Friday, April 30, 2010

Hava Nagila Around the World : An Indian Bollywood Production

There must be something in the music of Hava Nagila that appeals to people around the world in so many cultures.  It has to be the music and not the lyrics, because if you listen carefully you'll find that most singers mispronounce the words and don't seem to have a clue as to their meaning.  

We've already shared renditions by a Christian choir in Texas and a burlesque singer/dancer in Thailand.  This time we found a lively dancing version in a Bollywood movie made in India.  And we'll be bringing you lots more international interpretations in the weeks to come.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mel Brooks Gets His Star On Hollywood's Walk Of Fame

We're amazed that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Historic Trust waited until Mel Brooks was 83 years old to give him his own star on the Walk of Fame, but that's exactly what they did.

Last Friday, with his son Max and grandson Henry looking on, the celebrated comedian, actor, director, and producer received the 2,406th star during a ceremony in front of the Egyptian Theatre. Carl Reiner, his friend and collaborator, also attended and spoke at the ceremony  

Brooks has previously won Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy awards. He's still at it, working on a musical version of "Blazing Saddles.", one of his funniest comedies.

Here's a report on the ceremony unveiling the star on the sidewalk, followed by some words from Max Brooks and a song from Mel himself.
(Photo:  Associated Press)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Israeli Artists Get Creative and Profane as Holyland Project Scandal Grows

If you've been reading the Israeli newspapers or surfing their web sites, you've probably heard of the Holyland scandal.  It's already resulted in accusations or arrests of two former mayors of Jerusalem and questioning of other highly placed officials.

It involves the payment of bribes in connection with the construction of a big apartment house development in the neighborhood of Bayit v'Gan, on the site of the former Holyland Hotel.

So where's the humor in all of this?  Nowhere, until now.  This week, an organization called Hitorerut Yerushalayim (Wake up Jerusalem) called for the suspension of all further construction at the Holyland site and the conversion of unfinished sections of the luxury housing project into areas for public use.

As Abe Selig reports in yesterday's Jerusalem Post (Flipping Holyland the Bird):
Hitorerut, created in 2008 to represent the capital’s students and young people at City Hall, is promoting the campaign on its Facebook page – accompanied by a series of online flyers, designed by members, which depict the Holyland’s massive spread of apartments and lone high-rise tower in various “creative” adaptations.

In one such flyer, the apartments and tower are portrayed as piles of excrement, with the slogan “Holy-S**t!” in bold Hebrew letters above.
In another flyer, the apartments and tower are left intact, although manipulated slightly to resemble a hand extending its middle finger. The text above reads, “This is how bad they screwed you.”
All the flyers end with the phrase “Returning the land to the city.”
Organizers of the campaign told The Jerusalem Post that, first and foremost, the flyers were meant to shed a humorous light on an otherwise “depressing and sad chapter in the city’s history.”

“We wanted to make people smile a bit because we know how upsetting this whole affair has been,” Merav Cohen, a Hitorerut member and organizer of the campaign, told the Post.

But beyond the humor, Cohen said that the campaign was meant to enact real change with regard to the property where the now-infamous housing project sits.

“We want the unused sections of the Holyland site to be turned into something that benefits all residents of Jerusalem and not just a select, wealthy few,” she said.
(Top photo by Adiel Io, middle and bottom photos by Eitam Tubul)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

National Security Adviser Jones Tells Old Jewish Joke and Issues Apology

It's not often that a Jewish joke makes the front pages of the nation's newspapers but that's what happened yesterday.

White House National Security Advisor James L. Jones started his speech at a Washington policy forum Friday night with a classic joke about a crude antisemitic Taliban fighter and a clever Jewish merchant who outsmarted him.

Some people who found out about the joke a few days later took offense that a non-Jew would tell such a joke.  We'll bet that very few of them actually saw Jones' delivery and reacted to media reports referring to the joke as anti-semitic and as stereotyping Jews as greedy merchants.

With the media all abuzz about a perceived insult to Jews and to Israel, Jones quickly apologized, saying:  "I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.  It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel's security is sacrosanct."

We found the joke on YouTube, watched Jones deliver it, and concluded that no offense was meant.  On the contrary, the punch line makes the Jewish merchant look like a winner in outfoxing the boorish Taliban fighter.

