Hanukkah Candles Shutterstock; The Huffington Post
Now that Thanksgiving is over, America is in Christmasland full force. Theme parks and department stores have brought out their holiday cheer, Starbucks announced its holiday cup and several radio stations have switched to musical playlists consisting of same 20 Christmas songs just sung by different artists (and let’s be honest, this all started the day after Halloween).
But what if you don’t celebrate Christmas? Were Jews so busy writing the best Christmas music that they left nothing for the tribe members? “I Have A Little Dreidel” isn’t exactly topping the holiday charts and can’t compete with Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.”
Adam Sandler tried to resolve this issue by writing and performing the “Hanukkah Song” on Saturday Night Live. Hats off to you, Sandler but there’s gotta be more than that.
Hanukkah starts Dec. 2 and if you are looking for tunes to blast at your Festival of Lights party, fear not. Here’s a list of eight Hanukkah songs that will blow “Rock of Ages” out of the water.
“Hot Rod Hanukkah” By Meshugga Beach Party If surf rock is your music of choice then “Hot Rod Hanukkah” should be the first song in your playlist. Jewish surf rock group Meshugga Beach Party has been performing Jewish-influenced surf songs in the Bay Area since 2003 and while the band dresses modestly, their music is far from conservative. The song, which is from the album of the same name, offers a fun upbeat twist for Hanukkah.
“8 Days (of Hanukkah)” By Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings The late Sharon Jones merges Motown and Judaism all in one probably creating the most soulful Hanukkah song to date. The Grammy winner kicked off her holiday album, “It’s A Holiday Soul Party” with this upbeat groove and, between riffing the rules of Dreidel and the saxophone solos, this gem should be played year round.
Chanukah Honey “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” actress and writer, Rachel Bloom, performs a parody of Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” by showing how Jewish girls would seduce nice Jewish boys during the holiday season. This is just one of the songs from the 2013 album “Suck It, Christmas (A Chanukah Album)” featuring Bloom, who is Jewish, referencing camp memories, menorahs and family friends. Funny yes, but not for the faint of heart. Listener discretion is advised.
“Candlelight – Hanukkah” By The Maccabeats In 2010, Jewish a cappella group the Maccabeats transformed Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” and made a viral Jewish Hanukkah parody called “Candlelight.” This song, which now has more than 14 million views, started the wave of Jewish a cappella holiday music and continues to be shared by rabbis and teens alike each year.
“How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” By the LeeVees New York performers Adam Gardner and Dave Schneider answer the question many ask in their lifetimes with this Hanukkah jam. The LeeVees formed in 2005 after realizing there were no contemporary Jewish rock songs to blast on the radio. Ever since, they have been creating original Jewish music including their recent 2017 Hanukkah album, “Hanukkah Rocks.” For a bonus song, here is “Nun, Gimmel, Heh Shin.”
“The Hanukkah Song – 8 Days and Nights” By Adam Chester Written and performed by pianist Adam Chester, a.k.a. the Surrogate Elton John, this slower jam tells the story of the Hanukkah miracle and how we can celebrate miracles around us. The repetitive chorus is not only catchy it’s great for kids who are learning about the holiday.
“[I’m Spending] Hanukkah In Santa Monica” By Tom Lehrer If there’s no schmaltz at Hanukkah did you really celebrate Hanukkah? For those who don’t wish to see snow in December Tom Lehrer’s hoaky but fun tune is for you. Before Sandler was rhyming Jews, there was Lehrer, who rhymed Jewish holidays with almost anything.
“Don’t Let Me Down” By The Y-Studs Before a cappella group, the Y-Studs went viral from their song “Evolution of Jewish Music” they were creating fun Jewish renditions and mash-ups of various songs in pop-culture. In 2016, these nice Jewish Boys from Yeshiva University released a Hanukkah inspired version of “Don’t Let Me Down” based on The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Closer.” Hebrew prayers for the holiday and the original song intertwine so well you won’t realize you’re listening to a different song. This song is a great pump-up jam for those who love intricate music.
BONUS SONG: “Bohemian Chanukah (A Queen Adaptation)” By Six13
On Tuesday, Nov. 27 Jewish a cappella group Six13 released their Hanukkah song for the 2018 year and already received more than 70,000 views in less than 24 hours. This creative homage to Queen’s rock anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” blows many a cappella paradies out of the water showing how far Jewish a cappella has come. The words, music and attention to detail come together perfectly making this the ultimate Hanukkah song of the year.
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For comedian Elon Gold, this is a busy time of year, with stand-up appearances in his native New York, here in Los Angeles and in Israel, where he performed in Jerusalem on Nov. 24. He spoke with the Journal about Hanukkah memories, Christmas admiration and his comedy-centric dreams.
Jewish Journal: What Hanukkah memories stand out from your childhood?
Elon Gold: My parents were teachers on teachers’ salaries. We lived in an apartment on Pelham Parkway in the Bronx. I remember unwrapping one present and it was a package of three Bic disposable pens. But it was still a nice tradition, a gift every night. These customs continue generation after generation and I’m doing that with my family. I’ve got four kids, 9 to 18, and by night five [the presents] get very shvach (weak). But we end it with a bang on the last night. Hanukkah is not a religious holiday like Yom Kippur when you’re in shul all day. There’s no obligation other than lighting the menorah. It’s not so much a religious observance as a fun family tradition that recognizes our heritage and our people.
JJ: How are you celebrating Hanukkah this year?
EG: I’m doing five shows in New York and my family is coming with me. Then I come back to L.A. to emcee the (pro-Israel nonprofit) Stand With Us “Festival of Lights Gala” at The Beverly Hilton on Dec. 9, for the eleventh year in a row.
JJ: Got a good Hanukkah joke?
EG: “There aren’t any songs on the radio for us, other than Adam Sandler and his great ‘Hanukkah Song.’ You know why? All the great Jewish songwriters were busy writing Christmas songs. They knew where their bread was buttered.” My brothers and I used to take Christmas songs and make up new lyrics, with a funny, Hebraic twist.
JJ: You do an annual Christmas Eve comedy show.
EG: “Merry Erev Xmas” at the Laugh Factory, making Christmas fun for the Jews in L.A. This is our 10th year. Russell Peters, Alonzo Bodden, Ben Gleib and Dom Irrera will be there this year, and surprise guests. I love the whole holiday season, starting with the night before Thanksgiving through New Year’s, including Christmas. I kind of enjoy it. I like the lights and listening to Christmas music. I can get into the spirit of it, even if I don’t observe it.
JJ: Do you have any TV appearances coming up?
EG: Judd Apatow asked me to be in Season 3 of his show “Crashing” on HBO. I’m in two episodes. I think the first and second. I take Pete [Holmes, the lead actor] to one of my shul gigs. It premieres in January. I’m on a new family show on Netflix called “Best. Worst. Weekend. Ever.” I’m playing a really funny character, a pet store groomer, loosely based on a couple of Israelis that I know. I’m an integral part of the story about these kids who are trying to get into Comic-Con. I have a stand-up special streaming on Amazon Prime, “Elon Gold: Chosen & Taken,” and I’m working on my next hour-long comedy special. In July, I did an appearance on [“The Late Late Show With] James Corden,” where I got to dispel the inaccurate Jewish stereotype that Jews are obsessed with money. When there’s a message behind the joke, it makes it a little more important. I’m proud of that.
JJ: When did you know you were funny?
EG: In eighth grade I started doing impressions of my teachers, but the first time I knew I wanted to do this for a living was at a Purim spiel at Yeshiva University High School in my sophomore year. I wrote and performed two one-man sketches. It went so well that seniors and juniors that never looked at me, let alone talked to me, came over and said, “You’re funny, dude.” It was so gratifying.
JJ: You always planned to do it as a career?
EG: For a while I was into the stock market, read The Wall Street Journal, but jokes come so naturally to me. This was what I was meant to do. Unlike a lot of people, it was never my intention to get into comedy to get girls. I met my wife when I was 15, and I knew I would marry her. We’re together 30 years. Our 25th wedding anniversary is coming up in June.
JJ: What’s on your career wish list?
EG: There are projects I’m trying to develop, including a comedy TV show with Howard Gordon, the [co-]creator of “Homeland.” I’m very active on WhatsApp and I want to keep putting out viral clips and have people share my work. For the first time in my 25-year career I feel like I have fans who are familiar with my stand-up and are excited to come see me live.
I love being the go-to Jew for fundraisers and gala dinners. I get to help a cause and make people laugh — a total win-win. I’m happy where I’m at and creatively at the top of my game but I’m not satisfied. I don’t think I’ve scratched the show-business surface. A lot of comedians put in 20 years before things start cooking for them and hopefully I’m one of them. Meanwhile, I’ll keep coasting like I am. As long as I’m paying the mortgage, I’m OK.
Elon Gold hosts “Merry Erev Xmas” at the Laugh Factory on Dec. 24.
