Thursday, June 30, 2011

Aaron Friedman Wins Jewish Week's Funniest Jewish Comedian Contest

The Jewish Week of New York City has been sponsoring Jewish Comedy contests for the past twelve years, and this year was no exception. The competition for Funniest Jewish Comedian was held on four Monday nights this month at the Broadway Comedy Club, with the final round concluding this week.

The event was covered by Amy Spiro in Tuesday's on-line edition of The Jewish Week. Here are some excerpts from her full report:
The first-place winner, 28-year-old Aaron Friedman, mines his years as a Hebrew school teacher and b’nai mitzvah tutor for his act. He lamented the difficulties of being a Jew on Christmas. “We try to convince ourselves Chanukah is better,” he said. “They get one day, we get eight days. They get one day of presents, we get eight days of presents. They get one Xbox, one iPod, we get eight ... pairs of socks.”
But for Friedman, redemption comes on Passover, when Jews eat matzah, “the Costco version of the communion wafer,” he said. “When they see us eating matzah, they must be thinking, ‘your Jewish God must be huge!’”
Friedman, a Philadelphia native who now lives in New York, has been doing comedy for several years, performing at college Hillel houses and participating in sketch comedy troupes both here and in Israel, where he lived for a year while his wife attended rabbinical school. Last year Friedman, along with his friend Andrew Davies, started “The Bible Players,” an improv children’s show covering Jewish topics.
The comedians were judged on three criteria-presentation, orginality and audience response-by David Goldman, Joe Franklin, Gloria Nadel and Geoff Kole, who produced the event. The winner received $175, and second and third place $100 and $50 respectively.
In addition to the competitors, the 75 audience members heard from previous winners Michael Salloway, and Freddy Seltzer, who emceed the night. Dick Capri, co-star of “The Catskills on Broadway” opened the show, and Modi, a prolific Jewish comic, closed the night.
"I only date Jewish girls,” said Modi, “because it is written in the Torah that self torture is mandatory.” But dating Jews can be tough, he said. Non-Jewish girls think it is exciting to date a comic, but Jewish girls, “they say, ‘is that all you do?’”
As for Friedman, he says he would love to pursue stand-up, but “it would be nice to make a living. I would love to fulfill the Jewish stereotype and have some money.”
If you missed out on attending the finals, here's your chance to get a sampling of the content and delivery of some of the contestants. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Borscht Is Getting a Makeover: Beet Smoothie or Beet Mojito, Anyone?

Borscht, the drink and soup made from beets that was a staple in Eastern Europe for generations, and that gave the Borscht Belt (the Jewish hotels in New York's Catskill Mountains) is on the verge of a makeover.

Reporting from Hempstead, New York in a front page article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Lucette Lagnado writes:
"Summer used to be borscht season," says Marc Gold, chief executive of Gold Pure Food Products Co., based here. Several times a week, he recalls, "we would ship it in trailers—40- to 52-foot-trailers" each packed with 1,000 cases of bottled borscht headed to supermarkets. 

These days, the borscht business is beat. Mr. Gold recently watched as one of his workers loaded a truck with just 360 cases of his 79-year-old family company's recipe. Mark Dewey, whose Dewey Produce Inc. in Byron, N.Y., grew beets for nearly all the borscht makers in the Northeast, says his shipments to borscht producers have dropped to just 200 tons a year, down from 1,750 tons a year in borscht's heyday.
"It needs a totally new look to it," Steven Gold declares. "A sexy look." He advocates taking the word "borscht" out of the equation altogether. Call the product "Beet Smoothie," he suggests. "Power Beet Juice," offers Howard Gold. How about "Organic Borscht" to capture consumers devoted to natural foods?
Meanwhile, at the Friars Club, the private midtown Manhattan club for comedians where borscht is still on the menu, Freddie Roman casts a skeptical eye on efforts to make it chic.
"I am one of the few Jews in the history of the world who does not like borscht," says Mr. Roman, the dean of the Friars Club who earned his station with countless nights on the Borscht Belt circuit.
But Mr. Roman does have a suggestion for the Golds: Mix their borscht with mint and rum and "call it a Beet Mojito."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Simcha and Gorfinkel: Members of the Tribe (Albeit With a Different Vibe)

