August 18, 2019

What Does the Super Bowl Have to Do With Judaism?

The Super Bowl is the ultimate annual event. After all these years, it’s still the most watched show on television. This grand American tradition, which many of us will be watching on Sunday, reminds us of the power of the annual cycle. Anything that comes around once a year—a birthday, a gala, a national holiday, the Oscars, etc.—is special if for no other reason than we have to wait a whole year for it.

Even in Judaism, the most popular holidays, from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to Passover and Hanukkah, come only once a year.

But here’s where things get weird: According to Jewish tradition, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar comes not once a year but once a week. It’s called Shabbat.

This might be one of the more provocative ideas in Judaism: We have to wait only six days for our spiritual Super Bowl.

How can a weekly event carry so much power?

One reason is Godliness. As it is written in Genesis: “On the seventh day, God finished that work that He had been doing…. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done.”

God rested, so we rest.

That is the Super Bowl idea of Shabbat: We get to imitate our Creator. God may have a role to play in all Jewish holidays, but Shabbat is the only holiday that He himself observed. It’s not a coincidence that Shabbat is also the only Jewish holiday listed in the 10 commandments.

But that’s theology. There’s also the common sense idea that the weekly rhythm of Shabbat is supremely relevant to our modern lives.

After six days of being hooked to the virtual world of our smart phones, we get a chance to reconnect with our humanity. For one day a week, we take a break from our frantic lives and rediscover the holy and the timeless. That’s a fancy way of saying that we do real things like sit around a dinner table unencumbered by Twitter and Facebook, read books, bond with nature, converse with those we love, express gratitude for our blessings and recharge our batteries for the coming week.

“In our home,” writes Susannah Heschel in the introduction to her father Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book, The Sabbath, “certain topics were avoided on the Sabbath—politics, the Holocaust, the war in Vietnam—while others were emphasized. Observing the Sabbath is not only about refraining from work, but about creating menuha, a restfulness that is also a celebration.”

Imagine that—a day when we can all stop talking about Donald Trump and find reasons for serenity and joy.

Who wants to wait a whole year for that?

Enjoy the game.


Yard-Line Coasters for Your Super Bowl Party

If you’re hosting a Super Bowl party, score a touchdown in the creativity department with these festive drink coasters made of artificial turf. They’re painted with yard-line numbers and markings to get everyone in the spirit, and they’re so easy to make.  

What you’ll need:
Artificial turf
White puffy paint


1. Cut artificial turf into 4-inch-square pieces. You can buy pieces of artificial turf at hardware stores like Home Depot. In fact, they frequently have samples already cut to coaster size.


2. Paint one thick line down the middle with white puffy paint, and then three short lines on either side of the middle line. Puffy paint comes in a squeeze bottle, so it’s very easy to handle. It’s sold in craft stores next to the T-shirts because it’s typically used for fabric painting.


3. Paint a number divisible by 10 (e.g., 30, 40 or 50) on the coaster, with the first digit on the left side of the middle line and the zero on the right side. Give each coaster a different number. Puffy paint is thick, so let it dry before using the coasters. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

Maroon 5 at the Super Bowl, KISS Farewell Tour

Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer of KISS (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

Maroon 5 will headline the halftime show at Super Bowl LII on Feb. 3, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. The Adam Levine-led rock band follows such previous superstar headliners as Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, U2, The Who, Katy Perry, Prince, the Black Eyed Peas and Janet Jackson. Levine has often that playing the Super Bowl is one of his biggest goals.

The NFL has made no official announcement about the halftime show or which other acts may perform.

KISS is hanging up their platform boots and taking off their makeup. The veteran rock band, founded more than 40 years ago by Israel-born bassist Gene Simmons (né Chaim Witz), 69, and guitarist Paul Stanley (né Stanley Eisen), 66, with former members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, announced their farewell End of the World Tour on the Sept. 19 finale of “America’s Got Talent.”

“All that we have built and all that we have conquered over the past four decades could never have happened without the millions of people worldwide who’ve filled clubs, arenas and stadiums over those years,” the band said in a statement. “This will be the ultimate celebration for those who’ve seen us and a last chance for those who haven’t. KISS Army, we’re saying goodbye on our final tour with our biggest show yet and we’ll go out the same way we came in… Unapologetic and unstoppable.”

KISS, which includes guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, have sold more than 100 million albums.

Super Bowl With the Homeless

Two weeks ago, I received a crazy call.

“We’re putting together a Super Bowl Party for the Homeless. Last year’s video went viral, so now we’re expanding. Can you host the L.A. party?”

The caller was Meir Kay, a social media personality with more than 1 million followers, known for his infectious positivity. In his first viral video, he danced around New York City high-fiving people who were hailing cabs.

I have a million followers, too, but at Accidental Talmudist I’m on a mission to increase the peace by sharing Jewish wisdom with all people. In a video that caught Meir’s eye, I brought two Chasidic musicians downtown on Christmas night to see what would happen. We ended up jamming with a homeless guy named Antonio. Later, we passed the hat for him online and raised more than $600.

At Beth Am, I found that some of the maybes had actually showed up.

Meir told me we’d need a venue, food, a big-screen TV, dignity kits, volunteers, a film crew and homeless guests.

“Meir, this is a great idea. You should’ve called me a month ago.”

“Dude! Last year, I pulled it together in 24 hours!”

Respect. That video was pretty good. The New England Patriots even reposted it.

“How many homeless guys did you have?”


“It looked way busier than that.”

“Yeah, I brought them to a party at a bar. But a bar isn’t a good idea for these guys. Plus, the owner doesn’t want them back.”

I bet. So we had two weeks to pull it off. Walking away was obviously the right move. My soul said stay.

I called Rabbi Adam Kligfeld at Temple Beth Am. He agreed on the spot, and so did his staff. Lia Mandelbaum, director of programming, Shawn Gatewood, director of facilities, and all their personnel brought a problem-solving attitude.

So we had a venue. Then Dovid Leider of Leider’s Catering donated food for 50. Boom! This thing was coming together. My wife, Nina, recruited volunteers. Chasids from Hancock Park, whole families from Temple Beth Am, and non-Jews from our Facebook audience all got into the spirit.

Two days before the game, my cameraman bailed because of a family emergency. Then, Marty Markovits appeared, a documentarian with a great eye.

Sunday dawned.

“Hi! Would you like to attend a Super Bowl Party and have a great meal?”

The first invitee said yes. She spends her days by the 7-Eleven next door to the synagogue and was thrilled to go inside. The next 10 people we approached, however, all said no. They wanted to be left alone. Then a few maybes. I called Nina.

The diversity among homeless people is immense. Some wouldn’t attract a second glance at Coffee Bean. Others are alarmingly challenged regarding mental health and hygiene. Nina found two of the latter and drove them to the synagogue, God bless her.

I headed downtown. We found an encampment of eight. They told us to scram, but one fellow, Michael, said, “Hell, yeah, me and my wife are coming!” That convinced the others. I summoned a Lyft van.

At Beth Am, I found that some of the maybes had showed up. Our Lyft group became the boisterous nucleus of two dozen guests, plus an equal number of volunteers.

I’m a Giants fan, so I was rooting for the Eagles to beat the Patriots. This became the general consensus. Spirits rose. Plates were piled high with tasty wings and pastrami.

Real conversations were happening all around the room. I learned Ed was a 10-year veteran of the Air Force. Uncle Ray was just rooting for a good game.

When the Eagles scored, we erupted in “Yaaahs!” and high-fived like old pals, and we groaned every time the Patriots made a good play. In the end, we brought it home: an Eagles victory for the faithful!

The real triumph, however, came from Brandon after I shared Torah with him.

“Who is strong? One who controls himself. I like that. I’m in a halfway house now, getting it together. I don’t trust no one but God to help me, but I would like to volunteer for this temple. Mow the lawn or whatever. Thank you for doing a great thing for us.”

Salvador Litvak shares his love of Judaism with a million followers every day at

NFL to play 2021 Super Bowl in new Los Angeles stadium

The NFL will stage the 2021 Super Bowl in Los Angeles, raising its profile in the country's second-largest media market after making a celebrated return to the city with the relocation of the Rams franchise to the West Coast starting next season.

The National Football League also announced the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls would be played in Atlanta and South Florida, respectively, returning to those areas for its championship game, one of the most-watched television events of the year.

Atlanta hosted the game in 1994 and 2000, while Miami has had it 10 times.

The Los Angeles area has been the site of the Super Bowl seven times, including the first game at the Memorial Coliseum in 1967. Super Bowl 55 in 2021 will be played in the new, $2.6 billion stadium complex being built by Rams owner Stan Kroenke.

Kroenke is moving the team back to Los Angeles after two decades in St. Louis. The Rams previously played in L.A. from 1946 to 1994.

