July 15, 2019

Creativity in Two Shakes of a Goat’s Tail

Terrie Silverman. Photo courtesy of Terrie Silverman.

My writing had gotten stale. I needed a creative boost. I’d taken workshops over the years, but I always had the nagging feeling that they lacked something. What could it be? A celebrity instructor? Genius students? A tropical location? No. As it turned out, the thing that was missing from my classes was baby Nigerian dwarf goats.

If browsing through my Facebook feed has taught me anything over the past year, it’s that goat encounters are all the rage. I learned I could sign up for writing, drawing and painting workshops, and even yoga classes — all featuring goats enhancing the experience.

The workshop I chose was titled, “Write, Create & Laugh With Baby Goats: A Workshop for Creativity, Joy & Well Being.” Instructor Terrie Silverman of Creative Rites first had encountered the goats at a goat yoga workshop and immediately thought their benefits could be applied to writing. She proceeded to put together a program, in conjunction with Michelle Tritten of Hello Critter, owner and caretaker of the goats.

Her pitch to attendees was, “You’ll commune with the baby goats while being led through fun writing, drawing and mindfulness exercises, to release the critic, create from a place of joy and acceptance, and tap into the wisdom, whimsy and Zen of the baby goats.” That sounded way more enjoyable than my college seminar, “Style and Tone in Faulkner and Hemingway.”

When I arrived at the arts studio on Larchmont Boulevard, Silverman welcomed us and introduced us to the two goats, Billy and Burlap. My attention was absorbed by these gentle, short-attention-span creatures. Silverman had us take out our notebooks and pens as she posed a number of thought-provoking questions. While watching and petting these adorable goats, I wrote and shared with the others what I noticed about the goats and myself, what I thought the world looked like to them, what the goats could teach us, and how they affected me.

My brief experience with the goats inspired me to savor the moment, be in touch with my instincts, not get bogged down with words, remember to play and not take myself so seriously.

My fellow goat writers and I agreed that after even just a short time with these wonderful creatures, they helped us to not care as much what people think and develop more of a single-minded focus.

But perhaps we were still too much in our heads, thinking instead of feeling. And so, drawing paper and crayons were distributed. Our assignment was to let go of our inner critic and create a picture of how the goats made us feel. I hadn’t colored with crayons since kindergarten. It felt therapeutic.

I left the workshop feeling far less creatively stale. My brief experience with the goats inspired me to savor the moment, be in touch with my instincts, not get bogged down with words, remember to play and not take myself so seriously.

Could this goat thing be more than a wacky California trend? Maybe if we hung around animals more often, there’d be less need for medication and therapy, and less bad behavior. Or at least less stale writing. So, don’t be surprised if you run into me shopping for my emotional support goat.

Mark Miller is a humorist and stand-up comic who has written for sitcoms. His first book is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

Mark Schiff: Thoughts From a Stand-Up Guy

Standup comedian Mark Schiff has been a headliner at all the major casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. He has appeared on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night With David Letterman,” and has had HBO and Showtime specials. The 60-something comedian has been the featured act at the Montreal Comedy Festival and appeared in Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” with Adam Sandler. He has also written for and guest starred on the sitcom “Mad About You,” and was a writer on “Roseanne.” His first play, “The Comic,” ran in Los Angeles for 10 months and played at The Aspen Comedy Festival, after which HBO optioned it for a movie. Schiff talked with the Journal about the influences on his career, his interests and pursuits.

Jewish Journal: When did you become interested in doing stand-up comedy?

Mark Schiff: When I was 12, my parents took me to see Rodney Dangerfield and I knew what I wanted to do for a living. I had no idea how to do it or anyone that had ever done it. But the door to becoming a stand-up is wide open to everyone. It’s the most diverse and inclusive business in the world. If you’re funny, they will come.

JJ: Who were the comedians in your “freshman class” when you were learning the ropes at New York City comedy clubs?

MS: Gilbert Gottfried, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry Miller, Paul Reiser, Marc Weiner, Larry David and Steve Mittleman.

JJ: Which comedians have been your greatest influences?

MS: Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Robert Klein, George Carlin and Alan King.

“I love reading books about rabbis. After reading those books, I wanted to grow a beard.”

JJ: What are you reading these days?

MS: All very serious biographies. I love reading books about rabbis. “A Tzadik in Our Time” and “All for the Boss” are two great rabbi books. After reading them, I wanted to grow a beard.

JJ: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of show business?

MS: I collect old movies I never watch. My other hobby is trying to decipher things my wife says to me. Many times, she will say something, and I’ll go into another room and try to figure out exactly what she means. I know I’m wrong about something, but not always sure what.

JJ: You’ve lost a lot of weight. How have you managed to keep it off?

MS: I lost 50 pounds seven years ago. Almost anyone can lose weight, but few can keep it off. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s a constant fight and it doesn’t get easier. I have a fat man inside of me constantly wanting to come out. I’m a vegan, and I exercise seven days a week. And I’m strict. No pizza, pasta, bread, frozen yogurt, chips, dips, desserts, fried food, licorice, sugar or sugar substitutes, coffee or tea. And very little to no oil. I believe with every fiber of my being it’s life or death. As the rabbis say, “Choose life!”

JJ: What accounts for the longevity of your 28-year marriage?