Simcha and Gorfinkel (really Sean Altman and Jordan Gorfinkel) have come up with a tribute to Jews of all stripes, different in so many ways, but having so much in common as members of The Tribe. Their new viral video, Members of the Tribe (M.O.T) recognizes the differences and similarities in an upbeat performance that's sure to please.

Gorfinkel writes and illustrates Everything’s Relative, the weekly newspaper comic-strip published internationally, from America to Israel to Germany, that DreamWorksSKG called “a wonderful idea.” In 2007, the new Munich Jewish Museum commissioned a series of “Everything’s Relative” cartoons to be featured in their permanent exhibition. Gorfinkel is the first cartoonist in the world to be so honored in a Jewish museum. 

The current "Everything's Relative" Strip

In film, Gorfinkel served as a founding “superfellow” of Jewish Impact Films, working alongside Hollywood producers, directors and writers from “The Simpsons,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Shrek 2” to guide over two dozen film students from America and abroad to write, shoot and postproduce 50 short films.

In music, Gorfinkel is a producer and performer of eight independent music CD releases including “Voices For Israel,” the acclaimed Jewish “We Are the World” charity benefit. He has performed all over the globe, including at the White House Chanukah celebration — an event immortalized as the “Moment Of Zen” on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show Starring Jon Stewart.”

Sean Altman, the other half of the duo, is an accomplished musician. His website biography reveals that he is NYC's own golden-voiced, guitar-wielding rabble-rouser; a power-pop star on the verge; defector from the a cappella group Rockapella; distant cousin-by-marriage of Carole King; and composer of the infamous Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? TV theme song.

Altman is the creator and performer of Jewmongous, an irreverent comedy concert consisting of a dozen songs including They Tried to Kill Us, We Survived, Let's Eat.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Hava Nagila Gets Indian Bhangra Treatment in Vancouver

It's been a while since we posted another in our ongoing series of unusual treatments of Hava Nagila.  Here's one that just surfaced, showing a performance in Vancouver of a fusion of Israeli Hora and Indian Bhangra by the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and Surrey India Arts Club.

On May 13 these two groups performed together at the Vancouver Art Gallery Georgia Plaza, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

The performance begins with what appears to be a traditional hora with the music of Hava Nagila. After two minutes, the Israeli dancers exchange places with a troupe of Indian dancers who complete the hora and transition to a folk dance set to Bhangra music.

Bhangra is a form of Indian dance and music originated by farmers in the Punjabi region in the 11th century to celebrate the coming of the harvest season. The specific moves of bhangra reflect the manner in which villagers farmed their land. The performances are colorful and lively and we hope you enjoy them.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Jewish Channel Reports On Jewish Content in 2011 Tony Awards

When the American Theater Wing's Tony Awards were presented on June 12, the casual observer might have spotted some Jewish references and Jewish winners, but it took The Jewish Channel and Meredith Ganzman to discover just how many there were.

Since the awards were first presented in 1949, 64 percent of all the awards given for musical productions went to Jewish composers, lyricists, and librettists.

This year The Jewish Channel and Ganzman found Jewish connections in the following Broadway shows:

  • Priscilla Queen of the Desert
  • The Book of Mormon
  • How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
  • The Scottsboro Boys
  • Jerusalem
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • Baby It's You
  • The People in the Picture
Ganzman interviewed celebrities on the red carpet before the show, including Paul Shaffer, Tova Feldshuh, and Josh Gad, a nominee for Best Actor in The Book of Mormon.  Watch the action in the video below. Enjoy!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Jewish Traces in Unexpected Places: Havdalah with the Orthodox Jewish Community in Putti, Uganda

Just in case you didn't know (and we didn't know either until today) there are Orthodox Jews in Uganda.

