Death to Fanatistan!

By the time comedian Elon Gold took the stage to emcee the rally for the raising of the Israeli flag on Wilshire Boulevard, the street had filled with 3,000 or more people — a sea, or at least an inlet, of humanity waving little plastic blue-and-white flags as loudspeakers pumped out Israeli songs and their American Jewish equivalent: selections from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Gold looked out upon the patriotic multitudes and uttered his welcome: “Hello everyone, I’m Elon Gold. For those of you who don’t know who I am, I’m the Jewish Jerry Seinfeld.”

That’s right — the profound, important gathering to raise the Israeli flag in front of the Consulate General of Israel for the first time ever was hosted by a standup comedian and began with a joke. I, for one, am proud of that.

I’m proud of it because while the display of the flag affirms, as several speakers pointed out, our connection as Jews and as Americans to a strong, secure State of Israel, the symbolism, I think, goes even deeper.

“This is a great day for us,” said Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan when it was his turn to speak.

Dayan conceived of hoisting the flag in front of the consulate when he first came to Los Angeles a year ago. He was told the idea was a nonstarter: Any number of people were leery of the security risks involved in publicly identifying a building with Israel.

As I wrote in this space two weeks ago, Dayan not only vowed to fly the flag, but to raise it in a very public spectacle. Not a few Jewish leaders tried to dissuade him, convinced that L.A. Jews are only good for one mass rally every 20 years, if that.

Besides, they wondered aloud, what’s so big about a flag?

Sunday afternoon proved Dayan right.

I stood on a camera platform and looked east on Wilshire Boulevard beyond Crescent Heights Boulevard, watching the crowd grow to 3,000, or more. Two-dozen spectators broke out into an impromptu dance of “Hava Nagila” under a massive billboard advertising the HBO show “Entourage.” Several protesters entered the mix waving signs — “No More Wars for Israel! Mearsheimer & Walt R Right” — before being escorted out by police, to loud cheers from the crowd.

A large V.I.P. section — it seems at least one-third of the Jewish community is V.I.P. — was filled with many local politicians. Busloads of schoolchildren came, from Valley Beth Shalom, Milken, Stephen S. Wise, Sinai Akiba and others. Temples sent delegations. Israelis themselves turned out en masse — when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the assembly “Shana Tova” and “Am Yisrael Chai,” he was speaking the native language of at least half the people there.

“This city stands with Israel in security and safety,” Villaraigosa said. “We must reaffirm in one voice our support for the Jewish state.”

To reinforce the point, a contingent of churches came, a black gospel choir filled the stage, the Mexican Consul General sent a delegation and a musical ensemble. The different representation was enough to make the point: This isn’t just a Jewish thing.

Then came the ceremony itself.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Councilman Jack Weiss, accompanied by a Marine, raised an American flag on one tall steel pole.

The gospel choir sang “God Bless America.” If you weren’t thinking of the Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin who wrote that song, you couldn’t appreciate the beautiful irony of the moment.

State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass raised the California flag on another pole. The mayor and Dayan, accompanied by two Israeli soldiers in uniform, raised the Israeli flag on the center pole.

I was close by then, maybe 5 feet away.

Some 30 men, women and children were blowing shofars as the flag went up. The young Israeli soldiers were smiling: It was a cool moment. The mayor looked solemn, as if he were in shul carrying the Torah.

And the consul general? He was choking back tears. I think if a line of cameras hadn’t been pointed at him, he’d have lost it. His grandfather died in the Holocaust, and now, 60 years later, he had managed to raise a flag that represents security, refuge and the possibility of peace to full, public view.

And then Elon Gold cracked another joke.

“The shofars are still blowing,” the comedian said from the dais. “At this point they’re auditioning for the Philharmonic. I don’t think you’re gonna get in, guys.”

That’s when it hit me why I was so moved — not because of the show of support, not because of the consul’s tears, but because of the jokes. It’s not that the flag represents Israel, it’s what Israel, at its best, represents. That, for me, was the deeper symbolism displayed on Wilshire Boulevard last Sunday. In a world filled with fanatical ideologues of all political and religious stripes, Israel has managed to endure not just as a refuge, but as a democracy, a land of tremendous freedom, creativity and, yes, humor. It is imperfect and imperiled. It has plenty of home-grown fanatics and anti-democratic forces to battle — but that battle has been joined since before its founding, and, to its credit, continues.

As much as the flag represents Israel, it represents these values, values that every passerby, Jewish or not, should want promoted and defended. Waving on Wilshire Boulevard between the Stars and Stripes and the Bear Flag, the Israeli flag is the perfect — pardon the expression — middle finger to all the fanatics out there.

And that’s no joke.

A Rabbi Walks Into a Bar…

Speaking of the High Holy Days, did you hear the one about Morrie and Estie, who decide to skip services and go on a safari? They end up getting lost in the dark jungles of Africa.

“Don’t worry,” Morrie soothes his terrified wife. “We have nothing to worry about — I didn’t pay our pledge to the yeshiva this year.”

“So?” she wails, in fear.

