#TBT: Joan Rivers and Funny Jewish Women

Love her or hate her, Joan Rivers, aleha shalom, was one of the most recognizable American Jews of the past half century and one of our most successful comics.  By my count, she has been mentioned five times in Jewschool’s storied history, so today, for Throwback Thursday, here’s sarah‘s 2007 review of the San Francisco Jewish film festival, including a review of Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, produced by the Jewish Women’s Archive and focusing on Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Wendy Wasserstein and Gilda Radner.   All six of these Mt. Rushmorians of Jewish comediennes have left us now.  Rest in…oh, who are we kidding?  Joan Rivers isn’t resting any kind of way; she’s working some crowd to find the laughter and absurdity in the awfulness of something in olam haba.


Beaking Bad

New Thanksgivukah cartoon for American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Are You The Living Embodiment of a Terrible Jewish Stereotype?

…then this production company wants to make you a reality television star!

Friday, Mar. 22, 2013, 12:06 PM
Reality TV
Pay Rate: $300 if cast for Demo

Prod. Co.: Matchbook Company
Casting Director: Morgan Evans
Interview Dates: April 9th, 2013
Shoot/Start Date: April 2013
Location: NYC

PLEASE EMAIL US AT: matchbookcompany@gmail.com

Those who will be cast will be taped for a pilot presentation to be pitched to major networks.


Looking for larger than life NY Jews with stereotypical personalities to create a cast for the next great reality series. This is a chance to work with a three-time Emmy award winning director and a top production company.

THE HAGGLER: Wiz in negotiating for anything. Get an extra thousand dollars off your new car purchase…PLUS free car washes for 5 years! Selling your home “The Haggler gets the brokers to kick in some of his fee toward making the deal. Buying a floor model Get it for practically nothing. The Haggler pushes the envelope and then pushes it further. Knows just how far to push before the deal goes sour. (Hairy Israeli type with gold chains, open shirt)

THE BANKER: Expert in investments and accounting. Getting the most deductions on your taxes without raising a red flag. How to invest for your and your children’s futures. Even teaches children how to start saving for their own college education. (Nerdy wimpy accountant type with glasses)

THE BARGAIN-HUNTER: Finds great deals on everything from luxury to low-end items. Expert in Coupons, day-old bread sales, free dinner on your birthday restaurants, two for one specials, doubling the value of your toilet paper, saving money across the board. Even has a diamond guy he wants to hook you up with. (a man or a woman)

THE MOTHER: An opinion on everything, she’s the Yoda for all advice. How to get over a cold, how to bag a man, how to make an excuse to get out of anything, how to make the perfect brisket, and perhaps most importantly, how to feed your family on pennies a day. (Big woman, always dressed up with a brooch and sparkly sequined top. Loud and thick accent, she has a natural humor)

THE PRINCESS: Perhaps the smartest one of all. She’s perfected the way to marry a man to pay for everything. (sexy and well-put together, you’re constantly at odds between wanting to sleep with her or slap her)

Wake the f**k up!

In August, Jewish Council for Education and Research approached author Adam Mansbach (End of the Jews) with an idea for a pro-Obama spoof of his profane book for new parents, Go the f**k to sleep, the video of which had been later narrated by Samuel L. Jackson for audible inc.  It was quite the hit with those whose children would not hit the sack.

The Jewish Council for Education and Research was previously responsible for Sarah Silverman’s “The Great Schlep” and “Scissor Sheldon” videos (did you think she did that all herself?). Rather than give his permission, Mansbach offered to write it himself and as the project developed, reunited with Samuel “Snakes on a Plane” Jackson to narrate and star in the project.  

The result is Wake the f**k up, a new video reminding us to vote (for  Obama) that is getting a lot of attention and play on the youtubes.

I don’t personally feel it any great accomplishment of craft or cleverness, but is noteworthy in that JCER is now officially a Super PAC, has  funding from George Soros and is using its funding to offer campaigns rooted in Jewish culture as a counterpoint to the Adelson cash flooding the election. Its also noteworthy in that it is circulating virally (voluntarily) rather than mass-cast on the airwaves.  Its not Ezekial 25:17, but it has about the same amount of profanity (you have been warned) and is just as entertaining.Watch it here.