MS: I stopped dating other women. Also, I took acting lessons, so I know how to pretend to enjoy doing the things my wife asks. I also stopped trying to turn her into my mother. And I try to make her laugh. All I have to do is ask for sex and she’ll laugh for hours.

JJ: Any charities close to your heart?

MS: My wife, Nancy, and I like The Salvation Army, Feed the Children and The Leprosy Mission. I also like doing hands-on work, like visiting sick people. Loneliness is a problem for most people, but when you’re sick, magnify it 20 times. I was with my friend Jack the other day. Jack is 90 and in a nursing home. When I went to see him last week, he told me he wanted to die. Fifteen minutes later, we were telling each other jokes. Go visit sick people. It’s good for them and it’s good for you.

Mark Miller is a humorist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and various sitcoms. His first book, a collection of his humor essays on dating and romance, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

‘Second Seder Plate’ Puts Focus on Refugee Crisis

As Jews sit down to Passover seders to retell the story of when our ancestors were slaves and refugees, Jewish World Watch (JWW), a nonprofit that works to end genocide and mass atrocities, would like us to help raise awareness of the needs of millions of refugees in the world today.

JWW’s “Second Seder Plate” campaign asks people to place an additional platter  on the table, alongside the traditional one, that contains these six symbolic items:

• Kitchen matches: Representing the flames that have destroyed entire Rohingya Muslim villages in acts of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

• Band-Aids: Indicating the medical supplies needed by innocent civilians wounded in the war in Syria.

• Tomato: Symbolizing the ultra-efficient farming techniques that can help supplement insufficient food rations in Darfuri refugee camps.

• Cellphone: Calling to mind the “conflict minerals” used in electronic devices that are mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by children, to the benefit of corrupt officials and profiteers.

• Toy: Symbolizing the lost childhood of many young refugees.

• Glass of water: Representing the dearth of clean water for the stateless.

For people who want to introduce the second seder plate to their table but don’t have the suggested items on hand, JWW offers a card with a picture of the seder plate that can be set on the table as a stand-in. Other cards — which can be downloaded and printed from the organization’s website at jww.org — contain information and discussion points about today’s global refugee crisis, along with tips on how to take action, whether by writing a letter to a Congressional representative,  providing financial support for JWW’s humanitarian aid efforts, or by other means.

“Passover is a time to recall the biblical Exodus, a story that, sadly, resonates with the tragic displacement going on today.” — Susan Freudenheim

“Passover is a time to recall the biblical Exodus, a story that sadly resonates with the tragic displacement going on today,” JWW’s Executive Director Susan Freudenheim told the Journal. “The Jewish story of fleeing from dishonest leaders and enslavement is too often being repeated for new populations around the world.”

JWW had considered suggesting that people add new symbols to their traditional seder plate, but “We decided the plate risks getting pretty crowded,” Freudenheim said.

“So, why not make a whole new set of contemporary symbols, linked to contemporary Exoduses, to tell the story of the plight of today’s 65 million displaced people who have been persecuted like the Israelites?”

Each of the second seder plate items and its accompanying text provide insights into how JWW works with people touched by genocides or mass atrocities.

“Jewish World Watch was founded to fight genocide, and one major aspect of our work is to help survivors,” Freudenheim said. “We have also traveled to meet with some of them: the Darfuris and the Congolese, in particular, and shared Jewish stories, not only of the Exodus, but also of the Holocaust. Many of the people JWW met in Africa had never met Jews before, and their first experience is of friendship and generosity.”

JWW is encouraging us to post pictures of  our second plates on social media using the hashtag #SecondSederPlate.

Beyond stimulating discussion around the plight of refugees, Freudenheim said, “our second seder plate reminds everyone to become involved. To be on the right side of history.”

Mark Miller is a writer who has performed stand-up comedy and written for various sitcoms. His first book, a collection of humorous essays, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

Prison to Promised Land

Photo by Mark Miller.

Morris “Moe” Treibitz is doing surprisingly well today, having survived homelessness, heroin addiction and a decade in prison for armed robbery.

Sitting on the tree-enclosed front porch of the Stanley House, one of the first sober living homes in California in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District, it’s hard to picture this soft-spoken 42-year-old as an ex-con. With his sweet smile and unfailing politeness (he even apologizes for wearing a rumpled T-shirt), Treibitz seems to be someone now determined to do the right thing in every way.

Treibitz lives at and works for the Chabad Treatment Center’s Aleph Institute, a nonprofit Jewish organization dedicated to assisting Jews isolated from the regular community, including U.S. military personnel, prisoners and people institutionalized or at risk of incarceration because of mental illness or addiction.

Aleph provides the inmates with access to religious materials and attorneys, ensures they receive kosher food, and that their families have moral and spiritual support. It even helps inmates before and after prison, complying with parole and probation, arranging for community service, housing, employment and financial support.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Treibitz grew up in a Modern Orthodox home in Deal, N.J. He dropped out of high school at 16 in order to run a baseball card and comic book business from home. Although he was making good money, he was spending it just as quickly. In addition, he was irresponsible with his investors’ money (the investors being primarily family members). By 17, Treibitz owed thousands of dollars. At the same time, he also started using drugs, primarily cocaine, Xanax and Valium. To get drug money Treibitz said, “I started stealing — doing armed robberies of gas stations and drug dealers.”

