Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ten Thoughts for the Week

It's been over a week since my last blog post, but it's not because there hasn't been anything to write about. I've just been busy lately and haven't had time to type out the various thoughts running through my mind. So, here are ten news items I've been thinking about. As always, feel free to weigh in on these topics in the comments section below.

1) Rolling Stones and Jay Leno to Visit Israel

As the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement continues to encourage musicians to boycott Israel by not playing concerts there, a fake quote attributed to Mick Jagger continues to circulate the Web. The quote, which is made to look like a tweet says that the Rolling Stones have "been slammed and smacked and twittered a lot by the anti-Israel side. All I can say is anything worth doing is worth overdoing. So we decided to add a concert on Tuesday." Well, the quote is from a Purim hoax published by The Jewish Press. The truth is that the Rolling Stones are actually going to perform in Tel Aviv in June for a reported $4.5 million, but there will not be a second concert just to spite the BDS supporters. Despite the fact that it was a Purim joke, the not-Mick Jagger pro-Israel quote will likely continue to make its way around the Internet as fact... at least until next Purim when something else replaces it. It really is a strong show of support that the Rolling Stones will perform in Israel and ignore the criticism from anti-Israel protesters.

Rolling Stones concert in Jerusalem Israel 2014

In addition to the Rolling Stones, Jay Leno has announced that he is pro-Israel and will be visiting there this summer for the first time. The former late-night talk show host agreed to emcee the inaugural awarding of the “Genesis Prize” to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In response to pressure on international artists and public figures to boycott Israel and to avoid performing there, Leno explained, “It’s a great honor. It’s a great country. It’s a great people.”

2) Detroit's the Ideal Place to Raise Jewish Children

I'm a proud Detroiter and I've long maintained that the Metro Detroit Jewish community is one of the best Jewish communities in the world. It might be a well kept secret, but Detroit's a nice combination of strong Jewish values and strong Midwest values. Well, I guess it's not such a well kept secret anymore since Matthew Casey Williams named Detroit as the most affordable place to raise Jewish children. Buffalo came in 3rd with Cleveland finishing at #2. Williams wrote of the #1 pick Detroit: "Not only was it the most affordable on the list, it was by nearly 100% less than the second place. Is the Motor City ripe for a Jewish revival or is it on its way out?" I can say with certainty that Detroit is ripe for a Jewish revival.

3) Jerry Schostak's Legacy of Philanthropy and Business Acumen

One of the main reasons that Detroit is such a great and affordable place to raise and educate Jewish children is because of Detroit's rich history of Jewish philanthropy. The list of Jewish philanthropists in Detroit who have invested millions of dollars in Jewish education reads like a Who's Who of 20th century business leaders. Max Fisher, David Hermelin, Bill Davidson and Sam Frankel, all of blessed memory, and Bill Berman, Gene Applebaum, Gary Shiffman, Bill Farber, Alan Kaufman and Al Taubman just to name a few have all made Jewish education -- both formal and informal -- affordable for Metro Detroit families. One of the pillars of Detroit's Jewish community who is part of that auspicious list was laid to rest yesterday. Jerry Schostak, the grandson of an Orthodox rabbi, had a strong ethic for philanthropic giving and many local Jewish schools and agencies benefited from his generosity.

Over the years I got to know Mr. Schostak (as I continued to call him despite him telling me to call him "Jerry") as both a long-time client of my computer company, Access Computer Technology, and as an active member of Adat Shalom Synagogue (where I taught his daughter and grandson... in the same class!). I looked up to him as a wise businessman, a patriarch who always put family first, a man who cared passionately about organization and details, and as someone who never compromised his values. His legacy will live on in perpetuity because of the way he lived his life, the way he built his family, the way he molded future business leaders, the way he competed (he was an accomplished sailor), and the way he supported the causes closest to his heart -- including Jewish education. May his memory be for blessings.