Their new stadium, to be built in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood, is expected to open in time for the 2019 season.

The last time the Super Bowl was played in the L.A. area was 1993, when the Dallas Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

The league previously picked Houston to host next year's Super Bowl 51 and Minnesota is set to host Super Bowl 52.

Recipe: Schnitzel strips with green tahini dip

Sports! It’s a time for snacks, chips, dips, beer and 12-foot subs. I’m usually the one hosting because I love creating a huge spread of finger foods. I set up a buffet in the kitchen and everyone grabs a plate, fills it up and goes to sit in the living room to watch the game. I find that it’s so much easier to have finger foods for events like this so no one struggles to eat while sitting on the couch. No need for forks and knives!

These schnitzel strips have been part of my Super Bowl menu for a few years now and they’re always the first thing to disappear. They are easy to make and can be kept warm in the oven while your football guests arrive and snack on the guacamole and chips you have waiting for them.

Note: there will likely be extra green tahini dip left over. You can store this in an airtight container in the fridge.

Schnitzel Strips with Green Tahini Dip

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


  • For the green tahini dip:
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ bunch parsley (about 1 cup)
  • 1 ½ – 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup tahini
  • 1 ¼ – 1 ½ cups water


For the schnitzel strips:

  • 2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced into 1” strips
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • ¾ cup breadcrumbs
  • ¾ cup panko
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds (black, white or a combination of both)
  • ½ tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • Canola oil for frying
  • Salt



To make the green tahini, place the garlic clove and parsley in a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped. Alternatively, you can chop them finely by hand. In a large bowl, combine the garlic and parsley mixture with the lemon juice, salt, tahini and water. Whisk together well! It will seize at first, but keep whisking! You may need more water depending on how thin or thick you want your tahini sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and lemon juice. Set aside.

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees to keep the schnitzel warm until ready to serve. Set up a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet.

In 3 separate dishes combine the dredging mixes. In the first container, mix the flour, mustard powder, salt and pepper. In the second, whisk together the eggs and Dijon mustard. In the third, combine the breadcrumbs, panko, sesame seeds, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat when you’re ready to fry the schnitzel. It’s recommended to do this in batches. Dredge the first batch of chicken strips in the flour mixture and shake off as much excess flour as possible before moving the strips to the egg mixture. Allow excess egg to drip off the strips before moving them to the breadcrumb mixture. Press the breadcrumbs into the strips well. Pressing will help the crumbs stick!

Fry the strips for 3 minutes per side until they are golden brown and cooked through. Remove the strips onto the cooling rack and sprinkle with salt. Place the strips in the oven to keep warm while you fry the rest up. Add more oil to the pan between batches if needed.

Serve the strips with the green tahini on the side.

Danielle Oron is a chef, photographer and writer of the blog “I Will Not Eat Oysters,” the owner of a milk & cookies bakery in Toronto and now a cookbook author.

The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at

Patriots star Julian Edelman blows through Israel

Ever since New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman’s breakout performance in the Super Bowl last February, football fans have wondered whether they could proudly count him as a member of the tribe.

His latest trip to Israel certainly helps them make the case. Few NFL players have so outwardly identified with the Jewish people.

At the end of June, Edelman spent ten days in Israel with representatives of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and a group of Boston-area young adults. The exploration of his Jewish heritage involved “participating in lots of…quintessentially Israeli experiences,” according to a CJP press release.

Edelman’s marketing company Superdigital – which has helped him create an impressive social media presence, even by the high standards of professional athletes – filmed the journey.

“Exploring my heritage is something I started in the past few years and seeing Israel for the first time, really getting a sense of its history and culture – I now truly understand why it’s so special,” Edelman said in the press release.

The main montage video and a series of shorter clips lets fans watch Edelman pray at the Western Wall, discuss the City of David in Jerusalem, get a haircut in the desert, find a T-shirt that says “Super Jew” and shout the phrase “Yalla!” repeatedly (the term, which is Arabic and Hebrew for “Let’s go,” was the figurative theme of Edelman’s trip).

According to the CJP, Edelman’s trip also included praying with tefillin, sailing in the Sea of Galilee, swimming in the Dead Sea, riding a Jeep through the Negev Desert, playing football with Israel’s national team and getting a tour of Tel Aviv’s notable graffiti art. He passed through Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and the Negev region.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence after all that Edelman’s signature JEII logo – a combination of his initials and his jersey number – looks a lot like the word “Jew.”

Watch the main video chronicling Edelman’s adventurous trip below.

Netanyahu: Call off the Congress play

Liberal Democrats are the soft underbelly of American support for Israel, and John Boehner and Benjamin Netanyahu just gave them a swift kick.

When the Republican speaker of the house went around President Barack Obama to issue an invitation to the prime minister of Israel to address Congress, which Netanyahu accepted, you could practically hear the chorus of WTFs from the silent majority of the American-Jewish community.

Despite explanations to the contrary, this is not about the Iranian nuclear program or sanctions. We all want the former to fail and the latter to succeed; that’s a given.  

But when in our madness we are reckless in our means, that slow sucking sound you hear is bipartisan American support for Israel going down the drain. If Netanyahu thinks American support for Israel can survive solely on Evangelicals’ votes and Sheldon Adelson’s wallet, he’s been away too long from Cambridge.

I spoke with AIPAC supporters from both sides of the aisle this week, and while they disagreed on the severity of Bibi’s move, they agreed that bipartisan support is the bedrock of the American-Israeli alliance.

“It’s not helpful for a foreign leader to come right before election,” Larry Hochberg, a longtime pro-Israel activist who leans Republican, told me by phone. “We still love this country. We belong here. Americans don’t like any affront to our leader. I don’t think it’s a diplomatic coup for Israel; I really don’t.”

Hochberg was quick to give the benefit of the doubt to Bibi. Perhaps his message is so important, Hochberg said, he just had to take it directly to Congress, and U.S.-Israel relations have survived worse crises. But, still, the “how” is of concern.

“It falls a little down party lines,” Hochberg said. “Those in the middle don’t like to see their president embarrassed, and the president has a right to conduct foreign policy.”

Bipartisan support, including “those in the middle,” bloomed in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, but it has long been wilting. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey taken during the last war with Hamas found that “the share of Republicans who sympathize more with Israel has risen from 68 percent to 73 percent; 44 percent of Democrats express more sympathy for Israel than [for] the Palestinians, which is largely unchanged from April (46 percent).”

But the gaps widened when pollsters plugged in political preferences. Among Republicans, 77 percent of conservative Republicans favor Israel. Among Democrats, only 39 percent of liberal Democrats do.

As I’ve written before, among the next generations, the ones that didn’t experience the Six-Day War, the Holocaust, Osirak and Entebbe — these gaps are even wider. A generation of American college students is being subjected to the one-two punch of a cynical, well-funded Arab propaganda campaign against Israel, coupled with Bibi’s disdain of the president they helped elect.

There are no polls out yet on Americans’ opinion of Bibi’s plans for a March 3 speech to Congress. But you know it’s playing badly among Israel’s shakier supporters here when even the country’s stalwart fans are upset.

 “If you talk to AIPAC, they will tell you they were not consulted and not involved,” Greg Rosenbaum told me. “They were blindsided as much as anybody else was.”

Rosenbaum is an uber-successful investor (and former CEO of Empire Kosher) who chairs the National Jewish Democratic Council. So you can write him off as a Boehner-hater, or pine for the old days when the pro-Israel tent gathered him and his Republican counterparts together.

“AIPAC is firmly committed to the proposition that support for U.S.-Israel relations must be bi-partisan,” Rosenbaum told me. “This would be considered an affront. It is perceived as a way to get at Obama.”

The irony here is that AIPAC is widely being blamed for dissing Democrats when, in reality, according to Rosenbaum and Hochberg, AIPAC was out of this decision loop.

Some reports have placed blame on American-born Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, who is generally perceived as leaning Republican. Several people have told me they saw him at the White House Chanukah party last December, waiting in line with every Joe Rabbi and Jane Fundraiser — civilians! — to get in. Perhaps he engineered this diplomatic reach around as a way of cutting the line.

Or maybe it was just a bad call — like, say, a pass in the last few seconds of a Super Bowl game when you’re less than 1 yard from the goal. It seemed like a good idea beforehand. But almost immediately, you realize what a terrible mistake you’ve made.

Let’s assume that’s the case. (The alternative is too awful to ponder — that Republicans have some scheme to “win” on Israel, and thus capture pro-Israel dollars at the expense of broader American support.)

“Even smart people and smart politicians occasionally make miscalculations,” Rosenbaum told me. “The best figure out how to get away from them as soon as the negative impact is seen.”

Calling back this play will be hard now that partisan forces have lined up on both sides to defend and attack it. But that ugly thrum of partisanship, which will only grow louder as March 3 approaches, is exactly why Bibi, Boehner and Dermer need to figure out a way to keep most Americans on Israel’s side — in this conflict and the next.

