Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shofar Callin': The Rosh Hashanah Song

Last October we posted a story about G-dcast, the innovative presentation of each weekly Torah parsha in the form of a four-minute animated cartoon.  Well, the G-dcast team has done it again.  This time it's a special animated cartoon for Rosh Hashanah, explaining the connection between the shofar and the account of the Binding of Isaac (The Akeda) that is read in the synagogue on the first day of the holiday.

This version is not your typical Bible story narration.  It's done in a hip-hop style by a musician from Savannah, Georgia who calls himself Prodezra Beats.

If you doubted that the Chassidic and hip-hop Jewish music worlds are coming together, just check out this short video of another Jewish hip-hop musician, Y-Love, shmoozing it up with the king of Chassidic music, Mordechai Ben-David.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" Documentary Now Available On DVD

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, the documentary telling the humorous and eye-opening story of television pioneer Gertrude Berg, was released this week on DVD.

The film was written, produced, and directed by Aviva Kempner, maker of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.

Berg was the creator, principal writer, and star of The Goldbergs, a popular radio show for 17 years, which became television’s very first character-driven domestic sitcom in 1949. Berg received the first Best Actress Emmy in history, and paved the way for women in the entertainment industry.  The documentary includes interviews with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actor Ed Asner, producers Norman Lear (All in the Family) and Gary David Goldberg (Family Ties), and NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg.

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg premiered at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival last year.  In the video below, film critic Bonnie Steiger interviews Aviva Kempner on her experience documenting the woman behind the character that America remembers as Molly Goldberg. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Israeli Soccer Player Celebrates Goal With Yarmulke From Sock

On August 18, in a playoff game between Israel's Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer team and Austria's Salzburg team, Hapoel forward Itay Schechter scored the winning goal and celebrated by pulling a kippah from his sock and putting it on his head.

As Adam Soclof reported in JTA's blog,
The stunt earned Schechter a yellow card and apparently garnered attention in Israel, where the gesture was widely interpreted as a triumphant gesture against the Nazi history of Austria’s past. Ynet reported that the kipah was given to Shechter by a cancer patient and a longtime Hapoel T.A. fan.
In an interview with One sport, declaring that he “would have put the kipah on even if they had put me in prison,” Shechter said the following (my translation from the Hebrew):
I wasn’t trying to anger anyone. A young tzaddik gave [the kipah] to me in the airport. I told my friend that I’d put it in my sock and if, G-d willing, I score, I’ll wear it; I didn’t think this was a provocation. I wanted to say Shema' Yisrael. What was going on in my mind was that, “I know that there are may Jews that are watching me from their home and are happy.”
On Aug. 21, during the opening match of the 2010-2011 Israeli Premier League, Shechter sustained a leg injury against Maccabi Haifa and is questionable for Hapoel’s Champions League rematch against Red Bull Salzburg in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Aug. 24. does anyone have a Hapoel Tel Aviv Tehillim book?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hava Nagila With Neil Diamond: It Only Gets Better With Time

What do the movies The Jazz Singer (1980) and Keeping Up With The Steins (2006) have in common?  It's Neil Diamond singing Hava Nagila!

The Jazz Singer was a remake of the original 1927 Al Jolson film.  

In the 1980 version, Diamond plays the role of a cantor's son who desires success as a pop singer, despite the wishes of his imperious father. On the side, he writes songs for a black singing group, and when a member of the quartet takes ill, he covers for him at one of their gigs.

The nightclub engagement is such a success that the cantor's son abandons his family -- and his father's synagogue -- and leaves his New York home for Los Angeles, hoping to break into the music business. 

Keeping Up With The Steins is a 2006 comedy, poking fun at over-the-top Bar Mitzvahs, with Diamond's appearance at the Bar Mitzvah serving as an example of this excess.

Can you see what's changed in the time that elapsed between the two movies?  Here's The Jazz Singer.

Diamond has changed in the 26 years between the two movies, while maintaining his star status on the pop music scene. How?  Well, his thick black mane became a manageable gray.  And he learned to pronounce Hebrew words correctly.  We hope you enjoy both versions.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rosh Hashanah Countdown: Gold Digger? No, It's Soul Bigger!

