True or not, Eskimos are famed for having 40 words for snow: Jews on the other hand have Yiddish — a whole language for being funny, featuring a vowel combination that is synonymous with hilarity.
That turns out to be handy because Jews — at least American Jews who don’t have to worry about anti-Semitism either violent or genteel or about existential threats to their country — now value humor more highly than observance of Jewish religious law.
Never mind Rabbi Susan Silverman and her quest to pray at the Kotel, let’s embrace the far more authentically Jewish jokes of her cross-wearing sister.
According to the massive Pew survey out today, 42% of American Jews think that having a good sense of humor is what it means to be Jewish.
That’s about the same as the 43% who think you need to care about Israel but more than twice as many as those who think you need to observe Jewish law (19%).
It’s good that those 42% do have a good sense of humor because they can have a chuckle at the 34% of American Jews who think that believing Jesus was the messiah is compatible with being Jewish. Denying the Inquisition and refusing to bow to a millennium of Christian oppression is so passé. Dying for your beliefs is so Old World, so quaintly European.
Comedian Sarah Silverman is known for her outrageous shtick. But her sister, Rabbi Susan Silverman, and niece, Hallel, have become leading members of the Israeli activist group Women of the Wall, which fights for women’s rights to pray as they see fit at the Western Wall.
The Silvermans are well known for their involvement in the Kotel protests. But Susan Silverman’s husband, Yosef, is himself an activist for green solar technology in Israel.
Recently, videographer Harvey Stein travelled with the family to the monthly prayer protests under threats of violence.
Now that the serious stuff is out of the way, let’s list the best (or worst) Jewish viral videos of the 2012 election cycle.
Silverman on Adelson
Comedian Sarah Silverman offered sexual favors to billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson in this video from the group behind 2008’s Great Schlep. Silverman’s deal: Donate to Democrats instead and, well… watch the video. Turns out she didn’t have to worry so much - nearly all of the candidates Adelson backed were defeated last night.
“Tank you Mister Obama!”
Unlike the Jewish Democrats, Jewish Republicans didn’t have a dedicated super PAC churning out Jewish-themed viral videos aimed at making Jewish Democrats look ridiculous online. That’s okay, because the Jewish Democrats did a fine job making themselves look ridiculous online on their own.
The Jewish Press set off a firestorm last week when it published An Open Letter to Sarah Silverman by Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt. The Orthodox author criticized the comedian’s politics, vulgar presentation style, and the fact that she remains childless. As a linguist, what I found most interesting about this article was the language. By looking closely at the Hebrew and Yiddish words used by the author and commenters, we can learn a lot about Orthodox Jews in America.
In my research, I have found that Orthodox Jews use many Hebrew and Yiddish words when speaking to other Orthodox Jews, but they avoid or translate those words in their speech to outsiders. In the letter to Sarah Silverman, Rosenblatt uses only one, a word most Americans know: kosher. He talks about God, not Hashem, and Orthodox rather than frum.
Many articles in the Jewish Press use more distinctive language. For example, Mordechai Bienstock writes: “We can be truly ourselves in all of our pursuits, expressing the wonderful individualistic neshamahs [souls] Hashem [God] has granted us through the application of our special natures in the physical world, what the Ba’al Shem Tov and his disciples discovered as the basis for avodah b’gashmiyut [serving God through the physical world].”
Even Rosenblatt uses Hebrew and Yiddish words in his other articles in the Jewish Press, for example, in an article about internet filters: “Our frum [religious] community”, “Kiddush Hashem” (sanctifying God’s name), and “Halacha Chabura” (study group about Jewish law).
There’s a Silverman involved in the latest pro-Obama ad, but it’s not the one you’re thinking (or hoping) it is.
Sarah Silverman’s sister, Rabbi Susan Silverman, who lives in Israel, co-produced “Israelis on Obama.” The piece features a number of Israeli talking heads (mainly defense officials, political scientists, and intellectuals) praising Obama’s financing of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, and his sanctions policy against Iran.
Schlep Labs (also known as the Jewish Council for Education Research, put it out as a quickie response to Mitt Romney’s accusing Obama of not backing Israel strongly enough in Tuesday night’s presidential debate.
We’ll admit we’re a bit disappointed — not necessarily by the video’s message, but by the lack of production values as compared to the PAC’s previous ads. I guess we’ve been spoiled by all that free exposure to Silverman’s raunchy humor and Adam Mansbach’s clever writing.
This year’s Great Schlep won’t just send young Jews to Florida — it’s gonna get them an ID, too.
The group behind the 2008 effort to recruit young Jews to swing their Floridian grandparents to Obama has a new video out today calling on young Jews to make sure their grandparents have the identification they may need at the voting booth, whether or not they live in Florida.
The video, featuring Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman, is typically foul-mouthed, though perhaps less so than in the group’s last video, in which Silverman vowed to do X-rated favors for GOP billionaire Sheldon Adelson if he would drop his opposition to Obama.
Sarah Silverman has an “indecent proposal” for Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
If Adelson will switch his allegiance to Barack Obama from Mitt Romney, Silverman will… well, we don’t want to give away the punch line.
Why don’t you just watch the video? Unless you’re at work, that is, or there are kids around.
