School, MTV-style hip-hop video showing recording of the song mixed with Passover’s 10 plagues.   
“Moses in the Red Sea/Like who’s gonna follow me/Pharaoh’s in the tides, we’re gonna ride to our destiny…”

Matzah: hip hop fo’ Hebrews
Smooth-E (comedian Eric Schwartz) of “Crank That Kosha Boy” fame, produced by Jib-Jab.
Slick, animated hip-hop kid (in “Chai” baseball cap and bling Jewish star ) sings about matzah.
“How could one bread rock it so famous/when the taste is the same flavor of the box it came in?”

Matza Ball Rap
D’ Dog Dorf for Giving Tree Productions, a marketing company for Jewish nonprofits.
Grainy parody of Sir Mix-A Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
“My rabbi tries to warn me/ but those matzah balls got me so horny/oh roll that knaidel …”

Who Let the Jews Out
Sam Apple, for his book “Schlepping Through the Alps.”
Simple animated greeting card Pharaoh sings to the tune of “Who Let the Dogs Out.”
LAMB: “Oh hello, Pharaoh. Listen, the Jews have escaped.” PHARAOH: “What! That’s impossible!”

Get Down Moses!
Taglit Birthright hired Brendon Walker (of “Chinese Food on Christmas” fame).
Ancient Moses gets fired from his modern-day job and goes to the streets to part hair, rap and sing.
“We’ll eat some good food if you come to my seder/ My favorite mode of transportation is the elevator/We’ll put you on the show,  I’m quite the showman/But you gotta RSVP so we know if you’re afikoman.”

Matzah Man
American Comedy Network
Kid-friendly animated dancing matzahs to the tune of “Macho Man.”
“Matzah Matzah man, I’m gonna be a Matzah man.”

Getting There is Half the Fun
Stephen and Joel Levinson for Nextbook’s “God & Co.” series of modern interpretations of Bible stories.
Animated sketch of Aaron “roasting” his brother Moses (with some profanity) after 40 years in the desert.
“My brother Moses is such a great man, if we had known what a great leader this kid was gonna become, mom might have not thrown him in the Nile!”

Happy Passover!
Unleashed TV
A “Family-Guy” type animated sketch in which a Hollywood agent invites a talking dog to dinner.
DOG: “I wanna bring over the breadsticks.” AGENT: “There’s no bread.” DOG: Breadsticks!” AGENT: “Oh, I guess that’s alright.”

The Matzah Challenge
Video Jew Jay Firestone for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
A fake news story on the tasting of five matzahs.
“This unleavened bread can sometimes be accused of tasting bland … and that argument has more holes than the subject in question.”

 

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane — Oy Gevalt, It’s a Jewish ‘Watchmen’


SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)—Who watches the watchmensch? Yes, you read that right—the comic book “Watchmen” is getting a Yiddish makeover courtesy of a British comic writer.

And in fitting with “Watchmen’s” trademark plot twists and surprising revelations, “Watchmensch” has one of its own: Although it’s crammed with Yiddish dialogue, Jewish in-jokes and black hats, its creator isn’t Jewish.

Rich Johnston is known in the comics world as a sort of gossip columnist—he writes a news and rumors column called “Lying in the Gutters.” He also has written several comics of his own, including one about a 17th-century Italian monk combined with elements from the TV show “Smallville.”

Johnston, 36, came up with the idea for “Watchmensch” at a comic book convention.

“I was messing around with friends about titles of comics, and ‘Watchmensch’ is just one that got stuck in my head,” he said in a phone interview from his home in southwest London, where he lives with his wife and two children.

He had an idea for the comic as well: A parody about the murder of a Jewish lawyer. After he wrote about it in his column, Johnston received positive feedback, including an e-mail from Swedish comic artist Simon Rohrmuller, who ended up drawing the book based on Johnston’s script.

The original “Watchmen” follows a group of former superheroes in 1980s America as they investigate the murder of one of their own, the Comedian. The series deconstructs the superhero genre with groundbreaking narrative techniques and an intricate alternate-history plot.

Originally published in a 12-part series from 1986 to 1987, “Watchmen” was a major hit, and is still considered one of the greatest comics of all time. It was named one of Time magazine’s top 100 English-language novels in 2005, and the highly anticipated “Watchmen” movie opened March 6.

It was the No.1 film in America on its opening weekend, bringing in $55.7 million—the most successful opening in 2009.

Thus, it’s no surprise that the series has been parodied in works like “Botchmen,” made by Mad magazine, and now in “Watchmensch.”

“Watchmensch” follows a similar trajectory to its predecessor, starting with the death of the Comedian—known in “Watchmensch” as Krusty the Klown, in homage to the famous Jewish character on “The Simpsons.” Investigating the murder are Spottyman (a takeoff on “Watchmen’s” Rorschach) and Jewish lawyers Nite Nurse (Nite Owl) and Silk Taker (Silk Spectre).

Along the way are numerous insider references to the history of “Watchmen” and comics in general, with particular emphasis on the industry’s Jewish roots.

“It’s a parody of ‘Watchmen,’ the comic book and the movie, and also a satire on the comic book industry, how the artists and the industry worked together for the past 70 years,” Johnston says.

The Jewish theme worked perfectly, he adds, because the history of the comic book is filled with Jewish names—among them Captain America creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg), Superman’s Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and Batman’s Bob Kane (born Robert Kahn).

Siegel and Shuster even make an appearance in “Watchmensch,” in a flashback to the day when they famously sold the rights to the Superman character to DC Comics for a mere $130.

Because Johnston isn’t Jewish, he wanted to be sure he was making an accurate portrayal.

“Once I got [a Jewish element], I’d go online and make sure I got it right,” he says. “I was also able to run skits past a few [Jewish] friends.”

The Jewish elements include Yiddish terms and Chasidic-style clothing, with Spottyman sporting payes and a black hat, and Silk Taker in a modest, high-necked dress. A pet named Balabusta also has a cameo, as does a can of Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda, a classic Jewish icon.

Johnston says the irony is that “I give the most Jewish lines to Spottyman, who’s not Jewish. It’s this secret identity he’s put on.”

Keeping things hidden, he says, is a common theme in comic-book history.

“Even in the early days of superhero comics, Judaism was there but it was disguised,” Johnston explains. “Even the Thing in the Fantastic Four—he was Jewish, but it was never actually said. Only within the last few years was it finally said, ‘Ben Grimm is Jewish.’ It’s long overdue.”

Rachel Freedenberg is a staff writer for the j. weekly.

VIDEO: Heeb Olympics 2008 — Gefilte Fish Wrestling




Four modern-day gladiators do battle for the gold (a lifetime supply of Gold’s mustard) in the Heeb Olympics. For more information, check out www.heebmagazine.com.

VIDEO: Woody Allen and the Jewish robots (from ‘Sleeper’)


Woody Allen is fitted for a new suit by robot Jewish tailors—from ‘Sleeper’

 

Armageddon Survival 101


A nuclear bomb, an alien invasion, the rise of the machines or some mad genius' evil plan … the question is no longer if the world will end, but how it will end. And with so many potential catastrophes on the brink, making the necessary preparations to ensure survival may be a tad overwhelming.

That's why Rob Kutner's “Apocalypse How” (Running Press, $12.95) makes the perfect companion to surviving the end of the world … because it plans for not only a variety of earth-shattering events, but also provides a step-by-step guide so you can “turn the end of times into the best of times,” Kutner writes in the book.

“It starts when you open your eyes in the morning. Maybe you're awakened by the sounds of random gunfire, or the howling of souls being cast into the lake of fire,” Kutner writes. “But at least it's not that godawful clock-radio buzzer.”

In his comedic how-to style guide, Kutner paints a picture of prosperity, independence and new challenges over a reality of lost limbs, endless instability and blood and destruction. Goodbye job, family, social norms, it's now every man, woman, child, intelligent ape, alien or disfigured mutant for themselves.

Kutner's manual is divided into several chapters, which include food and survival, housing, clothing; social life, fitness and health, recreation, and career, wealth and power. Bonus features in the manual include several questionnaires, quizzes, charts, games and continuous footnotes in each chapter.

In the rare case that you do survive, and in the rarer case that you find a suitable, mostly human mate, Kutner provides a section on weddings titled, “The Big Day (well, the other one, anyway).” The post-apocalyptic wedding vow, “In sickness and in …anyway, moving on…” accurately depicts how you and your future spouse would see some unique challenges foreign to many preapocalyptic couples.


Promo for the book

Because the idea of an Armageddon is nothing new to religion, Kutner also includes several theological responses to the end of the world.

“Judaism — The exiles will be gathered to Israel, the dead resurrected and all humanity will live in a redeemed world,” he writes. “For sinners, not so much an eternity in hell as an eternal sense of guilt.”

However, when asked which movement of Judaism has the best chance for survival, Kutner provided the obvious tongue-in-cheek answer, “Reconstructionism,” he said in an interview. Adding, “of course, Chabad would also stand out on top.”

Kutner, a writer for the “Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” and former columnist for The Jewish Journal, grew up in a Reform Jewish environment and attended a Christian school at an early age. While he admits that traces of the book are related to his experiences as a Jew in a Christian elementary school, it's also coupled with his Jewish ideology of “the whole olam habah [world to come] thing,” Kutner said.

Of course, if the apocalypse has any indication of the coming of the Mashiach, Kutner said he's expecting “the biggest Birthright trip ever…. It would also free up The Federation to focus on other campaigns, like meals on horseback.”

VIDEO: It’s Not Fair – Let The Jews In Hollywood!


Someone named grossdog1 posted this video on YouTube during the Writer’s Strike.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

 

Sarah Silverman ‘Nightline’ interview


What’s funny to Sarah?  And does she tell racist jokes?  Well, she does use the ‘C’ word.