Some folks don't know how to listen to and enjoy a joke.  And this one wasn't offensive, derogatory, or dirty.  In fact, we would have included it in this blog as a classic Jewish joke without any hesitation.

But just in case you haven't seen Jones tell the joke, we're bringing it to you here.  So watch it as it was delivered at the forum.  You be the judge.  Here's the video clip, followed by the complete text of the joke as told.  And if you agree or disagree with our judgment, we welcome your comments.

A member of the Taliban was separated from his fighting party and wandered around for a few days in the desert — lost, out of food, no water. And he looked on the horizon and he saw what looked like a little shack, and he walked towards that shack. And as he got to it, it turned out that it was a shack, a store, a little store owned by a Jewish merchant.

And the Taliban warrior went up to him and said, ‘I need water. Give me some water.’
And the merchant said, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t have any water, but would you like to buy a tie?  We have a nice sale of ties today.’

Whereupon the Taliban erupted into a stream of language that I can’t repeat, but about Israel, about Jewish people, about the man himself, about his family. ‘I’ve just said I need water. You try to sell me ties. You people don’t get it.’

And passively the merchant stood there until this Taliban was through with his diatribe and said, ‘Well, I’m sorry that I don’t have water for you. And I forgive you for all of the insults that you’ve levied against me, my family, my country. But I will help you out. If you go over that hill and walk about two miles there’s a restaurant there and they have all the water you’ll need.’

The Taliban, instead of saying thanks, still muttering under his breath, disappears over the hill, only to come back about an hour later. And walking up to the merchant, he says, ‘Your brother tells me I need a tie to get in the restaurant.’

Monday, April 26, 2010

Yiddishology: How Good Is Your Yiddish? "Shtipper or Shtupper": First of a Series

The Tampa Jewish Community Center and Federation has been testing the Yiddish vocabulary of its members on a weekly basis by videotaping "person in the street" interviews, similar to the "Jaywalking" sketches that Jay Leno has been doing for years and the "Jew Walking" video that we blogged about last October.

Random members of the community are asked the meaning of a common, usually funny sounding, Yiddish word, and their spontaneous reactions are videotaped for us to enjoy.

Our first Yiddishology sketch tries to uncover the meaning of shtipper, also pronounced shtupper.

We'll be returning to Tampa from time to time, to laugh with the participants as they try to articulate the meaning of words like shlimazel, ungepatchket, shmiggege, kenahora, tchotchkes, halevai, and balabusta.

Watch, laugh, and enjoy!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hava Nagila Around the World: Thailand Burlesque (Second of a Series)

Back in November, we posted a rendition of Hava Nagila by the Cornerstone Singers of Texas.  We said in the blog post that it's a rendition unlike any you've ever heard.  That may have been true, but since then we've come across even more unusual versions of what's probably the most played (and in the opinion of many, overplayed) Jewish song of all time.  

But the song's appeal somehow crosses geographic, cultural, and religious boundaries to keep it popular all over the world.  So we decided to share with you some of the most unexpected performances of Hava Nagila.  We think you'll really enjoy them, but we'll post them one at a time.  

We're starting with a burlesque-style performance in Thailand, that we're calling the second of the series, the first being our post from Texas last November.  The singer starts out with a few bars of the title song from the film Exodus, and then launches into Hava Nagila.  So sit back, watch, enjoy, and have some laughs.  It's OK to laugh out loud (LOL).  We did!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Jew Song: A Pop/HipHop Take On What It Means To Be Jewish

Yozzup?! is a digital media project created by Ryan Gruzen in collaboration with other talented music and video artsts. Yozzup?! tackles a wide range of subjects in their music and videos that get you to laugh, learn something, and also bob your head.

We came across this video by Yozzup?!, a new entry on the music scene, and we were pleasantly surprised by the positive, funny, rhythmic way that it conveyed the importance of Jewish values and Jewish history in shaping our world view.

It's not your father's or mother's and certainly not your grandfather's or grandmother's Jewish music, but maybe it will reach a new generation and give them a positive view of their heritage and the symbols that we all share throughout the Jewish year.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sexy Or Not, Jerusalem's Cheerleaders Are Here To Stay

It all started a year ago when Israel's top basketball league decreed cheerleaders mandatory for every team and imposed fines on teams that do not comply.   Both Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem teams are in the Basketball Super League (BSL), but their approaches to fulfilling the league mandate are decidedly different.

