Bar Mitzvah Reflections for Drake on SNL

Yesterday morning in synagogues throughout the world the Jewish people read the portion of the Torah called Yitro. Named for the Medianite priest who became father-in-law to Moses, Yitro (or Jethro) was also a trusted adviser to the Israelite leader. While it doesn’t mention this in the Torah, it is possible that Yitro had black skin which likely meant that Moses was married to a Black woman thereby making them the first bi-racial marriage in the Torah. Today, the most famous rapper with bi-racial Jewish-Black heritage is Drake, who has a White Jewish mother and a Black father.

Last night Drake hosted the year’s first Saturday Night Live show and Jewish and Black stereotypes were getting tossed a mile a minute during his opening monologue. The famous rapper opened the show by explaining that he’s from Canada, was in the TV show Degrassi Junior High, and that his mother is Jewish and his father is Black.

Drake hosting Saturday Night Live - SNL on NBC

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Shaquille O’Neal Says Shabbat Shalom & Other Hebrew Phrases

A few years ago I saw one of those quick “catch a celebrity getting into his car” video clips on TMZ.com in which NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal walked out of a restaurant and wished all his Jewish friends a L’shanah Tovah. It was right before Rosh Hashanah and it was circulated pretty quickly around the Web.

I had forgotten about that video when I asked Shaq to say “Shabbat Shalom” into my cellphone yesterday. My friend and fellow native Detroiter Lisa Lis got me hooked on video recording celebs saying those two Hebrew words a couple years ago and I’ve already collected several which I uploaded to my YouTube.com channel.

Shaquille O'Neal with Rabbi Jason - Shaq Speaks Hebrew

Yesterday at CES in Las Vegas I heard a wonderful interview with Russell Simmons, the Hip Hop pioneer and entrepreneur. After the interview he graciously offered a “Shabbat Shalom”. After meeting Russell, who is the president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding along with Rabbi Marc Schneier who serves as chairman, I had the opportunity to meet Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent. Something told me that he wouldn’t be so into saying Shabbat Shalom, but Shaq was more than willing. In fact, he took the time to ask me what “Shabbat Shalom” means and when it’s appropriate to say it. He even surprised me with some other Hebrew phrases (“Baruch Hashem” and “L’shanah Tovah”). Shaq and I shmoozed for a while inside the Monster booth at CES. When he saw the large American Express bag I was carrying with me, he asked where I got it because he needed a large bag to carry his gifts from Monster. I gave him the bag and in return he presented with me a nice pair of Monster DNA Pro headphones. A great deal!

I suppose had I gotten 50 Cent to say “Shabbat Shalom” on video it would have been the triple trifecta of Shabbat Shalom greetings in one day from three uber-successful entrepreneurs in the African American community. All three gentlemen struck me as very impressive, nice guys who are each doing great things to promote technology and entertainment in the 21st century.

The Shabbat Shalom videos of Shaq and Russell Simmons are below:

Non-Jews Doing Hanukkah

A couple years ago I wrote about non-Jews observing certain Jewish customs. I looked at such examples as Justin Bieber reciting the Shema in Hebrew before each concert as well as non-Jews maintaining kosher diets, hanging mezuzahs on their front doors, dancing the Hora at weddings and erecting sukkahs.

The new trend seems to be non-Jewish celebs adopting Hanukkah rituals. While conservative pundits in the media claim there is a war on Christmas, just the opposite seems to be true about Hanukkah. More menorahs are being displayed in the public square. Chabad Lubavitch has politicians and celebrities light super-sized menorahs. Even Gene Robinson, a gay Bishop, brought a Hanukkah gift of dreidels to Jon Stewart when he visited the Daily Show during the holiday. And a call for new Hanukkah songs has been answered by a rapper.

Heeb asks, “Has Hanukkah become the must-be-seen celebration for the hip and famous, regardless of semitic bona-fides?” What prompted that question was a simple tweeted photo from singer/actress Zooey Deschanel, who is Roman Catholic. Deschanel’s tweet said “Happy Chanukah y’all!!!” and was linked with an Instagram photo of her lighting the Hanukkah menorah. That photo has received close to 100,000 likes on Instagram.

