|Arvind Mahankali, the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee champ spelled Knaidel for the win (NBC)
The Holocaust researchers, according to the Times article, “have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945. The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington.”
It is evident that while we are several generations removed from the Holocaust there is still new information coming to light about this dark period in European Jewish history. This makes it even more difficult to find humor in comedy from such tragedy and yet there has not been a single tragedy in the world that has been free from the reach of comedy. Comedians crack jokes about 9/11, worldwide natural disasters, the Chernobyl incident, plane crashes, Space Shuttle tragedies, and horrific mass murders. A common refrain following such off-color jokes is “Too soon?” But, when really is it not “too soon” to tell a joke about a catastrophe on par with the Shoah? Where is the line of taste when it comes to humor about the Holocaust and who do we trust to draw such a line?
|An Austrian actor plays Hitler during a Berlin production of Mel Brooks’ musical The Producers (AFP/GETTY)
In the past week alone we have had to make communal judgment as to whether such comedians as Seth MacFarlane and Joan Rivers went too far in their Holocaust humor. Some have pointed to comic Sarah Silverman who has historically gotten a pass on her references to the Holocaust in her humor. Mel Brooks has famously been able to mock Hitler and the Nazis without drawing criticism. And Larry David wrote an entire episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which a Holocaust survivor and a past participant on the TV show “Survivor” argue about who endured the bigger challenge. It’s not about being Jewish and having a free pass to use Holocaust references in comedy, it’s about doing it creatively and not causing people to squirm.
In his debut as host of the Oscars, Seth MacFarlane made a Hitler reference when announcing the nominations for Best Picture, he joked about “Amour,” “The last time Austria and Germany got together and co-produced something it was Hitler, but this is much better.” The day after the broadcast of the Oscars, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), under the leadership of Abraham Foxman, went after MacFarlane more for his jokes about Jews controlling Hollywood than for this Holocaust reference, but the comedian took a lot of flack for this joke too.
Much worse than MacFarlane’s Hitler name drop was Joan Rivers’ Holocaust joke on the red carpet before the Oscars. Rivers, who is Jewish and whose late husband lost most of his family in the Shoah, deadpanned about German supermodel Heidi Klum’s dress at the Oscars, “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.” Rivers refused to apologize for the joke stating, “My husband lost the majority of his family at Auschwitz, and I can assure you that I have always made it a point to remind people of the Holocaust through humor.”
The ADL sharply criticized Rivers for her joke calling it vulgar and offensive. Abe Foxman said, “Making it worse, not one of her co-hosts made any effort to respond or to condemn this hideous statement, leaving it hanging out there and giving it added legitimacy through their silence.”
The ADL is often the litmus test for when celebrities have gone too far in making light of the Holocaust. Foxman wasted no time in issuing statements after Jesse James and Prince Harry dressed in costumes as Nazis.
Jesse James, the former husband of actress Sandra Bullock received a Nazi hat as a “gag gift” from his Jewish godfather back in 2004 and a photo of him wearing the hat and pretending to be Hitler was released in 2010. Foxman at the time called it “offensive,” “in bad taste,” “stupid behavior” and “insensitive behavior.” But Foxman clarified stating that the photo “doesn’t make him an anti-Semite.” Foxman continued, “I have more issues with his Jewish godfather who sent him this is a gift. I find that more bizarre. Why would a Jewish godfather send his godson such a gift? That’s outlandish!”
Back in 2005, photos began circulating of the young Prince Harry wearing a Nazi costume to a Halloween party. The ADL’s Foxman released a statement explaining that, “Our reaction to Prince Harry’s choice to wear a German uniform with a Nazi swastika armband was not that it was a Jewish issue. He offended all the victims of the Nazis and all who fought them, especially the British… Prince Harry’s apology should be not to England’s chief rabbi but to the British people, who suffered in the blitz and who fought valiantly against the Nazi onslaught. Prince Harry’s education should begin at home.”
There are ways to use the Holocaust in humor without getting Foxman to issue a press release. It can be done in a very tongue-in-cheek way on film or on Broadway like Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” It can also be done in a very dark yet creative way like Larry David did on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Sarah Silverman has been very successful in making fun of the Holocaust and Nazis in a shocking, yet acceptable fashion.
