The Light of German Jewry

This has been a whirlwind week for me in Berlin, where I’ve spent long days touring with other young Conservative rabbis. We have learned first hand about how Germans have confronted their past and are looking to their future. We have seen the German Jewish community rebuilding itself with a sense of pride and renewal.

This Shabbat, in the Torah portion Tetzaveh, we learn about the ner tamid (the eternal light). We can compare the ner tamid — a main focal point in the Temple — with the German Jewish community. Considering the horrific history the Jewish people in this part of the world endured during the last century, it is crucial to remember that this Jewish community’s light was never fully extinguished — it is eternal.

In the past few days, I have visited a concentration camp and several Holocaust memorials. That is precisely what one would expect our group of rabbis to experience here in Berlin. But that is only the first part of the story. We also visited a liberal rabbinical school (Abraham Geiger College), progressive synagogues (like the Masorti congregation where my colleague Gesa Ederberg serves as rabbi), Jewish centers, a Masorti nursery school, kosher restaurants, and Jewish museums. We learned how German school children are confronting their nation’s history during the Shoah.

Our group of rabbis spent an entire morning in the German Foreign Ministry being briefed on international relations by a high level, career diplomat. We were hosted at a luncheon on the top floor of the Reichstag, looking out over Berlin. We had a glatt kosher dinner with our Protestant colleagues, exchanging theological viewpoints and perceptions about memory over shnitzel and goulash. I have worn my kippah in the streets of Berlin over the past week without incident. I have heard Hebrew spoken throughout the city, both by Israelis and non-Israelis. When I took off my coat at a museum, the German guard smiled and said “Todah Rabbah” (Hebrew for “thank you”) and “shalom.”

This is a changing country. I was unaware of the renaissance taking place here in the German Jewish community. Democracy, tolerance, justice and understanding are all shared values here in Berlin. The light of our Jewish brothers and sisters here is not only still kindled, but it is burning bright.

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

Justin Bieber in Israel

It doesn’t matter that I’m blogging from Berlin because they’re talking about teen pop sensation Justin Bieber and his new movie “Never Say Never” here too. It seems that Bieber’s 29-year-old Jewish manager “Scooter” Braun is working hard to promote his talented young client and his new movie in the media. I was contacted the other day by Edmon Rodman of the JTA who was writing a story about the inclusion of Bieber saying the Shema Yisrael in the “Never Say Never” movie.

Last year, I wrote about Justin Bieber’s prayer circle ritual before concerts in which he includes the Jewish “Shema Yisrael” prayer in Hebrew. Rodman quotes “Scooter” Braun who explains, “Originally Justin and the crew just did a prayer circle before the show that ended with Jesus Christ. I wasn’t into that,” so “we started saying the Shema. About the third time, Justin chimed in.” “He had memorized it. Now others say it with us, too.”

Rodman quoted me in the JTA article:

As noted by Rabbi Jason Miller of Michigan, who writes at blog.rabbijason.com, “Based on the number of concerts at which Justin Bieber performs, I’m guessing that he’s actually said the most important statement of Jewish belief many more times in his life than the average 16-year-old Jewish youth.”

What is certain to get people’s attention in Rodman’s article is that “Bieber is scheduled to bring the Shema to Israel” on April 14, just five days before Passover. While some artists, like Elvis Costello, have canceled performances in Israel, Braun stated that there is no question that the concert will happen as scheduled and that Justin Bieber and his mom, Patti, are excited to visit Israel (specifically Bethlehem).

In fact, Bieber will still be in Israel for the first night of Passover and “Scooter” Braun plans on having a seder. There’s no word yet on whether Justin Bieber will lead the Four Questions (traditionally sung by the youngest at the table).

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

Conservative Rabbi on The Daily Show

My colleague, Rabbi Gideon Estes of Congregation Or Ami, played the straight man last night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. After Justin Bieber opened the show pretending to be Jon Stewart, Estes had a tough act to follow, but did a great job.

Daily Show correspondent John Oliver went down to Texas to file a story about the campaign of a Jewish Republican man to be re-elected speaker of the Texas State House. Estes, wearing his Jewish Theological Seminary tallit (prayer shawl), was interviewed by Oliver about the opposition to Joe Strauss being re-elected because he is Jewish and not a Christian conservative.

At the end of the segment, John Oliver celebrates his creation of a new high holiday called “Yom Chechechecheh” with the Hebrew School children at Estes’ congregation.

