Leonardo DiCaprio Converting to Judaism?

Here’s my recent post on the “Rabbi J in the D” blog on Community Next:

If Leo becomes Jewish, I can imagine him being hoisted on a chair during the Hora dance at his bar mitzvah as he yells “I’m the King of the World!”

Here’s the 411 from the JTA (the Jewish version of the AP):

Leonardo DiCaprio is rumored to be considering converting to Judaism for his longtime girlfriend, Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli.

The possible conversion by DiCaprio, a non-practicing Catholic, is a sign that the popular American actor and Refaeli will marry, the Daily Mail reported Sunday.

“Leo’s sudden intense interest in Israel, its culture and religion is the clearest sign yet that he intends to marry Bar,” said an anonymous source quoted in the London newspaper.

DiCaprio has visited Refaeli in Israel several times, most recently in November. It has been rumored for months that the couple are engaged.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Let’s Ham It Up On Hanukkah (Again!)

Here’s my recent post on the Jewish Techs blog (The Jewish Week)

Just like the return of the clothing fashion styles of yesteryear, many things on the Web tend to make a comeback too. It seems like every few years the same hoaxes, urban legends, videos, jokes and funny photos get recycled around Cyberspace.

I noticed that this is the case with a photo of ham — yes, ham! Through Facebook, hundreds of users are recirculating the photo of the boneless spiral ham on sale at a store with the sign “Delicious for Chanukah.”

It appears however, that someone decided to write their own midrash about the photo by including the caption: “Dear Walmart, I think you are barking up the wrong tree. Love, The Jews.” Based on the name on most of the reposted photos on Facebook, it appears that Kathy Ohsman Hoffman of Scottsdale, Arizona is the one who penned the Walmart statement.

The photo is actually from 2007 and it had nothing to do with Walmart. It was taken at Balducci’s, a specialty food store in New York City (of all places… shouldn’t they know better?). I blogged about this FAIL marketing idea at Balducci’s back in December 2007 and even included some faux holiday sale signs from other stores in my post. A quick search for “Hanukkah Ham” on snopes.com will also let you know that this poor choice in advertising occurred not at Walmart, but at Balducci’s.

In my Facebook news feed I noticed that Shir Yakov Feinstein Feit, the musical director at NYC’s Romemu, posted the Walmart/Ham accusation to which Jay Michaelson responded with a link to an article on the satire site The Onion from 1997 explaining that the 6,000 year old Jewish ban on ham has been lifted by the Jewish elders.

One of my Facebook friends added this comment to the Hanukkah Ham posting: “Nothing like a good sprial sliced smoked ham to go with latkes and applesauce….and a good glass of whole white milk. Yum”.

I suppose that just like the old holiday fruitcake, we can expect that the Hanukkah Ham photo will get passed around yet again during future Hanukkahs.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Helen Thomas Strikes Again; Wayne State University Ends Award

When I watched the HBO documentary about Helen Thomas, “Thank You Mr. President,” I remember being impressed about what a long, successful career this woman had. But that entire career was soured this past summer when her true colors were displayed. David Nesenoff, a Conservative rabbi, filmed Helen Thomas outside the White House saying that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine.” The 90-year-old Lebanese news correspondent was promptly fired by Hearst Communications.

Last week, at a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Michigan, Helen Thomas uttered more anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic statements. She said, “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists. No question in my opinion. They put their money where their mouth is… We’re being pushed into a wrong direction in every way.”

While Detroit’s Wayne State University, from where Thomas graduated in 1942, chose to maintain its Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award following her outrageous remarks this summer, her most recent comments forced the university to act. Wayne State announced on December 3rd that it would no longer present the award. In a statement, the university said, that it “strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas.”

The Anti-Defamation League issued a short statement saying Thomas “clearly, unequivocally revealed herself as a vulgar anti-Semite.”

Robert Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit was quoted in today’s Detroit Free Press. He said, “When she said … that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street are owned by Zionists, Ms. Thomas repeated the anti-Semitic stereotypes that have been used for more than a century to incite hatred of Jews. Her comments should be condemned by all people who oppose bigotry in any form.”

