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

Scooter Braun Confirms That Justin Bieber Says the Shema Before Every Show

In October 2010 I used the example of Justin Bieber reciting the “Shema Yisrael” Jewish prayer in a blog post about non-Jews performing Jewish rituals. I explained how there were reports that Justin Bieber’s Jewish manager Scott “Scooter” Braun, who discovered Bieber on YouTube, taught Justin the “Shema Yisrael” prayer and he says it before each concert. In the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot, Scooter Braun said “Justin prays the Shema before each show. First he says a Christian prayer, then he says the Shema.”

I cynically noted that “Based on the number of concerts at which Justin Bieber performs, I’m guessing that he’s actually said the most important statement of Jewish belief many more times in his life than the average 16-year-old Jewish youth.”

Scenes of Justin Bieber saying the Shema even made it into his “Never Say Never” movie (I haven’t actually seen the movie, but that’s what I’m told).

Last week at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, I had a chance to meet Justin Bieber and Scooter Braun. After Justin looked into my camera and said hello to my six-year-old daughter (which made her year!), I asked Scooter Braun to give a “shout out” to her as well. After he mentioned that he has a cousin by the same name as my daughter, he also confirmed that Justin says the Shema before every show. Here’s the video:

Here’s Justin Bieber saying the Shema along with Scooter Braun, Usher, and Jayden Smith:

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

Is Justin Bieber Jewish?

Is Justin Bieber Jewish? Is Natalie Portman’s fiancee, Benjamin Millepied, Jewish? Based on my Web research, neither one is Jewish. However, there are many people wondering these questions and doing what curious people do in the Digital Age — turning to Google.

There are two components to blogging I enjoy most. First, I love writing. Second, I love looking at the analytics to see through which portals visitors have arrived at my blog. Looking at the referral statistics, there is an overwhelming number of Web surfers who are referred to my blog after inquiring about a celebrity’s faith; specifically, whether they are Jewish.

While Jewish people may only account for less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, we have provided society with a vastly disproportionate number of celebrities — from actors and musicians to authors, producers and directors. No, Jews don’t own Hollywood in the antisemitic canard conspiracy theory way, but there are certainly a lot of “Members of the Tribe” in Hollywood.

When celebrities do the things that only Jewish people have traditionally done, everyone wants to know if they are Jewish or just playing the part. For instance, Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) has been embraced by Madonna, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, and Brittany Spears, but none of them were born Jewish or have converted to the faith. Robin Williams does a great Yiddish accent on stage while telling Jewish jokes, but he’s an Episcopalian. The former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson has announced plans to open a kosher restaurant, but converted to Islam. The French dance choreographer Benjamin Millepied will marry the Israeli Natalie Portman, with Israeli roots, but he doesn’t appear to be of the Jewish faith.

And though the teen pop sensation Justin Bieber is not Jewish, he has a ritual of saying the most important statement to the Jewish people before each of his concerts. It turns out that his agent, Scott “Scooter” Braun, taught Bieber the “Shema Yisrael” and now the 16-year-old says those Hebrew words (in addition to a Christian prayer) before taking the stage.

It’s human nature to try and know as much as we can about our celebrities. So, it should come as no surprise that fans are curious as to whether Bieber’s Jewish or if Natalie Portman is marrying within the Jewish faith. After all, a person’s faith can be a private matter and as the National Enquirer has always said when it comes to celebrities, “Inquiring minds want to know.”

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