I’ve Read Anne Frank’s Diary. And Tiki Barber, You’re No Anne Frank!

In February I toured the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam for the first time. It was a chilling experience. Since 7th grade, I’ve read several versions of Anne Frank’s diary. I’ve seen several versions of movies about Anne Frank. And I toured the Anne Frank exhibit at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

I am no scholar on Anne Frank, but I do know one thing. A professional football player who hides out in his agent’s home so the pesky media can’t interview him is no Anne Frank.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, former NFL player Tiki Barber described how he had to go into hiding as media scrutiny grew on him in April 2010 following his separation with his wife. Even though Barber joined his agent, Mark Lepselter, in the attic of his agent’s house, it’s still not even close to appropriate to make such a comparison.

Apparently, Barber felt that his agent was playing the role of the kind Dutch people who helped Anne Frank and family hide from the Nazis in early 1940s Amsterdam. Barber explained to Sports Illustrated that “Lep’s Jewish and it was like a reverse Anne Frank thing.”

I’m quite certain that the Sports Illustrated columnist knew that Barber’s comparison would raise eyebrows. And somehow, Agent Lepselter has been defending his client’s ridiculous analogy.

Lepselter told ESPN, “In a world where nothing surprises me, where things get completely blown out of proportion, this only adds to the list. All Tiki was saying to (SI) was he was shedding light on going back to that time when he was literally trapped, so to speak, in my attic for a week. Nothing more, nothing less… Let me remind all those who want to make this more than it is: Tiki was a guest of (president) Shimon Peres in Israel five years ago.”

I’m curious to see if Tiki Barber will continue as an NFL commentator in the future of if this PR nightmare will mark the end of this TV career. If Barber decides to write about his poor choice of words in a diary, I certainly hope he will have learned his lesson and not compare himself to another famous diary writer.

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

Happy Birthday Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday. That number has great significance in Judaism. King David lived to be 70 and it is thought that 70 is the lifespan of man. This is the reason that a second bar mitzvah is observed at age 83 (70+13).

Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman, is the only songwriter I know to have made reference to Akeidat Yitzchak (the biblical story of the binding of Isaac) in a song. In “Highway 61 Revisited,” Dylan sings:

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”

I remember listening to this song in a wonderful course I took in rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The course, taught by Prof. Rabbi Neil Gillman, looked at different artistic representations of the binding of Isaac. I’m sure Dylan would get a kick out of the fact that his song was being studied by future rabbis at the Seminary. By the way, it’s interesting to note that Dylan’s father’s name was Abraham so perhaps the song had personal meaning for him as well.

Bob Dylan was born Jewish, became a bar mitzvah, and then converted to Christianity in the 1970s. In recent years, Dylan has embraced his Jewish roots. Michael Billig wrote an informative article for MyJewishLearning.com about Bob Dylan’s views on religion.

Happy Birthday Bob Dylan!

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

Tuesday the Rabbi Went Home

Tuesday the Rabbi Went Home. What is the title Sue Fishkoff chose for her article about Rabbi Joyce Newmark’s appearance on the TV game show “Jeopardy!” last week? (“That is correct,” says Alex Trebek.)

I too was going to riff on the titles of Harry Kemelman‘s famous book series about Rabbi David Small when I first blogged about Rabbi Newmark competing on Jeopardy.

My original title for the article I submitted to JTA.org was “Monday the Rabbi Appeared on Jeopardy,” however, after it was confirmed that Rabbi Newmark won that night, the title was changed to riff on the format of Jeopardy’s trivia questions: “What is won ‘Jeopardy!’ (What did the rabbi do on Monday?).”

