Mitch Albom on Mel Gibson and his father

There is a Hebrew saying: ma’aseh avot siman l’banim — the actions of the father is a sign for the children. Otherwise stated as “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Here is Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom on Mel Gibson and his father’s anti-Semitic views:

“The son must refute father’s hateful rants”

My sister married a wonderful guy. His father was a Hungarian Jew. During World War II, he and his eight brothers and sisters were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps. Some were killed in gas chambers. Others were put on a boat that was deliberately sunk. By the war’s end, my brother-in-law’s father was the only one left. For years, his wife would find bread stuffed under his pillow, a habit from Nazi starvation.

Every now and then some nut case says the Holocaust was faked. Usually, you dismiss him as pathetic.

Last week, however, a man named Hutton Gibson told a national radio host that the Holocaust never happened, that there were no concentration camps, only “work camps,” and that Jews basically made the whole thing up.

Hutton Gibson is Mel Gibson’s father.

So this nut case must be addressed.

From Auschwitz to Brooklyn?

He must be addressed because his son has made a movie called “The Passion of the Christ” depicting Jesus’ last hours. There are fears the movie will stoke anti-Semitism. I have not seen the film yet — it opens this week — so I can pass no judgment on it. But I have heard his father. And he needs no movie to spew hatred.

Jews “are after one world religion and one world government” Hutton Gibson declared. He said Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who is Jewish, should be hung. He said Holocaust museums were “a gimmick to collect money.”

In fact, he called the entire Holocaust “fiction.” He said Jews weren’t killed, “they simply got up and left! They were all over the Bronx and Brooklyn and Sydney and Los Angeles. They have to . . . go where’s there’s money.”

That would be news to my brother-in-law’s aunt, another Holocaust survivor who, thanks to Nazi experiments, was left sterile, unable to have children. She still bears a Nazi number burned into her arm.

I suppose Hutton Gibson would call that “a tattoo she got in the Bronx.”

Now the elder Gibson is not new to this stuff. He writes books and magazine articles denying the Holocaust and scorching the Jewish faith.

And I am not saying Mel Gibson believes what his father does.

But he needs to say so himself.

A time for action

Instead, to date, Gibson has refused to fully refute his father. He acknowledges the Holocaust, but says, “Nothing can drive a wedge between me and my blood. He’s my father. I love him.”

That’s fine. But denying hatred does not cancel love. By his own doing, Gibson has put himself on a stage where he has new obligations. He’s not promoting a “Lethal Weapon” movie here, where he’s a crazed cop who swears and drinks and sleeps with women (all pretty non-Christian stuff, by the way).

No. He has made a deeply religious movie, a lightning rod for Christians and Jews, one he claims was inspired by his faith, including “going back to the things I was raised with.”

One presumes his father did some of that raising.

Mel Gibson insists he is not anti-Semitic. He can prove it by declaring his father’s words are wrong. How would Gibson feel if his father had been gassed, shot or hung in Auschwitz or Dachau, instead of his luckier fate, enjoying a good, long life hurling insults at others?

The reason Nazism existed is because people lived in denial. If you visit the site of concentration camps today, you will be astounded by how close neighborhoods were to the gates. Yet no one did anything — even as innocent people were murdered a stone’s throw away.

No one asked Mel Gibson to become a spokesman on faith. He did that himself. Now that he has hopped on center stage, he can’t simply hear what he wants. He has an obligation to publicly shoot down his father’s words.

After all, Gibson said he made his movie because he could no longer deny his faith. Imagine someone denying your existence.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Antisemitism Celebrities

THE PASSION OF MEL GIBSON: Does his new movie about Jesus, crucify the Jews?

The Passion of the Christ hits theatres tomorrow (Ash Wednesday). Jonathan Schwartz of the American Jewish Committee saw a preview of the movie and articulates the very real concerns of the Jewish community in this article.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Hats Off to Joyce

Congrats to JARC Executive Director Joyce Keller on her 25th anniversary with JARC — a premier service provider for people with developmental disabilities. At the event celebrating this milestone, guests made hats to wear and take home, in keeping with the theme of the evening, Hats Off to Joyce. The party was the kick-off event for JARC’s $4 million Capital Campaign.