During the Hanukkah holiday this year, we also saw one NBA team pay tribute to their Jewish fans. The Houston Rockets posted a video of their players singing the Dreidel song. Some of the players really got into the spirit. The video includes former New York Knicks surprise star Jeremy Lin, but the highlight is Carlos Delfino who seems to have a lot of fun singing about the dreidel he made.


Jimmy Fallon also got into the Hanukkah holiday spirit by singing a dreidel parody to the tune of Flo Rida’s “Whistle” song. With Rashida Jones, who is Jewish, Fallon pulled a dreidel out of his pocket and began signing, “Can you spin my dreidel baby, dreidel baby, let me know. Girl I know that you’re not Jewish so I’ll start real slow. Then Rashida Jones sings, “Just put your fingertips together and you say Shalom.”

The ultimate in non-Jews doing Hanukkah this holiday season has to be the recently released Hanukkah rap by Too $hort, one of West Coast hip hop’s pioneers. While Too $hort might be best known for his hit song “The Ghetto,” his Hanukkah rap might catch on (at least in Jewish high schools). Too $hort released the Hanukkah rap song exclusively on TMZ.com and it can be listened to here. He’s not the first non-Jew to release a Hanukkah song of course. The Barenaked Ladies have sung several Hanukkah songs and rock band Incubus put out a nice Hanukkah song back in 2007.
So while many Jewish parents complain that not enough emphasis is placed on Hanukkah during the winter holiday season, many non-Jewish celebs have catapult the Jewish holiday into the mainstream. Maybe rapper Too $hort wouldn’t be Jewish parents first choice to sing about Hanukkah, but the thought is there. Hanukkah will never be as popular as Christmas, but the Jewish holiday about the miracle of light and an unforeseen victory over the tyrant Greco-Roman army is getting its due in pop culture.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Top Yom Kippur Apologies of the Year

Yom Kippur begins on Tuesday evening next week and it will mark the 5,773rd year (give or take) that Jews will reflect on their misgivings and seek to be better in the coming year. It’s also an ideal day for apologizing for wrongdoing.

I love the list that JTA compiled of the top apologies of the year. They might not have all been heartfelt or sincere, but they were interesting nevertheless.

Of course, Detroit’s own Delmon Young made the list after apologizing for his anti-Semitic rant outside the Detroit Tigers’ Manhattan hotel this past spring. I think we’re still waiting for apologies from Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger for banning Rep. Lisa Brown from speaking on the floor of the Michigan House for using the word “vagina” a few months ago. And an apology might be appropriate from the owner of a clothing store in India that goes by the name “Hitler”.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.)

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.)

For skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee during a congressional visit to Israel.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

 The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

For circulating unsubstantiated claims about casino magnate and Republican Party donor Sheldon Adelson.

Peter Madoff

Peter Madoff, brother of Bernie Madoff

For helping deceive investors in his brother Bernie’s Ponzi scheme.

Yeshivah College of Melbourne, Australia

Yeshivah College of Melbourne, Australia

For not doing enough to stop sexual abuse in its midst.

Detroit Tigers outfielder and DH Delmon Young

 Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young

For launching into an anti-Semitic tirade at a New York hotel.

Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure

 Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure

For initially suspending funding for Planned Parenthood.

Andrew Adler, former owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times

 Andrew Adler, former owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times

For an opinion column in which he counted President Obama’s assassination as among Israel’s options in heading off a nuclear Iran.

The East End Madrassah, a Toronto Islamic school

The East End Madrassah, a Toronto Islamic school

For teaching students about “crafty” and “treacherous” Jews.

Tehmina Adaya, owner of the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica, Calif.

Tehmina Adaya, owner of the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica, Calif.

For not being quicker to address charges that her hotel had discriminated against pro-Israel activists.

Texas state Rep. Larry Taylor

 Tehmina Adaya, owner of the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica, Calif.

For saying “don’t try to Jew them down” during a public hearing.

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone

For being disparaging in a meeting with Jews.

Wodka Vodka

Wodka Vodka

For putting up billboards with the slogan “Christmas Quality, Hanukkah Pricing.”

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

David Arquette’s Bar Mitzvah Was a Scream

Jewish celebs having bar mitzvah celebrations seems to be a trend in Hollywood these days. Most recently, Drake celebrated a second bar mitzvah during the filming of a music video in Miami. Actor Kirk Douglas famously celebrated his second bar mitzvah in December 1999 at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles on the occasion of his 83rd birthday (it’s a tradition to have a second bar mitzvah at 83).