Read David Suissa's counter-point here:
Why Bibi should give his speech

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

In Tel Aviv, it’s Super Bowl Early Monday Morning

There were wings, beers, giant TV screens, and football fans wearing New England Patriots sweatshirts and Seattle Seahawks jerseys. If not for the fact that it was 1 a.m. and former Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid stood in the center of the bar, it could have been mistaken for Anytown USA.

Most Israelis don’t mark Super Bowl Sunday — or, really, Super Bowl Early Monday Morning — in any real way. But a group of Americans in Israel (and some Israelis who became acquainted with American football during stateside stints) showed up past midnight, an hour before the kickoff, putting off sleep and trying to forget about work the next day to watch the big game.

Elie Pieprz, who in 2012 founded a nonprofit to urge American-Israelis to vote in U.S. elections, came to see the game with his 11-year-old daughter, Eliana, in what has become an annual tradition for them. Father and daughter, pulling for Seattle, both wore Washington Redskins jerseys.

“We feel strongly about our connection to America,” Pieprz said. “We didn’t make aliyah to leave America. We’re bringing the best part of America to Israel.”

This Super Bowl party in central Tel Aviv was sponsored by Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, the centrist faction that for now boasts the Knesset’s only American lawmaker, Dov Lipman. Wearing a black sweater along with his trademark black velvet kipah, Lipman appeared chipper at halftime as Katy Perry ascended a robotic lion on a TV screen behind him.

“I thought to myself, there’s enough Anglos in Israel who want to watch, so why not watch it together?” said Lipman, who helped organize the gathering. “It’s not a political event. People are coming to watch the game.”

Some 200 fans attended the party, but most were surprisingly quiet for people who chose to pull an all-nighter to watch the big game. Aside from some hard-core New England fans in the center of the room, much of the crowd timidly cheered for the Seahawks.

“I watched it in the U.S., and I like the thinking behind the game,” said Yochai Zeid, 41, a Yesh Atid activist from Tel Aviv. “It’s a game of strategy and tactics.”

On Sundays, Zeid gets together with a group of five to seven friends to watch the early games at dinnertime in Israel. He was rooting for the Seahawks, he said, because a friend of his is a Seahawks superfan.

Another casual Seahawks fan was Lapid, who said he likes football. Why was he rooting for Seattle?

“Because [fellow lawmaker] Ofer Shelach is going for the Patriots,” Lapid said, shrugging, “so I want to do the opposite.”

Meanwhile, a slightly more energetic crowd of 200 gathered for another Super Bowl party at an event hall in north Tel Aviv, where passions raged even at 4 a.m. The festivities, appropriately, were sponsored by a chicken wings restaurant founded by American immigrant Eytan White. Wings has become a popular hangout for fellow expats since opening last year.

White came up with the idea to open the restaurant after frying wings for a group of American friends who would come together to watch football on Sundays.

“Here in Israel, it’s important to integrate with Israeli society, but it’s also important for you to keep the cultural traditions you had there,” said White, 30. “It’s a strong attachment. I’ve always enjoyed the camaraderie and coming together around a football game.”

At Wings, every pass, run, block and sack elicited a chorus of cheers. The room grew quieter and tenser as the Patriots mounted their comeback and the Seahawks pushed downfield for their final drive. Jermaine Kearse’s crazy bobbled catch, the game-ending interception in the end zone and the bizarre brawl in the waning seconds of the Patriots’ 28-24 victory came with ecstasy, agony and disbelief. Even at 5 a.m., it was hard to feel tired.

Reality began to set in as the party-goers filed out of the atrium and into the Tel Aviv morning. But as a few Americans sat in a shared taxi heading home, “The Day the Music Died” came on the radio. For one more moment, it almost felt like America.

A victory against anti-Israel BDS

Israelis and supporters of Israel are increasingly concerned about international pressure — and with good reason. There was last year’s directive from the European Union, which threatened important Israel-EU cooperation; the recent uproar about SodaStream, which brought Israel unflattering media attention; and the almost daily news of some European country singling out an Israeli company for negative treatment.

Are these victories for the global BDS movement — the movement calling on people and nations to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel? Absolutely not. 

The BDS movement treats Israel and the occupied territories as a single entity, seeing everything Israeli as a legitimate target for activism and thus, in effect, ignoring the Green Line — the 1949 Armistice line between Israel and the occupied territories.  Supporters of this kind of BDS can find their mirror image in settlers and Greater Israel ideologues who want to erase the Green Line, in order to promote permanent Israeli control of the occupied territories.

In contrast, the current wave of pressure on Israel is a resounding rejection of efforts to ignore or erase the Green Line. This pressure, which has so shaken up Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he recently attacked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for merely pointing out the danger of isolation facing Israel, is at its core a powerful affirmation of Israel’s legitimacy as a state, coupled with an equally powerful condemnation of Israel’s actions and policies beyond the Green Line. 

Let’s look at what this pressure is really about. The EU directive targeted Israeli support for settlements, not Israel itself. The SodaStream uproar was solely about its policy of manufacturing its products in a settlement, not its Israeli ownership. These and other recent developments are a clear challenge both to those who support BDS against Israel and to those who support settlements. These developments are, on the other hand, a victory for Israel — an affirmation of support for Israel as a legitimate, sovereign nation that can only survive and thrive if the occupation ends. 

Israel’s Shalom Achshav movement and its U.S. sister organization, Americans for Peace Now (APN), have long worked to shine a bright light on the Green Line, delineating our strong support for Israel within its recognized, sovereign territory but our rejection of occupation. We do this precisely because we are committed to Israel and its survival as a healthy democracy and a Jewish state. 

When APN and Shalom Achshav first came out endorsing boycotting settlements and settlement products, many in Israel and the American-Jewish world were critical and dismissive. Some said such a policy was meaningless, as settlement-related economic activity is limited. Today, it is indisputable that highlighting the Green Line and targeting settlements is having real impact. 

Some said such a policy would only encourage BDS against Israel. In truth, decades of international indifference and impotence in the face of deepening Israeli occupation has led many people of conscience, including people who care deeply about Israel, to despair of finding a way to change Israel’s pro-settlement policies — and neither hasbara nor anti-boycott legislation will counteract this phenomenon. Given this reality, the only convincing answer to calls for BDS against Israel is supporting Israel by boycotting the settlements and challenging the occupation. 

Make no mistake: Getting the world to adopt policies that distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories is a victory against those whose goal is to challenge the legitimacy not simply of settlements, but of Israel’s very existence. If we can’t succeed in doing so, others will succeed in isolating and delegitimizing Israel.

Steven Kaplan is a Los Angeles labor lawyer and Americans for Peace Now regional co-chair. He is one of the founders of Progressive Jewish Alliance. Sanford Weiner is a regional co-chair and national board member of Americans for Peace Now. He is co-founder of Social Studies School Service and active in the Jewish community and political activities.

BDS and Oxfam — major Super Bowl fail

The political war against Israel, waged through a highly aggressive campaign of “boycotts, divestment and sanctions” (BDS), received its biggest defeat at the Super Bowl in New York and on hundreds of millions of screens around the world. The commercials, including one for the Israeli firm SodaStream, featuring the actress Scarlett Johansson, were more interesting than the game.

In the weeks before the game, Johansson came under intense pressure from the BDS bully squad, which demanded that she pull out and disassociate herself from the Israeli connection. The actress was also a “global ambassador” for the international humanitarian aid group Oxfam, whose leaders repeated these BDS-based demands, in sync with radical anti-Israel groups such as Electronic Intifada. To her immense credit, Johansson rejected the bullying and the accompanying personal attacks, and instead told Oxfam to find another “ambassador.”

By standing firm, Johansson and the owners of SodaStream demonstrated that even the most full-blown BDS attacks can be defeated. In its counterattack, SodaStream exposed the myths that underlie the boycotts and the broader delegitimization campaigns targeting Israel, including the fact that the 500 Palestinian-Arab employees at the Ma’ale Adumim plant (a “settlement” located on the outskirts of Jerusalem) enjoyed the same pay and health benefits as their Israeli counterparts.  

In contrast to previous battles, in this case, it was the proponents and enablers of BDS that were put on the defensive, and they did not do well in this role. Oxfam denied that it was involved in BDS, but the facts proved the contrary. Between 2011 and 2013, the Dutch branch, known as Oxfam Novib, provided almost $500,000 (largely from government funds provided ostensibly for humanitarian aid) to one of the most radical BDS leaders — the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP). This group also received funds from Oxfam GB (Great Britain). The discrepancy between Oxfam’s claims and the documentation of its role in BDS was highlighted by SodaStream executives and in a number of media articles.