At 21, the law caught up with him. “They kicked down my parents’ door and pulled me out of my bed. They brought me outside in my boxer shorts with handcuffs.” Treibitz was sentenced to 12 years in a maximum-security prison.

While in prison, he tried to make the best of his experience. “I completed a lot of programs,” he said. “I got my GED there. I took some college courses. I also became certified to facilitate certain behavior modification groups such as anger management and alternatives to violence.”

However, while serving his sentence, Treibitz became addicted to heroin and eventually overdosed in 2015. He was in a coma for seven weeks and had to have a tracheal tube inserted. “That was my third OD,” Treibitz said. “The first two times were not in prison. This was my worst and they didn’t think I was going to make it. [They also wondered] if I did wake up, would I have brain damage?”

“I can relate to the Exodus from Egypt. I look at it and relive my own exodus from myself and prison and everything negative and anything that HaShem has not intended me for. I’m in the Promised Land now.” — Morris “Moe” Treibitz

When Treibitz finally came out of the coma, he spent the next 11 months in recovery in the prison infirmary, and was prescribed the powerful opiate Vicodin. “So, I became addicted and started using again,” he said.

Released in 2015, Treibitz recuperated at his parents’ home in New Jersey but when they confronted him, he confessed to still using drugs. “I told them I needed help,” Treibitz said. His parents contacted a nephew who worked with troubled kids on the East Coast, who referred them to the Chabad Treatment Center in Los Angeles.

“I knew about Chabad because they would visit us in prison, so I was already sold on them,” Treibitz said. And despite his incarceration, he never let go of certain rituals. “I’m not the most religious person, but I always kept kosher. I also put on tefillin in the morning, and celebrated the Jewish holidays to the best of my ability.

“Of course, I was also brought up not to rob people and do drugs, especially on Shabbat, but that never stuck with me,” he added. He also confessed that during his prison years, he felt bitter toward God. “Why did he do this to me? I used to think he was like a magician — if he wanted me to be out, I could be out. It took me a while to realize that I made all the choices that led to addiction and prison.”

In early 2016, Treibitz arrived in Los Angeles, where he met the Aleph Institute’s Rabbi Zvi Boyarsky, who offered him work at Aleph’s Project Tikvah, where Treibitz now helps youth facing incarceration or those who have been recently released.

“I know how much it means to them to be helped to stay clean, receive this assistance, how much this is going to affect their lives, so they don’t have to go through what I went through,” Treibitz said. “If I’d known about Chabad before I went to prison, I probably never would have gone to prison.”

Chabad also finally gave Treibitz a feeling of home. On the East Coast, Treibitz said, “I never felt a part of the community. My father’s family was Ashkenazi, my mother’s family was Sephardic, so I never felt I fit into either 100 percent.” But, he said, “At Chabad, I got a second family and for the first time in my life, felt that I fit in. Everybody there, even the staff, has faced the same issues I went through.”

Today, Treibitz said there is no way he will ever return to prison. “Chabad did the trick,” he said, and “my relationship with my parents and family has never been better.” He credits that to Chabad’s Director and Marriage and Family Counselor Donna Miller, who early on facilitated a counseling session with his family. “It was a great experience;” Treibitz said. “I want to keep living and working [at Chabad]. I run an anger management group, and I’m taking an online course to be an alcohol and drug counselor.”

Among his regrets is that he wasn’t able to apologize to all the people that he’d hurt over the years. “They deserve to be able to confront me and tell me how I made them feel,” he said, “but the courts did not allow me to have contact with them — I guess for safety or security reasons.”

As Passover approaches, his second Passover as a free man, Treibitz said, “I can relate to the Exodus from Egypt. I look at it and relive my own exodus from myself and prison and everything negative and anything that HaShem has not intended me for. I’m in the Promised Land now.”

Mark Miller is a humorist and journalist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written on various sitcom staffs. His first book, a collection of his humor essays on dating and romance, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

Tales of Jewish Diversity

At “United Colors of Jews — A Storytelling Event,” members of the community got an opportunity to share stories of their diverse backgrounds and to meet their “multicultural mishpacha” at The Braid in Santa Monica.

The Jan. 31 event was organized by Next @ The Braid (the Jewish Women’s Theatre’s group for young performers) and Jews of Color and supported by The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles Cutting Edge grant. It was co-hosted by IKAR, the egalitarian spiritual community.

“Jewish people come from everywhere and many are descendants of parents of mixed-heritage families,” said Abbe Meryl Feder, producer of Next @ The Braid. “Current events have brought diversity to the forefront, and many people from diverse backgrounds want to share their histories.”

According to GlobalJews.org, 20 percent of the U.S. Jewish population consists of persons of Africa American, Asian, Latin, Sephardic, Mizrachi and mixed-race descent.

The event’s charismatic emcee, Joshua Silverstein, a Jewish and Black performer who refers to himself as a “He-Bro,” was the first of the evening’s eight storytellers, each of whom stood before a photo of their family and presented intimate, moving, humorous and inspiring tales from their past and their current life. Silverstein shared his own sad story of his dysfunctional relationship with his father who, ever since Silverstein adopted his Jewish wife’s two children, has never wished his son a happy Father’s Day and still hasn’t met the kids, who are now 5 and 10 years old, respectively.

