The Shmooze

The Man Behind the Madness: Matthew Weiner

By Anne Cohen

Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

America’s love affair with the sixties dates back to July 19, 2007.

That’s the day an unknown show made its debut on an obscure network known for John Wayne western reruns. Seven and a half years later, “Mad Men” has become a cultural touchstone while AMC has been home base for landmark shows like “Breaking Bad” and the Walking Dead.”

The man behind the madness? Matthew Weiner, a nice Jewish boy from Los Angeles, via Baltimore, who developed the pilot for the hit series while working as a writer for “Becker.” “Sopranos” director David Chase was reportedly so impressed by the script that he offered Weiner a job as writing for the HBO show.

“Mad Men” has won 15 Emmys and four Golden Globes. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked it seventh in its list of 101 best TV-series of all time. Starting April 5, fans will have seven final episodes to say goodbye to Don Draper’s broody genius, Betty Draper’s fabulous outfits, Roger Sterling’s memorable quips, and Pete Campbell’s plaid pants.

The Forward’s Anne Cohen caught up with Weiner by phone to ask him what comes next, what he kept from the set, and really, what’s the deal with all the Jews on “Mad Men”?

Anne Cohen: Tell me about your Jewish upbringing.

Matthew Weiner: My parents were first generation — both New Yorkers and all their parents were immigrants. They were raised in the classic bourgeois Ashkenazi Judaism. My mother and sisters were not bat mitzvah’d but my brothers and I were.

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Matthew Weiner

I was not much of a student. When I went in for my bar mitzvah training I was older because I had no other previous [Jewish] education. They put me in a class with kids who were much younger than me. The teacher would teach the class to me — and I was very interested in it. I wasn’t interested in the arguments; I was interested in the stories, in the parasha.I still feel like the story of Moses is one of the best dramas ever. There aren’t a lot of cultures that have a story like Jacob and Esau, where the more athletic first-born is undercut by the one who is loved by his mother and is intelligent. That says something about [us].

My parents kept kosher for many years but believe it or not I think the butcher died and they kind of stopped. I was raised with a real Jewish intellectual identity. Freud, Marx and Einstein — those were the holy trinity of the household I grew up in. There real pride in anyone who made it who was Jewish. My father is named after Leslie Howard.

My grandfather lived with us. He had been born in Russia and was part of a social club of landsmen and worked as a fur dresser in Manhattan. He wasn’t a particularly religious person but I would go to Temple with him until he passed away. I never saw my parents deny that they were Jewish. We never had a Christmas tree. We went to see “Gone with the Wind” and went for Chinese food.

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This Boca Shul Just Created the Biggest Prayer Shawl in the World

By Jesse Lempel


Jewish tradition: it’s beautiful and comforting but a bit too constricting, right?

Well, not anymore. The bookkeepers at Guinness just awarded the world record for “largest tallit (prayer shawl)”— measuring 1,471.74 square feet — to Boca Raton Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox shul. The Facebook post by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg announcing this amazing feat was first noticed by Tablet, so hats off to them for unearthing this gem. It’s official: Tradition is now roomier than ever.

What, you may ask, could such a large tallis be used for? Well, Rabbi Goldberg’s post suggests that it’s meant for “kol hanearim,” a ritual on the holiday of Simchat Torah in which the community children gather together under a banner of prayer shawls as they are symbolically called up to the Torah.

And there is some precedent for a massive prayer shawl: The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 17b) teaches that the Almighty “wrapped Himself in a tallis like a prayer leader” to teach the Jews how to pray. The Jews of Boca may have finally come up with a decent copy.

Still, one wonders why they couldn’t invent something like this 40 years ago, when it might have been of use to Eddie Carmel, “The Jewish Giant.”

Interestingly, the enormous tallis is almost exactly the same size as the original Star-Spangled Banner, the huge flag that moved Francis Scott Key to pen our national anthem.

While I can’t say that this epic prayer shul has inspired me to write such an impassioned ode of pride and nachass, I can offer some wise words that all the guys in shul should bear in mind: It’s not the size of the tallis that matters, but the shuckel in your davening.

