Wednesday, August 07, 2019

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Social Media Conundrum

I recently binge-watched CNN’s three documentaries on Netflix, which focus on the three final decades of the 20th century. Watching “The 70s,” “The 80s” and “The 90s,” I was left thinking about how CNN would characterize the current decade. No doubt, our love-hate relationship with social media would be a principal highlight this decade.

As an early adopter of social media and an active user, I find the love-hate relationship that people have with social networks intriguing. The people who condemn social media as an evil that has plagued our way of life are the same people who scroll through their Facebook feed before they fall asleep at night and while eating breakfast in the morning. There are aspects of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et. al. that we despise, and there are aspects that we have embraced and don’t know how we managed without. This social media conundrum is fascinating to me and I have been curious as to how we can view it through a Jewish lens.

Jewish people are less than 0.2% of the world population and yet most of those who have led us into the social media universe are members of the Jewish faith. Sergei Brin and Larry Page founded Google, which opened the door to Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook and Noah Glass joining his friends to launch Twitter. Certainly, their intention wasn’t to do harm in creating new forms of communication, search and sharing.

Mark Zuckerberg Jewish Shabbat Family

Zuckerberg was an avowed atheist who has begun to embrace his Judaism more since becoming a father to two daughters. His public posts about celebrating Shabbat and Jewish holidays with his family have led some to question whether core Jewish ethics are at odds with the way Facebook is run as a company and how this social network has created harmful outcomes in our culture. In its almost fifteen years in existence, Facebook has been blamed for an increase in teenage depression and suicide rates, altering a presidential election, giving racists and anti-Semites a platform to spew their hate, disseminating false news reports and suppressing actual news, ruining millions of friendships, and Russian intervention of our political process.

There’s no doubt that Zuckerberg, along with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, has been in the hot seat for the past few years. Both have demonstrated they are strong proponents of free speech and they also believe in core Jewish ethics. Have those two mantras come into conflict at Facebook? How can the Jewish community see the light amidst the darkness in social media? While Facebook, under the leadership of Zuckerberg and Sandberg, has pledged to correct the harmful aspects of the network, they have largely failed. But should they be held responsible?

If there’s one thing that Judaism has taught us over the millennia, it is that there are shades of grey in everything. The social network that Zuckerberg created has a lot of positive aspects to offer us as a civilization. It has helped us communicate with people around the world and find ways to bring us closer together. Facebook allows us to keep in touch with long lost friends, wish each other birthday and anniversary greetings as well as condolences on the death of a loved one, view photos and videos of our family at life’s celebrations, and engage in respectful dialogue over the issues that matter most to us.

Sadly, Facebook and other social networks have also aided those who perpetrate evil. Social media has a dark side as we know all too well. It has amplified the voices of those who hate and threaten our democracy. It has given a much louder voice to bullies, who damage our wellbeing and sanity. However, social media hasn’t created anything new. It has just brought more of that darkness into the mainstream.

We must recognize that social media, whether in the form of Facebook and Twitter or something else down the road that will replace those networks, is now part of our world. It is up to us to use these tools for good and to shut out the evil that tries to enter through our internet connections. Ultimately, we must remind ourselves that social media engagement will never replace real-life human interaction.

In a recent New York Times piece, Bari Weiss wrote that it seems “the organizations and the people who get the most attention are destructive. On social media, this isn’t just speculation. Outrage and negativity are the most ‘engaging,’ and so that’s what we’re fed. The disciplined among us — and I’m hoping to get there — might get off these platforms entirely. One thing we all can do is make the effort to engage in real life.”

I don’t believe quitting social media activity cold turkey is the solution to what plagues our society. I think we must seek out the positive outcomes that exist in our experiences on social networks like Facebook while working to collectively shut out the darkness that has been so pervasive. While Zuckerberg might have created this game-changing network, he shouldn’t be fully blamed for where it has taken our society. We must show responsibility and direct social media toward the light – overwhelming the evil with good. That is the Jewish ethic.