In an interview, Helen Thomas said that she stands by the comments she made to Rabbi Nesenoff outside the White House during a Jewish Heritage Month event. She also criticized U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan during an interview this past Thursday in Dearborn. She said the Iraq war “was built on all lies.” She continued, “Thousands are dead, with no reason explained yet. There has been no truthful reason for going into Iraq.” Asked what she thought was the reason for U.S. policies, Thomas replied: “Because they own the ink. They also own the airwaves,” adding that she was referring to “Zionists.”

Detroit Free Press religion editor Niraj Warikoo interviewed Helen Thomas yesterday and asked her about Wayne State University ending the annual diversity award in her name. She told him that “the leaders of Wayne State University have made a mockery of the First Amendment and disgraced their understanding of its inherent freedom of speech and the press.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

My Family’s Dancing Hanukkah Video

With the help of JibJab.com and Adam Sandler’s voice, I made this video to wish our friends a Happy Hanukkah. Enjoy!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

How Do You Spell Hanukkah?

The #1 question during Hanukkah is: What is the correct way to spell the name of this holiday? Since it’s a Hebrew word that is transliterated into English, there are several acceptable spellings. But people still want to know if there is a consensus.

A non-profit theater company in California, the North Coast Repertory Theatre, even performed a show this past weekend entitled “How Do You Spell Chanukah??- The Stage Show.” Their website described the performance as “What is Hanukkah… or Chanukah? How do you really spell it, anyway? What’s it ever done for me and why should I care? Hash it out (a nice lean kosher hash) with our hosts Marc Silver and Doug Dickerman for a unique evening of fun and music and story telling. We’ll share, we’ll kibitz, we’ll have a little something to eat! What can I tell you, even if we don’t solve any baffling Jewish mysteries…we’ll have a lot of fun not getting anywhere together. Oy! Did we mention that we’ll have a little nosh?”

Melissa Bell, writing on the Washington Post’s blog, recalls that NPR’s “All Things Considered” addressed this very question back in 2005. They quoted Rabbi Daniel Zemel of the Temple Micah in Washington who said, “There’s no uniformity in transliteration.” Rabbi Zemel ordered a steering committee at his synagogue to come up with a uniform spelling. They decided on: Chanukkah. But then Bell noticed that this year, Zemel’s synagogue website was using “Hanukkah.” When she asked him what ever happened to his resolute steering committee’s decision, he explained that he was overruled and “an editor in the congregation made the convincing push to adopt the spelling used by the Reform Jewish movement in North America. Transliteration is an art, not a science.”

I’ve been using the “Hanukkah” spelling and I believe that this has become the most accepted option based on Twitter. While some might do a Google search to determine which spelling of Hanukkah appears the most, I just looked at Twitter where #Hanukkah was one of the trending terms this past week.

I was thinking about this Hanukkah spelling debate today while listening to the Sirius-XM Satellite Radio Hanukkah station. I had to laugh at this song by The Leevees which makes the confusion surrounding the ambiguous spelling of Hanukkah very funny. Check out “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?”:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Best Hanukkah Videos for 2010

Here’s my latest post on the Jewish Techs blog for The Jewish Week

If you haven’t received an email or Facebook message in the past week with the link to the Maccabeats video of “Candlelight”, you might want to check that your computer is actually plugged in.

The Yeshiva University a capella group’s video parody of Taio Cruz’s song “Dynamite” (based on Mike Thompkins’ a capella version) has gone viral surpassing 1.5 million views on YouTube and even landed them an appearance on NBC’s Today Show. Now, the group is campaigning to get an invitation to the Colbert Show (add your voice here).

If you’re looking for additional fun videos besides the “Candlelight” video, check out these Hanukkah videos:

MATISYAHU ON ICE (“MIRACLE”)

HONIKA ELECTRONIKA (BY SMOOTH-E)

ERRAN BARON COHEN (SACHA’S BROTHER) SINGS “DREIDEL”

HOMEBOY HANUKKAH
(Warning: Strong language and references give this video a PG-13 rating)

NBA PLAYERS WISH FANS A HAPPY HANUKKAH (BY ELIE SECKBACH)

NEFESH B’NEFESH HANUKKAH (“8 DAYS” TO MATISYAHU’S “ONE DAY”)

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS JEWS
(Warning: Contains Jewish stereotypes that may be offensive to some)

ELMO LEARNS ABOUT HANUKKAH

TELLY MONSTER PLAYS DREIDEL ON SESAME STREET

Happy Hanukkah!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Chabad’s Social Media Success

Here’s my latest post on the Jewish Techs blog (The Jewish Week):

Chabad Lubavitch has always been out in front when it comes to using the Internet for publicity. Back in the 90’s, Chabad took full advantage of the virtual communities on America Online (AOL) and then launched some of the most impressive websites once everyone migrated to the Web. For years, Chabad has been a strong force in Cyberspace with “Ask the Rabbi” websites, online distance learning, and viral videos.

Today, Chabad utilizes social networking to not only broadcast its message globally, but to also win financial grants. Chabad schools and service organizations, like the Friendship Circle, use Facebook and Twitter to rack up hundreds of thousands of votes in contests for mega grants by such corporations as Chase Community Giving and Target Stores. In last month’s Kohl’s Cares contest, twelve Jewish day schools in the U.S. finished in the top 20 of the competition, with eleven of those schools being Chabad-affiliated according to the Lubavitch.com website (Each of the finalists received a $500,000 prize).

Last January, Chabad’s Michigan-based Friendship Circle, an organization dedicated to helping children with special needs, won $100,000 when it finished third in the Chase Community Giving Challenge on Facebook after using several social media tools to get out the vote. And this past summer, 17 Chabad programs across the United States each received $20,000 in the second running of the Chase challenge.

Motti Seligson, a spokesman for Chabad.org and its social media guru explained Chabad’s secret in these online contests in a JWeekly article.

While scores of Chabad organizations may have started out as entrants in the Chase or Kohl’s challenges, the network as a whole figured out pretty quickly which ones had a serious chance of winning and then placed its chips on the potential winners. The method has proven to be especially valuable in the Kohl’s challenge, Seligson said. Each voter can vote a total of 20 times, and only five times for one school. Hypothetically that means if supporters of one school cast votes for the school five times, they each have 15 votes left. Those voters may then cast five votes each for three other Chabad schools. During the Chase challenge, it became clear that the Chabad-affiliated Friendship Circle of Michigan had a shot at winning a prize, so the other 100 Friendship Circle outposts throughout the United States rallied behind their Michigan counterpart. It’s not cheating or skirting the rules, Seligson said, it’s just actualizing a social network effectively.

Fellow Detroiter Ronelle Grier recently wrote an article on Chabad’s social networking prowess for Chabad.org. In one section of her article she writes that two Chabad leaders, the Friendship Circle’s Bassie Shemtov and “The Recovery Rabbi” Yisrael Pinson (#recoveryrabbi) were speakers at the recent #140conf in Detroit. I also attended the conference, presented by Jeff Pulver, and heard several comments from participants about how Chabad’s exploitation of social media is so impressive and a model for other organizations. Grier writes,

Rabbi Zvi Drizin, who considers social networking essential to promoting the activities of InTown Chabad, his Dallas-based organization geared toward young adults who have finished college, but are not yet married. He makes extensive use of Facebook to announce events, share interesting links and idea, and post photos taken at recent programs.

“When you decide to go to any party, the first thing you ask is who’s going to be there,” he says. “People have always moved with their friends. If you have a good network, it expands your appeal.”

At a recent Shabbat dinner, Drizin planned for 80 people. After he posted details of the event on Facebook, 150 people showed up at his door.

While Rabbi Yisrael Pinson lives and works in my community, it is really through Twitter that we’ve gotten to know each other. He’s been successful in his addiction recovery work because of his social media connections. In Grier’s article, Pinson said that Rabbi Menachem Schneerson would likely have approved of the use of such tools in the advancement of Judaism. “The Rebbe was a champion of using new tools for the promotion of Jewish values and spirituality. His talks were broadcast over the radio when that was the revolutionary medium. So too, it’s fitting for us to be at the forefront of this revolution. Social networking’s value lies in its ability to connect seemingly discordant strands of humanity. The person you meet may not be the one who can help you, but he may know the person who will end up helping you.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

High Shticking: Florida Panthers Give Out Kippahs to Fans for Hanukkah

It’s become expected that there will be some sort of a giveaway at sports events. Fans leave the stadium or arena with everything from posters of the star player to bobble-heads and t-shirts. Every once in a while, a team gets a little more creative.