Maccabi Tel Aviv pulls out all the stops in letting its sensuous cheerleaders show gyrating hips, flashes of thigh, glimpses of cleavage or smouldering looks.  Its fans take delight in cheering the cheerleaders on. 

Hapoel Jerusalem is quite a different story.  Because so many of its fans are Orthodox Jews who frown on public displays of femininity, and because the team is required to have cheerleaders, they have fulfilled their league obligation by presenting a group of girls whose outfits have been called “footless white tights and tops resembling maternity frocks.”
Now the right wing orthodox opponents to cheerleaders have found a very unlikely partner in their objection to the sexy cheerleaders -- left wing feminists who view the antics of the scantily clad girls with disdain.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports:
Things have come to a head in recent weeks as politicians of different hues have taken up the issue, in what the Israeli media have dubbed "the coalition against cheerleaders."

"It's a combination of two camps that are often hostile to each other, the religious and the feminists," said lawmaker Uri Orbach of the religious Jewish Home party.

Orbach, who petitioned Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat, says he has nothing against cheerleaders in general, but is opposed to fining clubs that don't want them.

"The reasons are religious ones -- the (lack of) modesty bothers many of the fans. When they go to a basketball game, they don't want to see girls in minis dancing," he said.
According to Orthodox Jewish tradition, women are required to dress modestly, covering up their arms to their wrists and legs to the ankles. They also refrain from wearing trousers or tight clothing.

But Orbach also cited feminist reasons for joining the 19 women's groups that appealed to Livnat.

"In my eyes, it is chauvinistic that a crowd of mostly men needs to pass the time-outs watching young girls dancing and shaking. That seems pretty repulsive to me," he said.

At a recent game in Jerusalem, most fans sat impassively as the troupe performed. There were no jeers or catcalls, but many said they would prefer a cheerleader-free environment.

"It is not right that the league administration forces the club to use things that cause unpleasantness for much of the crowd. It is an embarrassment and outrageous," said 19-year-old fan Avishai Slonim.

The cheerleaders say they understand the sensitivities and try to adapt.  "That's why the girls are dressed in long tights, with hair gathered. Their appearance is very respectable. Their movements don't project any sort of sexuality," said Yael Brainess, their trainer and choreographer.

"They do lots of acrobatics and create energy, not through feminine movements, but more through strength," she said, adding that they have received positive feedback from the fans.
However, some say the restricted performances do a disservice to the sport of cheerleading.
"It's a bit primitive for God's sake," said Anna Tarasova, a former Jerusalem cheerleading coach and now head of the Tel Aviv dancers. "The girls need to dance and give a good show."

Following the petitions, Livnat appealed to the league, which agreed to do away with the fines, replacing them with financial incentives for teams that do use cheerleaders.

"She did it from the feminist side of things. She told them it was unacceptable to have fines and girls under the age of 16 performing," said Livnat's spokesman, Ran Lior.

And it appears that the undisclosed bonuses for clubs using cheerleaders was enough to entice Hapoel Jerusalem to maintain their troupe, even though they publicly disavow any connection.
We'll let you be the judge.  Here are examples of the two cheerleader performances.  First, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and then Hapoel Jerusalem.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oorah Chinese Auction: Eclectic Gifts, Shluff-caps, and Some Monkey Business

Oorah, the Jewish outreach organization based in Lakewood, New Jersey, is gearing up for May 4, the deadline for entering its latest Chinese Auction, which is being hyped with a slick, colorful brochure mailed to countless homes.  We got one in the mail last week. 

The brochure is filled with lavish gifts, 84 pages of them, including consumer electronics, a trip to Israel, sheitels (wigs), $5,000 towards a simcha or Yeshiva tuition, Judaica collections, complete kitchens, living rooms, maid service, a pre-owned car, and the latest item:  a monkey!  Yes, a monkey. 