“More than half of the slaves stolen from Africa came from ancient Jewish tribes, so 50% of today’s blacks are their descendants.” — Benny Lumpkins

Marissa Tiamfook Gee, the product of a Jewish mother and a half-Black/half-Chinese father from the Caribbean, told how, after her mother died when she was 10, her father encouraged her Judaism. “It turned out my mom married a nice Jewish boy after all,” said Gee, who introduced her Ghana-born husband in the audience. (She noted that, for Hannukah, he had given her a handmade tallit made from his grandmother’s African tribal cloth.)

Another speaker, Benny Lumpkins, a black Jew, stated, “More than half of the slaves stolen from Africa came from ancient Jewish tribes, so 50 percent of today’s blacks are their descendants.” He spoke regretfully of leaving his synagogue after having been made to feel “that I was a unicorn.” He affirmed to the audience, “You are my family; I am a member of your tribe.”

Negin Yamini’s story, read by Eric Green, dealt with her Iranian Jewish parents’ bitter divorce, 16 years of no contact with her father, and then re-establishing a relationship with him after her mother’s death. As it turned out, her father’s very close best friend, a fellow security guard, was a Palestinian. “Some paradoxes cannot be explained; they can only be lived,” Yamini wrote.

Meridythe Amichai spoke about how she adored her grandmother and her grandmother’s lifestyle: “By 8 [years old], I knew that I loved the life of a senior citizen.” After her grandma’s death, Meridythe felt the woman returned in the form of a dove trapped in her home’s atrium.

Courtenay Edelhart told the audience she identifies as a Black Jewish liberal feminist single mother. She spoke with gratitude of one memorable Hanukkah in Bakersfield when an unusually generous stranger provided unexpected holiday gifts for her and her children that Courtenay would otherwise not have been able to afford.

Emily Bowen Cohen’s family story was about having a Jewish mother and an Native American father. After falling in love with an Orthodox Jew and throwing herself into that life, Cohen said she began feeling physical pain for not acknowledging her Native American heritage. So, she  searched out members of her father’s side of the family and made amends. “I stopped trying to be acceptable for other people’s comfort,” Cohen said.

Ingrid Gumpert — a psychologist who is Black, Jewish, Mexican and Indian — had a unique way of describing her diverse heritage. “I’m not fragmented; I contain multitudes,” she said. She noted that diversity has always been part of her life. At the rehearsal dinner for her wedding to her Jewish husband, a mariachi band played; and at their wedding they played Louis Armstrong’s version of “Sunrise, Sunset.”

“My superpower,” Gumpert said, “is seeing the divine nugget of potential in people.”

Mark Miller is a humorist, journalist and author of the humor essay collection “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”

Screenwriter Ed Solomon’s Excellent Adventure

By the time Ed Solomon was 21, while he was still a student at UCLA, he was a staff writer on the ABC sitcom “Laverne & Shirley” — and at the time, the youngest member of the Writers Guild. He went on to become a staff writer and producer on Showtime’s “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” an early cable hit that was often experimental and groundbreaking in its approach to television comedy.

With writing partner Chris Matheson, Solomon developed the characters Bill and Ted, first as an improv sketch and then in the film “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” The film put them on the map as studio feature screenwriters. As a solo screenwriter, Solomon entered the A-List with the script for “Men in Black,” setting his signature style of visually innovative, intelligent, character-based comedy.

In 2016, Solomon turned to drama, teaming with director Steven Soderbergh and HBO for the original interactive long-form branching narrative “Mosaic,” starring Sharon Stone, which was released first as an app in November, and then as a limited-run series on HBO in January.

Solomon, 57, currently is writing a second project in the branching narrative format for producers Soderbergh and Casey Silver.

Jewish Journal: How did you find the transition from TV sit-com writing to feature film writing?

Ed Solomon: The same thing Garry Shandling taught me when I wrote on his sitcom also applies to feature films — always make sure you’re writing from truth — that you’re clear about the internal truth of whatever the project is and that you are faithful to that truth. What is this story about at its deepest level? What is its organic DNA?

JJ: How do you feel your Judaism has influenced your work and/or your life?

ES: I think the combination of our Jewish shared history of sadness and loss, displacement, cultural identification no matter where you are geographically, and sense of humor has deeply informed my work, life and sense of empathy, along with a willingness to find joy in life, joy in pain.

I remember [actor] Tommy Lee Jones being very unhappy with me, saying, “It’s either comedy or science fiction; make up your mind.” — Ed Solomon

JJ: What stands out about your “Men in Black” experience?

ES: Initially, it was a comic book. I struggled for a while trying to find an angle on it until I came up with this idea — what if the tabloids were actually all correct and that’s how the aliens communicated with each other? Suddenly, I had the key and the tone for the piece. And at that point, that world started to open up and become very fun. And yet, I remember [actor] Tommy Lee Jones being very unhappy with me, saying, “It’s either comedy or science fiction; make up your mind.”

JJ: How did you come to be involved with Steven Soderbergh and “Mosaic”?

ES: Four years ago, Steven approached, wanting to experiment with this branching form. We’d been friends and he knew that I’m always interested in trying to do new things. We share the belief that one of the ways to have a vital and long career is to keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. We decided a small-town murder mystery might be a good first start.