Edon Pinchot is Titanium

Lest there be any doubt in your minds, Skokie, IL is the bastion of cool these days. Jewschool’s very own Adam Davis just moved there, I grew up there, and…oh yeah, the likely winner of this season’s America’s Got Talent hails from there too.

AGT Contestant and Skokie native Edon Pinchot, 14

Singing sensation AGT finalist Edon Pinchot is 14 years old and about to start high school at Chicago’s Ida Crown Jewish Academy this coming fall. He and his family live just blocks from my parents (who are long-time friends of his grandparents), and his parents are pillars of the orthodox Jewish community there.   I remember his mother, Laurie—an exquisitely refined, thoughtful woman, from the Skokie Women’s Tefilla Group which I regularly attended in my pre-adolescent years. The rest of the family are also substantial folks who excel at what they do.
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Sweet Jewish Genius

I’m a secret fan of Food Network’s Chopped, and recently between episodes discovered a weird sister show focused on dessert called Sweet Genius.  Its eponymous, singular judge and host is a weird and kooky cross between Willy Wonka and Dr. Evil.  Get it- Evil Genius, Sweet Genius?  Yeah well the show is filled with the same odd humor… Its pretty ridiculous, but I admit its better than watching Cupcake Boss, whose name doesn’t even have a pun… The show has its fans and deriders, but mostly I think it has addicts to its quirkiness.

There was always something odd about the Sweet Genius himself. His flamboyant style hinted at his being gay, but unless you knew his name is Ron Ben Israel, his Austrian accent never would have outed him as a Tel Aviv born-Jew.  Of course, his Viennese mother might have something to do with that, as well as giving him knowledge of delicate European style confections, which appeared in Martha Stewart, Vogue and many food pron books before the New York Times named him “the Manolo Blahnik of cakes.

New Yorkers and foodies may be more familiar with Ron Ben Israel, but for those less in the know, JTA profiles the Sweet Genius star:

In 1999 he opened Ron Ben-Israel Cakes in New York’s SoHo neighborhood with one oven and one mixer. As people fled downtown New York after the 9/11 tragedy, he was able to capitalize on lower rents and expand his operation.

Coming from a secular Israeli upbringing, Ben-Israel wasn’t ideologically interested in making his shop kosher, but for a caterer for some of New York City’s biggest hotels, it was a prudent business decision.

He chose OK Laboratories, the Chabad-affiliated kashrut organization headquartered in Brooklyn, which now certifies his shop’s pareve cakes.

After serving in the IDF in the 70′s , he studied dance and pursued a Ballet career that eventually brought him to NYC, where while working odd jobs to make rent he discovered baking.

Sounds like a sweet story. Only a sweet genius could have cooked it up. Check out the full profile here.

Mad Men’s Slow Jewification

 Michael Ginsberg, played by Ben Feldman, is the new Jewish copywriter on the AMC award-winning show "Mad Men."  (Michael Yarish/AMC)

Peggy Olsen is shacking up with dating one.  Roger Sterling married and is now divorcing one.  Don Draper slept with not just one but two.  The  agency hired one, fired one, and now has hired another.

JEWS!  In this season’s premiere, we met Michael Ginsberg, annoying up and comer hired as a copywriter for SCDP because Roger Sterling thinks a new account news a Jew.  When Ginsberg arrives home, his immigrant Tateh bentches his son on his getting a new job (dovbear tried dissecting this).  Its not the first Jew we’ve met on the show (I always thought Harry Crane might be ‘passing’ after uttering Ganef and Tsuris) but its the first outright Jewish moment since season one.

Now Peggy’s boyfriend says things like Bracha.  Ginsberg reveals he was born in a concentration camp.  Roger’s wife Jane, nee Seigel, on an acid trip, quotes her father in Yiddish.

Where is Mad Men’s Matt Weiner taking all of this?  LA Times and NY Times give their recaps and thoughts.  Nu? What’s yours?

What, no one showed you the chocolate seder plate?

I’m a progressive yid, so I’m mostly a fan of Jon Stewart. Mostly. I’m certain that his and Colbert’s rallies in 2010 deprived close east congressional and state level races countless volunteers (I lost 10 volunteers, half of them for the weekend, to attend it) that could’ve helped turn out voters to make the difference in state legislatures that have gone to the crazyville he so ably lampoons. But I enjoy him, a lot, and I have from the time he was cracking wise on MTV’s Remote Control. His legendary takedown of Crossfire I have watched dozens of times. And it’s fun to have such an on point and hilarious member of the tribe go at the insanity that is the news of the day.