[Related: A tale of two universities]

Although CWP is technically an Israel-based NGO, almost all of its activities are focused externally in promoting boycott campaigns, particularly in Europe. (For political purposes, the Arab and European leaders of BDS, as the NGO Forum of the infamous 2001 U.N. Durban conference showed, often use fringe Israeli and Jewish groups as facades, and this is the case with CWP.) In addition to Oxfam, other funders for CWP’s radical and immoral agenda include government-funded German NGOs, as well as the United Church of Canada, and anti-Israel church groups in Ireland and Holland.

Another myth exposed in the Soda-Stream/Johansson showdown is the claim that BDS is “limited” to opposing the post-1967 Six-Day War occupation and settlements. This myth was quoted by many journalists who did not go beyond the press statements. However, at the 2001 Durban NGO Forum, thousands of boycott advocates clearly stated their goal as the elimination of Jewish sovereign equality regardless of borders — in their words, “the complete international isolation of Israel as an apartheid state.” This objective has not changed.

Omar Barghouti, among the radical leaders and ideologues of the BDS bully squad, has said that “the only ethical solution is a [single] democratic, secular and civic state in historic Palestine,” which means “by definition, Jews will be a minority.” In refuting the myth of limited goals, the fundamentally immoral objectives of BDS have been put out into the open.

In order to move beyond this battle, a wider confrontation is necessary with the BDS industry, which is supported by tens of millions of dollars annually. These massive budgets, manipulated via hidden European government sources, are funneled to radical NGOs, as well as to anti-Israel church groups that often include classical anti-Semitic replacement theology (meaning that Christians have “replaced” the Jews). Beyond Oxfam, other “moral” superpowers taking an active part in the immoral war against Israel include Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, whose leaders repeatedly demonstrate their personal and highly destructive anti-Israel obsessions.

The most important lesson is that, notwithstanding their financial backing and political support, BDS anti-Israel bullying and intimidation can be defeated, as demonstrated by SodaStream and Scarlett Johansson.

Gerald M. Steinberg is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.

Will God have a say in Super Sunday outcome?

Rabbi Daniel Alter expects some added fervency during daily prayer services at the Denver Academy of Torah in the days leading up to the Super Bowl.

Alter, the academy’s head of school, recalls that when the Colorado Rockies faced the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 World Series, his students were more focused on prayer than ever before.

“That created a conversation on the role of prayer,” Alter said. “It brought up questions: Does God care? We probably will be having some of those conversations in the week leading up to the Super Bowl.”

With the Denver Broncos set to face off against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, it’s likely Jewish students in Colorado won’t be the only ones praying with a little extra zeal this week.

A poll taken earlier this month by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 22 percent of respondents believe God plays some role in the outcome of sporting events.

In its sampling of 1,011 adults, the Washington, D.C.-based organization found that 26 percent of respondents pray for God’s intervention to help their team and that 48 percent completely or mostly agreed that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.

Daniel Shapiro, the strength and conditioning coach for the men’s basketball team at the University of Washington, would seem to be among them. Players and coaches for the Huskies regularly assemble for pregame prayers, a tradition maintained by many in pro and college sports, including two that Shapiro has coached: the Sacramento Kings of the NBA and the University of Dayton.

But Shapiro, who was at the Jan. 19 NFC championship game that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, says the prayer ritual is less a request for divine intervention than an acknowledgment of a higher power.

“One thing I’ve noticed is, they never pray for a win. They pray that everyone stays uninjured and that He lets us give our best effort, which I think says a lot,” Shapiro said. “My take is it’s not up to God. If you pray for a win, and then don’t [win] — then what? He let you down? It’s more about we acknowledge your presence.”

Larry Bensussen of Bellevue, Wash., who will be attending the game on Sunday at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, said he doesn’t think God cares much about the game’s outcome either. But like the 21 percent of respondents in the religion survey who say they don a favorite jersey when viewing sports, Bensussen said he is superstitious about what he wears for big games.

On Sunday, Bensussen will be attired in the No. 54 jersey of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and a proven good-luck pair of pants, along with plenty of warm clothing for the first-ever cold-weather, outdoor Super Bowl.

Bensussen, whose wife, Shelley, is a past board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, will attend the game with his two sons and a daughter, who will be wearing their good-luck jerseys, too. Shelley will be  accompanying the family east for the occasion, but won’t attend the game. Too cold, she said.

Favorite jerseys didn’t work for Bensussen in 2006, when he attended the Seahawks’ first Super Bowl appearance, in Detroit. The Seahawks fell that day to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Back in Denver, Judaic studies teacher Benjamin Levy, a Seattle transplant, said he might wear a football helmet to class — as protection, if not fan identification.

When students baited him on his Seahawks allegiance, Levy responded that the better team could only be determined in a Super Bowl matchup. Now, the day of reckoning is approaching.

Last week’s final exams limited the trash-talking opportunities, but all bets are off in the coming days. Levy, a first cousin of Shapiro, is bracing for the onslaught.

If the Seahawks win, “I’m not going to gloat in their faces, much as I’d like to,” he said. “If the Broncos win, how long until I can show my face until the taunting stops?”

But the Super Bowl is not all about competing allegiances, even in Denver. A New York Jets season ticket holder who won two tickets to the game in a raffle decided not to attend and sold the tickets to his brother, a Denver Academy of Torah board member, who promptly donated them to the school. The academy auctioned them off in a fundraiser, resulting in a $10,000 windfall for the school.

“It’s helping a wonderful cause in which kids are being educated in Torah every day,” said Kathy Bashari, the Denver Academy’s director of development. “Everyone involved did amazing mitzvahs.”

Scarlett Johansson to star in SodaStream’s Super Bowl ad

Scarlett Johansson, faceless in the movie “Her,” has just landed a gig as the face of an Israeli company. According to The New York Times, the Jewish actress has been chosen as SodaStream’s “Global Spokesperson” and will star in its upcoming Super Bowl ad.

In the commercial, airing during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl XLVIII  on Fox on Feb. 2, Johansson will show us how the home soda maker works. The point is to ”demonstrate how easy it is, how sexy it is, to make your own soda,” said Daniel Birnbaum, chief executive at SodaStream International.

Who better to do that than the woman who was named Esquire’s “Sexiest Woman Alive” for 2013? It also doesn’t hurt that she’s had some practice.

Johansson has been a proud SodaStream user for a few years new, and has even gifted the machine to friends.

“I love carbonated water but hate the waste of bottles,” Johansson says in a behind-the-scenes clip for the upcoming commercial.

Sounds like it’ll be far less controversial than the company’s last Super Bowl ad (their first), which showed a regular soda bottle exploding every time someone used SodaStream. It was seen as an assault on certain behemoth soda brands, and CBS ultimately refused to air it. Check it out here.

In SodaStream boycott push, Palestinians may be the victims

For proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, SodaStream would appear to be a straightforward target.

The Israeli company, which sells a popular kitchen gadget that turns tap water into carbonated drinks, has a large factory in a West Bank settlement. When SodaStream announced that it would run an ad during the Super Bowl, the pro-Palestinian boycott campaign against the company reached a fever pitch.

But for hundreds of Palestinians, SodaStream isn’t a target; it’s their employer.

On a recent afternoon, women wearing hijabs hurried to their shifts at the plant located in Ma’ale Adumin, a suburban settlement about 15 minutes west of Jerusalem. Some 500 West Bank Palestinians work at the site, in addition to 400 Arabs from eastern Jerusalem and a mix of 200 Israeli Jews and foreign workers, including refugees from Africa.

The Maale Adumim factory has an on-site mosque and a synagogue, and Jewish and Arab employees share the same dining hall. SodaStream has two other facilities in Israel, in Ashkelon and the Galilee town of Mount Tabor. The Galilee factory employs several hundred Israeli Arabs.

“Everyone works together: Palestinians, Russians, Jews,” a Palestinian employee named Rasim at the Maale Adumim site told JTA. Rasim has worked at the plant for four months and asked that his last name not be published. “Everything is OK. I always work with Jews. Everyone works together, so of course we’re friends.”

For SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum, treating Arabs and Jews equally is a doctrine, not a convenience.

“We practice equality and full cooperation both on the job and off it,” Birnbaum told the Arab publication Al Monitor in a recent interview.

When he was invited to the Israeli president’s residence recently to receive an award, Birnbaum brought with him a few Palestinian employees and insisted on undergoing the same rigorous security checks to which they were subjected. When it came time for Birnbaum’s speech, he broke with protocol and publicly upbraided his host, President Shimon Peres, for the unequal treatment that his Palestinian workers had received, including strip searches down to their underwear.

“We are committed to continue serving as a bridge and to sowing hope,” Birnbaum said in his speech. “Who knows as well as you, Mr. Peres, how important it is to remain optimistic that one day there will be peace?”