4) Price-Tag Graffiti in Jerusalem

Whenever I'm in Jerusalem, I try to get to Kehilat Moreshet Israel, the Masorti congregation on the corner of Agron Street and King George Street. Located on the campus of the Conservative Movement's Fuchsberg Center, it's a popular synagogue for visiting Conservative Jews while on missions in Israel. My colleague, Rabbi Adam Frank, found graffiti drawn on a large sign outside the synagogue yesterday morning. The two Jewish stars with swastikas inside are possibly part of the Price Tag policy (מדיניות תג מחיר), which refers to the acts of random violence by radical Israeli settlers. This has been going on since 2008 and now the settlers are targeting non-Orthodox institutions in Jerusalem. The radical settler violence against Israeli Arabs, Christians and Jews must stop.
Graffiti at Kehillat Moreshet Yisrael (Photo Courtesy of Rabbi Adam Frank)

As an aside, it is possible that the vandalism was not part of the "Tag Mechir," but either way it is important to support Kehillat Moreshet Yisrael and The Fuchsberg Center. Donations to support these institutions can be sent in care of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism office at 820 Second Ave - 10th Floor, New York 10017.

Perhaps if Yossi Abramowitz, the solar energy entrepreneur, becomes Israel's next President (he really is running for President) he'll be able to curb this senseless terrorism (Israeli writer Amos Oz called these vandals "Hebrew Neo-Nazis"). Yossi who is married to Rabbi Susan Silverman, comedian Sarah Silverman's sister, might be a long shot for the Israeli presidency but I'm certainly pulling for him.

Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman, Rabbi Susan Silverman, Yossi Abramowitz
Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman, Rabbi Susan Silverman and Yossi Abramowitz

5) Alicia Silverstone's Clueless on Circumcision

Actress Alicia Silverstone writes in her new book, "The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning," that she chose not to circumcise her son. Despite being raised in a traditional Jewish family Silverstone believes that baby boys should have their foreskin intact. Having a vocal Jewish celebrity come out against brit milah (ritual circumcision) is very problematic. Jews have been bringing our sons into the Jewish covenant for thousands of years with a bris and Silverstone's opinions could lead Jewish parents to opt out of the ritual. Not that Jay Michaelson was writing a response directly to Alicia Silverstone with his very well-written op-ed in the Forward, but I certainly hope she reads it. Michaelson acknowledges that brit milah and kashrut are irrational ancient rites that are difficult to explain to liberal Jews, but must be continued. "Let’s be truthful about our religious observances: Kashrut and circumcision aren’t harmless, nor are they entirely rational," Michaelson writes. "But neither, at the end of the day, are we."

6) Anita Diamant's The Red Tent Becomes a Miniseries with Minnie Driver

Speaking of difficult to explain Jewish rituals, there will be a miniseries adapted from Anita Diamant's award winning novel The Red Tent. Diamant's 1997 book is about the tent in which Hebrew women in the Bible stayed while menstruating or giving birth. The Lifetime network has adapted the book into a miniseries. The movie will be shown in two episodes (shown on consecutive nights) and stars Minnie Driver, Debra Winger, Morena Baccarin of Homeland, and Game of Thrones actors Iain Glen and Will Tudor. According to Entertainment Weekly, production on the film begins this month in Morocco. Actress Rebecca Ferguson will play Dinah and Minnie Driver plays Leah. This won't be the first time a TV movie features obscure Jewish rituals. That award goes to the Hallmark movie "Loving Leah" which introduced the world to the Jewish rituals of chalitza and yibbum. That movie, starring Lauren Ambrose and Susie Essman, is about an unobservant Jewish bachelor who feels compelled to marry his observant rabbi brother's widow in adherence to the ancient Jewish custom of  levirate marriage (watch the movie here).

7) Amare Stoudemire's Bar Mitzvah

A bris might be a controversial Jewish ritual, and the ancient red tent and yibbum might be esoteric rituals, but there's no doubt that the bar mitzvah is the most commonly known Jewish ritual. It's not even uncommon for a TV show to have a bar mitzvah or a bat mitzvah. Drake had his bar mitzvah on Saturday Night Live and Lenny Kravitz put on a tallis at his niece's bat mitzvah in an episode of Entourage. Now an NBA star has announced he's going to have a bar mitzvah. Amar'e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks has said that he's a descendant of the Black Hebrews and a TMZ video of Stoudemire's wife Alexis hints that he never had a bar mitzvah but might have one in the future. Their four young children, Alexis added, will be b'nai mitzvahed as well. Amar'e, who is a part owner of the Jerusalem Hapoel team, has said he plans to become an Israeli citizen soon. I had the opportunity to hang out with Amar'e in Miami during his Rookie of the Year season back in 2003 when he was playing for the Phoenix Suns along with Joe Johnson. It's not every day you get to ride around Miami Beach on a motor scooter with two NBA stars!

