Watch: Woody Allen as a pimp in ‘Fading Gigolo’ trailer

It’s hard to decide what seems more unlikely: Woody Allen playing a pimp, or Woody Allen starring in someone else’s film.

Believe it or not, in “Fading Gigolo,” the legendary Jewish director does both. John Turturro wrote and directed the film, in which Allen plays a bookseller who picks up some work pimping out Turturro’s character. Clients include Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara, two women looking for a threesome.

That seemed juicy enough until we saw the third client featured prominently in the trailer, who appears to be… Hasidic. Thanks to Tablet for confirming that the movie does, in fact, have “A Stranger Among Us” meets “Hung” thing going on.

See for yourself here.

Tribefest survey: Many attendees were federation first-timers [VIDEO]

New data shows that Tribefest met its goal of drawing many federation first-timers to the recent Young Leadership conference in Las Vegas, federation officials said.

“We’re not only satisfied, we’re thrilled,” said Joe Berkofsky, spokesman for the Jewish Federations of North America, which organized last week’s gathering.

Nearly 1,300 Jews, mostly in their 20s to early 40s, showed up for three days of lectures, workshops and performances devoted to Jewish politics, religion and culture.

It was a first step in what federation officials say is a new outreach strategy for the national federation organization that is aimed at bringing in new blood along with the committed donors that were targeted by previous Young Leadership conferences.

Story continues after the jump.

Video by VideoJew Jay Firestone.

Results from 150 participants who took a post-conference survey showed that 30 percent of them were not already federation donors. Forty-two percent said they had never participated in or helped organize a program at their local Jewish federation and 45 percent had ever served on a federation committee. Sixty-two percent said Tribefest was their first national federation conference.

Berkofsky said that because these are only the initial survey results, and probably come from the most involved participants, who are typically the first to answer such surveys, “The later numbers should show even more people not previously involved, which is what we hoped to see.”

Follow-up is a major part of the federations’ outreach effort. As participants entered each event, their badges were scanned and their identifying information was electronically stored. Those details will be given to their local Jewish federations for concerted follow-up.

“We want to keep the momentum going, to capitalize on the energy,” Berkofsky said.

Torah Slam 2 Asks ‘What Is a Good Jew?’

For video footage of the event, click here.

If you want to rattle an auditorium full of Jewish kishkas just before Pesach, ask the question: “What is a good Jew?”

There was agreement but little consensus among the five rabbis invited by The Journal to debate the issue at Torah Slam 2, L.A.’s second cross-denominational public Torah study. The event was held at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills on Monday night and represented a spectrum of Jewish thought, including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Sephardic. The rabbis spoke in anticipation of the upcoming Passover holiday but were inevitably confronted by recent news events that have provoked deeply conflicted feelings within the Jewish community — the Bernard Madoff scandal, the Gaza War, as well as issues of homelessness and health care in the United States.

Addressing a crowd of about 700 were Elazar Muskin of the Orthodox Young Israel of Century City, Eli Herscher of the Reform Stephen S. Wise Temple, Ed Feinstein of the Conservative Valley Beth Shalom, Sharon Brous, the Conservative-ordained leader of the IKAR community, and Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. Journal columnist David Suissa served as moderator.

Muskin began by demanding more than ritual observance, alone. Quoting his teacher, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Muskin said, “People who are ritualistically observant but ethically deficient distort Judaism. It is moral schizophrenia to separate ethics from God.” He went on to suggest that a good Jew balances “both sides of the Ten Commandments,” ritual observance and a quality of character. This he likened to the talmudic verse, “A person should be soft as a reed, not hard like a cedar.”

Herscher addressed his audience — Reform Jews who are highly identified but may be less stringent in observing Jewish law. “Good Jews are those who aspire to be better than they are,” he began, citing the verse, “Ha-yehudi ha-tamid ba-derekh — the Jew who is always on the way, always on the journey” as a foundational principle for becoming a good Jew. But, he argued, there is a fundamental problem in evaluating who is a good Jew because Judaism’s standards are so high, maybe even too high. The demands on morality, learning and observance are so great, he said, that “in order to be a good Jew, you don’t have to be much better than a pretty good Jew; if you’re fairly decent, trying to get closer to the standards of what is a good Jew, than you’ve achieved something already quite extraordinary.”