“They’ll find us!” he says.

Or how about the one where the man comes to the rabbi on Yom Kippur afternoon and tells him he’s dying for a drink?

“Today is Yom Kippur, and you want to drink?” the rabbi says.

“Please, just a small drink. I can’t take it anymore!”

The rabbi is moved by the man’s suffering, so he gives him a glass of water.

“Thank you, thank you,” the man says. “I promise, I’ll never eat schmaltz herring on Yom Kippur morning ever again!”

Ba-dump-bump. Maybe you’ve heard some of these jokes before, but probably not compiled together and interspersed throughout the Torah’s weekly portions.

Joe Bobker’s “Torah with a Twist of Humor” (Devora Publishing, 2004) could be a boon to every rabbi or congregant who needs to spice up their sermons, studies and divrei Torah — words of Torah often centered around the parsha, the weekly portion.

Rabbis of the Talmud advised to begin every d’var Torah with a joke, Bobker says. “Why? It is wise, no matter what you are doing, to enjoy what you are doing, and laughter is relaxing, a unifying force for the audience, and, according to Tehillim, God’s presence doesn’t dwell in a place where there is no joy,” Bobker writes. “Laughter is a serious business.”

It is for Bobker, an Angeleno now living in Jerusalem. He tells the tale of each portion and intersperses a dozen or so jokes into every Torah portion beginning with Genesis: “The elderly rabbi walks up to a young lady in a miniskirt, greets her politely, and hands her a fruit.

‘What’s this for?’

‘Well, Eve didn’t know she was naked either, until she ate a fruit.'”

And continuing through “Zos Habracha,” the final Torah portion:

“As the elderly rabbi walks by, a young Salvation Army worker asks, ‘Sir, won’t you give a coin to the Lord? The rabbi stops and asks the boy how old he is. ‘Nineteen, rabbi.’

‘Well, I’m past 75. I’ll be seeing Him before you, so I’ll hand it to Him myself.'”

With the High Holy Days approaching, rabbis busy writing their sermons should always keep their audience in mind.

“My d’var Torah at the dinner last night was a smash hit,” bragged the notoriously egocentric young rabbi, “I had the audience glued in their seats.”

“Wonderful, wonderful,” rejoined the older rav. “Clever of you to think of it.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Sarah Silverman ‘Nightline’ interview

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

For the Kids

We Love to Laugh

Jews have always used humor to get themselves through difficult times. And you better believe that Jews have had difficult times! Maybe our humor is what has kept us alive as a people for more than 5,500 years. Certainly, our humor has been used to teach the world a great deal about humanity.

Jammin’ Jokes

Some of our very own Jewish comedians have this to say:
Q: What do you get when you squeeze
a synagogue?

A: Fresh Jews!

Sent in by Raquel Rosen, 12,
Beverly Hills

Funny in Love

On the outside, the interfaith comedic coupling of Lahna
Turner and Ralphie May seems like an odd match: Lahna is a stunning Jewish
Canadian who blends witty spoken-word pieces with off-color songs, while
Ralphie is a morbidly obese Southern comic who delivers jokes with hip-hop
flava and subscribes to Flip Wilson’s Church of What’s Happenin’ Now.

The incongruous couple infrequently appear together on the
same bill in Los Angeles because of their divergent comedy styles and
conflicting road schedules, but this weekend finds them sharing the stage in a
rare double bill at the Irvine Improv.

When they first met in 1999 at the Laugh Stop in Houston,
Lahna was initially turned off by Ralphie’s 400-pound frame.

“As I got to know him I started to fall in love with him,”
Lahna said, “and I thought it was really shallow of me to not date him because
of his weight.”

Lahna later followed Ralphie to Hollywood, where he wrote
for Jay Mohr and was mentored by Buddy Hackett.

“Buddy said, ‘Oh my God, you’re dating a Jew broad? Run,
run. Their mothers are never happy,'” Ralphie said.

Lahna admits her mother wasn’t crazy about Ralphie at first.

“My parents would have preferred me to hook up with a Jewish
doctor,” she said. “My mom once tried to fix me up with her gynecologist.”

Ralphie was a fan favorite and finished second on the 2003
reality TV series, “Last Comic Standing,” which featured 10 comics living
together in a Hollywood Hills home and competing against each other for an NBC
development deal.

The two now live in a home near the Simon Wiesenthal Center
in Pico-Robertson, where Arkansas-raised Ralphie is still adjusting to the
culture shock. He said he likes most Jewish food, “but smoked whitefish freaks
me out.”

After sitting shiva for Hackett in July, Ralphie joined
celebrities like Al Roker and Carnie Wilson by undergoing gastric bypass
surgery to finally lose the weight. Lahna said Ralphie has lost 130 pounds in
the last four months.

The couple got engaged in February, and Lahna said they’ll
set the date “as soon as he’s able to buy a tuxedo off the rack.”

Ralphie May and Lahna Turner perform Fri, 8:30 and 10:30
p.m., and Sat., 7, 9 and 11 p.m. $20. Irvine Improv, 71 Fortune Drive, Irvine.
(949) 854-5455.

