Gefilte Fish Gets Video Game

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week – NY

I thought something smelled fishy when I received an email from fellow blogger Esther Kustanowitz today. Indeed it was. I was hopeful that the skilled writer had sent me a well-crafted sermon that I could simply deliver on Rosh Hashanah morning, but instead it was only an email to inform me that her friend Asael Kahana of K/Logic had created an interactive Rosh Hashanah card that is a mashup between Gefilte fish and Space Invaders.

Yep, a mashup of Gefilte fish and the video game Space Invaders. I know, I know. You’re thinking the same thing I was thinking when I received Esther’s email. “How has it taken this long to create an interactive game that so seemlessly integrates the odd poached fish mince staple food of Jewish holidays with the Japanese arcade game created in 1978?”

As Esther explains:

Gefilte fish gets a bad rap, but is considered integral to many Ashkenazi Jewish holiday celebrations. If you’ve always hated this particular format of pureed and cooked fish, now a leading creative online marketing agency in Israel brings you your chance to shoot it down from the skies in an engaging, interactive card/video game – a mashup of the traditional mashed-up fish and the classic video game Space Invaders. Presenting…Gefilte Invaders! (You can play on the K/Logic site or below!).

“I have always had a Gefilte Fetish,” Asael Kahana, K/Logic’s creative director said. “There is something so iconic about this dish’s presentation and look. Same with the classic Space Invaders game that is a cult classic still today. I combined both because I thought that Gefilte fish may have a long tradition, yet people would really rather shoot it than eat it. The result was a great reminder of tradition and classics in an engaging interactive card for our customers.”

I admit it was fun playing this Gefilte fish version of Space Invaders and it was a wonderful procrastination from preparing for the holiday. Not to mention, I got all nostalgic as I thought back to my childhood in the early 80s popping quarters into the Space Invaders arcade game. Nevertheless, I’m still not convinced Esther sent me that email to publicize her friend’s creative Rosh Hashanah card or even to simply wish me a “Shanah Tovah!” I really think she just wanted me to visit her blog where she used the opportunity of her friend’s Geflte Invaders to tell the following joke:

When contemplating the fish populations of the ocean, how can one identify the Gefilte fish? [pause for effect]

-It’s the one with the carrot on its head”

On second thought, maybe it was Esther’s joke that smelled fishy.

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

Do Politics Belong in Sermons?

Like every other rabbi around the world I am currently hard at work on my sermons for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I’ve always enjoyed writing and public speaking, so this exercise is enjoyable rather than stressful for me. However, finding the right words to inspire the congregation during this time of year can be challenging. The basic themes of the holiday haven’t changed in thousands of years: forgiveness, relationships, being charitable, and trying to become better people.

To what extent should sermons draw on the issues of the day? I’ve always tried to bring references to pop culture into my sermons, but I have traditionally shied away from getting into politics. Dennis Prager, a political pundit who moonlights as a High Holiday sermonizer, recently published an Op-Ed in the Jewish Journal of LA in which he rails against rabbis who preach about politics on the High Holy Days. Prager claims that every year around this time listeners of his show write him to complain that their rabbis delivered sermons which included political messages. As a conservative pundit, Prager is certain to include that “Invariably, there are two constants: The rabbi is non-Orthodox, and the sermons are left wing.”

What Prager doesn’t like is when liberal rabbis include their opinion about social issues such as the recent health-care bill, for example, and frame it in the context of social justice and tikkun olam. It’s not that rabbis aren’t entitled to their opinions on these significant issues, but Prager takes exception when the rabbis use the pulpit to frame these political issues as Jewish imperatives. I happen to agree. Let me explain.

I believe that rabbis should use the pulpit to teach Torah. Teaching that we have an ethical responsibility to care for the health of all human beings is an important message and one that is appropriate to be included in a sermon. However, moving that conversation into the realm of politics by endorsing a bill under discussion in Congress is not appropriate.