Sometimes even our favorite folks swing and miss, and Stewart did big time with “faith/off” his coverage of the convergence of the beginning of Passover and the end of Holy Week on the Daily Show. More »

Jon Stewart: “Because in Israel, apparently you’re allowed to criticize Israel”

And below the fold, the John Oliver plays a game of “Who Wants to Join the United Nations” with Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

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Israel’s Saturday Night Live lampoons Taglit-Birthright Israel

It’s about time…

The Other Israel Film Festival: The Promise, Episode One

The Promise is a 4 part BBC miniseries portraying, in the words of producer David Aukin, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict “as it is seen through British eyes.” Each episode is divided between the point of view of Erin, a young woman from Leeds spending the summer in modern day Israel/Palestine, and  the flashbacks of her grandfather, Len, a soldier in 1945 British Mandate Palestine. The first episode was shown Wednesday, November 16th at the JCC in Manhattan as part of the Other Israel Film Festival.

I’m sure Claire Foy, who plays Erin, gets this all the time, but she looks like a cross between of Rory Gilmore and that Kirsten Stewart person from the Twilight movies. Moving on. The episode begins with Erin’s discovery of her grandfather’s diary, kept during the British Mandate, in his apartment. Her mother tells her to throw it away, but Erin keeps it, and after informing her mother that she’s going to Israel for the summer with her friend Eliza, who’s beginning her army service, she begins reading it on the plane, starting with his account of liberating Bergen Belsen. Then we see a lot of black and white  footage from the camp. Or rather, the audience did. I kept my head down and scribbled. “I wish everyone could see what I’ve seen,” writes Len.

Eliza, Erin’s friend, has dual Israeli/UK citizenship, and her parents live in Caesaria, in a crazy house with glass everything and a giant pool. They take a walk on the beach wearing white and drinking wine and the whole thing makes me think of folks who own houses in the  Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s like paradise,” Erin tells Eliza. “It’s not what I expected.” “You thought we lived in bomb shelters,” Eliza says. Cue a montage of Eliza and Erin cavorting in the streets of what looks like Tel Aviv-shopping, sitting in cafes, Erin gawking at the sight of a soldier’s gun, and then, in a night club, where Erin passes out and has a seizure.

Meanwhile, in British Mandate Palestine (BMP), Len is told by an army commander that “These Jews see returning to be this place as the fulfillment of the promise of Gd,” but that the Arabs see things differently. The goal of the army is to get both parties to live together peacefully, “like the meat in a sandwich.” (The creepiest simile ever used to refer to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?)

A moving scene follows of Jews jumping from an arriving ship into the water, and being greeted and pulled to shore by British soldiers. There’s a woman with a skeletal face, her wet hair clinging to her head, slogging towards land. The camera lingers on her for a minute too long, or maybe I just imagine that. We learn that there is a quota on Jews entering the country, and when Len tries to smuggle a woman through, he’s reprimanded.

Erin and Eliza, clad in her IDF uniform, drive to her army base to begin training. The front entrance is blocked by Peace Now protestors. As they drive to the other entrance, Eliza tells Erin that her brother is one of them. “I know you think it’s idyllic, but it’s total bullshit,” she says, admitting that she’s terrified of being the army. Erin proposes that if she really can’t take it, she’ll bail her out and they’ll run for the border. (Things I would love to see happen in a future episode.)

BMP: Len  is in some kind of swanky club, with other soldiers and  ladies and lots of alcohol, and he meets Clara, prompting me to worry that we’re going to see some sex really soon. (Spoiler: we do not.) Clara tells him that this is all propaganda, that she and many other women are being paid to entertain soldiers, and that “100,000 soldiers equals 100,000 opportunities,” and that he’ll undoubtedly write letters home to his family telling them about how well he’s being treated by the Jews of Palestine.