8 Israeli Bands to Listen to Right Now

By Hilary Saunders

Vaadat Charigim // Photo by: Goni Riskin

Israel has never been known for producing breakthrough musical acts, but if the first few months of 2015 are anything to go by, that may soon change. With Israeli groups traveling to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest and gaining recognition at a number of European festivals, the little country the size of New Jersey may end up with a pop music reputation after all.

Here are eight bands from Israel — encompassing genres from shoe-gaze rock to electronica to country-tinged pop — that are worth checking out right now.

1) Vaadat Charigim

Having just “killed it” — as the phrase du jour has it — at South by Southwest, Vaadat Charigim is now prepping for a short U.S. tour in support of its sophomore release. “Sinking As A Stone,” due out on May 19 via California-based Burger Records, showcases the Tel Aviv trio’ shoegaze propensities. The trio’s 2013 debut, “The World Is Well Lost,” elicited comparisons to groups like Slowdive and Ride, even with all songs sung in Hebrew.

Listen to their newest single, “Ein Li Makom,” off “Sinking As A Stone “here:

Learn more here.

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Kanye West and Kim Kardashian To Visit Israel


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Kanye West and Kim Kardashian reportedly are planning to visit Israel next month.

The celebrity power couple booked rooms at Jerusalem’s high-end Waldorf Astoria Hotel for themselves and their entourage for April 12, the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot reported Wednesday.

The hotel declined to comment to Yediot, which reported that everyone involved in the visit has signed a multimillion-dollar confidentiality agreement. An Israeli security firm that specializes in protecting VIPs has been hired, according to the newspaper.

The couple reportedly is visiting Israel before flying to Jordan.

Reports emerged in January that Kardashian and her two sisters were planning to buy a Tel Aviv apartment worth $30 million.

Meanwhile, American actor Richard Gere reportedly will arrive in Israel next week to continue filming for the “Oppenheimer Strategies,” a project by Israeli director Joseph Cedar. The project recently wrapped up its New York filming.

Gere stars as the title figure, Jewish businessman Norman Oppenheimer, a small-time operator who befriends a young, down-and-out Israeli politician. Oppenheimer’s life is transformed when the politician rises to international prominence.

10 Other Passover Ice Cream Ideas For Ben and Jerry's

By Julie Wiener

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(JTA) — A few weeks after Ben & Jerry’s founders indicated that marijuana-infused ice cream may one day join its product line, the company’s kosher-for-Passover charoset flavor has been generating buzz.

In case your memories of last year’s seder are blurred by too many cups of wine, charoset is the fruit-and-nut puree that symbolizes the mortar Hebrew slaves used when making bricks to construct Egyptian cities. In making its charoset flavor, which, sadly, is distributed only in Israel, Ben & Jerry’s opted for the Ashkenazi tradition of apples and walnuts, rather than the chunky Sephardic style featuring nuts blended with assorted dried fruits.

Ashkenazi charoset is great, but why stop at one Passover flavor? If we could have 10 plagues, why not 10 ice creams? Here’s some Passover flavors we’d like to see:

1) Sephardic Charoset

Think rum raisin, but with lots of spices and other dried fruits like dates and figs.

2) Manischewitz Madness

Sure, it’s not yet legal to put marijuana in the ice cream, but why not this potent and intensely sweet wine? We envision it as a sorbet with a kick that could replace the four cups of wine and double as a palate cleanser.

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Charoset-Flavored Ice Cream is a Thing. And It's Kosher for Passover

By Anne Cohen

It’s T-minus 12 days until Passover. So, while you’re getting your bread-binge on, consider this: There is a charoset-flavored Ben & Jerry’s pint waiting for you on the other side.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, charoset-flavored. And what’s more, it’s kosher for Passover (but only available in Israel — sorry guys!)

Because there are about as many versions of charoset as there are Jewish opinions (ie — infinite), let’s get specific. The Ben & Jerry’s version seems to be based on the classic Ashkenazi take, which includes apples, walnuts, cinnamon and honey. Sephardis tend to add dried fruits to make the charoset thicker and more like a paste than a compote.