JJ: Any fond memories as a writer?

ES: One was staying up till 2 a.m. in my dorm to watch Jimmie Walker perform one of my jokes on “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.” The other was Barack Obama using a line I wrote during the 2008 campaign.

JJ: Any hobbies or interests outside of show biz?

ES: I’m a parent of two children whose lives are endlessly fascinating. I do volunteer work on weekends. I love music, reading, meditation, playing sports when I can and travel. I’m interested in every moment of my life. But, honestly, I’m so fascinated by the writing process that I don’t feel I need another hobby to make my life feel fun.

Mark Miller is a humorist and journalist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for a number of sitcoms.

Why Study Our History?

David N. Myers speaks during a book talk about his two latest works in Royce Hall at UCLA.

Why in the world would anyone want to study Jewish history? This was the question addressed by David N. Myers at a Feb. 13 book talk in Royce Hall at UCLA, sponsored by the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.

The event focused on Myers’ two recently published books. The first, “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction,” offers a concise account of the entire course of Jewish history in 100 pages. The second, “The Stakes of History: On the Use and Abuse of Jewish History,” is an argument for the study of history, and especially Jewish history, as an anchor of memory and indispensable ingredient for informed civic engagement. The dialogue dealt with the intersecting themes of the two books, which together reveal the pleasures and payoff for studying Jewish history.

Myers is the incoming president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History in New York and also the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish history at UCLA. His previous books include “Between Jew & Arab: The Lost Voice of Simon Rawidowicz” and “Resisting History: Historicism and Its Discontents in German-Jewish Thought.” Myers also is completing a book with Nomi Stolzenberg on the Satmar Chasidic community of Kiryas Yoel, N.Y.

Jewish history also can serve to disrupt historic narratives, achieve a measure of justice or retribution, provide empathy…

Myers’ two respondents at the event included Deborah Hertz, the Herman Wouk Chair in Modern Jewish Studies and a professor in the Department of History at UC San Diego; and Sarah Abrevaya Stein, professor of history and the Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies at UCLA. The program was moderated by Todd Presner, professor of Germanic languages, comparative literature and Jewish studies at UCLA, as well as the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

“Studying Jewish history is ceaselessly fascinating,” began Myers, who was inspired 32 years ago by his great teacher and mentor, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, author of the book “Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory.” In fact, Myers’ book “Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction” is an homage to Yerushalmi, who inspired in Myers a love and passion for Jewish history, enabling Myers for the first time to view it as “polychromatic rather than black and white.”

From left: Todd Presner, Sarah Abrevaya Stein, David N. Myers and Deborah Hertz take part in the “Why Study Jewish History?” book talk at UCLA.

Myers’ objective in the book was to answer the questions of how and why the Jews managed to survive. He came up with two explanations: anti-Semitism on one hand and assimilation on the other. The hatred of anti-Semitism tended to confirm the identity of Jewish separateness. Over and over again, assimilation flexed the cultural muscle of Judaism.

Beyond its value as a mere accumulation of facts, Jewish history further serves as a witness to events and movements. While history serving life is not unique to Jews, Myers finds Jewish history to be a meaningful guide to life, providing enjoyment, edification, and a predictive capacity by observing patterns from the past that shape blueprints for the future.

Jewish history, as Myers stated, also can serve to disrupt historic narratives, achieve a measure of justice or retribution, provide empathy, and recover lost voices that have been extinguished. “It is an essential repository of discarded ideas which may offer us new ways out of our current quagmires. To me, then, it is a moral imperative to study the past, not just a professional obligation.”

Myers concluded his presentation with a look at history’s future. “History is going to be compelled to adopt new modes of communication in order to be heard — op-ed writing, podcasts, short-form journalism, etc.” He also offered that, “Culture is the lifeblood of Jewish history.” And in terms of the responsibility of the historian: “I’m a historian who believes I have a moral obligation to act and write based on my historical creed.”

The event’s sponsor, the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, is dedicated to advancing scholarship in all areas of Jewish culture and history, educating the next generation about the role of Judaism in world civilization, and serving as an exceptional public resource for Jewish life and learning.

Mark Miller is a humorist and journalist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for a number of sitcoms.

Satirical Songs Deliver Cutting Wit

Photo from Facebook

On a recent Sunday, I came to a crossroads in my life, where I was forced to make an important choice: either do my bills and laundry or attend “The Best Satirical Songs in History,” an afternoon of musical satire, highlighting songs and film clips featuring Groucho Marx, Randy Newman, Chuck Berry, Weird Al Yankovic, Gilbert and Sullivan, Amy Schumer and Bugs Bunny, among others. With my usual self-discipline and sense of priorities, I headed off to the event, sponsored by American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education and its Dortort Program for the Performing Arts.

The show was created and presented by David Misch, who has been writing and producing comedy for more than 40 years. He’s an author, playwright, songwriter, blogger and recovering stand-up comic and screenwriter whose credits include the Emmy-winning “Mork & Mindy,” Emmy-losing “Duckman,” Emmy-ignored “Police Squad!” Emmy-winning “Saturday Night Live” and Emmy-ineligible “The Muppets Take Manhattan.” He’s also the author of “Funny: The Book” and has taught or lectured at USC, UCLA, Columbia University, Oxford University, the Actors Studio and the American Film Institute.

