Whitney Houston’s Israel Connection

Whitney Houston was not Jewish, but she did have a connection to the State of Israel. The singer, who died yesterday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, traveled to Israel in 2003 with her then husband Bobby Brown.

Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown were invited to tour Israel by the Black Hebrews, who live in Israel’s southern city of Dimona. Together with their daughter, Bobbi Kristina, the couple traveled the country for a week and even met with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Houston reportedly told Prime Minister Sharon that she felt at home in Israel. Houston and Brown were named honorary citizens of the Israeli city.

Here’s the classic coverage of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s Israel visit as reported by Jon Stewart who even managed to drop the Yiddish word farkakte.

In 1986 French Jewish singer Serge Gainsbourg met Whitney Houston on a French television show. It appeared that Gainsbourg was intoxicated. Here’s the video (caution: includes R-rated language):

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

Yiddish Everywhere and Late Night TV Goes For the Jewish Triple Play

I’ve always maintained that if an alien from Outer Space arrived in the United States and spent just a short period of time here, he would conclude that Jews make up much more than the measly 2% of the population that we actually do. Jewish people are influential in many areas of society and somehow Jewish themes and words seem to always creep into pop culture.

Take the Yiddish language for instance, which has long been considered the dying language of the Jewish people. Many Yiddish words have crept into popular parlance as I blogged about this summer when presidential candidate Michele Bachmann mispronounced the word chutzpah. Just a few weeks ago another candidate for president, Mitt Romney, attempted to say the same Yiddish word in a televised debate. “I like your chutzpah on this, Herman,” Romney said to Herman Cain. Romney’s pronunciation was much better than Bachmann’s, though he still wasn’t able to get that throat-clearing hard “ch” sound.

And it’s not only Mormon politicians who are casually tossing out Yiddish words and expressions. I’ve begun to notice more Yiddish words being used by non-Jews recently. Last month I was playing a round of golf with an Indian businessman. On this rainy afternoon, he drove the ball into a patch of wet mud. When we arrived at his ball I heard him express his dissatisfaction as he exclaimed that his ball landed in the schmutz. I guess he plays golf with a lot of Jews.

And then earlier this week Canon Kevin George a pastor friend of mine from Windsor, Ontario emailed to ask if I could speak at his church on the Sunday following Thanksgiving in an interfaith service. I responded to his email explaining that I had already committed to officiating at a wedding that afternoon, to which he replied simply: “Oy vey!”

My new Greek friend Nick Raftis, the owner of The Inn Season Cafe (a delicious vegetarian restaurant in Royal Oak, Michigan certified by Kosher Michigan), is always asking me if I want to come in to his restaurant to have a nosh.

These Yiddish phrases have even found their way into social media. I received an email from the social media analytics website Klout informing me I had a new notification. When I logged into my Klout account, there was a message that said, “Mazel tov! You received 1 +K for doing something awesome.” Amazing.

And then of course there’s late night TV. Saturday Night Live is singularly responsible for bringing such Yiddish words as “verklempt” and “shpilkis” into the mainstream through Mike Myers’ “Coffee Talk with Linda Richman”. Last night, I noticed what I would call the Late Night Triple Play when it comes to Jewish references.

First, at the end of The Daily Show last night, Jon Stewart gave a very heartfelt tribute to the late Gil Cates, producer of the Academy Awards. Introducing the “Moment of Zen” dedicated to Gil Cates’ memory, Jon said that the man who produced the two Oscar shows that he hosted was “in layman terms, a mensch.” The next Jewish reference came on Tosh.0 when Daniel Tosh (who is not Jewish) encouraged his viewers to come to his stand-up tour taking place over the holidays and then said, “I mean the Jewish holidays”. The third Jewish reference came from the Irish Conan O’Brien who is hosting his late night show from New York City this week. Joking that he couldn’t see the small signs held by audience members in the back of the theater, Conan asked how he was supposed to be able to read these small signs that look like they’re written in Hebrew.

With all of these references to Jewish themes, from the political arena to late night television and in regular everyday conversation, it really is amazing that we Jews are such a minority in America. In fact, even that topic made it into The Daily Show episode last night. John Hodgman told Jon Stewart how surprised he was that Jews only made up 2-3% of the population because “You (Jews) seem to be everywhere!”

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

The Daily Show Raises the Eruv

There are certain obscure laws in Judaism that one doesn’t expect to be explained and debated on Comedy Central. Certainly the “legal fiction” known as an eruv is one of these.

According to Jewish law, a Jewish person is forbidden from carrying (or even pushing a baby stroller) from one domain to another on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays. There are actually several types of eruvin (plural) that allow Jewish people to circumnavigate what is forbidden on Shabbat, including the eruv tavshilin that allows us to cook meals for Shabbat on Jewish festivals.

On last night’s episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, correspondent Wyatt Cenac took up the ongoing debate in Westhampton Beach, Long Island as to whether to allow for an eruv (thin wire attached to existing electrical poles that gives the appearance that all the homes are within the same domain for carrying on Shabbat). The secular Jews of this town object to the erection of an eruv as they believe it will turn their town over to an Orthodox Jewish majority as has happened in other locales.

The segment is humorous, but also tainted with the type of infighting and vitriol that Samuel Freedman wrote about in his book, Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry .

Here is the video:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Rabbi Jason Miller
The Thin Jew Line (Eruv)
www.thedailyshow.com

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

Conservative Rabbi on The Daily Show

My colleague, Rabbi Gideon Estes of Congregation Or Ami, played the straight man last night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. After Justin Bieber opened the show pretending to be Jon Stewart, Estes had a tough act to follow, but did a great job.

Daily Show correspondent John Oliver went down to Texas to file a story about the campaign of a Jewish Republican man to be re-elected speaker of the Texas State House. Estes, wearing his Jewish Theological Seminary tallit (prayer shawl), was interviewed by Oliver about the opposition to Joe Strauss being re-elected because he is Jewish and not a Christian conservative.

At the end of the segment, John Oliver celebrates his creation of a new high holiday called “Yom Chechechecheh” with the Hebrew School children at Estes’ congregation.

Check out the video below:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart RabbiJason.com
Conservative Rabbi Gideon Estes on The Daily Show
www.thedailyshow.com

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

Joe Lieberman Tapped for Egyptian Government Post

While I’m no Jon Stewart or Andy Borowitz when it comes to political satire, I have had the following funny situation playing in my head ever since the riots in Egypt began:

PRESS CONFERENCE IN CAIRO, EGYPT

Joe Lieberman: Thank you for joining me here today in Cairo. I know it’s only been a few weeks since my press conference where I announced  I’ll retire from the Senate and not seek re-election. However, I have a major announcement to make yet again. Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, has appointed me Foreign Minister over this country.

CNN Reporter: Mr. Lieberman, when will you begin?

Joe Lieberman: The appointment is effective today… it’s immediate in light of the chaos that currently plagues Egypt. I will be the second in command. And no Jewish man has ever held such a position of power in Egypt.

Fox Reporter: Uh, that’s not actually true sir, have you read the Jewish Bible?

Joe Lieberman: Right, good point. Well, I am the first man named Joseph to…

Fox Reporter: No, that’s not quite right either Mr. Lieberman.

Joe Lieberman: Well, anyway, there’s a lot of work to be done. I’d like to thank the Pharoah, er, I mean the President for his faith in me. You know when he called me on the phone to ask me to come down here, he said he never dreamed that the political situation could get so bad. But I told him that he had in fact dreamed that it would get this bad. I keep telling him that.

AP Reporter: What will be your first order of business to calm the masses who are rioting in the street?

Joe Lieberman: I came up with this great idea to stockpile food because you just never know. I’ve been in pits before and I think that in time we can get these people to start building. Thank you very much for your time today and God Bless Egypt!