Len has a look of perpetual torture, which only gets worse when he’s ordered to attend a rally against the Jewish quotas, a project that Clara and her father are involved in, in civilian clothes. “Be a Jew for a day,” his commander tells him, urging him to get information on any insurgency the Jews might be planning. Clara, in the meantime, confesses to him that her mother met another man while in the concentration camp. “Not every concentration camp story has an unhappy ending,” she says.

Bon Iver. Bikini. Swimming pool. Erin floats around on a raft until she’s surprised by Eliza’s “insane” brother, Paul, who’s visiting his parents. Erin tells him about her grandfather, Paul tells her that his grandfather fought in the Irgun. Over dinner, things get a little American-Jewish community when we learn that Paul is an anti Zionist who believes Israel is a military dictatorship. Fight with parents about the occupation ensues. Eliza shows up in her IDF uniform and gun. Everyone stares. Later, Eliza tells Erin that once,  Paul was very hard core about the army, before he went to Hebron.

BMP: Len  attends the anti quota rally, and a man is killed whom the British believe to be an instigator. Later, some of his friends are killed in a shooting. It’s unclear who’s responsible, but in a move that I can only regard as insanely ironic, the remaining solidiers break into an Arab home in pursuit of the actual shooters. Clara’s father tells Len that he’s no longer welcome in their home, even after Len assures him that he’s on their side. “We may be stateless,” says her father, “but we are not stupid.” In the stairwell, Clara and Len embrace secretly.

That’s the end of the flashbacks. Erin and Paul travel to Ramle so she can see the graves of Len’s friends, and she freaks out when she sees the graves of two who aren’t dead in the journal yet. And then we’re in Paul’s car driving into the Territories. “I thought it was dangerous,” Erin says. “You’d rather be back by the pool?” Paul says, and she doesn’t answer. In Nablus, Paul speaks at a Combatants for Peace meeting, along with Omar, a former member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Erin watches, enraptured. She’s surprised to learn later that Omar is an Israeli Arab, and watches, horrified and confused, as Omar is stripped searched and detained at a checkpoint after confronting a solidier about his treatment of a Palestinian woman. “Welcome to Israel,” Paul says, as they drive away from the checkpoint after Omar has asked them to leave him there. “Isn’t it to stop the terrorists?” Erin wonders. Paul responds by showing her the separation barrier and explains that the goal of the checkpoints and the barrier is to force Palestinians off their land and into such a state of despair that they leave all together. He yells a lot. Erin looks confused and scared.

At the entrance to a cafe, a bewildered Erin gets searched by a security guard. She and Paul drink beer. She says she loves it in Israel, he says it’s because she lives in the safe world of his parents, who, he admits, are lovely people. He tells Erin that when he was little, his father took him to a border and pointed out the difference between Jewish and Arab land. “Look what they’re done with the land in 2000 years and look what we’ve done in 50,” his father said. Paul: “He was telling me that they aren’t as deserving as we are.”

On the way out of the cafe, Erin’s glance lingers on a couple coming in. Paul realizes that he’s left his wallet inside when they get to the car and tells Erin to wait. And then there’s a explosion in the cafe. End of episode one.

Are you still reading? Good. After the episode, there was a q/a in the Speakeasy cafe with Liel Leibovitz and producer David Aukin. The idea of the series began with a letter from a solidier who served in Palestine during the British Mandate, which inspired Aukin to portray the conflict through a British perspective. The series was shot on location in Israel/Palestine and the crew represented a cross section of Israeli society, which, according to Aukin, resulted in very real tensions and arguments.

In response to an audience member’s question about the source and prevalence of Britain’s anti-Israel boycotts, Aukin said, “There is no memory in the current British narrative about the Mandate. It doesn’t exist anymore. If anything, this film is anti-British. What we’re dealing with now are the seeds of what the British left behind.”

In case you’re wondering what happened at the end of episode one of The Promise, you can see the second episode this coming Monday, November 21, at the JCC in Manhattan at 7 pm. Episodes three and four will be show on Wednesdays, November 23-December 7th. For more information, visit www.jccmanhattan.org/cat-content.aspx?catID=2928&progID=24759.

Cee-Lo Age Jews

I’ve been into Cee-Lo for a long time now. I grew up on a steady diet of Goodie Mob cereal, and it wasn’t before long that that mid-90s southern hip hop twisted my brain for good. After devouring Jewish race literature, it was safe to say that ‘being Jewish’ became something like a form of James Weldom Johnson-style race-conciousness. Now, some years later, I see Cee-Lo, a talented wordsmith, is a haute-pop artist wearing peacock feathers in duets with Gwyneth Paltrow. Whither the ikar of Double-Consciousness.

