Thursday, March 13, 2014

Jason Bateman Teaches Jon Stewart Yiddish

THE GREAT YIDDISHIST LEO ROSTEN was hopefully rolling (with laughter) in his grave last night. The late author of the book "The Joy of Yiddish" worked very hard during his lifetime to bring the dying Yiddish language into the mainstream.

Last night's five minute dialogue between actor Jason Bateman and Jon Stewart included more Yiddish words than we typically hear on television. It was as if Bateman wanted to drop some of his well-rehearsed Yiddishisms during his interview on The Daily Show.

As soon as Jason Bateman sat down he told Jon Stewart that his "It's nice when nice happens to nice" opening comment sounded very Yiddish. And from there it became a Yiddish word competition between the two men.

Jon Stewart speaks Yiddish with Jason Bateman of Arrested Development

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Drake On Saturday Night Live Reflects On His Bar Mitzvah

LAST NIGHT DRAKE HOSTED Saturday Night Live's season premier. On the first SNL show of the year Jewish and Black stereotypes were offered a plenty. The famous rapper opened the show by explaining that he's from Canada, was in the TV show Degrassi Junior High, and that his mother is Jewish and his father is Black.

He then had a flashback to his bar mitzvah in 1999 when both sides of his family met for the very first time.

Wearing a big white kippah (yarmulke), Drizzy gave his bar mitzvah speech in which he sang a rap to the tune of Hava Nagila.

Yes there were quite a few stereotypes about both Jews and African Americans, like when his Jewish uncle gave him a check for $18 (chai) and his Black uncle gave him a check for a $1,000 but told him to wait 90 days to cash it, but these were all in jest and it's Saturday Night Live after all... CONTINUE READING AND WATCH THE SNL VIDEO

Rabbi Jason Miller, the co-founder of the blog, is a blogger, entrepreneur and technologist. Follow him on his blog at and on Twitter at @RabbiJason.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Scarlett Johansson Brings Fizz to SodaStream

YESTERDAY WAS ONE OF THE FOUR New Years set forth in the Mishna. Tu Bishvat, or Jewish Arbor Day, occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Sh'vat. In addition to being a birthday for trees, the holiday is deeply connected to the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel and in modern days has become a day for celebrating the environment and reminding us of our responsibility as good stewards of the land.

At the core of this ethic for environmental stewardship is the concept of bal tashchit -- the ban on wonton destruction of the earth's resources. This environmental principle, which includes waste reduction, should be a focus on the holiday of Tu Bishvat.

Last year on Tu Bishvat I published an article on the Huffington Post's website about a presentation I had heard the month before while I was visiting Israel with a group of Conservative/Masorti rabbinic colleagues. Together with a dozen other rabbis, we toured the headquarters of the West Bank-based Israeli company SodaStream, the makers of consumer home carbonated water products.

Daniel Birnbaum, the CEO of publicly traded SodaStream, explained to our group the positive environmental impact of his products. "This is the new way to do soda. We're revolutionizing it with a smarter way to enjoy soft drinks." He even told us that his company had a great Super Bowl ad coming up that was sure to spark controversy. Well, this year Daniel Birnbaum's SodaStream company has another Super Bowl commercial in the works and Jewish actress Scarlett Johansson will star in it.

As reported in the Forward, "Scarlett Johansson signed on this week as the new “global ambassador” for SodaStream and will be featured in the company’s 2014 Super Bowl advertisement. For SodaStream, this deal makes sense: Johansson is remarkably sexy, eco-friendly, loves the product, and happens to be Jewish. It makes particular sense since the company’s stock recently took a hit and its image has been tarnished by the fact that its factory is located in the Mishor Adumim industrial park in Israel’s occupied territories."

Daniel Birnbaum of SodaStream unveils Scarlett Johansson as its Global Brand Ambassador 

Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees and the Ten Commandments

EVER SINCE THE ACADEMY AWARDS expanded to include up to ten nominees for best picture, it has become an annual tradition for me to try to match each selected film to the theme one of the Ten Commandments. This year, with the Jewish calendar running so early the revelation of the ten movies for 2014 comes just in time for the reading of the Ten Commandments. So here are the (almost) ten nominees written in stone.