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Enough With The 'Ashkenormativity,' Buzzfeed

By Anne Cohen

Another day, another Buzzfeed Jewish-centric video. And much like their other chosen productions, it’s incredibly Ashkenormative.

11 Things Jewish Friends Just Get” tells the tale of two nominally Jewish ladies, who have to stick together in the face of incredibe goyish ignorance. Thank God someone in this room understands what “schlepping” means, amirite?

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Abraham Lincoln: Champion of Jews as Americans

By Masha Leon

It was an elbow-to-elbow noshing crush at the March 19 preview reception of the New-York Historical Society’s exhibition: “With Firmness in the Right: Lincoln and the Jews” which was inspired by the publication of “Lincoln and Jews: A History” (Thomas Dunne Books) by Jonathan D. Sarna (dubbed by the Forward in 2004 as one of the 50 most influential Jews in America) and Benjamin Shapell, founder of The Shapell Manuscript Foundation.

Among the 350 movers, shakers and literati in the Jewish community: The Forward’s editor-in-Chief, Jane Eisner, its founding editor Seth Lipsky, Israel’s consul general Ido Aharoni, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Ken Bialkin, Mark Podwal, John Ruskay, and George Blumenthal — who will digitize the show.

Introduced by Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, Rabbi David Wolpe Sinai Temple, Los Angeles informed: “Having actually read the book…whenever you have a great man, everyone wants to claim him. And it is no surprise that in some ways, Jews want to claim Lincoln…There are three aspects of Lincoln that make him profoundly Jewish…The first is that Lincoln grew up alienated– which is very Jewish. Second: more than any other president, Lincoln is characterized by his use of words. In our tradition there is no perfect life — only the perfect words. When you come into a Jewish building you kiss a word…When Lincoln used words to sway a nation, we remember [the] words. Like the biblical Abraham he was blessed with eloquence and a passionate and articulate people who celebrate and share his legacy.”

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What Bibi Really Wants To Tell You

By Jesse Lempel

Want to know what Benjamin Netanyahu really wants to say? Jesse Lempel offers an unvarnished version of the Israeli premier’s message to American Jews

To My Friends in the U.S.,

After receiving my congratulatory phone call and delightful shmooze with my close friend President Obama, I have chosen to reach out to you on the pages of my beloved Jewish Daily Forward.

Now let me cut to the real talk.

Some of my critics have cited my “outright rejection of a Palestinian state” and “racist rant against Israeli Arab voters” as evidence that I don’t deserve to represent Israel. What nonsense.

Yes, I said that there won’t be a Palestinian state under my watch and I warned Israeli voters that Arabs were being bussed to the voting booths by leftists. So what? I live in reality, and the reality of the Middle East is far different from Europe or America.

I look around and see an inherently unstable Middle East, with states disintegrating one by one and radical Islam on a rampage. So why should we believe a Palestinian state would be different?

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Mayim Bialik: 'UCLA Isn't Anti-Semitic'

By Mayim Bialik

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JTA) — The incidents at my alma mater, UCLA, in the past weeks have shaken us all. As a Bruin, to hear that members of the student government were considering not electing a perfectly competent student to a position because she was Jewish is astounding and frightening. As a Jew and a Hillel supporter (having been the product of the leadership education, social and cultural and religious programming provided by Hillel organizations around the world) the accusations and inanity felt way too close to home for comfort.

When fellow Kveller contributor Alina Adams declared that she won’t send her kids to “UCLA or any other anti-Semitic college,” I decided I had to speak up.

1) Anti-Semitism is everywhere

Sorry, but it’s true. There is racism, bigotry, hatred, and–yes–anti-Semitism everywhere in the world. We can’t escape it. Not in France, not in Israel, not even in peaceful Denmark. It’s all over the place. As an assimilated Jew in the Diaspora, I accept my position as an outsider everywhere I go.