Check out the video below:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart RabbiJason.com
Conservative Rabbi Gideon Estes on The Daily Show
www.thedailyshow.com

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

Joe Lieberman Tapped for Egyptian Government Post

While I’m no Jon Stewart or Andy Borowitz when it comes to political satire, I have had the following funny situation playing in my head ever since the riots in Egypt began:

PRESS CONFERENCE IN CAIRO, EGYPT

Joe Lieberman: Thank you for joining me here today in Cairo. I know it’s only been a few weeks since my press conference where I announced  I’ll retire from the Senate and not seek re-election. However, I have a major announcement to make yet again. Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, has appointed me Foreign Minister over this country.

CNN Reporter: Mr. Lieberman, when will you begin?

Joe Lieberman: The appointment is effective today… it’s immediate in light of the chaos that currently plagues Egypt. I will be the second in command. And no Jewish man has ever held such a position of power in Egypt.

Fox Reporter: Uh, that’s not actually true sir, have you read the Jewish Bible?

Joe Lieberman: Right, good point. Well, I am the first man named Joseph to…

Fox Reporter: No, that’s not quite right either Mr. Lieberman.

Joe Lieberman: Well, anyway, there’s a lot of work to be done. I’d like to thank the Pharoah, er, I mean the President for his faith in me. You know when he called me on the phone to ask me to come down here, he said he never dreamed that the political situation could get so bad. But I told him that he had in fact dreamed that it would get this bad. I keep telling him that.

AP Reporter: What will be your first order of business to calm the masses who are rioting in the street?

Joe Lieberman: I came up with this great idea to stockpile food because you just never know. I’ve been in pits before and I think that in time we can get these people to start building. Thank you very much for your time today and God Bless Egypt!

Al Jazeera Reporter: Have a good Shabbos Vizier Lieberman!

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

Let’s Hair It for the Jew Fro

As a follically-challenged guy, I’ve always been impressed by (and a bit envious of) the Jew Fro. It’s certainly an underreported aspect of Jewish cultural life. My uncle sported a Jew Fro in high school back in the early 70s, which I’m convinced was only because he knew he’d be bald later in life (he was). Male patterned baldness runs in the family and his father (my grandfather) wore a toupée.

The Jew Fro, the Jewish version of the Afro, has become more talked about of late as Jewish celebrities like Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and Andy Samberg have popularized the fashion. Three years ago I posted to YouTube.com a clip from the movie “Knocked Up” in which Katherine Heigl’s character admires Seth Rogen’s character’s curly hair. She asks what product he uses to get it to look that way, and he tells her that it’s called “Jew.” The video clip has been viewed close to 18,000 times since I uploaded it. Websites with photos of the best Jew Fros (South Park creator Matt Stone, Art Garfunkel, Nick Jonas, film critic Gene Shalit, music producer Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, Richard Simmons, etc.) are popping up everywhere. A t-shirt that reads “Chicks Dig the Jew Fro” is a top seller on the Web.

Now, Moment Magazine has published an article about the Jew Fro that traces its history all the way back to the Bible. Just because Samson was a Nazirite and didn’t cut his hair doesn’t mean he sported the Jew Fro. It is an interesting take on the hairstyle though. Svetlana Shkolnikova writes:

Yet society continues to subtly perpetuate the idea that sleek and straight is beautiful, making the curly hair of both Jewfros and Afros contentious, particularly for women, says Shari Harbinger, director of education for the curly hair salon DevaCurl. She struggled with her curly hair growing up, choosing to blow dry it straight and even resorting to harsh Japanese relaxers. The curly-straight struggle haunts some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, as Sarah Jessica Parker confesses in the 2005 book Stars of David. “I always feel that people think that straight hair is pretty and curly hair is unruly and Jewish,” she says. When she receives excessive praise from men for straightening her hair for a part, she jokingly responds, “‘You’re an anti-Semite!’ Because I just feel it’s a little stab at the Jews.”

My favorite part of the article is that the author quotes Professor Shuly Rubin Schwartz, the dean of the undergraduate program at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where I studied in the Rabbinical School. She claims the Jew Fro’s birth came about because Jews “figured out how to own their own hair” and “Jewish women in turn thought, ‘Why are we sitting under the hair dryer?'” The article doesn’t show a photo of Shuly Schwartz, who herself sports a curly Jew Fro (see photo below).

Whether it’s Jewish men or Jewish women, they should be proud of their curly locks of hair. For me, I’ll just remain envious of the moppy curls of Jew Fros while I embrace my receding hairline.

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