Al Jazeera Reporter: Have a good Shabbos Vizier Lieberman!

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

Jon Stewart Can Only Go Shofar

Last night, Jon Stewart decided to blow a shofar on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” to alert his viewers to some breaking news (Keith Olbermann leaving MSNBC). He called it a News Shofar and announced “Something happened!” but never actually blew the shofar.  Instead he just put the shofar to his mouth and kept repeating the words “Hey Look” in a staccato fashion. It sort of sounded like a Tekiah blast followed by Teruah.

Technically, it didn’t look like a ram’s horn, but rather a gazelle’s horn. (Either one is sufficient to use on Rosh Hashanah.) Since Jon Stewart is a producer for The Colbert Report, I think he just borrowed the shofar that Stephen Colbert used to sign off at the end of his show back in 2009.

I wonder what it would take for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to come to my synagogue on Rosh Hashanah for a shofar duet?

Seeing Jon Stewart (Jewish) and Stephen Colbert (not-so-much) blowing the shofar got me thinking about Jewish rituals in which other celebrities have engaged. Here are a few that I was able to dig up:

Howie Mandell putting on tefillin

The Bob Dylan Tefillin

The Beastie Boys Playing Dreidel on Hanukkah

George Costanza, I mean Jason Alexander, Giving a Sermon in Synagogue

Ryan Gosling Leading Prayers (He looks like Eminem here!)


 Leonard Nimoy Duchenen (Blessing the Congregation)


Krusty the Klown Reading Torah


Rabbi Ben Stiller Teaching Torah


Darth Vader Waving the Lulav 
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

A Saturday Night Live Bar Mitzvah with Cee Lo Green

Jewish humor has always been one of my favorite topics to teach. I’ve taught classes about Jewish humor and Jewish comedians to teens and adults at many different settings including synagogues, Jewish camps, and on college campuses. As an aspiring stand-up comic, I have always been interested in the history of Jewish humor, what makes a Jewish joke funny, and why there have been so many successful Jewish comedians throughout the generations.

A sketch on last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL) provides much food for thought about Jewish humor. The SNL sketch parodies a lavish bar mitzvah for the nephew of a Hollywood exec that has performances by Taylor Swift (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, and Cee Lo Green. Jacob, the uncomfortable bar mitzvah boy, repeatedly claims that he told his father that he would have been content with just a “modest luncheon.”

The sketch is funny, but it also relies on some age old Jewish stereotypes that many will claim have run their course and aren’t funny anymore. When it comes to comedy, is everything fair game? I’ve always taught that ethnic humor has to have at least a hint of accuracy for it to be funny. There will surely be those who are offended by the many JAP (Jewish American Princess) references in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Taylor Swift impersonation in the bar mitzvah sketch. Parodying Taylor Swift’s song “You Belong With Me,” Paltrow sang: “She’s in synagogue with her new clear braces on / I’m sittin’ shiva with no mirrors to put makeup on / She doesn’t get your Mel Brooks humor like I do / She wears Macy’s, I wear Loehmann’s. She wears Filene’s and I wear Filene’s Basement / Can’t you see? She’s just a JAP. Not like Japanese.”

Up next performing at Jacob’s bar mitzvah was SNL comic Jay Pharoah (a last name that could be offensive to Jews, but isn’t) appearing as Jay-Z and singing his bar mitzvah version of “New York State of Mind” with Alicia Keys (Nasim Pedrad). He opens with the words, “While we read the Torah / Just to learn the word of God / Straight from Deuteronomy… Rabbi Josh Levi / I’m straight up withcha.” He then utters what I would imagine is the first reference to the Mishnah on late night network TV. Pharaoh (as Jay-Z) then gives a deep reference to both biblical kosher law and the theological perplexity of God’s ego: “Everything ain’t right cuz it’s dirty as shellfish / Don’t defy Yahweh cuz he’s mad selfish.”