There is, of course, no comparison between the transformative moment at Sinai and the artificial pomp and circumstance attending the giving of the Oscars. However, as incomparable as receiving the Torah was, the content of the Torah and its Commandments were not meant for a singular moment of awe, but to inspire us day in and day out. Their lessons are not only found etched in stone, but even imprinted on celluloid.

So, the nominees for Best Commandments are:

X You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug The second installment of Peter Jackson's take on JRR Tolkien's classic the Hobbit is not actually up for an Academy Award like the other nine on this list. Still,I couldn't resist including it for several reasons, not the least of which that its one of the few movies I have actually had a chance to see! Also, however, while its larger than life version of Tolkien's children's tale runs the gamut from murder to honoring one's father to worshipping idols of gold, the story is driven by coveting, for good or for ill. The dwarves covet the return to their home, the humans covet the wealth under the mountain, and even the elves allow their nobility to corrupted by what they covet. Only the title character, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins manages to be driven not by what he desires from others, but by a sense of responsibility to them. Tolkien understood the o ability to avoid coveting to be far from human nature and yet something very valuable for which a human should strive.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Wearing a Yarmulke in the Big Ten

THE YARMULKE DIDN'T HELP NORTHWESTERN'S Aaron Liberman's team against the University of Michigan in yesterday's basketball game, but it did help the Jewish college player make history.

Before Liberman's one minute of play no Big Ten conference player had ever worn a kippah in a game. Yahoo reported the one minute of yarmulke fame by this Yid in a lid:

Kyle Ringo of the Dagger filed the story:

Northwestern forward Aaron Liberman played 1 minute Sunday in a 74-51 loss at Michigan and didn't record a single statistic, but he still made a bit of Big Ten Conference history.

Liberman, a 6-foot-10 freshman walk-on from Valley Torah High School in Los Angeles became the first player in Big Ten history to wear a yarmulke in a game. A yarmulke is a skullcap worn by Orthodox Jews and by other Jewish men during prayer.

Liberman is believed to be the only Orthodox Jew playing major college basketball, but he is not the first player to wear a yarmulke in a Division I game. The other player to do so was former Towson guard Tamir Goodman, who played in 2000 and 2001 and was nicknamed the “Jewish Jordan.”

Liberman observes the sabbath. Part of doing so means he doesn't use electricity from sundown Friday to sundown Saturdays. So on Fridays last season he sometimes walked 8 miles to practices.

Liberman was invited to speak after a home game last month about what it's like for him to be an Orthodox Jew playing major college hoops. The school handed approximately 200 purple yarmulkes with an N printed on them to people who attended.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Simon Cowell's Jewish Wedding

ACCORDING TO AN ARTICLE IN The Daily Mall Reality TV host Simon Cowell plans to be married in a traditional Jewish wedding, complete with kosher food.

The British musical reality shows judge is said to be taking Israeli folk dance classes in preparation for his wedding to his girlfriend Lauren Silverman, who is Jewish. According to reports, the couple's wedding will be officiated by a rabbi.

The Daily Mall reports that Simon Cowell, 54, the English eternal judge of musical reality shows, plans to get married in a Jewish wedding, his good friends say. Cowell, who was born to a Jewish father, is set to marry his pregnant Jewish girlfriend Lauren Silverman in the coming year, and the two will be blessed by a rabbi.

The Daily Mail reports that a source close to the couple told Heat magazine, "Simon and Lauren have spoken very openly about marriage and he’s told pals he may even propose by the end of the year."

Simon Cowell - Credit:

In recent weeks Cowell has even been taking lessons in Israeli folk dances and traditional Jewish dances, and plans to show off his abilities during the wedding.

According to the Daily Mail, Cowell and Silverman will also have a Christian wedding ceremony near his mother's home in Sussex. Cowell and girlfriend Lauren Silverman are expecting their first baby in February and Cowell has publicly stated that he will quit smoking before the baby arrives.

Rabbi Jason Miller is the co-founder of and a Conservative rabbi who blogs at Follow Rabbi Jason on Twitter at @RabbiJason.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hesped for Walter White (Eulogy)

FRIENDS, WE ARE GATHERED HERE today to remember the life of Walter Hartwell White. I’m sure many of you are aware that Jewish tradition does not permit eulogizing a mass murderer, con-artist, or illegal purveyor of Methamphetamine and Walt was all three.

