The Shmooze

Jew or No Jew: Christmas Song Edition

By Anne Cohen

Rudolph the blue-nosed reindeer? // by Lior Zaltzman

Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, The Ronettes, Nat King Cole — their voices fill the air come Christmastime, injecting some holiday warmth into our Grinch-sized winter hearts.

But as you’ve probably heard, behind (almost) every merry and bright hit, there’s a Jewish writer..

Can you tell which of your favorite holiday songs were written by members of the tribe? Take our quiz and test your knowledge — you may be surprised.

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When Jesus Crashes the Hanukkah Party

By Ron Kampeas

(JTA) — Sure, his birthday usually falls around the same time as Hanukkah, but Jesus and the Jewish holiday generally don’t mix.

This year, however, two Jesus-Hanukkah juxtapositions have been getting a lot of social media attention.

First, there’s Bud Williams, the Springfield, Mass., city counselor who said “Jesus is the reason for the season” — at a menorah lighting.

And there’s the morning host of St. Louis’ Fox affiliate, Kim Kelly Hudson. who sported a T-shirt bearing an image of Jesus on the cross while she interviewed a local rabbi about Hanukkah.

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Beit Hatfutsot Celebrates Double Chai

By Masha Leon

T’was the first night of Hanukkah as 250 guests gathered at The Pierre to celebrate the candle-lighting and relish the welcome by Daniel Pincus the new, young president of American Friends of Beit Hatfutsot/The Museum of The Jewish People.

Pincus, whose family roots include Germany, Chile, Latvia, Lithuania, U.S. and Israel” said that though the museum’s past imperative had been “ to tell the story of the Jewish Diaspora—from the Destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. to the Creation of Israel in 1948 — there is a new story to be told of the Jewish People living throughout the world today.”

Among the guests at the 36th Anniversary Gala were honorary chair Sen.Joseph Lieberman, his wife Hadassah and Beit Hatfutsot Board of Governors co-chair Ambassador Alfred H. Moses who had worked in the administrations of presidents Carter and Clinton and had been involved in saving more than 300,000 Jews from Communists Romania.

Sam Bloch, Senator Joe Lieberman and Hadassah Lieberman // Photo by Karen Leon

Reflecting on the prior night’s pre-Hanukkah “candle-minus-one” candle lighting, ceremony at Brooklyn Borough Hall, Israel’s Consul General Ido Aharoni, when asked what Brooklyn meant to him, replied: “When I think of Brooklyn, I think of a defining event that took place there in 1918 — a fateful meeting between young David Green and a young nurse Paula Moonves — later Mr. & Mrs. David Ben Gurion!. Most Israelis don’t know this chapter in the history of the founding fathers of Israel.”

When in 2005 CBS chairman Leslie Moonves was honored by The American Theatre Wing Dinner, I had asked him “whence his name Moonves?” He replied: “It’s Jewish, from the Ukraine…. My great-aunt Paula who was married to Ben-Gurion used to pour tea with lemon for me.”

Beit Hatfutsot Chair of the Board of Directors Irina Nevzlin Kogan, described working for this Tel Aviv museum as “a labor of love.” Beit Hatfutsot CEO Dan Tadmor informed: “Despite a summer of war, we again broke our attendance with over 200,000 this year. Our exhibitions ran from Alfred Dreyfus to Jewish Mysticism, Jewish fashion designers” and confided: “In the last 48 hours we gained possession of a 400 year old Megilat Esther from Iraq which had been smuggled out by the Mossad” informing “In 2015 our archives will be fully digital and available on line.”

Gala co-chair and museum Board of Governors member Harvey Krueger — whose own philanthropy on behalf of Israeli institutions is legendary — described honorees Nira and Kenneth Abramowitz as “among the stalwarts of Beit Hatfutsot. Our supporters range all over the spectrum of Jews connected not by political views or by religious affiliation, but by a commitment to Klal Israel in its entirety, leaving room for many different approaches.”

A special presentation was made to American Friends of Beit Hatfutsot co-founder Sam E. Bloch whose curriculum vitae under the heading of “Holocaust Survivor” includes: young partisan in the Belarus forest, President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants; President of the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Association, senior executive of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel…and more.

Jewish Stars Turn Out for 'Colbert' Finale

By Chris Michaud

(Reuters) — Stephen Colbert filed his final “Colbert Report” on Thursday, bidding farewell to his popular cable television show with the help of scores of celebrities who crowded onto the stage for a rousing sendoff to the tune of “We’ll Meet Again.”

Colbert, 50, ended his show’s nine-year run on the cable channel Comedy Central without any guests, until the show’s final moments when he broke into song and was joined by Jon Stewart, on whose show Colbert first popularized his persona of an egocentric, bombastic conservative pundit.

The singing comedians were soon joined by famous personalities from the worlds of entertainment, politics and sports including Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Bryan Cranston, Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, George Lucas and “Sesame Street“‘s Big Bird.

Among many others on hand were James Franco, Gloria Steinem, Sam Waterston, Jeff Daniels, Charlie Rose, Barry Manilow, Alan Alda, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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Stephen Colbert’s Best Jewish Moments

By Hadas Margulies

Tonight marks the last episode of “The Colbert Report,” before Stephen Colbert takes his possibly Jewish self to “The Late Show.” So, as we wait for a Hannukah miracle to keep Colbert at his post, let’s look back on some of his most memorable Jewish moments.

April 8, 2009 was the day Colbert drew our attention to Birchat Hachama, “the moment when Jews believe the sun returns to the same position it had when God first created it 6,000 years ago…At which point, I assume, it collects $200.” Birchat Hachama had occurred only three times prior, each one before a Jewish victory. Fittingly, Colbert decides the time has come to free his Jews, and three actors in ancient Hebrew garb ascend from behind his desk to wander out of the studio in post-slavery stupors.

Nothing says “oy” like a Jon Stewart/Colbert pair-up… The two hosts have gotten together on many occasions, including the 2011 holiday special, where they perform a theatrical duet. Stewart presents Hannukah to Colbert as a “sensible alternative to Christmas.” Colbert declines, but still proves musically talented.

Courtesy of

Remember Thanksgivukkah 2013? Colbert did not appreciate the overlap in holidays. “How dare you, Hannukah?” he ranted “Hannukah celebrates the struggle of an oppressed peoples’ fight against invading conquerors, while Thanksgiving is about our healthy and nurturing relationship with the Indians.” Duh.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

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Benjamin Brafman Honored At Israel Cancer Research Gala

By Masha Leon

“We want to eradicate cancer from the face of the earth,” declared Kenneth Goodman Chairman of Israel Cancer Research Fund at its 2014 Tower of Hope Gala at The Pierre. ”We attempt that by supporting Israeli scientists…ICRF helps keep those scientists in Israel [where] doing research is half the cost of in the U.S. [because] ICRF pays no overhead to the institutions that house our scientists…Since our inception we’ve issued 2,115 research grants for over $52 million which led to the discovery of Ubiquitin and Velcade.

Presenting ICRF’s “Beacon of Hope Award” to event emcee and prominent New York attorney Benjamin Brafman, Goodman said: He “was named by New York Magazine as the ‘Best Criminal Defense Lawyer in New York’ whose clients included high profile celebrities and criminals in U.S. and overseas.”

To this I can personally attest. At a November 2002 Foundation of Ethnic Understanding benefit Sean Combs aka P. Diddy — for whom Brafman won acquittal of all charges in a bribery and weapons-possession trial — dubbed Brafman “My Yiddisher Tate”(My Yiddish Daddy) who protected me as a father would…I prayed to God to help me and when I met Ben he took me in his arms as if I was his family” a teary eyed Combs told the guests. “He is a good Jew and the only one he permitted to call him “Puff Daddy.”

Karen Leon

Brafman who over three decades emceed many ICRF dinners declared: “ Lawyers don’t have a lot of credibility with the public…. Sometimes we actually do good work because we say things that are literally truthful, but can be deceptive.” A propos, he told of a young couple with 12 children unable to rent an apartment. One day he parked his van near a cemetery, told his wife to go with 11 of the kids and walk around. Keeping one child, he rang the bell. The renter asked ‘how many children do you have?’ Man answers ‘I have a dozen.’ Guy asks where are the other eleven? ‘They’re in the cemetery with their mother.’ He got the house and now there’s one more guy who does not trust lawyers.”

“Twenty-five years ago ICRF became our beacon of hope,” said Brafman. “My wife and I did not know what to do. Dr. **Yashar Hirshaut, –a brilliant oncologist [now ICRF president emeritus] turned us to some great surgeons and doctors. My wife is here and we have fourteen grandchildren.”

Guest speaker and ICRF grant supported Nobel Laureate Dr. Aaron Ciechanover, co-discoverer of Ubiquitin credited “ICRF with “supporting something very vague…not tangible– ‘knowledge’ something that is shared by everybody and ends up doing good for society…. When I was a student people died of multiple myeloma within a year or two — and in agony. Due to our work on Velcade and another magic drug Thalidomide — people are now being cured with some living 10-15 years.” Thanks to those two drugs, my husband Joe was able to live productively for nearly all of the 18 years following his diagnosis of multiple myeloma.

ICRF’s Tower of Hope Humanitarian Award was presented to Susan and Leon Mark and its Corporate Philanthropy Award was presented by ICRF National Executive Director Eric Heffler to Sudler & Hennessey, a worldwide healthcare marketing and communications network.

6 Best Hanukkah Tchochkes on Etsy

By Anne Cohen

Everything looks better on Etsy — and Hanukkah is no different. From Dr. DreDels to the Menorahsaurus Rex — and Hanukkah’s answer to the traditional ugly Christmas sweater — here’s a roundup of some of the best stuff available.

Dr. DreDel

SillyReggie —  Etsy

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7 Reasons Jews Should See the New 'Hobbit' Movie

By Hody Nemes

Bilbo Baggins enters Smaug’s lair in ‘Desolation of Smaug’ // Courtesy: LOTR Wikia

I’m a Tolkienite and a lover of everything hobbit. There, I said it.

As a child, I read — and reread — all the hobbit-related books, painted the Misty Mountains, set a Tolkien poem to music, and played the “Lord of the Rings” Risk board game whenever I got the chance. Theoden’s speech at the Battle of Pelennor Fields, playing on loop, gave me the courage to write my senior thesis in college (“Forth, and fear no darkness! Arise, Riders of Theoden!”). Now I read the series over again almost every year.

For Jewish hobbit folk like me, this is a big week: “The Battle of the Five Armies” is hitting theaters — and on Hanukkah, no less.

Here are 7 Jewish reasons why you should join me in seeing the end of Bilbo’s quest on the silver screen:

1) Erebor is Israel.

When I was a child, my father read two books to me before bedtime: the Book of Joshua and “The Hobbit.” I loved both books and pleaded with him to keep reading long after I should have gone to sleep. The two have become muddled in my mind — and with good reason: both describe great battles (the Battle of the Five Armies and the Battle of Jericho, for starters), magical wizard leaders (Joshua and Gandalf, duh), treasure hunts, and — most importantly — exiled peoples reclaiming their lands.

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Harry Potter's Pal Anthony Goldstein Is Jewish


J.K. Rowling confirmed that one of Harry Potter’s classmates in her famed series is Jewish.

“Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard,” the novelist said Tuesday on Twitter, responding to a query as to whether there were Jews at Hogwarts, the wizard school. Ravenclaw is one of four houses at Hogwarts.

Fans of the series had speculated that Goldstein, who fights alongside Harry Potter as part of “Dumbledore’s Army,” was of Jewish origin, but Rowling’s tweet is the first confirmation.

UPDATE: Turns out Anthony isn’t the only Jewish student. Is there a Hogwarts Hillel?

Jimmy Fallon Launches #HanukkahSongs

By Anne Cohen

It’s Hanukkah, or that time of the year that Jews listen enviously to Christmas songs, wishing we had something better than “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.” Well, guys, Jimmy Fallon feels your pain.

Last Thursday, the “Tonight Show” host asked viewers to tweet out their Hanukkah-ized versions of famous songs. Here are some of our personal favorites:

Happy Hanukkah From Mayim Bialik

By Anne Cohen

Mayim Bialik knows that nothing says Happy Hanukkah like menorah sweggings (sweater-leggings, for all you regular pants-wearers).


8 Best Hanukkah Videos of 2014

By Jason Miller

Rabbi Jason Miller, tech entrepreneur and blogger, has once again come up with a list of the best Hanukkah videos of the year on his blog.

Each year I put together a list of the best Hanukkah videos for the year and this year I’ve really narrowed the list to only the best of the best. What makes a great Hanukkah video? Is it the music? Is it the quality of the video? Both?

The best Hanukkah videos are usually song parodies of currently popular songs, but just because you come up with the idea for a Hanukkah song parody changing Ariana Grande’s “Love Me Harder” to a song about a Hanukkah menorah called “Light Me Longer” doesn’t mean you can write the lyrics, sing it well, and produce a video that will garner a million views on YouTube. Some of these videos aren’t song parodies about Hanukkah, but original songs or mashups of several Hanukkah songs.

