Refaeli ripped for donning Santa suit


Bar Refaeli is getting heat again — this time for a picture showing the Israeli model in a Santa suit.

Refaeli posted the photo last week on her Instagram account with the caption “Good Morning Santa,” according to Shalom Life. The hat is drawn over her eyes; Shalom Life said “it’s safe to assume that she has a hangover, is drunk, or is exhausted from a photo shoot.”

Twitter followers berated Refaeli for wearing a Santa suit since she is Jewish, even telling her that she is “betraying Israel,” according to Shalom Life.

Refaeli was ripped by Israeli followers during last month's Operation Pillar of Defense for tweeting that she is “praying for the safety of citizens on both sides.” Many Israelis called her “unpatriotic” and accused Eefaeli of not caring enough about Israel.

Bar Santa

Dishing the dirt on Santa


Ho, ho, ho. Santa Claus is coming to town, and all hell is about to break loose. It seems that Santa has been a closeted gay man, but now “Santa Claus Is Coming Out.” The skinny on Santa will be revealed onstage for three nights, Dec. 12, 13 and 14, at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood. The solo show, written in documentary style by Jeffrey Solomon, who portrays all the characters, is purportedly based on his interviews with the “key figures in the scandal that has come to be known as Santa-gate.”

The proceedings are narrated by Sidney Green, Santa’s Jewish agent, who has gotten Coca-Cola to sponsor his client. The tale begins as a little boy named Gary, who is “different,” writes to Santa and asks for a girl’s doll. The issues raised by Gary’s request give rise to a series of testimonies from interested parties. 

These include the boy’s sympathetic mother and unyielding father; Pete, Santa’s homophobic head elf; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the North Pole’s Diversity Chief and a founding member of the Misfit Task Force; José, an older gay man who remembers Santa as “a big fairy” he used to see at gay bars in the village and that everyone called “Santa Closet”; Giovanni Geppetto, the Italian toymaker and great-great-great-great-grandson of Pinocchio, who is Santa’s hidden, true love; Cecilia Laurence, a fading actress hired to become Mrs. Claus in an arranged marriage; and Mary Ellen Banfield, president of Families Against the Gay Agenda, who is determined to expose Santa’s secret life and prevent children from being converted to the gay lifestyle.

Solomon explained that the original draft of his satire was written in 2001, when public schools were beginning to hold discussions about gay issues and to allow the establishment of Gay-Straight Alliance groups. In addition, some gay teachers were starting to be open about their orientation. At the same time, there was a nationwide backlash against these developments, and Solomon’s play was a response to that.

“Certain members of the community really reacted very, very strongly against Gay-Straight Alliances, against even discussing this issue in a school,” the playwright recalled. “They automatically branded the conversation ‘sexual,’ though it was not about sex at all. It was just about giving gay kids and kids who were questioning, and their straight allies, a safe place in a school setting, but it was automatically seen as the ‘gay agenda,’ as an attempt to convert the children, and to, in their language, ‘normalize homosexuality.’ ”

Solomon added, “What really got this play started was that, in 2000, Oregon had Measure 9 on the ballot, which would have made it illegal to ‘discuss, encourage, or promote homosexuality in a school setting.’ Santa Claus seemed like a great substitute, a great synonym for the educator, because he likes kids; he really has the welfare and the best interests of the child in mind, and yet, if he were gay, how would people react to that?” 

According to the playwright, an earlier work of his, “Mother/Son,” which he was performing in schools, synagogues, JCCs and theaters, helped stimulate the burgeoning conversation in schools about gay life. That solo play dealt with a mother’s experience as the parent of a gay son who comes out within a tightly knit Jewish community and was based on what happened after Solomon told his own mother that he was gay. 

“She definitely had feelings of shame, and she didn’t want people to know. But through conversation, and this is what ‘Mother/Son’ is about, she came around to full acceptance. We ended up marching in the Gay Pride Parade together in 1994, shortly before she passed away. Through our conversations, which she insisted on having, she became educated, and she came to know my partner and kind of fall in love with him. Then she was dealing with homophobia among her friends and kind of confronted them about that.”

Solomon went on to say that his current effort, “Santa Claus Is Coming Out,” while not directly autobiographical, is an outsider’s Christmas tale, and, as such, mirrors aspects of his own childhood. “We lived in New London County, Conn., where there were very few Jews at the time. The kids picked on me for being Jewish and made me feel really different and bad. Before I felt different for being gay, I felt different for being Jewish, but also special.

“The play is about invisibility, and I certainly can relate to that. … The play is also about growing up without any affirmation or validation. Though the parents in the story love their kid, and though my parents loved me and meant no ill, the play is about the damage done by not discussing this with kids, by not affirming those kids who are different when they’re very young.”

