Jewish Celeb Harold Ramis on Groundhog Day’s Torah Metaphor

Sadly, Harold Ramis passed away yesterday at the early age of 69. Famous for so many great movies including Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Animal House, Analyze This, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Stripes. Ramis also acted and appeared in such films as Knocked Up, As Good As It Gets, Airheads and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (where he played L’chaim).
Harold Ramis - Groundhog Day and the Torah

Not a religious Jew, Harold Ramis did don a tallit and gave a terrific sermon on Rosh Hashanah at Aitz Hayim Center for Jewish Living a few years ago. Here are the videos of that presentation about Jewish creativity:

 



 

For many, Harold Ramis’ finest writing contribution was the 1993 classic Groundhog Day. In a talk at the Hudson Union Society in 2009, Ramis explained some of the allure behind Groundhog Day. While Zen Buddhists find it to be very Buddhist, Christians see the Christian metaphors in the film. The psychiatric community told Ramis that they thought the movie was a metaphor for psychoanalysis. At the 2:39 mark of this talk, Harold Ramis shares how there is a connection between Groundhog Day and the Torah. As a Jew, Ramis explains that Jews respond to the movie so well because the Torah is read anew every year and yet we see the same story with different meanings.

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Twitter Hashtag on a Wedding Kippah

Reform Jewish wedding, Conservative Jewish wedding or Orthodox Jewish wedding… they all have one thing in common — the personalized yarmulke. It’s impossible to go to a Jewish wedding and not receive a keepsake kippah with the bride and groom’s names imprinted on the inside along with the wedding date.Well, these personalized kippot have been fairly standard for a very long time. Some Jewish wedding couples choose to include the Hebrew date of the wedding along with the secular date and some couples have their names printed in Hebrew as well.

For the first time I saw a couple include a hashtag on the inside of their wedding kippahs. Hashtags are used on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Hashtags are a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) that are used to identify messages on a specific topic making it easy to search. Oftentimes at conventions, conferences, events and sports games a hashtag is recommended so users can follow the related posts.

 

Hashtag Wedding Kippah (Yarmulke)
Brian Stelter and Jamie Shupak’s wedding kippah with the #thestelters hashtag

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The Case for Making Jewish Summer Camp More Affordable

Jewish day school parents will soon be sitting in crowded movie theaters able to relate with the family on the big screen. “That’s us!” they’ll say as they watch Zach Braff and Kate Hudson star in the upcoming movie “Wish I Was Here.” In the film, which premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival and has raised over $3 million of its $2 million goal on Kickstarter, Zach Braff plays Aidan Bloom. Bloom is a struggling actor living in suburban Los Angeles with his wife (Kate Hudson) and their two children. The couple is forced to pull their children from their Jewish day school after his dad, played by Mandy Patinkin, announces he is suffering from cancer and will no longer be able to pay tuition. Rather than send them to the local public school, Braff’s character decides to home school the kids.Zach Braff co-wrote the script with his brother Adam. He told the Hollywood Reporter that it’s based on their real life childhood. “It was kind of a combination of both of our lives,” he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “We did have a very strong Conservative/Orthodox upbringing.” Many families will be able to commiserate with the challenge of affording day school tuition.

And when parents choose to send the children to Jewish overnight camp in addition to Jewish day school, the bills really start adding up. Just ask any Jewish family that sends their children to private Jewish day school and a Jewish summer camp about the affordability of such endeavors and they’ll use words such as “sacrifice,” “hardship” and “priorities.” With the cost of Jewish day school tuition for one child varying from $10,000 all the way up to $40,000 per year, more Jewish families who desire a day school Jewish education for their children are finding it cost prohibitive even with financial aid.

Add to those rising costs, the additional expense of a month or two at a Jewish summer camp and families are having to just say “no” to their kids. In the new economy, the Jewish middle class has virtually vanished. Many families who once would be considered upper middle class are forking over their tax returns hoping for subsidies to make day school and camp tuition affordable. New organizations like the Affordable Jewish Education Project (AJEP) are sprouting up seeking to imagine alternative solutions to the economic crisis. Plain and simple it’s becoming cost prohibitive to raise a Jewish family according to the values of day school and summer camp.

 

Campers and staff at Camp Tamarack in Ortonville, Michigan

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Technology for Boomers: Bridging the Tech Generation Gap

For the second year Adat Shalom Synagogue brought two generations together for “Tech Connect.” This program, conceived of by Charlotte Dubin and endowed in memory of her late husband Harold, has Jewish teens teaching the older generation about new technology. Tech Connect II took place on two Sundays at the Farmington Hills-based Conservative synagogue.
A teen and a senior at Adat Shalom Synagogue’s 2nd annual Tech Connect

 

As I did at the inaugural Tech Connect, I opened the program with some thoughts on how technology has changed our lives. After speaking about how the Internet can be used these days to do everything from purchase an airline ticket to order photo prints of grandchildren to download a new pattern for the sewing machine, I watched as savvy teens assisted computer-challenged boomers with notebook computers and tablets. It struck me that this program should be replicated around the world because there are many Boomers and seniors who do not have young grandchildren around to help learn today’s tech gadgets.