Satire is one of the oldest forms of humor. Adding music only seems to make it more powerful. In early Germanic and Celtic societies, people would break out in boils and even commit suicide if attacked in song. At the very least, as master song satirist Tom Lehrer once said, “If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend or, perhaps, to strike a loved one, it will all have been worthwhile.”

Misch got the audience on his side immediately with some deeply personal revelations, including: “I broke up with my girlfriend. She was an atheist and, at the time, I thought I was God.”

He proceeded to guide us on an entertaining, informative, insightful and hilarious journey, complete with accompanying graphics and videos, through a generous sampling of history’s satirical songs. These included Groucho Marx’s “I’m Against It,” from the movie “Horse Feathers”; “Blame Canada,” from “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” nominated for an Academy Award for original song in 1999; Yankovic’s “Smells Like Nirvana,” a satire on Nirvana’s hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”; Steve Martin’s “King Tut”; Bugs Bunny’s “What’s Opera, Doc?”; Tom Lehrer’s “The Vatican Rag”; and Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.”

“If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worthwhile.” — Tom Lehrer

Some eye-opening takeaways:

• Randy Newman’s hit “Sail Away” is sung in the character of a slave trader convincing Africans to come to America as slaves.

• Chuck Berry’s “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” was originally titled “Brown-Skinned Handsome Man” and is a sly satire of race relations.

• The first known satire was the 1200 B.C.E. Papyrus Anastasi, and Horace was the first satirist.

• “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” is a song written by Pete Seeger in 1967 and made famous because of its censorship from “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” It was an antiwar attack on President Lyndon Johnson’s military policy.

A sampling of modern-day satire included “Stonehenge” from the Rob Reiner mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap”; Andy Samberg’s and Justin Timberlake’s “Dick in a Box” from “Saturday Night Live”; the Emmy-winning video “Girl, You Don’t Need Makeup” from Amy Schumer; and songs from the sitcom “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

Throughout the program, Misch offered memorable insights into the nature of satirical songs, including the fact that so many of them were written by Jews. But one insight in particular remained prominent: “You can really get away with insulting people if you attach your insults to a catchy melody and clever rhymes.”

Mark Miller is a humorist who has performed stand-up comedy in nightclubs and on TV, and written for numerous sitcoms.

Why the Web Wins


I know you’re not gonna believe this, but before Internet dating sites, couples actually used to meet “offline” — out in public — often by chance: at parties, dances, supermarkets, museums, bookstores. No, really! But like the Tyrannosaurus rex, the Edsel automobile and Steven Segal’s career, offline dating is seemingly on its way to extinction. Oh, sure, a few couples occasionally meet offline, as God intended, in the course of their daily lives, much like our pioneer ancestors, but they’re just lucky and we resent them. Just because they didn’t have to pay $25 a month, post a photo, write a profile and proceed to meet hundreds of people with whom they felt less chemistry than Dick Cheney and Barbra Streisand on a tunnel of love ride, must they rub their joy in our faces?

More and more singles are meeting via Internet dating sites. There’s gotta be a reason for that.

In fact, there are exactly four reasons why Internet dating beats the pants off offline dating. (And please forgive me for that image — I blame it on a literary wardrobe malfunction).

1. Comfort Level. You can check out prospective dates from the comfort of your home, wearing nothing but your bunny slippers and “Just Do Me!” boxer shorts. OK, I’ll speak for myself. But how great is it that you don’t have to shave, shower, get dressed, drive someplace, be hit on by people in whom you have no interest and then drive home, feeling that you’ve spent a large chunk of time with no noticeable results? It’s enough to make a guy swear off dating completely and decide to simply date himself. (I’ve found I have an amazing amount of things in common with myself, and, not to get too personal, but — I’m always in the mood.)

2. Information Level. Knowledge is power, and when you date online, you have access to substantial information about your prospective dates before you even contact them. It might take you two weeks to work up the courage to ask out that supermarket cashier, only to find out that she’s a) married, b) gay or c) a smoker who’s just invited her mother to move into her place to help care for her four hyperactive kids. Whereas with online dating, much is revealed through the person’s profile, photos, the initial phone call, hiring that detective to do a background check and searching for every mention of their name on Google or local bathroom stalls.

3. Security Level. Once, at a yard sale, I was hit on by a woman who was clearly attempting to turn on the charm. I don’t blame her. She had no way of knowing that her combination of attention deficit disorder, skin surface resembling a topographic map of the Appalachian Mountain chain and a dog that barfed on my sneakers is generally not my cup of tea. My point here is that with online dating, you choose whom you want to pursue romantically. Not that you don’t make mistakes. Not that people don’t misrepresent themselves. But at least you don’t have that queasy feeling of having to deal, at any moment, with a surprise visit from Typhoid Mary, or her sister, Restraining Order Rhonda.

