Wednesday, October 4, 2017

How Mark Zuckerberg is Embracing his Judaism

Ben Sales recently wrote about how Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has been openly embracing his Judaism.

The Facebook co-founder has been invoking Judaism a lot lately. In May, he quoted a Jewish prayer at Harvard’s commencement. Two weeks ago he posted a picture of his daughter with a family kiddush cup. And on Saturday night, he posted a public apology at the end of Yom Kippur.

It’s quite a transformation for a public figure who once defined himself as an atheist.

Although he was a member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi before he dropped out of Harvard, Zuckerberg didn’t discuss his Judaism much before 2015. Replying to a comment last year, Zuckerberg wrote that he “went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”



Zuckerberg’s recent string of Jewish affirmations began nearly two years ago following then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. Being raised as a Jew, Zuckerberg wrote, made him sensitive to attacks on all minorities.

“After the Paris attacks and hate this week, I can only imagine the fear Muslims feel that they will be persecuted for the actions of others,” Zuckerberg wrote, referring to that year’s terror attack in the French capital. “As a Jew, my parents taught me that we must stand up against attacks on all communities. Even if an attack isn’t against you today, in time attacks on freedom for anyone will hurt everyone.”

Zuckerberg invoked his Judaism again after the August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

“It's a disgrace that we still need to say that neo-Nazis and white supremacists are wrong — as if this is somehow not obvious,” he wrote.

But judging from his Facebook profile (and in his case, shouldn’t we?), Zuckerberg has reconnected with his Judaism not just as a national figure but as a person and a father. His post featuring a collage of a kiddush cup, Shabbat candlesticks and homemade challah waxed about passing the cup from generation to generation.

“For shabbat tonight, we gave Max a kiddush cup that has been in our family for almost 100 years,” he wrote, referring to his eldest daughter. “Her great-great-grandfather Max got it after our family immigrated here and it has been passed down through our family ever since.”

At the Harvard commencement, Zuckerberg told graduates that he sings an adaptation of the Mi Shebeirach — the traditional Jewish prayer for the sick — when he tucks her in at night.

“And it goes, ‘May the source of strength, who’s blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,” he told the graduates in May, quoting a version of the prayer by the late Jewish songwriter Debbie Friedman and lyricist Rabbi Drorah Setel. “I hope you find the courage to make your life a blessing.”

While the mogul’s newfound piety may be attracting attention, he is doing what any young Jewish parent might, said Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, director of CLAL-the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Plenty of Jews lose interest in their religion, then reconnect to it after having kids.

“There are a million people in his age cohort who are deeply proud of being Jewish and are trying to figure out what it means,” Hirschfield said. “You marry and partner and have a family, and it’s not surprising that the questions of ‘How do I have a more meaningful life and build a better future’ become more important and powerful and imminent.”

InterfaithFamily.com was especially pleased that Zuckerberg, whose wife, Priscilla Chan, is not Jewish, has posted about his family’s Jewish rituals.

“The fact that such a super-influential couple clearly are making Jewish choices for their family is the best news with which to start the new year,” wrote Ed Case, founder of InterfaithFamily.com. “Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan could really change the course of Jewish history if they got involved in efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life.”

Zuckerberg got Jewishly personal again when he asked for forgiveness at the end of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of repentance. His critics might say he has a lot to atone for.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Facebook was accused of allowing Russian hackers to post thousands of ads influencing the election. And users also were allowed to target ads based on phrases like “Jew hater” and “how to burn Jews.” (Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who also is Jewish, said the company would address the problem.)

“For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better,” he wrote Saturday night. “For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better.”

It isn’t the first time that Zuckerberg has encountered trouble because of the content published on his site. In 2015, some 20,000 Israelis filed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook for ignoring incitement to terrorism on the network and enabling terrorists to find sympathizers. The case was dismissed this year.

While Zuckerberg may not have always talked publicly about his Judaism, he has surrounded himself with people who do. His college suite mate moved to Israel and became a Conservative rabbi. Sandberg has spoken frequently about how Jewish rituals helped her cope following her husband’s untimely death in 2015. And his sister, Randi, is open about her Jewish observances. She says her family unplugs for a “digital Shabbat” each weekend, and sang “Jerusalem of Gold,” a classic Israeli song, at the Davos World Economic Forum.

Davos also occasioned the first JTA clip about Zuckerberg, published in 2008. While he attended the forum that year, Israel’s delegation invited him to visit the country.