Joyce served on the 21-member President’s Committee on Mental Retardation and currently serves on the 15-member Michigan Department of Community Health Advisory Council. She was named “Michiganian of the Year” by the Detroit News and received the 1998 Woman of Achievement Award from the Anti-Defamation League. Joyce also won the 2002 Spirit of Service Honor Award from the Michigan Assisted Living Association (MALA) and Bator & Berlin, P.C. This award recognizes outstanding dedication and commitment to community-based services.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

You Don’t Have to Be Jewish To Want a Bar Mitzvah Party

More Kids on Cusp of 13 Get Faux Post-Rite Parties; Picking Hawaiian Theme



After going to a dozen bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs last year, Laura Jean Stargardt told her parents she wanted one of her own. She said she found the singing inspiring and offered to learn Hebrew. She also said she wanted a big party.

Her parents thought the request was unusual since the family is Methodist. But they co-hosted a lavish party for her and two of her friends last month that looked like a bat mitzvah, without the religion. They booked a country club in Dallas and a disk jockey, invited 125 friends, and hired a professional dancer that Laura had seen at her friends’ bar mitzvah parties.

“I wanted to be Jewish so I could have a bat mitzvah,” says Laura. “Having the party fulfilled that.”

A number of kids about to turn 13 who aren’t Jewish are bugging their parents for parties that resemble those held following bar mitzvah ceremonies. In some affluent communities, parents line up the same entertainment and book the same party places. If they don’t dance the traditional Jewish hora, they at least manage a tarantella or an Irish jig.

“Parents will call us and say, ‘My son’s been to over 20 bar and bat mitzvahs, and I just want to do something nice for him,’ ” says Paul Noto, whose Carle Place, N.Y., party entertainment company recently staged one such 13th birthday party that cost $75,000 and included a tent with chandeliers, DJs and dancers.

The parties can be upsetting to Jews who say they mock an important spiritual rite of passage. Others call the trend a welcome example of Jewish traditions becoming part of popular culture. “It shows how much the Jewish people and Jewish customs have become mainstream,” says Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

A generation ago, when bar mitzvahs were simple affairs celebrated with a glass of Manischewitz, the idea of a copycat rite wouldn’t have occurred to anybody. But, starting in the late 1960s, parties with themes became popular, and by the end of the ’70s in some areas, competition was raging to make them ever more elaborate.

The bar mitzvah is actually an ancient, solemn event marking the coming of age of a Jewish male, undertaken after study of Jewish history, traditions and Hebrew. Bat mitzvahs, for girls, are a more recent phenomenon. Typically, children start intense preparations about a year before the event, spending several hours each week learning to read from the Torah — the scroll containing the Five Books of Moses — and sometimes writing a speech and doing charity work.

After his daughter, Melissa, had attended a handful of bar mitzvahs a few years ago, Kevin Williams decided to spend $12,000 to throw her a faux bat mitzvah at a Manhattan hotel. About 150 people received invitations that read, “Welcome to Melissa’s Black Mitzvah…. Don’t get offended, it’s just her 13th birthday party.” There was a candle-lighting ceremony — like those she had seen at some bar mitzvahs — where the birthday girl’s parents, friends, grandmother and uncle were called up to light the candles on her cake. “After that party, two more of her non-Jewish friends had them,” says Mr. Williams.

At Hart to Hart, a party company in Woodland Hills, Calif., co-owner Marsha Bliss says she organized more than a dozen parties last year for non-Jewish 13-year-olds whose parents requested bar mitzvah lookalikes, up from three in 2001. Daniel Rose of Montville, N.J., says he did seven or eight of these parties last year, up from two in 2001. In Roslyn, N.Y., NY Rhythm Entertainment has booked about a dozen in the past two years and none before that.

Many rabbis are quick to point out that the parties have little in common with the real thing. “Bar and bat mitzvahs are about accepting adult responsibility in the community,” says Rabbi Richard Block, senior rabbi of The Temple-Tifereth Israel, in Cleveland. “If non-Jews are going to emulate their Jewish neighbors, better they emulate the enduring values of Jewish tradition than the material excesses of contemporary life.”

In Malibu, Calif., Danielle Davis, who is Catholic, asked her parents for a bat mitzvah after attending several of her friends’. They explained to her the true meaning of the ceremony as a Jewish coming-of-age rite. “She said, ‘Some of those things apply to me. I’m growing up and becoming a teenager. I should have a party to celebrate,’ ” recalls her mother, Rebecca Walls.

“Of course the kids who had great bar mitzvah parties were elevated socially. So we kind of felt a little bit of pressure to hold an event people would remember,” Ms. Walls adds. In the end, Danielle had a party, in February 2002, at a beachfront banquet hall with a Hawaiian surfing theme, a DJ and two professional dancers.

Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

What Kind of Name is THAT for a Dog?!?!?