It’s that time of year again when American Jews bask in the wintertime flavor of Christmas — when we teach our children that the Jewish version of Christmas is called Hanukkah, that the equivalent of the Christmas tree is the menorah, that while Christians have a big gift-giving blowout, we have eight crazy nights (in Adam Sandler’s iteration). The prominence of Christmas in America means that American Jews often attempt to ride the Christmas coattails, to get into the “holiday spirit” — or, more cynically, to compete with Christmas in order to prevent our children from falling for the romance of Christmas.
To that end, we elevate Hanukkah as a holiday, treating it as more sacred than actual sacred days. A 2010 study published in The Economic Journal by Ran Abramitzky, Liran Einav and Oren Rigby found that while 38 percent of Jewish Tel Aviv University economics undergraduate students ranked Hanukkah among the three most important Jewish holidays, 68 percent of Jewish economics undergrads at Stanford University did so. Orthodox Jews celebrated Hanukkah whether they had young children in the home, but Reform Jews tended to celebrate the holiday only if they had young children in the home as a counterbalance to Christmas. As the study stated, “Jewish individuals may be more responsive to Christmas if their children are at a higher ‘risk’ of intermarriage, conversion, or feeling envy and left out during Christmas.”
This is a problem.
Hanukkah ought to be celebrated in its own right. And failure to see Hanukkah for what it truly it means that our children will be far more likely to abandon Judaism than to embrace it, no matter how many Lego sets we buy them to outdo Santa Claus.
The message of Hanukkah is precisely the opposite of what more secularized Jews believe it is. Hanukkah isn’t just a wintertime festival rife with consumerism and kitschy lights. It’s about the requirement for a fulsome Jewish lifestyle that infuses our entire being, that motivates us all year, that gives us something to live and die for. Hanukkah reminds us that Judaism cannot survive by outcompeting other religions, but by focusing inward — by creating a profound sense of Jewish identity.
Hanukkah, after all, is about a war: a war against Hellenism, the attempt by Greek forces to force a pagan vision upon the Jews. Hellenism offered a rich philosophic and aesthetic culture, a vision of the universe free of the burdens of the Torah. The Jews rebelled against that vision, refusing to allow our Temple to be defiled. Jews even fought other Jews who wished to join in the Hellenization, refusing to allow the land to be governed by the rule of foreign gods. In the vision of the Maccabees, Judaism was a lifelong commitment worth defending and protecting. The miracle was a result of that commitment.
This authentic view of Hanukkah enables Jews to see Christmas in a different light: not as a competing holiday, but as a ritual complete with aesthetic beauty but lacking any Jewish spiritual relevance. Thank God that America welcomes Jewishness; Christmas isn’t a threat. We can enjoy Irving Berlin songs and smile at Santa with children on his knee confident that our spiritual heritage isn’t threatened by the “fun” of the season. After all, we offer more than fun to our children. We offer a light we shine before the world proudly, unwaveringly and with a spirit of confidence, rather than in a spirit of nervous competition. If we fail to commit to Judaism more broadly but think that a few presents and some over-oiled hash browns will keep our kids Jewish, we’ve missed the message of Hanukkah entirely.
Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.
Idina Menzel (“Frozen”) has been cast in “Uncut Gems,” joining Adam Sandler and Judd Hirsch in the comedy set in New York’s Jewish-run Diamond District. Menzel will play Sandler’s wife and Hirsch’s daughter in a story about a jewelry-store owner with a gambling addiction and mounting debts whose diamonds are stolen. Menzel will also reprise her voice role of Elsa in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” in November and in “Frozen 2” next year.
Greg Grunberg, who played X-wing fighter pilot Snap Wexley in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” will return to reprise the role in “Star Wars: Episode IX,” set for release in December 2019. Producer-director J.J. Abrams has cast Grunberg in many of the movies and TV shows he’s done dating back to “Felicity” in 1999, including “Alias,” “Lost,” and “Mission Impossible III.” Grunberg also starred in “Heroes,” and will be seen in the forthcoming “A Star Is Born” as the tour bus driver for his “Alias” co-star Bradley Cooper’s character. Cooper directed the film, which opens Oct 12.
Zach Braff, most recently seen in the short-lived sitcom “Alex, Inc.,” has joined Christopher Walken and Christina Ricci in “Percy,” a Canadian drama based on the true story of a farmer (Walken) who sued the conglomerate Monsanto for genetically modifying his crops. Braff plays the small town lawyer representing the plaintiff who took the case all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court.
Isla Fisher is set to star as the wife of the self-absorbed billionaire played by Steve Coogan in “Greed,” which will shoot in Europe later this year. In March, Fisher will appear alongside Matthew McConaughey’s title character in “The Beach Bum,” also starring Zach Efron and Jonah Hill. And on a more serious note, she’ll star with Keanu Reeves in “The Starling,” playing a woman who becomes suicidal after the death of their baby daughter.
Actress Kyra Sedgwick will step behind the camera to direct “The Way Between,” about a man whose girlfriend dies in a car accident but he finds a way to connect with her in his dreams.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been cast opposite Jamie Foxx in a sci-fi movie for Netflix, directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost. No title, plot, or character descriptions have been released. Gordon-Levitt will also star in the drama “7500” as a pilot whose plane is hijacked.
Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston posed as husband and wife in the 2011 rom-com “Just Go With It,” and they’ll play a married couple again in “Murder Mystery,” the latest comedy under Sandler’s movie deal with Netflix.
Now shooting in the Genoa and Lake Como areas of Italy, the movie casts Sandler as a New York City cop who takes his wife on a trip to Europe that takes a turn when a man they meet on a plane (Luke Evans) invites them to a party on a yacht. When the billionaire owner (Terence Stamp) is found dead, they become the prime suspects in the murder.
For Sandler, the location is a definite perk. “I love Italy,” he said in a statement. “I was here with my wife a year ago and loved it so much I brought the kids with me this time and an entire movie crew… great food, great people, great family life.”
The movie, directed by Kyle Newacheck, will premiere on Netflix in 2019. Sandler, meanwhile, is scheduled to shoot the crime dramedy “Uncut Gems” with writer-directors Benny and Josh Safdie this fall.
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Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow are joining comedic forces for “Judd & Adam for Vegas,” a fundraiser to be held at Largo at the Coronet on Friday, Nov 3. Tickets are $250 and proceeds will go to the National Compassion Fund, benefiting victims of the recent Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
If this dynamic duo (with the promise of special guests) doesn’t do it for you, feast your eyes on this masterpiece of a poster – caricature at its finest, with an homage to Las Vegas icons Siegfried and Roy.
Sandler and Apatow have collaborated on flicks like “Funny People,” but their bromance predates their celebrity. Before getting their big break, the two were roommates in the Valley, splitting a $900/month unit (Sandler slept on the couch). During an interview with 60 Minutes, the two revealed that they’d frequent the restaurant chain Red Lobster (which has the best cheese biscuits, period) once a month. “That was a big night out,” Sandler added. “That was like, ‘We’re fancy now,’” said Apatow.
Actors Adam Sandler (2nd R) Emma Thompson (2nd L) and Dustin Hoffman pose with Director Noah Baumbach (L) before the UK premiere of "The Meyerowitz Stories" during the British Film Festival in London, Britain October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
In the opening scene of “TheMeyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” oldest child Danny (Adam Sandler) is jockeying for a parking spot on the streets of New York City. Every time he almost finds a spot, it’s too small, or someone else takes it, and his frenzied turns of the steering wheel and screeching expletives at other drivers reach a life-or-death level of intensity.
By his side, his teenage daughter keeps her cool, encouraging him to just pay to park. But Danny won’t pay for parking. He’s convinced that when it comes to finding a place you fit into, the hard way is the right way, even if it kills you.
This is the opening salvo of Noah Baumbach’s latest film, with a stellar cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Marvel as members of a complicated family, reuniting around the art show of the pater familias.
Although the film is billed as a comic saga, the laughs found in “Meyerowitz” come with a layer of sadness, where relatable family conflict meets the neglect and the hyper-scrutiny of artistic parents toward their children.
The source of all the family agita is the impressively bearded Hoffman as Harold, an artist who feels he’s not been given the credit he deserves for his life’s work. He lives with his fourth wife, the bohemian Maureen (Thompson, channeling a little of the wackiness of her “Harry Potter” character, Madame Trelawney), who is frenetic and always running away to artist retreats, escaping through alcohol or otherwise avoiding her problems.
Danny’s half-brother, Matthew (Stiller), is emotionally stingy, but his FaceTime calls with his child shed occasional light on the troubled state of his own marriage. The family hints that he could have pursued something more artistic, but the status-obsessed Matthew instead pursued a lucrative career that also benefits him: By removing any art from his professional life, he avoids comparisons to his father.
Danny, a failed musician, is simmering in sadness over the breakup of his marriage; his manic artist daughter, Eliza (Grace Van Patten), is off to college, where she makes student films, some with sexual themes, and sends them to her father, uncle and aunt.
The Meyerowitzes are the walking wounded, literally and figuratively.
The third Meyerowitz sibling is Danny’s sister (and Matt’s half-sister), Jean, played by Marvel with an introverted, self-effacing, shrinking presence that signifies her trauma way before its specifics are revealed.
The Meyerowitzes are the walking wounded, literally and figuratively. Danny has a significant limp; Matthew has a regular cough that seems as if it might signify a late-breaking illness; and Harold’s recent physical injury catalyzes the siblings for more interaction than any of them wanted.
Despite the family name and the notable Jewish members of the cast, these stories have no specific Jewish content. But the rhythm of the neurotic conversations will feel familiar to many, regardless of their family origin.
Connected by fragile family ties and fragmented by family fractures and unfulfilled expectations, the Meyerowitzes don’t always get the concept of love and support right, but their family loyalty can help to recontextualize selected stories from the past and extend the narrative by crafting new ones.
Produced as a Netflix original, “The Meyerowitz Stories” is available on the streaming service beginning Oct. 13. It also will be in limited release in Los Angeles at The Landmark and the Laemmle Noho.
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The Jewish actor and comedian debuted the new version on Saturday night as a surprise guest at Judd Apatow’s stand-up special at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The updated tune listed a new group of celebrities who are Jewish, including Adam Levine, Drake, Scarlett Johansson, Idina Menzel, Seth Rogen and the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
In one comic line, Sandler sang that instead of Santa Claus, Jews can claim “two jolly fat guys: ice cream’s Ben and Jerry.” Another line went: “We might not have a cartoon with a reindeer that can talk/but we also don’t have polio thanks to Dr. Jonas Salk.”
Sandler also mentioned that Jared Fogle, the former face of Subway sandwiches who was convicted this summer on child pornography and sex charges, is Jewish.
Sandler first played the original version of “The Chanukah Song” on “Saturday Night Live” in 1994. Along with the 2002 version, he also updated the song in 1999.
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‘The Cobbler’: Adam Sandler takes a walk in 1903 New York
Some three years ago, film director-writer-actor Thomas McCarthy was sitting at his desk, in his office located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, playing with ideas for a movie, when the proverb about walking in another man’s shoes popped into his head.
What would happen, he wondered, if by literally walking in another man’s shoes, you actually turned into that man’s double.
McCarthy (director of “The Visitor,” “The Station Agent”) had other commitments at the time, but over the next two years, the project, which eventually became “The Cobbler,” gradually “moved to the front burner.”
In an interview, McCarthy said he had been long fascinated by the area’s small shops, many established by Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s. In particular, he was taken by an old shoe-repair shop at the foot of his office building.
He discussed the idea with a Jewish colleague, Paul Sado, who protested jocularly about returning to the Lower East Side, which his forebears had struggled for generations to escape, but ultimately he agreed to co-write the script with McCarthy.
Building literally on the “walk in another’s shoes” metaphor, it seemed natural to make the central protagonist a cobbler plying his trade in an East Side store established by his great-grandfather.
McCarthy’s first choice for the leading man — a shoe repairer named Max Simkin — was Adam Sandler.
“I saw something in Adam that I loved,” McCarthy said of Sandler, who is better known for his comedic, frequently over-the-top performances. Sandler, in turn, noting his last name translates to “cobbler” in Yiddish, accepted immediately.
The film opens on the Lower East Side in 1903, with a group of men in Chasidic garb, recruited by McCarthy from New York’s Yiddish theater and including the Simkin ancestor, complaining about hard economic times.
Flash forward to the present, when a swaggering Black thug (Cliff Smith, aka Method Man), brings in a pair of shoes for resoling, telling Max he needs the job done by that evening — or else.
Max sets to work, but his electric stitching machine burns out, and in desperation Max digs out an ancient dust-covered stitching machine, powered by a foot pedal.
When asked where the contraption came from, Max tells the story (in Yiddish) of a shoeless, hungry vagrant who knocked on the great-grandfather’s door a long time ago. The ancestral Simkin gives the man lodging, feeds him and gives him a pair of shoes. The next morning, the vagrant has disappeared, leaving behind the pedal-powered stitching machine.
Max now returns to his work, affixes new soles and, while waiting for the customer, slips his feet into the newly repaired shoes.
In a split second, the mild-mannered Jewish cobbler is transformed into a swaggering Black thug. Once Max gets over his initial shock, he realizes the potential of his newfound magical powers, which work only if the “other’s” shoe size is exactly 10 1/2.
Next, Max sees a man stepping out of a fancy, chauffeur-driven car. In his guise as the thug, Max follows the man, forces him to take off his shoes and, as his victim’s persona, goes to the garage and picks up the car.
In the next caper, a handsome hunk of a man (Dan Stevens) walks into Max’s shop for a resoling job. As luck would have it, the shoes are the right size. Max puts them on, walks into a bar and is immediately picked up by a gorgeous blonde, who invites him to drop by her apartment later.
Max arrives to find the woman nude in the shower, only partially covered by a curtain, and ready for action. Max hastily tries to take off his pants but quickly realizes that he can only do so if his takes off his shoes — which will cause him to revert instantly to his original nebbish self — so he flees the apartment.
It’s one of the few outright guffaw scenes in the film, whose subplot pits greedy developers against the neighborhood’s old residents, and which boasts some impressive names.
Among them are Steve Buscemi as Max’s neighboring barber, Dustin Hoffman in a short stint as Max’s father, and Ellen Barkin as a nasty slumlord.
But it’s Sandler, frequently a favorite punching bag of movie critics, who carries the film. Here, he essays a serious, at times agonizing, role, and is praised by McCarthy as “a terrific collaborator and very hard worker, though he makes it look easy.”
Despite such efforts, the film has one notable weakness. Given the motif, one would expect the film to explore in more depth how one character can change his view of another by further understanding his or her background, problems and motives. Instead, the film settles for focusing on the shock effect of simple physical duplication.
“The Cobbler” opens March 13 at the Sundance Sunset Theater in West Hollywood and Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.
Brooke Burke and Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue Cantor Marcelo Gindlin share the stage during “Hand in Hand,” the synagogue’s April 3 concert fundraiser for children with special needs held at a Malibu home. Photo by Dana Fineman
Emcee Paul Reiser, Paula Reiser and performer Adam Sandler are greeted by hostess Kym Gold during “Hand in Hand.” Photo by Dana Fineman
New Community Jewish High School seniors pass the torch of leadership to the juniors during Havdalah at the ninth annual All-School Shabbaton, March 31-April 3 at American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin campus.
Temple Etz Chaim congregants dance during the synagogue’s 50th anniversary gala on March 26. Photo by Steve Friedman
Haman (Harry Shore) confronts Mordecai (Andrew Nadler) during Purim Pantomime at Congregation B’nai Emet in Simi Valley on March 18. Photo by Max Patera
Adam Sandler was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Sandler brought his two daughters, ages 2 and 4, to Tuesday’s ceremony in front of the W Hollywood Hotel. His is the 2,431st star awarded on the walk.
The girls stole the show, taking the microphone from their father several times during his acceptance speech to say “I love my daddy.”
“Let’s hear it for my kids, who are now showing you that I cannot control them,” Sandler joked.
Actor Henry Winkler spoke on Sandler’s behalf, telling the crowd that the location of Sandler’s star is “bashert,” Hebrew for meant to be, since it is located directly across the street from his own.
Sandler, who gained fame on “Saturday Night Live,” has starred in such films as “Big Daddy,” “The Wedding Singer” and “50 First Dates.” His new film, “Just Go With it,” in which he stars with Jennifer Aniston, opens later this month.
Also a singer—among his notable tunes is “The Chanukah Song”—he has released five albums.
Adam Sandler, a.k.a. Israeli Mossad super-agent Zohan, saunters through the streets of Tel Aviv gyrating his cut-off-jeans-clad hips, delighting Israeli beachgoers with an exaggerated display of hacky-sack skills and putting on a super-human show of strength in a game of tug-of-war as a bikini-clad beauty perches on his shoulders.
The soundtrack playing throughout this opening sequence of “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” is the hip-hop/funk “Ma She Ba Ba” by one of Israel’s top bands, Hadag Nahash.
Later, as Zohan faces his Arab nemesis, The Phantom, the band charges up a fast-paced chase scene with the rapid beat of “Hine Ani Ba.” The catchy track, which translates to “Here I Come,” repeats during the closing credits and is featured prominently in the film’s trailers.
So how did a song released in 2006 by a 12-year-old Israeli band become the theme song of a major Hollywood release?
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Brooks Arthur brings stars’ hearts and humor to ‘Jewish Songbook’ CD
The decor in Brooks Arthur’s office chronicles what Billboard calls his “career as a behind the scenes superstar of the record industry.”