Personally, I steer away from politics when I deliver sermons. I remember as a rabbinical student I was heading to Houston as a guest speaker at a large synagogue. The Torah portion for that Shabbat was Yitro, the narrative of Moses’ father-in-law offering good counsel to him and thereby improving his leadership. I had the idea to talk about other political consultants and “right-hand-men” who weren’t the leader, but made themselves indispensable to the leader because of their trustworthy advice. I planned to talk about the importance of the Cabinet to presidents and focus on two figures who were known for their good counsel, Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell. One of my teachers at the Seminary convinced me to not focus on these individuals because it could be too politically divisive to the congregation. The Democrats in the synagogue would focus on the Republican credentials of these two presidential advisers and not on my message, he reasoned. Reluctantly, I agreed to leave out these famous Secretaries of State lest my sermon be perceived as having a political message.

There are times when my own congregants will encourage me to speak about a political issue they endorse, but I respectfully decline. I’m not a politician and I’m not a political commentator. My role is use the words of the Torah and the Jewish Tradition to teach and to inspire. I remember a story my teacher Rabbi Burt Visotzky told my class at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The late NY Times columnist William Safire’s rabbi asked him why he didn’t come to shul anymore to which Safire explained, “I don’t need to come to shul to hear what Bill Safire wrote in the Times.” In other words, we rabbis should allow the political pundits to be pundits and we should use the High Holidays to inspire and encourage repentance.

Prager isn’t the only one publicly railing against rabbis using their High Holiday pulpits to push a political agenda. In the Wall Street Journal, Tevi Troy explained that each year leading up to Rosh Hashanah the Obama Administration feeds political talking points to rabbis through its annual conference call. I’ve participated in these conference calls in the past and it is true that their purpose it to provide the Administration’s position on various issues in case rabbis choose to address them in sermons. Troy points out that in 2009, President Obama “invited a group of 1,000 rabbis to discuss his health-care plan and then preach about it afterward.” I was a participant on that call and the President did in fact encourage us to speak about his health-care plan. I chose not to call in this year because I knew I wouldn’t be talking about President Obama’s jobs bill or the declaration of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.

Neither of those topics will inspire my congregants on Rosh Hashanah. If anyone wants my opinion, I’m happy to discuss it privately in the form of a discussion. However, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to use the holiday or my pulpit to endorse or reject the President’s jobs bill. I do think it’s important to get the unemployed back to work and to help find better jobs for the underemployed. As a rabbi I try to do both.

One of my colleagues who disagrees with both Prager and Troy is Rabbi Jill Jacobs. I have tremendous respect for Rabbi Jacobs and have learned much from her over the years. She has contributed greatly to the field of social justice in general and workers’ rights in particular. Writing in the Huffington Post, Jacobs, who is now the executive director of Rabbis For Human Rights-North America, titled her response to Troy “The Torah Is Political. Rabbis Can Be, Too.” Jacobs writes:

As one of the rabbis whom Troy criticizes (albeit anonymously), I want to respond to his charges.

Troy references a recent phone call for rabbis, organized by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and sponsored by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the professional organization of Reform Rabbis, on which he and I were two of the five speakers. The call featured three experts on the current economic situation — Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Ellen Nissenbaum of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Troy himself. Rabbi David Saperstein, the Director of the RAC, offered homiletic advice for speaking about contentious issues, and I presented texts that might guide sermons and teaching sessions about the economy. (Troy and I have this in common: He was the political conservative on the call, and I was the Conservative rabbi.)

Troy writes, “When I suggested that we separate politics from spirituality, a third participant pushed back, saying ‘the Torah is a political document.’ A curious assertion in a crowd that would quickly denounce any invocation of the Bible in political discussions.”

I was this third participant. I do believe that the Torah is a political document. And I would not, as Troy assumes, “denounce any invocation of the Bible in political discussions.” In fact, I passionately invoke the Bible in political discussions.