Josh is definitely the name of winners! This is Josh, the second Newfoundland ever to win “best in show” at Westminster.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Albom on Janet Jackson

In search of Janet, I get full exposure


February 4, 2004

With all the fuss over Janet Jackson’s exposed breast during halftime of the Super Bowl, I figured I’d better get a second look.

But it wasn’t easy.

First I went to my TV, where I had taped the game. I hit rewind, then hit play, and up came a beer commercial in which semi-naked women were slow-dancing into men.

I rewound again, then hit play, and up came a commercial showing Madonna kissing Britney Spears.

I rewound more, and up came a beer guy singing about how much he loved “TWINS!” and suddenly there were two bodacious blondes, scantily dressed and blowing kisses in my direction.

I quickly hit the fast-forward button. I saw some football, followed by gorgeous cheerleaders in low-cut outfits, a little more football, more seductive cheerleaders.

Finally, I got to the halftime show. I saw the “safe” part — you know, the part the NFL and CBS approved — in which Nelly, the rap singer, grabbed his crotch as if shifting gears.

I saw more of the “safe” part, in which Kid Rock draped himself in an American flag and sang a song that mentioned “hookers trickin’ in Hollywood” and “homies in cell block six.”

I saw more of the “safe” part, in which Justin Timberlake was behind Janet Jackson, simulating what, in a family newspaper, can only be referred to as “the nasty.”

But wouldn’t you know it? Just before they sang the “approved” lyrics — “Bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song” — my tape ran out.

Striptus interruptus.

To the Internet and MTV

So I went to my backup source, the Internet.

I searched on “Janet Jackson” and “breast,” but before I could get anywhere, up popped a porno ad for a girl named Janet.

Then an ad for a guy named Jackson.

I spiked those and returned to my search, but the first result was a porno site for “girls with big breasts.”

So were the next 197.

This was going nowhere, so I shut off the computer and went to MTV. After all, these folks had created the halftime show. I figured they must be running replays.

Unfortunately, when I flipped on MTV, the first thing I saw was an orgy. At least it looked like an orgy, it was hard to tell, because each camera shot lasted only three-tenths of a second. There were mostly naked men and women, making love, reaching for unmentionables, and generally getting hot and steamy to a hip-hop beat.

I waited for that video to finish.

The next was pretty much the same.

Four hours later, having seen enough bumping, grinding, tight jeans, brassieres, sultry necks, pouty lips and lower back tattoos to last a lifetime, I concluded MTV was not going to replay the Janet thing.

I looked at my watch and realized it was 8:30 p.m. — about the time the controversial incident with Janet and Justin took place. Many had complained that this was “family hour” and their kids, at that time, should never be exposed to such raunchy filth as a naked breast.

So, out of curiosity, I flipped through the channel guide to see what else was on at that East Coast hour during school nights (which the Super Bowl was). The offerings included:

“The Bachelorette,” in which a sexy girl chooses from sexy strangers. “The Apprentice,” in which sexy yuppies try to backstab their way to a job. And “Friends,” in which six sexy stars deal with issues, mostly sex.

But enough TV.

I went to buy a newspaper.

Some heavy reading to cover

At the newsstand, I noticed the magazines. There was Maxim, with a topless Michelle Branch on the cover, and Stuff magazine, with Carmen Electra in a tiny pink bikini on the cover, and FHM magazine, with a completely naked woman covered only in body paint on the cover, alongside an article titled “The Sexy Girls of the Winter X Games.”

I saw women’s magazines with slim, seductive bodies, and articles about “better sex” and “longer sex” and “longer, better sex.”

There was even an ad promising the next Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, due any day now.

And these were the magazines that weren’t hidden in brown wrapping.

Alas, when I finally got a newspaper, there were no photos of Janet’s moment of exposure.

What’s a guy to do? I walked back past the magazines about sex, drove home while listening to a radio show about sex, shut off the TV show about sex, shut down my computer screen about sex, and put away the CDs about sex.

Then the fax machine rang. A note from a friend, saying, “Did you see this?”

And out came a picture of Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl, one breast exposed.

How disgusting!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Super Bowl Sunday and Society

So many people are citing this year’s Super Bowl as the proof of a complete absence of dignity and moral behavior in our society. Whether that’s correct or not, the New Jersey Jewish News Editor Andrew Silow-Carroll makes a great argument.