To say that I wasn't surprised to see hundreds of picketers outside of my Synagogue in protest of today's event would be the understatement of the century. But I believe that something deserves to be said about this man who lived a truly noble life for the first 50 of his 52 years on this earth. More importantly, Walter White’s death will give us the tools, if we apply ourselves, to prevent us from making the same mistakes as he. In this way, Walt’s life will have some redeeming value, though i’m not sure whether God will take that into consideration when determining his fate in the next world.
Walt was a kind man, a loyal husband, good father, and a great science teacher. He cared for his students and motivated them to achieve greatness. That all came to a screeching halt upon receiving his cancer diagnosis. It hit him like a train. His life stopped. He didn’t know what to do. Please don't misunderstand me. Cancer wasn't the cause that slowly transformed Walt into the evil Heisenberg. Cancer was merely the gash that re-opened his past wounds. It brought to the fore his two greatest hurts and regrets which lay dormant in his body and soul for so many years: breaking off his engagement to long-time girlfriend, Gretchen Schwartz, and leaving the multi-million dollar company they started together with her husband, Elliot.

Walter White obituary (Photo: Albuquerque Journal)
To this day, I don't quite understand the circumstances surrounding their breakup or departure from the company; but I know that he regretted these decisions. It pained him and angered him greatly. He was jealous of their wealth, envious of their status, and upset with himself for leaving it all behind. Nevertheless, he was a proud man. So proud that he refused to return to the company when offered the opportunity. So proud that he refused their 'charity' to help pay for his medical bills.

For so many years he managed to subdue the anger, rage, and jealousy that resided deep within him. He managed to keep his skeletons in the closet. He truly loved his wife, Skyler, kids, Walt Jr. and Holly. While the diagnosis gave him pause to reflect on all the good he experienced in life, it also reminded him about his regrets and mistakes. Knowing that he didn't have much time to live, Walt panicked, lost control of himself, and decided to make money cooking and selling crystal meth. He convinced himself that his previous life was a bore; that nothing he did as a teacher was of any true value. Additionally, because of his meager salary, he realized that he wouldn't be able to leave much, if anything, for his family after his death. One thing led to the next and soon enough the kind and gentle Walter White transformed into the evil and maniacal Heisenberg.

In ethics of the fathers we are taught that "Jealousy, Lust, and Honor" remove a person from the world. Walt possessed all three of these terrible traits. He was jealous of Gretchen and Elliot, lusted for money, and was an ego-maniac. True to their word, these evil traits caused Walt to become a shell of himself. He no longer lived in his own body.

Walt’s downfall was in his inability to cope with his past mistakes. He allowed the past to turn him into a monster. Walt's failure to cope is a challenge that all of us are faced with at various points in our lives. We all have skeletons in our closets. We have hurts, losses, and jealousies, which we have placed deep in the recesses of our subconscious’s. We move forward and manage to live happy and fulfilling lives despite our past. Like Walt, however, there's no button to delete our past experiences once and for all eternity. It's part of our identity and formation as human beings. So I ask all of you this morning: when we are confronted with a similar experience of grief or loss will we be able to control our emotions and the collateral damage it may cause? Will the reminder of our past failures and greatest regrets sink us into depression? Will it make us angry? Will we lose ourselves and turn into someone we never wished we'd become? Or will we seek help?

On the last day of his life, Walt admitted to Skyler that a life of crime made him feel 'alive’ and that he ‘liked it.’ Even so, if given the chance to start over, I am certain he would choose a different route. It's not the life he truly wanted.

As Jesse confronted his demons and personal struggles throughout their two year partnership, Walt would manipulate him to 'move on' from his past mistakes. "You can't control the past," he would say as he schemed to rein Jesse in. Walt was somewhat correct. You can't change the past, but you can control whether you let past experiences control your life in the present. Ironically, the master of manipulation couldn’t control his own past. And that’s what caused him to break bad.

As we continue to live our lives and deal with the personal skeleton's hiding in our closets, I hope and pray that unlike Walt, we will not break bad. Seek professional help and place our trust in the care and support of family and friends. In so doing, our regrets and hurts will always remain a thing of the past, and our future will shine every so brightly.

Rabbi Joshua Hess is an Orthodox rabbi in New Jersey and the co-founder of the blog with Rabbi Jason Miller. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiHess and on Google Plus at +Joshua Hess.