The National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) has just released a new video called Soul Bigger, designed to entertain and to suggest practical ways to better ourselves in the days leading up to and following Rosh Hashanah.  

A take-off on a popular song called Gold Digger by Kanye West, it's a professionally done production number deserving to be watched and shared.  The Gold Digger video has more than 15 million page views.  Soul Bigger's message merits more attention, and it's worth sharing with your friends.  Enjoy!

(A tip of the kippah to Esther Kustanowitz for bringing this one to our attention.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rosh Hashanah Countdown Begins: Adventures of Todd and God

We're just two weeks away from the first night of Rosh Hashanah.  As we head into the High Holidays, look for Jewish Humor Central to be more holiday-centric.

Today we present The Adventures of Todd and God, a little cartoon gem about the custom of eating a new fruit on the second night of Rosh Hashanah to fulfill the Shehecheyanu blessing.  Usually it's a fig, a pomegranate, or some weird fruit that seems to have been cultivated only for this purpose. But an orange?   An orange????

This episode of The Adventures of Todd and God comes from myjewishlearning.com.  It was produced by William Levin, also known as The Jewish Robot.  Levin is the creator of the comic strip and animated series, Shabot 6000.  He produces cartoons and videos that have been featured on The New York Times website, ABC Good Morning America,G4techTV, and in film festivals, and has been written up in publications including The ForwardThe Jewish Week, and The Jerusalem Post.  He was inducted into the Writers Guild of America - East in 2009, and is a writer for Shalom Sesame, a Sesame Workshop coproduction of Sesame Street.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Classic Comedy: Milton Berle Duels In One-Liners With Henny Youngman And Muppets

Oh, the old days of classic comedy.  And among the best of the best Jewish comedians were Milton Berle and Henny Youngman, king of the one-liners.

Back in 1965, when Berle was a guest host on the ABC TV show Hollywood Palace, he engaged in a four minute long one-liner verbal duel with Youngman, who was positioned in a balcony box.  We came across this rare treasure in an amazingly high quality video clip from that era.

It's funny what you can find surfing YouTube.  We also disovered another Berle one-liner duel, this time with the Muppets' grouchy old men, Statler and Waldorf, similarly positioned in a balcony box.  

We don't know the exact date, but it had to be at least 11 years later because The Muppet Show didn't debut until 1976.  But it seemed obvious to us where the Muppets got the idea for a one-liner duel with Berle, and maybe also the idea for a pair of grouchy hecklers launching their verbal missiles toward the stage.

Take a look at both videos and see if you agree.  Enjoy!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Funniest Israeli Commercials: "Must Be Sexy" Bubble Gum - Eighth Of A Series

Must gum, manufactured by Elite Strauss in Israel, introduced a series of "Mood Gums".  They engaged the Israeli advertising agency Keta Keta, to produce commercials for the new line. 

The message that they're trying to convey is that Must freshens up your day and makes each routine moment fun. The agency created three viral clips to create buzz for the three mood gums: Must Be Sexy, Must Be Active, and Must Be Easy.  Here is the Beach Samba commercial for Must Be Sexy gum.

We've been looking for the gum at our local retailers of Israeli products but haven't been able to find it.  Must Be Discontinued.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jewish Humor In America: A Retrospective

From Phil Silvers to Sarah Silverman, Shelley Berman to Sacha Baron Cohen, a disproportionally large number of Jews rank among the most popular and famous comedians. 

In this video, Barry Mitchell, the Emmy-nominated TV producer, comedy writer and musician, visits the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies Museum in Chicago to find out why.  

In the process, we see short clips of some of the most famous and popular examples of Jewish Humor in America.  How many do you recognize?

This segment originally aired in February, 1997 on ABC-TV World News Now, but there was no YouTube then.  So we didn't come across it until today.  We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hava Nagila Around The World: Violina Plays In Estonia

What's the most likely song to be played by three talented Estonian electric violinists in ultra-tight dresses?  Isn't the answer obvious?  Of course.  It's Hava Nagila.