Mauled in America

(by Andrew Silow-Carroll, New Jersey Jewish News)

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and the boys and I are curled up on the couch, doing the male-bonding thing. My sports acumen is wafer-thin, but like the rookie teacher who stays one chapter ahead of the class, I need only a quick scan of the day’s sports headlines (or a fast leap onto Google) to answer most of the kids’ questions. “Have the Patriots ever won the Super Bowl?” Two years ago. “Can an MVP be from the losing team?” Unlikely, but it’s possible (Google confirms it: Chuck Howley of Dallas in Super Bowl V).

And then there are the questions for which there are no answers, such as, “Abba, what’s erectile dysfunction?”

I hate to sound like a prude, but this year’s Super Bowl was an assault of tasteless, inappropriate, and uncomfortable images — and we missed the half-time show! Like most viewers, I used to look forward to the Super Bowl commercials. But that was before advertisers seemed to decide that the country’s most powerful economic cohort lives in frat houses. Horses passing gas, chimps making bedroom noises, those footballs soaring through tires (wink, wink). I have seen the future, and his name is Howard Stern.

More upsetting than the Animal House humor is the advertisers’ odd conviction that violence sells. So in the first big ad of the game, a mutt chomps on a guy’s private parts to get him to dislodge his Bud Light. (Nothing says “Have a cold one” like an implied castration.) In an ad for 7-Up, men try to slam dunk through a basketball hoop on a moving truck and fail, repeatedly and graphically. And in perhaps the most disturbing commercial, for Lay’s, an elderly couple fights over a bag of potato chips. The man uses his cane to trip the woman, who falls to the floor. What focus group told Lay’s that associations with broken hips would help move snack food off the shelves?

I first noted the trend a few years back, about the same time that Pepsi offered up a little boy drawing so hard on a straw that he ends up squashed in the bottle. Yuck, right? That same year, a commercial featured young men using a cannon to fire rodents against a wall — an unforgettable image from a now forgotten Or perhaps you remember the “Got Milk?” campaign in which children watch in horror as an elderly man hefts a wheelbarrow and his arms are torn off at the socket. Or the cheese ad in which cats keep flinging themselves at the glass window of a cheese shop. What exactly is the connection between mutilation and dairy products?

As a father, I find I can live with the sexuality of much of modern advertising. As my mother once put it, when she and my father discussed if my preadolescent self should be allowed to read Love Story: “If he understands it, then it makes no difference. And if he doesn’t understand it, what difference does it make?” My 12-year-old understands what Levitra does. As for his nine-year-old brother, I can get away with vague explanations like “It’s a medicine older people need. Hey, who wants ice cream?”

But violence is a different story. Its implications are clear no matter the child’s age. I find that kids understand the difference between the slapstick of cartoons and the sickening depictions in the most violent ads. The former is stylized and exaggerated, removed from reality. The latter has lately become all too real, in commercial after commercial. Take the Computer Associates ad in which the assistant cracks his chin on the edge of the conference table. You see the impact, the twist in his neck as he sinks to the floor. Ten years ago his injury would have been implied; today the advertiser wants you to feel his pain.

Cartoon violence also has its own morality. When characters like Wile E. Coyote and Daffy Duck are shot, squashed, or immolated, they, and only they, are suffering the consequences of their own unfortunate behavior. In current ads, innocents become victims. 7-Up, to single out perhaps the worst offender, seems to have staked its future on ads in which bystanders are put in harm’s way. Here’s how the company itself describes one of its ads, in which its “spokesman” hires a parade balloon: “As air rushes out, the balloon flies off like a rocket, dragging the 7-Up spokesman for a ride and blowing the parade participants everywhere.” The Un-cola punishes the undeserving.

The entire Super Bowl spectacle is an easy target for those who like to rail about what’s wrong with America. One letter writer in The New York Times wonders if the broadcast provided Muslims with confirmation that “our culture is morally corrupting.” The tsk-tsk crowd, meanwhile, is having a field day over the Janet Jackson incident. (Although they miss the point. What was really on naked display was public relations disingenuousness at its worst. When Justin Timberlake described his baring of Jackson’s breast as a “wardrobe malfunction,” he nearly beat out President Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities” for the Spin-of-the-Year award.)

I don’t think I watched civilization crumble on Sunday evening. But I certainly saw a piece fall off. I worry about children raised on a medium in which humor, cruelty, and commerce are mixed so freely and so frequently. In this, I’m with Blanche DuBois: “Deliberate cruelty is unforgivable.” No matter what it does to the bottom line.

Copyright 2004 New Jersey Jewish News. All rights reserved.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Egon Mayer (In Memoriam)

I personally received assistance from Egon Mayer and his work in preparation for an Interfaith Family Forum at my congregation in Virginia. He certainly died before his time, but his research and efforts at outreach will remain forever as his legacy. The Jewish community will miss him sorely.

