The Maccabeats Channel Les Mis for Passover

I don’t usually include Passover videos on this blog because, well, there usually aren’t any worthy of watching. Until this Pesach that is!

The Maccabeats, Yeshiva University’s acclaimed a capella group, do a wonderful job using the songs of Les Miserables to tell the Passover story. This video has much more acting than their previous Jewish holiday fare and the college boys do a nice job with it. No doubt this Pesach parody video will hit the million view mark on YouTube just as the Maccabeats’ previous creations did.

Enjoy and Chag Sameach!

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

Purim and the Oscars

Yesterday was another fun Purim holiday celebration, but I didn’t post a Purim satire this year (last year’s edition). I also usually post a list of my favorite Purim YouTube videos before the holiday, but there really weren’t ten quality videos I could find to make my Top Ten Purim Videos list. A few standouts included Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan’s Moves Like Graggers, a Taylor Swift parody from Temple Emunah of Lexington, Massacheusetts and Matt Rissien’s Jewish Thrift Shop Parody rap. The Maccabeats posted a mashup of President Barack Obama and some celebrities singing their famous Hanukkah parody and there is a handful too many of ridiculous Harlem Shake Purim versions. All in all, 2013 was not the most creative year for Purim schtick on YouTube.

But that didn’t mean the Academy Awards didn’t turn into a big Purim Shpiel hosted by Seth MacFarlane. The creator of “Family Guy” and the recent movie “Ted” tried his hand at hosting the Oscars last night. And while the Oscars technically occurred after Purim had ended, there were several odd connections between the award show and the Jewish holiday.

Seth MacFarlane (Photo Credit: ABC News)

Seth MacFarlane as Haman
First, I don’t think Seth MacFarlane did anything vicious or spiteful while hosting the Oscars last night. Yes, there were some edgy Jewish jokes, a tasteless Hitler reference and some racial jokes that made many people squirm, but I don’t think anything was over-the-top. The Anti-Defamation League obviously took exception with MacFarlane’s joke that referenced the old Jews Control Hollywood canard. ADL National Director Abe Foxman issued a press release today stating:

While we have come to expect inappropriate “Jews control Hollywood” jokes from Seth MacFarlane, what he did at the Oscars was offensive and not remotely funny.  It only reinforces stereotypes which legitimize anti-Semitism.  It is sad and disheartening that the Oscars awards show sought to use anti-Jewish stereotypes for laughs.
For the insiders at the Oscars this kind of joke is obviously not taken seriously.  But when one considers the global audience of the Oscars of upwards of two billion people, including many who know little or nothing about Hollywood or the falsity of such Jewish stereotypes, there’s a much higher potential for the ‘Jews control Hollywood’ myth to be accepted as fact.
We wish that Mr. MacFarlane and the Academy Awards producers had shown greater sensitivity and decided against airing a sketch that so reinforces the age-old canard about Jewish control of the film industry.

Haman tried to turn Shushan against the Jews by telling people they were a controlling nation. He obviously wasn’t joking around though. What I find interesting is that when Jews win Academy Awards people say that it’s because the Jews control Hollywood, but no one ever claims the Jews control the voting for the Nobel Prize and a disproportional amount of Jews have won those awards over the years.

Jennifer Lawrence as Esther
The Oscar for Best Female Actor in a Lead Role went to Jennifer Lawrence for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook. and very well deserved in my opinion. In the movie she helps redeem Bradley Cooper’s character and in doing so saves his family (from bankruptcy). Lawrence is an unlikely heroine in that story much like the Queen Esther character in the Purim narrative.

That Story in Iran/Persia
Perhaps the most direct connection to the Purim story is in the winner of the Best Movie category. On Sunday, October 14 I had a couple hours to kill on the other side of town between officiating at a funeral and then heading to a hotel to officiate at a wedding. I passed by a movie theater and figured I’d see if the timing worked out for me to watch a movie. Sure enough Argo was just about to begin and would end in enough time for me to get to the wedding. As the credits rolled I predicted Argo would go on to win movie of the year. Even though it was up against fierce competition with Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables and Lincoln, I had a feeling it would win. Brilliantly directed by Ben Affleck, the protagonist played by Affleck, a modern-day Mordechai, saves the six U.S. diplomats with the help of the Canadian ambassador.

Jewish Man Frees Slaves
Okay, so the Jews weren’t technically slaves in Shushan (Persia), but they had been slaves at one point in Egypt. And the Purim story has the Jewish Mordechai freeing the persecuted Jews. The Best Male Actor award went to the Jewish Daniel Day-Lewis (his mother’s Jewish, look it up!) for his performance of Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves. Alright, a bit of a stretch there.

The votes are certainly split as to how well Seth MacFarlane did in his first (and only?) attempt as host of the Oscars. I think he’s better suited for R-Rated comedy and Comedy Central Roasts, which make it difficult to adapt to the global audience watching the Oscars. All in all, while MacFarlane didn’t do the greatest job as host, the awards show was fun to watch and I think the right people were chosen to win awards. And for many Jewish people (both those inside and outside Hollywood circles), it was a fun day in which the Purim celebration continued right into Oscar viewing parties. And I’m sure the connections to the Purim story didn’t end when the Oscars telecast ended. There were likely some “After Parties” that resembled a King Ahashverosh feast too.