Feinstein challenged the audience to think of the so-called “wicked” child at the seder table as a catalyst for a deeper Judaism. It is the wicked child — the rasha — he said, who asks the toughest question: “Are you really willing to taste the bitterness of being humiliated, oppressed, dehumanized, put down, invisible? Or is this just a sort of nice easy suburban religious ritual?” The question, he said, is dangerous because if it’s taken seriously, Jews have to open their eyes to all the suffering in the world, and they must act; Jews have to consider the deepest aspirations of their faith. Feinstein offered the virtue of kedusha, “holiness,” or as he translated it, “bonding,” as the singular ideal to which Jews should aspire. “It means establishing a circle around the self and the bigger the circle around the self, the more godly you become — because God is the circle that embraces all.”

Brous, the only woman on the panel, added some levity with a joke. “I got here a little early tonight, and I was in the back preparing, and I decided to pray a little, so I said, ‘God, Lord, please don’t let me speak after Ed Feinstein.’”

Brous recounted the enslavement and degradation that befell the Jews in the Exodus story as a reminder to dream, even through dark times. “The Jewish dream is that all human beings can and should live in dignity, in a world of peace and justice. A good Jew is someone who dreams despite the fact that reality belies those dreams,” she said. “The measure of a good Jew is, do you fundamentally believe, either by faith or sheer force of will, that the world can look better than it does, and that you must take responsibility to make it so? You’re a good Jew if you know that you were put into the world to fight like hell to narrow the chasm between the world as it is and the world as it ought to be.”

Bouskila, the evening’s final speaker, provoked the crowd with an unequivocal mandate: To be an ideal Jew, he said, one must live in Israel. “There is no question that [an ideal Jew] is one who lives a full complete Jewish life, 24/7, and is willing to live and die to defend Jewish existence.” He acknowledged this idea might make some feel “inferior” but said that even a less ideal Jew understands “the centrality of Israel is the center of our lives as Jews.”

Bouskila’s admonition set the tone for much of the remaining debate. While most of the rabbis agreed that life in Israel is ideal, they also believe that Jewish values must be upheld wherever Jews live. When Bouskila suggested that a shoemaker in Tel Aviv is living a fuller Jewish life than an observant Jew anywhere else, Brous reminded him that living in Israel does not guarantee someone a “free moral pass.” Brous recalled recent news headlines regarding soldier conduct in Gaza that suggest there are, in fact, some bad Jews who live in Israel. “Our fear of criticizing Israel cannot allow us to be blind to the what is going on there.”

Feinstein jumped in to say that though immorality exists in Israel, very few societies are as morally self-critical as the Jewish state or have more desire to become better.

When Madoff was brought up, a silence fell over the group. The rabbis were reluctant to pass judgment, though later Muskin asked, “Why are we reluctant to answer the Madoff question? If he does bad, he is a bad Jew.”

“Madoff is an easy target,” Herscher said. “Everyone’s going to agree on Madoff.” He said that it’s more difficult to pass judgment on people with varying approaches to Judaism.

A crowd lined up for audience questions: Are you a good Jew if you do not follow halacha (Jewish law)? If you skip Shabbat but you served in the Israeli army? If you are sick or disabled and unable to fulfill all the mitzvoth (commandments)? And what are our obligations to the less fortunate? People without homes and health care? Jewish soldiers who serve in the U.S. military?

Some questions were partly confessions, while others were consultations. After all, it’s not every day that you get to ask anything of five rabbis sitting before you.

Torah Slam was produced by The Journal in cooperation with LimmudLA with support from Akeena Solar.

On its second round, the event was again a profound statement of community — a place where all Jews, regardless of their background, could learn Torah together.

For information about the Israel Studies Program and activities, visit, phone (310) 825-5133 or e-mail

Santa Monica Synagogue set its dreidels on a world record [VIDEO]

They may not be the fastest or strongest, but that didn’t stop one West Coast synagogue from aspiring entry into The Guinness Book of World Records.

On the second night of Chanukah, the Santa Monica Synagogue attempted to set a new world record: Most Dreidels Spinning Simultaneously.