In fact, I had already Photoshopped artwork to accompany the article in case I didn’t receive the official photo from Jeopardy Productions in time for the article to be published. Here it is:

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

Jewish Tech Meetup Brings Jewish Techies Face to Face

Cross-posted at the Jewish Techs blog (The Jewish Week)

It’s not uncommon for tech savvy Jews in Cyberspace to develop online relationships with other Jews who frequent some of the same social networking sites and blogs. These relationships, however, often remain in Cyberspace. Sure, there are the occasional conferences and retreats in which techie Jews will meet in the “real world,” but most of the communication takes place online.

These friendships transcend geographical limitations. The discussions take place on Facebook and Twitter and in the comments section of blogs. They span across several time zones and don’t discriminate between denominational affiliation. While these friends in Cyberspace won’t run into each other at the grocery store or picking the kids up from school, they will be there to offer condolences upon the death of a relative or to share in the happiness of a simcha. Collaboration among this group is Jewish techies is common and start-up initiatives have been created in recent years to bolster the entrepreneurism of this community.

On May 16, Jewish New Media Activist Daniel Sieradski posted an announcement on his Facebook page. His announcement simply read, “Sign up for the inaugural Jewish Tech Meetup, June 16″ with a link to an event on the meetup.com website. A week later, on May 23, Sieradski tweeted that “The Jewish Tech Meetup sold out in just two days w/o even announcing a speaker. Talk about filling an obvious need…”

The event, hosted at Makom Hadash, will be an opportunity for Jewish techies to get together in “real life.” Hoping to make this into a monthly forum, Sieradski bills the event as a chance to discover what is happening at the intersection of Jewish life and technology. “The NYC Jewish Tech Meetup offers guest speakers, networking opportunities, and seasonal hackathons. Connect with your peers, hear the latest from the field, and explore opportunities for collaboration.”

He explained that “the NYC Jewish Tech Meetup seeks to bring together Jews who tech, either in or out of the Jewish community, for networking and professional development opportunities, as well as to get Jews -in- tech to bring their skills and ingenuity to the table to try to address some of the bigger challenges facing the Jewish community, particularly with regards to education, social welfare, and political organizing… The hope is to develop community and an open exchange of ideas between those doing IT for Jewish causes and Jews who know IT better than they do Judaism or Jewish issues.”

This event falls under the umbrella of Open Source Judaism, the initiative Douglas Rushkoff and Sieradski started in 2003 with the launch of Rushkoff’s book Nothing Sacred. Open Source Judaism seeks to promote openness, transparency and direct democracy in Jewish education and communal leadership. Sieradski describes the endeavor as being “fully inclusive, nondenominational and non-proselytizing (ie., we are not a religious organization) though we do engage issues of Jewish spirituality and education.”

Sieradski promises to announce the guest speaker for the June 16 event slated to take place at Hazon’s Makom Hadash, which is a residency center for second-stage Jewish non-profit organizations. Makom Hadash combines affordable space and office services with a community of colleagues and regular opportunities to learn, socialize and collaborate, it enables its member organizations to focus more on their missions, develop more sophisticated organizational infrastructure and collaborate more effectively together. “Founded in 2010, Makom Hadash now offers space for up to 27 full-time workers; a few spaces for resident organizations are still available. Stage II, slated for completion later in 2011, will expand capacity to 45 seats. In addition, organizations not requiring full-time office space can join the center’s community as non-residents members, using Makom Hadash for drop-in space and office services, and to connect with Jewish non-profit colleagues.”

Over the past few years, the level of collaboration among tech savvy Jews, both in and out of the Jewish communal world, has been impressive so it will be interesting to see what happens when they’re actually in the same room.

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

An End to the Hummus Wars

Those who have their finger on the pulse of the gastronomic culture in the Middle East know that hummus is a food that should bring Arabs and Jews together, not divide them. In Adam Sandler’s movie “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” hummus was the butt of several jokes. The Zohan (played by Adam Sandler) dips everything into hummus, eats it at every meal, feeds it to the dog, and even brushes his teeth with hummus. In the movie, hummus is used to douse the flames of a fire and as a hair care product too.

