Drew Barrymore Plans to Remove Tattoos for Conversion to Judaism

A year ago I wrote about Drew Barrymore’s journey toward conversion to Judaism and how she was turning to her friend Adam Sandler for assistance.  At the time she was engaged to marry Will Kopelman, an art consultant who is Jewish. The couple married on June 2, 2012 in Montecito, California and welcomed their child, a daughter named Olive Barrymore Kopelman, on September 26, 2012.

Some were surprised that Drew didn’t convert to the Jewish faith before getting married (this is her third marriage) or at the least before delivering her first baby. But she reported that it was a long process and she didn’t want to take the plunge before she was ready. About Judaism, Drew has said “It’s a beautiful faith and I’m so honored to be around it. It’s so family-oriented… the stories are so beautiful and it’s incredibly enlightening. I’m really happy.”

Photo: Algemeiner.com

Well, it now appears that Drew is ready for her conversion and she’s taking a rather drastic step. TMZ.com reports that “Former wild child Drew Barrymore has decided to REMOVE her tattoos because she is CONVERTING to Judaism for her husband Will Kopelman! The new mom wishes to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, something that can only happen if she erases all permanent ink from her person.”

Drew has six tattoos according to the post on TMZ and will experience quite a bit of pain as she’s having all six removed in preparation for her conversion. But what I want to know is who is advising Drew that she has to have these tattoos removed before converting to Judaism. As I wrote on this blog almost five years ago, the notion that Jews cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery if they have tattoos is a myth. It’s a bubbe-meise, an old wives’ tale. An article in the NY Times even referred to this supposed prohibition as an “urban legend,” explaining that, “the edict isn’t true. The eight rabbinical scholars interviewed for this article, from institutions like the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University, said it’s an urban legend, most likely started because a specific cemetery had a policy against tattoos. Jewish parents and grandparents picked up on it and over time, their distaste for tattoos was presented as scriptural doctrine.”

While I wouldn’t encourage someone who was converting to Judaism to get a tattoo I also wouldn’t make them have any preexisting tattoos removed. There’s just no reason to go through the painful process of tattoo removal before Jewish conversion since the rule forbidding those with tattoos to be buried in a Jewish cemetery is a myth. As I explained in my blog post, Rabbi Alan Lucas, in a 1997 teshuvah (legal response) for the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, raised the question of tattooing in Judaism. Lucas concluded that there are diverse opinions among the rabbis concerning the the prohibition of tattooing based on the Torah’s verse in Leviticus 19:28 stating, “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, nor incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.”

The mishnah explains that it is the lasting and permanent nature of tattooing which makes it a culpable act, but Rabbi Simeon disagrees and says that it is only the inclusion of God’s name which makes tattooing prohibited. I don’t believe that Drew Barrymore has any tattoos on her body that include God’s name so that shouldn’t be an issue. Furthermore, there will likely be several important laws of Judaism that Drew will not follow after her conversion. I don’t think that she should somehow raise the importance of a prohibition of tattooing above many important laws that she’ll likely gloss over.

If Drew decides to forgo the tattoo removal, I can promise her that she won’t be the only Jewish person with tattoos. And she certainly won’t be the only Jewish celeb with tattoos either (see Lena Dunham and Adam Levine). Even though Drew wasn’t Jewish at the time, the couple was married by a rabbi, had a ketubah witnessed, and stood under a chuppah. And according to the Algemeiner.com website, Drew and Will Kopelman have promised to raise their daughter Olive in a traditional Jewish manner. I think that’s great, but if I were the one advising her in her conversion to Judaism I would focus less on those tattoos and more on Shabbat observance, keeping kosher, and sending Olive to a Jewish day school. I wish Drew the best of luck in her conversion process.

(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

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

Ben Stein Sues Kyocera for Religious Discrimination

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

With today’s 10-second tease video with Matthew Broderick hinting at a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” sequel, it is only fitting to take a close look at Ben Stein’s ongoing legal battle with Kyocera. Stein, who played the memorable high school teacher in the 1986 movie (“Bueller? Bueller?”) was set to film a commercial for Kyocera, the producer of cameras, copiers, printers, mobile phones, and the like.

Even though Ben Stein’s lawyer “considered the deal done” according to the lawsuit, it appears there never was a signed contract between Kyocera and Stein. The company is very environmentally conscious and ultimately decided not to use Stein, who is a practicing Jew, upon learning of his anti-science views on global warming. Stein shot back against Kyocera claiming the company is infringing on his religious freedom since he maintains that as a Jewish man he believes that God and not man controlls the weather. Formally, Stein is claiming that Kyocera’s refusal to let him pitch their products constitutes “wrongful discharge in violation of fundamental public policy.”

Ben Stein claims that he is by no means certain that global warming was man-made, a position held by many scientists and political conservatives (Stein was a speechwriter in the Nixon Administration). His argument is that the opinion of whether man makes the weather or God makes the weather is a matter of religious belief and Kyocera has fired him based on that which is a violation of state and federal law.

Ben Stein’s arguments that his religious beliefs were being called into question and his rights were violated did not hold up very well. He then made a different complaint arguing that an actor who looks like him, Peter Morici, ultimately was featured in the Kyocera commercial and he is “an explicit misappropriation of Ben Stein’s likeness and persona, which is an explicit violation of Ben Stein’s rights of privacy and of publicity, barred by California law.”

If anything came out of this lawsuit it is that we now know that name Peter Morici. And if Ben Stein can’t agree to a contract to reprise his role as the boring econ teacher in the “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” sequel, Peter Morici will get another gig.

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

Is Drew Barrymore Jewish? No, But She’s Converting to Judaism with Adam Sandler’s Help

Cross-posted to the Community Next blog

Is Drew Barrymore Jewish? The answer is that she currently is not, but she appears to be interested in converting to the Jewish faith. She is engaged to marry Will Kopelman this year.

While many non-Jews preparing for conversion to Judaism reach out to rabbis or Jewish friends for guidance, Drew Barrymore has sought out a colleague who has been an Israeli hair stylist, a water boy, a hockey player/golfer, and a surrogate father. Yep, Adam Sandler is reportedly offering guidance to Barrymore during the transition to the Jewish people.

Perhaps Drew Barrymore will hear her name in the next version of Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Song, which would be the fourth installment in Sandler’s humorous song that lists Hollywood’s Jews who celebrate Hanukkah.

The celebrity gossip magazine In Touch Weekly reported that Sandler might even play a major role at Drew Barrymore’s wedding:

According to insiders, Drew Barrymore wants her favorite co-star Adam Sandler to be her best man when she marries fiancé Will Kopelman in a traditional Jewish ceremony later this year.

In fact, Adam and 36-year-old Drew have grown so close while working on several movies together that “he’s even helping her with the process of converting to Judaism,” a source tells In Touch.

“Those two absolutely adore each other, so it only made sense to Drew that he will be right by her side playing an important role at her wedding.”

Although her rep denies the story, Drew, who has gotten very close to Will’s family, has told them she will raise their children Jewish, says the friend.

Unlike her experience with Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore probably didn’t have to go through 50 First Dates before becoming engaged to Kopelman. But there is a good chance that her best man will also be the Wedding Singer on her big day!

For now, she’ll likely be studying in anticipation of her conversion. When Drew Barrymore makes it official and converts to Judaism, coming up with fun headlines will not be a challenge. “Barrymore Becomes Drewish” or “Drew A Jew” are two of my favorites.

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

Matisyahu on Contradictions in Religious Observance

As any man with a beard, goatee or mustache will tell you, it is a transformative experience to shave it all off. Something tells me that Matisyahu felt a sense of freedom after he shaved off his iconic beard the other day. There has been a lot of discussion about Matisyahu’s transformation after he came clean [shaven] and claimed he has evolved from a Hasidic reggae star. The opinions have ranged from those who interpreted this as Matisyahu’s having left a religious lifestyle (going “off the derech“) to those who can’t figure out why this story even qualifies as “news.”

While I personally question if shaving off his iconic beard was a wise PR move, what I think is more interesting is how he has made his personal religious journey into a public narrative. His rise to super stardom occurred after he had already adopted a religious lifestyle and his break from Lubavitch a couple years ago wasn’t very well publicized so this is really the first time his observance has been discussed on such a broad scale. And now that he’s gone public with his shifts in observance, Matisyahu has (unintentionally?) brought the conversation of religious shifting and spiritual seeking into a very public sphere.

I listened to Matisyahu’s first interview since his transformative shaving experience and there was an interesting exchange toward the end. Soundcheck host John Schaefer began to ask Matisyahu a question that was sent in to the program by a listener having to do with him living some sort of a contradictory life. Matisyahu quickly cut Schaefer off and said something that I think is of utmost importance in any conversation about religious observance and spiritual seeking.

I’d like to say one thing about contradictions — I don’t mean to cut you off — but the whole thing is contradictions. And that’s what I’ve realized, is that everything has multiple sides to it, you know? We’re so quick to go, to make things black and white and to put things in their box. You know what I mean? But everything is this mixture, and that’s what this world is, is this blend of different things.

Exactly! I hope Matisyahu’s quote goes viral because it is so true. Religion is not black and white although some may claim that it is. I recently had a conversation with a young venture capitalist in Detroit who is a ba’al teshuva, meaning he adopted an observant Jewish lifestyle. As he hammered away at the contradictions of non-Orthodox Jewish religious practice (“they keep strict kosher at home, but eat vegetarian in non-kosher-certified restaurants,” “they don’t drive on Shabbat except to go to the synagogue,” etc.), I tried unsuccessfully to explain to him that these contradictions exist across the board. Human beings are inconsistent and religion (including religious law) is fluid so that it breeds inconsistency (across denominations, between communities, and in individuals).

Some observant Jews may find comfort in their own reality distortion field, but I am certain that contradictions exist in their own personal religious practice. As a colleague of mine often says, “Every Jew can find another Jew who isn’t as frum (religious) as he is and look down on him.” There really does not exist any baseline for religious observance because religion has many sides to it and is a mixture, as Matisyahu expressed. Perhaps the end of 2011 marks Matisyahu’s most meaningful religious epiphany yet. Shaving off his beard helped him open his eyes to the sea of grey that is a religiously observant life and a spiritual existence.

Beard or no beard, I’m sure that Matisyahu’s music will continue to resonate with millions. I hope his insight will as well.

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

Is Matisyahu Still Chasidic?

“All my life I’ve been waiting for… I’ve been praying for… The chance to shave off all this scraggly facial hair.”

Those aren’t the lyrics to a Matisyahu song, but they could be. Only a few hours after the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) published my story about Matisyahu’s unimpressive appearance on a reality TV cooking show, they issued a breaking news alert. As Daniel Sieradski commented in Heeb, it was the type of breaking news alert that is usually reserved for a terrorist attack. Only this was no terrorist attack. It was just Matisyahu shaving off his signature Chasidic-looking beard and transitioning from his Hasidic lifestyle as a religious Jew.

Has Matisyahu Gone “Off the Derech” by Shaving Away His Hasidic Identity?

I don’t think his decision to put his wife and mother-in-law in front of the camera with him on the “Chef Roble and Co” TV show was a very wise PR decision for Matisyahu and I think his current decision to shave the beard and drop his Chasidic identity could be the result of mismanagement.

In a blog post, Matisyahu wrote:

This morning I posted a photo of myself on Twitter. No more Chassidic reggae superstar. Sorry folks, all you get is me…no alias. When I started becoming religious 10 years ago it was a very natural and organic process. It was my choice. My journey to discover my roots and explore Jewish spirituality—not through books but through real life. At a certain point I felt the need to submit to a higher level of religiosity…to move away from my intuition and to accept an ultimate truth. I felt that in order to become a good person I needed rules—lots of them—or else I would somehow fall apart. I am reclaiming myself. Trusting my goodness and my divine mission.  

Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth. And for those concerned with my naked face, don’t worry…you haven’t seen the last of my facial hair.

I met Matisyahu for the first time at the Hillel International Staff Conference in a hotel in Connecticut back in December 2004. I remembered watching him perform on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” earlier that August. For most of the Jewish professional leaders gathered in that hotel ballroom, the show was more about a Hasidic reggae singer than it was about the music. It was a novelty. He certainly wouldn’t have gotten that gig had he not been an overtly Jewish performer.

So now the question is what does Matisyahu become without the Hasidic identity? Will he return to Matthew Miller? It sounds like he will, but that can’t be a very wise decision since his name has become his brand. But what does this mean for the Jewish community? Matthew Miller is a ba’al teshuva meaning he came to religious Judaism as an adult. Will this call the long-term devotion of other ba’alei teshuva into question? What will this mean for Matisyahu’s wife Tahlia and their children? Will they remain as Orthodox Jews, committed to the Hasidic lifestyle?

Many musicians are secular but spiritual. It looks to me as if Matthew Miller doesn’t realize that his cache is in his Hasidic identity more than in his music. He will quickly become just another performer. Matisyahu will certainly not be the first frum (religious) Jew to “go off the derech” (journey from a religious life to a secular one), but he might be the most famous to so this publicly.

As Sieradski writes in Heeb, “One can’t but help but wonder if this is a bellwether for the rest of the ba’al teshuvah community. Few people have benefitted so richly from their Orthodox identity than Matisyahu, whose iconic hasidically-garbed appearance was oft stated to have had more to do with his rise to stardom than his talent alone. If Miller, whose feverish religiosity inspired so many others on the road to Jewish observance, couldn’t hack it as a frum yid, how can others be expected to maintain the illusion when the benefits are far less tangible?

I’m hoping Matisyah (or Matthew Miller) will find future success in his endeavors, but I’m pessimistic that his music alone will keep him at the top of the charts. He got famous by being “that Hasidic reggae singer,” but he will likely fade from fame as “that Hasidic reggae singer who shaved his beard and disappeared into secular life.”

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

Sarah Silverman on Being Jewish

This year I’ve given a handful of presentations on the topic of Jewish Humor. I talk about the Jewish comedians who have been making people laugh over the past sixty plus years. I show video clips of the legends of Jewish comedy from Sid Caesar, Jack Benny and Milton Berle to Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and Andy Kaufman. I also talk about more modern Jewish comics like Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Richard Lewis and Seth Rogen.

There aren’t many female Jewish comedians in my presentation. I mention Sophie Tucker as the first major Jewish comic for her vaudeville performances. Of course I talk about the legendary Gilda Radner, who grew up in Detroit and attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor before becoming famous on Saturday Night Live. I also mention that over the years there have been several female Jewish comedians like Joan Rivers, Elaine Boosler, Rita Rudner, Roseanne Barr, Fran Drescher, Judy Gold, Susie Essman, and Sandra Bernhard. None of these female comedians however elicit the response I get when I talk about Sarah Silverman. People love Sarah Silverman (even if they’re uncomfortable when they laugh at her jokes).

With Rita Rudner after a performance in Las Vegas

Last week’s NY Times article by Jason Zinoman hit the nail on the head when it highlighted Sarah Silverman’s comedy as following in the tradition of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Silverman’s willingness to break the taste-taboo ceiling, as Zinoman put it, has led to her finding stand-up success in ways her female comedian forebears never did. Zinoman writes,

Comics like Joan Rivers, Roseanne Barr and Sandra Bernhard were trailblazers, but if you had to pinpoint one joke as a breakthrough for this new generation of female comedians, it might be this one: “I was raped by a doctor, which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.” When I saw Sarah Silverman deliver that signature one-liner in a downtown theater almost a decade ago, the audience exploded with laughter followed by groans. Then came the anxious chuckles whose subtext seemed to be: I can’t believe I laughed at that joke. 

