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 (

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.

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


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."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Beastie Boys Ad Rock Leads Protest at Adam Yauch Square in NYC

NO SLEEP 'TIL BROOKLYN WAS THE ANTHEM OF THE BEASTIE BOYS and now Adam Keefe Horovitz, AKA "Ad Rock" of the Beastie Boys, is fighting for his right... to make sure there's no more swastika graffiti in the Brooklyn Park named for his buddy and bandmate Adam Yauch.

Ad-Rock spoke at an anti-hate rally today after the park was defaced with swastikas last Friday. The playground at Adam Yauch Park (named for the Beastie Boys' MCA following his death in 2013) was spray-painted with swastikas along with the message "Go Trump."

Hundreds were at the event today. Adam Horovitz and community leaders spoke out against racism and intolerance.

Actor Ben Stiller was on hand also at the rally against hate. Still tweeted, "Standing with people of Brooklyn, my daughter, @adrock, @DanielSquadron, and many more in Adam Yauch Park. #MCA #NYC #StandUpAgainstHate." The overarching rally cry of the gathering was "No Sleep 'Til No Hate in Brooklyn.

Beastie Boys Ad Rock in Brooklyn Rally Against Hate
Photo by Naomi Less

Jezebel reported Horovitz saying, "This is real. It’s happening at a rapid rate. We gotta stand up against hate. Spray painting swastikas in a children’s playground is a messed up thing to do. This is more about someone in our community linking Nazi Germany to Donald Trump in a ‘hell yeah’ kind of way in a park where children play."

Beastie Boys - Nazi - Swastikas - Adam Yauch Park Brooklyn

"If you’re able to volunteer, volunteer,” Ad-Rock requested. "If you’re a musician, write that anthem. If you’re a writer, write. Take what you’re good at, and what you truly enjoy, and lend your services to the causes you care most about. ‘Cause we can’t, and we won’t, and we don’t stop."

Rabbi Jason Miller, co-founder of, is a popular writer and speaker on the intersection of pop culture and Judaism. He is also a technology evangelist and blogger, who is President of Access Computer Technology in Detroit. Follow Rabbi Jason on Twitter at @RabbiJason.