2) UCLA Is not an anti-Semitic university

It’s simply not. There is nothing anti-Semitic per se about UCLA. Just because there is evidence of ignorance and anti-Semitism, doesn’t mean the university has fostered it or supports it. I’m trying not to get too hysterical about this in general because it’s such an isolated event at UCLA. The global issues campuses are facing, such as ousting Jewish professors (thanks, Durban), not allowing Jewish professors to speak, and other such outrageous offensiveness is not what’s going on in this case at UCLA. (Go Bruins.)

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Sarah Palin Congratulates Bibi

By Ron Kampeas

(JTA) — Sarah Palin has not one but two posts on her Facebook page congratulating Benjamin Netanyahu on his reelection. Maybe two makes up for none from President Barack Obama.

In each post Palin says Americans in the heartland “will sleep better knowing Bibi remains the voice of reason and strength in the beautiful nation of Israel.”

Bibi elicits a lot of reactions in Israel and abroad. Sleep, though, has to be a new one.

Why Jon Stewart Is Really Mad at 'Racist' Bibi

By Anne Cohen

Jon Stewart is kind of mad at Bibi. Not so much for winning this week’s Israeli election, but rather for how he won.

“How dare you gin up racist fears of minority turnout for short-term political gain? Stewart said, referring to Benjamin Netanyahu’s fear-mongering campaign, warning that Israeli-Arabs were out voting in droves.” “That’s our thing! You know what? Now you’ve got a copyright infringement suit on your hands, pal!”

Our favorite Jewish funny man (* sob * Don’t leave us Jon!) had a word or two of advice for U.S. politicians: Want to win? Take a page out of Bibi’s election tactics book.

“You know that stuff you say in private, your core beliefs, your prejudices that you try to hide from people because you fear society would shun you?” Stewart said. “Well, it appears all you have to do is turn into that skid.”

Following a montage showing a bunch of confused people asking why President Obama hadn’t yet called to congratulate Bibi on his win, Stewart quipped: “You don’t call, you don’t write, I win an election and I have to sit by the phone?”

Watch the whole clip below:

Zombies, Jews and Aliens — A Q&A With Lavie Tidhar

By Beth Kissileff

(JTA) — Forget Iran and anti-Semitism. Lavie Tidhar and British fantasy author Rebecca Levene’s newly released short-story anthologies “Jews Versus Aliens” and “Jews Versus Zombies” (both published by Jurassic London, with all profits going to MOSAC, a British group that assists victims of child sex abuse), have Jews literally taking on a whole new world of challenges.

Tidhar, 38, spoke with JTA by email this week.The Israel-born and London-based author/editor is also the World Fantasy Award-winning author of “Osama” (2011); his other books are “The Violent Century” (2013) and “A Man Lies Dreaming” (2014). The interview has been condensed and edited.

We all know about Isaac Asimov, but beyond him who are some of the other major Jewish science fiction authors?

I think there has always been a high percentage of Jews writing science fiction, though I couldn’t tell you why that is. This is in somewhat paradoxical contrast to fiction in Israel, which for the most part rejected fantasy fiction until recent years.

Saying that, though, we didn’t set out to find only “kosher” Jewish writers. What we asked for was just a connection with Judaism, a feel for it. We didn’t want to go into the question of “Who is a Jew”! We managed to get a whole range of people, from all across the Jewish world. I was especially pleased that we were able to get several Israeli writers involved, despite the language barrier.

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Nothing Says Passover Like a Modern 10 Plagues Manicure

By Anne Cohen

Rabbi Yael Buechler

Wondering how to address that whole Passover nail situation? Midrash Manicures has a new interpretation of the ten plagues that will make any fashionista happy — and spark meaningful Seder conversation.

Rabbi Yael Buechler’s modern ten plagues include everything from Ebola to NFL scandals, to the war on women. And the parents among you may be happy to see that “Frozen”s Olaf is duly represented.

“[I’m] always looking for new and meaningful ways to help people engage with the Haggadah,” Buechler wrote in an email. “How can we in modern times connect with the concept of the ten plagues that afflicted the Egyptians? What plagues are we experiencing in modern society? From the lighthearted plague of Frozen paraphernalia, to the serious and deadly plagues of Ebola and gun violence, [I] want to expand the conversation at Seders worldwide.”