The video is a follow-up to Silverman’s pro-Obama 2008 video, part of an effort to send young Jews to campaign in Florida called The Great Schlep.
This year’s video is a bit racier. It’s also a bit more politically provocative. Last week, the National Jewish Democratic Council bailed on a campaign targeting Adelson’s support for Romney in the face of heavy opposition from major Jewish establishment figures.
The NJDC campaign hit Adelson over unsubstantiated allegations by a former Adelson employee that he had condoned prostitution at his casinos on the Chinese island of Macau.
Armed with a $200,000 donation from a son of George Soros, the pro-Obama Jewish group that behind The Great Schlep is posed to play a major role this election cycle.
The group, called the Jewish Council for Education and Research, ran a high-profile campaign to send young Jews to lobby their grandparents to vote for Obama in 2008. Now a super PAC, the organization has raised nearly as much so far this cycle as they raised in the entire 2008 campaign.
“We were able to do a lot last time,” said Mik Moore, treasurer of the group, officially known as the Jewish Council for Education and Research. “But there was a lot we didn’t do, and we’re starting a lot earlier.”
In recent weeks, the group received a $200,000 donation from Alexander Soros, the 26-year-old son of the billionaire hedge fund magnate and progressive philanthropist George Soros. Moore said that the group hoped to raise $1 million by the end of the election cycle.
Jewish support for Democrats was high in 2008, with 78% of Jewish voters casting their ballots for Obama. Republican group have already committed significant resources to winning away some of that support, especially in key swing states like Florida. Moore’s group is part of the Democrats’ effort to push back.
Shimon Peres apparently thought when he convened his Israeli Presidential Conference this week in Jerusalem that he could bring together several hundred cutting-edge thinkers and doers in the fields of technology, economics, international relations and Jewish thought to interact, share, clash and perhaps create something new, with a few thousand bright people sitting on the sidelines to listen and kibitz and add their own wisdom. From what I could gather, he was about half right.
Now, I couldn’t attend all of the dozens of sessions that were going on simultaneously, but the ones I did attend fell into two categories (and other people I’ve spoken with had the same impression). The ones on the global economy and the Middle East were interesting, sometimes dazzlingly so. I didn’t get to any technology panels, but I hear they were equally compelling. The ones on changing Jewish identity, less so. They tended to end up going around in circles, sometimes in the most embarrassing ways.
It’s partly the nature of the beast, and partly who you bring to the table. The interesting questions about Jewish identity today are to a large degree the ones that people don’t know how to ask. Either you bring together the old experts who have been having this discussion over and over for years and watch them go through their paces yet again, which happened in several panels during the conference, or you bring in new people who are struggling to find new meanings and try to have them talk about their struggles. The trouble is, they frequently don’t know how to articulate the things they’re struggling with. You can interview them to bring it out, but you have to have some idea of what to ask, and you have to let them talk. Unfortunately, the conference repeatedly handed the American seekers over to Israeli journalists who don’t have the first clue about the struggles and ambivalences of young American Jews. So they either ask insider questions that draw blank stares or they find ways to insult the interviewees.
This brings me back to Sarah Silverman. I blogged earlier about her appearance at an opening plenary session on “recipes for a better tomorrow” and the embarrassing efforts of Israeli TV anchor Yigal Ravid to be funny and pry into her personal life instead of letting her talk about better tomorrows. She appeared again on the closing day, at a panel discussion on “Jewish Identity: Younger Generation vs. Ancient Tradition,” and the result was just as painful. Actually, it was worse this time, because of the math. She shared the stage with three other seekers searching for words — Hasidic rapper Matisyahu, Boston biotech entrepreneur Safi Bahcall and Russian blogger extraordinaire Anton Nossik — and not one but two Israelis who didn’t know what to ask, but asked anyway. Silverman finally got to say something thoughtful about Jewish identity, but not because of her examiners.
Shimon Peres likes to bill his Israeli Presidential Conference, the star-studded international talkfest that he’s convening in Jerusalem this week for the third time (the previous ones were in 2008 and 2009) as a Davos-style gathering of great minds to consider the great issues of the day. And it is that, in part. But like most everything else Peres touches, it combines big ideas and soaring rhetoric with healthy dollops of raw politics and moments of unintended, embarrassingly low humor
The big ideas were big indeed. At one session, Peres shared the stage with the presidents of Macedonia, Mongolia and the Dominican Republic to discuss climate change, poverty and the demands of leadership. At another, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and British media mogul Sir Martin Sorrell discussed the ways in which technology is changing decision making.
At a third, Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer moderated an intense discussion over the future of the global economy—meaning, mostly, the rise of China and the threat of a Greek debt contagion—with former U.S. Treasury secretary Larry Summers, former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, former president Alejandro Toledo of Peru and former Bank of Israel governor Jacob Frenkl (Frenkl was sitting in for French finance minister Christine Lagarde, who dropped out at the last minute; she was scheduled to be interviewed this week to take over the International Monetary Fund).
Thousands of delegates attended each of those sessions. When they were done, I couldn’t find anybody out in the lobby standing and discussing what had transpired inside. Most people I talked to couldn’t remember exactly what was said.