On stage in her movie “Jesus is Magic,” Silverman calls Nazis cute before they grow up, refers to the Holocaust as “the alleged Holocaust,” and says her grandmother had a vanity death camp tattoo on her arm that said “Bedazzled.” She tells the story of her niece who attends Hebrew School and called her up to discuss what she learned about the Holocaust. The young girl mistakenly explains that the Nazis murdered 60 million Jews during the Holocaust. Silverman corrects her saying it was actually 6 million, not 60 million to which her niece asks what difference it really makes. “Uh, the difference is 60 million is unforgivable.”
It’s a matter of style and substance. Humans need to be able to laugh; even at the incomprehensible tragedies of life. There is a certain waiting time that must occur before we are even able to laugh and no one knows precisely how long that is. When it comes to the Holocaust and humor, it’s a touchy subject. The red carpet of the Oscars wasn’t the right forum for Joan Rivers’ reference to the ovens during the Holocaust. It was both shocking and offensive. And even Seth MacFarlane himself was able to see that he could have used an alternative joke about the movie Amour that didn’t conjure up images of Hitler. Perhaps what makes talented comics like Sarah Silverman, Mel Brooks, and Larry David so successful is that they can come up with ways to use references to the horrific and make people laugh without drawing criticism for being insensitive or offensive.
After reading my words in the Huffington Post, Delmon Young’s agent Joel Wolfe sent me an email explaining that “Del is a special kid, and nothing like the animal that the NY media portrayed him to be.” About a month later I was at the same dinner as Delmon’s other agent, Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group. We spoke for a while about Delmon, and again I was told that he’s a special kid who just needs the right mentoring to stay on the path to success. I took those words to heart and decided to try and give Delmon the benefit of the doubt for the rest of the season, but it wasn’t easy. Whenever he came up to bat I felt a little uneasy and would picture the scene on the sidewalk in front of his NYC hotel. I didn’t really think he was an anti-Semite and I wanted to just forget about the whole incident, but it was difficult.
Everyone in Detroit knew that Delmon would be released by the Tigers organization at the end of the season, regardless of his postseason performance. That would prove to be accurate. Even though Delmon, as the designated hitter, batted better than his teammates in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees and won the ALCS MVP award (he was called a “class act” during the award presentation by Jackie Autry), he was still sent packing. I was happy to see him go, but I was also ready to forgive.
In Judaism, we prioritize the concept of teshuva — repentance. Delmon Young made a costly mistake back in April, but he is not an avowed anti-Semite. He was drinking too much and let his emotions get the better of him. At the end of the day, I’m sure he’s the good kid that his agents (both Jewish) say he is. And now, he’s found a new home with the Philadelphia Phillies and I wish him well (unless the Tigers are facing the Phillies in the World Series of course!).
Delmon’s ultimate punishment was not the suspension or the ten days of community service he was forced to perform, but the permanent reminder of the incident. Like Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Delmon Young will carry a negative label with him for the rest of his career and likely for the rest of his life. His signing with the Phillies this week was proof of that. The acquisition of a player like Delmon Young should have warranted a mere mention in sports articles about recent off-season transactions, not entire commentaries.
CBS Sports broke the story that the General Manager of the Phillies, Ruben Amaro, is Jewish and was unsure about signing Delmon at first. According to the article, before Amaro agreed to the $750,000 guaranteed deal (down from the $6.75 million he made with the Tigers last year), he contacted one of my colleagues (Rabbi Josh Bennett), who had several conversations with Delmon last year following the incident. Amaro also spoke with local Philly rabbis and with someone at the Philadelphia Anti Defamation League. I’m quite certain that would mark the first time a baseball GM felt the need to run a potential player contract by the Jewish community before agreeing to the deal. Amaro spoke with CBS Sports’ John Heyman by phone:
“I certainly feel comfortable with the due diligence we put together. But it’s really up to Delmon to prove us right. I’m part Jewish, so it’s a concern to me,” said Amaro, whose mother is Jewish.
Ultimately, Amaro concluded that Young shouldn’t be kept from employment with them based on one incident, no matter how ugly. “He’s not an anti-Semite. He made a mistake,” Amaro said. “Hopefully, he can move on from that.”