I’m not sure I’d agree with Jacobs that the Torah is a political document per se. It has a vast amount to teach us about political issues. In fact, I can’t imagine a political issue that is not treated in the text of the Torah or Talmud. However, that doesn’t mean that rabbis should be speaking about divisive political issues in High Holiday sermons. Talking about how the economy has caused more middle-class families to struggle to make ends meet let alone pay for the Jewish day schools and Jewish summer camps is appropriate in a sermon, but dissecting the President’s jobs bill should be off limits. Encouraging congregants to travel to Israel, send their teens on Israel trips, and buy Israeli art is wonderful. However, getting into the political areas of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. and the policies of the Israeli government won’t make for inspirational sermons during the Days of Awe.

The bottom line is that we are spiritual leaders and not political pundits. I heard Dennis Prager speak on Saturday night before Selichot services. Recognizing he was there in a synagogue to address the congregation before the preliminary High Holiday prayers, he steered clear of any political messages. He is a political pundit in his day job, but he didn’t take use the pulpit to push a political agenda when it wouldn’t have been the right time.

And now it’s back to sermon writing.

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

Dead Sea Scrolls Go Online

After the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave in Qumran in the winter of 1946–47 by Muhammed edh-Dhib, a Bedouin boy, and his cousin, it still took two decades until they were placed on display in a museum. Now, about 65 years after their discovery they can now be accessed online.

Today, the Israel Museum launched the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project, which provides access to high-resolution images of the scrolls, as well as additional data and background information. This is a joint project between the Israel Antiquities Authority and Google, which has a research and development center in Israel.

So far, five scrolls have been digitized: the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll and the War Scroll. It marks the first time that the collection of scrolls is being photographed in its entirety since the 1950s. The entire collection includes 900 manuscripts comprising about 30,000 Dead Sea Scrolls fragments.

“We are privileged to house in the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book the best preserved and most complete Dead Sea Scrolls ever discovered,” said James Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher director of the Israel Museum. “They are of paramount importance among the touchstones of monotheistic world culture, and they represent unique highlights of our Museum’s encyclopedic holdings. Now, through our partnership with Google, we are able to bring these treasures to the broadest possible public.”

The site allows for comments from users and offers insightful videos to further ones understanding of the scroll being viewed. The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library project is being funded with a major gift from the Leon Levy Foundation, with additional major funding from the Arcadia Foundation and the Yad Hanadiv Foundation.

Academics once had to travel to Israel to research the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the scrolls’ accessibility online should now yield an even greater amount of higher biblical scholarship in the coming years. This is not Google’s first time being involved in digitization project of this nature. Past projects have included the Google Art Project, Yad Vashem Holocaust Collection and the Prado Museum in Madrid. The scrolls are accessible online.

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

Facebook Advice from Nuns

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

As Social Media has become more popular over the past few years, an emerging field of study and consulting has emerged. All of a sudden everyone is a social media maven. The youngest employee (or intern) at law offices, accounting firms, medical practices, restaurants and non-profit organizations suddenly become the in-house social media experts charged with the task of creating Facebook pages and keeping them updated.

In most cases, it’s best to leave the social media marketing to the experts. However, there are times when advice comes from unusual places. Bernhard Warner, writing in AdAge Digital, shows that nuns in Rome may be able to teach us a lot more about social media than we probably thought. Warner, the director at the editorial consultancy Custom Communication, writes:

The power of creativity. I have to admit it’s only recently that I began looking into what religious orders, charities and religious NGOs are doing in the area of social media. What particular impresses me is the genuineness of their approach and the creativity with which they use to lay out tough messages — sacrifice, vocation, mercy, charity — in a medium filled with a lot of distractions for the typical social media user. What do I mean? Look at the tweets of Sister Christine Ereiser, a Benedictine nun from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She’s active on Twitter and is avid podcaster. By the way, her order, the Benedictine Sisters, is engaging, humorous and even cheeky at times. Go sisters! Finally, I have to point out the pioneering work of Sister Julie from Chicago, a podcaster, blogger and founder of A Nun’s Life Ministry. She provides a fascinating insight into a community of nuns that we don’t often get to see: they are avid content creators, active networkers, and, yes, very geeky!