They call themselves the Abayudaya of Kahal Kadosh She'erit Yisrael (remnants of Israel).  They are a group of 129 adults and children who want to achieve a formal Orthodox conversion and to emigrate to Israel.

How this community came to be is a fascinating story that began around 1917, when Semei Kakungulu, who ruled Uganda as a "warrior and governor", studied the Tanach and was determined to adopt an observance that was similar to those of B'nei Yisrael - The Jewish People. Formally Kakungulu was practicing a Malakite faith, a mixture of Judaism and Christianity that nowadays could be referred to as "Messianic Judaism".

However Kakungulu discarded the Christian elements of his faith after coming across a verse in Isaiah (56: 1-8) which stated that Gentiles who unite and choose to observe the Mitzvah of Hashem would be accounted a blessing. Kakungulu decided to adopt and practice only the Mitzvot (laws) written in the Tanach - the "Old Testament" - Chumash. Being very ambitious with his new unique faith, Kakungulu, his family and all his followers circumcised all their foreskins and resolved to observe the mitzvah of Brit Milah from that day onwards, a practice carried on up to this day.

You can read the whole history of this community on their website, which includes photos, videos, testimonials from visitors, and a list of their projects which include building a mikveh, starting a chicken farm, growing coffee, recording and marketing a CD of their music, and sending a member of the community to a Yeshiva in America to be trained as a rabbi.

We wish you Shabbat Shalom, and after you watch and listen to the Abuyadaya singing the Havdalah ceremony at the conclusion of Shabbat, Shavua Tov.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Schtick: It's Part of Jewish Comedy, But How Would You Define It?

Every Jewish comedian has his schtick, but how would you define the term for a general audience?

As part of a documentary on Jewish Humor that's still in development, Jeffrey Schneider has interviewed a dozen Jewish comedians and commentators giving their own definitions of schtick.

Schneider, a 30-year veteran of producing TV news and sports, decided to go for a Master's degree in Interactive Communications and to produce what he calls an interactive documentary on the subject of Why Jews Are So Funny

He's inviting all of us to contribute stories, old home videos, personal recollections of contacts with any comedians, anything that could add to his archive of Jewish humor.

So if you have any stories that involve connections with any Jewish comedians from Jack Benny to Jon Stewart, Jeffrey would be glad to hear from you. You can communicate with him through his website.

Here's the schtick definition video followed by a compilation of the same comedians and commentators sharing their observations on Why Jews Are So Funny.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Israeli Parody Ad for Sprite Soft Drink Takes Asia by Storm

An Israeli TV commercial for the soft drink Sprite has gone viral, mainly in Asia.  Millions of viewers in China and other Asian countries have gone wild over the ad, which pokes fun at an unnamed dictator and his followers.

Here's a report about the ad and the attention it has received, from a TV news show on NTD (New Tang Dynasty) Television, a Chinese television station based in New York.

The news report shows excerpts from the ad, but we thought you'd like to see the 46 second commercial in its entirety, so we're including it below the news video.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

More Chassidic Comedy With Menashe Lustig: The Unspoken Language

How far can the expression "nu" and a few grunts and sighs get you in a lively telephone conversation? If you're Chassidic comedian Menashe Lustig, it can get you pretty far.

We shared some of Lustig's shtick with you last Pesach -- a funny ad for a car wash. Now he's at it again, with a 2 and a half minute phone session with an unseen caller. Not a real word is spoken, just "nu" over and over again, combined with a collection of hand motions and body language.

A Sqverer chassid from New Square in New York's Rockland County, Lustig has his own Facebook page, but you'll have to know Hebrew and Yiddish to read all of the entries there. 