So, in recognition of the importance of repentance and judging others with the benefit of the doubt, I wish Delmon Young the best in Philadelphia. I don’t suspect he will find himself getting in trouble again since I wholeheartedly believe he learned his lesson well. I have my doubts about how well he’ll perform in right-field for the Phillies (his defensive skills were inadequate in Detroit), but I think he will mature into the good person that those close to him say he is. And while the Detroit chapter of the Delmon Young saga is now closed, I will continue to follow his career and pray that he does whatever he needs to do in order to stay on the right moral path during his playing years and beyond. Good luck Delmon!
Google, on the other hand, has made it much easier for developers to offer their apps in Google’s Android marketplace called Google Play. According to Google’s website users are asked to “not distribute content that promotes hatred or violence towards groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin and religion.” When Google is notified of potential policy violation, it “may” review and take action by removing or restricting content, however, it doesn’t have the same screening processes in place that Apple does for its app marketplace. Google’s checklist for app developers to submit their creations for consideration in Google Play includes the requirement that one informs Google Play users of the app’s maturity level before publish. The available content rating levels are: Everyone, Low maturity, Medium maturity, and High maturity. However, Google does not provide for apps that are created in bad taste. A Google spokeswoman explained that the company removes apps that violate its policies against hate speech.
Such is the case with a new app for users in search of inspiration from non other than Adolf Hitler. One app in the Google Play store is simply called “Adolf Hitler.” The description states, “All about Adolf Hitler. Get everything in one place – Bio, Pictures, Videos and Quotes. Not only can you get them in one place, you can share all your favorites with your friends in a click.” Another app, Infamous Adolf Hitler Quotes, proclaims: “Looking for Adolf Hitler Quotes?? Then this is the App for you!” The apps often provide a quote of the day and allow the users to search a database of anti-Semitic quotes including such things as, “Jews are like mosquitoes that suck our blood.”
While quotes from The Fuhrer are searchable throughout the Web using any search engine in any browser, mobile apps dedicated to glorifying Hitler’s hate speech are something else entirely. Hitler’s writings, famous quotes and excerpts from Mein Kampf should be readily available for research purposes on the Web, however, Google should think twice before marketing mobile apps that celebrate the words that motivated the Holocaust.
According to the Anti-Defamation League website, the free app from kutaa provides users with vile quotes attributed to Hitler and has been installed by over 10,000 users within 30 days through Google Play. The Arabic-language app, “Hitler’s Sayings,” allows users to read and share what it describes as Hitler’s “beautiful sayings that we could benefit from in our lives” via social media networks. A description of the app says, “Hitler combines the charisma of the skillful physician and the grand juggler…Read in this application all of Hitler’s sayings and share them with your friends.”
These free apps (some have been downloaded as many times as 50,000 times) are not being used by Holocaust scholars or those seeking to gain a better understanding of the Third Reich. Rather, they are being downloaded and installed to extend the reach of Neo-Nazis in the U.S. While the Arabic language app Infamous Adolf Hitler quotes from the Arab app maker kutaa seems to have been removed from Google Play (it’s still available for download at AppsZoom), other mobile apps tauting Hitler as an inspirational leader are popping up in the Android app market.
The other issue with these Hitler apps that extol the Nazi leader is the vitriolic language in the comments section on the review pages of the apps. In the user review section of one of the free English-language apps dedicated to Hitler’s quotes, one of the more than a thousand reviewers called Hitler a great moral leader. Another user writes in a review dated August 2012 that the “app is so great and useful,” and explains that he wanted to learn how Hitler was able to “kill all the yahudi people.”
In September of last year, Google removed a mobile app of the conspiracy theory book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Google eventually removed The Protocols app from its website amid a large public outcry. Google will continue to remove these apps that praise Hitler, but more Android apps will crop up to plague its app market. Google needs to be more vigilant in prohibiting such hate spewing apps from ever residing in Google Play in the first place.
Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog on The Jewish Week’s website
As the ADL prepares to mark its centennial year, it is important to remember that the ADL is unique as a national Jewish communal organization in that it wants to be able to go out of business. Unfortunately, so long as anti-Semitism exists in the world — and sadly it still does — the ADL will have to stay in business. I first became involved with the ADL as a college student when, through the Jewish Student Union, I helped organize a one-day conference on anti-Semitism. Later that summer I served an internship at the Michigan regional office of the ADL and was directly mentored by Dick Lobenthal, a national legend in the fight against prejudice, racism, and intolerance. This year I am once again finding myself actively involved with the ADL as a Glass Leadership Program participant.
|Augusta National didn’t admit its first Jewish members until the 1980s. Many local golf and country clubs in Michigan had unwritten rules restricting the members of Blacks and Jews.