Egon Mayer Reached Out to Interfaith Couples (From The Forward)


I write this reflection as a friend and professional colleague of Egon Mayer’s for the last quarter-century.

He died last week at age 59, after battling gall bladder cancer.

Egon, formerly director of Jewish studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and chair of Brooklyn College’s sociology department, was best known for his groundbreaking research on intermarriage — his first studies of the topic were already being talked about as the topic came to the fore after the first National Jewish Population Study in 1971. As the founding director of the Jewish Outreach Institute in New York, Egon fought to end the taboo against welcoming mixed couples into Jewish communal life, arguing that the best course was to reach out to and include as many Jews as possible in the Jewish people.

We first met while working among the “stable” of young social scientists being nurtured by the late Yehuda Rosenman at the American Jewish Committee. By the mid-1980s we were part of a small cadre of about 15 social scientists — centered in New York, Boston and Philadelphia — who studied the American Jewish community fulltime. We differed from earlier researchers of the American Jewish experience who tended to be secularists with minimal Jewish studies backgrounds. Their focus was the study of prejudice and assimilation with the aim of furthering the Americanization of the Jews as well as of other immigrant groups.

Like them, we were well trained in social science and committed to excellence in research. Unlike them, most of us were deeply involved in Jewish communal life and possessed strong backgrounds in Jewish studies. As a group our central concerns were the maintenance of Jewish identity and exploration of factors enabling the persistence of particularistic cultural, ethnic and religious patterns in the open society.

Some considered him a minimalist who acquiesced to weakening boundaries of Jewish community. Those who knew him well understood that his strong desire to include rather than to exclude sprang from two sources: a love of humanity and a love of the Jewish people.

Egon, who was conceived and born into the horror of the Holocaust, and who, in utero, was one of the Jews saved from extermination by Rudolf Kasztner, believed with all his heart in rescuing and acknowledging every Jew. An immigrant from Hungary who came to the United States at the age of 12, he also understood freedom and loved the openness of America as so many refugees had before him.

We disagreed pretty strongly about some aspects of the analysis of intermarriage, but professional disputes never became personal. That was his way. He had an old-fashioned, courtly, European grace that charmed all who met him.

Egon’s scholarship was very broadly based. In addition to working on national demographic surveys, he utilized in-depth personal interviews and focus groups long before it was fashionable to do so. He always urged his colleagues not to lose sight of the micro level — the individuals, couples and both sides of the extended families in interfaith marriages.

In “Jewish Outreach: A New Agenda” he wrote: “There was a tendency to see interfaith marriages in what we sociologists call the macro-social perspective. In that perspective, interfaith marriage is seen not for itself but for what it represents to some larger entity… such consequences are only probabilistic. They are possibilities, potentialities…. Yet, when the behavior of individuals is seen largely — not to say exclusively — for what its consequences might be, such behavior and the individuals in it become miscast, misunderstood, and often mistreated beyond reason. That has certainly been the case of interfaith marriage.”

About six years ago the two of us volunteered to take on a five-year stint as editors of Contemporary Jewry, the journal of the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry. Though there were many moments of frustration, we were both very proud of the five years of journals. It was Egon who made sure that Contemporary Jewry was produced in a way that reflected and showcased the coming of age of social science as an integral part of Jewish studies. In the preface to Volume 23 of the journal Egon wrote for both of us that “It is particularly gratifying that we are able to conclude our labors on behalf of our discipline and association with this special issue. We hope that our colleagues and readers will find in these pages the intellectual points of departure that will stimulate new lines of inquiry into longstanding questions about the substance, methods and theories of social science with which to better grasp an understanding of contemporary Jewish life, especially in the USA.”

How sad it is that we will not be able to tackle this task alongside Egon. In the first Mishna of the sixth chapter of Pirkei Avot there is what seems an apt definition of Egon Mayer’s character. It reads: “Whoever engages in the study of Torah for its own sake achieves a host of merits; people benefit from his counsel and skill, his understanding and strength. He becomes a flowing fountain, a never-failing stream; he becomes modest and patient, forgiving of insults. He is called: beloved friend, lover of God, lover of humanity, a joy to God, a joy to humanity.” Egon Mayer was truly a beloved friend. May his memory be a blessing to us all.

Rela Mintz Geffen is the president of Baltimore Hebrew University.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Everyone is trying to get a glimpse of "Miller Lite" (The Yet to Be Named Baby Miller)

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(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |