Alan Dershowitz Sees Potential in "Curb" Episode

When I blogged about Larry David’s brilliant “Palestinian Chicken” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, I focused on the role that the yarmulke played in that episode and didn’t really get into the meatier (get it?) issue that chicken can potentially play in Israeli-Palestinian relations. I figured someone would find value in that comical episode and try to use it to bring the two sides in the Mid-East crisis together for dialogue. I was just surprised when I heard it was Alan Dershowitz.

Speaking with Prof. Alan Dershowitz in my office at the
University of Michigan Hillel Foundation in 2005.

In an interview with the Columbia Current, Dershowitz explained his role in making sure Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu saw the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode:

“I recently sent a copy of ‘Palestinian Chicken,’ that Larry David gave me, to Prime Minister Netanyahu — with the suggestion that he invite Abbas over to watch it together,” he said, referring to the episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” centered around the heated competition between a kosher deli and a Palestinian chicken joint in Los Angeles. “And maybe if they both get a good laugh, they can begin a negotiating process … So it may be that Larry David will not only win Emmys, but he may even qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize, if his episode could bring together Netanyahu and Abbas, and bring Abbas to the negotiating table.”

Was it a coincidence that Larry David named the Palestinian Chicken restaurant
Al-Abbas or was it a wink at Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority?

Wow! I really think it would be fun to watch Abbas and Netanyahu viewing that episode of Curb together. The only thing that would top that would be if Larry David, Jeff Garlin and Bob Einstein were there in the room too. What would they all be eating during the viewing? Obviously, (kosher) Palestinian chicken!

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

Yom Kippur at Occupy Wall Street

Yesterday, hundreds of young Jews were on a 25-hour hunger strike at Occupy Wall Street. Okay, so it was actually a Yom Kippur fast.

Kol Nidre on Wall Street (photo: Damon Dahlen / AOL)

What was so meaningful about Friday night’s “Occupy Wall Street” Kol Nidrei services in front of Brown Brothers Harriman on Broadway at Liberty Plaza was how it stood in stark contrast to an earlier episode at Occupy Wall Street. Daniel Sieradski explained on his blog that two individuals (he didn’t use “individuals”) “were caught on video at Occupy Wall Street saying profoundly awful, stupid things about Jews, one of whom was consistently heckled and challenged by those around him.” Contrast that act of anti-Semitism to Friday night’s Kol Nidrei service across from Zuccotti Park attended by approximately 1,000 people. It was in the same place where the anti-Semitic comments were made days earlier.

The Rabbinical Assembly, of which I’m a member, donated machzorim (High Holiday prayerbooks) for the prayer service. It was led by Avi Fox Rosen (Storahtelling), Sarah Wolf (JTS), and Getzel Davis (Hebrew College), who are being assisted in preparations by Yosef Goldman (JTS) and Rabbi Ezra Weinberg (RRC).

Sieradski correctly complains that more media attention is being paid to the anti-Semitic comments than to the beautiful Yom Kippur prayer experience that took place in the same area. The young Jewish people who attended Kol Nidrei at Occupy Wall Street have been describing it as the most meaningful Jewish experience of their lives.

Here’s video footage from the Kol Nidrei service at Occupy Wall Street:

In his announcement of the Kol Nidrei service, Daniel Sieradski posted the following:

“Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.”
–Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

This Friday night begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. On this day, Jews around the world refrain from all physical pleasures (eating, bathing and screwing, to name a few), and devote themselves to prayer and supplication, begging the Lord forgiveness of their sins so that they may be written into the Book of Life.

But is fasting and beating our chests really the best we can do to redeem ourselves?

As lower Manhattan erupts with thousands of protesters taking a stand against economic injustice, the words of the prophet Isaiah resonate more truthfully and appropriately than ever:

Is such the fast that I have chosen? the day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.

Thus rather than spending the holiday safe and warm in our cozy synagogues thinking abstractly about human suffering, perhaps we should truly afflict ourselves and undertake the fast of Isaiah, by joining the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park, and holding our Yom Kippur services there amongst the oppressed, hungry, poor and naked.

Not to be cliché, but as Rabbi Hillel the Elder said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”

Kol Hakavod to all those who organized this so that the Occupy Wall Street participants would still be able to observe Yom Kippur. 

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

Curb Your Enthusiasm Minyan with Bill Buckner

Larry David’s TV show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO is known for forging into new territory for television shows. This most recent episode certainly marked a few TV firsts. To begin with, I don’t believe the following statement had ever been uttered on TV before: “I don’t wanna’ be in your stupid minyan anyway.”

I also believe this was the first time that the Jewish concept of a minyan was ever defined on a TV comedy. In one of the most creative episodes in the show’s history, Larry David attempted to revive the career of disgraced Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner. Just about 25 years ago in the 6th game of the World Series, Buckner botched a slow rolling hit off the bat of the NY Mets’ Mookie Wilson to allow the winning run to score. The Red Sox eventually lost the World Series in the 7th and deciding game.

Larry David brought in Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner as guest stars in this episode which gave Buckner the opportunity to poke fun at his fielding error from a quarter century ago. But the highlight of the episode was the minyan scene.

As Larry is walking on the street with Bill Buckner, they are approached by a Jewish man (played by Jerry Adler who was Hesh on the Sopranos) who asks if they are Jewish. Buckner says he’s not and Larry is reluctant to answer affirmatively. The man explains that it’s an emergency and they need one more to make a minyan to say Kaddish before going to the cemetery. Larry explains to the confused Buckner that a minyan is “when a Jewish person dies you need to have ten men in a room to say a prayer.”

Before heading up to the apartment Larry asks Buckner if he’s ever had Jewish food before to which he responds, “Koufax gave me some kishka one time.” Once they actually make it to the shiva* one of the men refuses to allow Buckner in the room since, as a devout Red Sox fan, he can never forgive Buckner for his error in the 1986 World Series. I guess it wasn’t the best pre-Rosh Hashanah message about forgiving others for their mistakes.

*As Ami Eden of JTA correctly noted, there’s no shiva minyan before a funeral (only after). Apparently no one on the show consulted with a rabbi on that one. Oh well, it was still a hilarious episode in my opinion. Here’s the clip:

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