If Borat has offended … then he’s done his job


Virtually everyone who has already seen the comedy “Borat” at film festivals and invitational screenings has found the film uproariously funny.

But with its nationwide opening set for Friday, the question now is whether a mass, mainstream audience will also get the film’s satiric sensibilities, or, rather, be offended by its political incorrectness and by its lead character, who is a raging anti-Semite.

“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” is a “mockumentary” starring British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat Sagdiyev, a cheerfully impudent, male-chauvinistic Kazakh journalist. He road-trips across America, speaking comically mangled English and constantly doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. His interactions mostly are with unwitting, everyday Americans who have been led to believe by filmmakers that Cohen’s alter ego, Borat, is the real thing.

The humor in the film, which is directed by Larry Charles, is sometimes raunchy, especially a nude wrestling match between Borat and his heavyset producer, Azamat Bagatov (Kenny Davitian). And it is sometimes bitingly politically satirical — “We support your war of terror,” Borat tells a rodeo crowd before massacring “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Borat fears Jews so much he has nightmarish hallucinations when forced to board with an elderly Jewish couple. He and his producer also choose to drive across America because they’re scared Jews would hijack their plane, “like they did on 9/11.”

Cohen, 35, is a modern-day Ernie Kovacs in his ability to subsume his personality in his comic creations. He is best known in the U.S. for playing the gay French NASCAR driver Jean Girard in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” But in Britain he became a star as the obnoxiously slow-witted rapper/talk-show host Ali G, which acquired a cult U.S. following when HBO’s “Da Ali G Show” was broadcast in 2003. Borat was a character on that show.

Because “Borat’s” anti-Semitism is so flagrant, the film raises some ethical questions. Is Cohen, who is Jewish and studied history at Christ’s College at Cambridge, crossing a line with his character’s anti-Semitism? And is his rendering of the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan as a stewpot of anti-Semites, child abusers, prostitutes and generally crude people too cruel?

According to answers.com, Cohen was born in the London-adjacent suburb Staines to a middle-class Jewish family — his father, originally from Wales, was the owner of a London menswear shop. Cohen has what the site calls an “active Zionist background,” including involvement in the Jewish youth movement Habonim Dror. His mother is an Israeli-born Iranian, and, according to answers.com, he told NPR in a 2004 interview that he wrote his college thesis on Jewish involvement in the American civil rights movement.

Borat’s anti-Semitism has folkloric, fantastical roots in his nation’s culture, as depicted in the film. It envisions, for instance, a “traditional” Kazakh “Running of the Jew” event, similar to Pamplona’s “running of the bulls.” And the Kazakhs are portrayed as simple, backward peasants — Borat mistakes a hotel elevator for his room in New York and carries a chicken onto the subway.

“I saw the movie yesterday,” said Roman Y. Vassilenko, an ambassadorial assistant and press secretary for Kazakhstan’s U.S. embassy, when interviewed last week. “Like Jonathan Swift wrote ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and invented a country, Lilliput, to make a satire of England, this is the same thing. He invents a Kazakhstan in order to make a satire of a very different country.”

Just to make sure the public realizes that “Borat’s” Kazakhstan is not the real one, the embassy has released an official statement on the movie. It reads in part: “Kazakhstan, a Muslim majority country, is home to 130 ethnic groups and 40 religious faiths. Pope John Paul II, who visited Kazakhstan in 2001, called our country ‘an example of harmony between men and women of different origins and beliefs.'” (The nation has a sizeable Russian Orthodox minority.)

Cohen himself isn’t talking. Or, rather, he’s talking only in character. Two weeks ago, he came to Santa Monica’s Shutters on the Beach resort hotel for a “Borat” press conference, standing at a podium with an official-looking Kazakhstan emblem on it. Tall and dressed in a neat if staid suit, bearing a bright smile to contrast with his dark bushy brows and hair, he did what amounted to a comedy act. Questions had to be submitted in advance.

“Good evening, gentleman and prostitutes,” he began, in halting, bumbling, heavily accented English. He said he admired “mighty warlord George Walter Bush” as a “very strong man but perhaps not as strong as his father, Barbara.”

Asked whom he’d most like to meet, he mentioned “fearless anti-Jew warrior Melvin Gibsons. We in Kazakhstan agree with his statement Jews started all the wars. We also have evidence they killed off the dinosaurs. Hurricane Katrina, too. They did it.”

Cohen’s satiric target may well be America and its anti-Semitism, believes Joel Schalit, managing editor of the liberal Jewish magazine Tikkun. And in “Borat,” he may be drawing from world history to get at it.

“I see a film like ‘Borat’ as a very roundabout, tongue-in-cheek way of exploring that,” Schalit said.

A parallel can be drawn between Cohen’s imaginary Kazakhstan and the early 20th-century Russian peasants who accepted the fraudulent, anti-Semitic “Protocols of Zion” (which told of a Jewish plot to run the world) as truth and staged pogroms. (Kazakhstan, formerly a part of the Soviet Union, gained its independence in 1991.)

“By evoking that example, Cohen’s timing couldn’t be better,” Schalit said. “There remains a populist strand of anti-Semitism in the U.S. that is the parallel of pre-Bolshevik Russian anti-Semitism. And it’s emanating from the quarters of the religious right.”

Josh Neuman, editor of edgy, youthful Jewish humor magazine Heeb, thinks American Jews will get Cohen’s “Borat” and not be offended.

“I think Jews understand the power of satirical narratives, because we understand the power of narratives in general,” he said via e-mail. “[There’s] a desire to poeticize the absurdity of stereotypes rather than arguing against them. I think the former is much more effective than the latter.”

And, Neuman said, Cohen also has another target.

I think [he] is satirizing how mainstream anti-Semitism is around the world, but also and perhaps more importantly I think he’s satirizing a Western bourgeois notion of people from distant lands, their customs and beliefs. I think that he pulls it off with immense subtlety and creativity.”

“Borat” plays in theaters starting Nov. 3.

Choice of a Jew generation


If you’re in a bookstore and see a book with two impish-looking guys trying to sneak a light for their cigarettes from a chanukiah, then you’ve happened upon “Jewtopia: The Chosen Book for the Chosen People” (Warner).

Yes, the saga of Los Angeles’ longest running original play continues. “Jewtopia,” the play, was first brought to us in 2003 by two unemployed writers/actors who maxed out their credit cards to mount the funny, if somewhat stereotypical, comedy about dating and Jews. It was originally supposed to run for six weeks but was so popular that it extended for another year, then left in 2004 for an off-Broadway run in New York, where it’s still playing to sold-out audiences.
Now Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson, the creators and sometime actors in the play have expanded their “Jewtopia” vision into a book, and they are working on a movie deal as well. The 200-plus page color book, might be mistaken for a coffee table book — except that much of the material inside is not fit for the living room.

Consider, “The Jewish Kama Sutra: An Illustrated Guide to Lovemaking,” because “Jews are certainly not known for their prowess and skills in the bedroom.” Positions include “The Challah,” “The Heimlich,” “The Reader” “The Minyan” and “Bubbe’s Visit” (She cleans while he…oh, don’t ask.)

“It’s to be read in the bathroom only,” jokes Wolfson, who plays Adam Lipschitz, a Jewish guy facing extraordinary parental pressure to marry a Jewish woman.

“I think it should be read at the family seder — it’s a good substitute for the Haggadah,” replies Fogel, who in the show plays Chris O’Connell, a Christian obsessed with meeting a Jewish woman who strikes up a bargain with Adam to help him pass as a Jew if Chris can find Adam a date.

To be sure, there’s more than just sex jokes in “Jewtopia: The Chosen Book…” There’s a chapter on Jewish History, the Holidays (“Celebrate the Bad Times”), Food (“Anyone Have Some Zantac?”) Travel (“Planes, Trains and Diarrhea”) and Conspiracy Theories (“Do Jews Control the World?”) with real, live facts mixed in with, well, bubbemeises, like Moses’ lost diary or the game “Match the Nose to the Jew.”

In a world where it’s hip to be sardonic about Jewish identity (Heeb, Jewcy, Rabbis Daughter) “Jewtopia: The Chosen Book…” is a more idealistic, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Jewish Stereotypes” kind of take on our people-sophomoric and sometimes scatological humor by two guys who are clearly having fun.

“We kind of consider ourselves the Trey Parker and Matt Stone of the Jewish world,” Wolfson says, referring to the creators of “South Park.” “Not so much enforcing stereotypes but having fun with them.

So they’re not self-hating Jews?

“We hate ourselves for so many other reasons,” Wolfson says. “There are so many good reasons to hate ourselves aside from being Jewish.”

Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson will be reading from “Jewtopia: The Chosen Book for the Chosen People” on Nov. 2, at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes and Noble, 16461 Ventura Blvd., Encino.— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom


The following excerpt is the prologue to “You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom,” (Viking, 2006) a memoir by Phil Rosenthal, creator and executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2006 by Buona Sera Productions, Inc.

My brother, Richard, got married on September 5, 1993. I was the best man, and with that honor comes the giving of the toast. I had been earning a living as a writer on an assortment of television sitcoms for about four years at this point, and so I felt there was an expectation to be humorous whenever forced to speak in public — a self-imposed pressure, but real nonetheless, as if I deeply needed to communicate to people, “See, I can be funny, it’s not my fault the shows are terrible.”

