Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Jeffrey Tambor Ends Role on Amazon's Transparent Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations

Actor Jeffrey Tambor said he will not return for the fifth season of the Emmy-winning television comedy “Transparent” following a second accusation of sexual harassment made by a female member of the show’s cast, according to a report in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA).

“Playing Maura Pfefferman on ‘Transparent’ has been one of the greatest privileges and creative experiences of my life,” Tambor first told Deadline on Sunday. “What has become clear over the past weeks, however, is that this is no longer the job I signed up for four years ago.

 Jeffrey Tambor will end his role on Amazon's Transparent amid sexual harassment allegations
Jeffrey Tambor will end his role on Amazon's Transparent amid sexual harassment allegations

“I’ve already made clear my deep regret if any action of mine was ever misinterpreted by anyone as being aggressive, but the idea that I would deliberately harass anyone is simply and utterly untrue. Given the politicized atmosphere that seems to have afflicted our set, I don’t see how I can return to ‘Transparent.’”

Tambor, who is Jewish, played the transgender head of a dysfunctional Jewish family in the series.

Deadline had reported last week that the writers of “Transparent” were contemplating writing Tambor out of the fifth season of the Amazon series, which was created by Jill Soloway.

Last week, Trace Lysette, who has played the recurring character Shea on the series since its first season, wrote on Twitter that Tambor had made “sexual advances and comments” toward her and “one time it got physical.”

Tambor’s former assistant, Van Barnes, a transgender woman, made the first allegations in a private Facebook post on Nov. 8 that was not widely circulated in the media. Tambor dismissed them as “baseless” charges coming from a “disgruntled former assistant.”

The claims against Tambor, which are the subject of an internal probe launched by Amazon, are the latest in a string of complaints made against celebrities in the wake of a New York Times article last month about the alleged harassment by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was fired from the company he founded over the allegations.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Amazing Four-Generation Jewish Story of Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros

Peter Gammons, the iconic sports writer, recently penned a beautiful, inspiring article about Alex Bregman. Bregman's rise to the Major Leagues is one for the history books. Gammons paints a wonderful picture of Bregman's Jewish family and how baseball has been a part of it for generations.

The amazing story of a four-generation journey, culminating in Alex Bregman and his family's American Dream, by Peter Gammons

The starting point of Alex Bregman’s road to the World Series didn’t begin at age four, when he turned an unassisted triple play in his first T-ball game. Or when he was the first high school sophomore to be named the USA Baseball Player of the Year. Or when he homered off Chris Sale to lead the Houston Astros to victory in the clinching game of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park.

We’ve come to expect all that. That’s just Alex Bregman. He wore the number 30 at LSU to signify the number of teams that didn’t select him in the early rounds of the 2012 draft, and now he wears No. 2 for the Astros not to celebrate Derek Jeter, but because “he knows he should have been the first pick, not the second, in the [2015] draft,” says his father Sam.

No, as Sam Bregman watches his 23-year-old son hitting homers, knocking in game-winning runs and playing a brilliant third base as the Astros battle the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, he will tell you the starting point of Alex’s journey goes back to the end of the 19th century. “It’s the fulfillment of four generations of short Jewish Bregmans who dreamed of playing in the major leagues,” Sam says. “The big leagues and the World Series. One hundred twenty years in America fulfilled by Alex in this World Series.”

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Drake's Bar Mitzvah Party This Week

Last year Drake made a surprise appearance at a bat mitzvah in New York City, but this past Monday the surprise was that the 31-year-old Jewish rapper from Canada threw HIMSELF a bar mitzvah party.

JTA reports that according to the New York Post, Drake’s 31st birthday party on Monday night was themed “Aubrey’s re-bar mitzvah.” The half-Jewish rapper’s real name is Aubrey Drake Graham — and 31, in case you didn’t realize, is the reverse of 13, the age in which boys become men according to Jewish law.

Drake's Bar Mitzvah board as posted to the rapper's Instagram account

According to E!, Drizzy and his guests dined at Catch before going to the Poppy nightclub in Los Angeles. His guest list included Leonardo DiCaprio, Hailey Baldwin, Madison Beer, Jamie Foxx, Tobey Maguire, Kelly Rowland and more. Drake's right-hand man, his father, Dennis Graham, was also in attendance.

October's Very Own birthday boy provided red solo cups with "Aubrey's Re-Bar Mitzvah" inscribed on the side (his birth name is Aubrey Drake Graham).

After an intimate rooftop dinner with friends and family in L.A., Drake relocated to the nightclub Poppy. There he was feted by a who’s who of celebrity friends, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Tobey Maguire and Odell Beckham, Jr. The party was pretty thoroughly bar mitzvah-themed, from the cups with his name on them to the photo booth to the Dippin’ Dots ice cream pellets that were served to guests. To underscore the theme, Drake posted an image of his “bar mitzvah board”— seemingly original from 1999 — to Instagram on Monday.

Drake has an African-American father and Jewish mother. He attended a Jewish day school in Toronto and parodied his bar mitzvah while hosting “Saturday Night Live” in 2014. The rapper’s 2016 album “Views” and his 2017 follow-up “More Life” both broke Spotify streaming records and sold millions of copies around the world.

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.”