Warner walks us through the ways in which these nuns can guide us trhough our social media usage with ethics, commitment and values. So, don’t discount advice on social media from unusual places. But that doesn’t mean that you should let the intern or a high school volunteer quarterback your social media campaign- either.

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

FaceGlat Gets Hacked Again

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

FaceGlat, the ultra-Orthodox social networking site, is an attempt to offer Haredi Jews the experience of Facebook without all the immodesty. From the opening page it reminds one of public restrooms with a sign for men to enter through one door and women to enter through their own door. FaceGlat’s name is a mashup of Facebook and glatt, the term for kosher meat considered to be a higher standard of kosher because of the source animal’s smooth lungs. The site lets users do most of the same things they can do on Facebook (post photos, set up groups, create events, and post status updates), but it filters out objectionable language and keeps the sexes totally separate.

Of course it’s not Facebook, with its billion dollar, advertising revenue stream, and 800 million accounts. There are also flaws in its attempt to keep the site totally modest. For one thing, there’s not much to keep a woman from setting up an account in the men’s section or vice versa. In terms of the language controls, users can figure out creative ways to express themselves with abusive language (alternative spellings and a few special characters from the top of the keyboard can be helpful in that regard). Apparently, there’s also no way to keep users from posting the same indiscreet photos that prompted the creation of FaceGlat in the first place. Eric Mack, reviewing the FaceGlat site for CNews, was surprised when he signed on to find a thumbnail of a mostly naked, tattooed young man with a Latino surname on his list of suggested possible friends. So, it looks like FaceGlat isn’t as pure and holy as it set out to be.

Keeping those who don’t abide by the strict modesty rules of FaceGlat off the site is no longer the site administrator’s first priority. Hackers have become more dangerous to FaceGlat than immodest people setting up user accounts. For the second time this week, pro-Palestinian protesters have hacked into the FaceGlat site and changed the homepage to read “Free Palestine” in the colors of Palestine.

FaceGat was able to regain control of its site yesterday, but the hackers have struck again. This time they’ve chosen a romantic Arabic love song with a dance beat to begin playing when the FaceGlat site is accessed. The hackers signed their handiwork as “Hacked By Challenges HackerS” with a message to the administrators of the site: “[ Sorry Admin .. But Your Security Is Down ] [ From Jordan .. Palestine HackerS ].”

The bottom of the hacked website has a message for FaceGlat: “[ This Website Has Been Hacked By Challenges-HackerS| PaLeSTiNe – HaCKeRs | , If I Can Change The Domain i will do my best but i cant , so i will just put this index here , and to tell the owner of this site that am gonna get his pc soon or later , palestine is the best of the best , we will never stop hacking , Until you stop killing our brothers and sisters and mothers in palestine , the day is coming ] . : : Challenges-HackerS : : . | | ~#~ Ml7s Hacker ~#~ DrZero Hacker ~#~ Sn!peR Hacker.”

If FaceGlat intends to maintain a modest social networking site for its ultra-Orthodox adherents it will need to invest in some strong website security. While the site was never intended to be political or especially pro-Israel, these pro-Palestinian hackers from Jordan seem adamant to use FaceGlat to post their own status update.

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

Sheldon Yellen – CEO and Mensch

Yesterday morning, we heard the words from the Torah portion Ki Tavo, which included the blessing that God shall make us the head and not the tail. This blessing is often repeated on Rosh Hashanah Eve and some even have the head of a fish on their holiday dinner table as a reminder of this blessing. According to the Torah, it is good to be the head.

That’s not always the case in the business world however. CEOs may have been blessed to be the “head” and not the “tail,” but it oftentimes seems like more of a curse. Over the past decade we’ve seen many disgraced CEOs who are not good examples of doing what’s right. We certainly wouldn’t consider the corporate heads of Enron, Tyco, Adelphia or WorldCom to be role models for our children.