He has yet to accept. But after giving his daughter a kiddush cup and atoning on Yom Kippur, maybe this is the year.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Disturbed's David Draiman Almost Became a Cantor

David Draiman, the singer of the heavy metal band Disturbed, trained to be a Jewish cantor.

JTA reports:

That didn’t go so well. Growing up in Chicago, he was expelled from three different yeshivas, and after a rowdy night of Purim drinking as a teenager, he blew up his high school rabbi’s van.

While that may have made him notorious among local kids back in the day, seven Disturbed albums and millions of record sales later, Draiman is now best known for his guttural vocal yells — not his Jewish school antics.

This year, Disturbed is nominated for a Grammy for a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s song “The Sound of Silence” — something that brought Draiman, 43, back a bit closer to his cantor-in-training days.



Instead of churning out a loud, heavy-metal version of the song, the group decided to keep their recording soft and acoustic. Draiman got to showcase his smoother, classically-trained voice — which reminded him of the days when he thought he might one day lead a Jewish congregation in song.

“I was so overwhelmed with emotion listening to the way my vocals sounded in that beautiful bed of music,” Draiman told NPR last month. “Not having heard my voice in that way for so long, it was really just very, very overwhelming.”


He also revealed to NPR that he seriously considered becoming a rabbi.

“My religious upbringing was always something that was difficult for me to swallow willingly, but the intellectual aspect of it, the academic aspect of it was very, very appealing to me,” he said. “Studying to become a rabbi or heading down that path is really all about becoming very engrossed and very adept at interpretation of Jewish law, of the Talmud. And I had to learn to find my own truths, and little by little, as they say in Judaism, I ‘left the path.’”

Today Draiman is pretty secular, though he calls himself “intensely spiritual.” He is also a big fan of fellow Jewish musician Paul Simon.

“If we are blessed with winning the Grammy this time, I would have to dedicate it to the original songwriter himself, to Paul Simon,” he said. “No one can really take away the sheer utter brilliance of the composition of that song.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ugly Christmas Sweaters... But for Hanukkah

From Lior Zaltzman's article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA.org)

Ever since I moved here from Israel, every late November felt like the beginning of a month-long assault. Every store, business and doctor’s office blared Christmas songs, streets were decorated with ostentatious light shows and seemingly everything became green and red — which, as an art school grad, I found personally offensive to my design sensibilities.

Then there were the Christmas sweaters. I admit I have a love of tacky knitwear — but I couldn’t get behind these garish monstrosities that flaunted a holiday that I didn’t celebrate but couldn’t escape from.

So I was thrilled when, three years ago, I saw a friend at a holiday party wearing a cozy sweater with a familiar pattern on it — dreidels with Hebrew letters, perfectly if garishly designed. I ran across the room and accosted her. “Where did you get that sweater?!”

That was the beginning of my love affair with Hanukkah knitwear. I now have about half-dozen Hanukkah wearables. My favorite is a cardigan called “The Spinster,” the same one I saw at that party, with big, nostalgic corozo buttons. Yes, I have way more sweaters than I probably need, but I treasure them. They feel like my armor in the war that Christmas seems to be waging against me every time the holiday season comes around.

Since then, the Hanukkah knitwear market has grown significantly. While there are fewer Hanukkah sweaters than the Christmas variety — for obvious reasons — nowadays you can find everything from cute cardigans at Target done up with hanukkiot and boxed gifts to more controversial pieces, like the borderline misogynistic one sold (and later pulled) at Nordstrom last year. There’s an abundance of cheap, cheerful Hanukkah options on Etsy — heck, even Whoopi Goldberg jumped on the Hanukkah sweater bandwagon this season with a cutesy, bejeweled octopus design.

seth-rogen-hanukkah-sweater-chanukah
Jewish Actor Seth Rogen in a Jewish Star Hanukkah Sweater

The Hanukkah sweater, like American-style Hanukkah itself, is a custom that expanded in a “what about us?” reaction to Christmas celebrations. “Ugly Christmas sweater parties” have been a thing since the early 2000s, although it wasn’t until a decade later that Time magazine noted the trend in an article declaring that “the tops are bigger than ever, but in a very hipstery, oh-so-ironic way.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The NASCAR Driver from Israel

I RECENTLY WROTE A BLOG POST ABOUT NASCAR DRIVER ALON DAY, who is both Jewish and Israeli. He's from Ashdod and since a recent article in Sports Illustrated, he's been the biggest story in NASCAR.