So here are the best new Hanukkah videos for this year (and scroll to the bottom for a surprise from one of my favorite comedians, JB Smoove):

SIX13 — ”Shake It Off” (The Hanukkah Version)

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Stanley Chera Honored At Rabin Medical Center Gala

By Masha Leon

The American Friends of Rabin Medical Center’s 2014 Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street that honored real estate “legend” Crown Acquisitions Stanley Chera was a simkha of a special kind. Chera, who was presented with the Yitzhak Rabin Excellence in Leadership Award, was taken aback when it was announced that Rabin Medical Center will name The Stanley and Cookie Chera Family Pulmonary Institute in appreciation of their generosity.

AFMRC Executive Director Rabbi Joshua Plaut dubbed Chera “a shining light” and further stunned the honoree and his family with a surprise video tribute that appeared to include the crème de la crème of New York’s real estate movers and shakers including Jared Kushner, Bill Rudin and Sen. Chuck Schumer. In the video Gala chair Lloyd Goldman, Founder of BLDG Management, said: “Rabin Medical Center is about taking care of people. Stanley understands that Jewish values are about taking care of people in the community and Rabin Medical Center is the epitome of how Israel should be known — taking care of people and the community.”

Karen Leon
Stanley Chera and Ron Prosor

In what was his 5th appearance as Rabin gala emcee, Charlie Rose shuttled between debaters Ron Prosor, Israel’s 16th Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Mortimer Zuckerman, Chairman of Boston Properties, Inc. and editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report. Rose led off by touting the wonderful relationship between the United States and Israel — “based on shared vision of the two democracies that believe in medicine in the service of humanity [that] superseded the boundaries of geography and nationality.”

Amb. Prosor noted soberly: “…Education, leadership…are crucial to achieving peace.” Zuckerman spoke of a “new alliance now among Arab countries…[offering] an environment or framework for enough countries in the Middle East to join with Israel to deal with the problem of the radical forces in that region.” Prosor responded: “We know what the neighborhood is like…we know that we need peace and we will try to do that…and for that we need to be strong. Because a very strong Israel is going to achieve a lasting peace.”

The gala celebrated the inauguration of the Rabin Medical Center’s new Emergency and Trauma Center — a 54,000 sq. ft. facility — the largest in the Middle East. Named for PM Yitzhak Rabin, the hospital in Petach Tikvah treats one million patients annually and during the war with Hamas in Gaza, treated wounded soldiers and traumatized civilians.

Adding excitement to the evening, the 550 guests were treated to a preview of the due-in-March 2015 Broadway musical production of “Doctor Zhivago”… a special performance by composer-lyricist Neil Berg’s All Star Band starring Rita Harvey whose credentials include the role of Hodl in the last revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” and Hugh Panaro who played the role of the Phantom in Broadway’s “Phantom of the Opera” for over a decade. Then there was an After Party starring Tony- nominated stage actor Marc Kudischand vocalist Deena Miller and the music went on late into the night. And yes…the food was great.

'Notorious R.B.G.' Meets Real Life R.B.G.

By Anne Cohen

In a weird life imitates art moment, Shana Knizhnik, creator of the viral “Notorious R.B.G.” Tumblr, met with Ruth Bader Ginsburg yesterday.

Here’s what the Supreme Court justice, who recently underwent heart surgery, had to say to her many, many fans:

Me: How are you feeling? It’s amazing you’re back at work so quickly.
RBG: Well I have a stress test tomorrow. I’m not allowed to work out with my trainer until after that… .
Me: Is there a message you’d like to give your fans?
RBG: Let them know I’ll be back doing pushups next week.

Courtesy of Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr

Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Forward 50 from Jewish Daily Forward on Vimeo.

Joan Rivers Remembers Jewish Groups in Will


Getty Images

Comedian Joan Rivers’ will left money to several charitable organizations to which she was connected.

Among the Jewish organizations which received bequests were the Jewish Guild for the Blind, Jewish Home and Hospital Foundation, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

The amount received by each organization is unknown, since they will be paid from a confidential trust, the New York Daily News reported Wednesday, citing papers filed in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court.

Rivers’ estate is worth an estimated $150 million. Rivers’ assistant Jocelyn Pickett reportedly received River’s four rescue dogs in a bequest. Daughter Melissa, the will’s executor, also received all of her mother’s personal property.

Rivers died at the age of 81 in September, a week after being rushed to Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital after her heart stopped during throat surgery at a clinic. Doctors at the hospital put her in an induced coma from which she never awoke.

The newspaper reported that Melissa Rivers plans to file a wrongful death suit against Yorkville Endoscopy, the Upper East Side clinic which performed the surgery.