Buechler has also created a handy dandy PDF document that you can print out and share at your Seder table (and nail salon).

Below are questions that Buechler suggests as starting points for a constructive holiday table discussion. Add the required four cups of wine to the mix and you’ve got the perfect recipe for that annual Passover family blowout.

Nail 1: War on Women

“There’s a fierce battle between politicians over a woman’s right to choose. Where do you stand on this issue?”

Nail 2: NFL Scandals

“Ray Rice initially received a two-game suspension for domestic violence. What do you think of the NFL’s response to this scandal?”

Nail 3: Frozen

“This top-grossing animated film continues to plague our sound waves, lunch boxes, and Purim costumes. Which song is most stuck in your head?”

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Joel Grey Goes 'Cabaret' at Eight Over Eighty Gala

By Masha Leon

As you left the March 11 “Eight Over Eighty “ Jewish Home LifeCare Gala you had a smile on your face and a spring in your walk and the word “aging” had a new resonance. Welcoming the 450 guests at the Mandarin Oriental, Audrey Weiner, president and CEO, Jewish Home Lifecare, said: “By celebrating octogenarians and nonagenarians, we are changing the conversation about what it means to age in New York and indeed in America. ”

Honoree Oscar winner Joel Grey recalled: “Bob Fosse didn’t want me to play the part in the film version of ‘Cabaret.’ Fosse told the ‘mucky mucks’ at ABC ‘OK gentlemen — It’s Joel Grey or me.’” The verdict was: “Then it’s Joel Grey!’” Standing at his table in the middle of the ballroom, Grey then belted out the Kander and Ebb hit song “Vilkomen, Bienvienue, Welcome! Glucklich to see you, bleibe, rester, stay!” to cheers.

Celebrated graphic designer Milton Glaser recalled New York City of the ‘70’s when “people were desperate to get out of the city and the aggression–not to mention dog poop on the street — a manifestation of the city’s loss of belief in itself… A guy named Bill Doyle came to me and said ‘I have an assignment from the State to do a logo for a 2-3 week campaign — ‘we have the words — ‘I Love New York’ — we need the imagery.’” Detailing the creative journey that ended in the iconic “I Love N.Y.” logo — Glaser described his final version “with the heart as voluptuous and erotic…corresponding to the two lobes of the brain…The effect was part of the transformation of the City.”

Milton Glaser, Arlene Alda and Joel Grey // Karen Leon

Arlene Alda, photographer and author of 19 books, is seen in a video revisiting her Bronx roots: Barnes Avenue, the Payless shoe store once the Allerton Theatre, P.S. 76, the Mayflower Building where she grew up. “Whenever I come back to the Bronx I feel perfectly at home — In my mind I could live here again.” Watching husband Alan Alda schepping nachas, I recalled my first meeting with the Aldas in 1993 when —  honorees at another Jewish event —  Alan said: “My wife is Jewish, my three daughters are Jewish, and my grandfather told me that we came from Spain 500 years ago, settled in Italy so I think way back I was Jewish.”

Svelte, gorgeous nimble-fingered jazz pianist Barbara Carroll — seen in a video pounding the ivories at Birdland, jazz club informed: “Every time I sit down at the piano, it’s a new experience.” One of the first women to venture into bebop in the 1940’s, she mused: “at that time, nice Jewish girls weren’t playing jazz.”

Also honored were: Irwin Hochberg, whose credentials include UJA-Federation of New York chairman of the board, vice chairman of Anti-Defamation League; Charles Diker, chairman of the Board and founder of Cantel Medical Corp.; Pat Jacobs host for 43 years of “The Jewish Home Show”; and art collectors Fred and Rita Richman who are responsible for the Arts of the Island Southeast Asia Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Elizabeth Grayer, Jewish Home Lifecare — Age Like a New Yorker Chairman of the Board informed: “The New Jewish Home embodies all of this New Yorky-ness in every part of our work-whether it’s in the homes of our clients, on the rehab floors of all of our facilities, in our senior housing programs, at the Sarah Neuman Small Houses or at any skilled nursing communities on our three campuses.

