‘Jews for Jihad’ Just for Starters

“Go Ahead, Make My Shabbos!” No, it’s not Clint Eastwood turning religious, but a slogan on a T-shirt and coffee mug at Jewschool store, a Web site offering cheeky sloganned goods like T-shirts, underwear, caps, pins and bags.

The “Ghetto” tote, for example, which totes the Jewschool.com logo, sells for $12.99. There’s the famous line from The Big Lebowski, “I don’t roll on Shabbos” featured on T-shirts ($18), boxers ($16) and, of course, bowler’s shirts ($21) – but the movie’s other famous line, “I’m shomer *** Shabbos!” hasn’t made it onto any products just yet. Not that the site shies away from offending: check out “Ramah Girls Are Easy” tees ($20) and trucker caps ($14), which made the camp none too happy (but because the logo doesn’t say “Camp” they can’t sue), and the “really not tznius” bikini underwear ($9) referring to modesty or lack thereof. (The “Jesus Is My Homeboy” set off a copyright infringement threat last year from TeenageMillionaire.com that produced the “Jesus was a K***” T-shirts.)

Many of the slogans are political, such as “The People Are With Tel Aviv” and “The People Are With Palestine”(a parody of the Israeli “The People Are With The Golan”); “Gaza Strip Club” and “Jews For Jihad.” Some are just randomly benign, such as “I [heart] Goyim” and “Love Your Brother.” But all go toward supporting the Web site’s main endeavor, Jewschool.com, a blog that covers divergent opinions in the Jewish community that has been in operation since 2002.

“We try to be a venue for dissent and alternative viewpoint,” said Dan Sieradski, the founding publisher and editor in chief of Jewschool. He calls Jewschool an “open revolt” for disenfranchised Jews who are alienated and bored by the Jewish mainstream. The site, which has 35,000 visitors a month, lists alternative viewpoints, blogs, Web sites, events and projects for these type of Jews.

Sieradski, a 26-year-old freelance journalist and DJ from Teaneck, N.J., who is now in the process of making aliyah, works with many of the avant-garde, young “hip” Jews: Jewschool recently formed a content partnership with “Heeb” magazine, to trade stories; Sieradski is also a contributing editor. Danya Ruttenberg, a student at UJ and the author of “Yentl’s Revenge: The Next Wave of Jewish Feminism,” is also a contributor, as is Aaron Bisman, director of JDub Records, and Jay Michaelson, editor of Zeek magazine — key names of this anti-disestablishment movement, if a loose gang of disenfranchised rebels could be termed as such.

The primary goal of the site, Sieradski said, is to advance the havurah movement, which means “fellowships” for prayer and study, a do-it-yourself kind of un-institutional community. They hope to have the Internet havurot up by the High Holidays.

Jewschool, he says, “dares to be what others can not: It pries Judaism from the lifeless fingers of the Jewish establishment and serves it up to the public with the insistence, ‘This belongs to you,'” he says. “Come ‘n’ get it.”

TV Probes Kaballah

Is the celebrity-studded Kabbalah Centre bringing the benefits of age-old Jewish mysticism and learning to the masses, or is it a multimillion-dollar family enterprise scamming the gullible?

That basic question, raised with growing frequency and ever-larger headlines in recent years, was given a surprisingly well-balanced national airing last week on the ABC-TV newsmagazine, “20/20.”

Founded in 1971 in Los Angeles by Philip Berg, addressed as The Rav by his followers, the Kabbalah Centre is an American success story, with 40 branches around the world, many thousands of faithful students and followers and a thriving commercial enterprise. The center’s recent explosive growth and fame can be largely credited to an enviable Hollywood roster, led by Madonna. The celebs testify that they have found spiritual renewal and insight through Kabbalah Centre studies.

Celebrity titillations aside, the most useful aspect of the 40-minute segment for the open-minded viewer was a rare question-and-answer session between co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas and members of The Rav’s family: Karen Berg, The Rav’s wife, and their sons, Michael and Yehuda. The three Bergs have been running the center network since the founder suffered a debilitating stroke last year.

The Bergs insisted that all their teachings, however popularized, are based on the Zohar, the authoritative kabbalist text, and that even glancing at the book would infuse the practitioner with God’s energy.

