Saturday, March 21, 2015

Michael Douglas and Hollywood’s Jewish Identity Problem

“AND THE AWARD FOR 'BEST PUBLIC statement on the Jewish condition by a Jew in the entertainment business’’’?

Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin
“The envelope, please...”

Michael Douglas.

Yes, that Michael Douglas — as in Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street,” Liberace in “Behind the Candelabra.”

In a recent essay in the Los Angeles Times, Douglas recounts how his family was on vacation in southern Europe, and his son Dylan was subjected to anti-Semitic verbal abuse at the hotel pool. Dylan was wearing a Star of David necklace.

This incident prompted Douglas to talk to his son about the pervasive presence of anti-Semitism in the world. In the essay, Douglas analyzes the reasons for the uptick in anti-Semitism. He reminds us that it is everyone’s duty to stand up to the forces of hatred and bigotry that are all too present in the world.

Douglas and his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, had taken Dylan to Israel for his bar mitzvah ceremony last summer. Then, in January, Douglas received the 2015 Genesis Prize, which honors “exceptional people whose values and achievements will inspire the next generation of Jews.”

Michael Douglas, Kirk-Douglas and Michael's son at his bar mitzvah
Michael Douglas, Kirk-Douglas and Michael's son at his bar mitzvah
There is a shortage of “Jewish Jews” in the entertainment business. While we can all name our own favorite exceptions to the rule, the fact is, when it comes to Judaism and Jewish connections, much of the entertainment industry is a Judaism-free zone. When we scan the list of famous Jewish actors and actresses, we find very few who seem to do anything Jewish with their lives.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What Happened to Nev Schulman of Catfish?

BACK IN 2010 I BECAME intrigued about the whole Catfish story. Catfish was the documentary film directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, involving Nev, being filmed by his brother and friend. Nev builds a romantic relationship with a young woman on the social networking website Facebook. The film really got people talking -- was it real or a hoax -- and has even inspired the MTV reality TV series, Catfish: The TV Show.

A few months ago I was thinking about Nev Schulman (yes real name is Yaniv) when I noticed that MTV made a reality show based on his story and the movie.

Well, as if Jonathan Reiss heard me thinking about what Schulman was up to, he sat down and interviewed him. The full interview has been published on the Tablet Magazine website as "Nev Schulman, Nebbish-in-Chief of the Social Media Daisy Chain: The original ‘Catfish’ victim, fooled in front of millions, uses his pain to help all the lonely people."

In the interview, Reiss explains the back story of how the whole Catfish fiasco even started:

Schulman got a job filming a ballet workshop taught by Benjamin Millepied (Black Swan choreographer, Natalie Portman husband). To make ends meet he took work as a bar mitzvah videographer, too. Now he needed a work space, although still “just a bar mitzvah videographer,” as he told me. However, he’d had one recent coup: A photo he’d taken of a ballet performance was published in the New York Sun. The moment came and went. Then, in the strangest possible way, it came again.

Yaniv "Nev" Schulman from Catfish
Yaniv "Nev" Schulman from Catfish

One day Schulman received an email from an 8-year-old girl named Abby, from Ishpemig, Michigan. This email would set into motion the chain of events that made him famous, the one that gave birth to Catfish.

The first email Abby sent was a quick introduction, containing some compliments on Nev’s photographs and a request for a critique on some of her paintings. Schulman obliged, looking at some of her watercolors and drawings pictured in her MySpace profile listed as “AbbyLovesBallet.” Her work was impressive for an 8-year-old, and he told her so. Then he received an email from Abby’s mother, checking to make sure that her daughter wasn’t “bothering him” and apologizing if that was the case. Soon after, he received another message from Abby asking permission to paint the photograph that had been published in the newspaper.

Soon Schulman was regularly chatting online with Abby and her mother, Angela.

[Continue reading Jonathan Reiss's interview with Nev Schulman here]

Monday, February 2, 2015

Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady Have a Menorah in Their Home

I WAS INTRIGUED WHEN I read the headline in Tablet Magazine asking, "Why Does Tom Brady Have a Menorah?"

It turns out that New York Times Magazine reporter Mark Leibovich profiled Tom Brady in a recent issue of the magazine. Leibovitch was granted access to the home of the New England Patriots quarterback, whose team won yet another Super Bowl championship last night.

Inside the sprawling home of Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen in Brookline, Massacheusetts, Leibovitch was led into a “barnlike guesthouse,” which was being built for the supermodel’s photo shoots. It was inside this guesthouse that the reporter saw a menorah.

Leibovitch explains, that Brady "marched me back into the house, through the kitchen and past a shelf that displayed a large glass menorah. 'We’re not Jewish,' Brady said when I asked him about this. 'But I think we’re into everything. . . . I don’t know what I believe. I think there’s a belief system, I’m just not sure what it is.'"

Why does Tom Brady have a menorah in his home?
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reacts after winning the Super Bowl. (photo credit: REUTERS)


Tablet Magazine speculates that perhaps the menorah was given to Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen as a gift by either the Kraft family, owners of the New England Patriots, or by Tom Brady’s brother-in-law Kevin Youkilis, the retired Jewish baseball player who married Brady's sister Julie in 2012.

Jason Miller is a rabbi, entrepreneur and technology expert. He's president of Access Computer Technology in Detroit, Michigan and blogs at http://blog.rabbijason.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiJason.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden Have Traditional Jewish Wedding

OFTENTIMES RABBIS LAMENT THE FACT that two Jews don't choose to include many of the traditional Jewish wedding elements into their big day. Well, now many rabbis can point to two non-Jewish celebrities who have chosen to include many of those traditional Jewish wedding elements into their wedding.

Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden opted for quite the Jewish wedding although neither is Jewish. On Monday, January 5, 2015 the famous couple became married at Cameron Diaz's Beverly Hills mansion.

The couple got ready in separate rooms prior to the ceremony. The wedding party included bridesmaids Nicole Richie (her new sister-in-law), Drew Barrymore, her older sister Chimene Cain, and Diaz’s assistant Jesse Lutz. Standing up for Benji Madden were his groomsmen Josh and Joel Madden.

As reported on Yahoo! News, the event, which was planned by Yifat Oren and Stefanie Cove, featured a Jewish ceremony on a stage set up inside of Diaz’s home. The bridesmaids wore black dresses and carried white bouquets, entering the room to a Ryan Adams song. See photos of Diaz's gorgeous engagement ring.


An officiant (presumably a rabbi) presided over the service, reading the seven blessings for the couple. When the time came for the pair to exchange rings, Benji accidentally dropped his, and the 100 guests laughed along with the bridal party. To seal the deal — as is custom in a Jewish ceremony — Madden stepped on and broke a glass as the crowd shouted, “Mazel Tov!”

After the vows, Madden requested personal time with Diaz, during which they entered a private room for about 30 minutes, asking not to be disturbed — a Jewish wedding ritual known as Yichud.

Guests, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Samantha Ronson, Lionel Richie, Toni Collette, Nancy Juvonen, Judd Apatow, Leslie Mann, and Robin Antin, enjoyed a cocktail hour in the backyard’s outdoor tent, which was decorated with olive trees, linen tablecloths, and beeswax candles. The newlyweds soon joined their friends and family in the tent, giving a welcome toast.

Sheva berachot, yichud and the breaking of a glass. Maybe now more Jewish couples won't question why rabbis insist on all that tradition!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Former New England Patriots' Star Andre Tippett Loves Latkes on Hanukkah

SHOULD ADAM SANDLER EVER DECIDE to write a new version of his famous Hanukkah Song, he should definitely include that NFL Hall of Famer Andre Tippett enjoys eating his potato latkes on Hanukkah with apple sauce. That's right, the former New England Patriots' star Andre Tippett is Jewish after converting several years ago.

While he didn't play in the NFL while he was an official member of the Jewish tribe, Tippett, along with former NFL greats Ron Mix and Sid Luckman, are the only three Jews in the NFL's Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

The Boston Globe's Steven A. Rosenberg recently interviewed Tippett, who spoke fondly of his Baptist upbringing and his beautiful Jewish family. When he began to discuss his family's Hanukkah holiday rituals, "his voice grows even softer" than it normally is.

“Hanukkah means dedication and is about miracles. I’m probably more excited than most of the family because I look forward to any type of celebration when it comes to holidays,” the 55-year-old Tippett told the Boston Globe reporter.

Married to the Jewish Rhonda Kenney, the couple has a daughter Madison and a son Coby. They were married by a rabbi in 1993 and Tippett began taking Judaism classes that led to his conversion in 1997.

Andre Tippett at the New England Patriots vs St Louis Rams game in 2008. (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Jon Stewart Offers to Have a Talmud Discussion with Stephen Colbert

ON LAST NIGHT'S EPISODE OF The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert finally had his good friend and former boss Jon Stewart as a guest on the successful Comedy Central show.

Jon Stewart (née Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz) came on Colbert's show to promote his new movie, Rosewater, and explained that behind closed doors he only quotes rabbinical texts.

"I am merely an arbiter of biblical law," he said. And then he offered to have a Talmudic discussion with his friend Stephen Colbert.

Although Jon Stewart is a producer of The Colbert Report and helped launch the pseudo spin off of his own The Daily Show, he had never been a formal guest on the Colbert Report until last night. (Stewart had made cameo appearances in the past.)

Stephen Colbert, who is not Jewish, has been tapped to take over hosting duties on The Late Show when David Letterman retires at the end of the year. Colbert only has 12 more episodes of the Report remaining this year.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert
Before Colbert gave Stewart a chance to pitch Rosewater -- the story based on the memoir Then They Came for Me by Maziar Bahari -- the two demonstrated their special chemistry, which has been called a loving bromance. At the end of the interview, each man kissed the other on the cheek.

Here's the video of the exchange:




Rabbi Jason Miller is the co-founder of PopJewish.com blog. Rabbi Jason's an entrepreneur, educator, technologist and blogger. He is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post and Time.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiJason.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rabbi Barry Freundel and Personal Safeguards

CHEATING ON A SPOUSE IS USUALLY considered an unforgivable sin and often ends in divorce. It is also socially reprehensible, though regrettably, we have become numb to its frequent occurrence. I was surprised to learn that research indicates that oftentimes cheating spouses are not necessarily unhappy in their marriage, or are looking to cheat as a way of satisfying their ego, and do not always engage in this act impulsively. The way a psychologist explained it to me is that, oftentimes, it’s the outcome of a fantasy that festers and festers in his or her mind for days, months, and maybe even years. Psychologically speaking, if a spouse has multiple affairs, we can chalk it up to the idea that has been around since Talmudic times, that once you have tasted the forbidden fruit, it’s too difficult to go back.

I don’t know Rabbi Barry Freundel or the particulars of his character, other than what I have heard and read recently. But it might very well be that his sick and perverted behavior stemmed from a fantasy that festered within him for a very long time. Perhaps after a particularly frustrating day he did some research about cameras. A few months later, after an unfulfilling day in the office, he bought one, and a few months after that he installed it. Once he recorded his first victim, it was too difficult to turn back.

Whether my psychological analysis of Rabbi Freundel is correct is not the point. What is important to recognize is that even the most moral, ethical and family oriented person can succumb to a desire that is the product of a far-fetched fantasy he or she never dreamed would actually come to fruition. The unfortunate truth is that we can destroy many lives by turning a fantasy into a reality that we never really wanted in the first place. We need to protect ourselves from ourselves, but how? Just as important as creating communal safeguards to prevent society from acting on its basest instincts, is the need to create personal safeguards to prevent ourselves from yielding to the unholy and unhealthy temptations we face on a daily basis. Is there anything we can do to ward off the “impure,” “evil” or inappropriate thoughts that enter our minds? Are there strategies we can adopt to protect ourselves from allowing an idea to fester to the point that we make the biggest mistake of our lives? Can we be programmed to flip an “off” switch to shut out these thoughts? Is it possible to diffuse or at least control them?

Orthodox Rabbi Barry Freundel Arrested for Voyeurism; Abuse


Jewish tradition provides a number of what has currently come to be called “cognitive behavioral techniques” to protect someone from succumbing to their base desires. The advice is remarkably prescient and remains relevant today.