4. Quantity Level. We all know that meeting one’s soul mate is a numbers game. You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince or princess. And by then, you’ve got so many warts on your lips, you’re lucky if your royal partner will have anything to do with you at all. At least with online dating, that process is sped up. You can browse through literally hundreds of profiles of romantic candidates in one evening, if you so choose. Contact 10 of them, not hear back from four, talk to six on the phone, rule out three, meet three for coffee, like one but she doesn’t like you, are liked by one but you don’t like her, and the one you agree to meet for a second date informs you a few days later that she’s decided to get back together with her last boyfriend. Just try accomplishing all that with offline dating!

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net


And They Lived Happily Ever Apart

Years ago, when I met someone who had life-partner potential, someone who could be my first real adult relationship, I held on

tighter than Donald Trump to a bad hair style.

“I love you,” I said.

“I want to be with you all the time,” I said.

“Let’s get married,” I said.

I said a lot of things. We got married.

At first, it was just like the movies. There was love and passion and caring and sharing and laughter and plans for the future. We were like the models on Hallmark greeting cards. There were fields of daisies and we were running across them, in slow motion, toward one another, arms outstretched. It couldn’t have been mushier or cornier, but we didn’t give a damn. Other singles envied us.

“Be strong, little singles,” we told them. “We were you once.”

Flash forward. A dozen years. A couple of kids. A few conflicts.

“I want you” was replaced by “Are you still here?”

“Do you realize we’ve been having sex for six straight hours?” was replaced by “Do you realize we haven’t had sex for six straight weeks?”

And “I just love all your little quirks,” was replaced by “That sound you make when you sneeze makes my skin crawl.”

Being together day after day for 14 years sadly lost its luster.

We tried to save the quickly expiring marital patient. Counseling. More counseling. More counseling. But it was not to be. We decide to pull the plug. Divorce. Mediation. Married couple becomes two singles again.

When you’re alone, you look around and it appears as though everyone else in the world is in love, except you. All the other animals on the Ark are in pairs — except you, the sole pig — Porky, party of one.

So I jumped back into the quest. Almost another decade of dating; of periods of no dates, of bad dates, of wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am dates. And now, once again, I’ve met someone who has life-partner potential. I want to be with her all the time. I see fields of daisies and us running across them, in slow motion, toward one — wait a minute. This is starting to sound familiar. I try to remember the TV show or movie that’s reminding me of what’s happening, and then it occurs to me that it’s a rerun from my own life. Oh, God. I’m repeating the pattern. Will I be stuck in this Dante’s Romantic Inferno forever? Will this be my personal hell? My Vietnam? My Iraq?

Is this going to be the arc of my romantic growth? To go from “All You Need Is Love” to “Familiarity Breeds Contempt?” Is there any way to change my fate?

Life has a way of stepping in when you need it. This time (Adult Relationship No. 2), I can’t spend all my waking moments with my new girlfriend. Because of our work, children, pet and activity schedules, we can only see each other a few times a week. Maybe that’s why each time we do, it’s like we’re meeting for that first time. We’re constantly in a state of missing each other and accumulating experiences and feelings to share. We’re not together every day. We’re definitely not living together. And we’re both fine with that. Really. We’ve each been married before, so neither of us are in a hurry to rush into anything permanent. We each value both our time together and our independent time apart.

I remember many of those fairy tales we read as kids ending with: “And they lived together, happily ever after.” I suppose for some people that still holds true. But for myself and for many others these days, it’s a new, revised fairy tale ending: “And they lived apart, happily ever after.”

Maybe it’s not the perfect fairy tale ending. Then again, what with the national divorce rate at 50 percent and higher, maybe we’re simply creating our own fairy tale.

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net

The Perfect Woman

One of the greatest mysteries in my life, besides how to program my Tivo, is why it’s taking me so long to meet my soulmate.

After all, Los Angeles is filled with hundreds of thousands of women, maybe even millions, looking for their soulmate. And I’ve had coffee dates with seemingly most of them. You’d think by now we would have run into each other. Perhaps we’ve passed each other on the way to coffee dates with others who are wrong for us. That makes me sad.

Granted, I did not appear in People magazine’s most eligible bachelors issue — I guess they didn’t receive my photo by press time. Still, what am I, chopped liver? I’ve got all my vital limbs and organs. Original teeth. Original hair. Fairly decent personal hygiene. Gainful employment. Far more attractive than the Elephant Man, and capable of cooking an omelet in a single bound. Take that, Orlando Bloom!

So, what is it? Am I being too picky? I don’t think so. I mean, it’s not like I’m asking for the moon and the stars. My place doesn’t have room for them anyway. All I want is someone who’s reasonably attractive, preferably brunette, not yet collecting Social Security, with a slender to athletic figure, who’s a nonsmoker, eats healthy, regularly exercises, has a sense of humor and fewer than nine cats. There should be a few women like that in Los Angeles, wouldn’t you think?

Of course, as with any fully evolved human being, I’d expect her to be optimistic, enthusiastic, energetic and creative — not to mention considerate, affectionate and passionate. And, of course, I wouldn’t say no if she turned out to be giving, flexible, romantic, spontaneous and communicative. Considering the fact that this person will hopefully be my life partner, is all that really too much to ask? I’m even willing to help with the intensive training on the affectionate and passionate parts.

All the above qualifications would naturally be the absolute minimum I’d expect, for her to even be in the ballpark of consideration, which is located just a few miles from the soccer fields of possibility. Additional icing-on-the-cake qualities might include trust, commitment, sensitivity, intellectual curiosity and a love of intimacy. Aren’t these things everyone wants and deserves? I mean, come on, folks, this is basic, Relationship 101 stuff, isn’t it? Hello? Operator, I think I’ve been cut off!