Both Arabs and Israeli Jews are obsessed enough with hummus that it should be a food that is used to broker peace in the Middle East rather than serve as a divisive tool. So, it’s a good thing that DePaul University in Chicago announced today that the Sabra brand of hummus will continue to be served in its campus cafeterias, although Students for Justice in Palestine said they will continue the fight against Sabra hummus.

According to the JTA, “the university administration made the decision, announced Monday, following a recommendation of the university’s Fair Business Practices committee and following a nonbinding student referendum last week. The Sabra brand of the chickpea dip had been served until last November, when the pro-Palestinian student group Students for Justice in Palestine objected because Sabra is half-owned by The Strauss Group. Strauss has publicly supported the Israel Defense Forces troops, and provides care packages and sports equipment to Israel’s Golani and Givati brigades.

“While we recognize the original complaint made by DePaul students arose from genuine concerns surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the judgment of the Fair Business Practices Committee there do not appear to be sufficient grounds for a boycott of Sabra Hummus, primarily because the committee did not find evidence that the Strauss Group provides direct military support for units within the Israeli Defense Forces,” the committee concluded.

The student referendum on banning Sabra hummus completed last week ran 1,127 in favor and 332 against, but was deemed invalid since fewer than 1,500 students on a campus of more than 20,000 students voted on the issue.

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

Mitch Albom Receives Honorary Degree from JTS

Mitch Albom received a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from my alma mater the Jewish Theological Seminary last Thursday. This was not Mitch’s first time at JTS, as he has been a guest speaker there several times in the past.

I grew up in Metro Detroit reading Mitch Albom’s columns in the sports section of the Detroit Free Press. Before going to school each day, from middle school through high school, I would check the daily box scores to see how our local Detroit teams had faired the night before and read Mitch’s insightful take on the various subjects of the Detroit sports scene. In high school and college I would listen to Mitch’s radio show on 760 AM each weekday. At home, my library contains a section with every single book that Mitch Albom has ever written, all personally inscribed.

I’ve enjoyed reading The Live Albom volumes — his compilation books of his Free Press columns as well as his wonderful biographies on such notable sports personalities in Detroit as Bo Schembechler and the Fab Five. His heartwarming and spiritual books, For One More Day, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and Have a Little Faith have all been resources for me in sermons, eulogies, and introductions to Yizkor (the memorial service on Jewish holidays). And of course, his magnum opus Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson has been an inspiration for me since I first picked it up the day it was first published in 1997.

Mitch Albom is very deserving of this honorary degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary and I’m especially proud since it was awarded by an institution that is near and dear to my heart. Mitch has truly practiced tikkun olam (helping to heal our fractured world) through his tireless work on behalf of Detroit’s poor. I was uplifted and inspired when I attended his event at the Fox Theater a couple years ago to benefit the I  Am My Brother’s Keeper Ministry, a homeless shelter in Detroit. Mitch has raised an impressive amount of money through his Hole in the Roof Foundation and has traveled to Haiti with his Schechter Day School classmate Rabbi David Wolpe.

Mitch Albom has more talent in his pinky finger than most people could even dream of having. He’s turned his books into movies and stage productions. He’s an accomplished playwright whose current production about Ernie Harwell is on stage in Detroit. In one day, I read his Free Press column, listen to him on the radio, and then see him on TV as an ESPN commentator. And somehow, in that same day Mitch finds the time to raise money to benefit the neediest among us. He might not be the most religious guy, but he has a tremendous amount of faith. He doesn’t have a reputation of being a particularly warm guy on the outside, but there’s no question about how warmhearted this guy is.

Congratulations to Dr. Mitch Albom on his honorary degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

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

Jewish Wrestler Randy Savage Dies

I grew up watching the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) on TV. In fact, I even went to three WWF events including Wrestlemania 3 in 1987 at the Pontiac Silverdome. My two favorite wrestlers were Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage.