The group, which attracted both children and adults, gathered between Arizona Street and Santa Monica on the Third Street Promenade and waited for the potentially historic event to take place. Santa Monica Mayor Ken Genser officially opened the ceremony, proclaiming, “Santa Monica is now the dreidel spinning capital of the world!”

The synagogue needed at least 542 spinners to break the previous record of 541, set in 2005 by Temple Emanuel of Cherry Hill, N.J.

In accordance with Guinness’s strict regulations, Santa Monica Synagogue Rabbi Jeffrey Marx directed volunteers to not only keep an official tally, but also to enforce the strict rules for event, which require one dreidel per person and that all dreidels must spin simultaneously for 10 full seconds. Any type of dreidel was acceptable, regardless of whether the miracle took place ‘there’ or ‘here.’

But on the promenade’s cracked and creased pavement, spinning a dreidel for 10 seconds proved harder for the less experienced spinners. Ultimately, the effort fell short of its goal, only 336 dreidel spinners hit their 10-second mark.

Marx said he was nevertheless pleased with turnout, but added a of caution to New Jersey: “We’ll be back next year to try it again.”

VideoJew’s VideoGuide to L.A. #5–Jew vs. Wild

VideoJew Jay Firestone goes native in this episode of VideoJew’s VideoGuide to Los Angeles

VideoJew’s VideoGuide to L.A. # 4 — The Hollywood Dream

VideoJew Jay Firestone scrapes the phony tinsel off the facade of Tinsel Town and uncovers the real tinsel.  Mmmmm, tinsel!

VideoJew’s VideoGuide to L.A. #3 — Jewish Los Angeles

Dining, shopping, living, praying—VideoJew Jay Firestone shows you how it’s done Los Angeles-style.


VideoJew’s VideoGuide to L.A. #2 — Driving from here to there

VideoJew Jay Firestone is back with the second ‘volume’ in his VideoGuide to L.A.  This week—driving.

VideoJew’s VideoGuide to L.A. #1 — How to look like an Angeleno

The Fall Season: VideoJew’s VideoGuide to Los Angeles

In the past year, under my online video persona, VideoJew, I’ve explored much of the Los Angeles Jewish community and shared it with the YouTube-viewing nation.

You’ve seen me eating at a kosher Subway, playing mah-jongg and conducting a blind matzah taste test. But after a successful year of VideoJudaism, I decided to devote my next season to my experience as a Los Angeles newcomer.

When I first moved here after graduating from the University of Wisconsin two years ago, I felt completely overwhelmed. Busy people, heavy traffic, distant neighborhoods all contributed to my troubled adjustment to post-academic life.

Burdened by difficulty finding a job, buying a car and meeting other young Jews, I soon realized that life in the real world was very real. And with my mother a full 2,500 miles away, for the first time in my life I had no one to tell me what to do or where to go.

Thankfully, after two years in Los Angeles, I’ve finally adjusted to the lifestyle and culture that West Coast living affords. I found a job, bought a car and even met several Jews who are happy to tolerate me (most of these without the help of my mother). Looking back, I now recognize that my transition to West Coast living would have been much smoother if I’d had a mentor — or even a manual.

So I’ve decided to offer help to others who feel as lost as I once did … with my VideoGuide to Los Angeles, launching online today.

In this five-episode handbook, revealed over the next several weeks, I’ll walk you — the newcomer (or your memory of yourself as one) — through everything you need to know to make the most of your Los Angeles experience. Each episode is guaranteed to mentally and physically (though, not legally) naturalize the new West Coast immigrant.

It doesn’t really matter if you’re new to the city, just visiting or have lived here all your life, anyone can benefit from this guide.

Follow along each week for an all-new installment.

Introduction — Online Sept. 26
Like any manual, VideoJew’s VideoGuide to Los Angeles begins with a short but concise introduction, sure to prepare you for the upcoming schedule and give you a sneak peek at some of the exciting scenes to come.]]

Volume I: Looking the Part — Online Oct. 3
In this how-to style segment, I reveal the most important aspects of visiting Los Angeles: fitting in. Because nobody wants to look like an outsider or worse — a tourist — I’ll teach you the secrets of blending into the L.A. scene. And in no time, you’ll be wearing a T-shirt and flip-flops as you sip on a tall caffeinated beverage.