One photograph depicts Carole King hugging Arthur while working with him after her LP “Tapestry” hit in the 1970s. Nearby is a picture of Bruce Springsteen, who recorded three albums (and his hit song, “Born to Run”) at Arthur’s old 914 Sound Studios in Blauvelt, N.Y. Pasted to the wall are images from the comedy albums Arthur produced for Jackie Mason, Robin Williams and Adam Sandler, who has employed Arthur as the music supervisor on most of his films — including the new Israeli action spoof “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.” Arthur’s office, in fact, is directly across the hall from the comedy impresario’s office at Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions in Culver City.
Sandler is just one of the artists featured on Arthur’s latest endeavor, “The Jewish Songbook: The Heart and Humor of a People,” a recently released CD of new and veteran artists performing classic Jewish songs. Sandler croons a heartfelt (and joke-free) rendition of “Hine Ma Tov” in a duet with his cantor, Marcelo Gindlin of Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (the sheet music from that recording session is taped above Arthur’s desk).
The album’s other 12 tracks include comic Rob Schneider doing the 1940s novelty tune “Bagels and Lox”; saxophonist Dave Koz in an instrumental version of the Yiddish song “Raisins and Almond,”; comic Robert Smigel adding irreverent new lyrics to “Mahzel (Means Good Luck)” in the persona of his puppet character, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog; and “Seinfeld” alumnus Jason Alexander in “Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max,” an Allan Sherman ditty about a salesman with too many relatives.
Promo Video: ‘The Jewish Songbook: The Heart And Humor Of A People’
Arthur, sporting a Brooklyn Dodgers cap, says the idea for the “songbook” stems from the childhood years, when he worked at his father’s Brooklyn candy store and avidly listened to Jewish radio.
“All four of my grandparents came from Russia and Poland and spoke Yiddish fluently,” Arthur recalled. “I used to love getting together with them and my parents and listening to the Yiddish station WEVD, because the music made them so happy. After the shows were over, they would go back to their daily routines, but I used to witness them coming alive listening to the Hebrew and Yiddish songs interspersed with comic ditties.
“It’s a dying art form,” Arthur said of that format. “I wanted to produce an album that hearkens back to those days.”
On the CD, Arthur himself performs “Sheyn Vi Di L’vone” (“Beautiful Like the Moon”) with Lainie Kazan; he says he discovered he had a voice while humming along to such tunes on WEVD.
“My parents’ candy store was at the subway station at 22nd Avenue-Bay Parkway, and, at age 9, I’d take the train another five stops to Coney Island, where I could pop some quarters into a booth and make a little acetate recording, a ‘single’ of myself singing,” he recalled.
Arthur also was cantor of the junior congregation at his Orthodox shtibl before launching a career as an audio engineer, overseeing 1960s hits such as “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “The Locomotion” and “Leader of the Pack.” Eventually he won grammys and produced LPs by artists such as Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli.
He segued into movie work when producer Jerry Weintraub asked him to be the music supervisor for his film “The Karate Kid” in 1982. The same year, Weintraub introduced Arthur to Chabad of Westwood, where the musician experienced a Jewish reawakening while dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah.
“I began to take Hebrew lessons and became very interested in learning,” Arthur recalled. “I found myself sponging up Judaism; I hadn’t been drinking that kind of elixir since my bar mitzvah.”
Arthur drew Sandler’s attention in the early 1990s, after he earned a Grammy nomination for producing Jackie Mason’s “The World According to Me.”
“I absolutely loved Adam on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” said Arthur, who demonstrates by imitating Sandler’s florid “SNL” character Operaman. “I loved his brand of humor, and I’m so lucky that he liked me.”
Their first album, “They’re All Gonna Laugh At You,” went double platinum, and Arthur went on to produce all five of Sandler’s CDs (copies are lined up on the console of Happy Madison’s recording studio next door). Arthur became a regular member of Sandler’s creative posse of friends and collaborators, co-writing Sandler’s animated Chanukah film, “Eight Crazy Nights,” and even playing a part in the success of the legendary “Chanukah Song.”
“I saw Adam performing it in its embryonic form on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” Arthur said, “and while he was still on the air I called his apartment in Manhattan and left the message: ‘Sandman, this is a reason to make your next album.'” (Sandler awoke him at 2 a.m. to agree.)
Arthur initially assumed Sandler might do a humorous piece for the “Jewish Songbook,” but Sandler said he “wanted to do something that makes your heart hurt,” Arthur recalled. His choice was “Hine Ma Tov,” because hearing his cantor sing the melody reminded him of going to synagogue as a boy in Manchester, N.H.
Arthur says the other “songbook” musicians also turned nostalgic in the studio about their childhood.
“They were conscious of keeping alive these great Jewish songs of the past,” he said.
Same-sex marriage and the fabric of society: What does it all mean?
As everyone knows by now, Adam Sandler’s “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan”
dives in where few comedies have gone before: The Middle East conflict
between Arabs and Jews. Hollywood has a long tradition of preferring
onscreen Jews to be Semitic-lite (or even better, portrayed by non-Jews
such as Gregory Peck in “Gentleman’s Agreement”).
Sandler, however, pulls no such punches in “Zohan” — Israel is Israel
and Zohan’s nemesis is a Palestinian terrorist — there is no attempt
to create fake countries or nationalities. For that alone, Sandler and
Sony, the studio that financed the film, should be commended.
As to whether “Zohan” will advance the cause of peace in the Middle
East and increase regard for Israel and Israelis in the world at large,
even as Israel itself celebrates its 60th anniversary, that’s hard to
say. But face it: Given the results of peace negotiations thus far over
the last several decades under American, Israeli and Arab regimes of
the right, left and center, “Zohan” stands as good a chance as any.
One thing’s for sure. If the film’s opening sequence on the beaches of
Tel Aviv, featuring one fetching, toned, tanned hedonistic beach beauty
after another (many of them tattooed), doesn’t boost tourism to Israel,
I don’t know what will. At the very least, it will raise the bar on
Israeli beauty (and when I say “bar,” I mean Bar Rafaeli).
Mostly, watching “Zohan,” you will laugh. At times, you will be ashamed
for doing so, given the crudeness or the simplicity of the joke, but
you will laugh all the same (who knew hummus had so many uses and could
be so funny?).
Sandler’s Zohan, as you may know from the many ads and trailers, is
Israel’s greatest counterterrorism agent. Writing in The New York
Times, A.O. Scott compared him to “a less anguished version of Eric
Bana’s character in ‘Munich'” — that may be so. (Although I was no fan
of “Munich” — I just didn’t find the movie that funny — I only
laughed like twice.)
Zohan is unstoppable, undefeatable, a master of martial arts, able to
catch a bullet with his fingers, punch through a wall, swim faster than
a Jet Ski — you get the idea.
But he is tired of war, tired of the fighting, tired of being Israel’s
go-to guy for missions against terrorists. What he wants is to pursue
his dream: to style hair to make men and women look “silky smooth.”
While on a mission to capture the notorious terrorist, “The Phantom”
(John Turturro), he fakes his death.
Zohan then travels to New York, where he is no longer famous and is
ridiculed for his ’80s-style clothes, hairstyle and love of disco. A
fellow Israeli recognizes him (Iddo Mosseri, an Israeli actor), and at
his lowest moment, Zohan is tempted to join him working in an
electronics store. But his friend warns him away, saying the lure of
electronic sales is too strong; it kills dreams.
Zohan gets a job instead at a salon run by Dalia, a Palestinian, played
by Emmanuelle Chriqui (of “Entourage” fame), on a Brooklyn street where
one side is Arab, the other Israeli and everyone, although distrusting
the other, gets along.
Zohan boosts Dalia’s struggling business by showering his attentions on
her elderly clientele, using a technique pioneered by Zero Mostel in
“The Producers.” Disgusting and very funny.
All is good until Zohan is recognized by an Arab cab driver played by
Rob Schneider, who rounds up his fellow Arab cab drivers. After first
calling the Hezbollah hotline, which is out of service until
negotiations break down again, they call the Phantom, now a successful
fast-food operator in the Middle East, and tell him where Zohan works.
Along the way, “Zohan” is riddled with cameo performances and
appearances by Shelley Berman, Lainie Kazan, Michael Buffer, Kevin
James, Kevin Nealon, John McEnroe, Mariah Carey and even Los Angeles
local luminaries, such as entertainment manager Guy Oseary, Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Sid Ganis and Roni from
In the end, it turns out the bad guys are not the Israelis or Arabs but
a Donald Trump-like developer who is pitting the Brooklyn Israeli and
Arab residents against each other so that he can build a mall.
When the Phantom finally confronts Zohan in America, he confesses that
he, too, has a dream: He wants to sell shoes, and Zohan encourages him,
telling him that in the United States, Arabs and Israelis put aside
their differences to live their dreams and get on with their lives.