In the past few months we shared with you some exotic and unusual versions of Hava Nagila, from  India, Thailand, Israel, Russia, Texas, the UK, Cuba, and a Beatles tribute band.

But wait...there's more.  Just this week we discovered this new video of the Violina players, so we're adding it to our ever-growing collection of Hava Nagilas.  We hope you enjoy watching and listening to it.   

These musicians with their distinctive white violins, performed on the Estonian TV show, Tahed Muusikas, or Music Stars.  They play a wide range of pop music and Eastern European folk music.

But wait again...there's still more.  Estonia offers more than pretty electric vionisits.  There is a growing Jewish presence in this country that shares its borders with Russia and Latvia, and is a 2 hour ferry ride to Helsinki, Finland.

Chabad has built a new, modern synagogue in Tallinn, Estonia's capital city.  Around the time of its opening in December 2008, the Jewish Community of Estonia produced a video showing the emergence of Jewish Life in Estonia that we'd like to share with you.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Getting Ready For Rosh Hashanah: Gefilte Fish From Scratch...And In Yiddish

Last month we posted a story titled "Look Out, Rachael and Emeril -- Here Comes "Feed Me, Bubbe."  The post was about a grandmother in Massachusetts, known only as Bubbe, who is the star of an online cooking show.

Now the Bubbe of "Feed Me, Bubbe" may have some competition.  Earlier this year, Bubby Chanele Gonshor of Montreal visited her granddaughter, Frayda Gonshor Cohen of Berkeley, California, and showed her how to prepare gefilte fish from scratch -- from buying the fish in a store to serving it.  

In this video, Bubby Chanele shows every step along the way, narrating in Yiddish, while English subtitles make it easy to follow even for anyone who doesn't understand the mamaloshen (mother tongue).

We don't know if, after watching it, you're motivated to try the day-long process yourself, or to take one of the easy ways out, like buying gefilte fish off the supermarket shelf in jars, from take-out stores, or in pre-shaped frozen loaves to finish cooking at home.  But either way, you're bound to have a renewed appreciation for the loving efforts of countless grandmas, bubbes, and bubbys who have prepared this traditional dish for generations of children and grandchildren.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Yankles - Coming Soon To A Theatre Near You

What happens when a group of yeshiva students form a baseball team and the only coach they can find is a paroled drunk driver?

A funny film called The Yankles. 

The Yankles, a new independent film, is about Charlie Jones, a professional baseball player who was released from the Los Angeles Spirits because of a drinking problem. Upon being paroled from prison after serving time for his third drunk driving conviction, Charlie endeavors to serve 192 hours mandatory community service by coaching baseball. To Charlie's dismay, however, he is shunned by mainstream society because of the controversy surrounding his early parole and prior convictions. 

Charlie soon discovers that the only people willing to give him a second chance are a group of Jewish, orthodox, yeshiva students who formed an upstart baseball team called The Yankles. Fortunately for Charlie, The Yankles are as desperate for a coach as he is for community service. After a rough start, Charlie finds a home with The Yankles. With Charlie's help, The Yankles strive for success on the field, while Charlie works to rebuild his reputation in society and his relationship with those whom he wronged in the past. 

If you plan to be in Omaha between August 24 and September 2, you'll be among the lucky few who will be able to attend a screening of The Yankles at the Ninth Annual Jewish Omaha Film Festival.  Otherwise, you'll just have to join us in waiting until the DVD is released or shown at a film festival in your area.  In the meantime, take a look at the trailer.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Sexy, Stylish Commercial For Rosh Hashanah Services

The images are compelling.  Good looking models.  Stylish fashions.  Calvin Klein.  DKNY.  Levi's.  Starbucks.  

So what are they advertising?  Suits?  Dresses?  Sneakers?  Coffee? 

Guess again.  How about a tallit, a shofar, a High Holiday prayer book, and a kippah?

Yep.  Chabad has done it again.  This time, it's a commercial for the Ultimate High Holiday Services by Chabad of Suffern, New York.