The Circuit

Bravo For SoCal’s Educators and Administrators!

You might call him the event’s “grand Marshall.”

Garry Marshall — director of “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries” and creator of TV shows such as “The Odd Couple” and “Happy Days” — hosted this year’s 20th annual Bravo Awards, as he had last year…and the year before…and every other year since the inception of the event that recognizes the achievements Southern California’s educators, school administrators and schools.

Goofing on the banquet’s expensive centerpieces, Marshall quipped, “Someone in the art classes, they should say, ‘We’ll do the centerpieces.'”

Marshall was all jokes, but his devotion to the cause, sponsored by the Music Center Education Division, is very serious.

This year, Arcadia High School was singled out from among 11 schools for top honors. Also honored were choral music teacher Mike Short of Orange High School; Laura Hamlett, second-grade teacher at Eagle Rock Elementary; Jennifer Fry, a fifth-grade teacher at Meadows Elementary in Thousand Oaks; and Jeff Lantos, fifth-grade teacher at Marquez Elementary in Pacific Palisades.

The Millennium Biltmore gala was sponsored by Club 100, a Music Center membership support organization headed by President Astrid Rottman. Club 100 member Janice Wallace chaired the event, while Sharon Reisz served as the Bravo endowment chair. Music Center CEO Andrea Van de Kamp, Music Center President Joanne Kozberg, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin all graced the stage, as did the John Burroughs High School Chamber Choir and the Washington Preparatory High School Jazz Band, both of which performed at the event.

At The Circuit’s table sat Mark Slavkin. It was about this time last year that Slavkin assumed the post of Music Center Education Division director, taking over the position from Joan Boyett, who created the arts education branch in 1979. Slavkin oversees a staff of 30 and a budget of $4.8 million annually, which goes toward sending visual and performing artists to 1 million children in LAUSD and private schools throughout L.A. County.

Accompanying Slavkin at the banquet was his wife of 16 years, Debbie Slavkin. The Slavkins, USC sweethearts, belong to B’nai Tikvah in Westchester.

“Regardless of the work, he’s very much a people person, interested in the back story because that’s what makes everything tick,” said Debbie, an Arizona native.

The Circuit also kibbitzed with Los Angeles Board of Education President Caprice Young, five months pregnant with her third girl.

“It’s not just about self-esteem,” Young said, before taking to the dais for the program. “It’s about kids having the confidence to be courageous learners.”

“It’s not just exposing them to every culture but combining it with a twist on the art form,” Slavkin added, citing classes in everything from African drumming to jazz vocalists to mariachi music.

Slavkin, who has four children with Debbie, previously worked in similar capacities with the Annenberg Foundation and Getty Education Institute. He told The Circuit that there’s no better job than working with the nexus of the arts and children.

“It’s a joyous challenge,” he said, smiling.

For more information, visit or contact Lynda Jenner, director of special projects, at (213) 202-2286.

Come on Everybody, Let’s Do the Conga…

Call this a case of banging the conga drum for a good cause. The Presidents Club, which supports Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, held a benefit event at the Conga Room. More than 150 guests enjoyed an evening that included a buffet dinner, Latin music and Salsa lessons. The event, chaired by Cheryl Paller, raised more than $20,000 for the nonprofit, which aids children in Southern California undergoing emotional distress, abuse or neglect. Stacie and Bruce Kirshbaum, Gisele and Steve Paul and Lucienne and David Soleymani were among the evening’s co-sponsors.

For more information on Vista Del Mar, visit

Freewheeling Freehling

University Synagogue will honor Rabbi Allen Freehling and his remarkable career at a Regent Beverly Wilshire banquet on April 23. After 30 years of service, Freehling will step down from his post as the synagogue’s spiritual leader at the end of June and become the shul’s first rabbi emeritus.

Come, Union!

Yoav Sarraf and a band of fellow UCLA students are creating a new organization, tentatively called the Persian Jewish Student Union. The goal is to develop a social, cultural, political and educational agenda. If you are a Persian student and you would like to get involved, contact Sarraf at (310) 749-9628.

A Lot of Shabbat

On March 8, nearly 70 synagogues across the continent participated in Shabbat Across America/Canada. Now in its sixth year, the project, sponsored by the National Jewish Outreach Program, hopes to increase and enhance synagogue life.

‘Celebration,’ a Community Invitation

Come April, Israel will turn 54. However, you don’t have to go to Israel to celebrate. The people behind “Celebration 54,” a free community celebration in honor of Israel’s 54th year as a recognized country, promise a festive family event highlighting Israeli music and dance performances, a children’s choir and a video show. The April 16 program, to be held at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, will include an outdoor picnic on the grounds, where guests can either bring their own picnic dinners or purchase kosher food from on-site vendors. Organizers are requesting that attendees wear blue and white in honor of the occasion. Israeli dancing also is planned.

The event — sponsored by a team of Valley Alliance synagogues, schools and Jewish organizations — will kick off with a tribute to Israel’s Memorial Day. For more information, call (818) 530-5001.