A couple of weeks ago, at the press conference for “Zohan,” Mosseri and
Schneider talked about how the Israeli and Arab actors at first were
suspicious of each other but eventually came to have lunch together at
what they dubbed “The Peace Table,” where they had long, personal and
occasionally heated discussions on the Middle East, even as they
developed friendships that culminated in a trip to Las Vegas. Only in
America! (Perhaps the sequel should have Zohan pressed back into
service to save Las Vegas during his bachelor party.)
The Zohan peace plan of living as Israelis and Arabs do in America has
been dubbed by that well-known critic of Middle East policy, Daily
Variety, as “simplistic.” Maybe, but it is also very Sandler.
First and foremost, Sandler is an instinctual comedian. He looks to the
nuggets from his own experience or belief system to fuel his comedies.
Born in 1966, Sandler is of a generation that has known Israel only as
a superpower. As Sandler recounted at the “Zohan” press conference, as
a kid, his impression was that Israel was this country that everyone
wanted to destroy, but no one could — they kicked ass.
So there was a generational difference in perspectives: His parents
worried about Israel’s survival; Sandler thought Israel’s ability to
triumph was cool. That schism is presented in the movie, and I’m not
sure I’ve ever seen it on the screen before.
To write a think piece about Sandler may sound, at first, like a
contradiction in terms — not unlike “jumbo shrimp” or “military
intelligence” — but understanding who Sandler is and where he comes
from goes a long way toward explaining his success.
Sandler was born in Brooklyn to Judy, a nursery school teacher, and
Stanley, an electrical engineer, according to IMDb.com. At age 5, the
family moved to Manchester, N.H.
Being Jewish in Manchester must have been a special experience, since
it inspired the comic mind not only of Sandler but also fellow
Manchester resident Sarah Silverman. It also seems to be have inspired
Sandler’s 2002 landmark venture into animation, “Eight Crazy Nights”
(the first-ever feature animated Chanukah movie).
Sandler began performing stand-up comedy while at New York University.
He also nabbed a recurring role on “The Cosby Show” in 1987 as Theo’s
friend, Smitty. Once on the comedy circuit, he moved to Los Angeles,
where he roomed with Judd Apatow.
Dennis Miller recommended Sandler to Lorne Michaels, who hired him for
“Saturday Night Live” in 1990. It was on “SNL” that Sandler first met
both Schneider and Robert Smigel. And as Smigel revealed to my
colleague, Jay Firestone, in these pages, Sandler’s first “SNL” sketch
was a spoof of Israeli hard sell, called “The Sabra Shopping Network.”
It was written by Smigel, whom Sandler would tap to write “Zohan” with
him and Apatow.
Sandler left “SNL” in 1995 to pursue a film career. “Billy Madison” and
“Happy Gilmore,” for which he shared writing credit, followed soon
thereafter, establishing Sandler’s popularity. The 1998 film, “The
Waterboy,” was Sandler’s first to pass the $100 million mark,
establishing him as a bankable comedy superstar.
Over the last decade, Sandler has produced or starred in more than a
dozen films and shared writing credit on a handful. Yet if you ask most
people, they hark back to the movies early in his career, such as
“Happy Gilmore” or “The Wedding Singer,” as having cemented his image
as a sweet, emotional, vulnerable cretin savant.
Yet many people I know between the ages of 15 to 30 don’t seem
particularly interested in Sandler or in this movie. They tell me they
used to like his movies — now they’re not sure. His humor, they say,
seems too old-fashioned (I think the word they are looking for is
The humor they like is more deadpan, like “The Office” or “Flight of
the Conchords.” They like Apatow’s movies, and although Apatow has a
writing credit on this one, they perceive this movie as different.
I’m not worried for Sandler. As Sony is well aware, since “The
Waterboy,” almost all the movies that Sandler produces and stars in
perform reliably in the $120 million to $135 million range, according
to Box Office Mojo, and often better, and that includes movies you
might not think of as successful, such as “The Longest Yard” ($158
million), “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” ($120 million),
“Click” ($137 million) and “Anger Management” ($135 million).
The only exception is “Little Nicky” ($39 million). In its first
weekend, “Zohan” came in second in the box-office race, earning an
estimated $40 million, behind only an animated panda.
That being said, it is important to point out some differences between the Apatow and Sandler oeuvres.
Apatow’s movies are grounded in reality, fueled by embarrassing or
awkward moments that have happened or could happen in real life. Many
of the films associated with Apatow, such as his “Knocked Up” or Seth
Rogen’s “Superbad” or Jason Segal’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”
(co-produced by Apatow), feature nice Jewish boys who are
ambition-challenged, pot-smoking and untoned (what’s the opposite of
“buff”?) but who get the girl — usually a far more beautiful girl than
anyone would ever imagine they could win.
“Zohan” subverts this paradigm. Sandler’s Zohan is a man’s man —
hairy, comfortable grilling fish in the nude (Apatow has made a crusade
of male nudity, and this may be part of his contribution to “Zohan”).
That being said, Zohan is no nebbish. He is used to being the best at
everything and to being irresistible and so comfortable with himself
that sex is just another physical prowess about which he is nonchalant
(until he falls in love).
Dalia, the girl he falls in love with, is not unreachable, she’s just
not Jewish, and a Palestinian to boot. But given that she, too, is
tired of the fighting — and even drinks Israeli soda — they fall in
love, and in keeping with Hollywood traditions from “The Jazz Singer”
on, his parents approve.
Speaking of parents, Sandler confessed that his own parents seem
pleased with him. As Sandler made clear at the “Zohan” press
conference, he was raised in a Jewish home. His wife is Jewish, his
child is Jewish (at his wedding, Sandler’s dog walked down the aisle
wearing a kippah, so perhaps his dog is Jewish, as well).
Sandler’s stance toward his Judaism seems much like Popeye’s credo, “I
am what I am.” It is an attitude that has served him well.
Sandler’s instinct that comedy was to be found in mocking Israeli
stereotypes and the conflict between Arabs and Jews may not earn him an
Oscar or the Nobel Peace Prize. But “Zohan” brings these topics to the
mainstream in a way that will have many, many people laughing.
In this way, Sandler is hewing to a long Jewish tradition that has
always chosen laughter over tears in the face of seemingly insolvable
adversity. Funny, that.
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else,
he’s an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times
Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every
At age 60, when even the more virile tend to slow down, Israel has replaced Italy as the native habitat of the sex stud.
That’s the uplifting message from “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” starring Adam Sandler in the title role of an Israeli super commando-turned-New York hairstylist.
Co-script writer Robert Smigel says, “I wrote the Israeli characters as horn dogs,” roughly translated as really, REALLY horny persons of either gender.
The film’s Zohan Dvir is Israel’s super counter-terrorist agent who can leap tall buildings, swim faster than a motor boat, bend opponents into pretzels, save burning buildings by spraying hummus on the fire and wipe out Hamas with his bare hands.
Zohan is also a great disco dancer, skilled chef, muscle man (shot on Tel Aviv beaches) and a nice Jewish boy who loves his parents.
Yet with all these accomplishments, he harbors a secret dream—to become a hairstylist in Manhattan.
The film opens June 6 in the United States and is scheduled for its Israeli premiere in mid-June. No Arab country has yet bid for the movie.
During a recent news conference, Smigel, four of the actors and director Dennis Dugan assured the media that beneath the fun and games was a loftier message.
“Life would be easier if we all got along,” said Sandler, acknowledging that his was not an entirely original thesis. He noted that as a Jewish child, Israeli soldiers were his heroes.
Dugan said he wanted to explore “the ‘West Side Story’ of life.” Rob Schneider, who plays an aggrieved Palestinian, talked about “peace through laughter.”
The getting-along theme is apparent nearly from the start, as Zohan breaks the news about his career aspirations to his mother, played by the veteran Israeli actress Dina Doron.
“When will we have peace?” Zohan asks plaintively. “How much longer will we have to fight?”
His mother responds, “We’ve been fighting for 2,000 years, so it should be over soon.”
But not before Zohan has to match muscle and wits—sort of – with his nemesis, a wily terrorist who operates under the nom de guerre The Phantom.
The Phantom, played by John Turturro, wears dark shades, a glittering costume and gold teeth. Like Zohan, he speaks in heavily accented English.
Zohan finally breaks in at a Brooklyn salon owned by Dalia, an exquisite Palestinian girl played by French-Moroccan actress Emmanuelle Chriqui.
At a place patronized mainly by elderly ladies, Zohan makes a name for himself by employing the innovative technique of following each haircut with a special client service in the backroom—so vigorously that the whole salon shakes.
Word quickly spreads and soon long queues of mature ladies line up in front of the salon. Business becomes so good that Dalia is able to fend off the evil developer who wants to tear down her place.
The neighborhood is populated mainly by Israeli and Palestinian expatriates engaged in cab driving and various dubious enterprises.