For more information, contact the Chabad Jewish Center at 845-368-1889.

Monday, August 16, 2010

CHELM-ON-THE-MED© Brings Quirky News From Israel To Life

Have you heard the one about the Israeli soldier whose Jewish mother sneaked into his camp every night to accompany her son on guard duty because he was afraid of the dark?

Or the scheme to help solve Israel's water drain by re-channeling used mikvah water?

Or the government decision to paint the legs of all camels in Israel with fluorescent paint to prevent head-on collisions with speeding cars -- a reverse case of camouflage, or maybe it should be called camelflage?

Or the strange get (divorce papers) that required the divorcee to pay his former spouse one pregnant goat a year for the next 35 years?

All of these unbelievable but true stories, and lots more, have been collected by Daniella Ashkenazy, an Israeli journalist, most from the pages of the Hebrew newspaper, Yediot Aharonot.

Ashkenazy has been posting these zany snippets of daily life in Israel on her Chelm-on-the-Med© website since March 2009, and has hundreds more dating back to 1987 that she is compiling for publication in book form.

Why Chelm?  The name Chelm-on-the-Med© was chosen because in so many ways, Israeli public and private life seem modeled after Chelm – an actual Jewish town in Poland that for generations served as the butt of Yiddish folk humor.

Also in the works as part of "The Chelm Project" is a series of short videos that could be used at the end of news telecasts and humorous short subjects in a lineup of items of Jewish interest in the Jewish TV channels that are becoming available on the major cablevision networks.  Here is a sample animated video describing the conflict between highway engineers and a strange coalition of highly-secular environmentalists and ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews over the construction of a new highway in Israel, and its resolution.

The idea is to present these daily happenings to show that Israel, despite the negative image that's being presented by much of the mainstream media, is not only a normal country, but one in which funny things are constantly happening, and many which can be described as "only in Israel."  The topics covered on the website, the forthcoming book, and animated videos are:
- Silly ministers and parliamentarians
- Quirky rabbis and such
- Weird court cases
- Two-bit crooks and odd capers
- Kafka-like ordinances
- Incredible bureaucratic tangles
- Dumb or kind-hearted cops
- Unforgettable "he and she" sagas
- IDF oddities and quirks
- Only-in-Israel quandaries
- Only-in-Israel solutions
- Countless run-of-the-mill Israelis whose harebrained schemes or bizarre behavior land them in the daily papers
If you want to be notified when new vignettes are published twice a month, go to the Chelm-on-the-Med© website and type in your name and e-mail address at the bottom of the left column.  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chabad Uses "Curb Your Enthusiasm" Video to Promote Free Rosh Hashanah Services

What do you do if you are a Chabad synagogue that offers free tickets for the High Holidays and wants to let everyone know about it?  Who is your best spokesman?  Maybe the Lubavitcher Rebbe?  Nope, guess again.  It's Larry David, creator and star of the hit HBO show, Curb Your Enthusiasm.

That's exactly what Chabad of East Brunswick, New Jersey is doing to promote its Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services starting on September 8th.  The services are free of charge, with no membership or affiliation required, but there is a suggested donation of $36 per person, or $118 per family.

East Brunswick Chabad has taken a video clip from the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry enlists his agent to find a scalper who will sell him two tickets to Larry's Temple, and uses it as a basis for a High Holiday commercial, posted on its own web site and on YouTube.

East Brunswick Chabad used only a short clip from the show.  If you want to see an extended (7 minute) version of the episode and find out what happened to Larry when he walked into the synagogue, it's available on YouTube.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hatikvah: From Italian Folk Song To Czech Symphonic Poem To Israel's National Anthem

Hatikvah.  It's arguably the most recognized Jewish melody, even more than Hava Nagila.  OK, we'll admit we're on a Hatikvah kick.  Yesterday we posted a video of Hatikvah being played on a shofar.  We plan to post other versions, some traditional and some unusual, in the weeks and months to come.