The monkey offer comes with the following disclaimer:  Winner will receive a gift certificate for the value of the purchase of a capuchin, marmoset, squirrel, lemur or spider monkey.  The value of the gift certificate shall not exceed $2,800.  In states where licensing is required winner is responsible t license.  Winner is responsible to comply with all regulations and requirements relating to monkey.  Oorah makes no representation as to the legality in any state where winner may reside.

As far as we can see, the monkey business is limited to the auction gift.  An exploration of Oorah's web site revealed that the organization uses the money from the auctions to run boys' camps and girls' camps and to pay yeshiva tuition (mostly Haredi schools but also some Modern Orthodox schools) for children from non-observant families. 

Oorah is expressing concern that their their radio Oorah-thon broadcasts will keep children from going to bed on time.  So they are offering a free "Shluff-cap" to 5th through 8th graders who go to sleep by midnight, and to high school students who go to sleep by 1:00 am.  The free caps are offered only to kids whose parents donate $72 and send in the form included in the brochure.

Oorah uses lots of color, pizzazz, illustrations in the Dr. Suess style, and high-tech graphics and animation to promote their auctions.  Here is the intro to the 2010 auction:
(A tip of the Shluff-cap) to Avi Weisberger who called our attention to this auction.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wishing Israel a Happy 62nd Birthday and Recognizing 62 Famous Jews Who Shaped Its History

We're taking a one-day break from comedy to wish the State of Israel and all of its people a Happy 62nd Birthday on Israel Independence Day.

We're sharing a special video directed by Shay Shalom.  Set to a driving rhythmic accompaniment, the video names 62 famous Jewish men and women who changed Jewish history more than any others, had a strong influence on Jewish Life, or had a deep connection to the founding of the state.  We hope you enjoy it.  Yom Huledet Sameach!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Over-the-Top Bar and Bat Mitzvahs Hit a New High (In Cost) and a New Low (In Taste)

The troubled economy doesn't seem to be affecting parents who insist on spending a million dollars on Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah parties.  

Yesterday the New York Post reported on some of the most lavish, outlandish extravaganzas that rival Las Vegas shows, Broadway shows, and circuses.  In fact, the one they highlighted actually hired performers from Cirque du Soleil to provide the background for the Bat Mitzvah girl as she made her appearance.

Writing in the Post, Stefanie Cohen reports:
Suddenly, the girl herself appeared from behind purple lamé curtains. She was dressed in a cropped circus ringleader jacket -- a duplicate of the one worn by Britney Spears on her "Circus" tour -- a top hat, and fishnet stockings. A troupe of Cirque du Soleil performers surrounded her, and the whole entourage broke into a dance Spears herself would have struggled to pull off. 

The crowd of close to 400 erupted into wild cheers. Her mother wiped away tears of joy. The guest of honor had made her Grand Entrance. The party could commence.
It's supposed to be a bar (for boys) or bat (for girls) mitzvah -- a rite of passage in the Jewish tradition in which a child becomes an adult in the eyes of the community, usually on his or her 13th birthday. But in certain circles of New York City and Long Island, these parties seem less like religious celebrations than coronations.
Ryan Sandler, whose Spears-themed blowout was in October, had the best night of her life. And she deserved every second -- and dollar -- of the reportedly six-figure event, said her mom.
"Your child works hard, she studies the Torah for a year," said Liza Sandler, of Old Westbury, LI, "My kids have values, and they appreciate what we give them. I don't care if people judge how I spend my money."
Plus, she said, unapologetically, "It was a pretty amazing party. You didn't know where to look, there was so much happening in the room. There were contortionists on the ceiling, performers walking on stilts -- it was like going to a show."
Personally, we have nothing against people who work hard and earn a lot of money spending gobs of it on tasteless tacky parties.  After all, it provides income for caterers, waiters, and entertainers and contributes to the local economy.  

But we would have spent it a bit differently, taking the kid and her friends to see a performance of Cirque du Soleil and funding four full years of yeshiva day school for her and for nine of her friends ($25,000 a year for four years times ten equals one million dollars, the reputed cost of the party.) 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Badchan - Jewish Wedding Humor Before There Was American Jewish Humor

A badchan (a Hebrew word meaning jester that has been Yiddishized as badchen) is a Jewish comedian with scholarly overtones who entertained guests at weddings among the Ashkenazim of Eastern Europe.  Today they are found in all countries with Chassidic populations, including the United States, doing their shtick at weddings.