Sarah Silverman’s comedy is very Jewish and she pushes the boundaries like no other female comedian today (Whitney Cummings comes close, but she’s been heavily influenced by Silverman). Not since Lenny Bruce’s shtick about the difference between the Jewish God (in a mezuzah on the doorpost) and the Christian God (on a cross and in movies) has a stand-up comic been able to make theology so funny in such a provocative way. Her movie “Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic” riffed on religion in a way that oddly seemed to be both offensive and hilarious at the same time.

Sarah Silverman with ex-boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel and
her sister Rabbi Susan Silverman and brother-in-law Yossi Abramowitz

Sarah Silverman’s influence in the 2008 presidential election with “The Great Schlep” video was nothing short of brilliant when she encouraged young Jewish liberals to travel to Florida to convince their grandparents that it was okay to vote for Barack Obama even though he’s black. She has also promoted social justice work and eradicating worldwide hunger with her contribution to the American Jewish World Service video and her own “Sell the Vatican, Feed the World” video. And of course her famous video with Matt Damon was well… you have to watch that one for yourself.

Sarah Silverman and her sister Rabbi Susan Silverman discuss their Jewish identity

I’ve always wanted to hear Sarah Silverman talk about her Jewish identity, or as she calls it her “Jewy-ness.” A couple weeks ago Sarah and her sister, Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman, were interviewed together at an event at the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University. Here’s the video of the interview (the first 7 minutes are introduction):

Watch this video on YouTube

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

Celebrity Shabbat Shalom Greetings

Sending out a weekly e-mail newsletter to friends has become a passion for Lisa Mark Lis.

Lis, a suburban Detroit-based community activist and philanthropist, in her Friday morning e-mail posts to friends and family not only wishes her readers a “Shabbat Shalom,” but she often has a celebrity extend their wishes, too.

Lisa Mark Lis videos U.S. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Gary Peters.

Lis has videotaped such notable performers as James Taylor, Carole King, Paul Simon, Neil Sedaka and David Broza sending Shabbat best. Politicians as far up as President Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama, have offered “Shabbat Shalom” wishes on camera for Lis, as have U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chair of the Democratic National Committee, and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Other celebs who have participated include “Millionaire Matchmaker” Patti Stanger and actor Wallace Shawn, who perhaps is best known for his role in “The Princess Bride.”

Lis isn’t shy about asking for a quick “Shabbat Shalom” greeting when running into a celebrity. When she told Marvin Hamlisch about some of the famous people who had recorded messages, the composer raised a glass of champagne to Lis’ camera phone and said, “I’m not Paul Simon and I’m not James Taylor. I’m Marvin Hamlisch and yes, I know how to say ‘Shabbat Shalom.’ “

She’s been sending her weekly greeting every Friday for nearly 2 1/2 years. She isn’t sure how many people are on her distribution list, but it includes friends and family from around the world, including a large contingent in Israel (her husband, Hannan, is a native Israeli).

Lis says she sends out the messages to wish as many people as possible a good weekend and to stay in touch with her connections.

“I do it to say ‘Shabbat Shalom,’ and then anything else I add is my soapbox,” Lis said. “I started to include the video messages of famous people saying ‘Shabbat Shalom’ as a fun addition to the e-mails. It makes people smile. Now people have come to expect them.”

Political views are included in some of her weekly messages. So are reminders to attend local fundraising events for causes she supports. A paragraph encouraging her readers to remember Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit during his captivity was a staple of each week’s e-mail message until his release last month. Every message includes wishes of “Happy Birthday” and “Mazel Tov” to her friends and family celebrating milestones in the upcoming week.

Lis plans to continue finding the chutzpah to ask celebs and politicians to utter those two Hebrew words for her camera phone. After all, it’s not every Friday that an e-mail arrives with a video of the leader of the free world wishing you a “Shabbat Shalom.”

President Barack Obama’s “Shabbat Shalom” Greeting

David Hasselhoff’s “Shabbat Shalom” Greeting

Cross-posted to JTA.org

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