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

Israel’s Gaza Situation Becomes Cyber War

Social media changes the zeitgeist in ways we couldn’t have imagined. As we saw with the recent presidential election, opinions and attacks now travel at the speed of light. And so it should be no surprise that the ongoing Middle East conflict in Gaza between the Palestinians and Israelis has escalated into a Cyber war.

While the conflict may seem like history repeating itself, social media is actually changing the way the public sees the violence. As several news agencies have reported,Israel is now using social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to its advantage in its war with Hamas in Gaza. In the past Israel has had to rely upon mainstream news agencies to report on the back-and-forth actions in Gaza, but now the Israeli military and government can take its message straight to the people using its social networks.

As the LA Times reported today:

While Israel launched its surprise attack Wednesday on Gaza, it declared it to the world on Twitter, arguing its case for the new campaign against Hamas in less than 140 characters.

Minute by minute, the Israel Defense Forces fed followers information and arguments on the strike. At their computers, Internet users could click through aerial photos, check updates on the offensive and watch a YouTube video of the strike killing the Hamas military chief.

At one point, the Israeli military traded Twitter barbs with Hamas. “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” the @IDFSpokesperson account tweeted Wednesday.

The Hamas military wing tweeted back, “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves).”

Israel Defense Forces Twitter Account

Social media isn’t new to the IDF, but the way it’s now using such sites as Twitter is new and will likely become the way nation-states will operate in military conflicts. It is clear that the chief spokesman of the IDF, Yoav Mordechai, believes that tweeting the operation in Gaza is a good weapon in its hasbara (public relations) struggle. Israel has always been challenged by negative PR in the mainstream media. Mordechai’s office even used Twitter to send a warning to its Hamas enemies, tweeting, “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.” The IDF’s Twitter feed has been continually updated with news, pictures and videos from the front lines using the Twitter “hashtag” #PillarOfDefense. Perhaps the Cyber war really became a reality when Hamas’ military wing responded with return fire on Twitter, tweeting back, “You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves.”

In addition to the IDF’s new found use of Twitter, sites like YouTube (operated by Google) have had to navigate their way through the new murky waters of whether the postings by the IDF of their military operations are deemed “kosher” according to its own terms of service agreement. Originally Google yanked a video posted by the Israeli military Wednesday, which showed the “pinpoint strike” that killed Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari in his car. YouTube originally had a message on the removed video stating, “This clip has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service. Sorry about that.”

However, YouTube apparently changed its corporate mind and allowed the video to be shown. A company spokesperson explained, “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.” Most likely enough anti-Israel YouTube users had flagged the video triggering a review process until someone at YouTube could view the video in question and make the decision. By reinstating the video, YouTube opened up a whole new front in this war.

Israel Defense Forces Facebook Page

In taking the Middle East conflict to the Web, the opportunity for hacking has also been escalated. So it was no surprise early yesterday morning when a hacker group called “Anonymous” announced a mission to crash and deface websites belonging to the IDF, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli websites belonging to security and financial corporations. Using Twitter, the hacking group urged its followers to bring down more than 40 websites belonging to the Israeli government and military.

In a statement, the hackers stated, “We will do everything in our power to hinder the evil forces of the IDF arrayed against you. We will use all our resources to make certain you stay connected to the Internet and remain able to transmit your experiences to the world.” Already the hacker group has claimed to have taken down Israeli’s “top security and surveillance website.” They also released a “care package” with tools for staying online if the Israeli government cuts off Internet access in Gaza. Another hacker group called Telecomix posted a message online with instructions on how to use dial-up Internet to stay connect if the Web is shut down. According to Forbes.com, most of the Anonymous’ target websites were still online.

Another new front of the Middle East war in Gaza has been the public discourse on social networking sites. As soon as the conflict escalated advocates on both sides of the conflict began using Facebook to show their support. Pro-Israel supporters began simply updating their Facebook status with the Hebrew words עם ישראל חי (Am Yisra’el Chai) meaning “The nation of Israel lives.” Other Facebook and Twitter users reposted news reports of the direct hit on the Gaza leader and reminded their followers that the news coverage of the conflict has not accurate covered the escalation as thousands of missiles had already been fired into Israel from Gaza. Yesterday, in a show of support many users on Facebook began posting photos of IDF soldiers from visits to the Jewish homeland.

On Twitter, #Gaza and #Jerusalem have been trending off and on over the past few days and many heated back-and-forth conversations have taken place on the site. The IDF’s Flickr site has also seen a huge uptick in traffic with many users reposting photos from that stream to their own Pinterest boards. Additionally, the IDF’s Facebook page has noticed a sharp increase in fans approaching a quarter million. The IDF page’s recent status was “Shabbat Shalom from the IDF. We won’t be able to rest until we bring quiet to Israel.”