SodaStream’s case, some say, is one example of how boycotting an Israeli company doing business in the West Bank can end up hurting the very goals that boycott proponents say they are trying to achieve: Palestinian rights and Israel-Palestinian peace.

“The SodaStream situation is extremely complicated because it’s a clear case of where the owners are making real efforts to engage the Palestinian workers with fair wages and in management positions,” said Kenneth Bob, president of the liberal Zionist group Ameinu, which supports the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank but still opposes boycotts of settlement products. “At the same time, it does on some level strengthen the occupation because it’s a factory over the Green Line,” the boundary between Israel and the West Bank.

Advocates of BDS say supporting SodaStream amounts to supporting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and that boycotting the company is an effective way to support Palestinian national aspirations.

“In the absence of global and international political pressure for Israel to abide by international law, BDS hopes to use nonviolent pressure to get Israel to stop the occupation,” said Kristin Szremski, a spokeswoman for the Interfaith Boycott Committee, a pro-BDS group. “The boycott of SodaStream felt like it was a great opportunity to raise awareness about settlements and thwart SodaStream’s effort to get into the American market.”

Szremski dismissed the argument that hurting SodaStream could hurt the livelihood of Palestinians, calling it “a way to obfuscate” the issue.

“The point is not just to make SodaStream go out of business,” Szremski told JTA. “Were there no settlements to begin with, Palestinians could be working their own lands. The fact that a worker goes to work every day does not indicate that it is a good thing.”

Another Palestinian worker at SodaStream’s West Bank site, who gave his name as Mmdoh, said politics don’t enter the workplace.

“We don’t get into that,” said Mmdoh, 34. “I feel normal. I don’t have conversations about it.”

For its part, SodaStream sees growth on the horizon. Its Super Bowl ad cost about $3.7 million, according to Ad Age, and won notice not just for its exploding bottles of brand-name sodas, but because a version of the ad highlighting digs at Pepsi and Coca-Cola was rejected by CBS, which broadcast the game.

Survey: 27 percent of Americans see God’s hand in sports

Fewer than three in 10 Americans believe that God plays a role in determining sports outcomes, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

That 27 percent believed in divine intervention in athletic competition was among the findings of the January Religion and Politics Tracking Survey, which also found that 53 percent of Americans believe that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success.

Among the survey’s other findings were that 26 percent of Americans are more likely to be in church than watching football, compared to 17 percent who said the opposite.

Half of the survey’s 1,033 respondents approved of athletes expressing their faith publicly by thanking God during or after a sporting event, and 76 percent agree that public high schools should be allowed to sponsor prayer before football games.

According to the survey, about two-thirds of Americans are very (44 percent) or somewhat (22 percent) likely to watch Sunday's Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.

The website of the Washington-based institute, which was founded in 2009, says it is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization that conducts public opinion surveys and research “to help journalists, opinion leaders, scholars, clergy, and the general public better understand debates on public policy issues and the role of religion in American public life.”

SodaStream Super Bowl ad buy has BDS movement’s eye

SodaStream's purchase of a Super Bowl commercial has the BDS movement in the U.S. saying it will step up its campaign against the Israeli firm.

Soda Stream, the maker of home soda machines, will pay about $3.5 million for a 30-second spot for the game. The company reportedly had net earnings of $27.5 million in 2011, according to The Associated Press.

The U.S. boycott, divestment and sanctions movement said it will step up its opposition to SodaStream in light of the Super Bowl ad buy.

The company’s main plant is in Mishor Adumim, an Israeli industrial zone next to Maale Adumim in the West Bank, which has recently been in the news over the planned construction of 3,000 housing units in the E1 corridor connecting Maale Adumim to Jerusalem.

SodaStream has been in the United States for four years, but in that time has only penetrated the market to 1 percent of households. By contrast, the company has had great success in Europe, according to AP.

“The new SodaStream publicity blitz has given the U.S. boycott, divestment, sanctions movement a marvelous opportunity to bring our campaigns targeting settlement products to a new, unprecedented level of visibility and success,” Anna Baltzer, an organizer of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, told AP. “It’s time to burst SodaStream’s bubble. There’s nothing environmentally friendly about military occupation.”

Last month, a SodaStream television commercial was banned in the United Kingdom for “disparaging” other soda manufacturers. The ad shows soft drink bottles exploding as people use the machine at home to carbonate their drinks.

Best bet: Super Bowl winner donating long-shot’s payoff to charity

The Jewish owner of a real estate company in New York is donating his $50,000 winnings from a Super Bowl bet to charity.

Jona Rechnitz, 29, of New York, had wagered $1,000 on Super Sunday at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas that the New York Giants would score first—on a safety.

With the odds at 50 to 1, Rechnitz earned a $50,000 payout.

Rechnitz, who is Orthodox, told TMZ that he would donate $5,000 to a charity chosen by New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, who was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone, causing the safety call. Rechnitz also will give $5,000 each to the charities of choice for four Giants’ defensive linemen involved in the play. He also said he wants to take Brady out for a falafel dinner.

Rechnitz, owner of the year-old JSR Capital after having worked for Africa Israel, said he will donate the rest of his after-tax earnings to other charities.

The California native was visiting his parents and decided to watch the Super Bowl in Las Vegas. The Giants defeated the Patriots, 21-17.

Madonna to begin world tour in Israel

Madonna will go on tour from May for the first time in three years, starting in Israel before moving on to Europe, with legs in South America and Australia, where she has not performed for 20 years, tour promotion company Live Nation said on Tuesday.

The 2012 World Tour will be the first for the Grammy Award-winning 53-year-old Material Girl since her “Sticky & Sweet Tour” in 2008 and 2009 and will stop in more than 20 European and Middle Eastern cities including London, Edinburgh, Paris, Milan, Abu Dhabi and Berlin.

The tour starts on May 29 in Tel Aviv and then visits Abu Dhabi and Istanbul in early June before moving on to Europe. The European leg concludes on August 21st in Nice, France and the North American leg will end in Miami, with the date yet to be confirmed, the company said in a statement.

Dates for the South American and Australian legs and locations were not yet set and additional cities and venues are to be announced, they added.

The announcement came just days after Madonna’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl on Feb 5, with a record 114 million people tuning in to watch the glitzy, Cleopatra-themed show, which was lauded by critics but resulted in an apology from television network NBC and the NFL for a rude gesture made by British hip hop star M.I.A. during the show.

Yes, Virginia, there are Jews in Super Bowl history

With less than a minute to play in the biggest football game of his life, Jewish punter Josh Miller wanted a ham sandwich.

“I was hungry,” he said in an interview, recalling one of his many thoughts from Super Bowl XXXIX, when his New England Patriots edged the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21.

Miller played an important role in the Patriots’ third NFL championship. With time running out, he booted the ball with enough backspin that it was downed at the Eagles’ 4-yard line with 46 seconds left in the game. Before such a pressure-filled moment, Miller recalled the advice of head coach Bill Belichick, long regarded as one of the NFL’s top minds.

“He called me over and said, ‘Hey, man, just catch [the snap] and get rid of it,’ ” Miller said.

As his old club prepares to take on the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis, Miller recalled his big-game moments with New England and his pride in being able to achieve such heights as a Jewish athlete.

“It’s the greatest game you’ll ever play in, but it’s the worst game you’ll ever play in,” Miller said. “Nothing is fun about it. The pressure is unbelievable. When we won, and I hadn’t done anything that would be on ‘Sports Center’ for the next 50 years, I was very happy.”

Miller enjoyed the ultimate thrill that only a select few athletes ever experience: being part of a Super Bowl-winning team. The list of Jews to win the big game is even smaller, including Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Randy “The Rabbi” Grossman (who won a Jewish-record four times, in 1975, ’76, ’77, ’78), San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Harris Barton (1989, ’90, ’95), 49ers tight end John Frank (1985, ’89), Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Alan “Shlomo” Veingrad (1993), Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Bobby Stein (1970) and Los Angeles Raiders defensive end Lyle Alzado (1984).

Grossman grew up Conservative in the Philadelphia suburb of Haverford, earning his fitting nickname from defensive end Dwight White.

“He was the primary nicknamer back then,” said Grossman, who now works as a financial adviser for Wealth Management Strategies, in an interview. “Being Jewish, there weren’t a lot of people who would be nicknamed ‘The Rabbi.’ It caught on. What choice did I have? What else are you gonna to call a Jewish kid from Philadelphia?”

Veingrad, who now tours the country speaking about his personal transformation (he embraced the Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidic movement), began observing the Sabbath after his playing days. In an interview last September on the topic of Sabbath-observant Jews in high-profile careers, Veingrad said he has given the prospect of being Orthodox in the NFL “a tremendous amount of thought.”

“I don’t think it would be a possible thing for me to say to the coaching staff or the ownership of the team that I am shomer Shabbos and therefore I can’t make the team meetings on Friday because I have to travel Friday and I can’t travel with the team on Saturday and keep Shabbos,” Veingrad said. “I think if I took that approach, I would no longer be in the National Football League.”