Randy Savage, who was known as “The Macho Man,” died in a car accident this morning in Florida. Randy’s brother, Lanny Poffo (also a former pro wrestler) told TMZ that Randy had a heart attack while driving and lost control of the car.

Randy Savage was born as Randall Mario Poffo in Columbus, Ohio. His father Angelo Poffo was Italian, but his mother Judy was Jewish making Randy Savage Jewish according to Jewish law. So, was Randy Savage Jewish? Yes.

I remember thinking how cool it was that before Randy “Macho Man” Savage was a pro wrestler, he was a baseball player. Savage played minor league baseball as an outfielder for minor league teams of the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox.

Savage, who remarried last year, was 58 when he died in the car accident this morning. Hulk Hogan said, “He had so much life in his eyes and in his spirit, I just pray that he’s happy and in a better place and we miss him.”

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

Rabbi Joyce Newmark Returns to Jeopardy to Defend her Title

Rabbi Joyce Newmark of Teaneck, NJ won $29,200 in her first appearance on the television game show “Jeopardy!” last night. She returned to defend her title tonight, but came up empty.

She was welcomed back onto the show by host Alex Trebek who mentioned that she won the night before on the twentieth anniversary of her ordination as a rabbi from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He also asked her how long there have been female rabbis and if it’s difficult to be one. Newmark answered the question very well, basically explaining to Trebek that she’s never been any other kind of rabbi other than a female one.

Here are two video clips from Rabbi Joyce Newmark’s second appearance on “Jeopardy!”.

JTA Article

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

Conservative Rabbi on Jeopardy

Jews have a reputation for answering a question with another question. Perhaps this suits Jewish contestants well on the television game show “Jeopardy!”.

Joyce Newmark, a rabbi in Teaneck, N.J., will be a contestant on tonight’s episode of “Jeopardy!”. It was recorded on February 2, but Newmark is not allowed to comment publicly on the results until after it is broadcast. However, the 63-year-old Conservative rabbi might have come out victorious if her hosting a viewing party at her Teaneck synagogue, Congregation Beth Sholom, is any indication.

Rabbi Joyce Newmark & Alex Trebek (Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Newmark graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary on May 16, 1991 (coincidentally the same date she’ll be on TV competing on “Jeopardy!”). A member of the first class of Wexner Graduate Fellows, she has served congregations in Lancaster, PA and Leonia, NJ, but currently writes and lectures. Prior to rabbinical school, Newmark spent more than fifteen years in management consulting and banking.

As is her daily custom, Newmark wore a yarmulke during the taping of the show. “The interesting thing is that nobody said a thing about the kippah,” she explained. “Since I was introduced as a rabbi, they may have just thought it was normal.” Newmark never considered removing the yarmulke for the taping since it’s been part of her normal garb since 1987. She previously auditioned for “Jeopardy!” in 2006 before her successful audition in 2010.

While her profession was not a main focus of her appearance on the game show, it didn’t go unnoticed either. “As soon as I sat down in the makeup chair (the worst part of the entire experience) the makeup lady immediately began telling me why she had decided to take her son out of Jewish day school.”

The show’s long-standing host, Alex Trebek, appeared to be very interested in Newmark’s profession. He wanted to know how long female rabbis had been around and if there were any Orthodox women rabbis. Newmark was not the first female rabbi to appear on “Jeopardy!”, as there was a young female Reform rabbi several years ago who didn’t have much luck on the show.

Newmark cannot divulge much from the taping of the show, but she will say that she didn’t get any “softball questions” that were especially applicable for a rabbi. At the audition, she was asked to fill out a form informing the producers if there were specific dates when she would not be available to tape. She simply wrote “Jewish holidays.” When Newmark received the congratulatory call, she expressed her surprise, explaining that she had never expected to be selected. She was then told, “We actually were going to call you two months ago, but it was during Hanukkah so we figured you couldn’t come.”