The badchanim (plural) probably originated during the Middle Ages where they traveled around Europe like troubadors.  They developed a tradition of wedding entertainment, telling jokes related to scriptural and Talmudic passages.  More recently, in this country, their entertainment has included impersonations of Jewish religious figures and American politicians.

Here's a sampling of badchanim performing at a wedding.  Usually the performances are all in Yiddish, but this one has has enough English to be understood by non-Yiddish speakers. 

This set includes some impersonations that you may or may not recognize, but we thought you'd get a kick out of these  guys as George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, as well as Rabbis Paysach Krohn and Avigdor Miller.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Golden Classic Video: La Boda - The Funniest Jewish Wedding

OK, OK.  I know some of you will groan because it's an oldie but goodie.  But when we started this blog we said it's intended as a showcase and repository for the best in Jewish humor, both old and new.  So occasionally we run videos, films, jokes, and stories that are not hot off the press, but that can still bring a laugh or smile to start the day.

So here it is:  La Boda.  A wedding in Israel where the photographer takes photos of groups with the bride and calls it as she sees it.  We've watched this many times to see if the subtitles are funny phony translations of her instructions in Hebrew.  But after doing some lip reading, our conclusion is that the whole thing was staged and that she is really saying in Hebrew what appears as the English and Spanish translation in the subtitles.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Joke to Start Your Day: The Tax Audit

The IRS decides to audit Morris, and summons him to the IRS office. The IRS auditor is not surprised when Morris shows up with his attorney.

The auditor says, "Well, sir, you have an extravagant lifestyle and no full-time employment, which you explain by saying that you win money gambling. I'm not sure the IRS finds that believable."

"I'm a great gambler, and I can prove it," says Morris. "How about a demonstration?"

The auditor thinks for a moment and said, "Okay. Go ahead."

Morris says, "I'll bet you a thousand dollars that I can bite my own eye."
The auditor thinks a moment and says, "It's a bet."

Morris removes his glass eye and bites it.

The auditor's jaw drops.

Morris says, "Now, I'll bet you two thousand dollars that I can bite my other eye."

Now the auditor can tell Morris isn't blind, so he takes the bet.

Morris removes his dentures and bites his good eye.

The stunned auditor now realizes he has wagered and lost three grand, with Morris's attorney as a witness. He starts to get nervous.

"Want to go double or nothing?" Morris asks. "I'll bet you six thousand dollars that I can stand on one side of your desk, and pee into that wastebasket on the other side, and never get a drop anywhere in between."

The auditor, twice burned, is cautious now, but he looks carefully and decides there's no way this guy could possibly manage that stunt, so he agrees again.

Morris stands beside the desk and unzips his pants, but although he strains mightily, he can't make the stream reach the wastebasket on the other side, so he pretty much urinates all over the auditor's desk.

The auditor leaps with joy, realizing that he has just cancelled a major loss. But Morris's attorney moans and puts his head in his hands. "Are you okay?" the auditor asks.

"Not really," says the attorney. "This morning, when Morris told me he'd been summoned for an audit, he bet me twenty-five thousand dollars that he could come in here and piss all over your desk and not only that but you'd be happy about it!"

Happy Tax Day to all of our readers.  Wishing you many happy returns!
(A tip of the kippah to The Jewish Magazine, where we found this one.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

French Chasidic Juggling Twins Perform at Camp Expo

Back in February, we brought you video of the two 20-year-old Lubavitcher twins from France entertaining thousands of chasidim at a wedding.  Now they're appearing at commercial events.

Yesterday they showed their stuff at a Jewish camp expo at the Rose Castle Ballroom in Brooklyn.  Watch them as they dance, ride unicycles, and juggle so fast that all you see is a blur.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kosher Comedy Tour Leaves 'em Laughing From Right to Left

Three popular Jewish comedians have been touring Florida the last few months putting on sold-out comedy shows called "Kosher Comedy Tour:  Laughing From Right to Left."

Peter Fogel, Sharon Daniels, and Stu Moss have recreated the feeling of reliving an evening at a Catskills resort hotel.  Their schedule for the rest of the year hasn't been posted yet, but watch for announcements of them appearing in your area.