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News

Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Best Hanukkah Videos of 2018

The number of Hanukkah music videos has really gone down the past few years. There was a time when I would come up with a list of at least a dozen fun and creative Hanukkah videos. This year, there are really only two that are worth mentioning. Six13, the Jewish a capella group from New York clearly has this year's best video for Hanukkah... and maybe the best one for the entire decade. With the recent success of the biopic of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, Six13 was very smart to use Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody for their Hanukkah video this year. Of course, The Maccabeats produced another great video this year for Hanukkah, which is more of a mishmash of different type of music. Happy Hanukkah everyone!

Six13 - Bohemian Chanukah (a Queen adaptation)

The Maccabeats - I Have a Little Dreidel - Hanukkah

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Understanding Jews for Jesus After the Mike Pence Rally

When a member of the Jews for Jesus messianic movement who refers to himself as a "rabbi" was asked to give a prayer in memory of the eleven Jews who were murdered at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, there were a lot of questions about this group and why this was offensive to the Jewish community. The event was a rally for Republican candidates in Michigan and featured Vice President Mike Pence. A Jewish woman running for Congress, Lena Epstein, claimed responsibility for inviting the Messianic "Rabbi" to the event in the name of unity and claimed that if people are critical of her invitation, then they are religiously intolerant.

Loren Jacobs, a Messianic Christian, delivers a prayer at a rally in Michigan with VP Mike Pence

After I heard the Messianic "Rabbi" speaking at the event on C-Span, I tweeted that it was pathetic that a mainstream rabbi wasn't asked to offer a blessing (NY Times, USA Today, AP). The issue wasn't that a non-Jew offered a prayer for the Jewish men and women who were murdered, but that a Christian was being referred to as a rabbi. It would have been more acceptable had there been several faith leaders including a rabbi.

The Detroit Jewish News asked me to explain to its readers why there was such an uproar over a Messianic “Rabbi” delivering a prayer at a political rally. What follows is what I wrote in the Detroit Jewish News:

Trying to Make Sense of Messianic “Judaism”

With the recent controversy of Loren Jacobs, a leader of a Bloomfield Hills church who calls himself a “rabbi,” delivering a politically-charged invocation at a Republican party rally featuring Vice President Mike Pence, there has been a lot of questions regarding the messianic “Judaism” movement.

The first time I had ever heard of messianic Jews or the group called “Jews for Jesus” was as a high school student. Preparing us for the college campus, teachers at my synagogue’s Hebrew High School informed us that there are proselytizing Christians who claim to be Jewish and seek to convert Jewish students to Christianity. Some of these “Jews for Jesus” adherents, we were taught, were in fact apostate Jews who had left our faith and believe Jesus is the messiah.

While I don’t recall any direct encounters with any proselytizing Christians during my four years at Michigan State University, I did have an unusual experience in a course called “The Foundations of Judaism.” The course was part of the Religious Studies Department and the teacher, Mark Kinzer, did a wonderful job teaching a wealth of material in the course. At that time, I was already planning to apply to rabbinical school and the lectures and reading material helped prepare me. My eight years at Hillel Day School were good for a foundational understanding, but Prof. Kinzer went much deeper into the history of Judaism. I presumed the instructor was Jewish, but I was not certain. On the final day of class, I asked him which denomination of Judaism he affiliated, and he simply stated, “it’s complicated.” I didn’t pry.

Several years later, after I had become a rabbi, I was working at the University of Michigan Hillel Foundation. I encountered Prof. Kinzer at a meeting for campus religious leaders. It was there that he explained he was a Messianic “rabbi.” I felt duped and confused at that moment. (He never alluded to his own theology during the class and never mentioned Christian messianism.) He explained that he was not part of the “Jews for Jesus” group and didn’t seek to convert anyone. While I appreciated Prof. Kinzer’s academic integrity and I learned from him, had he been introduced as a rabbi at an event, I would feel just as insulted as I felt after watching Loren Jacobs’ prayer.

So, how do we understand messianic “Judaism” and Jews for Jesus? And, why has the Jewish community been so upset that a so-called messianic “rabbi” offered a prayer at a recent political rally in Michigan?

Throughout the centuries, Jewish people were subject to intense missionary activity by the Catholic Church and various Protestant groups. Many Jews left Judaism and converted to Christianity, either by force or voluntarily. In early twentieth century America, attempts to convert Jews to Christianity were common, but often unsuccessful. In the 1970's, a new organization sponsored by Protestants was formed called “Jews for Jesus.” Other smaller groups, calling themselves “Messianic Jews,” followed.

Members of “Jews for Jesus” are encouraged to consider themselves to be “Completed Jews.” Some members are born Jews who accepted Jesus as their Lord, while others were not born Jewish, but consider themselves to now be Jewish. Essentially, this group’s mission is to convert Jews to Christianity.

Historically, Jews who converted to Christianity were often interested in staying far away from being identified with Judaism. However, “Messianic Jews” stress their Jewishness and demand to be recognized as Jews by the Jewish community. The members of “Jews for Jesus” or any other messianic “Jewish” group who were legitimately Jewish at first would now be considered apostate Jews, the term used for one who has taken the definitive step of professing and joining another religion.

An apostate is the term the Jewish community would apply to Loren Jacobs, the individual who delivered the prayer at the rally featuring Vice President Mike Pence (it was originally an invocation and then he was called back on stage to offer a memorial prayer for the victims of the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh). Some have questioned why the Jewish community was so offended by Jacobs being asked to offer a prayer. Some in the Christian community were confused as to why the Jewish community couldn’t treat Jacobs’ words in an ecumenical fashion.

The issue for many in the Jewish community is that Jacobs self-identifies as a Jewish rabbi, which is offensive to Jews because he has chosen to become an apostate, recognizing Jesus as his Lord and savior. The fact that Loren Jacobs was introduced as a rabbi and Jewish leader was an affront to the Jewish community. It was unacceptable and insensitive. Had a non-Jewish faith leader been asked to deliver a memorial prayer for the Jewish victims who were murdered while in prayer, that would be have acceptable. Although, the ideal situation would have been to have a rabbi deliver the prayer or a variety of faith leaders offer prayer as has been the case in many of the memorial vigils around the world.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

The Top EduTech Toys of 2018

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of my friend, Jason Zaks z"l. Jason's 2nd yahrzeit was this week and he loved tinkering with the latest EduTech toys. May his memory continue to be for blessings.

The kids have been back in school for a couple months and are back into the school rhythm. So much has changed from when today’s parents were in school. One major change is the type of technology our kids use.

While parents remember when schools had a few computers for all the students or perhaps one computer per classroom, today’s students carry a laptop in their backpacks. They bring their iPhones to school in a pocket and wear smartwatches. Their concern isn’t if they’ll get a good grade on a test as much as it is whether their phone’s battery will die before the end of the school day.

Parents today are concerned when their kids are spending too much time in front of screens. This might mean in front of iPads or TV screens for younger kids and in front of live-action, violent video games like Fortnite for pre-teens and teens.

Technology can be educational and used for learning math, science, engineering and coding. There’s no end to the number of educational-technology games and gadgets today’s youth use throughout the course of a day.

In addition to the technology they bring with them to school, they will likely use more advanced technology in their classes. Many schools now have robotics labs and maker spaces where students are using 3D printers and robotic arms. They’re even coding robots and video games themselves and now they can do this at home as well. For today’s students, there’s likely more technology in their classrooms than in an IBM laboratory in the 1980s.

Here are some edutech products I recommend for today’s students:

PRIMO TOYS CUBETTO PLAYSET – This coding toy teaches preschoolers and kindergartners how to code and create play patterns for a wooden robot. It is Montessori-approved and is powered by a revolutionary coding language made of colorful blocks. The playset consists of a friendly wooden robot named Cubetto, a physical programming console, a set of 16 colorful coding blocks, a world map and an illustrated activity book. Without realizing it, children will develop an early understanding of how coding works in a very age-appropriate way that will give them a head start on one of the most important skills of the Digital Age.

WONDER WORKSHOP CUE – Kids love robots because they are interactive and can be programmed. Cue is one of the most advanced robots on the market in this price zone (under $200). Children will enjoy Cue’s witty attitude. They can choose from four free unique avatars to customize Cue with a personality. Cue has three proximity sensors, Bluetooth and infrared interaction.

PAI TECHNOLOGY CIRCUIT CONDUCTOR – This game teaches children about electricity, currents and magnets through fun, imaginative play. There are 12 different electrical function blocks and specially insulated wires with which kids can build fun circuits and learn about electricity through a free mobile app. Scanning circuits to view electrical flows in real-time will teach your children more about electricity than most science teachers could. The in-game puzzles will enhance problem-solving and critical thinking. Like many of these maker games, the Circuit Conductor will help children with focus, concentration, creativity and hand-eye coordination.

KANO: PIXEL KIT – Children will be able to create and code dazzling lights with this impressive kit. Whether they build their own games, animations or art with this 128-pixel light board, they’ll be exercising their brains. A simple storybook guides children through building Pixel Kit, and then teaches them to code via step-by-step challenges using the Kano online app.

FLYBLOCKS DIY DRONE KIT – This product gives children a multifaceted building and flying experience that promotes lifelong skills. Kids love to fly drones and, with this kit, they will be able to build their drone, too. With the 4 in 1 Build N’ Fly kit, kids are truly immersed in all stages of drone creation and flying.

4D ANIMAL ZOO AUGMENTED REALITY FLASHCARDS & VIRTUAL REALITY HEADSET – Perfect for children between ages 5 and 8, this augmented reality set of 31 interactive cards includes a virtual reality headset. This is part of the Stem-Based Education Series. The game is compatible with most smartphones, tablets and VR headsets.

A version of this appeared in the Detroit Jewish News.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Protecting Our Kids from Online Dangers Like Fortnite

Yesterday, I took my 14 1/2-year-old son with me to Toledo, Ohio, where I officiated a funeral. It was nice to spend some time together, but I also wanted to get him out of the house so he couldn't play Fortnite all morning. The new season of this live-action video game came out yesterday and that means that millions of boys his age were glued to the screen trying to get more "kills." At the baseball practice I ran yesterday evening, it was a losing battle trying to get these teenage boys to focus on baseball and not discuss their experiences with Fortnite earlier that day. In this week's Detroit Jewish News, I write about why we parents should be concerned with live-action games like Fortnite (highly addictive and violent) and other areas of the web, where danger lurks for our teens.

Here is the article from the July 12, 2018 edition of the Detroit Jewish News:

Protecting Our Kids in the Dark Web

Earlier this year, I was a guest speaker on a panel hosted by the National Council of Jewish Women. The topic was how parents and grandparents can be more vigilant in protecting our children from predators who lurk online seeking to abduct or abuse unsuspecting youth. Sitting next to Autumn Ceci, the Southfield police officer who investigates sex crimes and human trafficking, and a local psychologist, we each spoke about how the Internet has helped those who seek to harm young people and made it easier for them to hide behind secret identities online. Keeping children and teens from being deceived online is a very serious issue that can lead to human trafficking or sex abuse, both crimes that are plaguing our country.

Police detectives like Officer Ceci investigate incidents including sexual assaults, juvenile offenses, child abuse, neglect, missing persons and gang activity. I was prepared to share with the audience ways to protect our children when they’re using social networks and video games, but I was unaware of how widespread the issue of human trafficking has become in the Digital Age.

Parenting - Teens and Social Media

Online multiplayer action survival games, like the very popular “Fortnite – Battle Royale’, is dangerous as it poses severe risks to children and teens. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) stated that they believed Fortnite was putting children at risk of online grooming. A news story reported that a mother overheard attempts to groom her 10-year old son through his Xbox videogame console as she sat on the sofa next to him. The mother heard an adult male addressing her son by name through her TV speakers, asking her son questions about sex. In another story, a mother discovered an adult male asking her 12-year old son to perform sex acts on him, and for the boy to take and send naked images of himself. These and other reports prompted many schools nationally to issue warnings to parents.

At the panel moderated by NCJW, it was clear that many of the parents and grandparents in the room hadn’t realized just how common it is for young people to be targeted online by predators posing as other people in chat rooms, on social media sites and in video games. I recommended several ways adults should monitor and protect children using technology.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Rusted Root's Michael Glabicki Comes to Detroit

When the Detroit Jewish News asked me if I'd be interested in interviewing Rusted Root's Michael Glabicki for an article to promote his appearance at a music festival hosted at the Jewish Community Center, I immediately agreed. Rusted Root has been one of my favorite musical groups for decades so I wasn't going to turn down this opportunity. What was confusing to me was why Glabicki, who is not Jewish, was invited to perform at this Jewish festival. I knew there was a connection to Judaism with Rusted Root because I had previously written that former band member Liz Berlin's father is a cantor who studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary, while I was studying there in the rabbinical school. However, I couldn't figure out the connection to Judaism for Glabicki.

Turns out that the festival organizers either thought Glabicki was Jewish or they just thought his music had a Jewish feel to it. Whatever the case, it was a lot of fun talking with him about Rusted Root's music, his ongoing tour with Uprooted, his musical influences, spirituality, depression and what to expect when Uprooted comes to the JCC Ethan & Gretchen Davidson Music Festival at the Berman Theater for Performing Arts (located at the Metro Detroit JCC) this Sunday evening.

I first met Glabicki and the other members of Rusted Root following a small show in Las Vegas almost 13 years ago and was impressed with how generous they were with their time to their fans. He was even more generous with his time for this interview and I'm grateful. You'll be able to listen to my interview with Michael Glabicki on the Pop Jewish Podcast soon, but in the meantime, here's my interview that was published in the Detroit Jewish News.

Rusted Root Front Man Comes to The Berman 
By Rabbi Jason Miller

The JCC Ethan & Gretchen Davidson Music Festival returns for its second year at The Berman and this year’s lineup is better than last year’s. This festival is an innovative approach to arts and music festivals showcasing three artists for three nights of extraordinary music. Project Trio will perform on May 24 and Marc Cohn, well-known for his hit “Walking in Memphis” will perform on May 26. Rusted Root’s Michael Glabicki will bring his solo project, Uprooted, to the festival on May 27. 

Glabicki is the founder and lead singer of the multi-platinum band Rusted Root, who formed almost thirty years ago, and has collaborated with the likes of Santana, the Allman Brothers Band and Led Zeppelin. He promises to carry on playing Rusted Root’s entire catalog of music on tour with re-inspired versions, as well as continuing to bring new and exciting music under the new name of Uprooted, his new touring band.

Rabbi Jason Miller: Tell me a little bit about Uprooted and the inspiration behind it.

Michael Glabicki: Uprooted came about because I was doing a lot of writing and getting into different writing techniques. I’ve really come up with a lot of different sounds, grooves and ways of laying out the different lyrics and vocals of the songs. It’s a really explosive and prolific time for me to be putting this all together. I just kind of felt like it was taking a trajectory that was off the Rusted Root path. So, I decided to get this new band, Uprooted, to put the mechanics behind what I need for the music.

Rusted Root's Michael Glabicki with Rabbi Jason Miller in 2005

RJM: What can we expect when you bring Uprooted to the Davidson Musical Festival?