And so I racked my brain for material. Material at family functions often focused on the family at hand, and my particular family had served me well in the past — years earlier I wrote a little poem at my parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary party (at their nonstop insistence) that seemed to be hilarious to the relatives and friends. “Better than Broadway!” I had been told. But now, at this wedding, I was thirty-three, and there were people there who didn’t know the family, and worse, didn’t know me — but here he is: the Hollywood toastmaster. This could be a bad wedding, meaning I could bomb. And then it hit me, an anecdote that had actually happened, that I had suppressed for several years, that drove me nuts then and thinking about it again now rekindled the nuts, and that illustrated the insanity in our family and would serve as a warning to Richard’s bride, Karen, as to why she should perhaps reconsider marrying into this psycho ward. Why she should run screaming into the hills rather than subject herself to a life of unrelenting complaining and unbearable frustration, petty domestic politics and life under maternal rule. The more I thought about this story, I realized it wasn’t funny at all, but that didn’t matter anymore. I had to tell it as a purely cautionary tale. The fact that the toast would come at the wedding reception and that my brother and his wife would be already married didn’t change the urgency of my warning.
“Karen,” I started. “There is still time to run.”

I explained: When I first started to make a little money in Hollywood, I bought my mom, for Hanukkah, a gift of the Fruit-of-the-Month Club.

And then came the phone call from my mother in Rockland County, New York: “Philip, we got the pears.”

“Oh, that’s good, Ma. You like them?”

“Yes, they’re very nice, but please . . . it’s an entire box of pears. There must be twelve or fourteen pears here. There’re so many pears. Please, Philip, do me a favor. Don’t ever send us any more food again, okay?”

I said, “Well, Ma . . . another box is coming next month.”

She said, “What? More pears?”

I said, “No, Ma, a different fruit every month.”

“EVERY MONTH? My God, Max, he got us in some kind of cult. What am I supposed to do with all this fruit?”

“I don’t know,” I told her. “Most people like it. You eat it … You share it with your friends.”
“Which friends?!”

“I don’t know … Lee and Stan.”

“Lee and Stan buy their own fruit!”

“Oh my God, Ma…”

“Why did you do this to me?”

“What is happening?”

“I can’t talk anymore, there’s too much fruit in the house!”

I went on to describe my father’s misery as well at this misfortune that had befallen them. (“You think we’re invalids? We can’t get our own fruit?”) The wedding guests laughed. No one laughed harder than my parents, who really did treat the gift of fruit from their son as if they’d received a box of heads from a murderer. Richard and Karen remain married to this day and have even brought two children into the world.

My warning didn’t take. Nobody listens to me. Maybe you will.

I guess if we have to classify this book, it is a memoir of sorts. (That’s right, Oprah, and I’ll swear it’s all true even if you make the mean face at me on the couch.) We’ll also, if you’re interested, get into how to make a show, specifically the show “Everybody Loves Raymond.” We’ll see how it came to be, how “writing what you know” is not just a saying but essential, and how almost anyone’s life can be turned into fuel for comedy. We’ll use, for example, my life — where I’m from, the other jobs and other shows I toiled on, my relationships with family, with women, with The Writers’ Room, with show business, and how all of it found its way into the work, became the work, to the point where it wasn’t work anymore. And all of it is here — in the hope that you’ll be entertained, and maybe learn a thing or two that could help you in your own career, your life, your diet. You’ll learn a little about how to write, cast, edit, direct, run, cater, and, most of all, enjoy the gift of a hit show.

I was crazy lucky to get such a gift, and for nine years, I savored it; I loved it; I was tremendously thankful for it. It would not have occurred to me to return it or leave it or be unhappy with it, let alone complain about the gift to whoever gave it to me that it was all “too much.”

You still there, Ma?

On Oct. 24 from 7-8:30 p.m., Phil Rosenthal will be at Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

For more information, call (800) 764-2665 or visit

Will kill for laughs


“Comics, that gifted, exclusive society of professional fools.” — Larry Gelbart in his book, “Laughing Matters”

 
Stand-up comic Mark Schiff is sitting in his tiny office on Pico, near the Museum of Tolerance, talking about the time he played the Knesset.

 
“I pointed to the Chagalls and did the old line: ‘What a dump.'”

 
He kids the Knesset. But Schiff knows from dumps. In 25 years of doing comedy, he’s performed in some real ones. Now he and standup guy/pal Ritch Shydner have collected stories from their fellow pro fools in a book called, “I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics.”

 
“I Killed” features headliners like Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Jonathan Winters and Shelley Berman for the first time telling tales away from the “comedy caravans” and “yuk-yuks” and even yuckier joints they endured while perfecting their craft.

 
“People don’t know much about this life,” says Schiff, wearing a long-sleeved shirt with pictures of Fat Albert and the Cosby kids all over it, as he stuffed books into mailing pouches with co-compiler Shydner. “A lot of my heroes were road guys like Kerouac and Woody Guthrie. These guys would go out for years and never look back. I always came back.”

 
In the book’s foreword, Seinfeld says there are just “four Great Jobs in the world: baseball player, race-car driver, professional surfer or standup comedian.”

 
What? Not rock musician?

 
“He doesn’t like jobs where you have to drag a lot of equipment,” explains Schiff, who tours with Seinfeld. “It’s not a big Jewish job. We don’t like to drag a lot of things. We carry a diamond, we carry a microphone….”

 
And some, like Schiff, after gigging for giggles throughout this great entertainment nation, make it onto “The Tonight Show,” the Promised Land for stand-ups (the book is dedicated to hosts Jack Paar, Steve Allen and Johnny Carson.) Other “road monkeys” never make it out of the bare-wall bars of Moline (“Death of a Joke Salesman,” anybody?), but from Ashville to Anchorage, comedic troubadours are truly brave.

 
“I Killed” reveals the road to laughs sure ain’t paved with pretty. Flop sweating in front of eight people, bunking in trashed out “comedy condos” because brutal club owners skim on accommodations — comedians learn on the job, dancing that fine line between failure (“I died”) and a laugh (“I killed”) all because of the way they emphasize a single syllable sometimes. The camaraderie and competition, self-loathing and loneliness, the disgusting incidents with jazzman Kenny G. It’s all in here. Paul Reiser, Bob Saget, Steven Wright, Lewis Black and Rick Overton, all also featured in the hilarious documentary, “The Aristocrats,” share outrageous adventures. Here is Rita Rudner standing outdoors on a crate doing her act in somebody’s car headlights. Mike Myers chased by wolves. Richard Belzer sucking the gas out of whipped cream bottles before going onstage. All this nonstop “bombing” and “killing.” And all for the greatest of involuntary causes: laughter.

 
Like many successful comedians (Jan Murray, et. al.) Schiff began in the Bronx. He knew he wanted to do comedy at the age of 12 when his parents took him to see Rodney Dangerfield. (“I Killed” is full of funny tales about Dangerfield; he was beloved by fellow performers.) When Schiff started there were only a dozen clubs, but by the mid-’80s, with franchises like The Funny Bone and The Punch Line, the scene exploded, spreading stand up from strip joints to strip malls.

 
“You never know quite what you’re gonna meet on the road,” Schiff says.

 
“Everything from a woman with an axe to a woman who will marry you.”

 
Get the book to read about D.L. Hughley’s hatchet job, but Schiff actually did meet his wife at a comedy club. In San Antonio. (“I Killed” has a Richard Jeni story of playing San Antonio, and a big cowboy comes up and says: “We never seen a New York Jew,” and Jeni says, “I’m not a Jew.” “Close enough,” says the cowboy.)

 
Schiff was in San Antonio for “a one-nighter.” His wife, Nancy? “She was in charge of raising money for the federation there. We exchanged phone numbers and we’re married now 17 years.”

 
The Schiffs have two kids and pray at Young Israel of Century City. Their children go to the Maimonides School. While away on the road, Schiff has searched for minyans in strange towns and said Kaddish for his parents, but says he hasn’t faced overt anti-Semitism.

 
“I’ve run into people that have never met a Jew,” he says. “And they’re interested. I met a woman in Georgia who actually asked me, ‘Is it true about the horns?'”

 
Schiff loves gigging for Jewish audiences. And when he plays an Orthodox venue — as he will in Montreal next month — he includes in the contract, three Shottenstein Talmuds. “The collection is 73 volumes. I’m on my second collection now.”

 
“That’s interesting,” says co-editor Shydner. “I always require that the clubs give me two Dr. Pepper bottle caps and an auto repair manual.”

 
“I Killed, True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics” compiled by Mark Schiff and Ritch Shydner was released this week. Jerry Seinfeld is scheduled to appear on “Late Show With David Letterman” with the book on Nov. 20.

 

Hank Rosenfeld is writing a book with Irving Brecher, who wrote for Milton Berle and the Marx Brothers.

Traveling with my father


When I found out my dad was dying of cancer, I spent a lot of time in New York with him and my mom, rather than in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time.

 
One
of the good things about being a road comic is you can live anywhere and book yourself out of wherever you are. Road comics have no office. So New York became my base.

 
My dad loved my act. He thought I was the funniest person in the world. I guess you are the funniest person in the world if someone thinks you are. My dad and mom came to see me at least a hundred times before he died in 1988. He would come and see me wherever I was doing a show. And he always got dressed up for the show.

 
I would say, “Dad, you don’t have to wear a sport coat. I’m at the Comic Strip, not the Copa.” And he’d say, “I don’t care. If I’m going out on a Saturday night with your mother, I’m not going to look like a slob.”

 
I remember him asking me to do certain bits about my mother. He loved it when I talked about how they’d been married so long, she’d sucked the brain out of his head.

 
“She loves when you talk about her,” he said. “Do me a favor. Do that thing about her cleaning the house.”

 
My dad really loved my mom. He was just so proud of her. And with me an only child, we were his life.

 
I remember when my dad had just gotten out of a hospice, and they sent him back home to die. The night he came home, I had a show to do. I said, “Dad, maybe I should stay home instead.” He wouldn’t hear of it. “You go and be funny.” I did.

 
About three days later, I had this gig about two hours away in upstate New York. That afternoon, we were all sitting at the dining room table when my dad said in the weakest of voices, “Can I come with you tonight? I’d really like to see your show.”