Scott Walker Needs To Learn How To Say 'Mazel Tov'

By Anne Cohen

Getty Images

And the winner of best Hebrew flub 2014 is… Republican Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

The 2016 presidential hopeful better brush up on his Hebrew. In a letter to a constituent leaked online, Walker seemingly confuses “Mazel Tov” with “Molotov.”

Per New York Magazine:

One Wisconsin Now dug up an undated letter that Walker sent in response to chairman Franklyn Gimbel’s request that he display a menorah during the holiday season:

Walker told Gimbel his office would be happy to display a menorah celebrating “The Eight Days of Chanukah” at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, and asked Gimbel to have a representative from Lubavitch of Wisconsin contact Walker’s secretary, Dorothy Moore, to set it up.

The letter is signed, “Thank you again and Molotov.”

Same diff, am I right?

Don't Be Ben Edelman. Be Nice to Your Chinese Food Restaurant.

By Anne Cohen

Forget tinsel, trees and twinkly lights. For Jews, Christmas holds the promise of massive amounts of Chinese food.

Which is why, with the 25th just around the corner, one would think that it would be wise to be extra-nice to your local purveyor of magical soup dumplings and General Tso.

Ben Edelman disagrees. After ordering $53.35 worth of Chinese food from the Sichuan Garden in Brookline, the Harvard Business School associate professor realized that he had been overcharged. By $4 (GASP). And because he’s fighting the good fight, protecting the consumer from those terrible neighborhood mom and pop shops, he sent a series of emails to the owner asking for his money back, with damages.

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Even Joe Biden Can't Screw This Up


Vice President Joe Biden will assist in the lighting this year of the Hanukkah menorah on the ellipse in front of the White House.

Biden’s participation on Dec. 16, the first night of the holiday, marks the 35th anniversary of the first lighting of the “National Menorah,” an event sponsored by American Friends of Lubavitch, the Washington office of the Chabad movement.

It has become a tradition for Cabinet-level U.S. officials to assist in the lighting.

Sigmund Rolat and Varian Fry Honored at Yad Vashem Dinner

By Masha Leon

The American and International Societies for Yad Vashem’s 60th Annual Dinner at the Sheraton New York honored Holocaust survivor Sigmund Rolat and featured special tributes to Marc Chagall and American WWII Rescuer Varian Fry with son James Fry and Chagall’s granddaughter Bella Meyer accepting awards in their honor.

“The Torah calls on us repeatedly Zachor — Remember! “said Sigmund Rolat as he accepted the “Remembrance Award” from Societies’ chair Leonard Wilf.

Entrepreneur, philanthropist and major mover behind The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw which opened on October 28, 2014, Rolat told the 700 guests: “Even the least religious among us observe this particular mitzvah—a true cornerstone of our identity — remember! L’dor V’dor — from generation to generation…The great writer Milos Kundera wrote that the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. Yad Vashem is fighting that struggle…against the power of hatred and death. It protects, it cherishes the memories of the survivors, enshrines the millions who were lost—not as numbers but as individuals.”

Karen Leon
Sigmund Rolat

A former child slave, Rolat recalled his 18-year old elder brother Jerzyk’s last words to him in November 1943 as they hid in an attic following the liquidation of Czestochowa’s big ghetto. “…At 18, he was leaving with five young friends to fight the Germans. As he embraced me one last time, he told me to remember all I saw— musisz zapamietac!— Zakhor! Those last words guided me throughout my life.” On October 13, 2013 Rolat was presented with Poland’s Commander Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland’s from president Bronislaw Komorowski at New York’s Polish Consulate.

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Neo-Nazi Climbs Into Lion Cage, Gets Mauled

By Anne Cohen

Hakuna Matata doesn’t hold true for neo-Nazis.

So, you know that inner voice that tells you when you’re doing something bad/irresponsible/possibly stupid and life-threatening. Apparently, neo-Nazis don’t have that.

The Daily Mail reports that a Spanish neo-Nazi dressed in a military uniform was mauled by lions after climbing into their enclosure in a Barcelona zoo. It took about half an hour for him to be rescued, during which time he was attacked by three of the cage’s occupants. Predictably, people were a little confused.

“To enter the enclosure, you have to want to go in,” said Barcelona fire chief Hector Carmona. “It couldn’t have been an accident because the security system makes it impossible for a person to fall into the enclosure.”

But don’t worry, the animals were just being nice. “The intention was not to kill him, they were just trying to play with him,” said Ignasi Armengol, director of Barcelona Municipal Services. Well in that case…

When he’s not putting his life in danger to hang out with animal kingdom royalty, Justo Jose, 45, likes to get arrested for draping swastika banners in the Barcelona city center.

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