However, Veingrad said that if “you’re one of the greatest players to play in the game,” the team and ownership “would make certain exceptions for you, as you’re the franchise and you’re the guy, and if they wouldn’t, there’d be some other team to make those exceptions, and I think it’s black and white like that.”

In a 12-year NFL career also spent with the Steelers and Tennessee Titans, Miller made just the one trip.

Miller, 41, recalls with embarrassment an on-field meeting with Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton while stretching. As the two leaders of the free world walked by, Miller nervously said something unprintable that he now laughingly regrets, though it provided comedy for him during the game.

“I panicked,” Miller said. “The whole first half, I would talk to random guys on the sidelines and say, ‘Can you believe what I said to two presidents?’ ”

Miller has been a much better talker since. He anchors a drive-time sports talk show in Pittsburgh. Additionally, he often speaks to kids’ groups, and one of his favorite topics is embracing his Jewishness. He’s even working on a book, “Who Let Jew In?” that features interviews with other Jewish athletes.

While Miller’s sharp sense of humor will likely permeate the book, the message is simply to teach children to be proud of their heritage.

“I can’t tell you who to fall in love with, but I can tell you what you are,” said Miller, who was raised Conservative in East Brunswick, N.J. “Kids would like to hang their hats on somebody who’s the same. There are a lot more Jewish athletes out there, and I think that’s why this book is going to be good.”

Grossman went undrafted after a fine career at Temple University, but was viewed as “undersized” by NFL teams. He overcame long odds and eventually stuck with Pittsburgh. The Steelers won the Super Bowl in Grossman’s rookie season of 1974, and he caught a touchdown pass in his second trip.

Grossman said he felt the pull of the city’s Jewish community almost immediately.

“Every kid who is growing up may gravitate to a person for a different reason,” said Grossman, who still lives in the area. “If you have some sort of connection, it makes for a strong bond. Being a young Jewish man at that point in time — and Pittsburgh has an active Jewish community — it was nice for them to have somebody of their own. It’s far from a good comparison, but when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the African-American community took to him.”

A 1999 inductee into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Grossman jokingly refers to himself as a “Manischewitz Jew.”

“It’s like being a ‘Chef Boyardee Italian,’ ” he said with a laugh. “I grew up in a Conservative congregation but would consider myself Reform. The rabbi at my bar mitzvah [wasn’t] sure I was going to get there, but he said if they didn’t know where I was, they could look at the back of the synagogue and find me playing football.”

Super Bowl features super Jewish philanthropists

When the New York Giants and New England Patriots take the field for Sunday’s Super Bowl, most of the country will focus on the athletes wearing the jerseys. However, from a Jewish perspective, the story behind these football franchises comes from those wearing suits in the owner’s box.

The Giants are co-owned by the Tisch family, with film and television producer Steve Tisch, son of Bob, as the team’s chairman and executive vice president. Bob’s brother, Larry, was the father of Jim—former president of the UJA Federation of New York and former board chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Jim’s wife, Merryl, chairs the board of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

On the New England side, owner Robert Kraft’s wife Myra—who passed away last July—served as chair of the Boston-based Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ (CJP) board of directors and was twice co-chair of CJP’s annual fundraising campaign.

“[Myra Kraft’s] work with us was extraordinary and she meant the world to us, she still means the world to us,” Zamira Korff, CJP’s senior vice president of development, told JointMedia News Service. “Her legacy is with us everyday. There are countless meetings and conversations during which we say ‘Can you imagine what Myra would have thought about this,’ or ‘What would Myra have done about this’? We feel that she’s still a partner, that’s how strong her presence was and that’s how strong her guidance was.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents, told JointMedia News Service that members of the Giants’ owning family are all “identified [religiously] and active philanthropically.”

“I think that the Tisch family is a model for the Jewish community and for others in terms of their broad range of commitments in the Jewish community, their involvement personally, not just financially,” Hoenlein said.

Outside of CJP, the Kraft family’s philanthropy extends to Brandeis University, The United Way, The Boys and Girls Club, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), among other causes. The family donated millions to Kraft Stadium in Jerusalem, which promotes American football in the Jewish homeland.

Korff recalls a CJP trip to that stadium, where Myra sought to be a pioneer for women’s football in Israel. When Myra arrived at the venue, Korff said women who were in a team practice at the time ran over to her “like she was their best friend.”

“This was a woman who shared herself with them,” Korff said. “She was really their partner, not just in helping to create the sport, but in helping them to live up to their potential.”

Israel “has always been very important both to Myra and to Robert,” Korff explained.

“She was very proud of leading trips of both Jewish and non-Jewish members of our community to Israel, because she knew that it was equally as vital to both of them, and to participate in that together,” Korff said.

Korff said she has “never seen a better team” than the Kraft couple.

“It’s about integrity, and justice, and teamwork, and cooperation, and shared values,” she said, “and I think that’s what they bring to everything that they do, and that includes their philanthropy.”

Ferris Bueller returns in Honda’s new Super Bowl commercial

Super Bowl Sunday is just around the corner, and this year one of the most buzzed-about commercials stars Ferris Bueller—that is, Matthew Broderick, who stars in a Honda ad based on his 1986 film masterpiece “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

Broderick, now 49 and married to Sarah Jessica Parker, recited the legendary quote from the movie, “How can I handle work on a day like today?” with the Ferris Bueller theme song playing in the background.

Can Ferris beat last year’s popular Darth Vader kid of Volkswagen? It may be more interesting than watching Eli Manning take on Tom Brady.

Pittsburgh Steelers on the ‘fringe’ of dynasty as fans embrace the ‘Terrible Tallis’

This article has been reposted with permission from The Jewish Chronicle.

If you’ve left your house or turned on the television in the last two weeks, you know: Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl. But while huge portions of Pittsburghers — and, surely, much of the country — will be cheering for a Steeler victory, some members of the city’s Jewish community are celebrating in creative, and even educational ways.

At Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha Congregation Sunday school in Squirrel Hill, students will actually feel some unity with Green Bay, Wis. This Sunday morning, the school’s 90 students will connect with the 20 students of Congregation Cnesses Israel, a small Conservative synagogue in Green Bay, through Skype. Students at both schools spent the last few weeks learning football-related vocabulary in Hebrew, which they’ll swap with each other and answer sports trivia.

“When Pittsburgh was entering the AFC championship, I challenged the kids: on Sunday you come in with any Hebrew words pertaining to football, and anybody who does gets a prize,” said Shelly Schapiro, director of education. “Sure enough, some students they had their lists. But now, for the Super Bowl, those papers are piling up on my desk.”

Schapiro knew she could put that enthusiasm to work, and thought, “It’d be cool for the kids to connect with a congregation in Green Bay,” she said. “It was truly one of those moments when a light went off.”

Schapiro connected with Congregation Cnesses Israel because, “It’s exciting for our students to connect with other Jewish kids,” she said. “They know New York and Miami, but to think there are the kids the same age in somewhere like Green Bay learning about Judaism is special.”

Both congregations will donate the weekend’s tzedaka to the local charity of the winning team’s school — a Steelers victory means Green Bay money will go to the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry.

“It’s a way of showing we’re not just having fun,” said Schapiro. “We’re also helping out.”

At Community Day School an end-of-day pep rally will have students cheering to win a pajama day.

“We have a friendly wager with the Milwaukee Jewish Day School,” said CDS Principal Avi Baran Munro. “The head of school there and I have agreed to wear the winning team’s T-shirt and be ready to shame ourselves.”

While local students lived through just a few Steelers Super Bowls, it’s likely many residents of the Jewish Association on Aging remember quite a few more.

This Friday, patients and residents of JAA will celebrate the Super Bowl with a pep rally, waving their homemade, stenciled Terrible Towels. The entire Squirrel Hill building is decorated with Steelers posters and pictures of Art Rooney and Myron Cope, said JAA Director of Marketing Kathy Fuller.

“We’ve got an 8-foot tall blow-up Steeler,” said Fuller. “We’re all about it here.”

The excitement of a Steelers victory carries an important weight at JAA.

“When you work in a nursing home, you need things, especially during flu season, to encourage everyone to feel like there’s a reason to go on with the winter,” said Fuller. “The Steelers are doing that for us.”

At Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, congregants are finding a craftier way to support the Steelers — by making the, ahem, Terrible Tallis. Transforming the Steelers symbol into a symbol of Judaism is many years in the making.

“Back at Camp Ramah when I was 13, we’d make anything into a tallis,” said Rabbi Alex Greenbaum. “What makes it holy is not the material, but the fringes.”

When Greenbaum saw a beach towel version of the classic hand towel about 3 years ago, “It seemed like a good idea, though it’s not for everyone,” he said.