Volume II: Driving in L.A. — Online Oct. 10
The other key to enjoying this city is, of course, your car. When I moved out West, I was a timid, passive driver. Now I’m aggressive, confident and, most importantly, mostly safe. Follow my tips and you’ll feel confident behind the wheel … and you won’t even have to lift a finger, let alone “the finger.”

Volume III: Jewish L.A. — Online Oct. 17
With one of the largest Jewish populations in the country, Angelenos don’t hesitate to flaunt the city’s Jewish culture. Discover the exciting opportunities of the Jewish neighborhoods — from the butcher shop to a great place to buy a yarmulke. But more importantly, beyond kosher food, Judaica and synagogues, Jewish Los Angeles exists in its own realm. All you really need is a little Jew in you, and you can turn any place into a Jewish place.

Volume IV: Hollywood — Online Oct. 24
This segment could arguably fit into Volume III, but given its significance to the L.A. community, it seemed worthy of special attention. Not just limited to the physical Hollywood, Los Angeles’ entertainment industry is extremely widespread. And trust me, as someone who’s been a background extra for several no-name television shows and a few low-grossing feature films, I know Hollywood. I’ll take you to some of the typical tourist sites and a drive the celebrity star maps. And who knows, maybe I’ll catch a celebrity on tape.

Volume V: Outdoors L.A. — Online Oct. 31
One of the main reasons I moved to Los Angeles was for the weather. After college in Wisconsin, where the average winter day sees a windchill of minus 30 degrees, moving out West was not only an option but a necessity. Unfortunately, it took me a few months before I really started taking advantage of the climate and outdoor activities, like hiking, fishing, swimming, sailing, sunbathing, people watching, breathing, etc. The possibilities are endless!

My hope is that I can help you get ready to unearth the extreme sensation of Los Angeles. And while each episode is bursting with useful hints, like any encyclopedia or handbook, there’s plenty of room for improvement in future editions.

Stay tuned throughout the year for more updates, and you too will be able to experience the greatness that Angelenos experience every day.

The Hadassah convention – VideoJew style

The 94th annual Hadassah convention recently traveled to Los Angeles and VideoJew Jay Firestone was all over it, like jelly on gefilte fish.

To get a feel for the convention, VideoJew submerged himself in many of the activities.  On his journey, he made new friends and even visited with some old friends.  But does he find his ‘” title=”VideoJew on Facebook”>VideoJew on Facebook


VideoJew gets shaved

For the record, I didn’t grow a beard for this video. I did it for God.

But in keeping the Omer tradition, I realized this was a tremendous opportunity to
educate the world about the promises and immense potential of a truly
rewarding Lag B’Omer.

But before I really develop that thought, here’s ” title=”Wikipedia entry”>Lag B’Omer (in English is translated to the 33rd of the Omer

While the majority of Lag B’Omer could be spent at parties, weddings or
concerts, when you¹ve been growing hair on your face for over a month, its
removal becomes the utmost priority.

As you can see from the video, I’m a new person without all the hair. I feel
” title=”greatest VideoJew videos”>VideoJew Jay Firestone

VideoJew discovers kosher water

” title=”tests the Mizmor Kosher Wate”>tries Mizmor kosher water—fresh from the riparian office buildings of Pico-Robertson.

Newest mah-jongg players ‘crak’ stereotypes. Bam!

Elaine Sandberg fits the mold of what you would expect to encounter when you consider someone who plays American mah-jongg. She’s Jewish and just past retirement age.

But the 70-something L.A. mah-jongg instructor, who has taught the game for Holland American Cruise Lines and recently at American Jewish University, is hoping to help mah-jongg crack age and racial barriers. As the game has grown in popularity over the past decade, Sandberg is seeking to broaden its appeal with her book, “A Beginner’s Guide to American Mah Jongg: How to Play the Game and Win” (Tuttle, $14.95).

While some people might be more familiar with mah-jongg from the solitaire version found on computers and the Internet, it’s the classic American game that attracted Sandberg. She played for the first time 15 years ago with the Brandeis National Woman’s Club, shortly after moving to Rancho Park from Brooklyn.