Sitting in that Jewish country club last night with several hundred other supporters of the ADL’s important work, I considered the reasons that Jewish country clubs are still in existence. At a time when Jewish men and women are no longer restricted from membership at country clubs, these Jewish clubs remain throughout the country. While Jewish hospitals (Detroit’s Sinai Hospital closed several years ago) and universities (Brandeis is only about 60% Jewish today) are no longer in existence, Jewish country clubs have endured. In the Metro Detroit area there are three Jewish clubs within a five mile radius of each other.
This past summer I was asked to write an article for the Tam-O-Shanter Country Club’s newsletter about the importance of Jewish country clubs in the 21st century. Here is what I wrote:
I recently discovered that every episode of the 1980s TV sitcom “Family Ties” are available on Netflix. Growing up, I always enjoyed watching that show on Thursday nights and I thought my children might enjoy it too. So, I streamed the pilot episode which first aired 30 years ago in 1982. My 8 1/2-year-old son and I sat down and watched it together.
I was immediately reminded that the TV shows from the 80s were more values focused. This particular episode dealt with Alex Keaton’s girlfriend taking him to her family’s restricted country club for dinner. It was the first time my son had ever heard that clubs existed that restricted minorities from membership. He looked at me dumbfounded.
I pressed “Pause” on Netflix and began to explain bigotry and racism to my wonderfully innocent son. I pictured my own father explaining this to me some 30 years prior when I first viewed this episode of “Family Ties.” The first sentence I said to him was, “This is why Tam exists!”
The reason we have Jewish country clubs like Tam-O-Shanter, I explained, is because decades ago Jewish people were forbidden to join the existing golf clubs in our area. Not only did Jewish visionaries around the country build clubs for their own ranks, they created some of the most beautiful golf courses and luxurious country clubs.
Thankfully, times are much better today and local clubs are open to Jewish membership, but the Jewish clubs have endured. Not only is Tam still strong today, it has maintained its Jewish essence. Passover seders, Shabbat dinners, and break-the-fast meals are highlights of Tam’s annual calendar. Over the years, Tam has played host to several golf outings for Jewish organizations including Michigan State Hillel and the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation, in addition to hosting events for AIPAC, Jewish Senior Life, and the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. The locker room at Tam often sounds like a local version of the Broadway show “Old Men Telling Jewish Jokes” and it’s not uncommon to hear some chosen Yiddish expressions tossed around on the golf course.
As [club owner] Sheldon [Yellen] often remarks, “It’s important to keep Tam a Jewish club.” And it is. The “No Jews Allowed” policy at country clubs is a thing of the past, but Jewish clubs are still necessities for our community. After watching that episode of “Family Ties” with my son, I think he will feel a stronger connection to Tam. I know I will.
Jewish country clubs may not exist anymore in response to anti-Semitism, but their existence does remind us of a darker time in our country. I for one am glad that the Anti-Defamation League is strong and continues to serve our community to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment for all. As the ADL approaches its centennial year, we should realize the importance of this organization and celebrate its successes.
That in and of itself isn’t very newsworthy as antisemitism is still alive and well in Europe. What is newsworthy is the detail about his own history that Szegedi learned recently. He is the Jewish grandchild of Holocaust survivors. As Dave Pell, creator of NextDraft, wrote: “Mazel Tov, you idiot.”
After discovering his Jewish roots last December and going public about the discovery earlier this summer, the Hungarian politician met Hungary’s chief orthodox rabbi. Szegedi revealed this in an interview earlier this summer. The head of Jobbik, the far-right party with which Szegedi affliates, commemorated the 130th anniversary of the Tiszaeszlar blood libel, seen as one of the first anti-Semitic events in modern-era Hungary.
Szeged promised to step down from all party positions but hold on to his seat in the European Parliament. This story could end well however since Szegedi has promised to visit Auschwitz, where his grandmother had been held by Nazi soldiers. Perhaps, he’ll make the transformation of being an anti-Semite to helping to educate his Hungarian people about Judaism and the lessons of the Holocaust.