Trouble looms when The Phantom, who now runs a Middle Eastern restaurant, reappears to settle scores with Zohan. However, Jewish and Arab supporters are busy building up their own businesses and are in no mood to resume the old battles.
In the end, the factions join hands against a common enemy. Take a guess what happens with Zohan and Dalia.
The film caricatures both Israelis and Palestinians, with plenty of material to offend both sides, though Arabs absorb slightly more insults.
An advance screening of the film produced some laughter, though less than one might expect given the plot line and the talented cast.
Sandler engendered snickers with the frequent barings of his backside, as well as his energetic servicing of the mother of a hospitable friend and the grandmotherly clients at the salon.
The picture is rated PG-13; perhaps we are fortunate to be spared the R-rated version.
“Zohan” features a cast of 175, including large contingents of Israelis and Palestinians. Refreshingly, actual Israelis and Palestinians portray themselves. Extensive auditions were held in Tel Aviv and among the expat communities in New York and Los Angeles.
One of the plum roles went to Ido Mosseri, 30, a Tel Aviv native who has acted on stage and screen since he was 8. He plays Oori, an Israeli expat in New York who becomes Zohan’s sidekick and introduces him to the ways of the big city.
During an interview following the news conference, Mosseri still couldn’t believe his good luck.
“Some of the best Israeli actors auditioned for the role,” he exulted. “The last four months have been the best of my life. I feel as if I had made the NBA.”
Mosseri, who he says is “half Egyptian, one-quarter Polish and one-quarter Russian,” warmly praised Sandler as a “very giving guy.”
“He hugged me when we first met, and we played basketball together on the set,” Mosseri recalled.
In the film, Mosseri plays a clerk in a Brooklyn electronics store in which the staff’s sales techniques match the store’s official name, Going Out of Business.
Apparently, the “can’t we all get along” theme of the film rubbed off on the cast.
“We Jews and Arabs ate together at the same ‘peace table’ and really became good friends,” Mosseri said. “After the film wrapped, we all went on a ‘creative’ trip to Las Vegas.”
Adam Sandler and Borat (a.k.a. Sacha Baron Cohen) turned out to fete the Israel Film Festival last year, and more celebrity surprise guests are expected to speak at the gala dinner kicking off the 2008 festival June 12-26 (honorees include ICM’s Jeffrey Berg).
It’s a sign of just how far the event has come in the last two decades, mirroring the increased profile of Israeli cinema on the international scene (Ari Folman’s “Waltz With Bashir” competed for the top prize at Cannes this month).
But “Waltz With Bashir” won’t be on the program this year; Israeli films in competition at Cannes often make their North American debut at major international festivals (think Toronto or Telluride).
“That can be frustrating, but there are more important things than competing with other festivals,” said Meir Fenigstein, founder and director of the Israel Film Festival.
“Because of the two intifadas, there has been almost no American productions in Israel over the last 20 years,” he continued.
At the gala dinner, he might get to unveil a possible government incentive to lure Hollywood directors back to Israel. “I’m hoping to announce something very big,” he said.
Growing up, I was one of the few children that did not
receive Chanukah presents. My family gave gelt, the money that children
traditionally receive on the holiday while gambling over the
game of dreidel, the spinning top.
My parents wanted to make the holiday as different from that
green and red one that sometimes falls at the same time. An easier task then, I
suppose, than now.
But isn’t that what the Festival of Lights is really about —
making sure we stay different? The Israelites resisted Hellenization; can the
American Jews resist Christmasization?
From Adam Sandler to “The Hebrew Hammer” to the ultimate
public display of Chanukah — Chabad’s giant chocolate menorah at Fashion Island
in Newport Beach — we Jews have managed to procure equal Chanukah rights for
all, thank you very much. Maybe that’s not a good thing.
One nice thing about my time living in Israel — aside from
avoiding overly sentimental holiday songs and films — was the fact that most
people I knew didn’t have a lot of money. Most of us couldn’t afford to buy
everything we ever wanted, so we stuck to buying the things that we needed,
like toilet paper and shoes.
As an anonymous Yiddish author wrote in “A Treasury of
Jewish Humor,” which was compiled in 1967: “To have money is not so ai-ai-ai!
But not to have money is oy-oy-oy!”
There is no going back in time to when we were less
affluent, to when we gave a few pennies for gelt instead of gifts, to when
Chanukah and Christmas weren’t often synonymous for “the holidays.” And that’s
a good thing in many ways, I suppose.
But can’t we Jews bring something more to the holiday table?
Don’t we have more to offer this season than a giant chocolate menorah and
eight gifts instead of one?
In Judaism and in life, the world presents two inherent forces
competing for every person’s soul: gashmiyut (materialism) and ruchaniyut
(spirituality). We don’t shun one in service for the other; the tradition
understands that the material world has a place, too: our spiritual leaders
don’t take vows of celibacy — they marry.
A person who chooses to be a nazir (an ascetic) can only do
so for 30 days. The Jewish tradition teaches that wealth should be used to
enhance spirituality: avodah b’gashmiyut. Worship through materialism.
This week, as Chanukah and Christmas collide, instead of
unrealistically calling for a moratorium on spending (who would listen?),
perhaps we should look to our tradition to see how we can enhance our values
through materialism: avodah b’gashmiyut.
We can use our spiritual — and hopefully, emotional — wealth
to give to others: to donate our time, our services, our money.
But we need to do more than co-opt the “holiday spirit,”
that somewhat superficial niceness that descends on everyone, for say, two
weeks out of the year. Chanukah shouldn’t be completely Americanized, neutered
of all spiritual meaning, with candles instead of a tree, latkes instead of
fruitcake (as if that’s a fair choice).
The Festival of Lights, of course, is about a battle that
was won by the few against the many and the miracle of the Temple menorah’s oil
that lasted eight days instead of one.
Perhaps this year, some will draw a parallel of the
Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks to the United States’ capture of Saddam
To me, Chanukah is about the survival of the Jewish people.
How do we do it? Julie Gruenbaum Fax writes this week about how some movements
are looking to conversion as a route to survival. Many stories in this issue
testify to the ways we continue: from Tom Teicholtz’s article on the revival of
Yiddish (The “always dying but never dead” language) to Rabbi Eli Hecht’s tale
of his feisty bubbie’s stolen menorah. Survival is apparent, too, in our own
community, where the Orthodox Union held its annual West Coast Convention, just
days after the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra gave a masterful performance at
Disney Hall and the next day went to Milken High School to visit with student
What does it take to survive? Strength, courage and, yes,
even adaptability and change. If the victory against the Greeks was about
withstanding assimilation and taking on foreign ways, perhaps this Chanukah we
remember that some of our greatest gifts come, already unwrapped, from our very
In Adam Sandler’s animated film, "Eight Crazy Nights," a self-professed 33-year-old crazy Jewish guy comes off like a tweaked Jewish Scrooge.
Haunted by the ghost of Chanukah past, ex-Jewish Community Center (JCC) basketball star Davey Stone (Sandler) rivals the antics of Sandler’s previous angry-doofus characters. He gets drunk at a Chinese restaurant, terrorizes elderly patrons with a nuclear belch (their glasses break), moons Christmas carolers and destroys his town’s Santa and menorah ice sculptures. It takes a Chanukah miracle — and the intervention of an elfish youth basketball referee named Whitey (also voiced by Sandler) — to turn Stone around and rekindle his faith.
Some might say "Eight Crazy Nights" is itself a holiday miracle. Perhaps the first studio release with Chanukah as a backdrop, it presents the Festival of Lights not as Christmas’ weak stepsister, but as a vibrant part of the American cultural fabric. Sandler himself wants the movie to do for film what his hit "Chanukah Song" has already done on the radio: to provide an alternative to the Christmas fare that bombards popular culture each December. "The intention was to write a funny movie and hope that maybe every year you get to see it somewhere," the Jewish actor-comedian told MTV. (He no longer does print interviews.)
Sandler, whose past six films have racked up at least $500 million in North America, may be one of few Jews with the clout to convince a studio to greenlight a Chanukah-themed release. While his portrayal of a quirky salesman in Paul Thomas Anderson’s "Punch-Drunk Love" is currently generating Oscar buzz, his penchant for the scatological has endeared his own films to the coveted male teen audience. Simultaneously, the overt cultural narcissism of his "Chanukah Song" (the movie features a new version of the song), has made him the darling of Jewish armchair sociologists, according to critics such as J. Hoberman of the Village Voice.
"Like Barbra Streisand with ‘Yentl’ and Steven Spielberg with ‘Schindler’s List,’ Sandler is using his stature to produce the kind of Jewish material he wants," said Sharon Pucker Rivo, executive director of the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University.