One really does a double take when you see Alon Day's racecar sporting the logos of the Anti-Defamation League, the Israel Football League and the Jewish Federation. An attorney named David Levin has been trying to raise funds to get a big name sponsor for his car (the main sponsor will pay a million dollars).

Alon Day led his team to its first-ever first place finish. While he didn't get to drive the team's car in the victory lap, he did manage to hold a top ten position and for a while even maintained second place.

It's great to see a NASCAR driver who is so proud of his Jewish and Israeli heritage. I hope he enjoys much success in his motorsports career. You can read my full blog post on the Rabbi With a Blog website.


Israeli Jewish Alon Day - NASCAR Driver

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Trevor Noah Had a Bar Mitzvah

From JTA.org

By Josefin Dolsten

It’s hard to imagine that “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah would have a problem getting people to come to his party. But that is precisely what happened to him as a 13 year old when his Jewish mom insisted he have a bar mitzvah.



In an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Noah spoke of his mom’s Jewish identity (she converted to the religion when he was a child) and struggles as a mixed-race person under apartheid in South Africa, where interracial relationships were banned.

“I lived my life as a part-white, part-black but then sometimes Jewish kid, and I didn’t understand because she didn’t make me convert … When I turned 13, she threw me a bar mitzvah, but nobody came because nobody knew what the hell that was. I only had black friends — no one knows what the hell you’re doing. So it was just me and my mom and she’s celebrating and she’s reading things to me in Hebrew,” he said.

Despite the awkwardness, growing up with Jewish traditions seems to have been a positive experience for Noah, who called it “a gift.”

“That was the gift my mother gave me. I think that was part of her religious pursuits. My mother’s always looking for answers, she’s always searching for new information,” he said.

Noah’s sweet story about his Jewish experience may come as a surprise to some. Last year Jewish groups slammed the late-night host for postings on social media in which he criticized Israel and made jokes that some said relied on negative stereotypes about Jews.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wolf Blitzer Will Moderate Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Ellen DeGeneres had a funny idea to create an app that lets people invite Wolf Blitzer to Thanksgiving dinner to moderate family arguments. Check it out!


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

WWE Jewish Wrestler Goldberg Makes Comeback

From the Jewish Daily Forward: The wrestler known as Goldberg shocked the wrestling world at his first WWE match in 12 years by defeating his longtime rival Brock Lesnar in a minute and 26 seconds.

The crowd at Toronto’s Air Canada Center chanted Goldberg’s name after the dominant win on Sunday night. Lesnar had not been defeated in over two years.

The Pro Wrestling Sheet reported that Goldberg, now 49, will also appear in the WWE Royal Rumble 2017 in January at the Alamodome in San Antonio.



Bill Goldberg, the grandson of Romanian and Russian immigrants, had his bar mitzvah in his native Tulsa, Oklahoma. He originally wanted to go by the name Mossad — the name of Israel’s intelligence service — thinking that his own last name did not sound imposing enough.

After playing in the National Football League from 1990 to 1995, Goldberg — who stands 6-4 and weighs nearly 300 pounds — became one of the WWE’s biggest superstars, winning multiple heavyweight championship belts.

The Bleacher Report said, "The Royal Rumble is a wise way to use Goldberg following Survivor Series.

WWE could've had Goldberg wrestle at Roadblock: End of the Line in December, but it's rare for special attractions such as him and Lesnar to show up for the more minor pay-per-views. By waiting until the Rumble, WWE is saving Goldberg for a far bigger stage while also allowing him more time to train in the ring.

The Rumble match will also help cover up his deficiencies as a grappler. Even in his prime, Goldberg was never a ring technician, and there's little reason to expect anything different considering he turns 50 in a little over a month.

In the Rumble match, Goldberg can entertain fans without having to do too much heavy lifting.

More importantly, the Royal Rumble can provide a solid storytelling device to set up the inevitable third match between Goldberg and Lesnar.

Having now beaten Lesnar twice, Goldberg has little incentive to agree to another bout. However, his mindset would change if Lesnar costs him an opportunity to wrestle for the WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania 33.

It would be a somewhat ironic turn of events, since Goldberg played a direct role in costing Lesnar the WWE Championship at No Way Out 2004, setting up their clash at WrestleMania XX.

Although Goldberg's first run with WWE underwhelmed a number of fans, the company has corrected course following his return."