Fogel has worked on over 18 major television shows, and has given motivational keynote speeches at conferences and corporations across America.

He has shared the stage with Dennis Leary, Ray Romano, Jon Stewart, to name a few. His witty material  as entertained audiences for more than two decades as he serves up rapid-fire jokes along with poignant observations.

He is a regular featured performer in top comedy venues around the country such as Catch a Rising Star, The Improvisation, LA's famed The Comedy Store, and Dangerfield’s.

Daniels was educated at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland and is the granddaughter of a well-known rabbi.   She has developed a wide range of hilarious impersonations of comedians, actors, vocalists, and well known personalities – both female and male.

She was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, was a finalist on 30 Seconds To Fame, and had a recent spot on The Tonight Show. She was awarded the “Cloney” for the Best Female Celebrity Impressionist by the International Guild of Celebrity Impersonators and Tribute Artists in 2003 and 2004.

Moss has toured with some of the biggest names in entertainment – Air Supply, The Beach Boys, The Bee Gee’s, George Benson, Michael Bolton, Peabo Bryson, Chicago, Gregory Hines, Kenny G, Patti La Belle, Johnny Mathis, Jeffrey Osborne, Dolly Parton, and for the past twelve years, Engelbert Humperdinck.

You may have seen him performing on the biggest cruise line vessels in the industry, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, and Atlantic City. His television credits include Showtime, Comedy Central, Chicago Hope and NYPD Blue.

Now that you've met them, sit back, relax, and laugh with them in three video clips from the show.  If you watch them consecutively, you'll be seeing 10 minutes from the show.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Boombamela 2010: The Hottest Way to Celebrate Passover

If you're still putting away the Pesach dishes and getting your house back to normal, you might be thinking of spending Passover next year at a warm resort in Florida, Arizona, Puerto Rico, or even in Europe.

But this year, as in the past eight years, those looking for an unorthodox Pesach that generates lots of heat, trekked to a slice of Israel that doesn't usually get much traffic except for the intermediate days of Passover, namely a kibbutz named Nitzanim, between Ashdod and Ashkelon on the Mediterranean Sea.

So what's the attraction?  Boombamela, an annual beach festival that appeals to tens of thousands of Israeli teens and twentysomethings looking for more than reading the Haggadah and feasting on endless matzah creations.

A few years ago, Steve Lipman, writing in The Jewish Week, described the festival this way:
When you think of Passover, you don’t usually think of bungee jumping, yoga sessions and reggae music.Unless you were at Nitzanim beach, near Ashkelon, this week. That’s where the ninth annual New Age festival, Boombamela, took place during three intermediate days of Pesach. Inspired by the Hindu Kumbh Mela festival, Boombamela draws ten of thousands of Israelis, most of them in their 20s, for 18-hour-a-day seminars with imported Indian gurus, performances by rock bands, and nude beaches. And sesame sumo bouts, roller skate courses and karaoke. Kosher food and prayer services are available, too. Boombamela, according to its organizers, is a “place for meeting, experiencing, crossing borders and transcending social limitations through music, creation, and connection with music.”
For anyone who observes a traditional Passover, the festival can be a real jolt.  As one commenter said on YouTube:  תראו מה הלך בחוף ניצנים בחול המועד פסח ובשבת !!! ה' ישמור גילוי עריות פריצות אכילת חמץ אלו דברים המעכבים את הגאולה A rough translation:  See what's going on in Nitzanim on Chol Hamoed Pesach and on Shabbat!  God will watch the nudity and eating of chametz.  These are the things that will delay the  redemption.

But there's hope.  In an audio podcast on Israel National Radio, Ben Bresky reports that Jewish outreach has become an accepted part of the festival, and how secular Israeli youth interact with Beit Chabad and Kfar Tefillah. You can hear from festival organizers about their acceptance of Torah services and from rabbis about their acceptance of teenagers worshippers in shorts and sandals. Plus, the story of how the Boombamela producer had his bar mitzvah in the sand.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Is Bike Riding Kosher or Traif in Williamsburg? It All Depends...Are You a Hipster or a Satmar?