Monday, June 20, 2011

Zum Gali Gali, Hora Song, Gets a New Life in Korea

We always get a kick out of finding unusual renditions of Hebrew and Yiddish songs, like the version of Hava Nagila sung by a burlesque dancer in Thailand and the disco version of A Ba Ni Bi sung at a wedding in Malaysia.

It's been awhile since we heard the old Israeli pioneer song, Zum Gali Gali. Most likely it was when our kids were singing and dancing at the Zimriah and Rikudiah at Camp Ramah in the 1980s.

But it's resurfaced in Korea. No, we're not kidding. We found it on YouTube the same day we were reading an article by Lenore Skenazy in The Forward about the decline in teaching Israeli dance at schools and camps.

In this video the Goyang Civic Choir of South Korea is not dancing the hora, but they're singing Zum Gali Gali in a medley of Hora songs, including Rad HaLaila.

At first we thought they were singing in Korean, but after listening a few times, we're pretty sure that they're singing in English, with a Korean accent.

We can't quite make out the English words, but here, in transliteration, are the Hebrew words to Zum Gali Gali and Rad HaLaila.

Zum Gali Gali 
Zum, gali-gali-gali, Zum gali-gali,
Zum, gali-gali-gali, Zum gali-gali,

Hechalutz lema'an avodah
avodah lema'an hechalutz
Hechalutz lema'an avodah
avodah lema'an hechalutz

Rad Halailah
Rad halailah, rav shireinu
haboke'a lashamaim,
shuvi shuvi horateinu,
mechudeshet shiv'ataim.
Shuvi shuvi venasov,
ki darkeinu ein lah sof,
ki od nimshechet hasharsheret,
ki libeinu lev echad
me'olam ve'adei ad,
ki od nimshechet hasharsheret.

Enjoy the concert!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Kojak the Camel Gets Tied Up in Jerusalem Bureaucracy

If you're looking forward to a ride on the back of Kojak, the camel who gives rides and photo-ops to tourists visiting the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, you may be in for a wait.

In the June issue of Chelm-on-the-Med Online, Daniella Ashkenazy reports:
Is there anyone who has visited Jerusalem who hasn’t encountered the camel that waits patiently for tourists just outside the Old City’s Dung Gate and poses for pictures on the promenade above the Mount of Olives?
Well, one day the camel (whose name is Kojak) vanished into thin air. Overzealous municipal workers, it turned out, had “arrested” the camel, taking him into custody, warning the animal was not just a tourist trap but a danger to the public.
Not only was the beast missing a valid rabies shot, said city hall, officials claimed that because the owners, Nassar and Ali Abu Alwa, offered rides along the Old City walls the camel needed third-party insurance like any vehicle.
The religious student’s organization Youth for Jerusalem mounted a campaign to intervene on behalf of the Jerusalem icon, but so far they have been unable to find an insurance company willing to issue a third-party policy to a Libyan camel.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Big Black Jewish Wedding Features Comedian Modi as Cantor

It's not often that we're invited to a Jewish African-American wedding, but we're inviting you to experience the fun and joy of Avner and Shonta's wedding in this video. We don't know any details about the couple's Jewish affiliation, only that they wanted to have a Jewish wedding, and that they were lucky to have Modi Rosenfeld, one of our favorite Jewish comedians, available to serve as cantor.

We've profiled Modi before as a stand-up comic and in the role of a Chasidic wanna-be Hollywood playwright. Modi and his colleague Brian, an insurance salesman who serves as the rabbi at this wedding, pull out all the stops in giving this couple what they asked for, and more. Somehow they manage to include elements of Chanukah, Pesach, Sukkot, Rosh Hashana, and Yom Kippur.

We think this wedding is a good way to start the weekend. Shabbat shalom and we'll see you again on Sunday.  Enjoy!

(A tip of the kippah to Brian Gross for bringing this video to our attention.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hilarious Video Shows Canadian NCSY Teachers Making Pizza from Scratch for Students

Torah High is an accredited Jewish studies program in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, created and designed by NCSY, the youth movement of the Orthodox Union, to attract, educate and inspire Jewish public high school students.

For the Five Year Celebration of Torah High Ottawa in June 2011, Bram Bregman & Gaby Scarowsky, the staff and teachers at the program, made this hilarious video making pizza from scratch for their students.

They could have simply ordered a pizza from a nearby restaurant, but that wouldn't be good enough. So the two teachers set out to harvest the wheat, pick tomatoes from the garden and smash them into tomato sauce with their bare feet, make cheese from fresh milk, and assemble the whole pie and bake it for their students.

The entire project was recorded on video, accompanied by music to fit each phase of the process. We think you'll laugh at some of the shtick, so here it is for you to enjoy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

San Francisco Film Festival Turns Classic Jewish Joke Into 6 Minute Film, "The Tailor"

Have you heard the Marcus Pincus joke? It's probably one of the oldest Jewish jokes around. So why are we retelling it at Jewish Humor Central? Because it's been made into a six minute short silent film called The Tailor.

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is featuring the film this month in its online preview of the annual festival which runs this year from July 24 through August 8.

The film festival describes the film in a simple sentence as follows: Culture and confusion meet on a Brooklyn street, in this hilariously charming tale of similarities amid diversity.

Just in case you haven't heard the joke, it's about two Chassidic boys who buy black suits from Marcus Pincus, the tailor, but suspect that the suits are actually navy blue.  To confirm their suspicion, they plan to brush against two nuns who are walking towards them to compare the colors of the suits and the nuns' habits.

Meanwhile, the nuns aren't sure whether the boys are yeshiva students or young priests, and plan to listen to their conversation as they pass to determine whether they are speaking Hebrew or Latin.

The suspense builds as the boys and the nuns get closer and climaxes as the boys learn the truth and the nuns come to a conclusion based on what they think they hear the boys say. 

The whole film is just a set-up for a hilarious off-color punch line. (We said we'd warn you before posting anything that might offend readers who object to language that the mainstream media find unfit to print. So if you don't want to hear the word, don't bother watching the video. Otherwise, enjoy!)


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Noah's Ark Surfaces in...The Netherlands ???

Noah's Ark is once again in the news.

Reporting in The New York Times on May 30, John Tagliabue filed this report about a modern-day Noah who is building a replica of the Ark in Dordrecht, the Netherlands.
If Noah had run into the modern nanny state, or nimby, or a few of the other obstacles that Johan Huibers has been facing, the animal kingdom might look a lot different today.
Mr. Huibers, 60, the successful owner of a big construction company, has spent the last few years building an ark, identical in size to the one Noah is said in the book of Genesis to have built: 300 cubits in length, or 450 feet; 30 cubits high, or about three stories; and 50 cubits, or 75 feet, wide. The cubit of the Bible, Mr. Huibers said, was the distance between finger tips and elbow, or in his case roughly 18 inches.
He is building the ark out of Swedish pine, because some versions of the Bible describe the wood God ordered Noah to use as “resin wood,” which Mr. Huibers says is pine.

“We should finish by the middle of July,” he said, leading a visitor through the ark’s cavernous decks, still rich with the smell of fresh pine. “Maybe later.” 

Unlike Noah, Mr. Huibers had to conform to Dutch fire safety standards. To do so, he installed a special anchor that qualifies the 2,970-ton ark as a building, rather than a vessel. Moreover, he will have to paint the ark, inside and out, with three coats of fire-retardant varnish. (Noah covered his ark with pitch, making it waterproof but hardly fire retardant.) 

And then there are the neighbors.