Am I being absolutely out of line to expect my romantic partner to enjoy Chinese, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai and vegetarian food? Is it crazy to think she should be fond of big band, swing, classic rock, classical, folk, blues and rock music? Am I really stretching things to expect that she’ll join me in biking, bowling, hiking, jogging, swimming, tennis and weight lifting? And that she won’t say no to movies, plays, bookstores, comedy clubs, poetry slams, museums, concerts, walks and exploring ethnic restaurants and festivals?

Am I being outrageously unrealistic in having these kinds of expectations? And please don’t misunderstand — I’m not looking for a carbon copy of myself. I just want someone who shares most of my interests and traits and beliefs about a romantic relationship. It’s not like I’m not flexible or don’t accept people’s differences. If she doesn’t enjoy playing Scrabble, that’s fine. She probably has some hobby or interest that I’m not into as well — such as Parcheesi or the Republican Party. As long as she’s Jewish.

Even if my potential soulmate has just 50 percent of the above attributes, I’d be thrilled and consider myself very lucky. And I can’t help but noticing that that percentage figure seems to be shrinking as time marches on. Catch me in five years and it should be down to 10 percent. Five years after that — if she’s breathing and female, it’ll be fine with me.

OK, forget all the above. I’m basically looking for someone who’s nuts about me and vice-versa. And if she turns out to be a Tibetan yak-herder obsessed with barbecued pork and Yoko Ono music — well, she’s my dream girl!

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional
stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He
can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net

A Love Like Mime

In my San Francisco days, I once had a brief romantic affair with a mime. I was living in a house with lots of bedrooms, which were rented out to many different people. One of them was her, Angie, a young woman who each day would leave the house, go down to the park and do her mime thing, collecting dollars in a hat. I would tease her and we would flirt.

One day, coming out of the bathroom after a shower, I couldn’t help notice Angie approaching me, taking hold of my bathrobe, pulling me into her bedroom, and having her way with me. A perceptive guy like myself notices these things. No words were exchanged, and I didn’t feel awkward about the silent seduction, since she was, after all, a mime. We did everything that afternoon — walking against the wind, pulling a rope, being trapped in an imaginary box. I’d never enjoyed mime so much before or since.

If this sounds like a fantasy, I agree. It does sound like one, but I swear it’s true. Not that there aren’t female Jewish mimes who seduce guys coming out of the shower, but I’m guessing it’s not a large percentage of the female Judaic populace. Angie was Italian, and since that day I’ve dated both Jewish and non-Jewish women. None of the Jewish women came anywhere near being a mime. But they did offer qualities I’ve come to love and look for in my PRPs (potential romantic partners). Which is not to say that non-Jewish women wouldn’t or couldn’t have those qualities — but in my experience, these qualities are most likely to be found in Members of the Tribe.

Obviously, there’s that unique connection to our shared culture, history, religion, traditions and — my personal favorite — cuisine. Oh, sure, I could have taken Angie to temple with me, and she could have explained to everyone that just because she’s Italian doesn’t mean she knows cast members of “The Sopranos” personally, and then entertained everyone with her impression of being trapped in an imaginary sukkah — but it’s just not the same.

I remember standing at the school bus stop in the 11th grade, talking to Joan Reid, a Protestant, on whom I had a huge crush. She told me that her mother recommended that she date and marry Jewish guys because “they’re more dependable, they treat you better, they don’t beat you and they’re more professional.” So it’s not just Jewish women who have this appeal. A few months later, while making out on the beach on prom night with Joan, surrounded by our empty bottles of Southern Comfort and apricot brandy, I just knew she appreciated how dependable and professional Jewish guys are. But I digress.

Jewish women, to me, always seem to have this inner glow, a warmth, a kindness, a sensitivity, an intelligence that I just don’t find in their non-Jewish counterparts. And my Jewish radar, my Jadar, plugs right in to it. I think Jewish women are prettier than others, and I love the fact that they’re mostly brunettes. Blondes seem so, so … goyish. Finally, just try asking an Episcopalian for a plate of matzah brei. She’ll look at you like you’re from another planet.

“That’s some sort of Jewish food, isn’t it?”

Yes, darling, but you don’t have to be a rabbi to eat it.

My mother got remarried to an Irish Catholic man, whom I really like. She is very happy with him and even urged me not to limit myself to dating only Jewish women. How’s that for turning the stereotypical Jewish mother on her head? Truth be told, I don’t limit myself to dating Jewish women. Because, after all, variety is the spice of life, true love is rare, and you never do know where you’ll find it. And while I’m not a betting man, if I had to place a bet on this, I’d say the odds are that I’ll end up with a Jewish woman. And if she has an appreciation for mime, so much the better.

Mark Miller will be speaking with three other Journal singles columnists on Oct. 10 at Friday Night Live at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood.

Mark Miller is a comedy writer
who has written for TV, movies and many celebrities, been a humor columnist for
the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, contributed to numerous national publications
and produced a weekly comedic relationships feature for America Online. He can
be reached at markmiller2000@attbi.com