But where did this song, that causes Jews everywhere to stand up and sing, come from?  The lyrics, the last verse of which was modified with the creation of the State of Israel, are well known as the work of Naftali Herz Imber, who wrote a nine-verse poem in Romania in 1877.  A few years later, Imber moved to Jerusalem, where the poem, Tikvatenu, was published in 1886.

And the melody?  Although widely believed to have been composed by Samuel Cohen in 1888, Cohen himself recalled many years later that he had adapted the melody from a Romanian folk song.  This folk song was itself adapted from an Italian madrigal called La Mantovana, written in 1600, which shares many structural elements with Hatikva.  This melody originated as an Italian madrigal around the year 1600 written by Giuseppino del Biado with the text "Fuggi, fuggi, fuggi dal questo cielo."

In 1874, Czech composer Bedrich Smetana wrote a symphonic poem called The Moldau, also based on La Mantovana as a tribute to his homeland.  Cohen may have also been influenced by Smetana's beautiful melody.

Here are two videos to illustrate these origins of Hatikva.  First, the Italian madrigal, played by Owain Phyfe, a performer at Renaissance Fairs around the U.S., followed by a performance of the first part of Smetana's symphonic poem The Moldau by Arie Vardi conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Enjoy!


Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Shofar Plays Hatikvah

How many notes do you think a shofar can sound?  Tekiah, Shevarim, and Teruah, right?  Well, apparently nobody told stand-up comedian, musician, and jazz vocalist David Zasloff that the shofar had limits.

In addition to the shofar, Zasloff has mastered the art of playing the trumpet, piano, percussion, guitar, autoharp and Japanese flute.

In this video, he plays Hatikvah like you've never heard it before.  Maybe the shofar blower in your synagogue can take a page from Zasloff's song book and end the Yom Kippur service with a rousing version of L'Shanah HaBa'ah B'Yerushalayim.  There's still time to practice.  Yom Kippur is more than a month away.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why The Jewish Holidays Are Always Early...Or Late

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, which raises our awareness that we are only a month away from the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

 Rosh Hashanah is early this year, coming on September 9th and 10th.  But is it really early, and is it ever really late?  

We found the clearest, most concise explanation of how the Jewish calendar works in a video by Rabbi Tzvi Gluckin, a Boston speaker, author, and Jewish educator who has a talent for presenting complex ideas with clarity and great enthusiasm.

Rabbi Gluckin is author of three books:  The Glue Factor: The Sticky Secret of Campus Recruiting, Everything You Want Is Really Jewish, and the soon to be released Discover This.  His articles and essays are featured in the book Heaven on Earth (published by Targum Press), on the award-winning website aish.com, and in the Jerusalem Post online edition.  

He is a regular contributor to the innovative webinar site, Project Sinai, and his live classes are often presented in conjunction with the Orthodox Union and its youth organization, NCSY..  He also lectured at Tufts University as a Visiting Professor.  He is a sought after lecturer on campuses and communities throughout North America, and his videos, articles, and over 50 MP3 recordings of his talks can be found on the web at aish.com and his own site, moretorah.com.


During this month we will be including more posts related to the holidays.  We'll keep posting our usual mix of standup comedy, jokes, unusual Jewish song and dance, recipes, and unbelievable happenings in the Jewish world, but some of them will have a close connection with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.  So stay tuned, and enjoy with us!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Ba Ni Bi Takes Root In The Far East: It's Showtime In Singapore!

Last month we wrote about the surprising success of A Ba Ni Bi, the seemingly silly song that won Israel the first prize in the Eurovision Song Festival in 1978.  The blog post included videos of the original performance by Izhar Cohen, the complete lyrics, and a dance version at a wedding in Malaysia.

As we mentioned then, the song is cleverly written in S'fat HaBet (B Language,) an Israeli variation of Pig Latin.  The phrase Aba Nibi Obo Hebev Obo Tabach is simply Ani Ohev Otach (I Love You) with the suffixes ba, bi, bo, and beh appended to each syllable.  If it were sung in English, the words would be Iby Lubuve Youboo.  But nobody sings it that way.

Now the song has made its way to Singapore, where earlier this year it was performed on stage at River Hongbao 2010, a nine-day festival celebrating the Chinese New Year and welcoming the Year of the Tiger. 