There are exceptions. There are CEOs who demonstrate strong leadership skills along with ethical behavior. Several years ago I gave a sermon about Aaron Feuerstein, the CEO of Maden Mills, who after his entire plant burned down spent millions of his own money to keep all of his 3,000 employees on the payroll with full benefits for 6 months. Feuerstein consistently did the right thing even when it was difficult and he was faced with significant challenges. He claimed his strong ethical behavior and sense of justice as a corporate head were due to his faith and Talmud education.

Photo courtesy of Belfor

There is another CEO, who like Feuerstein, is striving to be a mensch and give back to his community. Sheldon Yellen, the CEO of Belfor is not your typical CEO. Tonight he’ll be at the Emmy Awards, where his episode of “Undercover Boss” is nominated for an Emmy. Sheldon went undercover in the CBS reality show “Undercover Boss” and received an education about how hard his employees work and how difficult it is for them to make ends meet. Yellen was so moved by all the lower-level employees he met that he eventually broke down and revealed himself as the CEO of the international disaster restoration company that is based in Michigan. The episode is up for an Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Reality Program.

Yellen’s episode of “Undercover Boss” is a long shot to win an Emmy tonight against the other nominees including “Hoarders,” “Antiques Roadshow,” “Deadliest Catch,” Kathy Griffin’s show, and an episode of “MythBusters” guest starring President Obama. But while Yellen may not win an Emmy tonight, he is quite deserving of a mensch award.

In the episode of “Undercover Boss,” Sheldon demonstrated strong moral character and was able to show his emotions on national TV. Sheldon learned a great deal about his employees, their passion for the job, and how hard they work to support their families. He came off as an inspirational leader and the episode proved to be an important lesson for the upcoming Jewish holidays. I’m not the only rabbi who noticed that Sheldon’s experience of going undercover is a lesson for all of us as we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Sheldon recently received a phone call from a Connecticut rabbi asking him to be the guest speaker at the community’s Selichot services this year. In his typical humble fashion, Sheldon couldn’t understand why the rabbi would want him to speak. However, he agreed and will be the featured speaker at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Bridgeport this Saturday night. He’ll speak about his journey from a challenging childhood in Detroit to becoming a wealthy businessman and philanthropist. He’ll also talk about system of values he draws on as a CEO.

Yellen and his three brothers were raised on Welfare by their mother in Detroit during the 1950s. Their father was a great person, but became sick and eventually developed an addiction to methadone after having nine stomach operations in the course of only two years. Growing up in an affluent Jewish community in which he and his brothers had to work from a very young age and with a father who was in prison (for dealing drugs) was difficult for Yellen. He told me that his mother didn’t have enough money to belong to a synagogue or send Sheldon to Hebrew School, but right before he turned thirteen she decided that it was important for him to have a bar mitzvah. An Orthodox synagogue agreed to let him have a bar mitzvah, but he didn’t have the Hebrew background. He was called to the Torah for his aliyah with the blessings transliterated in English on a piece of paper. The Orthodox men were expecting him to actually read from the Torah. It is a memory that has lasted with Yellen to this day.

In the past year Sheldon Yellen has made lasting contributions to his community. He bought a financially distressed private Jewish country club in order to keep its Jewish roots alive. He also funded a Toledo, Ohio-based yeshiva that had run out of living space for its young students. He was able to donate enough money so that the yeshiva could move into a new facility in suburban Detroit with enough room for both study and living quarters for its students. Yellen has also committed himself to Torah study at the local Detroit Kollel. The Jewish education he missed out on as a child is now one of his top priorities.

In addition to his philanthropy, Yellen has proved himself to be a very generous individual on a personal level. Recently, Michael Kenwood, a 39-year-old New Jersey volunteer EMT, was killed during Hurricane Irene while trying to save others’ lives. That hero’s sister-in-law is Amy Margolis of Birmingham, Michigan. When Amy and her family were unable to get a flight to New Jersey for her relative’s funeral because of the hurricane, they had no choice but to get in the car and drive. She was already on the road making the Michigan-New Jersey trek when she received a call from Sheldon Yellen who offered to meet them on the road and escort them to the airport where they would board one of his two private jets.