UPDATE: Rabbi Joyce Newmark went home a “Jeopardy!” Champion with $29,200 of winnings in her first appearance on the game show. While she didn’t ring her buzzer in time to answer which Bible character succeeded Moses in the leadership of the Israelites (Answer: “Who is Joshua”), she did answer more questions correctly than her two opponents including the Final Jeopardy question: From the Latin for “Free”, this 2-word term for a type of College refers to the old belief of what a free man should be taught (Answer: “What is Liberal Arts”). She’ll be back on the show tomorrow night.

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

Doctoring Photos for Religious Reasons

The whole media storm over the doctored photo of the National Security Team in the Situation Room (being briefed with the president and vice president on the Osama Bin Laden raid) has raised many questions and additional controversy.

Yesterday, I took part in an ad hoc Facebook forum moderated by journalist Steven I. Weiss that centered on the ethics of altering photographs. The interesting discussion touched on several aspects of the story including whether it is ever ethical to alter a photo. In my opinion, this is a “gut decision.” That is to say, touching up a photo to improve the lighting or to remove a few blemishes from a person’s face is acceptable. However, airbrushing an ex-girlfriend out of a group photo might feel good, but it alters the record of reality.

One of the most iconic photos of the 20th century is from the Kent State shootings. The photo was altered by removing a post that otherwise would have seemed to be emanating from the screaming woman’s head. This didn’t change the historical record of the event.

In conversations about the two Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) newspapers that airbrushed Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason from the now famous photo, I tried to shift the focus from the Jewish religious issues of modesty to the question of photographic integrity. Many people thought I was intentionally throwing mud at the ultra-right wing of the Jewish world, when in fact I was drawing attention to the problem of doctored photographs. The two examples I’ve raised have been the doctored photos of Oprah Winfrey on the cover TV Guide and Katie Couric’s magical weight loss thanks to Photoshop. (The photo of Oprah is actually her face on Ann Margaret’s 1979 body.) Both of these photos are misleading to the public.

I fully believe that these ultra-Orthodox newspapers have the right to determine which photographs they use to accompany their articles. I disagree, of course, that photos of women and girls are too immodest to be shown, but these papers do have this right. However, altering photos as they often do is unethical. And it’s not only a policy on photographs. In 2008, when Tzipi Livni was close to becoming Israel’s first female prime minister since Golda Meir, ultra-Orthodox newspapers not only refused to print photos of her, they also wouldn’t print her full name. “We might write ‘Mrs. T. Livni’ or just ‘Mrs. Livni,’ but the name Tzipi is too familiar. It is not acceptable to address a woman using her first name, especially when she goes by a nickname,” a senior editor at Hamodia said.
For many Haredi Jews these newspapers are the only form of news they receive. They don’t have televisions in their homes and Internet use is forbidden. To these communities, the papers become the historical record. The iconic of photo in the Situation Room for the Bin Laden briefing will be around forever in millions of formats. However, photos that are only printed in these Haredi newspapers really will become historical documents and records of past events. Doctoring them will forever change how future generations will recall their community’s history and this misrepresentation of reality is deceitful.
This is a delicate issue and it’s important to know the facts. There have been many examples of misinformation surrounding this story. I’ve received irate phone calls from people who actually think that I was the one who removed Hillary Clinton from the photo. The Jewish Week, where I originally wrote about this, has been accused of being the newspaper that doctored the photo. Some people have even accused me of being a self-hating Jew (I’m not) for breaking the story (I didn’t) simply to criticize the Orthodox. While I don’t agree with the way women are perceived or treated in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish world, I don’t occupy my time criticizing them. However, I also don’t believe that I must remain silent about my feelings based on the principle that any critique of other Jews is damaging to the entire faith.
Here are some other examples of how the ultra-Orthodox have doctored images based on their interpretation of the laws of modesty, including replacing a woman with a gnome in an Independence Day billboard recently. As always, leave a comment to join me in this interesting conversation.

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