"Eight Crazy Nights" is another Sandlerian brew of Judaism meets pop culture, so along with halachically correct menorah lightings there are jokes about jockstraps, armpit hair and ‘poop’-sicles (don’t ask). Although some viewers will raise eyebrows at the juxtaposition of crude humor and Yiddishkayt, longtime Sandler collaborators think it makes sense. "At its core, this is an Adam Sandler movie," said Allen Covert, the film’s producer and co-screenwriter with Sandler, Brooks Arthur and Brad Isaacs.
"Adam wanted to address his core audience and Columbia Pictures is in the moviemaking business," said Arthur, a veteran music producer and the film’s music supervisor. "So the movie had to get a little naughty here and there. But at least there is a menorah for the world to see…. And Chanukah is part of the spine of our movie, not just a passing reference. It’s a great way to introduce the holiday to people who know nothing about Jews."
The film’s creators have more than a casual relationship to Judaism. Covert, 38, the son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, is studying for his 2003 bar mitzvah at Stephen S. Wise Temple. Arthur, a Traditional Jew in his late 50s, served as cantor to the junior congregation of his Brooklyn Orthodox shteibel and now attends Chabad of Beverly Hills. In a 1998 Jewish Journal interview, Sandler, 36, said he grew up playing basketball on a beleaguered Manchester, N.H. JCC team — which closely resembles the fictional New England team in "Eight Crazy Nights." He was one of two Jews in his elementary school class and, as he sings in the "Chanukah Song," sometimes felt like "the only kid in town without a Christmas tree."
Class clowning was a good way to make friends; it also provided a springboard to his future profession. After an abysmal stand-up comedy debut at age 17 (even his big brother, Scott, admitted he stunk), Sandler attended NYU and was discovered by "Saturday Night Live" executive producer Lorne Michaels at a Los Angeles comedy club in 1990. Sandler went on to write and perform for "SNL" for five years, creating memorable characters such as the foppish Operaman. He penned the "Chanukah Song" after Michaels liked a Thanksgiving ditty he’d written: "I was walking down the street when I thought up the first line," the comic said. "It went, ‘Paul Newman is half Jewish; Goldie Hawn is half, too. Put them together; what a fine-looking Jew!"
Eventually, Sandler made a career of playing endearing and not-so-endearing losers such as the bratty rich kid in 1995s "Billy Madison." He has suggested that his affinity for playing loser-outcasts hails from growing up Jewish in small-town, USA, a milieu depicted in "Eight Crazy Nights."
The movie began when Columbia Pictures’ Amy Pascal heard the "Whitey and Davey" sketch from Sandler’s 1999 comedy album and agreed it would translate well into an animated film. In a videotaped interview, Sandler, looking adorably scruffy in jeans and a T-shirt, said he’d hoped to turn himself into a cartoon character after "watching myself over the years in the movies getting progressively older and uglier."
Behind the scenes, Sandler’s goal was loftier: "At our first meeting he said, ‘Let’s make a movie about Chanukah,’" Arthur recalled.
Arthur, who provides the voice and likeness for the film’s bearded JCC rabbi, served as the movie’s Jewish consultant; he taught the animators to correctly light the menorah and provided reading materials for his fellow writers. Ultimately, they decided to emphasize Chanukah’s miracle theme rather than describing the historical or religious aspects of the holiday. "We opted not to tell the story of the Greeks versus the Maccabees to have a more widespread appeal," Arthur said. "I know Adam wanted to go that way and we felt that Columbia would not want to treat the movie as a Bible study class."
Some of the film’s Jewish content is played for laughs, however, such as a scene in which the WASPy townies dance the kazatzka while singing a Fiddler-esque tune called "Bum Biddy." But the movie’s creators remain serious about Judaism. To help children traumatized by suicide bombings, Sandler scheduled a New York screening of "Eight Crazy Nights" to benefit the Pediatric Psychiatric Department at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
Covert, meanwhile, said reading about Chanukah, in part, inspired him to schedule his bar mitzvah next year. "In the end, ‘Eight Crazy Nights’ is about a Jewish guy who finds his faith," Covert said. "And hey, it’s helped me find mine."
In the movie "Little Nicky," Adam Sandler played the son of the devil, but for many Israeli children today Sandler is an angel.
When the Jewish actor-comedian wanted to do something to help brighten the lives of Israeli children wounded in suicide bombings, he contacted his friend Stephen Berman, president and COO of JAKKS Pacific toy company.
The collaborative effort resulted in a donation and shipment of more than 500 toys to hospitals in Tel Aviv, each with a personal note from Sandler included. However, while the celebrity’s name was probably the most recognizable to the children, it was the lesser-acclaimed Berman whose massive donation made the whole thing possible.
"I sincerely hope the toys helped to put smiles on the faces of children in Tel Aviv who have endured much heartache," Berman said.
Children in Tel Aviv are not the only ones who are smiling as a result of Berman’s efforts. Ever since Berman and CEO Jack Friedman co-founded JAKKS Pacific seven years ago, philanthropy has been one of the company’s main objectives. Now, as the third largest toy company in the nation, JAKKS’s mission to help children in need has only intensified.
Every holiday season, JAKKS donates truckloads of toys to needy children and families throughout Los Angeles and across the nation. The company is financially and actively involved in furthering the efforts of numerous children’s organizations, including Hollygrove Children and Family Services, Special Olympics, The Boys and Girls Clubs, the Starlight Children’s Foundation and Toys for Tots, in addition to several Jewish organizations, such as the Museum of Tolerance and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Last holiday season, JAKKS donated toys and art supplies to children affected by the tragedy of Sept. 11.
In December of 2001, JAKKS Pacific received the City of Los Angeles proclamation from Mayor James Hahn, honoring its commitment to public service. "Giving toys and art supplies to children who need them most, in good times, and especially during challenging times, is the best way we know of to show but a fraction of our gratitude for our good fortune," Berman said. — RB
Chabad of California’s 22nd annual “L’Chaim to Life Telethon,” hosted by Dennis Prager, was humming along nicely with a long roster of talent that included classic actors James Caan and Elliott Gould, comic actor Dom DeLuise and Israeli singer David “Dudu” Fisher. Then 10:30 p.m. rolls around and the KCET soundstage — where the telethon is broadcast — went amok. Enter the Sand Man.
Yes, Hollywood’s most bankable comic actor, Adam Sandler — as in “The Waterboy,” “Big Daddy” and “Mr. Deeds.” While he didn’t pander to his Jewish audience with a performance of “The Chanukah Song,” Sandler did show some support for his pal, Arthur Brooks, who belted out his soothing-as-chicken soup rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama.”
“You dance amazing, rabbi,” Sandler told Chabad patriarch Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin onstage, as Cunin and sons whirled around the bewildered “Happy Gilmore” star.
Sandler, who is known for not giving interviews, nonetheless said a few words to The Circuit.
“I’m glad to be here and I’m honored to be here,” he said.
Sandler was not the only surprise guest of the evening. Arguably the most triumphant moment of the evening came when singer Neil Diamond melted hearts by singing “America” from “The Jazz Singer.” Hot off his performance, Diamond told The Circuit that his Chabad experience was “terrific. It was a wonderful time.”
In the VIP room, The Circuit caught up with other notables happy to support Chabad.
“Their persistence intelligence, energy, spirit, heart and soul” is what attracted Gould, who played legendary gumshoe Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s “Long Goodbye” and looked very Chandleresque in his floppy gray Stetson.
Caan, the gritty actor who shined in “The Godfather” and “Honeymoon in Vegas,” told The Circuit that Chabad’s drug rehab facilities helped his late sister, Barbara Caan Licker, who lost her battle with leukemia in 1981.
The “Brian’s Song” star affectionly recalled being prodded by her to attend High Holiday services. “She used to tell me, ‘Put on your blue suit, go to the Beverly Hills Hotel.'”
Also touched by Chabad’s good deeds: Dmitriy Salita, who will be fighting at Mandalay Bay in Vegas on Sept. 13, told The Circuit, “Chabad is what got me involved in Judaism. They turned my life around,” said the 20-year-old junior welterweight and Russian immigrant who gave props to Rabbi Zalman Lieberoff of Chabad of Flatbush in Brooklyn for showing him the Jewish way.
Looking grownup in his suit and tie was 10-year-old Daryl Sabara of the “Spy Kids” movies.
“I’m here to say some Jewish prayers and talk to the crowd,” said the redheaded Sabara, of German and Russian Jewish descent. Later onstage, the dancing Chabadniks turned the spy kid into a sky kid when they began hoisting him up in the air.
Onstage, freewheeling rap sensation Casanova was cool as a cuke as he stalked the phone banks and freestyled rhymes about the volunteers. But behind the scenes, the starstruck Casanova freaked when he recognized Gould. Gould came over and the two shared a moment of conversation.