Of course there have also been famous fictional bar mitzvah celebrations like “Krusty the Klown’s Wet ‘n’ Wild Bar Mitzvah” on “The Simpsons” and Ari Gold’s daughter’s bat mitzvah on “Entourage”.

Today it was announced that actor David Arquette had a bar mitzvah at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem. The last newsworthy bar mitzvah at the Kotel was in May 2010 when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (then Obama’s Chief of Staff) brought his family to the Old City of Jerusalem to have his son’s bar mitzvah.

David Arquette is currently in Jerusalem shooting an episode of his “Mile High” show, which airs on the Travel Channel. While in Jerusalem, Arquette attended a bar mitzvah ceremony and was asked if he would like to have one as well. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, officiated at the ceremony in which Arquette wore a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl) and tefillin (prayer phylacteries). Two years ago, Arquette told the Jewish Journal, “I wanted a bar mitzvah but didn’t have one as a kid… maybe for my 40th birthday.”

According to the Jewish Or Not blog, David Arquette is Jewish. His mother was born Jewish and is the daughter of a Polish Holocaust survivor. Arquette’s father converted to Islam. Arquette has been married to actress Courtney Cox, who starred in “Friends” television sitcom and co-starred with Arquette in the “Scream” films.

On his personal Twitter account, Arquette posted: “I had my bar mitzvah today at the wall. Finally I’m a man.”

If anyone would like to plant a tree in honor of David Arquette’s bar mitzvah, simply click this link.

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

Muhammad Ali Attends Grandson’s Bar Mitzvah

Jacob Wertheimer becoming a bar mitzvah this past April at Philly’s Congregation Rodeph Shalom synagogue doesn’t sound like a newsworthy story. It does make news when the proud grandfather is The Champ.

Muhammad Ali’s grandson Jacob Wertheimer was called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah at a small service of only about 150 people. Jacob is the son of Ali’s daughter Khaliah Ali-Wertheimer and Spencer Wertheimer, an attorney. Ali was in the congregation watching with pride according to the Sweet Science boxing website in an article written by Muhammad Ali’s personal biographer Thomas Hauser, as reported by JTA. There was no mention of whether the bar mitzvah boy floated like a butterfly or stung like a bee on the bimah.

Jacob Wertheimer, Muhammad Ali’s grandson on vacation with his parents

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay and raised as a Baptist, but famously converted to Islam in the 60s. Ali’s daughter Khaliah was raised as a Muslim. According to her, the young Jacob was given a choice and without pressure from his parents, “he chose this on his own because he felt a kinship with Judaism and Jewish culture.” It sounds like Judaism won by a decision!

Khaliah Ali-Wertheimer also mentioned that it “meant a lot to Jacob” that his grandfather Muhammad Ali was in attendance. According to JTA, the theme of the bar mitzvah party was diversity and inclusiveness.

On the occasion of The Champ’s 70th birthday, JTA’s archivist Adam Soclof compiled a list of articles chronicling Ali’s bouts and bonding moments with the Jewish community dating back to 1970. Ali has made some critical comments about Israel over the years, but is still widely respected in the Jewish community. Perhaps Ali’s Jewish grandson will travel to Israel and change his grandfather’s sentiments.

While Billy Crystal has always amused me with his dead-on impersonation of Muhammad Ali, this scene from Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America” is a personal favorite:

Mazel Tov to Muhammad Ali and his entire family on Jacob’s bar mitzvah!

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

Mark Zuckerberg Eats Kosher in Rome

I’m all for letting Mark Zuckerberg and his new wife Priscilla Chan honeymoon in peace, but I couldn’t resist blogging about two noteworthy events that occurred during the newlyweds’ Italian vacation.

First, the Facebook Founder and CEO took his bride to a *kosher restaurant in the Jewish area in Rome. The couple dined at Nonna Betta where they spent 32 euros on lunch. There’s no word on why Zuckerberg decided to visit the Jewish section of Rome or why he and Priscilla chose a kosher restaurant for lunch.

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan at a kosher restaurant in Rome.