“They offered a class, and I wanted to learn,” said Sandberg, an avid bridge player who turned to the club to make friends.

After that first game, she became a mah-jongg addict and spent months playing to develop her competitive skills. Now a tournament player, Sandberg started teaching the game about five years ago.

She said that until recently little had been written on the American version of the game, and she didn’t feel comfortable giving the titles to her students.

“If it was ever going to take off, there had to be some better learning materials,” Sandberg said.

Mah-jongg is a four-player gambling game similar to gin rummy. It originated in China in the mid- to late 1800s and has several national variants, including Vietnamese, Filipino, Taiwanese, Malaysian and Japanese versions. The original classic Chinese game has regional variants like Hong Kongese or Cantonese and Sichuan.

Joseph Park Babcock is credited with introducing a Westernized version of mah-jongg to the United States in the 1920s with his book, “Rules of Mah-Jongg,” which helped kick-start a short-lived nationwide craze that included Eddie Cantor singing “Since Ma Is Playing Mah Jong.” The fad faded by the 1930s, but a group of mostly Jewish women formed the National Mah Jongg League (NMJL) in 1937 and published the rule book, “Maajh: The American Version of the Ancient Chinese Game,” which helped standardize the game into the American mah-jongg played today.

While the 1920s mah-jongg fad was accepted by nearly every segment of the American population, it became increasingly known as a game that Jewish women played in the decades that followed.

Sandberg’s interest in mah-jongg came at a time when American enthusiasm for the game was starting to pick up again in the 1990s. No longer relegated to Hadassah gatherings and bubbe’s living room, “maajh” has been in the midst of a revival since before the turn of the millennium.

In 1999, Lois Madow founded the American Mah-Jongg Association as a challenge to the dominance of the national league. The group, which bills itself as the “mah-jongg association for the new millennium,” organizes several tournaments throughout the year for cash prizes.

Today even the stereotype of the typical American mah-jongg player is being challenged. It’s no longer an “old-lady’s game,” Sandberg writes.

In her book, Sandberg mentions one student who told her, “My mom used to play mah jongg two or three times a week. She played for 30 years with the same friends, and I could never understand why.”

Nostalgia can play an important part for Jews wanting to learn. But it doesn’t account for its spread to other segments of the American population.

NMJL says it has experienced a 20 percent growth in recent years; it currently has about 275,000 members. The organization’s president, Ruth Unger, links the game’s growing popularity within larger segments of the American public to more Jews retiring in ethnically diverse communities.

“We’re moving to more inclusive places,” she said, referring to retirement villages and planned communities, where Jews are spreading their love for the game.

During a recent fall class in mah-jongg at American Jewish University, Sandberg explained the basics of the game to several continuing-education students in their 50s and 60s.

She said a common misconception is that mah-jongg is boring. But once you play it, Sandberg said, “it’s thrilling; there’s nothing more exciting than when, with your heart racing, your adrenaline pumping and your palms sweating, you call ‘Mah-jongg.'”

The game can be played with tiles or cards. Like gin, you’re trying to combine the faces to make a specific hand.

The basic tiles contain three suits — dots, bams (short for bamboos) and craks (numbered one through nine in Chinese characters) — as well as other tiles like dragons, winds, flowers and jokers. In total, there are 152 tiles, and 14 of them are needed to win the game.

By picking and discarding, you make specific combinations, which correspond to certain hands. The hands are printed on a card every player must own, but to keep things interesting, the associations change the hands annually, so you’re not playing the same games from year to year.

With Sandberg’s guide in hand, this 20-something reporter took a seat at a table with three students from her class. Players laughed and joked as they picked tiles and played. Sandberg floated around the table, ensuring none of the players made any rookie mistakes.

Sandberg’s book supplied easy-to-understand hints and tips for beating opponents. A “wall game,” one in which there was no clear winner (like a cat’s game in tic-tac-toe), became the only viable — and successful — strategy.

The game requires the right combination of skill, luck and brains. In order to learn and play effectively, Sandberg said, “learn the game and play the game. Only then will you become a mah-jongg winner.”

Elaine Sandberg’s next beginning mah-jongg class will start in February at American Jewish University. To contact Elaine, email

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