Bicycle riding on the streets of Williamsburg has been a controversial topic ever since New York City proposed putting new bike lanes through the Brooklyn neighborhood which is shared by young, secular residents who use bicycles to get around, and a large Chasidic Satmar community.

The chasidim opposed the lanes, fearing parking problems and the sight of immodestly dressed women who would be pedaling through the streets.

Right in the middle of the action stands the Traif Bike Gesheft, a store run by Baruch Herzfeld, who calls himself the "new rebbe of Williamsburg."  The store is marked by a sign that includes a huge Jewish star constructed from 50 rubber chickens.  

Herzfeld runs the storefront, which refurbishes and sells used bikes, but also provides free loaners to members of the Satmar community in an attempt to increase socialization between the Satmars and the hipsters.  (Editor's note:  Like we've been saying, you just can't make this stuff up.)

The shop is also home to the Time's Up! cycling club, where residents of both communities take free bike repair lessons.

The latest wrinkle in this unbelievable but true story is the large vending machine that Herzfeld has placed in front of his store, which dispenses bike parts and accessories 24 hours a day.

Writing in this week's edition of The Jewish Week, Sharon Usadin reports:
The Time’s Up! organization was actually at the center of a December 2008 clash between clown-cloaked cyclists and angry Satmar residents, who objected to new city bike lanes that began routing scantily clad cyclists through their parking spaces and school bus paths. Even more recently – December 2009 – cyclists decided to repaint 14 blocks worth of bike lanes that the city had removed from Bedford Avenue, in response to Satmar complaints. Yet Herzfeld stresses that his bike shop has only brought residents closer together, and he sees no division between the two populations.

“I see them as one community,” he said. “The rabbis want to keep them separated because they want to preserve their traditions, and they’re worried that if people are exposed to a different tradition then they’re going to lose a tradition of the past.”
While Herzfeld is all for preserving traditions, he finds that many Satmar chasids do so at the expense of socialization and instead become “miserable.” But lately, Herzfeld and his staff members say that the Traif Bike Gesheft has seen increasing numbers of Satmar cyclists attending their biweekly classes in recent weeks. As additional incentive, Herzfeld offers free bike loans to the Satmar community members, and anyone else who might be interested.
"He’s surprisingly brought a lot of Satmars together and to meet with other Jews and non-Jews in a friendly environment. And the bikes are only part of his efforts,” said Yoel Weisshaus, a Satmar chasid who uses Herzfeld’s Traif Bike Gesheft regularly but also empathizes with community parking concerns. Weisshaus, who recommends the shop to friends, thinks that bike usage will increase gradually, as more and more people learn about Herzfeld’s venture.
On March 25, Herzfeld appeared as the first guest on a new Satmar women's talk show sponsored by Vos Iz Neias, The Veiber Shul, where he is interviewed by Malkie on the subject of is he a tzaddik or is he dafkedik (I think I heard that correctly, but I'm not sure.  You be the judge.)   Here's the video of that show:
(Photo by Nathaniel Popper)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Magic Yad Offers Singing Hand to Bar and Bat Mitzvah Students

Alan Warshaw, a Palo Alto, California resident with a background in product management and marketing, has come up with The Magic Yad, a new smart pen that, in addition to writing, chants the Torah and Haftarah portions of the week.  The pen uses a new technology called Livescribe that links audio to handwriting.  Warshaw co-founded the company last year with his friend Alan Greenfield, who lives in Needham, Mass.

Writing in yesterday's edition of, an online news site covering the San Francisco Jewish Bay Area, Dan Pine reports:
The Magic Yad looks like one of those fountain pens kids used to receive as bar mitzvah presents. In fact, it is a five-inch pen, in that you can actually write with it.

But this is the RoboCop of pens. Retailing for $150, the Magic Yad coordinates digital audio stored in the pen with Hebrew writing on special pre-printed paper — thus helping b’nai mitzvah students nail their Torah portions.