And that’s exactly what happened in Florida. According to Greg Wyshynski in a Yahoo! News article, the Florida Panthers are scheduled to have their Hanukkah celebration during next Tuesday’s home game against the Colorado Avalanche. The Panthers are publicizing the game as “the biggest Hanukkah party in South Florida.”

So, what does it mean to have a Hanukkah party at a pro hockey game? Using jelly donuts for the pucks would pose some obvious logistical problems. I’m sure they’ll be lighting a menorah at some point in the game, but what is sure to make news is the Florida Panthers’ choice for a Hanukkah giveaway at Tuesday’s game.

The official Florida Panthers yarmulke, or kippah, will be handed out to all ticket holders before the game. No word on whether the NHL team is egalitarian in this regard and will be giving the kippahs out to the ladies as well.

I know from experience that these round, black leather kippahs will fly like a frisbee when thrown. And that’s exactly what the home team will do if a Panthers player scores three goals for a Hat Trick. Although, on this night it would be a Kippah Trick of course.

Who knows if the fans will even wait for a Hat Trick to throw the yarmulkes on the ice? I suppose it’s better than throwing a live octopus on the ice like Detroit Red Wings fans throw come playoff time. I mean those things aren’t even kosher!

While “Hanukkah Night” at the hockey game sounds like fun, the Florida Panthers deserve to go to the penalty box for the kippah giveaway, which just sounds to me like a High Shtick!

Hat Tip to Dave Alberts of Seattle

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Best Hanukkah Joke and Best New Hanukkah Video

Ever since the first Hanukkah stamp was issued by the U.S. Post Office in 1996, this has been my favorite Hanukkah joke to tell:

A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her Hanukkah cards.
She says to the clerk, “May I have 50 Hanukkah stamps?”
The clerk says, “What denomination?”

“Oh my goodness,” the woman says. “Has it come to this? Okay, give me 16 Orthodox, 22 Conservative, and 12 Reform!”

And now here is the video that is sure to go viral this Hanukkah season, which begins this evening. The Yeshiva University a capella group “The Maccabeats” sing Candlelight to the tune of Taio Cruz’s “Dynomite.” Enjoy!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Major League Dreidel Gives News Spin to Old Hanukkah Game

When it comes to Hanukkah there’s really only been one traditional way to play Dreidel. The four sided spinning top has four Hebrew letters on it. Each letter tells you what to do if it lands on that letter — you win, you get half, etc. It might be fun the first time you play, but after several years of playing Dreidel the old game gets boring.

Two new spins on the old Dreidel game have emerged. Eric Pavony founded Major League Dreidel, a pun infested contest to see who can spin the dreidel the longest. And card shark Jennie Rivlin Roberts came up with No Limit Texas Dreidel (NLTD). Instead of cards, players bet, raise or fold depending on the strength of their dreidel hand.

Both games are detailed in an article by Canada’s National Post (hat tip to Adam Masry). If you don’t appreciate a good pun, don’t read on.

Major League Dreidel (MLD) is an amped-up Hanukkah party and battle royale where players vie for the longest dreidel spin. As competitors with such names as Spindiana Jones, Goy Wonder and Spinona Ryder play with the traditional four-sided spinning top, the mid-twenties crowd shouts, high-fives and swigs such Jewish-themed beers as Genesis Ale and Messiah Bold. The league’s main venue, the infamous Brooklyn music hot spot the Knitting Factory, is located in the hipster haven of Williamsburg.

The Jewish puns are endless, as are the inventive costumes. Oscar De La Menorah, for example, sports a boxing robe and trunks in competition. Between bouts, the heavy metal act Gods of Fire play such songs as The Quest for the Latke Oil and Taking the Temple.

Eric Pavony, 31, is MLD’s founder and “knishioner.” “I remember enjoying spinning the dreidel more than actually participating in the traditional rules of the game,” says Panony, who has seen his league grow from 32 competitors to 120 since 2007.

This new take on dreidel spinning reminded me of the Heeb magazine cover from a few years ago featuring the Beastie Boys playing Dreidel.

I’m glad to see people being creative and reinventing the staple game of the Hanukkah holiday. Happy Hanukkah!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller