Did You Hear About the Book on Jewish Comedy?


In “Jewish Comedy: A Serious History” (Norton), author Jeremy Dauber makes it clear that — at least in his opinion — Jewish jokes are no laughing matter.

“The story of Jewish comedy was almost as massive in scope, as meaningful in substance, as Jewish history itself,” Dauber writes about what he discovered when he started teaching a course on Jewish humor at Columbia University, where he is the Atran Professor of Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture. “The story of Jewish comedy — what Jewish humor did and meant for the Jews at different times and places, as well as how, and why, it was so entertaining — is, if you tell it the right way, the story of American popular culture; it’s the story of Jewish civilization; it’s a guide to an essential aspect of human behavior.”

I hasten to add that the book is always lively and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Dauber’s sources range from the Preacher of Dubno (an 18th-century Chasidic rabbi) to Sholem Aleichem (“the man who invented Tevye”), from Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce to Howard Stern and Amy Schumer. Indeed, although Dauber proposes that roots of Jewish comedy go all the way back to the Bible — he uses the Book of Esther as a touchstone of Jewish humor — he also argues that America is the place where Jewish humor reached its highest expression, with Yiddish literature its seedbed.

“As the lingua franca of Eastern European Jewry, Yiddish was the vehicle for the most somber eulogies as well as the earthiest jokes, lyrical poetry along with shaggy doggerel or comments about gastrointestinal distress,” he explains. After Jews carried Yiddish to America, it became an ethnic marker for American comics such as Lenny Bruce, who once described his banter as a mixture of “the jargon of the hipster, the argot of the underworld, and Yiddish.”

Dauber finds a weighty subtext in every variety of Jewish humor.

Most impressive of all is Dauber’s ability to create a sky chart in which every Jewish comedy star can be fixed in place, not only Jerry Lewis and Danny Kaye — both of whom were tummlers in the Borscht Belt — but also such highly sophisticated comics as Mike Nichols and Elaine May. He includes not only practitioners of low comedy like Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar but also such elevated humorists as Jules Feiffer and Joseph Heller. And he reminds us of fading or wholly forgotten personalities like Mickey Katz and Belle Barth, while pointing out that the Jewish founders of Mad magazine “created that seminal countercultural satire by framing it Jewishly, through Yiddishized parody.”

Dauber repudiates what he calls “the lachrymose theory of Jewish history” and reminds us that Jewish humor always has sustained Jewish life, even at the grimmest moments. Writing shortly after the end of World War II, Irving Kristol argued that “Jewish humor died with its humorists when the Nazis killed off the Jews of Eastern Europe.” But Dauber proves that Kristol was wrong. Larry David, Sarah Silverman and Sacha Baron Cohen, all of whom have dared to tell jokes about the Holocaust, “mark the position of confidence and strength Jews have in American culture,” he writes.

Dauber finds a weighty subtext in every variety of Jewish humor. He describes Philip Roth, for example, as “our great comic cosmic writer of the modern period, the one who understands that telling jokes is in no small part a way of trying to deal with staring into the void, of grappling with the crisis of meaning.” Even Tony Kushner’s play about AIDS and homosexuality, “Angels in America,” he insists, “has its share of Jewish comic elements: the stereotypical Jewish male jokes, the use of Yiddish as punch line, and the transformation of the God-arguing tradition into something mixing the sublime and the ridiculous.”

“Jewish Comedy: A Serious History” is intended to be a work of scholarship.  Dauber, however, never takes himself or his subject too seriously.


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing  attorney, is the Jewish Journal’s book editor.

Seth Rogen is director and executive producer of “Future Man.” Photo by Brandon Hickman/Hulu

What’s new on Hulu this fall: A steady stream of Jewish talent


If comedies and science fiction top your TV viewing list, you’re in luck: New series from Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen are coming to the streaming service Hulu, along with a show about superpowered teens with a real reason to hate their parents.

Meet the Jewish talent working on camera and behind the scenes on these Hulu shows.

“I Love You, America”

Creating a news/talk show for Hulu, Sarah Silverman didn’t want to preach to the urban, liberal choir. With “I Love You, America,” she aims to bridge the widening political gap between left and right thinkers through what she calls “aggressively dumb comedy.”

“It’s not going to be derived from, ‘We’re smart and right and they’re wrong.’ The comedy won’t come from that. It’s about connection,” Silverman said, noting that the mix of in-studio pieces and field reports will aim to find common ground among Americans.

“We may be getting our facts from very different places in a time where truth has no currency and facts don’t change minds, but I think comedy at its best can get people’s porcupine needles to go down,” she said. “We are ultimately the same, and we have to get back to that. With this show, I want to get to the root of humanity in this country.”

One field segment will send Silverman, also a writer and the executive producer of the show, to Slidell, La., to have dinner with a family that has never met a Jew.

Sarah Silverman is the creator
of “I Love You, America.”

“There are 10 of us on the writing staff and I’m the only Jew. It’s shocking!” she said. “What happened to ‘liberal Jews’ who run the media?”

Other Jewish references and bits are likely to surface. “I can’t get away from it. I am Jew-y, I am Jewish — culturally,” Silverman said. “I can’t imagine there’s a God, but I don’t know.” 

She attributes her edgy, no-filter comedy to her upbringing in Manchester, N.H.  “I’m a product of how I was raised, by a couple of liberal agnostic Jews,” she said. “I come from a family that expresses themselves how they see fit.”

In another project, Silverman plays a Jewish character, Tennis World magazine founder Gladys Heldman, in the film “Battle of the Sexes,” which chronicles the 1973 match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). It opens in theaters Sept. 22.

“I Love You, America” begins streaming Oct. 12.

“Future Man”

Actor Seth Rogen has broadened his showbiz horizons in the past few years, adding producer and director to the acting and writing on his resumé. His latest project, as both executive producer and director, is “Future Man,” a time-traveling comedy series about a movie- and video game-loving slacker (Josh Hutcherson) whose joystick skills get him conscripted for a mission to prevent the apocalypse.

“It’s a guy’s journey from janitor to the potential savior of mankind,” Rogen said, describing the format as “a serialized comedy with a lot of plot and story to it. It’s inspired by a lot of the science fiction movies that we grew up on. Pretty much any science fiction movie from the last 35 years influenced the show.”

Rogen won’t appear in “Future Man,” but he will be seen in the film “The Disaster Artist,” a dark comedy opening in December about the making of a notoriously bad film called “The Room.” The cast includes Ari Graynor, Dave Franco, James Franco (who also directed it) and Hutcherson.

“I got to act in great things that, thank God, other people put me in, but I don’t expect it to happen. I’ve never had an acting career that I put in other people’s hands,” Rogen said. “I’m used to doing my own thing. If there’s something I really want to do, I’d write it.”

Born and raised in Vancouver, the son of Jewish socialist parents who met on a kibbutz in Israel, Rogen was a “funny kid” whose flair for comedy emerged early. After realizing he could make his family laugh, he started doing stand-up routines at 12. But his shtick didn’t quite fly at a big occasion the following year.

“I did terrible at my bar mitzvah,” Rogen said. “If you could get ‘fail’ at a bar mitzvah, I would have.”

“Future Man” begins streaming Nov. 14.

“Marvel’s Runaways”

“Marvel’s Runaways” cast: Ariela Barer (from left), Lyrica Okano, Rhenzy Feliz, Gregg Sulkin, Virginia Gardner and Allegra Acosta. Photo by Paul Sarkis/Hulu

 

Those familiar with tween-oriented TV fare may recognize Gregg Sulkin from his roles in “As the Bell Rings” and “The Wizards of Waverly Place” on Disney Channel and Freeform’s “Pretty Little Liars.” But it was the Jewish actor’s first major role as a bar mitzvah boy in the movie “Sixty Six” that launched his acting career when he was 13.

Three years later, he moved from his native London to Los Angeles, where now he’s starring in “Marvel’s Runaways” as one of six affluent Brentwood teenagers who discover they have unusual abilities and their parents belong to a secret, murderous cabal.

Sulkin’s character, Chase Stein, “is from a dysfunctional family. His father is an egotistical maniac and they don’t get along. The other kids have family issues, too, and they don’t really like each other,” he said. “But they have to get to the bottom of one thing: Are their parents evil? And if they are, what are we going to do about it?”

Chase is a lacrosse star, but Sulkin excelled in soccer and took part in the 2009 Maccabiah Games in Israel. It wasn’t his first trip to Israel: Sulkin became a bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“It was the most special day of my life,” he said. “I remember the rabbi saying to me, ‘Gregg, may God bless you always and in all ways,’ and from that day I’ve been very lucky. My career has continued to grow.”

“Marvel’s Runaways” begins streaming Nov. 21.

Sarah Silverman speaking during the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Head of GOP in Israel says ‘self-hating Jew’ Sarah Silverman ‘needs a muzzle’


The leader of Israel’s main Republican group called Sarah Silverman a “self-hating Jew” and said she “needs a muzzle.”

Marc Zell made the comments Saturday night on behalf of the Republicans Overseas Israel Facebook page, which he manages as the group’s co-chairman. The post links to a blog post about a decade-old video clip of the Jewish comedian performing her standup show “Jesus is Magic.”

The Feb. 2 blog post by conservative documentary filmmaker Pat Dollard is titled “Jew Sarah Silverman: “I Hope The Jews Did Kill Christ. I’d Fucking Do It Again In A Second,” and features Silverman delivering a version of that line.

Zell, an attorney who lives in the West Bank settlement Tekoa, said Silverman’s comments “damage” the Jewish community and insult Christians. He said it falls within the mission of Republican Overseas Israel to “call down” public figures like Silverman.

“Republicans Overseas Israel exists in order to not only represent the Republican Party here in Israel but also to represent the Jewish community in Israel to the Republican Party and the millions of Americans who support the Republican Party and our president,” he told JTA Sunday. “I think it’s appropriate to say something about a public figure as widely known as this woman, who during the campaign also had some ‘precious’ views to express about our candidate and our president. People like her need to be called down when they step over the line.”

Silverman — who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and then Hillary Clinton, for president during the 2016 election campaign — has been an outspoken critic of Trump. Last March, during the Republican primaries, she appeared on TBS’ “Conan” dressed as Adolf Hitler and complained of her character being “unfavorably” compared to Trump.

Republican Overseas Israel held a get-out-of the-vote campaign in Israel for Trump during the general election, and Trump and Vice President Mike Pence recorded video messages for an event the group held in Jerusalem in October. Zell claimed a record number of Americans in Israel cast absentee ballots, though that was widely disputed.

One of Donald Trump’s most prominent boosters in Israel during the campaign, Zell continues to combatively advocate for and defend the president, along with Israel and the settlements. On the Republicans Overseas Israel Facebook page Thursday, he also deemed the Israeli-American teenager from Asheklon who was arrested last week on suspicion of calling in more than 100 bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers across the United States “The Ultimate Self-Hating Jew.”

Four women had commented on Zell’s Facebook post about Silverman Sunday, all agreeing with its sentiment. One invited Silverman to visit the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip, saying “Your friends are there, you’ll feel really comfortable and soon the rainy season is over so you won’t drown in your bed.” Others called her a “Trash box” and a “pig.”

Zell responded in a comment Sunday: “Better not to even pass her stuff around. I’m hitting delete.” But the post remained up.

Jerusalem-based journalist Noga Tarnopolsky in a tweet called on the Republican Party and the Republican Jewish Coalition to “do something” about Zell, saying of Zell’s Silverman tweet: “This is in your name.”  She also tweeted to the Anti-Defamation League, saying: “Hi & : An online troll is confusing a prominent Jewish woman with a dog. Do something.”

Howard Dean to Florida Jews: Time to schlep your grandkids to the polls


Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has a message to Florida’s senior Jewish community: tell your grandchildren to return favor and vote for Hillary Clinton.

Referring to Sarah Silverman’s 2008 

How Sarah Silverman delivered the Democratic convention’s defining one-liner


Corey Booker delivered an uplifting message. The first lady invoked the future of America’s children. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s once-bitter rival, endorsed her with vigor.

But it was a raunchy comedian, Sarah Silverman, who summed up the night’s implicit message in nine ad-libbed words.

“To the ‘Bernie or Bust’ people,” she said from the podium at the Wells Fargo Center here in Philadelphia, “you’re being ridiculous.”

That’s what most of the other speakers at the Democratic National Convention were trying to say. In fact, it’s what many Clinton supporters have been saying since she wrapped up the nomination in early June.

Sanders himself put it this way:

“If you don’t believe this election is important, if you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate and what that would mean to civil liberties, equal rights and the future of our country.”

The idea: If you support Sanders’ unapologetic progressivism, Clinton’s moderated version is far closer to what you want than Donald Trump’s platform, which is based in a mix of conservative positions.

The message took on added urgency on Monday after Sanders delegates voiced outrage over leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee that showed favoritism toward Clinton during the primary race. The emails led to the resignation of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Sanders delegates vowed to protest on the convention floor.

A few speakers tried to send the unity message in friendly terms, quelling the boos and chants of “Bernie, Bernie” by explaining the importance of getting out the vote. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, a former and sometimes current comedian, reassured parents that an “8-year-old kid can teach a 4-year-old kid how to use a microwave oven” — reason enough for parents to neglect their kids and canvass for Clinton.

Silverman — who put her stamp on the 2008 election by urging fellow Jews to convince their Florida grandparents to vote for Obama — also has oodles of sympathy for Bernie. She supported his campaign and said Monday that she was proud of what he had achieved. But her blunt sentence shut the protesters up, at least for a minute, making them reflect on their pledge to sit this election out or vote for a third party.

And months after this convention ends, that one sentence may be the one we still remember from Monday night — when a comedian did what the politicians could not.

Sarah Silverman says she is ‘insanely lucky to be alive’ after health scare


Comedian Sarah Silverman said she is “insanely lucky to be alive” after being admitted to the hospital last week with a life-threatening condition.

Silverman in a Facebook post Wednesday said she spent last week in the intensive care unit of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles with a rare case of epiglottitis — the inflammation of the epiglottis, the human tissue that protects the windpipe from filling with food during swallowing.

The airway can become totally blocked by the swollen epiglottis, which can result in cardiac arrest and death, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Silverman said she spent five days on a respirator and woke up without remembering anything after going to the doctor for what she thought was “just a sore throat.”

She also said she owed her life to her doctors and to “every nurse, and every technician & orderly at Cedars who’s punch-the-clock jobs happen to save human lives on the regular.”

Sarah Silverman, Jeffrey Tambor and Goldie Hawn to get Hollywood Walk of Fame stars


Comedian Sarah Silverman, actor Jeffrey Tambor, actress Goldie Hawn, Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban, and actor George Segal are all getting their own stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Their names were announced in the annual list put out by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

Among the Jewish honorees all but Hawn were listed under the television category. Silverman is best known for her standup comedy but created her own Comedy Central series, “The Sarah Silverman Program,” which ran from 2007 to 2010. She also performed on “Saturday Night Live” during the sketch show’s 1993-94 season.

Tambor has starred in dozens of films and shows since the 1970s but is most famous for his recent roles on the shows “Arrested Development” and “Transparent.” In the latter series he plays a transgender patriarch of a Jewish family in Los Angeles.

Hawn, who got her start as a ditzy go-go dancer on TV’s “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for “Cactus Flower” and appeared in a string of hit films in the 1970s, including “There’s a Girl in My Soup,” “Butterflies Are Free,” “The Sugarland Express” and “Shampoo.”  In “Private Benjamin” she played a pampered Jewish girl who joins the Army.

Saban started the now defunct Saban Entertainment group, which distributed the popular children’s action hero shows such as “Power Rangers” and the American versions of “Digimon” and “Dragonball Z.” His estimated net worth is over $3 billion.

Segal is more famous for his film work, having appeared in classics such as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Hot Rock.” But he has also appeared in dozens of shows, including the ABC sitcom “The Goldbergs.”

Others on the announced list include actors Amy Adams, Jason Bateman, and Mark Ruffalo.

The cost of the brass stars on Hollywood Boulevard — which has to be covered by the celebrity, the star’s movie studio or the person who nominated each honoree — is $30,000 each. The new stars will be installed next year.

Sarah Silverman target of anti-Semitic rant by ex-reality TV star Tila Tequila


Former reality TV star Tila Tequila accused Sarah Silverman and the Jews of killing Jesus before saying the comedian was next on a “celebrity sacrifice” list.

Tequila, born Tila Nguyen, was responding on Monday to a fan’s suggestion that a Donald Trump presidency would bring Jesus back to life.

“Jesus will come back too just don’t tell the Jews about it,” Twitter user Kaiser Poopfist I tweeted at Tequila.

The former “A Shot at Love” star wrote back that Silverman and the Jews should be informed.

The triple parentheses around “(((People)))” is known as the echo symbol, which is used by white supremacists and anti-Semites to identify Jews online. It was added to the Anti-Defamation League’s hate symbols database earlier this month after it appeared in a publicized anti-Semitic attack on Jewish New York Times editor Jonathan Weisman.

Silverman responded to Tequila’s attack in comedic fashion on Twitter.

As Raw Story reported, Tequila continued her rant by saying she would take vengeance on Silverman.

This is not the first time Tequila has expressed anti-Semitic views. In April, she claimed that she was the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. Last year she was kicked off of the show “Celebrity Big Brother” for wearing a Nazi uniform.

POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING *Movie Review*


Real-life best friends Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone have mastered the art of working with friends.  Together, the three created some of the most iconic viral videos that “Saturday Night Live” has featured in years.

Now, moving on to bigger screens the three, who call themselves The Lonely Island, star in POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING, which they also wrote and directed.  It’s a mockumentary filled with back-to-back celebrity cameos and start-to-finish laughter.  The trio managed to get half of Hollywood to sign onto their project: P!nk, Michael Bolton, Mariah Carey, Maya Rudolph, Sarah Silverman and many more.

For more about POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING take a look below…

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

Sarah Silverman as Hitler: Donald Trump ‘gets it’


Sarah Silverman just took the Trump-Hitler comparisons to the next level.

The Jewish comedian appeared on TBS’ “Conan” Thursday dressed as Adolf Hitler and took issue with her character being “unfavorably” equated with the Republican presidential front-runner in the media, as host Conan O’Brien put it.

“Don’t get me wrong, Conan, I agree with a lot of what he says. A lot. Like 90 percent of what he says, I’m like this guy gets it,” Silverman’s Hitler said after walking on stage to loud applause. “But it’s just, I don’t like the way he says it. It’s crass, you know?”

