Omri Casspi Says Sheket B’vakasha

Urban Dictionary defines “Boomshakalaka” as “An onomatopoeic ‘in your face.’ Originally the sound of a slam-dunk in basketball — the “boom” being the dunk, and the “shakalaka” being the rattling of the backboard.”

In the early years of ESPN, it was common to hear an ESPN personality throw out an energetic “boomshakalaka” when showing the highlight footage of a monster dunk. Today, announcers will often exclaim variations of “Goodnight!” “Sit Down!” or “Shut Up!” when one basketball player posterizes another with a ferocious slam dunk.

Ever since Israeli basketball sensation Omri Casspi of the Sacramento Kings entered the NBA, I’ve been hoping to hear an announcer exclaim something Jewish or Hebrew when he slam dunks. Last week, Casspi’s alley-oop slam dunk on the fast break from teammate Marcus Thronton elicited a “Sheket B’vakasha!!” from the announcer — Hebrew for “Quiet Please!” but with more of a “Sit Down and Shut Up” quality to it. The play was #9 in ESPN’s countdown of the day’s top ten highlights.

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

Raise Your Glass – The Maccabeats Purim Song

This year is a leap year on the Jewish calendar so there is a second month of Adar. The fun and silly holiday of Purim occurs this month and that means the levity has begun. Two funny videos for Purim are already attracting quite a bit of attention on YouTube.

The Yeshiva University a capella group The Maccabeats have followed their smash hit for Hanukkah with a Purim version of Pink’s “Raise Your Glass.” It might not go viral like “Candlelight” did (4.725 million views and counting), but it’s fun nevertheless.

Yael Buechler, a very creative senior student in the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, created a video parody of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie starring the Seminary’s Chancellor Arnie Eisen (“Ernie”) and Professor Burt Visotzsky (“Bert”). Yael told me that students have joked about Burt as “Bert” and Arnie as “Ernie” for a number of years (probably for as long as Eisen has been chancellor). Since Buechler’s recent video creations have become very popular within the JTS community, she explained that the Chancellor and Rabbi Visotzky were eager to be in this latest hit. She wrote the script based on a Bert and Ernie scene and substituted the Purim pastry hamantaschen for pizza. As you can see, Eisen and Visotzky did some ad libbing as well. Even though I took a few courses with Prof. Visotzky, I was not aware of his dead-on Bert impersonation. It’s great to see these academics be such good sports for the sake of some Purim fun.


Jacob Richman has posted 68 Purim videos on his website. Check it out.

More Purim fun to come!

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

Esther’s in Vegas – Tweeting Jewish Conferences

Cross-posted to the “Jewish Techs” blog at The Jewish Week

That’s right, Esther’s in Vegas. No, not THAT Esther? We’ll shift our focus to Queen Esther in less than two weeks. For now, the focus is on another Esther.

Connected Jewish leaders know that Esther Kustanowitz, the writer and social media consultant, is in Las Vegas because her Twitter and Facebook feeds pinpoint her location there. She’s at Tribefest, the Jewish Federations of North America’s “meet up” on the Vegas Strip for young Jews to “connect, explore & celebrate the richness of Jewish music, food, arts & culture.” But don’t worry, you don’t have to actually be in Vegas to participate in TribeFest. In fact, you don’t have to ever leave the comfort of your own home anymore to get to Jewish conventions, conferences, retreats, or organized excuses to gamble, party and network in Sin City.

With the popularity of social networking, you can feel like you’re actually at the Jewish conference without having to book a flight, get a hotel room, and register for the “HELLO My Name Is” nametag in plastic on a lanyard. In fact, it’s not only the speakers and breakout sessions that can be followed on Twitter with a special hashtag (#), but also the pre-glows, private parties, networking lunches, and meetings over scotch at the hotel bar.

And if you were wondering if any participants had a difficult time traveling to the conference, you can follow that on Twitter too. EstherK (her Twitter handle) starred in a Twitter remake of “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” when she tried to get across the pond to Limmud late last year. She updated her 3,000-plus Twitter followers with every frustrating travel delay she endured. And when she actually got to #limmud at the University of Warick in the UK, she let us know who else was there, which sessions she was attending, and what she was doing later that night.