Margolis was quoted in the Detroit Jewish News saying that Yellen’s act of kindness makes him a mensch and an angel. “I didn’t do anything anybody else wouldn’t have done,” Sheldon Yellen said.

In an era when CEOs don’t always do the right thing and often act immorally, it is refreshing to see Sheldon Yellen demonstrate that a CEO can also be a mensch and a role model. While he might not win an Emmy Award tonight, he certainly has made a positive difference in his own company and in his community. He’s made a fortune restoring properties, but Sheldon Yellen might just have enough integrity and generosity to restore the reputation of our nation’s disgraced CEOs.

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

Gene Simmons in Israel

Here’s my recent article for JTA.org


The most well-circulated piece of trivia about Gene Simmons, former member of the band KISS, is that he was born in Haifa, Israel. For years Simmons’ birthplace and Israeli heritage were rumored to be true, but in the Digital Age it would be confirmed with Wikipedia and video interviews on YouTube.

Now there is no question that the aging rock star, who is starring in his own reality TV show, “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” traces his roots to Israel.

In back-to-back recent episodes, Simmons ventures back home to Haifa. With son Nick and soon-to-be wife Shannon Tweed, a former Playboy Playmate, along for the trip, Simmons takes an El Al jet to Tel Aviv en route to his birthplace, where he receives the City of Haifa’s Medal of Honor from the mayor.

Simmons had left Israel as an 8-year-old, moving to the United States with his mother, a survivor of Auschwitz.

In the episode appropriately titled “Blood is Thicker than Humus,” Simmons explains that he is reluctant to return to Israel, but his fiancee convinces him to go. When he arrives at his hotel, the cameras are in tow for his first experience speaking to Israelis.

Using a perfect Hebrew accent, Simmons checks into the hotel with the pseudonym Oy Vey. But it isn’t long until the memories of his childhood lead him to a very emotional moment when he proclaims, “Hashem sheli [my name is] Chaim Veitz,” using his birth name Weitz and expressing that he would be nothing without his birthplace.

Simmons and his entourage get a VIP tour of the important sites in Israel, including Yad Vashem and the Western Wall. He also visits Cafe Nitza, the bakery where his mother worked. Sitting down to enjoy a pastry, the aroma from the cafe revives memories for Simmons.

On a nostalgic tour of his childhood, Simmons visits Rambam Hospital, where he was born in 1949. He returns to his childhood house in Haifa and speaks in Hebrew with Chaya Cohen, his neighbor growing up.

The most poignant segment of the two episodes is the reunion dinner secretly convened by Tweed that allows Simmons to meet his Israeli family 50 years since he left the country. He meets his half-brother and three half-sisters for the first time. Together with his half-siblings — his father’s children from subsequent marriages — Simmons visits their father’s grave and says the Kaddish memorial prayer.

Say what you will about reality TV, the Gene Simmons nostalgia tour to Haifa is must-see television before the High Holidays. If watching a former rock star tour Israel as the distant memories come back in a cloud of nostalgia doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps the message of reconnecting with family will.

As Simmons puts his father’s yarmulke on his head, he suddenly realizes how important his roots are to him.

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

Apple Removes Jewish App in France

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The NY Jewish Week

It’s the age old question: Is so-and-so Jewish or not? I’m not talking about the controversial “Who is a Jew” question that gets into matters of lineage. Rather, the dinner party question of whether a celebrity is Jewish or not.

Occasionally I blog about Jewish celebrities here and I peek at the analytics that show what search strings people used to land on my blog. There is an overwhelmingly high number of referrals to my blog from searches from all over the world like these: “Is Justin Bieber Jewish?” “Is Madonna Jewish?” “Is Bruce Springsteen Jewish?” “Is Lenny Kravitz Jewish” “Is Benjamin Millepied Jewish” and so on. What does that mean? It means that people from all over the globe are curious about which celebrities are Jewish.