What all this has to do with Hebrew pig latin and silly love song is anybody's guess, but if it brings joy around the world, who can complain?  And there are even more versions to come in Jewish Humor Central's Summer of A Ba Ni Bi.  Enjoy!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Meet Ida Rosenberg: Start The Week With Yenta Comedy

If you haven't encountered her yet, meet Ida Rosenberg.  Ida, Linda Richman (Mike Myers' mother-in-law and hostess of Coffee Talk on Saturday Night Live), and Dame Edna Everage
(played by Australian comedian Barry Humphries) are kindred spirits.

We'll be seeing more of Ida in posts to come, but we'll introduce her to you in this clip of her chatting about leaving Boca to go home to Astoria for the Bat Mitzvah of her granddaughter Britney.

But who is this yenta, really?  "She" turns out to be Terry Roth, a 59-year-old musician/entertainer, a YouTube presence also known as Zipster08, who plays multiple characters on his YouTube channel.  Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more visits with Ida.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Yiddish With Dick And Jane: Animated Excerpt From the Basic Reader Parody

A few years ago, Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman wrote a parody of the classic basic reader, Fun with Dick and Jane ("See Jane.  See Spot.  See Spot run.  Run, Spot, run")  that was used in almost every elementary school from the 1930s through the 1970s.
The parody, called Yiddish with Dick and Jane, published by Little, Brown, and Company, captures the unique rhythms of the original Dick and Jane readers  In 35 all-new illustrations, a story unfolds in which the ultra-WASPish Dick and Jane manage to express shades of feeling and nuances of meaning that ordinary English just can't deliver. How? By speaking Yiddish, employing terms that convey an attitude - part plucky self-assertion, part ironic fatalism. When Dick schmoozes, when Jane kvetches, when their children fress noodles at a Chinese restaurant, the clash of cultures produces genuine hilarity.

Yiddish with Dick and Jane tells a simple story: Grandma gets sick and Dick and Jane's sister Sally visits. There are sub-plots about such ethical dilemmas as gift-giving etiquette and marital infidelity. The comedy intensifies in the glossary, which defines (with lots of chutzpah) each Yiddish term introduced in the text.

The folks at VidLit produced a video with a reading of an excerpt of the book.  It's a hilarious look at the story and will make you want to read the whole book.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hava Nagila - A Spectacular Performance By Yakov Yavno

Here we go again with another rendition of Hava NagilaWe've already brought you a selection of performances from India, Thailand, Israel, Russia, Texas, the UK, Cuba, and a Beatles tribute band.  Now for something completely different.

Yakov Yavno (also known as YaYa) is a Russian-born singer and actor based in New York.  Already a beloved headliner around the globe, YaYa sings in many languages, including French, Spanish, Russian, Yiddish and English. He has also achieved notable success in other arenas: stage presentations, films and recordings. Yakov incorporates folk, pop and classical music into his contemporary arrangements. In so doing, he paints an eclectic canvas; a reflection of today’s world.

Here is a clip from one of his musical extravaganzas featuring his version of Hava Nagila, complete with colorfully costumed dancers and singers.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Chassidic Sect Redeems Firstborn Donkey In Catskills

A sheep is presented to the Kohen to redeem a male donkey.
Last October we reported on one of the most unusual and infrequent Jewish observances, Petter Chamor, redeeming a firstborn donkey with a sheep as described in the Torah (Exodus 13:13).  That ceremony was conducted in Melbourne, Australia, by members of the Adass Yisrael Congregation.

In a study session, two members of the congregation discovered that when the firstborn of a donkey owned by a Jew is a male, the owner has to redeem the firstborn by giving a sheep to the Kohen.  This is similar to Pidyon HaBen, the ceremony in which a firstborn human male is redeemed by giving coins to the Kohen. 

Last Sunday, the rare ceremony was performed in the Catskill Mountain camp of the Sanz-Klausenberg Chassidic sect in upstate New York.  The event was attended by thousands of people from a variety of backgrounds who were vacationing in the area, and dozens of Rabbis including the Klausenberger Rebbe, leader of the sect.