“The ship takes away our view,” complained Gerrit Kruythoff, 65, who has lived with his wife and family for 42 years in the trim brick row house next to the disused shipyard where Mr. Huibers is toiling, with the help of two of his three children and a handful of friends.
“We used to have a view all the way to the river,” Mr. Kruythoff, a retired employee of the big DuPont chemical works here said. “You could see the ships passing by.”
He has not lodged a formal complaint, he said, because his home, with those of several neighbors, will soon be torn down anyway, to make way for a new residential development on the site of the former shipyard where the unfinished ark stands. By then, the ark will have sailed.
Actually, this ark is not the first that Mr. Huibers has built. He first began dreaming of an ark in 1992, shortly after a heavy storm lashed the coastal region north of Amsterdam where he lives. His wife, Bianca, a police officer, opposed the idea.
“She said no, but by 2004 I had built a smaller ark, 225 feet long, to sail through the Dutch canals,” he said. It became a minor sensation. He charged adult visitors $7 to board it.
“More than 600,000 people came, in about three years,” he said. He said he made about $3.5 million, enough to clear a profit of $1.2 million.
But it was not about money. “It is to tell people that there is a Bible,” Mr. Huibers, a spry man with a quick sense of humor said. “And that, when you open it, there is a God.”
“It’s a simple meaning,” he said. “A lot of things in the boat lead you to think. We make people curious.”
When it is finished, the ark will be a kind of teaching tool. Panoramas will tell the story of Noah; live animals will bring the pageant to life. (At the moment, only birds in cages and hens and roosters live on board.) Two conference rooms will seat a total of 1,500 people.
Not all of Mr. Huibers’s neighbors object. “It’s beautiful inside and out, the stairways, the doors,” gushed Annie van der Luytgaarden, who regularly walks her dog Spikey in the shadow of the ark. “I’ve already asked if I can join on the maiden voyage,” Ms. van der Luytgaarden said, cracking a smile. “I’ll do the dishes.”
Others, however, wondered how seaworthy it was. “It’s not very nautical; it’s top heavy,” said Bas Keyzer, 46, sipping a beer in Linda van Kooten’s Upside-Down Cafe. “But it certainly looks like the ark.”
Indeed, Mr. Huibers admits he had to make concessions. The ark is built on 25 steel barges drawn together to form a basin. A heavy steel frame keeps it rigid. Asked about this, he replied, “It’s much easier to make a wooden ark.” Yet modern safety requirements made changes necessary.
Ms. Van Kooten, who has run the cafe for eight years, called the neighborhood complainers “black sheep.”
“They never had a beautiful view,” she said. “It was a shipyard.”
In some sense, Dordrecht, a quaint city of red brick buildings with a population of about 118,000 at the confluence of three rivers, is the ideal place for an ark. The city has been swept by floods numerous times, including the devastating St. Elizabeth’s floods of 1421, and most recently in 1995.
For his part, Mr. Huibers sees a role for the ark far beyond Dordrecht. He has sent a letter to the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, requesting permission to bring the ark there for the Olympic Games next summer. Investors from Texas have visited, urging him to bring the ark to Galveston.
He even discusses the ark with business associates in Israel, where his construction company is active. “The Israelis are curious,” he said. “But they say it’s not a Christian ark, it’s a Jewish ark. They say I stole it.”

Monday, June 13, 2011

Once Again, a Time to Laugh. Jewish Humor Central Returns Tomorrow!

A Special Message from the Blogger-in-Chief:

When we suspended posts in Jewish Humor Central in May to observe the shloshim mourning period for Shuly Kustanowitz, my late wife, muse, and inspiration, we quoted the famous verse from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes)...

To every thing there is a season...
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

Although the sadness remains, the mourning period is officially over, so it's time to continue our mission of spreading joy and laughter and trying to brighten the days of our subscribers and casual viewers.

As of tomorrow, the emails will once again appear in our subscriber's inboxes and the posts will once again be spread through Facebook and Twitter. And there's something new! We're introducing a mobile version that will show up when you surf to on your web-enabled mobile devices.

Please stay in touch and continue to tell us what you like and what you don't like. We'll try to keep the posts family-friendly, but some Jewish humor has an edge to it, so if some posts are even a little bit off-color, we'll include a warning to that effect.

Al Kustanowitz