As if this SNL sketch couldn’t get any more Jewish (or as Jon Stewart often says: “Jewy”), Jewish SNL cast member Abby Elliott sends up Katy Perry doing her Jewish version of “California Girls.” She enters with “Hi everybody, happy Jewish!” and then busts into the lyrics “Jacob just read from the Haftorah / Let’s all dance the Hora… Ashkenazi Jews they’re so incredible / And Sefardic Jews are cool too / West Bank represent despite your violence… Shalom you guys.”

Next, Cee Lo Green enters the bar mitzvah party in a giant fur coat singing his “F.U.” song, but with lyrics about the Hebrew language and how it sounds like gargling. He’s introduced by Jacob’s father who believes Cee Lo Green’s a “member of the tribe” based on his last name, but then says, “Or maybe not.” Referencing the ongoing joke about the older kids at the bar mitzvah party bending the metal forks, Cee Lo Green says, “What’s with this bending forks thing? I mean, that’s straight up meshuganeh man!” Something tells me that Lorne Michaels and Andy Sandberg had a bet to see if they could get Cee Lo Green to say something Yiddish.

The full video of the SNL bar mitzvah sketch is below. I will use it next Monday afternoon when I present a lunchtime discussion about Jewish humor at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan. Aside from the question of appropriateness of some of the JAP jokes at the beginning of this SNL sketch, what is so interesting is that Jews only account for about 2% of the U.S. population and yet SNL devotes so much of its show to esoteric Jewish references. And this isn’t an isolated example either. On Thursday night, Conan O’Brien joked that the new Disney theme park in Israel wouldn’t use the nickname “The Happiest Place on Earth,” but rather “It Could Be Worse.” Conan then spent a couple minutes showing off his impression of a Jewish person. On Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart also makes not-so-subtle references to Jewish themes on his show. Last week on one of his shows, he compared the members of Congress coming up to the microphone on the first day of the congressional session to read a line from the Constitution with “the dramatic chops of family members who demand to be called to the bimah for your bar mitzvah.”

I’m not sure if the Jewish writers on SNL thought Purim was much closer than it actually is, but I will say that they did a great Purim shpiel last night.

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

Best Hanukkah Videos for 2010

Here’s my latest post on the Jewish Techs blog for The Jewish Week

If you haven’t received an email or Facebook message in the past week with the link to the Maccabeats video of “Candlelight”, you might want to check that your computer is actually plugged in.

The Yeshiva University a capella group’s video parody of Taio Cruz’s song “Dynamite” (based on Mike Thompkins’ a capella version) has gone viral surpassing 1.5 million views on YouTube and even landed them an appearance on NBC’s Today Show. Now, the group is campaigning to get an invitation to the Colbert Show (add your voice here).

If you’re looking for additional fun videos besides the “Candlelight” video, check out these Hanukkah videos:

MATISYAHU ON ICE (“MIRACLE”)

HONIKA ELECTRONIKA (BY SMOOTH-E)

ERRAN BARON COHEN (SACHA’S BROTHER) SINGS “DREIDEL”

HOMEBOY HANUKKAH
(Warning: Strong language and references give this video a PG-13 rating)

NBA PLAYERS WISH FANS A HAPPY HANUKKAH (BY ELIE SECKBACH)

NEFESH B’NEFESH HANUKKAH (“8 DAYS” TO MATISYAHU’S “ONE DAY”)

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS JEWS
(Warning: Contains Jewish stereotypes that may be offensive to some)

ELMO LEARNS ABOUT HANUKKAH

TELLY MONSTER PLAYS DREIDEL ON SESAME STREET

Happy Hanukkah!

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

Jon Stewart on Bill O’Reilly

This is a great clip of Jon Stewart being interviewed by Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart rejects O’Reilly’s running mate offer by saying: “I’m not running with you… I’m not gonna be your VP because I know what that’s gonna be. I get one job, and that’s to light the White House menorah…not interested.”

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