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

Justin Bieber Gets Crossed Off Bibi’s Calendar

Fame is an odd thing. Many world leaders, diplomats and American politicians would have a difficult time getting a private meeting with the prime minister of Israel. But a 17-year-old Canadian kid with blond hair and a talent for entertaining pre-teen girls has no problem getting face time with Benjamin Netanyahu. That is, until Justin Bieber refused to meet with children living in communities affected by Gaza rocket fire. So it sounds like the Bibi-Bieber Summit is off.

Bieber was slated to meet with PM Bibi Netanyahu tomorrow evening in Israel. Netanyahu’s advisers invited a group of children from communities near the Gaza border to attend the meeting with Bieber. In fact, last week these children got off their school bus just before it was hit by a Hamas rocket. A teen was critically wounded in the incident.

Israeli new website Haaretz is now reporting that Bieber, who’s been under constant camera fire from the Paparazzi in Israel, is refusing to meet the children, which led Netanyahu to cancel their meeting.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering not only how a 17-year-old kid gets a meeting with the Israeli prime minister, but also how he rebuffs the prime minister’s request for a PR moment.

I can only identify two of Bieber’s songs and those are the ones that my children sing around the house. However, I certainly understand the allure. These teen sensations pop up every few years. After all, to paraphrase Paul Simon: “It’s every generation throws a teen hero up the pop charts.” But there must be something more about this Justin Bieber. No matter how famous they became, I don’t think Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera ever had a peace summit with a foreign leader. And they certainly didn’t manage to get dis-invited the way Bieber just did.

While I don’t see Justin Bieber becoming the next Bono and jetting off to far away nations to lobby government leaders or address Congress, I do think Netanyahu knew what he was doing by setting up the meeting and then promptly canceling it. Bibi was going to use Bieber’s fame and cache among the world’s youth to both showcase Israel and demonstrate the realities of life in Israel amid rocket fire from Gaza. But if the young pop sensation didn’t want to play ball, the deal was off.

Bibi didn’t block out an hour from his busy schedule because he needed advice from Justin Bieber or because he wanted to look cool to Israeli youth by posing for photos with their teen idol. Bibi was exploiting Bieber’s fame for what’s known in Israel as hasbara — propaganda. If Bieber wasn’t willing, I’m sure Bibi can find someone else to do it.

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