The show, in its reworked version, engendered some controversy when it made its off-Broadway debut in 2009, Solomon said. “Focus on the Family, that far-right Christian organization, came out very strongly against the play. They charged that somehow I was deliberately desecrating sacred Christmas symbols.”

There was also considerable praise from critics around the country.

“One of the finest compliments I ever got was from a reviewer who said that, in the final moments of the play, he experienced goose bumps. There was another guy who came to see the show, a friend of a friend, a straight man, who was just happy all night afterward. He would just break out into spontaneous laughter. If you take a message from the play, that’s awesome, and I think the play offers one without being heavy-handed. But if you can have a laugh and have some joy, that would be the main thing. Everything else is gravy.”

“Santa Claus Is Coming Out” at the Celebration Theatre
7051 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 957-1884
Mon., Tue., Wed., Dec. 12, 13, 14 at 8:00 p.m.
Tickets: $20.00 in advance, $25.00 at the door
Purchase tickets online at:  http://www.celebrationtheatre.com/family.html

Ghosts of Passovers Past


I have never quite gotten used to celebrating two seders.

After doing only one seder for each of the nine Passovers I was in Israel, the second night now seems like religious deja vu, a "Groundhog Day," where I’m setting the table yet again, rereading the haggadah and singing the same songs, thinking that if only I get it right this time, I won’t have to relive the night once more.

In my life, I figure, I’ve been at almost 50 seders — 60, if you count the whirlwind week in Ukraine when we led them daily for the locals — and looking back through the years, I can chart the course of my life: location, family status, relationships, religious level, political affiliations and — thank God there were no photographs — some embarrassing fashion eras.

My first 17 Passovers, I did two seders in Brooklyn with the five members of my immediate family, plus guests. For me, the highlights of both nights focused on the afikomen ritual. The hiding of the second matzah somewhere in the house was accompanied by an intricate set of clues, which my father dispensed sparingly throughout the long night. So what if the clues weren’t always historically accurate ("Give me liberty or give me death" = Thomas Paine = windowpane = on the windowsill), the game served its purpose: it kept us awake, children and parents alike. Back then, it seemed to be about the prize we’d receive if we negotiated well (you can’t complete the meal unless you eat a piece of it), but now I see it was about engaging us, connecting us to a tradition that was partly sourced in the custom, partly personalized by our own eclectic families.

I was 18 when I spent my first Passover away from home in Jerusalem on vacation from yeshivah. As learned and religious as I was at the time, it was a disappointment to find myself at a fast-paced, no-nonsense, no-time-for-commentary seder. It was a surprise, really; I had no idea that all seders weren’t like mine — with various degrees of fighting over how many sections you could expound upon or how long you could drag the songs out.

This Israeli modern Orthodox family did a rat-a-tat reading around the table (one which I would long for in later years), and I had to stumble over my paragraph in embarrassingly accented American Hebrew. Alas, there was no afikomen search! But praise the lord, there were presents. In an odd custom I have yet to see repeated, when the cup of Elijah was filled and we opened the door, a secret Santa had left a bag of goodies outside, wrapped and ribboned, with our names on them.

Since that seder, I have seen many different customs, from the children hiding the afikomen from their parents, to the different types of must-have seder night foods. When you aren’t at your own seder, you are forced to adopt other people’s customs ("I hope you eat kitniyot," my Conservative friend said the year I was out in Rosh Ayin, which was the beginning of my adaptation of Sephardic custom on Passover) and take on other tunes (by the end of one potluck seder my friends and I were so tired of fighting for our own melodies that everyone just cacaphonously sang out loud the last song simultaneously in their own favorite tune).

But it wasn’t all fun and games. For many of the seders, I had meticulously prepared something meaningful, though what was meaningful, I see now, changed along with me. In my early 20s it was Torah insights on the text. During my years living in Israel, it was Zionist-type commentary, and as I got older, I related the text to contemporary issues: feminism, human rights, the meaning of freedom.

In 1998, I went with Hillel students to the former Soviet Union and conducted seders for both the elderly, who remembered forgotten tunes from the years before communism, or for the younger ones, who could hardly grasp the concept of religion but sure could understand freedom.

People find freedom in the most unlikely of places, such as prison (see page 10), the holy breaking of the waves, the state of Israel or the original Exodus. "In every generation let every man look upon himself as if he came forth out of Egypt," is the Passover commandment that stresses the quest to turn the journey into a personal one.

From New York to Miami to Kiev, Jerusalem and California, all my seders were different — yet all had some elements that were the same: not just the wine, the matzah, the fight over seating arrangements or the falling asleep at the table, but the sense of connectedness to each other, to our past, to our future.

At a time of great fear for Israel, for Jews everywhere — for humanity — Passover is here to teach us that we may not share certain traditions, interpretations or opinions, but as Jews we share a common past and a cojoined destiny.

Happy Passover.

Santa in the City


Enjoyable, unique experience, totally different type of job, mostly outdoors, great fun, good pay. Santas needed. Holiday spirit a must.

I called the number listed at the bottom of the ad, and a few weeks later, I got a call. The boss (I’ll call him Mr. Green) had only one question: "Are you fat?"

"No," I replied.

Despite my lack of girth, I got the job that I had coveted for years. After an unorthodox path, I was finally Santa.

As a Jewish kid growing up in a cramped New York City apartment, I never experienced a true Christmas. You know, like the ones they show in those Budweiser commercials. In fact, Christmas was usually a melancholy time for me. In grade school, the role of Rudolph was unjustly taken away after I was accused of disruptive behavior unbecoming of a reindeer.

My family tried, but never quite could pull off the Christmas thing. Instead of a tree, we had a cactus, albeit one draped in lights. (From lighting the menorah, my folks were quite adept with lights.) They even put wrapped presents underneath that cactus. But whatever they did, however hard they tried, that damn thing was still a cactus. When other kids came over, they would bring sand instead of presents and usually ended up throwing it on one another.

The final Christmas crisis came one Christmas Eve. I was attempting to trim the cactus when I caught a thorn and had to be rushed to the emergency room. That marked the end of Christmas in the humble Hart home.

But two Adam Sandler songs later, I still wanted to be St. Nick. I applied at Macy’s, but they were only hiring elves. The Internet only featured material on child-molesting Santas. My last resort was the classifieds.

Before I could start, Mr. Green said I needed to buy a Santa suit, so I headed to a costume store in Corona, Queens, to get one. My $80 ensemble was composed of a red suit, a white wig and beard and boots. Well, they were not truly boots, they were actually vinyl pullovers.

When I arrived at the tree lot, which took up an entire block in Soho, Mr. Green was unimpressed. Mr. Green said that clearly I was a bulimic Santa. Mr. Green emphasized his disgust by threatening to sic Roscoe, his off-duty cop employee, on me. "Do you want to deal with Roscoe?" he yelled maniacally.

To make matters worse, Mr. Green’s aides, the aforementioned off-duty cop and a fanatical tree-cutter, repeatedly shouted, "You’re the worst Santa I’ve ever seen!" Before Mr. Green or one of his goons could order me to climb down a chimney or a sewer, a cable television crew requested an interview. Mr. Green primped himself for the camera. But the television people wanted the man in red, Mr. Chanukah Cactus. Mr. Green ordered me to fetch a pillow from an unkempt bed in the back of the trailer. With the soiled pillow stuffed under my red, fluffy shirt, I headed for the camera.

"What would you like to see in the New Year?" asked the reporter, holding the microphone in front of my scraggly artificial beard. "I’d like to see Bert Reynolds get a new hair weave." Mr. Green told me he wants to bury Santa.

Back on the street, well-dressed strangers pass by Mr. Green’s virtual forest in Soho, and I approach them, attempting to act jolly. "Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas!" I belt out.

"From your gut!" interrupts Mr. Green. "From your gut!" Not that he has any Santa experience. Regardless, I take his advice. Babies turn away. Some even cry. The Tree-Cutter gives me dirty looks as he trims with his conspicuous sharp knife. The Cop looks like he wants to cuff me on the spot. Worse, my pillow keeps falling out of my shirt.

"Have you written out your wish list?" I ask a kid in my best soft Santa voice.

"I don’t believe in Santa," she replies, walking away.

Several men walk by and ask if I’m pregnant. "Yeah," I respond. "And you’re the father." Christmas in New York City.

When night falls, I head to the corner and spot a shiny red Corvette slowly coming toward me. It comes to a halt. The window rolls down. Perhaps I have generated a tree sale. "How do you get to Broome Street?" With my morale hurting, my feet frozen, I decide to pack it in. Dejected, I slump through Soho as shoppers gawk at me. I bump into a former roommate and, thankfully, he does not recognize me.

I consider quitting when a friend offers to cast me in his movie. Well, it wasn’t exactly "Miracle On 34th Street" — more like "Maiming in the East Village." I’m glad to land the role of a stalking Santa.

As I attempt to harass the protagonist (a television star), people walk by in disbelief. "You are not a good Santa!" one man yells in a Hispanic accent. A homeless man embraces me. When the cameras roll, I grab my groin and yell, "Eat me!" to the protagonist. The natives smile. East Villagers appreciate this kind of Santa.

The next day, back at the tree stand, however, is not so terrific. It’s sunny, but the streets are empty. And I’ve lost one of my vinyl pullovers. As I try to greet the few customers, I attempt to hide one foot behind a tree. When I head to the trailer to stay warm, Mr. Green continues to taunt me about Roscoe. I go to the back and remove my Santa suit.

"Let me ask you one question," says the Cop.

"Shoot," I respond. Considering the circumstances, I guess that was a poor choice of words. "Go ahead."

"Are you Jewish?"

Next year, I’ll be a Chanukah bush.