MG: Some of the artists were in the Rusted Root touring band so I’ve worked with them in different ways. We’re a very intuitive band. There’s a lot of chemistry when I’m in the room with them so it just very easily flows. What I’m trying to do is create a safe environment where whatever happens happens, meaning that we can come in one day and play something completely different than what we did the previous day. It really comes down to just living in the moment where whatever we feel like that day is what is going to inspire the arrangement of the songs. So, when we get on stage we’re just going to really be who we are and it’s going to be a big surprise to us.

RJM: I know that Liz Berlin (member of Rusted Root) is Jewish and her father, Cantor Rick Berlin, was at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s cantorial school while I was studying there in the rabbinical school. Do you personally have any connection to Judaism?

MG: My sister converted to Judaism about five years ago. She married a Jewish guy, so I’ve been to some of the ceremonies. I love it and I think it’s a great community kind of feel. I was at their daughter’s bat mitzvah and it was beautiful.

Michael Glabicki and Dirk Miller of Uprooted

RJM: Your music incorporates so many diverse styles. Who are your influences?

MG: Probably the earliest one would be Cat Stevens. When I was six years old, I’d listen to the 8-track of The Greatest Hits of Cat Stevens that my parents had. I’d just sit down under the dining room table and just experience his songwriting. I think the acoustic aspect of what he was doing probably touched me at an early age. That’s what drove me to play Rusted Root music on an acoustic guitar at first. In my first year of college I dropped out because I had depression, but songwriting helped me to feel a whole lot better. That’s when I decided to become a songwriter.

RJM: Talk to me about your love of instruments. I know you play the penny whistle and some other unusual instruments.

MG: When I was figuring out the vision for the band when I dropped out of college, I spent a good two years figuring out what I wanted the landscape of the music to be. I was on electric guitar at the time and that was my world. During that time period, I was thinking, “what am I missing here… what would fill out the music?” How could I bring the colors in that were needed? When I heard John Buynak, who had a lot of really cute instruments that were really spontaneous and full of laughter, I think that’s when it clicked. When I heard him play the penny whistles and the flutes, I was like, “okay, that’s it.”

RJM: Through Rusted Root, you’ve collaborated with some amazing musicians over the years. Who do you dream of collaborating with in the future?

MG: It’s not really something I think about. Playing with Santana was something magical, but I just pray that somebody’s going to come soon because I feel like I want to but I don’t ever want to force it.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Learning to Teach Torah in the Digital Age

I hear it all the time. Hebrew School has changed so drastically over the past several decades. This is true. It seems most Jewish kids don't go to Hebrew School to learn anything... they go so they can simply have their bar or bat mitzvah. It's a means to an end.

From the educator's point of view, this means that teaching Jewish youth isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. With social norms changing at light speed, it can be difficult to make any heritage relevant to young people today, and Judaism is no different. The Torah -- the Hebrew Bible -- has been the cornerstone of Jewish thought for thousands of years, yet even this most essential of Jewish texts poses challenges for the Hebrew school teacher. Educators must offer articulate and convincing answers as to the questions raised by the Torah.

Jewish studies, even in informal education, all revolve around Jewish values, which have their roots in philosophy and ethical codes that are ancient in origin. Jewish thought stretches back thousands of years, connecting past and present. Educators helping young people develop their Jewish identity are effectively asked to bridge the gap between antiquity and modern society and to instill in them an appreciation of that heritage not only in some abstract, historical sense but as an important part of their lives.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Bar Mitzvah Montage: A DIY Option

Montage is a French word meaning “the technique of producing a new composite whole from fragments of photographs, text, or music.” However, if you ask anyone who has been to a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah in the past two decades, they will immediately describe it as the approximately ten-minute video of family photos highlighting the development of the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl.