Though the Magic Yad looks conventional, it is anything but.An infrared camera in its tip “reads” anywhere from a single phrase to a b’nai mitzvah student’s full Torah portion. Reads? Actually, the yad (the name for a pointer that Torah chanters use to follow the Hebrew text) picks up a dot pattern that is invisible to the naked eye, which triggers a recitation of the passage stored in the pen.
The special Torah portion paper also has icon buttons printed at the bottom; users can tap the Magic Yad on “record” or “play” or “speed up” or “slow down,” as well as other functions. 
The Magic Yad works only with booklets of Torah and Haftarah verses that have been specially printed for use with the device.  Prices range from $60 for a third of a parsha to $120 for a full parsha with seven aliyot.  The Haftarah costs another $120.  The voice emerging from the pen is that of Cantor Gaston Bogomolni of Temple Aliyah in Needham, Massachusetts.  You can customize the reading with the voice of your own cantor or teacher, but that will double the cost of the software in most cases.

To see the Magic Yad in action, just click on the video below.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gatorade Goes Kosher And The Jewish World Will Never Be The Same

It's official!  The Orthodox Union (OU) announced yesterday that Gatorade, the thirst quenching sports drink beloved by all observant Jewish athletes (all seven of them) and the many athlete-wannabes, is finally certified kosher.

The long-awaited announcement indicated that  G2, the low-calorie version of Gatorade, is now also certified kosher.

The significance of the availability of this new kosher product goes far beyond its thirst-quenching capability for T-Ball and Little League players.  

Not only can it be served at kiddush to restore the energy of congregants who lift the Torah after its reading is completed in the synagogue (hagbah) and those who carry it around the sanctuary, but it also can be an energy booster for all who exert themselves in putting out mounds of food and drink for the kiddush.

But wait, there's more.

According to the website, Joey Green's Wacky Uses for Gatorade, the brightly colored product can also be used to clean toilets, relieve morning sickness, cure a hangover, store bird seed, make a megaphone, and make bowling pins.
None of these uses were mentioned in the OU press release, which said:
Gatorade Thirst Quencher is the most thoroughly researched sports beverage in the world and is scientifically formulated and athletically proven to quench thirst, replace fluids and electrolytes, and provide carbohydrate energy to enhance athletic performance. By offering a scientifically proven blend of carbohydrates and key electrolytes, Gatorade Thirst Quencher is designed for use in the moment of activity to help athletes and active people hydrate, refuel and push through. G2 is a low-calorie option that delivers functional hydration to active people, but with less than half the calories of Gatorade Thirst Quencher.

To maintain kosher-certification, Gatorade will continue to undergo regular inspections by OU rabbinic representatives to ensure ingredients, formulas, processes and manufacturing plants comply with the guidelines for manufacturing kosher products. Throughout this process Gatorade has ensured the ingredients, efficacy and taste would not be altered. Gatorade Thirst Quencher and G2 will feature new packaging that includes the Orthodox Union certified kosher symbol, OU,which identifies products that may be consumed by those who maintain a kosher diet.
Here are some other possible uses for the newly approved sports drink (OK, so they are Purim parodies, but as we've said before, at Jewish Humor Central, it's Purim every day!)  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pickles Are Disappearing From New York's Lower East Side...But There's Still Hope

Agence France-Presse reported this week that the once bustling retail pickle scene on the streets of New York's Lower East Side is rapidly disappearing, with just one store left to sell the many varieties of pickled cucumbers and other delicacies that have always been part of the Jewish culinary experience.

Writing for AFP, Sebastian Smith reports:
Pickles, dills, gherkins and their cousins still pop up in every convenience store and pastrami sandwich, but these are nearly always industrial versions from sealed jars filled with chemicals, as well as brine.
One of the last places selling real pickles -- the crunchy, hand-crafted, Jewish pickles of New York lore -- is the tiny Pickle Guys store in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
"This is pickle Mecca," said Michael Dansky, 52, who came all the way from Boston with a cooler to stock up. "They are the last of the real pickle people."
The store -- a cave-like space crammed with barrels of pickles -- is all that remains of this once Jewish-dominated neighborhood's pickle industry. A century ago, as many as 150 other pickle places would have been doing business within a short walk.
One of the stalwarts, the venerable Guss' Pickles, closed down just last year.  Many of the staff at Pickle Guys used to work at Guss'. They believe their mix of authenticity and willingness to try new products allows them to hang on.
Check out this video of a pickle eating contest sponsored by and conducted at the Pickle Guys establishment at 49 Essex Street in New York City.