Hadash Mocks Bibi's 'Arab Vote' Comment With Amazing Meme

By Anne Cohen

Earlier today, Benjamin Netanyahu expressed “concern” over what impact the high turnout rates in Israel’s Arab communities could have on the election.

So the Hadash party, one member of the Joint (Arab) List responded with an amazing “Game of Thrones” meme. (For those of you who haven’t gotten around to watching this gem of a show — Get to it! — the text plays off an oft repeated quote from the show: “Winter is Coming,” and superimposes Bibi’s head on Ned Stark’s body.)

Well played.

[h/t Times of Israel]

Buji Has a Serious 'Pretty Woman' Crush

By Lior Zaltzman

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Isaac “Buji” Herzog could be Israel’s next prime minister. As such, he may have some very difficult decisions to weigh on in the near future. But when it come to the ideal woman, Buji doesn’t hesitate. He will happily profess his love for the one and only “Pretty Woman” — Julia Roberts.

“‘Pretty Women’ is the movie I like to watch when I’m having hard times.” he told Channel 10 on Tuesday.

This isn’t the first time he’s declared his feelings for the actress. When asked to choose between the Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli and Julia Roberts in an interview for Israeli TV, he made the unfortunately unpatriotic choice:

“I’m sorry, but for men of my generation, Julia Roberts is the ideal woman. ‘Pretty Woman’ is a classic.”

(Fast forward to minute 18:40!)

And that’s not all. In an interview for the Knesset channel, Herzog also said he enjoys watching TV with his wife: “We’re really into Sex and the City”.

Well, I know who I’m inviting for my next ice-cream and comfort TV sesh. And if you squint really really hard, doesn’t Buji start to look a tiny tiny little bit like Richard Gere?

Mel Brooks Making London Debut

By Anne Cohen

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Think Yiddish, dress British is getting a revamp: Mel Brooks is about to make his solo London debut.

According to the Telegraph), the 88-year-old will bring his particular brand of Jewish comedy to The Prince of Wales Theatre “for an evening of storytelling about his childhood memories and Hollywood anecdotes, along with a live music performance.”

Hani Farsi, who is co-producing the event, is reportedly a lifelong fan (I mean, who isn’t?).

“I am thrilled to bring this introspective retrospective of my life and career to the West End stage,” Brooks said about the event, which takes place on March 22. “It will be an evening the audience will never forget — whether they want to or not!”

Oh, Mel. You be you.

Bar Refaeli Wants To Judge You

By Gabe Friedman


In the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on March 3, which added to a growing rift in U.S.-Israel relations, the Israeli embassy in the United States has started a contest to reignite the next generation’s enthusiasm for Israel. The hook: it involves Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli.

The contest is calling for American college students to film short, creative videos that display their love of Israel. One winner will earn a free trip to Israel, and three finalists will win a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer.

Refaeli will be the contest’s official judge, but the grand prize winner won’t earn a meeting with the famed model. (Perhaps her fiance Adi Ezra is too jealous?) First place includes a meeting with the slightly less attractive Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Israeli musician Yoni Block and multimedia artist Yael Efrati will join Refaeli as contest judges. There is no word on whether they will judge contestants as harshly as the poster above implies Refaeli will.

Those interested have until March 27 to submit their videos here.

Jon Voight: 'President Obama Doesn't Love Israel'

By Anne Cohen

Jon Voight wants you to know that, unlike Barack Obama, he REALLY loves Israel.

In a video released to the masses on Sunday night, the actor claims that the President is an enemy of the Jewish state (in a “friends of my enemies” kind of way), and that Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents are pulling a Neville Chamberlain.

“I want to see Israel survive and not be overtaken by the madmen of this world,” Voight says. “President Obama does not love Israel. His whole agenda is to control Israel. And this way he can be friends with all of Israel’s enemies…America has not been the same since his presidency.”

“Those like Yitzhak Herzog who believe that dealmaking is the solution to what Israel faces are as wrong as Neville Chamberlain believing he made a peace deal with Hitler,” Voight adds, referring to Bibi’s main opposition. “We must learn from history where the true danger lies.”

Using appeasement to make your case. That’s original.

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