 
I knew what he was saying. He was saying: “I really want to see you one more time before I die.”

 
I asked my mom what she thought.

 
“If you think you can handle him, then fine,” she said.

 
My dad was very weak, but he could go a short distance if you helped him. I said “Yeah, I can do it.”

 
That night as we were leaving, my mom said, “You boys have a nice time tonight. I’ve got things to do here at home. Call me when you get there.”

 
So off we headed to my gig. It was a cold winter night, and a light snow fell for most of the drive. We didn’t talk much on the way up. As I remember, my dad slept most of the way, anyway. I kept looking at him as he slept in the car. I cried most of the way up, but that was OK; I was with my dad.

 
When we got to the hotel parking lot, we noticed that it was empty, except for three or four cars. “Hey Marko” my dad said, “Can I drive around the lot?”
My dad loved to drive. He was the one who’d taught me to drive, just a few years earlier, in the empty parking lots of New York on Sunday mornings. He’d done every single bit of the driving for the 39 years he was married to my mother.

 
She never drove once.

 
Now he was asking me to let him drive. “Sure dad,” I said.

 
So I got him around to the driver’s seat, and for two minutes he drove very slowly around the lot. “That’s great,” he said.

 
I helped him park, and we checked into the hotel and went to our room. It was still early, so I helped him off with his pants, and he took a nap. I called my mother, told her we were safe, and she started crying. “Take good care of him. I love him,” she said.

 
I said, “I love him, too, and I also love you.”

 
At about 8 p.m., we went over to the club, which was attached to the hotel.
Before we went in, my dad said, “Thank you for taking me.”

 
I said, “You’re welcome. Thank you for being a great father.”

 
Then he asked me to do the routine about my mother that he always liked. I did them all for him.

 
A few weeks later, he died. About a year later, my mother came to see me work.

 
On the way to the club, she asked me to do the routines about my father. I kissed her on the head and said sure. I also did the ones about her, because I knew he would have wanted to hear them.

 

Mark Schiff is a standup comedian who has been on all the major talk shows and has recently been touring with Jerry Seinfeld. “I Killed: True Stories of the Road From America’s Top Comics” is his first book.

The Best Offense Is a Funny Movie


If you feel that life is losing its edge because no one has offended you recently, Sacha Baron Cohen’s next movie is for you.

Baron Cohen stars as his third incarnation (after Ali G and Bruno) in “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”In it, Borat, the intrepid Kazakhstani TV reporter, is sent off to make a documentary of America, where he becomes obsessed with finding and marrying Pamela Anderson.

The film opens Nov. 3, but according to advance hints, it is guaranteed to enrage Jews, gays, blacks, women, cowboys, Christians and college boys — not to mention Kazakhstanis.

In the meanwhile, you can catch Baron Cohen now in “Talladega Nights,” where, as France’s Formula One champ Jean Gerard, he challenges NASCAR idol Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) for the trophy.

Baron Cohen sports the thickest French accent this side of Paris, and in his first meeting with good ‘ol Southern boy Ricky Bobby, offers to drop out of the race on one condition.

“Eeef you keess me,” Gerard says.

The movie is a lip-to-lip competition between two very different comic improvisational styles, and on the track as on the laugh meter, it’s a bumper-to-bumper race.

In real life, the 34-year-old Baron Cohen was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in London, the son of a menswear shop owner and an Israeli mother. He remains a religious, kosher-observant Jew.

He studied history at Christ’s College, Cambridge, showing real potential for an academic career, and wrote his thesis on Jewish involvement in the American civil rights movement.

Coming up for the actor after “Borat” is “Dinner for Schmucks,” in which “an extraordinarily stupid man possesses the ability to ruin the life of anyone who spends more than a few minutes in his company.”

After that, it’s “Curly Oxide and Vic Thrill,” in which our hero plays a young Chasidic Jew who forms a band with an aging rock ‘n’ roller.

Dear Mr. Sensitive


Jokes survive on the Internet like Styrofoam in a landfill. Perhaps you’ve already read these “Actual Personal Ads in Israeli Newspapers”:

  • Professor with 18 years of teaching in my behind wants American-born woman who speaks English very good.
  • 80-year-old bubbe, no assets, seeks handsome, virile Jewish male under 35. Object: matrimony. I can dream, can’t I?
  • Sensitive Jewish prince whom you can open your heart to. Share your innermost thoughts and deepest secrets. Confide in me. I’ll understand your insecurities. No fatties, please.

 

So I laughed. Silly yet funny. Until the last one came true for me on JDate.

I don’t usually contact men first. No matter how brief or cheery, my message signals, “Hey, I’m interested.” And for some reason, men like to feel that they are the hunters. Or perhaps they want younger women who can still give them babies. That’s fine — but that’s not me. I’ll be 50 soon, which I’m not afraid to admit in print. Not many men seem willing to date women their own age.

But Mr. Sensitive’s ad was different. His opening line, if true, sounded good (“Wanted: romantic partner for an exciting yet sensitive man of brains, wit and integrity”), even if it was arrogant and earnest. No wit to be found, even with a magnifying glass. But if he had the goods to back it up, what’s wrong with a healthy ego? OK, he mentioned “fit” in his profile, and though I am — blood pressure’s great, doctor’s actually concerned that my cholesterol is too low, I try to exercise every day — I’m not the conventional skinny/active type.

However, his last line convinced me: “If you are funny, brave, sexy, super-smart and self-aware, what are you waiting for?”

So I responded:

“I am (or think that I am) all of the above, but it depends on your definition of ‘fit.’ Is that code for thin? Or code for “climbs Kilimanjaro without getting winded”? Neither applies to me. I’m voluptuous in the true meaning of the world — an hour-glass figure, more Jayne Mansfield than Kate Moss. I’ve climbed Chichen-Itza but I’ve never skied in my life. So take a look at my profile, maybe I’ll hear from you. If not, good luck on Jdate.”

Yes, I heard back. Mr. Sensitive wrote:

“Your profile is extremely well-written, as is your note. You are clearly very, very bright, as am I. That’s why I can’t understand why you’d be in such absolute denial of a clear reality.

You didn’t fill in your weight in your profile because you’re not happy with it. If you were, it would be there and you wouldn’t be writing all that senseless crap about Jane Mansfield, with whom you have absolutely nothing in common.

Look in the mirror, see the same thing anyone can see in your photos: You are soft, untoned, out-of-shape and, yes, fat. Then, either fix it or accept it, but don’t try to make believe you’re not. And certainly don’t try to convince others you aren’t because it makes you seem absolutely crazy.

Now go do the right thing.”

I felt like I had been hit in the stomach. His e-mail was breathtaking in its cruelty.

Of course I wanted to argue, it’s Jayne, not Jane, you idiot! No, I’m not blonde like Jayne, nor dead either. I meant only that I have curves, and I’m buxom. Jayne was actually not that busty; she had an extremely large rib cage, and she….

Oh, me? Defensive? Apparently. Jayne is beside the point, as is my body. The issue: Whatever happened to personal ad etiquette, to kindness, or at least civility? Whatever happened to the short, sweet brush-off, “Thanks for writing, but I don’t think we’d be a match”?

How can a man consider himself sensitive, a person of integrity, yet write a note like that? For all its glories, the Internet allows people to be anonymous and unaccountable. Mr. Sensitive forgets that I, too, am sensitive, and he turned personal ads into impersonal attacks. Let’s be honest. Most people on dating sites are essentially saying: “I want love. I want intimacy. I want to be wanted and need to be needed.” So why trample on someone who is fragile, open, reaching out?

Why be gratuitously mean?

I didn’t ask for a critique; I asked if he were interested in getting to know me. Mr. Sensitive basically answered, “How dare someone like you have the audacity, the unmitigated gall, to even say hello to me?” Navigating dating after divorce is hard enough without being terrified of potential Mr. Sensitives lurking behind every personal ad. How does one maintain dating vulnerability, while developing a thick skin so that such attacks no longer hurt? How does one maintain the tension between cheerfulness and cynicism, between hopefulness and experience?

I don’t have the answers. But I’m still searching; I’m still on JDate. I refuse to believe that all men (or women) are like Mr. (In)Sensitive. And if you’re not interested in me, all you have to say is, “Thank you. But no.” I’ll understand.

Diane Saltzberg lives in Los Angeles, and can be reached at dlsaltzberg@gmail.com.

 

Clowning Around


clowns

Dan Berkley always carries two noses. “I always try to have a spare,” he says. “Particularly in a pie fight, it can come off. Doing anything, you’re gonna lose a nose.”

Berkley knows noses. He’s a clown in town with the Ringling Bros. When we met, he’d just jumped off the circus train from Fresno. Applying his makeup off Clown Alley backstage at Staples Center, Berkley explained how a nice boy from “the last exit off the Garden State Parkway” ran away with the Barnum and Bailey and the whole mishagoss.

He didn’t. First he got a degree in physics from a college in Maine. Then he fooled around with Circus Smirkus in Vermont and the Pickle Players in the Bay Area, developing a scientist character along the way. Did I mention he’s smart? Now, at 25, he’s an entertainer in “The Greatest Show on Earth!” (Take that Mandy Patinkin.)

Some of my best friends are clowns. I know that sounds like a line, but it’s true. Jewish clowns, too. Back East, there’s Dr. Meatloaf and Dr. Noodle (aka Stephen Ringold and Ilene Weiss). They’re in the CCU, the “Clown Care Unit” of the Big Apple Circus. Like badchens (Yiddish for clown) for the broken up, they play hospitals instead of weddings.

Here, Berkley takes a header into a pie with 15 other clown pals when an elephant walks into his diner. In a “Smashcar” pit-stop sketch, he reaches the heights — depths? — of pratfalling. Yet, his zany behavior onstage in front of thousands of ooh-ing and ahh-ing children contradicts a yeshiva bocher-level interest Berkley has in his art off-stage.