He created his Terrible Tallis and this year “used it as a teaching moment for my congregation,” he said. “I explained the laws of tallit and tzitzit.”

On Feb. 3, Greenbaum said he’ll hold a workshop for congregants to make their own Terrible Tallit. The excitement has even brought out congregants who rarely come to services, said Greenbaum.

“I find it fascinating — some people will show up to services just because they can wear their jersey,” he said. But praying in a Terrible Towel and actually praying for a Steeler victory are different things.

“My congregation asked if we could do a prayer. I said we really don’t want to go down that path — the Jets probably have more rabbis than the Steelers, and I don’t want a holy war,” said Greenbaum. “I don’t think God loves the Steelers more, but time has shown that the Steelers know what they’re doing. Luck, coincidence or God — someone is on the Steelers’ side.”

Justin Jacobs can be reached at {encode=”” title=””}.

Chai Lifeline to send 12-year-old to the Super Bowl

Adam Wolf, a 12-year-old with cerebral palsy, was stunned when Randi Grossman, West Coast director of the Chai Lifeline, called to tell him that the organization would pay for him to go to the Super Bowl.

“He said, ‘Are you kidding me? This is amazing,’” Wolf’s mother, Ali Wolf, said.

“And then he said, ‘Mommy, I’m going to the Super Bowl.’”

Ali Wolf said that the news has bolstered her son’s spirits. Adam, who has never been to a football game before, is having surgery on his left hand in late-February and has missed a lot of school to go to doctor’s appointments.

“Adam has been going through a lot, and we knew this would be a trip of a lifetime for him,” Chai Lifeline’s Grossman said.

“We’d like to choose everyone, but obviously we’re limited with the number of tickets we get,” she added.

Adam is one of quadruplets in a family with seven children in Irvine and has attended Camp Simcha Special in New York the past two summers. The camp, designed for kids with chronic or genetic illnesses, is a program of Chai Lifeline, which provides a variety of services for seriously ill children.

He is going to the game with a counselor from Camp Simcha Special, Shlomo Platschek. Chai Lifeline, which received a donation from LH Financial Services to help pay for Adam’s trip, is covering Platschek’s costs too.

After Platschek, a 19-year-old from Far Rockaway, N.Y., and Adam met at camp, the two became close.

Platschek said that nowadays, he and Adam talk on the phone several times everyday.

“He’s like a little brother to me,” Platschek said.

The Super Bowl is Sunday, Feb. 6. Adam is rooting for the Green Bay Packers, who are playing the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For Jewish adults and kids, Super Sunday scores with fun and tzedakah

On Super Sunday, the alefs and bets in Green Bay and Pittsburgh will be thinking about X’s and O’s.

They’ll even be up for a little friendly wager.

On the morning of Feb. 6, many hours before the NFC champion Green Bay Packers battle the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, Rabbi Shaina Bacharach of the Conservative Congregation Cnesses Israel in Green Bay, says her religious school will square off against the school at the Or L’Simcha, Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.

“The losing city will make a contribution to the tzedakah of choice of the school in the winning city,” Bacharach said. “If we win, their rabbi will also wear a Packer shirt and kippah afterward. If they win, I’ll wear a Steeler shirt and cap.”

Shelly Schapiro, the Pittsburgh school’s director of education, says the schools hope to connect through Skype and “verbalize our challenge to each other,” adding that she hopes to raise some “ruach,” or Jewish spirit, with the activity.

Bacharach adds, “We’ll encourage the kids to wear Packer gear to Sunday school and show their Packer pride.”

After all, Knesses Israel has a Packer connection: “One of our members, Rick Chernick, is on the team’s board of directors,” she notes.

The activity between the Wisconsin and Pennsylvania schools is part of the game plan of fun and tzedakah-oriented events being executed for adults and children on Super Sunday.

Synagogues and men’s clubs of most Jewish denominations will be among those joining the religious schools in holding events for the big game in suburban Dallas featuring two of the National Football League’s storied franchises.

In Pittsburgh, a local men’s club has arranged a Super Bowl pool to raise money for his Orthodox synagogue.

“We sold out,” said Dale Moritz of Pittsburgh’s Poale Zedeck congregation, who organized the pool. “We sold 100 tickets at $10 apiece.”

Ticket holders will have their names entered on a “you pick the score” game that is set up on a printed grid. The score at the end of each quarter determines the winner.

“You might think you’re winning,” said Moritz, who feels the pool adds some drama to the proceedings on the field, “and then you get knocked out by a field goal at the end of a quarter.”

In shul, like everywhere else in Pittsburgh, the Steelers are the topic of conversation, Moritz acknowledges.

“But only after kiddush,” he adds quickly.

At B’nai Israel, a Reform temple in Oklahoma City, Super Sunday also will carry an element of chance, albeit gastronomical.

The temple Brotherhood, which organizes the Super Bowl party, prides itself on baking homemade pizzas for the crowd. Brotherhood president Lou Barlow, the veteran organizer of the event, hopes to introduce this year a dessert pizza he calls “The Elvis“ made of peanut butter, bananas and syrup—reminiscient of the King’s favorite sandwich.

Barlow describes the scene in the temple kitchen as “Beer, knives, a 500-degree oven and too many cooks.”

“What could possibly go wrong?” he asks.

“We have the best time,” says Barlow, who sees the kitchen camaraderie as both an opportunity for members to become better acquainted with each other and a way to introduce new taste sensations like “The Elvis.”

The Brotherhood also uses the occasion to hold a “Souper Bowl” by collecting cans of soup for Oklahoma’s Regional Food Bank.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, in Nebraska, Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities plans on using Super Sunday to level the playing field for the developmentally disabled.

Janet McCarthy, the Omaha program coordinator for a New York-based organization affiliated with the Orthodox Union, says Yachad’s Super Bowl party will be held in a rented elder day care center with a large-screen TV.

“All the Yachad members are totally engaged,” McCarthy writes. “What is most enjoyable is their freedom to be a true spectator. That includes the right to stand up and yell, to jump up and down, and to dance and sing at halftime.”

“Everyone is looking forward to the Black Eyed Peas,” she adds, referring to the popular band performing at the intermission.

Heading south to Mobile, Ala., a day that highlights intense competition may introduce an atmosphere of cooperation for two synagogues.

Jonathan Siegel, the Super Bowl party organizer at Congregation Ahavas Chesed, says he’s inviting members of the neighboring historic Spring Hill Avenue Temple, a Reform congregation, to his join the crew from his Conservative congregation.

“They have a lot of kids,” says Siegel,” a father of three who hopes to create a “comfortable, family friendly event. “I thought the Super Bowl party was a way to bring the Jewish community of Mobile together.”

“Let’s Come Together,” suggests the party flyer.

In downtown Dallas, not far from Cowboy Stadium in suburban Arlington, Chabad is inviting out-of-town Packers’ and Steelers’ fans to put aside their rivalry for a day or two and join them for a Super Bowl Shabbat.

“We are expecting fans from all over,” said Zvi Drizin, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi who often works with young adults.

The program includes Friday evening services and a dinner, where Drizin says that “We are planning on serving super bowls of matzah balls.”

Shabbat morning services the next day will feature the Torah portion Terumah, which is about the building of the Mishkan, the holy sanctuary. Drizin, who is still trying to find a ticket for the big game, is planning on giving the d’var Torah.

“Terumah is about how everything is contributed,” said Drizen, who is thinking of how he will tie his talk into the Super Bowl. “And that’s all about teamwork.”

(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at {encode=”” title=””}.)

‘Curly’s’ sidekick Nate Abrams a forgotten man in Packers’ lore

You know the old saying: Behind every Hall of Fame football coach stands a 5-foot, 4-inch Jewish cattle dealer with good hands, a big heart and a “Yiddishe kop.”

For Earl “Curly” Lambeau of the Green Bay Packers, that man was Nate Abrams.

Just a little kosher food for thought while watching Sunday’s Super Bowl XLV between the Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Abrams (1897-1941) arguably was as instrumental in founding the Packers as Lambeau, the team’s first coach and eventual namesake of Lambeau Field, home of the “frozen tundra.” Abrams’ funds also kept the team afloat during its early years.

Yet Abrams receives no mention in the official founding story, which credits Lambeau.

These rarely heard arguments derive from the meticulously researched “The History of the Green Bay Packers: The Lambeau Years” by Larry Names (1987, Angel Press of Wisconsin). He writes that Abrams, the son of Russian immigrants, grew up in the same neighborhood as Lambeau, son of Belgians, and played football with him.

Lambeau became a star high school athlete and played the 1918 football season at the University of Notre Dame. Abrams had quit school at age 14 to learn cattle buying from his dad, Names writes. By age 15, Abrams was working on his own, and by 21 he was successful enough to sponsor the Green Bay semipro city football team known as the South Side Skidoos. He also played end and was team captain.