At Nonna Betta, Zuckerberg and Chan ate traditional Roman Jewish delicacies including deep-fried artichokes, fried pumpkin flowers and ravioli stuffed with sea bass and artichokes. To drink they each had a glass of water and shared a pot of hot tea.

In addition to Zuck’s decision to eat kosher (“When in Rome!”) the second notable aspect of the couple’s Roman visit was the young billionaire’s failure to tip at the restaurant. Waiters at Nonna Betta reported that Zuckerberg acknowledged he was Mark Zuckerberg and then neglected to leave a gratuity. That’s an odd omission from someone who’s portfolio increases by approximately a billion dollars every time the Facebook stock goes up two points (since its IPO the stock has actually decreased by about 25%).

The restaurant receipt from Mark Zuckerberg’s lunch at a kosher restaurant in Rome.

It’s possible that Zuckerberg thinks that it’s unnecessary to tip in Rome since he reportedly didn’t leave a tip the night before at a dinner at Pierluigi (not kosher), a historic trattoria in the heart of Rome. In all fairness to Zuckerberg, it doesn’t look like there was any place to add a tip on the receipt (above).

Perhaps Zuckerberg and Chan will continue to seek out kosher fare when they return to Palo Alto. On behalf of the waitstaff I just hope he learns to tip!

*UPDATE: Nonna Betta restaurant in Rome is no longer certified kosher. Tourists should consult a local rabbi regarding the kosher status of this restaurant.

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

Mark Zuckerberg Gets Interfaith Married to Priscilla Chan

In the run up to the big Facebook initial public offering this past week, the media went Facebook crazy and tried to get interviews from everyone who has ever been connected to Mark Zuckerberg. Of course that included the rabbi of his childhood congregation.

In an article on The Scarsdale Daily website, Rabbi David Holtz of Temple Beth Abraham was quoted about his memories of Mark Zuckerberg attending his Reform temple in Tarrytown, New York. Rabbi Holtz reminisced about Zuckerberg’s family and recalled the Facebook founder’s “Star Wars” themed bar mitzvah fifteen years ago. Rabbi Holtz also mentioned a congregational trip to Israel that the Zuckerberg family took when Mark Zuckerberg was fifteen-years-old. Rabbi Holtz called Zuckerberg a thoughtful and insightful teen. I don’t know if Zuckerberg plans to donate any of his fortune to the synagogue of his youth, but hopefully, at the very least, he’ll be willing to help the congregation improve its website.

As if this week wasn’t already exciting enough for Zuckerberg with his billion dollar company going public, he also made a very important change to his Facebook profile’s status tonight when he updated it to “Married”. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Timeline now features the headline “Married Priscilla Chan” (with over 1 million likes). With that update, Zuckerberg is added to the list of famous Jews who have married outside of the faith.

Apparently the timing of the wedding had no connection to Facebook’s IPO. Rather, the couple was waiting for Priscilla Chan to graduate from medical school at the University of California San Francisco. Zuckerberg’s bride graduated on Monday from UCSF Medical School, which was coincidentally Zuckerberg’s 28th birthday.

Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan were married earlier today in a small ceremony in the backyard of his Palo Alto home. There is no word yet on who officiated the ceremony. However, I know the family has a nice relationship with Rabbi Laura Baum of Congregation Beth Adam and OurJewishCommunity.org (she’s also my colleague through the CLAL Rabbi’s Without Borders fellowship). Rabbi Baum officiated at the bris of Mark Zuckerberg’s nephew Asher a year ago. It is possible that Rabbi Baum officiated at the wedding through her connection with Zuckerberg’s sister and brother-in-law Randi Zuckerberg and Brent Tworetzky.

As an adult Mark Zuckerberg has claimed he is an atheist, so it is also possible that his wedding ceremony was not officiated by a rabbi, but was a completely secular ceremony conducted by a justice of the peace, or even a friend who became licensed in California for the occasion.

According to the AP, the wedding guests all thought they were coming to celebrate Priscilla Chan’s graduation from medical school, but were told after they arrived that the event was in fact a wedding. From the wedding photo released by Facebook, it does not appear that Mark Zuckerberg was wearing a yarmulke as he did at his sister Randi’s wedding to Tworetzky on a beach a few years ago.

I’m sure that more information will be released about Zuckerberg’s wedding this coming week. Of course, the big question for the Jewish community will be whether Zuckerberg and Chan plan to raise their future children in the Jewish faith. In other words, will a future Zuckerberg heir also have a “Star Wars” themed bar mitzvah?

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

RIP Adam Yauch (MCA) – Jewish and Buddhist

Back in 1987 at Camp Tamarack, I remember a couple of friends and I decided to sing “Paul Revere” for a talent show. “Only if I can be MCA,” I recall saying to my two fellow campers. There was something about MCA that I always liked.

Three Jewish white boys at a Jewish summer camp pretending to be three Jewish white boy rappers called The Beastie Boys. We knew every word from every song on the License to Ill cassette tape. We didn’t understand every word the Beasties were singing, but we loved their mantra: “Fight For Your Right to Party.”

I flashed back to that summer earlier today when I heard the horrible news that Adam Yauch (“MCA”) had succumbed to his cancer fight and passed away. A friend of mine who attended the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony told me last week that he heard that Adam Yauch was nearing the end of his life. I was moved when my friend told me that in a true act of solidarity the other two Beastie Boys Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz refused to perform in Cleveland at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony without MCA. In fact, they refused to ever perform again until Yauch beat his cancer.

Adam Yauch was born to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, but as an adult Yauch practiced Buddhism making him the world’s most popular JewBu. In recent years, he took an active role in the promotion of the Tibetan freedom cause. In addition to his successful career as MCA of the Beastie Boys, Yauch will also be remembered as an independent film maker. Under the pseudonym “Nathanial Hörnblowér” Yauch directed many of the Beastie Boys’ music videos.

Many times when we hear of the premature death of a music star it is related to a drug overdoes, an tragic accident, a murder or a suicide. Adam Yauch’s death at only 47 should remind us all of the need to support the fight against cancer and to fund research efforts to find a cure. Condolences to the wife and daughter Yauch leaves behind as well as to his fellow Beasties Horovitz and Diamond. Rest in peace MCA!

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

Drake’s Bar Mitzvah (Again)

In Judaism when a Jewish man turns 83 he ceremoniously celebrates his bar mitzvah for the second time. The reason for this is that Judaism believes that the length of a man’s life is 70 years so at 83-years-old he symbolically turns 13 once again. Aubrey Drake Graham, AKA “Drake”, is only 26 and far from the traditional age of getting a re-do on the bar mitzvah ceremony, but that didn’t stop the Jewish rapper from having what he has termed a “re-bar mitzvah”.

Apparently, last fall on October 24, 2011 (a Monday) Drake decided to have a re-bar mitzvah as a re-commitment to the Jewish religion. We learn this from Drake’s new music video for his song “HYFR” (look it up!). The video opens with footage of a cute little Drake as a child at a friend or relative’s bar mitzvah saying “mazel tov” to the camera. There is also video footage of the young Drake dancing at the bar mitzvah.

The next part of the music video shows the outside of Temple Israel, a Reform congregation in Miami. The camera then takes us inside Temple Israel where we see Drake’s bar mitzvah ceremony, including his reading from the Torah after kissing the the inside of the scroll with the tzitzit (fringes) of his tallit (prayer shawl).

Then things get a little crazy and become more typical of a rap video. Of course Drake gets lifted in a chair for the traditional Horah dance, but there is also the debauchery one would expect of a party attended by the likes of Lil Wayne (in a panda suit!), Trey Songz, Birdman and DJ Khaled.

Drake with a bottle of Manischewitz wine next to a guy wearing a JCC basketball jersey.

According to an interview with Drake (whose mother is Jewish), his original bar mitzvah took place in a nice Italian restaurant where he wore a yarmulke and read from his “portion”. However, he says he never went to Hebrew School (“I cheated!”). Perhaps that’s why he was eager to have a “re-bar mitzvah” in October. Matisyahu once said about Drake: “He’s Jewish, but he’s not representing Judaism. He happens to be Jewish just like Bob Dylan happened to be Jewish, but what I’m doing is really tapping into my roots and culture, and trying to blend that with the mainstream… Drake’s being Jewish is just a by-product.”

The “HYFR” video is too explicit for this blog, but it is available on YouTube by searching for “Drake” and “Bar Mitzvah”.

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