The long-simmering conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians will be the first test of the social media zeitgeist. Newspapers and television news outlets are still relevant, but this will go down as the first war that was also played out in real time on the Web. In the social media era, anyone and everyone can become a reporter. And the millions of vehement opinions will likely only raise the heat of this escalating conflict.

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

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

Israeli President Shimon Peres Wants Friends

At no point in history was the Hebrew word for “friend” more popular than after President Bill Clinton uttered those two famous words as he eulogized his assassinated friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem in 1995. “Shalom Chaver” quickly became a famous slogan and bumper sticker quote.

Now, one man who was Yitzhak Rabin’s friend, colleague and peace partner is campaigning for chaverim, friends. Not real friends, but Facebook fans. On the same day he delivered a very well-received speech to close to 13,000 pro-Israel supporters at AIPAC Policy Conference on Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres launched his new Facebook page.

President Peres has had a very good week. After AIPAC honored the 88-year-old leader on Sunday for his storied career in Israeli politics and for his lasting commitment to peace, he met privately with President Obama. During his AIPAC appearance Peres found a very supportive audience who saluted him with many standing ovations. All this week Shimon Peres has been on a tour of the Bay Area where he’s meeting with hi-tech leaders of Silicon Valley.

His California itinerary includes meetings with leading venture capitalists, as well as with Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. During his meeting with the Facebook founder, President Peres launched his official personal page on the Facebook site. While Peres might not be the first 88-year-old with a Facebook account, he is the first one whose chief agenda is to use his Facebook page to create a dialogue with Arabs who live in countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg interviewed the Israeli President about his Facebook ambitions and he explained,  “The matter of peace is no longer the business of governments but the business of people. Today the people are governing the governments. And when they begin to talk to each other, they are surprised: We should be friends.”

So, how he is Shimon Peres seeking to make friends on the social networking site? Rather than giving away a free iPad as many businesses do when they launch a new Facebook page, Peres released a new YouTube music video (see below) asking everyone to be his friend on Facebook in the name of peace. The video was launched last Sunday as Peres was speaking at AIPAC. I’m certain this video will go viral because, well, the sight of an 88-year-old rock star who happens to be the president of the Jewish state is “must see TV.” Peres, with his iconic deep Israeli accent, has become a beloved father figure to the Israeli people. It is remarkable to see him so eager to exploit social media in the name of forging a lasting peace in the Middle East. I wish him well… and I hope that he gets a lot of friends to join him on Facebook.

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

Best Hanukkah Videos for 2011

Tonight begins the Festival of Lights – Hanukkah 2011. As Hanukkah parody videos have become more popular on YouTube it’s getting more difficult to find the best ones. One thing is certain however, if the video has “Best Hanukkah Video” in its title… it’s probably not. Here are the best Hanukkah videos of the year (according to me). Enjoy and Chanukkah Sameach!

The Shlomones – Rocky Hora Chanukah Song

Cantor Eyal Bitton – Rock Me Maccabeus (Falco Cover)

Aish – Chanukkah Rock of Ages

Fountainheads – Light Up the Night

Maccabeats – Miracle (Matisyahu Cover)

Pella Productions – Holiday Party (Tonight, Tonight)

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert – Can I Interest You in Hanukkah

Six13 – Hanukkah Rights

Jew-Z – Hanukkah Groove

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

Rick Perry Video Uses Aaron Copland Music

My video parody of Rick Perry’s “Strong” campaign ad on YouTube has been attracting a lot of attention with about 4,500 likes and under 100 dislikes, including close to 650 comments. It has been featured in USA Today, Daily Kos, Jewish Journal, JTA, Forward, Jewcy, and Spiegel Online (German).

There have been many video parodies of Rick Perry’s campaign ad turning it into a meme on the Web. But I’ve noticed that the best way to mock Rick Perry and his homophobic, “war on religion”-paranoid message is to do nothing. The video mocks itself.

When I was choosing the background music for my video parody with the video’s editor Adam Luger we tried to come as close as possible to the background music in the original Rick Perry commercial. However, we were unable to determine who composed the music. Well, it now appears that the joke’s on Rick Perry because that background music was inspired by none other than Aaron Copland. Jewish? Check! Gay? Flaming! Member of the Communist Party? You betcha!

Paul Schied writing in the Harvard Political Review first reported that the music heard in the background of Rick Perry’s “Strong” ad was composed by Aaron Copland, a prominent composer who was Jewish, outwardly gay, and a member of the Communist Party. It turns out that Schied’s music majoring roommate detected the Copland composed music. It turns out that the music was inspired by Aaron Copland, but is actually a “cheap knock-off of sorts of Copland’s Appalachian Spring according to The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross.”

The background music in Rick Perry’s ad was inspired  by composer Aaron  Copland who was gay.

So, for those of you keeping score at home, Rick Perry’s campaign ad (which was originally created for the Iowa television market but quickly went viral on YouTube) has him proclaiming that it’s wrong for gays to serve openly in the military when kids can’t celebrate Christmas in school, but has him wearing a jacket that looks like the one worn by Heath Ledger in the gay romance movie “Brokeback Mountain” and features background music inspired by a gay, Jewish composer. You just can’t make this stuff up!

Here’s my video response:

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