Mel Gibson’s name was brought up repeatedly after the news broke about the Detroit Tigers’ outfielder Delmon Young getting arrested in Manhattan for second-degree aggravated harassment and uttering an anti-Semitic slur while he was intoxicated. Young has been given a 7-game suspension by Major League Baseball and also placed indefinitely on baseball’s restricted list.
More details have been released concerning the altercation. According to the NY Daily News, Delmon Young was arrested for “assaulting Jason Shank following his drunken anti-Semitic rant. According to police sources, Young began screaming the offensive remarks after a panhandler wearing a Star of David and a yarmulke approached him. Shank and three friends gave the man $20 outside the hotel, which ignited Young’s racist rhetoric.”
According to reports Shank, 32, and three of his friends were visiting Manhattan from Schaumberg, a Chicago suburb, for a weekend bachelor party. Delmon Young screamed “You bunch of f—— Jews!” and then got into a fight with Jason Shank on the sidewalk outside the hotel. Young was released from jail after posting $5,000 bail after his arraignment for an aggravated harassment charge that was classified as a hate crime. According to his LinkedIn page, Shank is an international consultant for Trident Worldwide in Missouri and a regional manager for Taggart International, a company with offices in Wood Dale and Missouri. Both companies specialize in importing and exporting. Neither Shank or his bachelor party friends are Jewish.
In 2006, Delmon Young was suspended for 50 games without pay while playing for a minor league team after he threw his baseball bat at an umpire who called him out after three strikes.
Ironically, Delmon Young’s agent is Arn Tellem of the Wasserman Media Group. Tellem, a 1979 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School is Jewish. I’m not sure if Daniel J. Ollen, Young’s criminal attorney in New York, is Jewish but that would be ironic as well.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll be talking about the Delmon Young situation live on the Mojo in the Morning radio show on Channel 95.5 here in Detroit. The show will be broadcast live from a kosher pizza parlor and bagel shop in Oak Park, a suburb just outside of Detroit.
Here’s the radio podcast from the Mojo in the Morning show:
My open letter to the Commissioner was going to ask him how I’m supposed to let my children watch NBA games if this is the type of behavior they will see. I don’t need Ron Artest to be a role model for my children; they have enough positive role models in their lives already. However, I cannot in good conscience allow my children to watch a professional basketball game (or even the highlights on ESPN) if such cheap shots are going to become commonplace in the NBA without serious repercussions.
And then I saw the news today. Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young was arrested outside of the hotel where the team was staying in New York City. Young was “highly intoxicated” according to a police source and he was arrested after allegedly shoving a man to the ground and making anti-Semitic remarks. The Detroit Free Press reports that Young faces an “aggravated harassment hate crime charge” for the anti-Semitic remarks he made during the incident.
When I read the news about Young, my heart sank to the floor. My oldest son is 8. In the past year he has become a die hard Detroit Tigers fan. He knows all the players by name. He knows their uniform number and their statistics (just like I did when I was a Tigers fan at that age). How am I supposed to explain to my son that Delmon Young was drunk, got into a street fight, yelled an anti-Semitic slur and got arrested? To my son, Delmon Young is a hero. He cheers for him. He prays that Young will hit a home run when he comes up to bat. I don’t think that it ever occurred to my son (or to me for that matter) that Delmon Young hates Jews in an inebriated, full-of-rage Mel Gibson sort of way.
Thanks to the Detroit Tigers organization and specifically owner Mike Illitch and Dave Dombrowski, the teams President/CEO/General Manager, baseball has become exciting again here in Detroit. The team has really made a concerted effort to reach out to children. That is great, but it also means that the organization has a responsibility to handle this matter quickly and appropriately. Delmon Young needs to be treated for his alcohol problem and a response to Tigers fans must be made soon concerning his anti-Semitic slur.
For me, I still don’t know how I will explain this to my son or if I will at all. The bottom line is that no one is asking professional athletes to raise our children. They are great athletes and not always shining examples of virtuous human beings. However, they need to know that children are watching. Impressionable children are watching how athletes behave on the field or on the court, as well as outside of their hotels. The NBA and Major League Baseball are both doing great things to help their athletes give back to the community and be good citizens. But they have to take care of the bad apples as well. I don’t know what the appropriate punishment for Delmon Young should be, either within the Tigers organization or in Major League Baseball, but I know that a strong message has to be sent to the young fans so they know this behavior is not tolerated.