Why should a donkey have to be redeemed?  The sages tell us that it's in recognition of the service that donkeys performed as pack animals, carrying the belongings of the Jewish people during the Exodus from Egypt.

You may have attended a Pidyon HaBen, but it's unlikely that you've seen a Petter Chamor.  So here's your chance to see what you missed by not being in the Catskills last Sunday.  Enjoy!

Pidyon Peter Chamor from CrownHeights.info on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Paul Rudd: A Big Movie Star Today, He Got His Start As A Bat Mitzvah Disc Jockey

Paul Rudd helps Gabrielle Birkner blow out the candles in 1992.
Paul Rudd is big news in Hollywood, having starred in Clueless, I Love You, Man, The 40 Year Old Virgin, and most recently, Dinner for Schmucks.  But what does a nice Jewish boy, from a family that changed its name from Rudnitsky, do while he's waiting to be discovered?  Work as a DJ at Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs, of course!

Born in Passaic, New Jersey in 1969 to Jewish immigrant parents from England, Rudd was raised in Overland Park, Kansas and eventually made his way to Los Angeles.  But the Bar/Bat Mitzvah gigs were a step along the way to stardom.

Writing yesterday in the Jewish Daily Forward's blog The Sisterhood, Gabrielle Birkner reminisced about her Bat Mitzvah in 1992, when 23-year-old Rudd was doing everything -- playing music, supervising limbo dancing, challah cutting, even helping the Bat Mitzvah girl blow out the candles.
The soft-spoken aspiring actor whom my mom and I met on the hunt for bat mitzvah DJs — I took an immediate liking to Rudd — turned out to be the perfect choice for the event. Rudd, donning a yellow tuxedo jacket, a ruffled shirt, shorts and Doc Martens, ably and energetically led us through all of the bat mitzvah staples: Candle-lighting, Coke & Pepsi, Toasts, limbo, “Hands Up,” Challah-cutting and “YMCA.” And as the “Today” show-themed bat mitzvah party came to a close, he invited my friends onto the dance floor to sing a moving rendition of “That’s What Friends Are For.”
Now Rudd is working on three new films, How Do You Know, with Jack Nicholson and Reese Witherspoon,  My Idiot Brother, with Zooey Deschanel and Rashida Jones, and Wanderlust, with Jennifer Aniston.

Here is the video of Birkner's Bat Mitzvah with Rudd in the middle of everything.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

M-Generation Boys Choir: Children Of Russian Immigrants Perform Music Old And New In Four Languages

The M-Generation Boys' Choir performs at a Bat Mitzvah.
In 1969, the Lubavitcher Rebbe founded an organization in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, called Friends of Refugees From Eastern Europe (F.R.E.E).  The organization's leadership is made up of Jews who were born in the former Soviet Union who have dedicated themselves to assisting their compatriots succeed in American society while at the same time strengthening their Jewish identity in order to prevent the pitfalls of assimilation. 

Because many social service agencies cannot relate to the unique cultural and linguistic barriers that exist for newly arrived Russian-Jewish immigrants, many of F.R.E.E.’s volunteers, having undergone the same transitions themselves, have been successful in acclimating these Soviet Jews to America.

One of the successes of F.R.E.E. has been the M-Generation Boys' Choir, a group of about six talented youngsters (sometimes a few more), aged 6 to 12, who won first place in international Jewish boys' choir competitions held in Moscow, Berlin, and Dusseldorf.

They have their own website which tells their story, and from which they book performances at concerts, dinners, community events, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and weddings.

The clean-cut kids have a repertoire of songs in English, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian that include Oyf'n Pripitshok, Oseh Shalom, the Beatles' When I'm Sixty-Four, and New York, New York.  Many of their songs are original compositions by their composer and arranger, Boris Rutiker.  Here they are singing one of his songs, Bar Mitzvah, at a Bat Mitzvah reception in June.  Enjoy!

P.S.  What does the M in M-Generation stand for?  Moshiach, of course!