Twitter hashtags have kept the non-attendees feeling connected at just about every recent Jewish conference and convention, from the Reform Biennial to AIPAC and J-Street to the current JCPA Plenum. Last year’s General Assembly in New Orleans might have set the record for the most tweets at a Jewish conference with thousands of Twitterers left wondering what the #NOLAGA hashtag was all about and why it was trending.
In New Orleans at the GA, JFNA hired Kustanowitz to produce an innovation and social media enthusiasts’ event – NOLAISM (NOLA Innovation and Social Media) Schmooze-Up, where live tweeting happened simultaneously to the actual in-person schmoozing. She didn’t attend the 2009 GA in person, but wrote about attending the conference “virtually” thanks to Twitter in a blog post titled “The GA As Seen Through Twitter.”

William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy and the Director of the Washington office of The Jewish Federations of North America, is the reigning Twitter king of the organized Jewish community. With his list of 6,000 followers and growing, Daroff has amassed his own network on Twitter. His travel and speaking schedule is public information because he not only shares it with the people of Cyberspace but also frequently posts photos via Twitpic of his whereabouts. It’s not unusual to read Daroff’s tweets that he posted while moderating a panel discussion in front of a thousand people. One need not be at the hotel bar with Daroff at a conference to be able to network with him over a cocktail — just read his tweets to be part of the conversation.

At the 2010 GA, Kustanowitz used the #NOLAGA Twitter feed to monitor sessions that conflicted with the ones she was attending and “to assess in real-time how the sessions I was in were resonating with the other Twitterers, and to eavesdrop on what people were talking about.” She added that the “amazing part was seeing that there was a host of Twitter users who viewed themselves as on-the-scene reporters, sending instant reports not just of the larger events (for instance, Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking) but of the crowd’s responses, the behavior of members of the Israeli press, any dissent or enthusiasm that they, as members of the audience, could see more effectively than those on the stage and at the podium.”

The Twitterers who are live and in-person at the actual event can even meet their “virtual” friends for the first time. Conference attendees will use Twitter updates to let other participants know where they are in the hotel or convention center for a real-life meet up.

I’m following much of the TribeFest action right now and will likely do the same when I sit out the Rabbinical Assembly convention (curiously also taking place in Vegas) later this month. While I’ll miss reconnecting with friends and colleagues in real-life, I can follow the convention on the monitor in the comfort of my office without having to get on a plane and say goodnight to my kids over a phone. If I want to ask one of the speakers a question, I can just tweet it and let a participant ask it live.

Twitter is certainly affecting the way we participate in conferences and I’m sure that attendance at large-scale conventions has decreased over the past year. So, rather than getting in on the early bird registration for that next convention, save the money and the hassle of travel and just find out what the hashtag will be. Sometimes it’s easier to be a follower than an attendee.

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

On Jewish Identity

I was one of three Jewish educators asked to respond to a statement about Jewish identity for this month’s issue of Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility. The statement was co-written by Patrick Aleph and Michael Sabani, the co-founders of Punk Torah. After I responded to their statement in writing, Patrick and Michael interviewed me via Skype. Their statement, my response and the video interview are below:

“If I try to be like him, who will be like me?” (Yiddish Proverb)

No study has ever been done to discover the root cause of why people stop identifying with Judaism. If we worry less about Judaism as a culture and more about monotheism, we might find that — suddenly — people have something more to believe in. Jewish identity is more than matzah ball soup and Young Professionals mixers.

God, Israel (the people), and the Torah are essential for Jewish identity. Without God, we sit on a stool with only two legs. Theists need to summon up the courage to put God first in Jewish life in spite of the urge to keep our heads down so we don’t look crazy.

We often place a lot of importance on not standing out, especially in a “tribal” sense. It gives us a sense of being a part of something larger than ourselves. The flip side is that if we all try to be like someone else, we lose who we really are.

Judaism is a path (halakhah) that allows us to walk together, even if we walk at our own pace. When we try to be like another, we are giving up our God-given individuality.

—Patrick Aleph and Michael Sabani

My response: 
Jewish identity is a tricky subject. We have no consensus on how to define it, what it should feel like, or to what extent it should be particularistic. I find that Judaism has much wisdom to offer, both to adherents of the faith and to the rest of the world. I’m often, therefore, baffled by our numbers — that we account for such a small fraction of the population.

Should we worry more about monotheism, as Michael Sabani and Patrick Aleph suggest? Should we worry less about the cultural components of our peoplehood? These are decisions that each individual “member of the tribe” must make. Some Jews will be enthralled with bagels and lox on Sunday mornings, federation meetings, Seinfeld reruns, and B’nai Brith softball. Other Jews will recharge their spiritual batteries in traditional synagogue life. Some will look to Jewish summer camp as their source of Jewishness, and for other people it will be the connection to the State of Israel. We are a club, but we’re not sure who is included and who decides our boundaries. It is good for us to stand out as tribally different, but we should also count our blessings that we are included in the larger fabric as well.

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

Are Charlie Sheen, Glenn Beck, John Galliano and Julian Assange Anti-Semites?

Cross-posted to the Huffington Post

How does one know when someone’s comment is anti-Semitic? I suppose it’s the same as how United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart explained pornography in the 1964 case of Jacobellis v. Ohio: “I know it when I see it.”

There have been several high profile examples of anti-Semitic outbursts recently. And like famous anti-Semitic rants in the past, there has been much debate as to whether these recent cases should be classified as anti-Semitic. In all of these instances, one could argue that “I know it when I see it.”

There are times when a celebrity makes a poor choice, but is likely not being intentionally anti-Semitic. Examples are when Roseanne Barr dressed as Adolf Hitler and posed for a magazine and when Prince Harry went to a costume party in a Nazi uniform. However, when Mel Gibson repeatedly espoused his anti-Jewish feelings, there was no question about his motivation or true feelings.

In recent days, we’ve heard questionable comments by Charlie Sheen and Glenn Beck. We’ve seen video footage of Dior designer John Galliano expressing his love for Hitler and berating innocent people with anti-Semitic slurs. And a recent report said that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggested that British journalists, including the editor of The Guardian, were engaged in a Jewish-led conspiracy to smear his organization.

Charlie Sheen, who continues to prove that his “Wild Thing” character in the movie “Major League” was pretty close to his real persona, referred to the executive producer of “Two and a Half Men” by his Hebrew name. Rather than calling him Chuck Lorre, Sheen referred to him as “Chaim Levine” and raised red flags throughout the media and in Jewish organizations. Not only has Sheen denied that there was any anti-Semitic undertone in his rant, he is now requesting that the Anti-Defamation League and its director Abe Foxman apologize to him for condemning his remarks.

It’s pretty obvious that Sheen’s not getting very good PR counsel these days (if any at all) because he expressed his admiration for Mel Gibson in an interview with Howard Stern. I don’t think Mel Gibson is the guy you want to bring into your corner when you’ve been accused of an anti-Semitic rant.

Glenn Beck recently apologized for his insult to Reform Jews. The Fox News talking head said Reform rabbis are “almost like radicalized Islam.” He was responding to a letter condemning his virulent attack on George Soros. I was one of several non-Reform rabbis who signed the letter urging Fox News to fire Beck. While I don’t agree with Soros’ politics and certainly find his views on Israel to be troubling, I understood Beck’s comments about Soros (comparing him to the Nazis) to be anti-Semitic in nature. While Beck will likely never apologize for his Soros tirade, it is telling that he apologized to the angered Reform (not “Reformed” as Beck called them) rabbis.

The anti-Semitic comments by Christian Dior designer John Galliano in a shocking videotape (see below) were quite obviously anti-Semitic. Dior has fired him for his hateful comments and he was arrested by French police over allegations that he abused a couple in an angry, drunken, anti-Semitic diatribe. Oscar winner Natalie Portman who represents Dior in perfume ads said she was disgusted with John Galliano over his anti-Semitic rants. In a written statement, Portman said, “In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr Galliano in any way.”

Finally, Julian Assange’s comments seemed to be more paranoia than anti-Semitism. He suggested that British journalists were conspiring to smear his organization. The NY Times reports that Assange “was especially angry about a Private Eye report that Israel Shamir, an Assange associate in Russia, was a Holocaust denier. Mr. Assange complained that the article was part of a campaign by Jewish reporters in London to smear WikiLeaks.”

While Assange’s accusation does sound like the age-old charge that the Jews own and run the media, it might not be anti-Semitic. Rather, Assange is probably feeling like everyone is out to get him after the recent WikiLeaks dumps of classified information.

Are anti-Semitic comments on the rise? I don’t think so. Rather, there has been a trend of high-profile individuals making anti-Semitic statements. It’s entirely possible that these hate-filled tirades reveal the true sentiments of these celebrities. Hopefully, they will apologize for their outbursts and be more dignified and sane in the future.

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