Silverman’s Hitler then criticized Trump for talking about his “penis size on national television.”

“I famously have a micropenis, that’s what makes a tyrant,” Silverman said.

“All these comparisons to Trump, it’s like, it bums me out, you know what I mean?” Sometimes I watch him and I’m like, ‘Is that how people see me?’ And I have to be honest, Trump, he’s starting to make me rethink some of the things I’ve done.”

Several public figures, including comedians Louis C.K. and Bill Maher and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, have compared Trump to Hitler in recent months over some of the real estate mogul’s comments and policies.

Trump also came under fire last week for having supporters at campaign events raise their right hands and pledge to vote for him. The practice reminded some of the infamous “heil Hitler” salute.

The New York Daily News took note.

Trump has called the comparisons “ridiculous.”

Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? Who Jewish celebrities are backing


Chalk it up to “Hollywood values.”

The entertainment industry famously, or infamously, depending on your perspective, leans Democratic. And Jewish celebrities are no exception.

With the 2016 Iowa caucuses kicking off the presidential primary season on Monday, pollsters have Democratic candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., neck and neck in the state.

The all-important race for Jewish celebrity endorsements is close too. Here’s a breakdown of where things stand.

TEAM HILLARY

Lena Dunham attending the Lena Dunham and Planned Parenthood Host Sex, Politics & Film Cocktail Reception at The Spur in Park City, Utah, Jan. 24, 206.  (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)Lena Dunham attending the Lena Dunham and Planned Parenthood Host Sex, Politics & Film Cocktail Reception at The Spur in Park City, Utah, Jan. 24, 2016. Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Lena Dunham

The “Girls” creator and star is one of Clinton’s most outspoken supporters. In addition to lending a hand on the campaign trail, Dunham interviewed the former secretary of state-former New York senator-former first lady last fall in an attempt to boost her appeal among younger voters.

Steven Spielberg

The famed director has donated $1 million to Clinton’s current campaign. Back in 2000, it was rumored that Spielberg lent his Trump Tower corporate apartment to Clinton while she was running for the senate — and that he gave her “likeability” lessons.

J.J. Abrams

The “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” director and his wife each donated $500,000 to Clinton super PAC Priorities USA last June.

“[Hillary] does have the experience and the politics. She is compassionate, and right. When I look at the people who need the support that aren’t necessarily getting it, I believe that she would provide that,” Abrams told The Daily Beast on Monday.

Barbra Streisand

“Babs” proclaimed her support on Twitter as soon as Clinton launched her campaign last June.

Amy Schumer

The comedian and “Trainwreck” creator and star joked last fall that Clinton did not sound thrilled when she offered to help on the campaign trail — but she did offer.

Dustin Hoffman

“Rain Man” predicted Clinton would be the next president all the way back in 2010.

Abbi Jacobson

The co-creator and co-star of Comedy Central’s quirky hit “Broad City” showed her Clinton pride on Instagram well before it was announced last month that the former First Lady would appear in an episode of the show’s upcoming third season.

TEAM BERNIE

Sarah Silverman

The comedian and actress had some kind words for Sanders when she introduced him at a campaign rally last August.

“Where other candidates are getting gigantic sums of money from billionaires in exchange for compromising favors, Bernie is not for sale,” Silverman said to a large crowd.

Simon and Garfunkel

The folk legends allowed the Sanders campaign to use their song “America” in a recent campaign ad. Paul Simon did not comment on the ad, but Art Garfunkel told The New York Times that he is a “Bernie guy.”

“I like that Bernie is very upset by the gap between the rich and the poor,” Garfunkel said. “I think that’s central.”

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield

The Ben & Jerry’s co-founders are from Burlington, Vermont — which means they have been Sanders constituents for over 30 years as he has gone from mayor to representative to senator. The ice cream mavens, who are now out on the campaign trail, gave out free ice cream at Sanders’ campaign launch last spring.

If that wasn’t enough, Cohen recently created 40 pints of a special Bernie Sanders ice cream flavor — which has a chocolate disk on top of a tub of mint ice cream meant to represent the “1 percent.” By breaking up the disk, ice cream eaters symbolically join Bernie in his crusade the redistribute the wealth.

Ezra Koenig

Koenig, the singer of New York indie band Vampire Weekend, performed this past weekend at a Sanders event the University of Iowa. Sanders even got on stage to sing when the musicians played “This Land is Your Land.”

“I think there’s something so cool about Bernie running as a Democrat, a guy who was the only Independent in the house for a long time, the only Independent in the senate, a guy who kind of comes from an outside structure,” Koenig told CNN afterwards.

Jeremy Piven

The “Entourage” star praised Sanders for his “straight talk” in a Facebook post last summer.

Zoe Kravitz

Kravitz is the daughter of two half-black, half-Jewish celebrities: rocker Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet. She signed an endorsement letter along with 127 other artists and celebrities who back Sanders — from Will Ferrell to rapper Killer Mike — last fall.

Sarah Silverman tweets support for Israel’s Meretz party


American comedian Sarah Silverman called on Israeli voters to cast their ballots for the left-wing Meretz party.

Silverman tweeted her appeal early Wednesday.

“ISRAEL! If you are a Meretz supporter you NEED to VOTE MARCH 17. Every vote counts. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” she tweeted.

Silverman also backed Meretz in a tweet in November 2012, in advance of the January 2013 elections.

Silverman’s sister, Rabbi Susan Silverman, who lives in Israel, reportedly is No. 20 on the Meretz candidates list, which is not a realistic position to garner a seat in the Knesset. Meretz head Zahava Gal-On reportedly is a friend of the rabbi, according to Israeli media.

On Tuesday, Meretz launched a new campaign in which the party acknowledged that it might not receive enough votes to pass the election threshold for Knesset representation.  Parties must garner at least four seats in order to be part of the parliament. Meretz is said to be losing votes to the new Zionist Union collaboration of the Labor Party and Hatnuah.

In Sundance drama, Silverman puts her darkness on display


The Sarah Silverman that the world knows and loves is a loudmouthed, foulmouthed, ribald comedian who tramples on the boundaries of social decency with sharp purpose and uproarious glee.

The Sarah Silverman who stars in the domestic drama “I Smile Back,” which premiered at Sundance, is stripped of both bravado and joy. In the movie, which marks Silverman’s first starring dramatic role, she plays Laney, a deeply depressed housewife who veers into self-destructive behavior. She snorts coke in the bathroom, cheats with a friend’s husband while the kids are at school, sneaks vodka on the sly and even masturbates with a teddy bear on the floor next to her sleeping daughter. The portrait of Laney that emerges is intense, raw and disturbing. It is also unmistakably, recognizably Silverman.

At least partial credit for that insight goes to Amy Koppelman, who adapted the screenplay from her own novel of the same name, along with co-screenwriter Paige Dylan. Koppelman didn’t know much of Silverman’s comedy when she heard Silverman on Howard Stern’s radio show talking about childhood depression. Instinctually, Koppelman felt that Silverman would be a perfect match for the novel.

“I felt she would understand what I was trying to say in the book,” said Koppelman at a post-screening Q&A.

Sure enough, Silverman met with Koppelman and agreed to sign up for the movie.

Silverman has spoken openly about her own struggles with depression, including saying that she never wanted to have children for fear that she would pass her depression on to them.

That alternate scenario is, in many ways, what “I Smile Back” depicts. Silverman’s character, Laney, simultaneously loves her children and feels deeply unworthy to be their mother, a vicious paradox that deepens as she lapses and relapses into addiction.

Though the movie can feel like an unrelenting, and at times predictable, slog, Silverman’s performance is unflinching. Through a series of brutal scenes, often in long close-ups, Silverman portrays her character’s struggles with depression with an intimacy and subtlety that are both powerful and unsettling.

It would be inaccurate to say that Silverman disappears into her character, because  so many aspects of Laney are recognizably Silverman — the sensuality, the sing-song Jewish cadences, the theatricality, the unmistakable intelligence. At the same time, Laney’s pain and bleakness resonate so uncomfortably in part because they are so clearly Silverman’s own, unguarded by the brassiness, earthiness and, yes, the humor of her public persona.

Of course, of course, all the caveats apply: Silverman is not Laney, and Laney is not Silverman, and one shouldn’t confuse the acting with the actor. By her own account, Silverman has been quite successful in her own struggles with depression, and she is not an addict. The fact that Silverman, like many comedians, like many artists, like many people, has battled depression is not news. The relationship between comedy and suffering is complicated, and has been debated and dissected to death.

But the vulnerability and melancholy that Silverman displays in “I Smile Back” are so clearly authentic that one can’t help reevaluating Silverman’s comedy, too. In retrospect, that pain has always been there, hiding in plain sight.

The fact that she can either sublimate that pain into comedy or bare it in her acting doesn’t make either one inauthentic. It simply affirms the scope of Silverman’s talent as an artist.

In N.Y. Times ad, Hollywood elite slams Hamas for conflict with Israel


Some 300 Hollywood elite published an ad in The New York Times holding Hamas responsible for the “devastating loss of life” in the latest Hamas-Israel conflict.

[Related: Hollywood Zionists are alive and well]

Actors to directors to studio heads signed the statement by members of the Creative Community for Peace. Among the signers are Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Seth Rogen, Aaron Sorkin, Roseanne Barr, Sherry Lansing, Sarah Silverman and Kathy Ireland.

“Hamas cannot be allowed to rain rockets on Israeli cities, nor can it be allowed to hold its own people hostage,” the statement reads. “Hospitals are for healing, not for hiding weapons. Schools are for learning, not for launching missiles. Children are our hope, not our human shields.”

The statement laments the “devastating loss of life endured by Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza” and expresses ” hope for a solution that brings peace to the region.”

Amid the conflict, the statement had been published in August in Hollywood publications including Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. The statement with additional signatures reportedly will be printed in international publications.

The statement concludes: “We join together in support of the democratic values we all cherish and in the hope that the healing and transformative power of the arts can be used to build bridges of peace.”

Creative Community for Peace was formed to counter the singling-out of Israel as a target for cultural boycotts.

Sarah Silverman wins Emmy, thanks her Jews


Comedian Sarah Silverman broke out a Jewish joke as she took home a trophy at the 2014 Emmy Awards.

Silverman won for Best Writing for a Variety Show for her HBO comedy special “Sarah Silverman: We are Miracles.” Upon being announced as the winner, she dashed onto the stage barefoot and thanked her agents, saying, “Thank you to my Jews at CAA.”

Prior to Monday night’s ceremony, Silverman set the Internet abuzz when she announced in an interview on the red carpet that she had brought with her a vaporizer with liquid pot.

Another Jewish winner was Julianna Margulies, who took home the Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her role as Alicia Florrick on CBS’s “The Good Wife.” It was the third Emmy for Margulies, who had won earlier for “The Good Wife” as well as for “ER.”

The Emmy for Outstanding TV Movie went to HBO’s “The Normal Heart,” based on the 1985 play by Larry Kramer, a Jewish writer and AIDS activist. Kramer’s screenplay lost to Noah Hawley for “Fargo.”

 

Your guide to Jews and the Emmys


Mayim Bialik–Outstanding supporting actress in a comedy (The Big Bang Theory)

Image via Wikipedia

Jenji Kohan–Showrunner for best comedy series nominee, (Orange is the New Black)

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Julianna Margulies–Outstanding leading actress in a drama series (The Good Wife)

Image via Wikipedia

Lizzy Caplan–Outstanding leading actress in a drama series (Masters of Sex)

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Lena Dunham–Outstanding leading actress in a comedy series (Girls)

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus–Outstanding leading actress in a comedy series (Veep)

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Mandy Patinkin–Outstanding supporting actor in a drama series (Homeland)

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Josh Charles–Outstanding supporting actor in a drama series (The Good Wife)

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Matthew Weiner (writer)–Outstanding drama series (Mad Men)

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Jon Stewart–Outstanding variety series (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart)

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Bill Maher–Outstanding variety series (Real Time with Bill Maher)

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Sarah Silverman–Outstanding varietal special (We are Miracles)

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Billy Crystal–Outstanding varietal special (700 Sundays)

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Nathan Lane–Outstanding guest actor in a comedy series (Modern Family)

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Anthony Bourdain–Outstanding host for a reality or reality-competition program (Parts Unknown)

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Carrie Brownstein–Outstanding writing for a variety series (Portlandia)

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Amy Schumer–Outstanding writing for a variety series (Inside Amy Schumer)

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Jerry Seinfeld–Outstanding short-format nonfiction program (Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee)

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New couple alert: Sarah Silverman and Michael Sheen


Move over Jesus Christ, Sarah Silverman has a new man in her life. Yep–according to a report from Us Weekly, Silverman was caught getting “getting hot and heavy” with British actor Michael Sheen at his 45th birthday party in West Hollywood on Thursday.

Silverman’s five-year relationship with Jimmy Kimmel ended in 2009, while the “Masters of Sex” star was married to Kate Beckinsale (who, by the way, was at the party, too) for eight years. They divorced in 2003 and have a 14-year-old daughter, Lily.

Anyway, back to the canoodling. “They were making out at Soho House,” an eyewitness told Us Weekly. “They were all over each other for a lot of the night.”

Then this, from an “insider”: “Sarah and Michael came and left together. She drove. When they left, Sarah opened her trunk so Michael could put all of his gifts in and then they drove away.”

Silverman’s people did not respond to requests for comment, but we will closely monitor her prolific Twitter feed for deets. Keep you posted.

Calendar November 23-29


SAT | NOV 23

“SARAH SILVERMAN: WE ARE MIRACLES”

It might mean sharing someone’s television or it might mean sharing someone’s HBO GO, but the Jewess of comedy is set to headline her first HBO comedy special, and it’s your job to watch. The program, which will be presented in association with Funny or Die, promises to be fresh, fearless and utterly original. With two Emmy nominations, one Emmy win, film credits that include “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Take This Waltz” and “The School of Rock,” and a New York Times best seller, Silverman now invites herself into your home. Make sure your door’s open. Sat. 10 p.m. HBO West. ” target=”_blank”>jewishwomenstheater.com.


SUN | NOV 24

“CHANUKAH FAMILY FUN DAY”

It’s the magic of camp all in one day — and the whole family is invited. 220 wooded acres in Malibu will play host to a Chanukah celebration that will feel a lot like summer camp. With crafts, nature walks, outdoor cooking, zip lining, a petting zoo, organic gardens, a concert and more, you will be overwhelmed with unique opportunities. Sun. 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $10 (ages 7 and up). Shalom Institute, 34342 Mulholland Highway, Malibu. (818) 889-5500. ” target=”_blank”>skirball.org

“A DIALOGUE WITH COLORS”

National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles presents an opening art reception for the internationally renowned Ann Krasner. Born in Moscow, she was a young woman with talents that ranged from ballet to technical cybernetics — lucky for us, she also picked up a paintbrush. With her artwork featured in places like Paris, Switzerland, Sweden, New York and more, Krasner paints in a language that knows no borders. Her work embraces color and challenges convention. There will be a special piano recital by prodigy Benjamin Krasner. Sun. 3-6 p.m. Free. NCJW/LA Council House, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 852-8512. ” target=”_blank”>facebook.com/youngfamilygroupJCC.


TUES | NOV 26

LEVI ROBIN

He has spent a tour opening for Matisyahu, and his EP is filled with songs that encourage you to breathe easy and stop worrying. With a sound reminiscent of Jack Johnson, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Joni Mitchell, Robin addresses universal themes with a tenderness and poetry you can tap your foot to. He is a musician we can be proud of as Jews, and inspired by as people. Ages 21 and over. Tue.  7 p.m. $10. The Hotel Café, 1623 Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 461-2040. FRI | NOV 29

“THANKSGIVUKKAH FESTIVAL”

It’s the holiday hybrid we never knew we wanted — and won’t see again until 79811. Deborah Gitell, Craig ’N Co. and The Pico Union Project are going to make sure you celebrate this Thanksgiving/Chanukah mash-up like it’s Christmas. There will be performances from the Beit T’Shuvah Choir, Kosha Dillz, Keshet Chaim Dance and more; food from Canter’s Truck, The Kosher Palate, Bibi’s Bakery and more; and activities that include moon bounces, carnival games and tree planting. You will be both grateful and Chanukah-y. Fri. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. $5-$20. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles.

Women of the Wall Megillah reading undisturbed by Israeli police


A women’s Megillah reading at the Western Wall took place on Shushan Purim without incident or arrests.

Approximately 80 women turned out, some donning prayer shawls, others dressed as police and haredi Orthodox worshipers, on Monday morning in Jerusalem, the TImes of Israel reported.

Hallel Silverman, the 17-year-old niece of American comedian Sarah Silverman, who was arrested two weeks ago during rosh chodesh morning services for the Hebrew month of Adar, participated in the Megillah reading dressed in striped prison garb with two of her younger siblings dressed as police officers leading her by handcuffs.

Israeli police have made nearly monthly arrests related to dress code violations since June related to the Women of the Wall's monthly rosh chodesh service.

In 2003, Israel's Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallit, prayer shawls, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Wall.

Earlier in February, 10 women were arrested for praying with prayer shawls at the Wall as they celebrated the new Jewish month of Adar. Haaretz reported that the arrests took place after the services had concluded, which police had been observing.

Meanwhile, the Israeli nonprofit Learn & Live, established in 2009 to help at-risk youth, ran a Purim patrol on Sunday night assisting young women who were in distress because of drunkenness and brought them to one of two safe places in Jerusalem.

Social-cultural youth program to launch in L.A.


A new social program for 20- and 30-something Jews is bringing comedian Sarah Silverman, playwright Tony Kushner, New York literary editor Ira Silverberg, and other Jewish artists and cultural leaders all under one tent — metaphorically — in 2013.

The effort, appropriately called Tent, aims to provide young adults with the opportunity to explore what it means to be Jewish by learning about Jews who’ve left their mark on popular culture and by developing their skills in the fields of comedy, creative writing and theater. 

“Part of what this program is about is validating and ennobling and celebrating contemporary Jewish popular and vernacular culture,” said Joshua Lambert, program director.

Tent is a program of the Yiddish Book Center, a nonprofit based in Amherst, Mass., that is dedicated to telling the Jewish story. Individuals interested in taking part can apply at tentsite.org. 

The first of three weeklong seminars, Tent: Comedy, will address the theory and practice of comedy through a Jewish lens. It will take place March 17-24 in Los Angeles; applications are due Jan. 7.

Tent: Comedy will explore stand-up, improv and sketch form with comedians from leading comedy troupes, and participants will meet with performers and writers working in film and television, see stand-up comedian Silverman’s live show at Largo at the Coronet, talk shop with television writer Jill Soloway (“Six Feet Under”) and more.

The other two pilot program seminars will cover creative writing and theater.

Tent: Creative Writing takes place June 2-9 at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst and allows aspiring and practicing writers to have their fiction workshopped by their peers as well as by critically acclaimed visiting writers. They’ll talk about why Jews are such a bookish people and why they’ve done so much writing, see a New York-based literary agent, and meet Silverberg, literature director at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Taking place Aug. 4-11 in New York City, Tent: Theater will give participants time to meet with actors, playwrights and directors. They will participate in a Q-and-A with Kushner — who received the Pulitzer Prize for his play “Angels in America” and wrote the screenplay for the Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln” — and attend several theatrical productions, off-Broadway and elsewhere.

Applicants don’t have to be people who already are successful amateur comedians, fiction writers or playwrights; they simply must be interested in finding an innovative venue for their Jewish selves and in the cultural side of their identity, Lambert said. He likened the program to Moishe House, which has been successful in engaging the post-college young adult population by providing opportunity for community involvement, Jewish learning and leadership.

Ever committed to increasing Jewish identification among Diaspora Jews, husband-and-wife philanthropists Judy and Michael Steinhardt, active supporters of Birthright Israel, have provided the financial backing for Tent. The initiative is part of an effort spearheaded by Aaron Lansky, founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center, and Michael Steinhardt to reach out educationally to young adult Jews and find meaningful programs for them.

Lambert, academic director at the Yiddish Book Center, visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts and contributing editor and comedy columnist at Tablet Magazine, said he has been working hard to made the seminars’ content as strong as possible.

“I try to plan programs that I would want to go to,” he said. “I would like to sit in a room with Tony Kushner and talk about theater for a couple hours.”

Pro-Obama video by Sarah Silverman’s sister to begin airing in Florida


A video in support of President Obama produced by the sister of comedian Sarah Silverman will begin airing in Florida.

The video by Rabbi Susan Silverman, a Reform rabbi who lives in Jerusalem, posted last week on Facebook shows Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in an interview and Israelis throughout the country praising Obama's support for Israel's security.

A 30-second version is scheduled to run in Florida television markets on Monday during the foreign policy debate between Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Susan Silverman, who lives in Israel with her husband, Arava Power CEO Yosef Abramowitz, and their five children, became involved in making the video after asking her famous sister to make a video about Israelis' support for Obama.

Sarah Silverman made “The Great Schlep” video in support of Obama four years ago to convince her grandparents and other grandparents to vote for Obama. Earlier this year she made a video asking casino mogul Sheldon Adelson to switch his support to Obama.

The video comes on the heels of an Op-Ed published in the Jewish Press in which Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt criticizes Sarah Silverman for being “crude” and “vulgar.” He suggested that she channel her energy into marrying and having children. The Silvermans' father, Donald, responded with a vulgar statement of his own.

‘Israelis on Obama’ video: President ‘a mensch’ on Israel [UPDATE]


“President Obama is doing, in regards to our security, more than anything I can remember, ” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says at the start of a new video created by The Jewish Council for Education & Research (JCER), a pro-Obama Super PAC. Barak’s comment is taken from a July 2012 CNN interview, and is just one of many interviews with Israelis in JCER’s new two-minute Web video aimed at garnering the pro-Israel vote (“Israelis on Obama“).

Promoting Obama as “a mensch” on Israel, the message is directed at “a small subset” of undecided Jewish voters for whom Israel policy might make a difference, according to Mik Moore, co-founder of JCER.

“I have never seen such measures of economic pressure taken against Iran as I see under President Obama’s Administration,” says Avinoam Armoni, CEO of Tel Aviv’s Bet Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People, says in the video. “I have faith that the United States and President Obama are true to their word.”

JCER is best known to date for producing expletive-filled web videos featuring actors Sarah Silverman and Samuel L. Jackson, but this new straight-faced video and Web Site, ObamaonIsrael.org, feature earnest testimonies from Israeli citizens praising Obama’s policies.

Israelis in the video also hail Obama’s funding of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, his administration’s sharing military intelligence with the Israeli intelligence services and the two countries’ staging of joint military exercises.

JCER, whose entire base of support adds up to less than $300,000, typically promotes its videos virally on the Web, but in this case, the message will also be delivered as a 30-second TV advertisement set to air in Florida on cable news channels next week.

The hope, Moore said, is to challenge the barrage of Web videos and advertisements on multiple platforms created by the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) claiming Obama is unfriendly to Israel.

“The Jewish vote is not going to turn on this issue,” Moore said in an interview on Oct. 18, noting that most Jews vote Democratic and will likely vote for Obama again in 2012.

“We want [the undecided voters] to make that decision with the facts about the President’s record on Israel,” Moore said.

The idea for the video came from Susan Silverman, a reform Rabbi who lives in Jerusalem and is the sister of comedian-activist Sarah Silverman. “I was sick and tired of the lies and misrepresentations spread by Republicans about Barack Obama’s record on Israel,” Silverman told the Journal in a telephone interview from Israel on Oct. 18.  

Silverman said she finds that the Israelis and American Jews who are fearful of Obama don’t have any particular evidence to back up their claims.

“One right-wing guy said to me, ‘Sure, he hasn’t’ done anything yet, but that’s because he’s saving it for his second term,’” Silverman said. “I feel like it’s the same stuff that fuels the ‘birther’ movement.”

Silverman spent last August filming many hours of interviews with Israelis in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Herzliya, but found one of the most compelling testimonies from a woman named Ruthie in Ofakim, a town near the Gaza border.

Ruthie, a childcare worker with three children and a fourth on the way, took issue with Romney’s assertion that, when it comes to Israe,l he would “do the opposite” of what Obama has done in his first term.

“‘Does he think that’s funny? Does he think it’s OK to be flippant?’” Silverman said, recalling Ruthie’s reaction. “‘Barack Obama has made us safer. I would like [Romney] to come with me to the bomb shelter with my children and see how terrified they are. Let him come with us, and then see how he flippant he can be.’”

The video arrives at a moment when Silverman’s sister, Sarah Silverman, has come under fire from some Jewish observers for her provocative and often off-color commentary in earlier JCER videos. In one, Silverman crudely propositions Republican Jewish mega-donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged to give $100 million in support of the Romney campaign this year, and has already given tens of millions of dollars to Republican candidates during this election cycle. Adelson is also a significant supporter of the RJC’s $6.5 million effort to attack Obama and his policies.

Story continues after the jump.

In an open letter to Silverman published in the Brooklyn-based Jewish Press this week, Orthodox Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt assailed Silverman for “making public that which is private,” urging her to marry and raise children. Writing in Tablet, Liel Leibovitz echoed part of Rosenblatt’s message, saying that Obama “could have asked for no worse endorsement than Silverman’s.”

Moore called the criticism of Silverman “a manufactured controversy, a media stunt by an obscure rabbi to elevate his own status on the back of a very successful entertainer and activist.” In the comments section of the online version of the paper, Silverman’s father also jumped into the fray, strongly defending his daughter.

For her part, Susan Silverman is fully supportive of her sister’s brand of political speech. “She’s a modern-day prophet,” Susan Silverman said.  “I couldn’t disagree more with that rabbi from Texas. Some people will choose to focus on the F-word when she uses it, and some choose to hear the message.”

Despite the Jewish reference in its name,  JCER isn’t exclusively focused on reaching Jewish voters, Moore said. One of its Web videos, featuring Latina actress Rosie Perez, skewers Romney’s statement “it’d be helpful to be Latino,” made at a Florida fundraiser secretly filmed and then publicized by Mother Jones.

Another video, titled “Wake the F**k Up,” features Samuel L. Jackson, and has been viewed over 1 million times on YouTube.

“Our videos are designed to appeal to Jews but aren’t narrowly tailored towards Jews,” Moore said. “They are largely meant for the Democratic base.”

Profile: Josh Neuman


It might raise an eyebrow or two that Josh Neuman, former editor and publisher of Heeb magazine — the irreverent, youth-oriented Jewish magazine that shut down its print operations in 2010 — is now in charge of editorial content at GOOD, a multiplatform media outlet dedicated to helping “people who give a damn” do well by doing good. 

GOOD, a lifestyle magazine for the well-intentioned (but not overly self-righteous), might seem a strange fit for a guy who brought the world a view of Sarah Silverman’s breasts — seen through a hole in a bed sheet — and who had Jonah Hill photographed holding a well-lubricated bagel. 

But Neuman has grown up some since those early days of deliberate Jewish-informed provocation. He moved to Los Angeles. He turned 40. He got married. He’s about to resume work on a long-simmering short-film project about his younger brother, a would-be punk rocker who died of leukemia right around the time Heeb was getting off the ground. 

And since July, Neuman has been working as head of programming and editorial director at GOOD, which last month officially launched its new online platform, good.is, while still putting out a quarterly magazine. Neuman said he’s hoping to bring to GOOD part of the playbook that worked for him at Heeb, which will mean treating readers not as an “audience” but as part of a “community.” It will also mean spending as much energy on planning the next party, conference or Web video series as on publishing words and pictures.

“Heeb wasn’t something that resided on the page,” Neuman said, sitting in GOOD’s Wilshire Boulevard office earlier this month. “It was something that happened in real time.” (Full disclosure: This reporter was at one time an unpaid occasional contributor to Heeb.)

In June, when Neuman’s predecessor, Ann Friedman, was fired from GOOD, along with six of her editorial colleagues, it seemed to many media watchers that GOOD was about to reside less on the page and more in real time — and on the Web — than ever before. 

The move made waves, in part because of how the news was delivered to the employees — at a meeting the day after a party celebrating the publication of the Summer 2012 issue — but also because magazine lovers saw it as the demise of yet another journalistic outlet. (“BAD! Major Editorial Layoffs Hit GOOD,” wailed one blog’s headline.) 

Neuman said he has been a fan of GOOD since its beginning — in 2007, co-founder Ben Goldhirsh was featured as one of the “Heeb 100” list — and Neuman says he is still committed to journalism, even if he’s not quite sanguine about the sustainability of the print model. 

“As much as print is dead, Adbusters launched Occupy, and Mother Jones got that ‘47 percent’ video,” Neuman said. 

But Neuman, who was teaching philosophy of religion as an adjunct professor at NYU when he joined the Heeb editorial team, said he intends to steer GOOD in a direction that won’t include the kind of long-form journalism of the magazine’s previous incarnation. 

“For the former editorial board, GOOD just meant journalism,” Neuman said. “For me, journalism is one of many ways to deploy interesting content.”

It’s worth noting that Friedman, who declined to comment for this article, doesn’t appear to have arrived at GOOD an overly sentimental editor attached to traditional journalism and deaf to the needs of the Web, either. 

“Here, we all understand that ‘magazine’ doesn’t refer to the paper-and-ink product sitting on your coffee table,” Friedman wrote in a post on good.is that appears to date back to when she started as executive editor, around March 2011. “It’s also a way of describing a community and daily reading experience.”

What shape GOOD will take in the coming years remains to be seen, but Neuman talked  less about the upcoming print issues of GOOD — the Winter 2012 issue is set to include the GOOD 100, a list not unlike the one Neuman was known for at Heeb — than about the work taking shape on GOOD’s new Internet platform. 

Posts are organized into two categories: Learns, which teach and inform, and Dos, which are aimed at spurring readers to some kind of action — anything from moving their cell phones and tablets out of their bedrooms to signing an anti-corruption pledge to get the money out of politics. 

“Anyone can submit Learns and Dos,” Neuman said. From there, a team of about eight full-time editorial staff based all around the country, called curators — “kind of the midpoint between an old-school editor and a community organizer,” Neuman said — take the content and present it on GOOD’s platform, alongside their own writings and any new content that the magazine commissions. 

One of the newest bits of original content — a Web video featuring actor Rainn Wilson of “The Office” — is part of a GOOD campaign urging voters to “Take Back Tuesday,” and “make voting less of a pain in the ass.” 

And on the other side of the technological spectrum, GOOD subscribers will soon receive a packet of postcards in their mailboxes, each one with a rumination on the history of good. 

Both comprise GOOD’s coupling of learning and doing. The video is part of a multipost series urging readers to turn Election Day into a national holiday. The postcards are designed to be sent by the recipient to another person — “Send this to a politician who puts people before politics,” reads the legend at the bottom of the postcard about direct democracy. 

And both fit neatly into the overall framework of GOOD’s goal of being a community dedicated to organizing active citizens by deploying various media, which is, Neuman pointed out, exactly what he did with Jews and Heeb — mobilize a community of people with a shared interest in Judaism, pushing them to have fun together on a weekday evening or a Christmas Eve. 

Among Neuman’s curators at GOOD are some journalists he worked with at Heeb. He said that everyone he’s hired is very much on board with the new model for what GOOD is becoming. 

“Maybe it’s just because it’s a job, so they’re excited about anything,” Neuman said, “but a lot of them say, ‘I think this may be the future of journalism.’ ”

Silverman video prompts some heat for Schleppers, but more is to come


After releasing a lewd video this week in which comedienne Sarah Silverman offers to perform a sexual act with billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson if he’ll support President Obama’s reelection campaign, the team behind the video is taking some heat.

The video was born of a project started after a pro-Obama video Silverman did during the 2008 campaign, “The Great Schlep.” Released to great fanfare, that video offered a funny take on urging young voters to go to Florida and convince their Jewish grandparents to vote for Obama.

Based on “The Great Schlep’s” success, on Monday the producers of the video – Ari Wallach and Mik Moore – announced that they had created a new organization, Schlep Labs, to solicit creative ideas from the public to support Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.

The Silverman video represents the first of those to come to fruition, submitted by Silverman as a result of a solicitation by Schlep Labs two weeks ago.

[Related: Sarah Silverman’s ‘Indecent Proposal’ and what that means for modern politics]

In the video, Silverman offers to “scissor” Adelson while wearing a bikini if he gives Obama’s reelection campaign $100 million instead of Romney’s campaign. She then demonstrates what that means, using a puppy as a stand-in for Adelson.

Some in the Jewish community didn’t like the video’s timing or its target, Wallach told JTA in an interview this week.

On Monday, the day the video was released, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, announced a new $13 million donation to Birthright Israel. Also on Monday, the news organization ProPublica published details of a federal investigation against Adelson regarding potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law that bars American companies from hiring foreign officials to “affect or influence any act or decision” to benefit American businesses. Last week, the National Jewish Democratic Council rescinded a petition urging the Republican Party to return campaign money from Adelson in light of allegations that he allowed prostitution at one of his casinos in Macau.

Wallach said he fielded angry calls from Jewish organizations after the video’s release. He acknowledged that the video “cut close to the bone” with its brand of humor but said that Adelson—who contributes millions to Jewish causes, many of them right-wing ones—is fair game.

“At end of day, he has sworn to work against a sitting president’s re-election efforts,” Wallach said. “The goal isn’t to embarrass anyone in terms of other people in the Jewish community. The goal is to have Romney decide whether he wants to pervert democracy by taking funding from one individual who will have outsized influence on a majority of issues that are way outside of the mainstream of what most American Jews think.”

More is yet to come, Wallach said.

“We’ve had enough submissions in past four hours that could probably take us through to the next elections,” Wallach said on the first day Schlep Laps announced it was accepting new ideas. Proposals can be submitted via the Schlep Labs website and are reviewed by a team including people who work at new media, broadcast and film companies.

Schlep Labs is a project of the Jewish Committee for Education and Research, a so-called super-PAC created in January. In March, the PAC netted a $200,000 donation from Alexander Soros, son of hedge fund manager and philanthropist George Soros. Both have given to liberal Jewish organizations in recent years.

Sarah Silverman’s ‘Indecent Proposal’ to Sheldon Adelson and what that means for modern politics


By the time you read this, you probably will have watched Sarah Silverman in her underwear, demonstrating a lesbian sex act with her dog.

Because that’s the way politics works these days.

Silverman wrote and stars in a short video, called “Scissor Sheldon,” posted at scissorsheldon.com, in which she offers to, hmm, make casino magnate Sheldon Adelson very happy if he donates $100 million to the campaign of Barack Obama, instead of to Mitt Romney.

Adelson, the owner of The Venetian hotel and casino and one of the world’s richest men, has declared he is willing to spend that much money to help get the Republican candidate elected president.

“Sheldon, I have a proposal for you, and, I’m serious, look at me,” Silverman says to the camera. What follows — her proposal — is not really quotable in this newspaper, though, trust me, this video will introduce more young people to politics than student council.

The short video went online on the afternoon of July 16. By the time I saw it, early the next morning, it already had 11,000 “likes.” Major news outlets were covering it. It was wallpapered across my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Viral? Viruses could only wish.

The enormously popular, self-described “Jewess” comedian has used satirical political video before to great effect. In 2008, she launched The Great Schlep, urging young Jews to go to Florida to convince their grandparents to vote for Obama.

Story continues after the jump. (Warning: Explicit video)

Video courtesy of SchlepLabs

This time, she has once again teamed up with activists Ari Wallach and Mik Moore, co-founders of The Great Schlep. They run a pro-Obama super PAC with the anodyne name the Jewish Council for Education & Research (JCER). Its main backer is Alexander Soros, the 27-year-old New York University grad who also happens to be the son of George Soros.

“The most important political office is that of private citizen,” Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said — and his quote is the opening line on the Web page explaining JCER.

Wallach and Moore say their goal is to juice the campaigns of people they believe in by inspiring young Jewish voters to get involved.

“JCER is motivated by a deep love for the Jewish community and by a desire to ensure that Jews have access to accurate information as they engage in the electoral process,” the mission statement says.

For prior generations, that might have meant walking precincts, door to door, delivering speeches to Hadassah groups or passing out bumper stickers. Now, you submit your ideas on how to support Obama by using social media, humor and celebrity, and the super PAC picks the ones it likes best — like Silverman’s — and then produces and disseminates it. The Great Schlep generated 300 million impressions — at a cost of next to nothing. That’s a lot of precinct walking.

Merging politics with sex and celebrity used to be something only politicians did, after they were elected. Moore and Wallach have discovered it works even better before. Their successful campaigns leap far beyond the Jewish community and create national conversations. In the case of “Scissor Sheldon,” Moore said he hopes it will lead to a conversation on the role of unbridled political contributions in American elections and the outsized impact a billionaire like Adelson can have.

But here’s what makes me squirm — and it’s not at all Silverman’s offer — which, in her signature style, comes across as more adorable than raunchy.

It’s their relentless focus on one man — Adelson. The truth behind Adelson’s giving is that the entire system of unlimited, unaccountable campaign financing from so-called 527 organizations to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 is the single greatest threat to our democracy. Everybody who takes part — from Adelson to the secretive billionaire Tea Party funders, the Koch Brothers, Obama, Romney and also Alexander Soros — is part of the problem.

How is Adelson worse than Alexander Soros? At least Adelson steps out of the shadows and shoots off his mouth — as when he told jewishjournal.com that his former crush, Newt Gingrich, had “reached the end of the line.” Adelson makes his agenda clear. Politically, he and I may be far apart — but he is no hidden puppet master.

But the “Scissor Sheldon” Web site paints him to be exactly that. The spare site offers up a single, rather uncomplimentary photo of Adelson. On the page under the heading “Who Is the $100 Million Man?” you can find a 10-point list of all of Adelson’s supposed transgressions. It paints Adelson in an entirely one-dimensional way — a caricature — and lets others who dump swill in the political trough off the hook.

I get why Silverman chose to address Adelson. It’s personal, the way Silverman looks her landsman in the eye. This is like The Great Schlep, and he’s Super Zayde.  Fortunately, we American Jews live in a time and in a country where we can feel perfectly safe and secure attacking one another using Der Stürmer — like iconography. Yes, “Scissor Sheldon” will provide a Jewish National Fund-sized forest of kindling to ignite every Jew-hater out there — but those freaks will hate us anyway.

My greater concern is that unlike, say, Stephen Colbert’s masterful Colbert super PAC shtick, in which he used the same broken laws to create his own unaccountable super PAC, the “Scissor Sheldon” bit won’t go beyond Adelson.

In fact, by the time you read this, this week’s big viral campaign may already be last week’s news.

Unless, of course, Sheldon Adelson says “yes.”

Zuckerberg, Bibi head list of Top 50 Jews


Mark Zuckerberg and Benjamin Netanyahu head The Jerusalem Post’s second annual list of the world’s 50 Top Jews.

Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, adds his No. 1 finish in the Post survey to his Person of the Year award from Time magazine. He is followed by Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.

American names include U.S. Reps. Eric Cantor (No. 13), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (14) and Gabrielle Giffords (26), who was seriously injured in a shooting in January. One slot behind Giffords is Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show.” Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman (24), writers Nora Ephron (33) and Jeffrey Goldberg (35), and actresses Natalie Portman (38) and Sarah Silverman (49) also appear.

Five rabbis were relegated to the lower part of the list—39 to 43—with Rabbi Richard Jacobs, president-elect of the Union for Reform Judaism, as the only non-Israeli.

The list leans heavily toward Israeli personalities, with some of the other choices widely unknown even among avid students of Jewish macherdom.

Few “Jeopardy!” contestants may be able to identify Orna Barbivai (44), the first female general in the Israeli army; Job Cohen, head of the Dutch Labor Party (46); or Ivan Glasenberg (47) and Bertie Lubner (48), two wealthy South African businessmen.

Completing the list: Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli in 50th, though readers of the Sports Illustrated swimming suit issue, whose cover she graced in 2009, were said to have lobbied for a higher ranking.

Sarah Silverman’s ‘Jewiness’


Comedian Chelsea Handler has written three memoirs. Kathy Griffin wrote one, too. And now comes “The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee” by the most subversive of stand-up comics, Sarah Silverman (Harper, $25.99).

But Silverman, as always, is an outlier. Griffin begs us to like her. Handler doesn’t care one way or the other. But Silverman dares us to like her and tries to make it as hard as possible.

“My teeth were bigger than my face, I was coated in hair, and I smelled like pee,” she writes of herself in childhood, when she was sent to summer camp even though she was a chronic bedwetter. “Of course, most events in life are about context. Had my parents instead sent me to live in the Baboon Reserve at the Bronx Zoo, I would have been happy and confident, judging the others for flinging poo and feeling downright aristocratic.”

“The Bedwetter” is meant to be funny, and it is. But the book is not merely a collection of “fart jokes and blasphemy,” which is how Silverman herself sums up her career. She is sly, smart, wry and ironic. She is always willing and even eager to disclose the darkest secrets about herself. She writes in frank detail about the affliction of bedwetting that persisted into adolescence, for example, and the discovery that her psychiatrist had committed suicide while young Sarah was sitting in the waiting room. All of these harrowing experiences are raw material for comedy, but the sharp edges poke through the jokes.

The best example I can give is a telling childhood recollection that somehow predicts the trajectory of Silverman’s comic style. She writes about the death of her parents’ second child, a baby boy named Jeffrey, who accidentally suffocated in his crib while in the care of his grandparents while the parents were on vacation. The family coped with the tragedy, which happened before Sarah was born, by ignoring it: “My parents’ friends cleaned up any sign of Jeffrey’s existence by the time they got home,” she writes. “He was imagined.” 

When Sarah was 5, she and her sisters were out for a drive with their beloved Nana, the same grandmother who had discovered the dead baby in his crib. Nana admonished the girls to put on their seatbelts. Sarah was already a budding comic: “[W]ithout a beat I said … ‘Yeah — put yer seatbelts on — you don’t wanna end up like Jeffrey!’ ” She expected an appreciative laugh, but her joke was greeted with stunned silence. “And after several excruciating seconds, Nana broke the silence with an explosion of sobs.”

Like so many other stand-up comics, she trades on her Jewishness — or, as she puts it, her “Jewiness” — but makes no concessions to Jewish sensibilities. Here’s what she writes about her publisher’s response to her suggested title for the book: “[T]o say they were underwhelmed by ‘Tales of a Horse-Faced Jew-Monkey’ would be like saying that Hitler was underwhelmed by the Jews.”  She cracks a joke about one of her sisters — a rabbi who lives on a kibbutz in Israel — by pointing out that she married a man named Abramowitz. “When I was on ‘SNL,’ I did a bit about this for ‘Weekend Update,’ in which I suggested that my sister and her husband just rename themselves ‘The Jews.’ ” And when she devotes a whole chapter to her Jewish identity, it is only because her “Jew editor” made her do it.

“To be honest, I would like to go about my life exploiting the subject of Jewishness for comedy, and not be saddled with the responsibility to actually represent, defend or advance the cause of the Jewish people,” she explains. “Nevertheless, my Jew editor convinced me to write a chapter on Jewiness by using one of our culture’s greatest tools of persuasion: nagging.”

Silverman argues that her scatological humor ought to be especially appealing to a Jewish audience. “[M]any Jews cannot be stopped from discussing what goes on in their GI tracts — the GI tract of a Jew over age 23 is a true melodrama reminiscent of the Old Testament: sudden mass exodus, long arduous journeys, floods, futility, agony, questioning God’s wisdom and lactose intolerance,” she writes. “So the things I talk about are not blasphemy to Jewish people.”

(I tried to read the passage quoted above to my wife. but I couldn’t get through it without breaking into laughter. It’s funny because it’s true.)

Curiously, but tellingly, Silverman seems to lose interest in the whole project about halfway through the book. She barely mentions her famously failed romance with Jimmy Kimmel, but she reproduces at length various adolescent diary entries, answering-machine messages from her father, e-mail exchanges with her long-suffering editor and interoffice memos regarding her Comedy Channel show, “The Sarah Silverman Program.” Along with the charming family snapshots that appear in the book, she includes a close-up of a penis belonging to one of the writers on her show. “This is writer Harris Wittels’s penis,” she notes. “I wouldn’t want him to go uncredited here.”

Silverman herself admits that “writing this book is a gigantic pain in the ass,” and she is no more boastful about her literary aspirations than she is about any other aspect of her life.  “Whose jackass idea was it for me to write a book anyway?”

The question is rhetorical, and her own answer may be the best way to describe what “The Bedwetter” is all about.

“I’m not writing this book to share wisdom or to inspire people,” she says. “I’m writing this book because I am a famous comedian, which is how it works now. If you’re famous, you get to write a book, and not the other way around, so the next Dave Eggers better get a TV show or kill someone or something.”

Jonathan Kirsch, book editor of The Jewish Journal, is the author of 13 books, including “The Woman Who Laughed at God.” He blogs at jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at {encode=”books@jewishjournal.com” title=”books@jewishjournal.com”}.

Comedy icons back Obama with ‘Ain’t Funny’ TV spots [VIDEOS]


To emphasize that there’s nothing amusing about next Tuesday’s presidential election, the Jewish Alliance for Change has launched a series of “Ain’t Funny” television and online commercials in support of Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

The spots feature some of America’s most iconic older comedians and comedy writers — Carl Reiner, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, Valerie Harper, Garry Marshall and Larry Gelbart. Their observations, tightly edited and interwoven in three 30-second spots titled, “Vice President,” “Fear Tactics” and “Grandchildren,” are both humorous and serious.

For instance, in “Vice President,” Reiner, while winking, says of Republican John McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin: “And he wants to put that girl who winks in the second position?”

“Unqualified,” is Harper’s serious retort.

All speak in support of Obama’s plans for health care, Social Security, the economy and other issues. And they argue in favor of change in the White House after eight years of a Republican administration.

The specific goal of “Ain’t Funny” is to help dispel fears and suspicions that voters — especially older Jews in the swing states of Florida and Ohio — might have about Obama. Most, but not all, of the on-screen participants are Jewish. The rationale behind the choice of spokespeople, said comedy writer Gelbart (the “M*A*S*H” TV series, the movie “Tootsie”), who is Jewish, is: “They’ve given me so much pleasure, why would they give me a bum steer now after a lifetime of enjoyment?”

Those contacted by The Journal said they were eager to participate.

“It’s absolutely essential to me we hose out the building of this administration,” said Harper, who while not Jewish has played Rhoda Morgenstern on television and Golda Meir on the stage. “I was very attracted to not just the candidate but the message of the Democratic Party. So it was easy for me to say yes. I want people to vote and to end the terrible, failed policies.”

The nonprofit Jewish Alliance for Change has raised money to broadcast the three short spots on cable networks in four Florida markets — North Miami, West Palm Beach, Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale. It also may air them in Ohio if it has enough money.


Ain’t Funny – Vice President. from Alma Har'el on Vimeo.


Ain’t Funny – Fear Tactics. Vote for Obama-Biden from Alma Har'el on Vimeo.


Ain’t Funny – Our Grandchildren. Vote for Obama-Biden from Alma Har'el on Vimeo.

They can be seen in context at www.aintfunny.org and www.Jews4Change.com There is a two-minute fourth spot available on the Internet only.

Supporters can also contribute to buy airtime themselves in any television market they desire through a partnership between Ain’t Funny and a new organization, SaysMe.TV. Information is available at the Ain’t Funny Web site.

“We decided the most effective way to use the resources we have is to remove the air of fear some older voters have about Obama,” said Doni Remba, Jewish Alliance for Change’s executive director. “If they hear it from people they’ve watched and loved and who have entertained them their whole lives, they have an emotional bond of trust with them.”

The Republican campaign has argued that Obama is soft on terrorism. And although Obama has repeatedly expressed strong support for Israel, Republicans have suggested, for instance, that Obama might be less confrontational than McCain toward Iran, which threatens Israel with a “second Holocaust.”

“It’s reprehensible how often they throw that term around,” said Boaz Yakin, Ain’t Funny’s co-producer-director, along with his wife, Alma Har’el. “I think the callous and cynical way those fears are exploited is detrimental to a democratic and open process. I dislike and resent fear mongering and character assassination going on with Obama.”

Yakin is a New York-born Jewish director (“Fresh,” “Remember the Titans”), who drew on his experience attending Orthodox schools for his movie, “A Price Above Rubies,” set within Brooklyn’s Chasidic community. His wife is an Israeli-born music video director. Earlier in the campaign, they produced an “Israelis for Obama” video.

“And I’m not minimizing the potential for terrible things to happen to Jews,” Yakin said. “I’m an extreme Zionist; I don’t take Israel’s safety lightly, and I don’t take Jewish people’s safety lightly.

“A huge difference between us and Sarah Silverman’s thing,” Yakin said, referring to comedian Silverman’s YouTube short, “The Great Schlep,” “was that her work was getting young people motivated to talk to parents and grandparents. Ours directly addresses people that she was encouraging young people to go talk to. We felt that generation wasn’t being spoken to directly.”

Jewish Alliance for Change, founded in February, encourages Jewish involvement in the electoral process, as well as traditional Democratic domestic policies. Its Web site states it supports “diplomatic initiatives for a secure and peaceful Israel” and seeks to “promote better understanding of the policies advocated by Sen. Obama.”

Remba became acquainted with Obama while doing graduate studies at the University of Chicago in the early 1990s. The American-born Remba lived in Israel for many years and was a translator for Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan.

“First and foremost, we’re an issues-advocacy organization,” Remba said. “Our main focus is on agenda and issues, and we think Obama is the better person to further the agenda this country needs and that Israel needs for security.”

My ‘great schlep’ to Florida pays off in politics and grandma’s food


“If you knew that visiting your grandparents could change the world, would you do it?” A couple of weeks ago, a video came across my inbox with Sarah Silverman posing this very question.

As Florida is such a pivotal and undecided state in this year’s presidential contest, Silverman was urging Jews to visit their grandparents there to educate them about Barack Obama and help swing the state in his favor in an effort dubbed The Great Schlep.

I thought the idea was decent but mostly just hilarious. I forwarded the video on to friends and went back to filing the company expenses.

A week later, I received a phone call from a woman asking me about visiting my own grandparents. I laughed, as I had after the video, but when an awkward silence followed, I realized she actually wanted an answer. She was calling from The Great Schlep and had been referred to me by a mutual friend.

It seemed like a great idea to visit my grandparents in Fort Lauderdale, which I hadn’t done in a few years, and in the process do something for my country. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more enthusiastic I became about going and speaking on behalf of Obama to my grandparents and some of their friends. The 2000 election had come down to literally hundreds of votes, and if I could convince my grandparents and their friends that Obama is the best choice, it might really affect the outcome.

I decided I had to make the schlep, not for myself but for my country and my grandparents, of course. But I needed to make sure they’d be around and would be willing to have the discussion with me. I called my grandmother immediately to tell her the plan. Our conversation went something like this:

“I’m going to come visit you this weekend, and I want to speak to you about … “

“Oh, that’s wonderful! When are you coming in town?”

“I’m going to come for the weekend, but I want to maybe try and speak with you and some of your friends about … “

“Just the weekend? Such a short trip!”

“Yes, it was kind of a last-minute thing. But, Grandma, I want to spend some time speaking with you and some of your friends about Barack Obama and the upcoming election.”

(Muffled sounds of her shouting to my grandfather about my visit.)

“Grandma, do you think you could help have some friends come over in the afternoon, and we could just all talk about the election?”

“Yes, fine, fine, there’s just one thing. What do you want to eat for dinner?”

Needless to say, my grandparents were on board, but the next obstacle was making sure we could get a good turnout so I could make the most of my trip. I quickly discovered the difficulty of organizing an event from Los Angeles with a bunch of senior citizens in Florida.

I couldn’t exactly send them all an Evite or a Facebook invitation. I don’t even know if a simple e-mail would have accomplished much. The success and organization of the political side of my trip would have to be left in my grandparents’ hands. In the meantime, I studied up on the issues.

The rest of the week was quite interesting. A few national news outlets started calling me, referred by The Great Schlep. They wanted to interview my grandparents and me while I was down there. Not only was I going to be making my mark on American history, but I was going to be on TV, too!

I left on the red eye on Friday, Oct. 10, and I managed to sleep for most of the flight from Los Angeles to Florida. As soon as my grandparents pulled up to the terminal on Saturday morning, the greeting was standard operation: 10 minutes of criticism on the length of both my facial hair and my jeans, followed by a lecture on how handsome I could be.

Interestingly enough, however, the political discussion began immediately. My grandparents wanted to jump right into it. Throughout the day, I spent most of my time eating and fixing all the problems they’d been having with their computer and their TV. But we also watched the news together, read the paper and just talked about the country. Most of the time they were lecturing me, but when they had questions about Obama’s stance on an issue, or if they brought up something they had heard about him, I could clear up what was and wasn’t true.

Sunday though, was what The Great Schlep was all about. My grandparents had managed to get seven friends to come to their house. So, for a few hours, they spoke to me about their concerns; I spoke to them about mine, and we all spoke to the TV and radio news crews that had stopped by in the middle to get their story.

A lot of my grandparents’ friends seemed very disappointed in John McCain and how far he had veered from his Straight Talk Express. Their problem with Obama, though, was that they just didn’t know enough about him yet — whether on the topic of domestic issues, like taxes and social security, or foreign issues, like Iran and Israel. In other words, my schlepping to Florida to discuss and answer questions was exactly what they needed.

Come November, some of the people I spoke with might decide to vote for McCain, and others might have always wanted to vote for Obama, but I think the most important thing is that because I went, they were able to learn more about the issues without having to rely on political ads and partisan pundits.

I can only hope my visit will allow them to make an informed decision based on facts and not on campaign smears and misinformation. But in the end, my “great schlep” was not a schlep at all, because not only did I make an investment in my country, I got to spend some valuable time with my family … and I ate better than I’ve eaten in long time.

Taylor Magenheim, 24, is from Texas and has lived in Los Angeles for the past two years. He is currently a development assistant at a Hollywood studio.

Kabbalah blamed for A-Rod marital breakup


JERUSALEM (JTA) – A former trainer for Alex Rodriguez said the star ballplayer’s interest in kabbalah caused the break-up of his marriage.

Cynthia Rodriguez filed for divorce Monday in Miami saying the New York Yankee “emotionally abandoned” her.

Trainer Dodd Romero told the ABC television show “Good Morning America” Monday that the pop singer Madonna “brainwashed” Rodriguez by interesting him in Kabbalah.

“Something has pulled him away from his strong family values and has caused him to search and look for something that really isn’t out there,” Romero said, according to the ABC News Web site.

Celebrity divorce attorney Raoul Felder says Cynthia Rodriguez will challenge her husband’s credibility by bringing up his growing interest in Kabbalah and claiming it is a cult.

Madonna, who is married to film director Guy Ritchie, has denied there are problems in her marriage and that Rodriguez made late-night visits to her New York apartment.

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Sarah Silverman de-mystified kabbalah on stage last year

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