Cee-Lo Green’s recent performance at the Grammys seemed Jewish insofar as its melodies made me think that my mother had once danced to this in the smoky parts of Hell’s Kitchen.

ari-bio4Cee-Lo co-wrote the song, and one of his collaborators is a 25 year old by the name of Ari Levine. Part of a group of songwriters, musicians and producers named The Smeezingtons, Teaneck High School dropout Ari Levine (no word yet on his Hebrew name) also worked with Matisyahu and various other pop outfits currently hot in the land. Born into the Conservative Movement, he seems to stand outside all these current debates about the innovation within. I like that, o ghost of Max Fleischer.

Oy, Texas

So some of us have been waiting to see our favourite recent addition to the Texas rabbi-ing scene* (yeah, such a thing exists) on the Daily Show for a week now. Seems there’s something happening in Egypt that kept bumping the segment?

John Oliver was in Texas to investigate a clash between the Christians and Jews, Republican style:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Jewish Speaker of Texas State House

Happy Yom Chechecheche folks!

*Link is an excuse for the hover text only.

A Question of G-D (And no, we’re not talking theology. We’re talking Bra Sizes)


Fashion designer Zac Posen adjusts orthodox teen contestant Esther Petrack before one of the final runway competitions on ANTM

If you’re anything like me, you’re just dying to hear  impassioned opinions on ANTM (that’s America’s Next Top Model, for the non-cognoscenti among you) from someone who has never once watched the show.

What follows is based on a controversial clip featuring an Orthodox–or more specifically, a Modern Orthodox–Jewish contestant from the recent cycle of the CW reality show and the virtual ruckus it caused among the online community, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike.

In case you have not seen this yet, here are some…visuals:

18-year-old Maimonides alum Esther Petrack was recently eliminated from the popular CW reality television show and has finally spoken out to dispel the rumors about her and  to address the damning insinuations circulating among the blogosphere and beyond. In a Nov. 3 article in the Jerusalem Post, for example, the Orthodox Jewish reality TV star responded to a rumor that she had lived in Mea She’arim and was excommunicated by explaining that she had never lived there, and adding: ““How did they even find out about me? The video was on the Internet, which they’re not fans of, anyway.”

Indeed in that same interview, Petrack explained that she is not, nor has she ever been  haredi. Yet despite this, the media persists in sensationalizing her story by describing her as haredi or ultra-orthodox.



Amusingly, the Israeli news reporter here also describes the school she attended in Boston (Maimonides–one of the bastions of so-called Centrist/Modern Orthodox Jewish education in the U.S.) as “haredi.”   Haredi or not, Petrack’s appearance on the show created a stir among many in both the US and Israel who self-identify as “frum.”  The infamous clip of the show went viral in the Orthodox community over a month ago, causing outrage and declamatory, self-righteous tongue wagging wherever it raised its scandalous head.  One can understand why such provocative television might elicit a  raised eyebrow or two but, in all honesty, I think such righteous indignation is misplaced.  In all of the online discussion of this admittedly rather ridiculous episode, search though I might, nowhere could I find condemnation of what seemed to me to be the most shocking moment of all: an instance of blatant religious discrimination. In the video clip above, Tyra Banks makes clear, in no uncertain terms, that all  contestants, irrespective of their beliefs or practices, are expected to conform to the show’s 24/7 work schedule, religious observance be damned.

America's Next Top Model

While the norms and mores of civilized life are often suspended  in ironically titled “‘reality” TV moments like these make me squirm more than scenes of so-called survivors consuming their own feces in order to prolong, for just another glorious week, their “15 minutes of fame.”
If an employer in the US today  denied work to a prospective employee based on her/his religious practice, the almost automatic result would be a job discrimination lawsuit with an expectedly grim outcome for the employer .   While, just  under a century ago,  pious  Jewish immigrants, fresh-off-the-boat from Europe would routinely lose their jobs and face poverty and even starvation if they did not work on Saturday, thankfully times have changed dramatically, and now religious tolerance is a blessed norm in the US: no longer does a Jew have to choose between starvation for him/herself and his/her family and Sabbath observance. (Thanks is of course also due to courageous labor unions for more humane work hours and weekends off.)   The apparent demand of the show’s creator and hostess, Banks, that Petrack chose between “honoring the Sabbath” and being part of the show, would seem to be a throwback to “bad old times” before anti-discrimination laws established norms of fairness and equality in hiring.