“We teach a hipper, user-friendly form of kabbalah,” Karen Berg said.

The Bergs made no apology for the commercial portion of their ministry. The center sells a range of items that are supposed to be spiritually beneficial, such as red strings, candles, T-shirts, shot glasses and bottled water. They tout their merchandise as being able to cure diseases, dispel radiation and bring prosperity.

“You can do with kaballah what you want,” Berg said. “We are not God’s policemen.”

The mainstream rabbinical view was presented by Yitzchok Adlerstein, an Orthodox rabbi who teaches Jewish law and ethics at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Adlerstein, who consulted a lawyer before venturing on the program, proved a restrained but witty commentator.

He compared the “real” kabbalah to the Bergs’ version as like “taking astrophysics and reducing it to ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.'”

When shown a photo of Britney Spears with one of God’s 72 names in Hebrew tattooed on her neck, Adlerstein commented dryly that this would contribute to Spears’ prosperity as much as it would help him to tattoo “Britney’s name on my neck.”

Although there were snippets of Madonna in her “Kabbalists Do It Better” T-shirt and also video cameos of red-string wearers Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and others, the only celebrity interview was with Roseanne Barr.

“Kabbalah gets you off yourself and your ego,” she said. “I am now a calmer, gentler person than I used to be.”

Neither the TV program nor other pro-and-con arguments are likely to sway those who believe in the Kabbalah Centre’s power to effect spiritual and physical healing.

The poster boy for the center featured by “20/20” was not a lost-and-found Jewish soul, but Don Ellis, a Southern Baptist, ex-FBI agent and lawyer in a small Texas town. He has spent thousands of dollars buying a complete set of the Zohar in Hebrew and Aramaic from the Kabbalah Centre. He cannot read a word of the languages, but no matter.

“That’s my telephone line to God,” he declared, pointing to the books. “All I have to do is plug it in.”


Milking The Peace Cow

A year and a half ago, Woodland Hills resident Steve Handelman believed he had a novel idea: merchandise bearing the slogan “Got Peace?”

Before long, the writer got his wife, Trudy Handelman, a medical dental consultant; and his children, Alexandra, 13, and Gabriel, 9, on board. He produced baseball caps, T-shirts, even a plush Holstein cow riffing off of the slogan. But something didn’t sit well with Alexandra.

“I noticed how my family made an American hat and a Great Britain hat,” she said. “I have close ties to the Jewish faith and I wanted to help Israel.”

Enter the “Got Peace?” cap, version 3.0. Based on Alexandra’s input, the new cap bears an Israeli flag on front with the slogan “Got Peace?” and a peace sign on back. Unlike the other “Got Peace?” which are for-profit paraphernalia, Alexandra is adamant about forwarding all profits after costs to American Red Magen David for Israel.

“The exciting part is knowing that I’m going to help someone,” said Alexandra, a student at Viewpoint School in Calabasas.

The “Got Peace?” concept began with some storytelling Handelman told his children on long drives. One of the fruits of those yarns was a black-and-white cow with a peace symbol-shaped birthmark on its flank.

“I trademarked it, never intending to exploit it,” said Handelman, who handed American and British versions of the “Got Peace?” hat to celebrities Shaquille O’Neal, Magic and Cookie Johnson and Macy Gray at a Bel Air party. Handelman knew he was onto something when, a few weeks later, he turned on the TV and saw Will Smith wearing one.

Naturally, Steve Handelman is one proud papa.

“I’m flabbergasted, proud and astonished,” Handelman said of his daughter’s endeavor. “I’m Jewish, but I’ve never embraced it as she has.”

Alexandra said that she has drawn inspiration from Jewishly connected family members, such as her patriarchal grandmother, Paula, and her mother’s sister, Joyce Black, wife of philanthropist Stanley Black.

“The family seders at Stan and Joyce’s made all the difference in the world,” Handelman said. “She really knew that she was a Jew.”

Ultimately, Alexandra believes that the project is just a natural extension of her Jewish identity and values.

“Wherever I go in life, I’m a Jew before I’m anything else first,” she said.

For more information on Peace Pals and “Got Peace?” visit www.gotpeace.com or www.peacepals.com .