“It’s an honor to be here again among my Jewish brethren,” said the rapper, who was once a wrestler named Oscar for the former WWF and has played the telethon on many occasions in the past decade. “I find Chabad awesome, and I look forward to coming back again,” he said
The Circuit also hung out between performances with Sephardic singing sensation Jo Amar, who flew in from Israel just to sing his signature “Barcelona” on the seven-hour program, reggae singer Elan and members of Rebbe Soul. Elan, who sang “Nothing Is Worth Losing You (Jerusalem)” and “Praises” on the telecast, is a reggae-rooted pop-rock-soul pastiche being groomed in the Shaggy tradition, with two tracks on the upcoming Santana album.
Elan’s connection with Chabad is personal. While on tour in Australia during Passover 1997, Elan found himself at Coffs Harbor, four hours from Brisbon.
“We were literally in the middle of nowhere,” Elan said. That’s where Chabad of Byron Bay came in, including him in their holiday services.
Ditto on an occasion when Elan and wife, Orly, were vacationing in Hawaii over Simchat Torah.
“They attend shul in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts,” mused Elan of that Chabad’s constituency. “If I’m on tour, I always have a place to go.”
Actor Robert Guillaume (“Benson”), game show host Peter Marshall (“Hollywood Squares”) and California Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Dist. 24), were among the recognizables circulating through the VIP room. Also greeting fans was Fyvush Finkel (“Boston Public”), who has been the telethon’s master of ceremonies for the last three years, and was now the recipient of Chabad’s L’Chaim-To Life! Humanitarian Award.
Honorary Chabadnik and Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight once again proved himself the “Midnight Cowboy,” staying up and partying till the telethon’s midnight close, when Chabad scored its biggest grand total ever: $5,473,793 (edging last year’s $5,104,533).
As usual, Chabad knew how to throw a fundraiser party. Those in attendance stayed all night long. Perhaps Cassanova summed up the evening’s spirit with his economical exclamation: “Chabad rocks!” — Gaby Wenig contributed to this report.
About 200 people attended the gala dinner for the Southern California Jewish Center gala at the Beverly Hilton for the 22 Israeli victims of terror visiting Los Angeles. Attendees included a wide roster of celebrities and community members, such as Buzz Aldrin, Tom Arnold, Jaime Pressly, Renee Taylor, Joseph Bologna, Susan Blakely, Lanie Kazan, Charlene Tilton, Tina Louise, Leah Remini, David Suissa and Shelley Ventura-Cohen.
The event was chaired by Rabbi Shimon and Rebbetzin Vered Kashani from the Southern California Jewish Center. CNN anchor Jim Moret was the master of ceremonies, and Oscar-winner Jon Voight gave the keynote address.
Each of the victims of terror was awarded a medal in commemoration of their visit to Los Angeles, and a video presentation was shown of the impact of the terror attacks on the lives of the victims.
“I think it’s very important that we support the victims of terror,” Voight said. “It is important to put a face to the events and to realize the horror of them and stand up and speak out against them.”
“Normally we are here to honor people who play heroes,” said Arnold, referring to the fact that the Beverly Hilton is the home of the Golden Globe Awards. “So it’s good to be here to honor actual heroes themselves.” — GW
Stanley Gold has been elected chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees replacing John C. Argue, who died Aug. 10. The president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings Inc. and nine-year USC boardmember will assume leadership immediately.
Gold, who graduated from the USC Law School in 1967, joined the USC board in 1993 and has been vice chairman since June 2002.
He is a governor and former chairman of the board of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and serves on the board of councilors of the USC Law School, board of overseers of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the board of the Walt Disney Company.
Gold, with his wife, Ilene, has two children, Jennifer and Charles (a USC master’s of business administration graduate). The Golds reside in Beverly Hills.
Fundraising veteran Wallace “Bud” Levin has been installed as national major gifts chairman for Jewish National Fund.
“While I knew that over the past 100 years, JNF has helped to reclaim, restore and nurture the Jewish homeland,” Levin said. “When I was in Israel this summer, I really saw how vital their immediate work is — both responsively and proactively.”
Levin began his career as a lay leader 40 years ago in St. Louis with the St. Louis Federation, United Hebrew Congregation Capital Campaign, and National United Jewish Appeal.
In ‘The Wedding Singer,’ Adam Sandlerproves he can carry a tune and a movie
By Naomi Pfefferman,Senior Writer
Above, Adam Sandler (center) stars as Robbie inThe Wedding Singer and Adam Sandler as a child,taken from the coverof his cassette ‘What the Hell Happened to Me?’
“David Lee Roth lights the menorah. So do James Caan, Kirk Douglasand the late Dinah Shore-ah…. We’ve got Ann Landers and her sister,Dear Abby. Harrison Ford is one-quarter Jewish; not too shabby. Somepeople think that Ebenezer Scrooge is. Well, he’s not. But guess whois: All Three Stooges!”
— from Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song”
Adam Sandler shuffles into an interview, lookingscruffy. He’s wearing brown cords, a baggy, brown velour shirt,oversized sideburns and the jokey, self-deprecating demeanor of theclass clown you remember from Hebrew school, minus the braces and theacne.
The thirtyish writer-songwriter-comedian is knownfor playing doofuses in the movies and for his “Chanukah Song,” afunny, folksy ditty often played on the radio during the holidayseason.
This week, he has a new film coming out, “TheWedding Singer,” in which he portrays his first romantic leadingrole, opposite Drew Barrymore. But Sandler doesn’t feel like aromantic leading man. “I’m trying to get a serious girlfriend,” hesays, sheepishly.
As for his self-image, Sandler says: “I saw apicture of myself…and I went: ‘Woof! I shouldn’t be in front of thecamera.'”
The loser image belies his recent success. Sandlerhas recorded two Grammy-nominated, platinum comedy albums and hassnagged $5 million for starring in “The Wedding Singer.” But, thenagain, the actor has made a career of playing endearing andnot-so-endearing losers. There was the foppish Operaman, who sang thenews on “Saturday Night Live”; the infantile drummer in “Airheads”;the bratty rich kid who goes back to school in “Billy Madison”; thenice-guy crook in “Bulletproof.”
Sandler’s affinity for the underdog may have somethingto do with his Jewish upbringing in small-town, USA. TheBrooklyn-born comic grew up in the non-Jewish milieu of Manchester,N.H., where he attended Hebrew school and sometimes encounteredanti-Semitic slurs. He was one of only two Jews in his class atWebster Elementary School.
Class-clowning was a good way to make friends; italso provided a springboard to his future profession.
Even so, his stand-up comedy debut at a Bostonclub, at age 17, was abysmal; even his big brother, Scott, admittedthat he stunk. But Sandler’s family was supportive (all except onegrandmother, who wondered why he couldn’t be a funny doctor), and heperfected his act while earning a fine arts degree at NYU.
After graduation, he was off to the comedy clubsof Los Angeles, where he was discovered by executive producer LorneMichaels of “Saturday Night Live” in 1990. Sandler, all of 23, wenton to write and perform on “SNL” for five years. Then came film rolesin “Coneheads,” Nora Ephron’s “Mixed Nuts” and, finally, his firststarring vehicle, “Billy Madison” (1995), which he co-wrote with anold NYU roommate.
Sandler penned the “Chanukah Song” while he wasstill at “SNL.” It was December; he’d already done a Thanksgivingsong, and Michaels was encouraging a Chanukah tune. “I was walkingdown the street when I thought up the first line,” the comic says.”It went, ‘Paul Newman is half Jewish; Goldie Hawn is half too. Putthem together: What a fine-looking Jew!'”
An updated version of the ditty lauds theJewishness of Winona Ryder, Lenny Kravitz and Courtney Love. How didSandler know they were Jewish? “I just guessed,” he says, with ashrug.
Nevertheless, the comic does not play a Jewish character in”The Wedding Singer,” which has a 1980s backdrop. Sandler insteadportrays a down-on-his-luck, non-Jewish wedding entertainerwho is left at the altar at his own nuptials. He then becomes theworst wedding singer imaginable — until he switches to working barmitzvahs. That is no easy task, however, because there are only fourJewish families in town.
Drew Barrymore, who plays the love interest,doesn’t think that it’s such a stretch to find Sandler in a romanticleading role. “Adam is one of the most incredible men because he hasthat attractive combination of humor and intellect,” she says. “Iworship comedians like [him], Woody Allen and Albert Brooks. Ofcourse, they all seem so dark and tortured, but they’re like medicinebecause they make you laugh.”
Sandler was suitably angst-ridden during therecent interview. He still gets “very scared” while performing infront of an audience, he reveals. He hates being alone, so he racksup $700 per month in phone bills. He’ll wake a buddy up at 5 a.m.just to make sure there’s another person left on the planet.
While he’s waiting to find his “seriousgirlfriend,” he focuses on his main hobby: eating. “I’ll playbasketball for an hour, knowing that, then, the ribs will be ready,”he says.
So, does Sandler identify with his “WeddingSinger” character? The actor shakes his head. “He’s a great guy, andI’m just all right,” he says. “But I’m working on it.”