As to the “case” itself, we can hardly blame an 18 year old for the offenses of a crassly sensationalistic, heavily edited, celebrity-powered televised competition.  While the wisdom of entering such a competition might be questioned at the outset, what Petrack does is her personal choice; she is not forcing anyone – Orthodox or not — to watch or to sanction or imitate her actions. 

Much of the online uproar surrounding Petrack’s supposedly hypocritical activity as an Orthodox Jewish young woman is actually misinformed.  We later learn, via a blog comment posting by Petrack’s mother (or someone posing as Petrack’s mother. However you please), that her daughter’s statement, “I will do it,” (viz., desecrate the Sabbath by working) was actually edited out of context. Upon re-watching the clip, you can see the response, indeed, was edited. Despite the remaining tsniut (modesty) issue, Esther’s Shabbat observance may very well have been ‘technically kosher’—contrary to the way several articles (even some sympathetic) suggest.

A good part of me empathizes with Petrack.  How many of us can readily recall certain decisions and activities undertaken at the tender age of 18 that  we would not exactly wish to immortalize on video? Especially for those of us raised in Modern Orthodox milieus, the eternal saga of rationally reconciling the two (modern and orthodox) is a plight that strongly resonates. Granted, at least in my line of work, this doesn’t generally involve lifting one’s shirt on television…..at least not as far as I can remember, anyway.

One day, when I host a Jewishly-observant-themed talk-show entitled Halakhically Incorrect, I think Petrack should be a guest.

Anyone who has, at some point, lived a genuinely modern and Orthodox existence knows that certain actions, on paper, (or, in this case, video edited out of context) could easily baffle others. Or, as one of my good friends from college whom I recently visited remarked while laughing with a glint in his eye, “Remember when I used to sin for you on Saturdays?” referring to my Shabbat observance in which several of my more keyed-in non-Jewish friends and living-mates knew to flip the bathroom switch on before I ducked in on the seventh day of the week.

In short, the real judgment in this case should be against Banks for issuing such a shockingly intolerant ultimatum, not against an 18 year old struggling to reconcile  traditional religious observance and modernity. But Banks is “nit fun unzere”  (translation: not one of the “tribe”).  So why attack her, right?

Naches all around.


On a lighter note, Jewish women in Hollywood are still a topic of discussion. In a recent Slate article Rachel Shukert gushes over the show madmen for its portrayal of… Jewish women.

Although there seems to be some breakthrough in how Jewish women are shown in popular media, somehow, writers – many of them Jewish men, while having no problem casting Jewish women as beautiful, write Jewish women as unpleasant.

On a technical level, this comes as no surprise—there is certainly no shortage of beautiful actresses who happen to be Jewish: Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Mélanie Laurent, Hollywood ur-Jewess Natalie Portman (whose name I can never hear without a preface of “why can’t you be more like …”). But they rarely, if ever, play explicitly Jewish characters—sainted Holocaust victims notwithstanding. Hollywood’s repulsion isn’t directed toward actual Jewish women, but toward its image of the “Jewish Woman” who even in 2010 is still consistently portrayed as bossy, obnoxious, pushy, materialistic, shrewish, gauche, and impossible to please: Mrs. Ari on Entourage, Susie Greene from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jill Zarin from The Real Housewives of New York (a real person playing a fictional character playing a real person). Real Jewish women can laugh at these depictions, but they can sting, too, not least because they are so often manufactured and promulgated by Jewish men: our brothers and our cousins and our dads. I mean, is that what they really think of us?

The Jews of “Glee”

imagesA ruthless high school vocalist who will do anything to become a star, with a flighty over-dramatic moody side that gets her into constant boy trouble. A jerk of a varsity football player, whose well-hidden conscience only pesters him briefly between womanizing jags and throwing dweebs into dumpsters with his meathead buddies.

These, you call Jewish TV show characters?

250px-rachel_berrySo far as I can tell — and I’ve only been a fan of “Glee” for the past few months — the extent of the Jewish character content on the show is limited to elements like these: 1. Rachel Berry‘s got a rabbi she wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about sex to. 2. Noah “Puck” Puckerman‘s mom won’t let his live-in pregnant ex-girlfriend bring bacon into the house. 3. One of the cheerleaders tells Rachel she should move out of town — to Israel. 4. Puck tries to get into the pants of the newest popular girl in school, an African-American girl, by telling her “Jews and Blacks have a history of helping each other out.”

No bagels, no lox, no awkward Woody Allen neuroses (other than the high school kind), no outsider perspective (do Rachel’s two gay dads count?), no shysterism, no intellectualism, no kink, no classic Jewish stereotypical tropes.

Does this mean Jews really are so “white” in America now that being a Jew isn’t enough of an identity to set a TV character apart anymore? That random quick throw-away references to real Jewish culture (as opposed to stereotypes) are an easy way to spice up a figure who’s really just a generic Jock or Theater Star archetype, anyway?

200px-noah_puckermanIs there anything distinctively Jewish to the characters of Rachel or Puck that might say something about newer stereotypes of Jewish Americans? Maybe Puck is a tough-guy Sabra, or Rachel’s interracial, queer family is a reflection of Jewish social progressivism. At least they both have Mediterranean features — one point for non-Ashkenazi visibility?

And what to make of the characters named Artie Abrams (“the wheelchair guy”) and Tina Cohen-Chang (“the Asian punk-goth girl”)?

This is clearly not a serious sociological analysis. But like a good Jewish boy, I notice these things and start to wonder. You are invited to gleek out in the comments. Comments on multi-focal post-modern identity are encouraged to be written in verse.

You just climbed Mount Everest. What are you going to do now? I’m going to a concentration camp!

Recently, while perusing back copies of the German newspaper Der Zeit, I came across a November 1990 interview with famed Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner, which, nearly two decades later,  remains as sublimely absurd as ever. reinhold-messner

Taking this entirely out of context (because it is far more fun this way), here is an excerpt of the interview with a gem of a quote:

Gibt es Erfahrungen, die Sie noch machen wollen?

MESSNER: Ich bin noch nie abgestürzt. Also das fehlt mir. Ich bin 1980 auf dem Mount Everest in eine Spalte gefallen. Aber die war nur acht Meter tief. Ich wäre auch gern einmal eingesperrt. Mich würde interessieren, wie ich reagiere, wenn ich eine lange Zeit im Kerker verbringen müßte. Aber dazu müßte ich ein Verbrechen begehen. Ich könnte Sie zum Beispiel erschießen.

Haben Sie einen Revolver?


Außerdem wäre Ihre mutwillig herbeigeführte Verhaftung eine Erfahrung, die nicht viel zählt.

MESSNER: Das ist wahr. Es ist etwas anderes, ob ich freiwillig oder ungewollt leide. Ich habe mir meine Leiden immer selbst ausgesucht. Ich bin nie in einem KZ gewesen. Das wäre noch eine Wunscherfahrung. Ich möchte wissen, wie lange ich durchhalten und wie selbstsüchtig oder brutal ich mich den Mithäftlingen gegenüber verhalten würde.

In other words, Messner expresses his morbid curiosity and interest in experiencing the horrors of a concentration camp: as the ultimate test of physical endurance and moral fortitude. This reality television show practically writes itself…

Oh wait. Larry David has already taken care of that.

Haiku Glenn Beck!

You may recall last month when professional Fox News shit-shoveller pundit-face douchebag Glenn Beck announced that social justice has no place in religion and that if your church says anything about social justice, you should run for the hills.

Jewish social justice outfit Jewish Funds for Justice decided to fight back by creating a central repository of anti-Beck haikus. And they’re tweeting them at him. It’s all good. Just go to Haiku Glenn Beck or tweet using the #tag #becku.

Some of my faves:

And Jesus said to
All his hungry disciples
“Hands off my fish, chumps”

it used to be just
thirty pieces of silver
but now? sponsor’s gold

Glenn Beck knows that when
Jesus preached social justice
it was sarcasm.

Beckstein reminds me
of the kid in my Jew school
who ate the glue stick