 

Randi Zuckerberg of Zuckerberg Media with Rabbi Jason Miller at CES 2014

 

In her book “Dot Complicated,” Randi Zuckerberg writes about something that many of us have recognized. The older generations learn from the younger generations when it comes to computers and technology. I can’t count the number of times an adult has remarked to me how a child taught them to use a new smartphone. Perhaps this is no different than generations ago when adults couldn’t program a VCR or answering machine and relied on their children to do it.

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Hasidic Dancing in Traffic on the Highway

A group of Hasidic students (bachurim) from Michigan were caught simcha dancing on Interstate I-80 during a four-hour traffic standstill over three years ago. However, the news report with a short video clip is once again making the rounds on the Web.Most likely this fun video has found new life following the many snow-related traffic issues around the country, most notably the traffic standstill in Atlanta which Jon Stewart dubbed “South Parked” on The Daily Show.

 

Hasidic Jewish dancing during traffic jam on interstate I-80

Watching this video reminded me of R.E.M.’s great video for “Everybody Hurts,” in which the band is stuck in a traffic jam along the double deck portions of I-10 near the I-35 Interchange in Downtown San Antonio, Texas. The music video shows the people in other cars while subtitles of their thoughts appear on screen. At the end of the video directed by Jake Scott, all the people leave their cars and walk instead; then they vanish. The video was heavily inspired by the traffic jam in the opening dream sequence of Fellini’s 8½. Instead of getting out and just walking around, these five young guys turned up the music and started dancing like they were at a freilich (fun) wedding.

I was also reminded of the time as a pre-teen when my family was driving back from Toronto and a two-hour standstill ensued on the highway. My brother and I took our baseball mitts and a baseball out of the car and started playing catch on the side of the highway. The moral of the story is that highway standstills are horrible, but you have to make the best out of the situation.

Here’s the video of the I-80 dancing.


#4 on Facebook – Arie Hasit

I was in Jerusalem in December 2012 with a dozen of my Conservative rabbi colleagues on a mission to support our sister movement in Israel — the Masorti Movement. At a lovely dinner on the first evening of our stay at the Mamila Hotel in Jerusalem I was seated next to Arie Hasit. The two of us immediately began to talk over appetizers and commenced a game of Jewish geography. Turns out we know countless mutual people. As a high school student Arie was very active in United Synagogue Youth (USY) and knew many of my colleagues who were youth directors or working for USY international headquarters in New York during Arie’s high school years. Now, Arie is a student at Machon Schechter (Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies) studying to be a Conservative rabbi and also working as the Acting Rabbi of Naom, Masorti’s youth movement.Most of my colleagues on that mission traveled back to the United States a few days later before Shabbat, but I chose to extend my stay for a Shabbat in Jerusalem. Rather than visiting friends for Shabbat I took Arie up on his kind invitation to have dinner with him and some friends at his apartment in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem.

 

The Facebook - Mark Zuckerberg - Original Screenshot
Today marks ten years since Mark Zuckerberg founded The Facebook in his Harvard dorm room.

 

It was over Shabbat dinner at his home that Arie mentioned that, like me, he was a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity. I asked him which chapter of AEPi and he told me that he attended Harvard University. I explained that I had led a Birthright Israel trip for college students at both the University of Michigan as well as Harvard back in 2004 and of course he knew many of the students on my Birthright trip. Knowing that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was also a brother of AEPi at Harvard, I asked him the obvious question: “So, were you friends with Zuck?”

That’s when Arie Hasit looked up from his salad and told me that he was Number Four. “Wait a second, you had the fourth Facebook account ever?” I asked him incredulously.

 

Rabbinical Student Arie Hasit representing the Masorti Movement at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade
(Photo Courtesy of Arie Hasit)

 

It’s a story that Arie no doubt had recounted many times since his time at Harvard. I always enjoyed telling people that I had one of the first Facebook accounts in Michigan since I had known about The Facebook and as soon as the University of Michigan was brought into The Facebook, I used my umich.edu e-mail account (I worked for Michigan Hillel) and signed up. But Arie clearly had me beat. After three of The Facebook’s co-founders created their accounts, Arie Hasit became the fourth user on the famous social networking site.
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