Well, if people are curious about which celebrities are Jewish and which aren’t… There’s an app for that. But not in France anymore.

The French version of the “Jew or Not Jew” app, called “Juif ou pas Juif?” in French, was selling for 0.79 euro cents ($1.08) in France when Apple decided to kill it. An organization in France called SOS Racisme argued that the app, which was designed by a Jewish man, violated French laws banning the compiling of people’s personal details without their consent. Apple agreed. The app still sells outside France, including in Apple’s U.S. App Store where its price is $1.99.

SOS Racisme released a statement explaining that it called on Apple to remove the app from its online store and to be more vigilant about the applications it sells. In an interview, published Wednesday in Le Parisien newspaper, the “Jew or Not Jew?” app developer Johann Levy said he developed the app to be “recreational.”

“I’m not a spokesman for all Jews, but as a Jew myself I know that in our community we often ask whether a such-and-such celebrity is Jewish or not,” Levy, a 35-year-old Franco-British engineer of Jewish origin said. “For me, there’s nothing pejorative about saying that someone is Jewish or not. On the contrary, it’s about being proud.” Levy said he compiled information about famous people around the world from various online sources.

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

Bread Art Project

I’m a big fan of creative ways to raise money for good causes. One winning idea belongs to the Bread Art Project, which allows anyone to create their own artwork on a piece of bread (toasting is a personal preference!).

The Bread Art Project will help the more than 17 million children in America who struggle with hunger. Every approved submission yields a dollar donation from the Grain Foods Foundation to Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit committed to ending childhood hunger in America. This organization connects children with the nutritious food they need to lead healthy, active lives.

Here’s my submission:

By creating your own bread artwork you can help ensure that every child in America has the nutritious food they need to lead healthy, active lives. To learn more about the Grain Foods Foundation, visit gowiththegrain.org.

I plan on contacting the Bread Art Project to recommend altering their project for eight days this spring. I envision it looking something like this:

Hat tip to Amanda Fisher of Brogan and Partners for introducing me to the Bread Art Project

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

Yad LaKashish Turns 50

One of my favorite places to go in Jerusalem is Yad LaKashish (Lifeline for the Old). It is a wonderful organization that truly honors the elderly of Israel while also providing a special experience for tour groups.

Rosh Hashanah this year marks Yad LaKashish’s 50th anniversary. It is truly remarkable how this tzedakah (charity) project has grown. I was first introduced to Yad LaKashish in the summer of 1994 when “The Tzedakah Man” Danny Siegel took a handful of us teens from my USY Israel Pilgrimage group there. We could choose from a list of charitable organizations and I chose Yad LaKashish on a friend’s recommendation. At the time, all I knew about the place was that they sold funny looking tallit (prayer shawl) bags that looked like animal puppets.

Walking through the different craft rooms I was amazed at what these busy elderly artisans were creating. Senior citizens from all walks of Israeli life were putting their talents to work at a time when many of their contemporaries were enjoying their retirement and moving into homes for the aged. I remember seeing the pride on the faces of the Ethiopian and Russian immigrants who brought their artistic ideas from their home country and were able to see their crafts being sold in the Yad LaKashish gift shop.

Yad LaKashish has been able to help needy senior citizens with its unique method of restoring a sense of pride and purpose. These poor and sometimes disabled elderly are able to remain active members of society. Today, the monthly stipend Yad LaKashish provides for these elderly artisans has more than tripled thanks to generous donations from around the world (they don’t receive government funding). In addition to the stipend and holiday bonuses, Yad LaKashish is able to offer meals, transportation and subsidized eye and dental care to the workers. They also take all the elderly artisans on a free day trip outside of Jerusalem.

I try to put Yad LaKashish on the itinerary of every group I take to Israel. I enjoy seeing the smiles on the faces of the visitors as we tour the facility. Those smiles continue as the group goes on a spending spree in the gift shop buying all the beautiful jewelry, crafts and Judaica that these proud and talented men and women created. To donate to Yad LaKashish or shop in their online store visit http://lifeline.org.il.

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