Berkley knows the difference between a badchen and a kachina (a Hopi clown). He learned some of his craft at the funny feet of the wonderful messugenah clown Avner “the Eccentric” Eisenberg. Avner lives off the coast of Maine and is, if not a ba’al teshuvah then not a bad Baal Shem Tov, using humor as a healing tool for the heart and breath. Berkley learned from Avner (and Bill Irwin and other mentors) that clowning “is an evolutionary art.”

“You’re always trying to come up with something new,” he says. “Of course, there are no new ideas. There’s your take on it.”

Clowning has deep Jewish storytelling roots — notably the cartoon faith of Krusty the Clown on “The Simpsons.” His real name is Herschel Krustofski, and his father, voiced by Jackie Mason, was a rabbi. Berkley remembers a line from the Talmud that Bart Simpson quotes in one episode: “Who shall bring redemption if not the jesters?”

Nicole Feld, circus co-producer with her father, Kenneth Feld, hopes such wisdom is prophetic. Her grandfather, Irvin Feld, first moved the venerable show from tent to arena. This is their 136th year and Feld, 28, wouldn’t say whether Berkley is her favorite clown — “That’s like asking me if I love my mom or my dad more!”

“He brought his college background and his interests in physics to his character,” Feld says. “Dan’s great because he can talk to kids about all kinds of stuff and helps us place the value on education.”

Dan starts by putting on his eyes (white, red, black). He can complete his face in 15 minutes. The latex nose goes on with skin adhesive.

“In the medical industry they use it for colostomy bags and stuff like that,” he says. “It works well. You really don’t wanna lose a nose. Guys that are prone to losing their nose, will paint their own nose red so worst-case scenario, they still have a nose. The nose within. The inner nose.”
Berkley steps away and powders.

“We powder our makeup to set it, keep it from smudging,” he explains. “I bump into somebody, I don’t want to leave my face on their costume.”
He tops off with a two-toned yak wig reminiscent of Sam Jaffee as Dr. Zorba on TV’s “Ben Casey.”

“I use yak hair because it’s tougher,” he says, too young for the reference. “It takes a beating. We beat up everything we use.”

Did you know clowns wear two pairs of boxers? For the final touch, Berkley pokes a tiny black clown dot into his dimpled chin. In floppy two-toned custom-made shoes, he’s ready to meander out — lime-green smock over orange shirt with dark bow tie, green-and-black plaid pants held up by red suspenders — for his pre-show “all access” visit with the early-arriving audience. He has been buffooning since 3 a.m., when he did a Univision appearance (Latino audiences are Ringling’s bread and butter in Los Angeles).

Berkley likes the Wavy Gravy line: “A clown is a poet who is also an orangutan.”
“There are a lot of contradictions in clowning,” Berkley says. “There are no rules. It’s one of those arts where you can do anything. You’re limited by what you can get your hands on sometimes and how much time you have to work on it.
In Staples, I ran into some Israelis I knew. Not to get all “Up With Laughter” about it, but they said Israel could sure use a circus. Leytzan, they told me, is the word for clown in Hebrew. Dan Berkley is very leytzan.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is currently in Anaheim, through Aug. 6. For ticket information, visit see www.ringling.com/schedule/.

Hank Rosenfeld learned in a Ringling Brothers audition “ya gotta have a heart as big as Alaska” to reach the top row.

The Circuit


A World of Food

World Ethnic Market/KosherWorld Show manager Phyllis Koegel presented a Buyer of the Year Award to Tamara Dorrell, Safeway manager, national categories, ethnic. The World Ethnic Market was held recently at the Anaheim Convention Center.

L.A. Helps the Gulf

Four members of Temple Beth El in San Pedro took a hands-on approach to charity when they went on a relief mission to Gulfport, Miss., last week. The four accompanied Rabbi Charles Briskin to help in rebuilding and reconstruction efforts for the coastal city devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Briskin, along with Alan Rowe of San Pedro, Vicki Hulbert of Palos Verdes Estates, Ben Pogorelsky of Rolling Hills Estates and David Burton of Rancho Santa Margarita, are part of a citywide delegation of Jews and Christians participating in this relief mission sponsored by the Southern California Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Community Relations Committee of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Grant A.M.E. Church and the Southern California A.M.E. Ministerial Alliance.

“Tikkun Olam, the ethical imperative to work to repair the world by responding to crisis and the needs of the larger community is one of Judaism’s central values,” Briskin said. “By going to Gulfport, we are doing our small part to repair, literally, one small corner of our world.”

Briskin said he hopes not only to contribute time, energy and labor, but also to return home with valuable lessons learned about the faith, hope and cooperation that prevails within this devastated region.

For more information, call (310) 833-2467 or e-mail; rabbibriskin@bethelsp.org.

Consulate’s “Israel 101”

The L.A. consulate general of Israel hosted a group of 40 sixth-graders from Pressman Academy for an “Israel 101” event before their class field trip to Israel next month. Students participated in Israeli dancing, word association games, videos and an educational skit highlighting Israel’s high-tech industry, performed by members of the consulate staff. Apart from the mouthwatering Israeli chocolates, the students got a special treat when Consul General Ehud Danoch greeted them and emphasized that while the scenery and holy sites would undoubtedly leave an impression on them, it will be the connections they make with their Israeli counterparts that will most affect them. During their 10-day tour of Israel the students will experience the action of Tel Aviv, the majesty of Jerusalem and Masada, and catch a glimpse of life on a kibbutz.

Just Smile

It was Lladro&tilde and African dishes recently on Rodeo Drive when Lladro&tilde, the renowned Spanish house of porcelain, joined forces with Operation Smile to raise money for free reconstructive facial surgery to children in developing countries worldwide. A special porcelain sculpture, “Let Me Help You,” was formally unveiled at a VIP reception at the Lladro&tilde Rodeo Drive Boutique.

To set the mood for the African trip, Lladro which will sponsor it with the funds raised, transformed the boutique into a visual homage to the Kenyan landscape in blues, reds, yellows and oranges to reflect a Kenyan sunset, while Barbuda trees recreated the greenery native to the region. Guests enjoyed African music, and cocktails and sampled unusual goodies, like groundnut soup garnished with tiny bananas, Nyama Choma (barbecued meat in the Kariokor style), M’Chuzi Wa Kuku (coconut chicken), Smaki Na Nazi (coconut fish), Samosa (meat-filled pastries) and Irio (a pea, corn and potato dish served as a minipancake, topped with East African salad relish).

OK, I am not certain if it was kosher, but I would have to pronounce it to ask, but I do know the food was yummy and the desserts amazing. Great stuff like, Mini Mount Kenya’s (minicoupe with peach ice cream topped with diced, rum-soaked pineapple; mango, and a dollop of whipped cream) and Mahamri (fried dough with powdered sugar). What could be bad about a doughnut with powdered sugar?

On hand were celebs like Operation Smile spokeswoman and angelic actress Roma Downey, who was with her husband, super- reality show guru Mark Burnett; Kathleen Magee, co-founder, Operation Smile; Bill Magee, son of co-founders Kathleen and William Magee; Safa Hummel, CEO, Lladro USA; Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb; Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad, and Lorraine Bradley, L.A. City human relations commissioner (and daughter of former Mayor Tom Bradley).

Lladro’s goal is to raise $150,000 by donating 10 percent of the retail price of all nationwide sales of the “Let Me Help You” sculpture between March and October 2006. For more information, visit

Spectator – Assimilation and a Blonde Doll


Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain laughs when asked where she gets her finely honed sense of ironic humor. It comes with being Jewish, she explains — a group whose number constitutes just one-quarter of 1 percent of the human race and thus makes getting along with others paramount.

“You got to keep them laughing, or else they’ll kill you,” she says by phone from her San Francisco home. “Jews are always making fun of themselves — it’s a strategy, I think.”

Her new short film is a funny, often self-deprecating and dazzlingly collage-style documentary called “The Tribe: An Unorthodox, Unauthorized History of the Jewish People and the Barbie Doll … in About 15 Minutes.” Co-written with her Jewish husband, UC Berkeley robotics professor Ken Goldberg, and narrated by Peter Coyote, the film, an official selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, screens on March 30 at the Egyptian Theater — followed by a discussion with Shlain and Goldberg.

Shlain grew up culturally Jewish in the Bay Area and was interested in learning about her grandfather’s origins in Odessa, Ukraine. With time, she became increasingly concerned with her Jewish heritage. She and her husband, for instance, named their daughter “Odessa.”

The film’s specific origins began when Shlain learned that the creator of the “WASPy-looking” Barbie Doll was a Jewish woman, Ruth Handler.

“I thought that was one of the great ironies of popular culture,” she said.

Subsequently, when Shlain noticed that Handler’s 2002 obituaries didn’t mention her religion, she got peeved.

“I thought that’s the lead part of the story,” she said. “Then it hit me that Barbie would be the perfect metaphor for exploring assimilation. It’s a complicated subject, but she’s a funny way in. People have strong feelings about Barbie.”

Using archival footage, animated graphics, Barbie dioramas, direct-camera addresses and even a spoken-word “slam poetry” performance, the film seriously explores Judaism even while irreverently spoofing its intentions.

This is the eighth film for the 35-year-old Shlain, who also works with computers and who founded the Webbie Awards honoring Internet achievements. Her last short, “Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness,” was about the erosion of reproductive rights.

“I’m very interested in taking difficult subjects and infusing them with humor,” she said. “I think with complicated issues, you have to use humor to open people up to talking about them.”

“The Tribe” has its Los Angeles premiere at 8 p.m. on March 30 at the Egyptian Theater, presented by the American Cinematheque, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. $9. Tickets can be purchased at fandango.com. For more information, visit

Friedan: Universal Woman, Particular Jew


Betty Friedan was, like most ordinary mortals, a mass of contradictions.

She was loud and sometimes imperious, yet she could be charming, funny, gentle, kind and winsome. A public persona, at times her ego needed massaging, but she remained surprisingly unassuming and unpretentious.

Though she exuded self-confidence, her vulnerabilities were right out there for all to see. She could fix her eyes and set her jaw in a ‘take no prisoners’ position, but she could also listen to opposite views, change her mind, and soften at the distress of others.

Friedan, who died last weekend at age 85 at her home in Washington, D.C., was both universal woman and particular Jew. The word Jewish does not appear at all in “The Feminine Mystique,” her seminal work, yet every heartbeat was a Jewish one. Once, in her 50s, after fame, fortune and independence had filled her life, she asked one favor of friends — to find her a nice Jewish husband.

She wrote about the drudgery and mindlessness of family work, yet her family was the sustained love of her life. She was totally invested in her children and longed for grandchildren well before they came.

This complicated, complex woman changed all of our lives, even those who never read “The Feminine Mystique” or never heard of NOW, the National Organization for Women.

She spawned perhaps the most profound social revolution of the last few centuries without a drop of blood being shed. She will go down in history as one of the great change agents of modern history; and for us, she will be a continuing source of Jewish pride, characterized in our own history books as one of the contributions we made to the world.

How and why was her impact so great? For that matter, how was it that she changed my own life as a Jewish feminist — for I came from a very different place in the 1960s, from a community that offered women great satisfaction and sense of value in their roles as wives and mothers?

Her book seemed to be anti-family, anti-men. Though her chapter “Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available” carried some truths, mostly she managed to put down so many of the great women I knew, full-time homemakers and mothers. Moreover, as the women’s movement got off the ground in the ’60s, building on her book’s steam, it quickly became more radicalized. The rhetoric of family as locus of abuse and man as exploiter grew more shrill. I’d have none of that!

Yet along with the excesses of early feminism was the underlying idea Betty Friedan offered the world: gender equality. This meant much more than the women’s vote. It meant equal access, equal talent and brains, equal dignity of women — and all of it a matter of justice.

For me, she did not adequately answer the question of equal careers and who would make lunch for hungry toddlers, prepare for Shabbat dinner with guests or meet the school bus each afternoon. She could not, because someone had to do the drudgework that accompanied the peaks and joys of raising children and running a Jewish household — and society was not yet organized to split these roles. But once she implanted in our minds and hearts the idea of equality of genders, once she posited this as ethics rather than as a battle between the sexes, each of us would try to work out the details in our own lives.

More than that, she opened the door to broader application of the idea of equal access and dignity to other spheres of life. In 1963, I made no connection between feminism and Jewish religious life, the imbalances in traditional Judaism created by gendered religious roles, the prevailing limitations on women studying Talmud or even the real disabilities in Jewish divorce.

But others did. These were a handful of Jewish women of the 1960s, women of Ezrat Nashim, women of other denominations who were writing about or modeling the new values, women who mediated secular feminism into Jewish feminism. Once these pioneering Jewish feminists established the connections, I could apply them to my own community — not out of a sense of abuse for I still felt none, but out of a sense of ethics, of meeting the original biblical paradigm — male and female created as equals in the image of God.

Friedan taught us several other important lessons. Not content to rest with the mighty power of her pen, she understood the covenantal nature of organizational life: For a job to be done and the work to continue, one needed more than an idea, more than cohorts. One needed organizational structures that would allow others to find an address and to take up the work. Friedan went on to found or co-found NOW, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the First Women’s Bank and Trust Company. She co-organized the first protest march and the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970. In 1969, though already beleaguered by opposition to feminism, she was unafraid to publicly take on the abortion issue, founding NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League.

These organizational models and her writings spawned hundreds of others. A spate of books and periodicals followed hers, and many hundreds of independent feminist organizations were created on these shores and far distant ones. Thus, her work in the world was multiplied in the arenas of politics, domestic life, religion, economics, education and all of the professions. It was, I believe, more than some of her sisters in the movement would acknowledge in later years.

As for her Jewishness, Friedan wore it proudly. In 1975, Rabbi Isaac Trainin and I invited her to join a New York Federation Task force, then called Jewish Women in a Changing Society. She joined in an instant, as if she’d just been waiting for the Jewish community to invite her in.

At her first meeting, she spoke of how Jewish values of justice had influenced her feminism, indeed her entire outlook on life. Later, we would learn that being a smart, Jewish girl growing up in Peoria, Ill., would shape her sensitivities as an outsider and sharpen her abilities to engage confrontation, both of which helped her in the early feminist battles.

She also was concerned specifically about the Jewish family. Once, in the early 1980s, as she, Susan Weidman Schneider and I shared a panel in Chicago on “Feminism and the Jewish Family.” I quipped that I was a slow learner for I had read “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963 while pregnant with my second child but went on to have three more children. (In the book, she caricatures the woman with a vision of five children). Friends though we were by then, she took considerable umbrage at my comment for she disliked being associated with a decline in the Jewish birth rate.

She saw Jewish feminism as a logical extension of secular feminism; the same rubrics applied: access and education; the need for ‘outside’ or public roles as well as inside ones defined as women’s primary space; freedom to control one’s destiny in marriage and divorce.

In those years, the Task Force held conferences on the agunah (the problem of women who have trouble obtaining a Jewish divorce), on infertility, on the Jewish family. Though peripherally involved in those conferences, she remained curious and interested in their outcomes.

Friedan’s greatness also lay in her ability to rethink matters. In publishing “The Second Stage,” she recognized that she had gone too far in “The Feminine Mystique” in denigrating women’s roles in the home. She wrote of transcending the false polarization between feminism and family, between men and women. She addressed the realities of work in the home and the satisfactions of women who chose that as their primary role. She was criticized by some of her more radical counterparts for selling out the original vision, but then, as earlier, she held her ground.

She once acknowledged that some of her writing in “Second Stage” was influenced by her contact with Jewish women of the federation world who successfully put together family and service and who made sequential choices in their lives regarding family and career.

Jewish history is full of flawed models, sometimes more powerful because of their flaws, and certainly more accessible. Betty was straight as a narrow, totally transparent, nothing behind a veil. What you saw was what you got, including anger or bruised ego. But that made the love, the caring, the creative mind, the generous spirit and the passion for justice all the more precious.

Blu Greenberg is founding president of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and founding chair of One Voice: Jewish Women for Israel.

 

A Big Impression


I’m too old to have heroes. But for those who live their lives with courage, I can make an exception. Like the Impressionists, for instance, whose lives of self-sacrifice I was trying to share with my class of older adults.

“OK, everyone,” I say, “whoever’s not here, raise your hand.”

Naturally, Saul raises his hand. Maybe I should explain.

My senior students suffer from short-term memory loss, a condition less severe than Alzheimer’s and dementia but nonetheless frightening. They can recall exact moments from decades past, but in the present, from one moment to the next, many don’t remember who or where they are. Sort of like elected officials.

“Are you saying you’re not here, Saul?”

“Are you?” he asks, a sour look on his face.

“Good question,” I say. “Now let’s look at an amazing movement in art called Impressionism. First, we’ll watch a video to appreciate the magnificent works of Renoir, Manet, Monet and Pissarro, because this class is art appreciation, right?”

Nothing. No response. Twenty-five people and not a whisper, not a murmur, not a peep.

“Which art movement are we learning about this morning?” I ask. “Anyone?”

Louise takes a stab at it.

“Art.”

“Yes, but which movement?”

Silence. You can hear a pacemaker ticking. Imagine being able to remember the color of your socks when you were 3, but you can’t remember where you put your shoes five minutes before.

“OK,” I press on, “aren’t these just wonderful, these paintings of nature and the human form? What do you think Saul?”

He shrugs. He sighs. A big, burly man in his late 80s, he sits week after week collapsed in his chair, with his head in his chest, and I can’t get a word out of him.

I continue. “Now in the late 1860s….”

Suddenly, here’s Marla.

“Who does those clown paintings?” she yells.

“Clown paintings?”

“Yeah,” she hollers. “I saw a painting with a clown, and there was a tear on his cheek. Who does them? They’re great!”

Clown paintings? We’re talking Renoir here. It’s Monday morning; the class is five minutes in, and I’m wondering if it’s not too late to get my real estate license.

“Red Skelton,” I say with scorn.

“Oh,” says Marla, now softly. “That’s right. Red Skelton. Was he an Impressionist?”

“Yes,” answers Bob. “He did impressions of clowns. He was funny.”

“I used to be funny,” says Jake. “Then I got married.”

“Your wife doesn’t know you’re funny Jake?” I ask.

He makes a face. “My wife doesn’t know I’m living.”

“How about you, Saul?” I ask. “Are you married?”

Slowly, Saul raises his head, waves me off and drops his head back to his chest.

“Saul,” I say, “if you don’t take part in the class, I’m going to have to ask you to bring your parents to school.”

“You’ll have to dig them up,” he replies.

I throw my hands in the air. “Oy!” I exclaim.

“You’re Yiddish?” asks Jake.

“The world’s Yiddish,” I tell him. “Who knows the difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel?”

“The shlemiel spills the coffee on the shlimazel,” says Jake.

“OK,” I say, “now how many of you know that one of the leading Impressionists — Pissarro — was a Jew?”

No response. Nothing. Nada. Bubkes. Maybe I could become a plumber. I already have a wrench. I know I saw one somewhere in the garage, I think, a month ago.

Two hours later, I’m exhausted. One last time, I explain how much the Impressionists believed in themselves and what they were trying to accomplish.

“OK,” I say, “what have we learned today? Nellie?”

“Nothing,” she says, cheerfully.

“Nothing? I’m up here talking for two hours, and you’ve learned nothing?”

“We remember nothing,” says Molly.

“Yeah,” says Ray. “Don’t take it so personal.”

Oh. OK. Surely, the West Valley could absorb one more real estate agent.

“What about you, Vivian?” I ask. “Tell me one thing you’ve learned about the Impressionists.”

“Stick to your guns,” she says.

“Thank you,” I cry.

On the TV monitor, the video is now showing breathtaking paintings of the French countryside. One last try.

“Has anyone here ever been to France?” I ask.

“France would be a great place without the French,” says Jake.

“Anyone else?” I ask.

Like an ancient tortoise, Saul lifts his head, and staring off into the beyond, mutters under his breath, “I’ve been to France.”

“Hallelujah! Tell us about it, Saul. Did you go to the museums?”

“I was on the beach,” he says to his feet.

“The Riviera, Saul? Girls? Bikinis? Ooh-La-La?”

“We landed in the water,” he says. “All my friends around me were shot. The water was blood. I was on the beach.”

The room goes extra silent, the only sound the air conditioning. My hero lowers his head back to his chest, but not before my eyes meet his. I am 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and I think I am going to cry.

Wildman Weiner is a credentialed teacher of older adults.

Zagat for Dating


“Where do you want to meet?” I ask my blind date on the phone for our last-minute get-together. I find it’s best to set up these things in haste, on the fly, soon after a phone call, so expectations are kept to the barest minimum. (And yet, somehow, no matter how low hopes seem to be, disappointment always seems possible.)

“How about the Coffee Bean on Wilshire?” he says. It’s a nice place, actually, for a Coffee Bean. With a fire pit outside and the cool ocean air wafting in from the water a dozen blocks away, it’s reminiscent of a perpetual fall night with chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But suddenly an image of my last date there pops into my mind. He was a very confident (read: obnoxious) Israeli, who confused our heated political debate for passion rather than loathing.

“You must like me,” the Israeli said after a time.

“Why’s that?” I wondered aloud, because I certainly did not.

“Because you’re still sitting here,” he concluded.

In his estimation, because the date had lasted longer than an hour, and I hadn’t fled like other women before me, I was smitten. So when he persisted in talking about politics despite my attempts to steer the conversation somewhere less conflicted, I considered throwing him in the fire pit next to us, but decided I’d not be able to lift his 200-pound frame. So I got up to leave.

“You said I could,” I explained over my shoulder on my way out.

So I tell my soon-to-be date, “Let’s not go to the Coffee Bean.”

When it comes to dating, much has been written about territorial acquisitions: How you should never date someone in your neighborhood because who will acquire the local hangouts after the breakup. (My last boyfriend was from the east side — way east — and when I saw him after the breakup at the Sunday Santa Monica market I wanted to shout, “Mine! This is my neighborhood! My territory! My settlement in the breakup proceedings!”)

Here in Los Angeles, our services are more important than our dates. (I learned this the hard way by dating my mechanic’s assistant — a budding screenwriter — and soon had to find a new mechanic. Not worth it.)

Maybe it sounds silly, but consider this: I am a woman who left New York City — a giant metropolis of millions of people and millions of square miles — just because it reminded me too much of my ex-boyfriend: That street in Times Square where he first surprised me and kissed me; that restaurant on 14th Street where he told me he needed some space; the green chess bench on the Lower East Side where he kissed me one last time and told me he wanted me back; that club on the Upper West Side, where, years later, after a broken engagement (his), he drunkenly confessed he still loved me; that cafe in the Village the next day where he denied it all and blamed it on the wine. In the end, it had seemed like the whole city was a backdrop — scenery created solely for our relationship — so when that was over, I fled. I just couldn’t bear it.

One of the beauties of Los Angeles is that it’s so big. (Come to think of it, I’ve almost never run into a former date here; I wonder if they were just imported here for that one evening with me…?) I don’t feel in danger of this city being ruined for me because of a relationship. But dating, that’s a different story. Do I really want to slowly but surely taint every restaurant and cafe in the city with a scene from my one-hit-wonders?

There are alternate strategies: You can inundate a place with so many dates that a particular bad one no longer stands out. Still, I can’t go to Casa Del Mar for a drink now because the ghosts of Dubious Gay Guy, Argumentative Man, This Was a Bad Idea Man and many more haunt the cavernous, beautiful room.

I’m not so cynical to say that all places are tainted by bad dates. Great dates can take a place out of the running, too: That awesome night at Canter’s where he and I stayed up till 3, 4, 5 a.m.? Who knows. I fell in love, I think, somewhere between the coleslaw and the kasha varnishkes, or maybe laughing at the ancient, bored waitress or out in the parking lot in front of a mural depicting the history of Jewish Los Angeles. I can’t go to Canter’s on a date anymore — or any of the other places I’ve left pieces of my heart — because of sweet nostalgia.

Am I too sentimental? Do I take mistake the background for the foreground? Humphrey Bogart said it best in “Casablanca:” “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine….”

But listen: a girl has got to dine out. So tonight after running through my Dating Zagat’s (Starbuck’s on Main Street, 22: Good lighting but “tedious conversationalist,” in the “nice outfit” was “mean to waitress” and “put me to sleep” despite “triple latte/no foam.”)

So I pick a sweet little cafe for writers and daters in Santa Monica with couches and cute little lamps and funny drinks like Creamsicles and Fudgesickles — in other words, a place I’d never need to go to again in case things don’t work out.

But go figure. My date is cute and he’s sweet and he’s hard to pin down into one neat little box — i.e., he’s an actual person, not just some bad date to sum up in a rating — and who knows what will happen in the future for us?

This sweet little cafe could become our place — or at least the place where we had our first date.

Oh brother, here we go again.

 

My New Muse


A funny thing happened on the way to becoming a regular Jewish Journal singles columnist.

Curse you, JDate.

I was just getting my mojo working on writing these — although I’m better known in these pages for my “Greenberg’s View” editorial cartoons and for the occasional cover illustration. But emboldened by a few forays into writing — a few pieces for Mad magazine, a couple of scripts for “Goofy” comic books, a column for a cartooning journal, plus a couple of Op-Ed pieces for my day-job daily newspaper — I ventured into this untried realm for The Journal.

With beginner’s luck on my side, I wrote a well-received column about the “Geographic Undesirability” of being out in the boonies — in my case, western Ventura County — and the difficulties this posed for dating and socializing: “You came to this Westside event from where?!”

The piece generated numerous e-mail responses — about 30. Curiously, they were all from women who lived in various other outlying places who liked the piece and identified with the sentiments. Several of these responders even wanted to meet me, as in dating.

Hey, this writing stuff is pretty powerful!

My next column, about the stigmas attached to being in one’s upper 40s or older and never having been married, elicited a smaller response but still drew a few women interested in meeting me.

I began to plan other columns — one on the tsuris of being a short guy when women only seem to want them much taller, and one on the advantages of dating women older than 40. I suspected the latter one, in particular, might result in a swarm of single mature women e-mailing me and expressing interest.

But there was a problem: I was starting to date Roberta. Steadily, in fact.

This remarkable new power I had unearthed, finding unseen female strangers suddenly interested in me via my columns, clearly wasn’t going to fly too well with Ro. I had already assured her I was backing away from JDate, SpeedDating and other such enticements, so dabbling with a potential written-word aphrodisiac would not be looked upon favorably.

Not that Roberta was bad for other aspects of my fledgling writing career. We took some short trips together that turned into self-illustrated travel section stories at my daily newspaper.

But I could no longer aspire to get the “I saw your column!” compliments I’d received when attending Jewish singles events. Well, OK, some of the comments were more like accusations: “Hey, that wasn’t me you referred to, was it?”

But the point is, I was no longer attending those events in the first place. I was no longer in a position to meet babes. Even worse, as the new-writer’s muse learned, I wasn’t getting any new material for columns.

But did it matter? Couldn’t I still keep this gig going — relying on past experiences, a fertile imagination and wit. I thought about Cathy Guisewite, creator of the comic strip “Cathy,” who continued scripting her main character’s single-woman’s tribulations about dieting, dressing and preparing for dates, even as the strip’s creator lived a real life that involved raising a kid and having a husband. Perhaps as long as one had lived the life, even in past tense, one could still write about it.

Maybe I could keep writing columns even after the marriage. After all, aren’t all children’s books actually written only by former children?

But I suspect that wouldn’t be, well, kosher. I can just about hear the accusations of “Fraud!” and the publication referees blowing their whistles and screaming: “Disqualified! Get off the field, rookie!”

As the months passed and Roberta and I spent more time together, I found myself ceding (with mild envy) The Jewish Journal’s singles column space to the able hands of writers like Carin Davis and Teresa Strasser.

And now it’s come to this: Roberta Rubin and I are engaged, with a wedding scheduled and imminent. And I’m happy about that. Really. Even if it means giving up on being a Steinbeck of singledom.

The best I can manage is perhaps a column or two before my waning singlehood hourglass runs out.

So, to Elite Jewish Theatre Singles, Jewish Singles Meet (or is it “Meeting Place”?) and all the other groups and venues I attended: Well, thanks for being there and hosting all those activities (even if your events never panned out for me, datewise). To the various women I dated: Thanks for the coffee meetings, and no, really, I wasn’t writing about you. It was about some other date from when I lived in another city.

And to all you other guys (and gals) who think they have something worth writing about: Hey, give it a shot. Writing can be amazing stuff.

Steve Greenberg contributes editorial cartoons and illustrations to The Jewish Journal. His e-mail is steve@greenberg-art.com. But, please, no more e-mails from eligible women.

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Hava Flashback


“Bar Mitzvah Disco” (Crown, 2005) is part-coffeetable book, part-cultural relic, part-archive and wholly embarrassing.

Authors Roger Bennett, Jules Shell and Nick Kroll discovered in one long B.S. session that nothing quite engaged their friends, Jew and non-Jew alike, as a trip back down memory lane to the day of their or their friends’ bar or bat mitzvah. They started a Web site where people could post photos and memories, www.barmitzvahdisco.com, and that Web site became this book. It was, the authors explain, “an opportunity to tell the story of a generation” — and to embarrass people. Polyester suits, Farrah-bangs, tables of overfed relations, braces and acne — did we mention the word embarrassing? Along with plenty of photos — which are telling and even strangely brilliant divorced from the context of a bar mitzvah album — there are funny and poignant contributions by, among others, David Kohan, Sarah Silverman, Jonathan Safran Foer and Gideon Yago.

 

Schneider’s Deuce Is Wild Again


In his grossout-doofus comedies, Rob Schneider plays the ultimate schlimazel. He gets pummeled, maced, urinated on and tossed about like a hirsute rag doll. Expect no reprieve when he returns as America’s favorite prosti-dude in “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” the sequel to 1999’s sleeper success, “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.” Besides the requisite physical abuse, the “he-ho” will again service “Janes,” such as a giantess who dresses him in a diaper and an accident victim with a male appendage in lieu of a nose.

It’s the kind of raunch-fest made famous by Schneider’s mentor and producer, Adam Sandler, although Sandler’s persona is more class clown than class wimp. Both performers have been lambasted for their juvenile, belch-ridden films, but Schneider also has been attacked for turning himself into a human punching bag. Yet, like Sandler, he is among a handful of comics (think Mike Myers) who star in their own name-above-the-title films.

As to why he plays a schlimazel, a loser who’s the butt of every joke, the actor — who is half-Jewish and part Filipino — said he relates to the underdog.

“I love how directors used Jimmy Stewart as an Everyman, so I like to play a guy who’s slightly less than the everyman,” he added. “I want viewers to look at me and say, ‘My life’s s–, but that guy’s got real problems.”

He identifies with Deuce because “things just end up happening to him and he thinks it’s going to be great and it’s always horrible,” he said. “He imagines his life would be better if he just had this or that, but the way he tries to get it, he makes his situation way worse, and he has to struggle and scrape to barely get back to where he was in the beginning.”

The self-deprecating, affable Schneider could be describing his own life — at least until “Bigalow” grossed more than $100 million. Even Schneider’s forbears experienced Deuce-worthy humiliation: His maternal grandfather, an Army private, was unceremoniously shipped off to the Philippines after bedding his captain’s wife. There, he married a native woman. Their daughter, Pilar, eventually moved to San Francisco; as president of a club for single parents in 1961, she snatched up and wed the group’s only male member, Marvin Schneider, a real estate broker.

Because Marvin was a secular Jew who loved comedy, the Judaism in Rob’s childhood home focused primarily on humor: Mel Brooks’ comedy albums and joke-telling at Uncle Norm’s.

The Jewish humor provided a survival tool for Rob, an anxious child with a stammer that made the girls snicker.

“One day the kids were laughing at me, and I told a stupid joke but it killed, and I’ve been the funny guy ever since,” he said.

He began performing stand-up at age 15; by 1991, he was a regular on “Saturday Night Live,” although the show’s 100-hour work week and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle almost killed him.

“After four years I found myself in the hospital with kidney stones, a broken ankle, staples in my throat from thyroid surgery and tubes everywhere,” the 40-year-old said. “I had to make sure to get out of bed in time to get into the wheelchair to make it to the toilet.”

Four months later he quit the show; his new work — playing repulsive sidekicks in bad movies — placed him, figuratively, “in the career toilet,” he said.

“I was the least likely person you’d ever expect to become a movie star,” he said.

That was until his “Saturday Night Live” buddy Sandler cast him in nine of his own highly successful films and bankrolled “Deuce” in 1999. The film was inspired by Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo,” wherein supermodel Lauren Hutton hires an escort, “which was ridiculous,” Schneider said. “Any woman can walk into a bar and get a guy. So I thought, ‘If there were women who truly needed gigolos, they’d have gigantic feet or have uncontrollable swearing syndrome, and it would be nice if there was a sweet guy who tried to make them feel good about themselves.”

The sequel takes Deuce to Amsterdam, where prostitution is legal, but all the “high-class” gigolos are being murdered. During production there, Schneider peeled off his magenta threads to visit the Anne Frank house, a sober pilgrimage he makes every time he’s in Amsterdam.

“To me, Anne Frank is the human face of the Holocaust,” he said.

While critics have denounced his films as demeaning of unattractive women, Schneider insists he uses laughter to advocate tolerance.

A Los Angeles Times reviewer agreed in 1999 when he wrote that “Deuce” “encourages adolescents to respect the dignity of all persons, even the height and weight challenged.”

Schneider said his persecuted character couldn’t help but have Jewish blood. He added, laughing: “I know for a fact Deuce Bigalow is circumcised — because I am.” But don’t expect a sequel titled “Deuce Bigalow: Rabbi Gigolo.”

“I wouldn’t want to alienate the goyim,” he said.

The film opens today in Los Angeles.

 

‘Jubana’ Memoir Rescues Its Author


“Jubana! The Awkwardly True and Dazzling Adventures of a Jewish Cuban Goddess” by Gigi Anders (Rayo/HarperCollins, $23.95).

Three years ago, Gigi Anders found herself down and out in Hackensack, N.J. Her fiancé couldn’t go through with their wedding, she had quit a job at a nearby newspaper and her friends lived elsewhere.

“I was alone and without a safety net,” she recalls. “Then there was my hair, my weight, etc. Writing was the only noninsecurity I had.”

Surviving on cases of TaB and cartons of cigarettes, Anders spent the ensuing years squeezing memoir material out of her childhood, adolescence and Byzantine relationship with her larger-than-life mother. Due out next week, “Jubana! The Awkwardly True and Dazzling Adventures of a Jewish Cuban Goddess” simultaneously reads like a classic coming-of-age tale, Jewish history lesson and stand-up comedy routine. Born in Havana, the now 47-year-old Anders left Cuba and an upper-middle-class life of wealth and privilege before her third birthday. After a brief period in Miami, her family settled in Washington, D.C., where her doctor father and social worker mother tried to rebuild their lives. Though Anders’ tribulations and the legacy of Fidel Castro’s regime certainly loom large in the story, the highly glamorous and opinionated “Mami Dearest” frequently steals the show.

“She’s my best material,” admits Anders about her mother. “If I had a boring mom, I’d having nothing to write about.”

For Rene Alegria, publisher of the HarperCollins’ Rayo imprint that focuses on books by and about Hispanics, Anders’ memoir “was unlike anything I ever read. I hadn’t really seen this type of Hispanic Jewish story before,” he said. “Then there’s the fact that Gigi is just incredibly funny and she really brought her story to life in a way that’s universal.”

On the telephone, Anders speaks exactly like the book she’s written. Candid, passionate and prone to interspersing the conversation with hysterical impersonations of her mother’s Cuban-accented English, Anders also emphasized that she “fiercely loves” her parents, now in their 70s.

“I wanted very badly for no one in my family to feel ambushed,” she says. “I didn’t write the book for axe-grinding and score-settling. I would call my mother every Sunday and we would talk about what I was writing. She never once said, ‘Don’t write that.'”

For Anders, the biggest challenge lay in depicting key tragic events while maintaining the wildly humorous tone.

“I didn’t know whether or not go there,” she says of the traumatic sexual awakening she experienced at 14. “I didn’t want to hurt my parents or have people feel sorry for me. But this was my life and that experience changed me forever.”

Anders claims that the term “Jubana,” meaning “Cuban Jewess,” “has been floating around for awhile” in her family. To be her family’s style of Cuban and Jewish, she says, means there’s no conflict between lighting Chanukah candles and enjoying roasted pork loin afterward.

“But the Jubana thing also means you’re a minority, minority, minority — that no matter what, you’re an outsider,” she said. “Sure I’m white, but not like how other people are white.”

Growing up in Washington, D.C., Anders attended elementary school where she identified with the African American kids.

“I would go to their birthday parties and try to get their parents to adopt me,” she recalls.

Later, when her parents moved to a different D.C.-area neighborhood and could afford private school, Anders attended Sidwell Friends, an elite prep academy. There, she “faced rich, white kids who weren’t Jewish and who seemed to be happy all the time. It seemed like they could just say, ‘I think I’ll go to Harvard’ and it would just happen, while I was at home killing myself,” she said.

At Beaver College, a private school in Pennsylvania now called Arcadia University, Anders had more contact with Jewish kids, but once again, could not relate.

“They were equally as rich as the Sidwell kids, but these girls wanted to get married immediately,” she says. “I had always associated the Jewish side of myself with education and achievement.”

Anders says her “Hispanic side” had more to do with “choosing the right red lipstick and having anxiety about becoming a writer. I got very nervous about being competent and relatives would tell me to dumb myself down or I wouldn’t get a man,” she said. “I had this conflict of beauty vs. brains, this long-term conditioning of if you’re a girl and you’re not married then it’s a double whammy for your Hispanic family.”

Upon graduating from college, Anders briefly worked as a waitress before responding to a job listing from the circulation department of the Washington Post. After a year on the job, she managed to get transferred to an editorial department and eventually became a special correspondent. She also began writing for a variety of other publications, including Glamour, Allure, Latina and The American Journalism Review.

Recently, Anders gave an in-house reading for her publishers and experienced “the best moment of my life. It was the first time that I didn’t feel like an outsider. People were listening to me read and they were laughing but I felt they understood,” she said. “It’s so strange. The things in life that made me feel terrible about myself led to this moment where I thought, ‘This is who I was meant to be.'”

 

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