The Skidoos were one in a series of Green Bay city teams that began in 1897. Names contends that a famed 1919 meeting at which the Packers supposedly formed, held in the Green Bay Press-Gazette offices, actually was an organizational meeting for the Skidoos. The Skidoos had met at the offices a year earlier.

Names adds that Lambeau didn’t call the 1919 meeting but attended as a potential player. Abrams passed the captaincy to his old friend, a better and more popular athlete. Abrams played on the 1919 and 1920s teams with another Green Bay Jew, Charlie Sauber.

In 1921, the Packers joined the professional league that would become the NFL. Abrams played in one game, scoring a touchdown on an interception. Why he never played for the Packers again isn’t recorded, but it’s likely that the players in the new league were just too big for Abrams, the shortest player in Packers history.

But Abrams remained interested. After reading the cash-strapped Packers’ 1922 newspaper appeal for funds, Abrams handed $3,000 to Lambeau for operating expenses. In exchange, Lambeau handed ownership of the franchise to his friend, but Abrams let Lambeau operate the Packers. The team began its unique ownership system of selling stock to the public in 1923, and by 1925 repaid Abrams, who returned the franchise, writes Names.

Ignored in Packer lore, Abrams makes a cameo appearance in the slick Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame at Lambeau Field. He poses in the 1919 team picture and can been seen as a little, dark-haired man in life-size photos that cover some of the walls.

Two Jews are honored with plaques at the hall: Charles “Buckets” Goldenberg, who played from 1933 to 1945 and was named to the NFL commemorative 1930s all-star team as a guard; and former general manager Ron Wolf, who led the Packers to an NFL championship in 1996, was sometimes seen at the Cnesses Israel Congregation. Another Jewish player of note, offensive lineman Alan Veingrad, became ba’al teshuvah—one who turns to Orthodox Judaism—and a motivational speaker after playing for the Packers and Dallas Cowboys from 1986 to 1992.

Why is Abrams a seeming afterthought to the Packers? Names claims anti-Semitic attitudes in the 1920s prompted the team to emphasize Lambeau’s role and hide Abrams’. Yet Abrams never showed any bitterness.

“Nate never talked about it that way,” Howard Levitas, Abrams’ cousin and a former Packers board member, told The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle in 1997. “He was interested in the team. He was always friendly with Curly Lambeau.”

The ring’s the thing: Ex-Steeler Randy ‘The Rabbi’ Grossman recalls glory days

For ex-Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Randy Grossman, being nicknamed “The Rabbi” was inevitable.

“The fellow who pretty much nicknamed everyone was Dwight White, who recently passed away,” Grossman said of the outstanding lineman from the Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s. “He and I were locker neighbors and, yeah, what are you gonna call a white kid from Philadelphia who’s Jewish? Sparky?”

“The Rabbi” would ascend the championship bimah four times in his eight years playing for the Steelers’ dynasty. His four Super Bowl rings are the most among any Jewish player.

As his old club prepared to take on the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas on Sunday, Grossman reminisced about his time with the Steelers and talked about his Jewishness and the absence of anti-Semitism he encountered in his career.

Among his on-field memories is catching a short touchdown pass from Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw in the 21-17 victory over the Cowboys in Super Bowl X 36 years ago.

“It’s exciting, but one of the things I try to make people realize is that whatever level you’re at when you’re playing in a championship game—whether it’s in high school or college or professionally—it is the most exciting thing that could happen,” Grossman, 59, said in a telephone interview from his home in Pittsburgh. “Doing something great in high school wasn’t any less exciting than doing something as a professional.”

Grossman had come to the Steelers as an undrafted free agent following a stellar career at his hometown Temple University, where he made third-team All-America from The Associated Press.

“If you didn’t get drafted, it was pretty much of a long shot,” he said.

But the long-shot stuck, and Grossman caught 119 passes in 118 regular season games for 1,514 yards—a 12.7 yard-per-reception average—and five touchdowns.

His four Super Bowl rings—won in 1974, ’75, ’78 and ’79—edge offensive lineman Harris Barton, who won three (1988, ’89, and ’94) playing for the San Francisco 49ers. Barton’s teammate John Frank won two (1984, ’88).

Other Jews who have the championship jewelry include Bobby Stein, the first Jewish player to appear in a Super Bowl (Kansas City Chiefs, 1970); Lyle Alzado (Oakland Raiders, 1983); Alan “Shlomo” Veingrad (Dallas Cowboys, 1992); and Josh Miller (New England Patriots, 2004).

Grossman, who has worked in the financial services industry for the past 21 years, says he opted for the Steelers because they had moved to the American Football Conference following the merger of the National Football League and the American Football League.

As a receiver, he was entranced by the pass-heavy offense of the AFC—the successor to the aerial circus of the AFL—rather than the grind-it-out rushing attack of the National Football Conference.

“The AFL was where all the throwing action was,” he said. “My favorite teams were the Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers because they threw the ball.”

Grossman says he can recall only one incident of anti-Semitism in his many levels of football, when a player on the field said something derogatory—“and as soon as he said it, from the look on his face, I think he realized how out of line he was.”

Grossman shrugged off the comment.

“In sports—in my era and currently—it really is the great melting pot,” he said. “If you ‘bring game,’ you’re fine. If you’re an imposter, then they’ll run you out regardless of what your religious preferences are or ethnic background is.

“It was obviously different in the ’60s, ’50s, ’40s, but from the time that I’ve been involved, it’s been completely open and purely performance-based acceptance or non-acceptance.”

He recalls Steeler teammate Steve Furness converting to Judaism; Grossman says he played no part in the process.

“His wife was Jewish and that was the primary catalyst for his conversion, for his children,” Grossman said.

Grossman, who was inducted into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, described himself as a “Manischewitz Jew.”

“The rabbi at my bar mitzvah commented about me that I wasn’t always inside [the synagogue],” he said, “but they always knew where to find me—outside playing football.”

Unlike today’s multimillionaire stars, Grossman played in an era when having an off-season job was a given.

“Once you were finished playing football, as [ex-Steelers head coach] Chuck Knoll used to say, you got on with your life’s work,” Grossman said. “For a lot of us, our reputations as adults were started here, so a lot of people stayed here and found jobs, went into business, did what they did next.”

Asked to pick the winner of Sunday’s game, Grossman could hardly answer through his laughter.

“The Steelers!” he said.

He won’t be jetting to Dallas, however.

“There are two ways to see a game,” he said. “Obviously one is to go, and you have to go to experience it. But to see it, you watch it on TV or video. So I’m gonna be kicked back and comfortable and watch it at home.”

Super Bowl Wrap

You know that strange window of time Sunday morning before the Super Bowl starts, when you don’t want to start anything that won’t be finished by kickoff, but you’ve still got to find something to do?
Sinai Temple, nearly a dozen other local Conservative men’s clubs and the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs have an idea: try joining 10,000 others who will be wrapping tefillin.

Sinai’s Men’s Club, along with men’s clubs and temple brotherhoods across the world, will hold a breakfast at which it will air “The Ties that Bind,” a 20-minute video produced by the Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and Mark Rothman of Ness Productions.

Rothman wrote and directed the film, and he artfully interweaves the history, how-to and spiritual significance of tefillin. The video is educational and entertaining without being didactic or simplistic. And since it comes in two versions — egalitarian and all male — it can be meaningful across denominational lines for anyone interested in the mitzvah of winding around the arms and head the leather straps and black boxes containing the Shema during morning prayers.

“The number one goal of the film is to give people a tool to move closer to God,” says Rothman.

Rothman captures the power of tefillin through personal testimonials offered by men and women of all ages. One student likens it to wearing a satellite dish that opens up all channels to God. A women tells us it transforms her into a mezuzah. Someone else calls the leather straps healing bandages, while most recognize the symbolism of binding oneself — betrothing oneself — to God.

“It’s like God is grabbing my arm saying ‘You can do this, I’m with you,'” says Joel Grishaver, a local writer and educator.

Grishaver is one of many familiar faces that show up in the film, since Rothman is based in Los Angeles. The video is narrated by Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood, and Rabbi Joel Rembaum of Temple Beth Am on the Westside gives a detailed demonstration of laying tefillin.

Sid Katz, former president of Sinai’s men club and of the national federation, was instrumental in mobilizing the organization and clubs around the world to raise the $50,000 to produce the video.

“The federation has made a commitment to improving and increasing Conservative men’s Judaic actions,” Rothman says. “They want more Jewish men to do more Jewish things, and this was a great opportunity.”
“Ties that Bind” will be run Sunday, Jan. 28, at 8 a.m. at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd. For more information call (310) 474-1518. To find other locations in Southern California or to purchase the video ($28, $18 for members) call the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs at (800) 288-FJMC, (212) 749-8100, or visit