It’s possible that my bar mitzvah party back in October 1989 had the first do-it-yourself (DIY) video montage. My father created a montage using printed photographs he digitized with a camcorder and then assembled using the family’s Commodore Amiga computer. He recorded the montage (we called it a “slideshow”) onto a VHS tape and had it displayed on a large movie screen following the candle lighting ceremony. My father controlled the production with the large VCR remote control from his seat in the hotel ballroom. No one had ever seen such a production before, but it certainly caught on.
Today, no mitzvah celebration is complete without the montage. Knowing a few tricks will help you assemble your own montage without much hassle. With the right software, there’s really no reason to hire a company to produce the montage (although my tech company does this service if you don’t want to bother with it).

The most important thing to remember when creating the montage is that you don’t want to bore your guests. After all, they came to celebrate; they don’t want to sit and watch hundreds of photos of your family’s cruise to Alaska. Keeping the entire montage to approximately 100-150 photos (about 4-5 songs) is an ideal goal to set. You want to feature the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl, but there shouldn’t be too many photos of them alone.

Teens and adults watching a Mitzvah Montage at a bat mitzvah party

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Uber Jewy-ness of HQ Trivia's Scott Rogowsky

There's a collective excitement in the Jewish community when pop culture gets all Jewy (to borrow a term that very well might have been coined by Sarah Silverman). In the case of the trending trivia game du jour, HQ Trivia (created by Jewish entrepreneurs Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll), that Jewy-ness has been exhibited by Scott Rogowsky.

Rogowsky, who is quickly carving out his niche as the Alex Trebek of the Digital Age, is none too afraid to let his Judaism come through while hosting the twice-daily mobile trivia game. The people's favorite host missed last night's HQ Trivia because, well of course, it was the Jewish holiday of Purim. In what might have been the first time EVER in the history of anything pop culture, we were told someone wasn't coming into work because of Purim (a rather minor holiday on the Jewish holiday barometer of holiness).

While Rogowsky might have been out partying for Purim last night, he showed up for the afternoon session of HQ Trivia and didn't disappoint by throwing in several Purim references, including "hamantaschen," "Queen Vashti" and even a more esoteric "Mishloach Manot." My wife and fellow HQ Trivia fanatic called me right after the game to exclaim, "Did you hear how many Purim references Scott made? Does he realize most people who were playing had absolutely no clue what he was talking about?"

Rogowsky's comedy has always focused on his Jewishness, including a YouTube video with almost 1 million views that has Rogowsky walking the streets of New York with Hasidic men asking him if he's Jewish. JTA, in late December, ran a feature on Rogowsky in which he talked about his bar mitzvah, anti-Semitism and Hanukkah presents. "Notably, Rogowsky is very vocal about his Jewish identity; live on HQ he’s referred to himself as the 'Semitic Sajak' (that’s in reference to 'Wheel of Fortune' host Pat Sajak) and the 'Meshuggeneh Martindale” (as in Wink, the host of 'Tic-Tac-Dough'). He has wished winners 'mazal tov' and, on the first night of Hanukkah, he wore a vibrant blue-and-white suit emblazoned with Stars of David.'

Knowing how Rogowsky is so vocal about being Jewish, before Purim, one HQ Trivia fan even tweeted to him trying to get a Purim shoutout. That was probably unnecessary since it was a sure bet it would get mentioned.

While I don't get quite as excited about Jewish references in pop culture as others, I do recognize that it is a way to introduce more people out there to Jewish terminology. As a member of Rabbis Without Borders, I learned several years ago that there's some value in reaching beyond the traditional borders of the Jewish community to share some of our Judaism with the broader world. In a non-traditional (okay, very non-traditional) way, Scott Rogowsky is bringing Jewish terminology to the masses. His role as host of a quick (less than 15 minutes) game show that reaches over a million people a couple times a day gives him quite the forum to teach a few Jewish words or concepts. That's quite a large Hebrew School classroom Rogowsky has. Happy Purim Scott Rogowsky and thanks for being so punny on HQ Trivia!