Rabbi Jason Miller with Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire

Here's the video of Alexis Stoudemire talking about their Jewish observance. She even mentions that Amar'e sometimes fasts on Yom Kippur and has a kippah collection that includes a New York Knicks yarmulke:

8) Michael Douglas Has Hora Accident

One of the most famous celebrity bar mitzvahs was that of Kirk Douglas. There's a Jewish tradition that a man's lifespan is only 70 years so at age 83 a Jewish man can celebrate a second bar mitzvah. Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch, did in fact celebrate his second bar mitzvah at age 83 and then he remarkably had a third bar mitzvah in 2012 at age 95. Kirk Douglas' son Michael Douglas recently celebrated his own son's bar mitzvah. According to the New York Post's Page Six, the actor (who is 69-years-old) got injured at the bar mitzvah party when he helped hoist his son Dylan in a chair during the celebratory hora dance. Mazel Tov to Michael Douglas and to the proud grandfather Kirk Douglas, who is now 97.

9) Donald Sterling's apology

So the allegedly racist owner of the NBA's LA Clippers has finally gotten around to apologizing. It took him more than two weeks to say sorry for his racist comments that were recorded by his girlfriend and then made public by TMZ. Sterling's apology acknowledged that he made a mistake and is asking for forgiveness. He asked, "Am I entitled to one mistake, am I, after 35 years? I mean, I love my league, I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It’s a terrible mistake, and I’ll never do it again. … I'm not a racist. I made a terrible mistake. I'm here to apologize.” From a Jewish perspective, the question is now whether Sterling's apology counts as teshuva (repentance) and if it's a sufficient mea culpa for the public to give him a second chance. It remains highly doubtful that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who is Jewish, will rescind Sterling's lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine... especially considering that right after Sterling issued his apology on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, he criticized Magic Johnson for becoming HIV positive and then said that when Magic Johnson was diagnosed he went to his synagogue and prayed for him.

 Donald Sterling apologized for his racist remarks, but criticized Magic Johnson for getting AIDS (R. Martinez/Getty)

Here are Sterling's unbelievable comments on Magic:

“What has he done? Can you tell me? Big Magic Johnson, what has he done? He’s got AIDS. Did he do any business? Did he help anybody in South LA? … What kind of guy goes to every city and has sex with every girl and catches AIDS? “What kind of guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he goes and catches HIV,” he said. “Is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself. I think he should go into the background. And what does he do for black people? He hasn't done anything. Here’s a man I don’t know if I should say this, he acts so holy. He made love with every girl in every city in America, and he had AIDS, and when he had those AIDS, I went to my synagogue and I prayed for him. I hoped he could live and be well. I didn't criticize him. I could have. Is he an example for children? You know, because he has money, he’s able to treat himself. But Magic Johnson is irrelevant in this thing. He didn't do anything harmful to anybody and I respect him and I admire everything that he does. I'd like to help even more if he would offer me an opportunity to help. I like to help minorities.”

10) Chelsea Clinton's Baby

Finally, there's been a lot of talk about whether there will be a Jewish grandchild in the White House. Should Hillary Clinton become President of the United States, Mark Mezvinsky will become the first Jewish first son-in-law, but what about the status of Mezvinsky's baby with Chelsea Clinton? A few weeks ago, Bill and Hillary's daughter announced that she's expecting the couple's first baby and immediately Jewish religious leaders began discussing whether the baby would undergo a conversion to Judaism since only the father is Jewish. Of course, the Mezvinsky-Clinton baby will spark a heated debate about patrilineal descent as Reform Jews will argue the baby is Jewish since the father is Jewish, while other Jews will claim that according to Jewish law the baby follows the mother's lineage. It should be interesting to see how it plays out and whether there will be a bris if Chelsea has a baby boy. Hopefully she won't be consulting with Alicia Silverstone on that decision!


Rachel kapen said...

I enjoyed reading the post and even learned a thing or two. As far as the future Clinton's grandchild, I doubt that there will be A Brit milah being that the child will not be Halakhacally Jewish.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

If Chelsea Clinton and Mark Mezvinsky have a baby boy, I bet there WILL be a bris.

Anonymous said...

He will have a circumcision at the hospital like most baby boys but I really doubt he'll have a Brit Milah with a mohel like my 4 boys and yours had.