The Shmooze

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.

You'll Never Guess What Natalie Portman's Alias Is

By Anne Cohen

Getty Images

Celebrities — they’re just like us. They grocery shop, they pay bills, they travel. Only, unlike you and me, they use utterly ridiculous names to complete these mundane plebeian tasks.

The recent Sony hack has revealed the alternate identities of some of our favorite Jewish (and Jewish adjacent — Taye Diggs was married to Idina Menzel after all) celebs. Submitted for your amusement:

Sarah Michelle Gellar: “Neely O’Hara”
A “Valley of The Dolls” reference. I like it.

Natalie Portman: “Lauren Brown”
Possibly the most boring fake name ever. You can do better, Natalie.

Rob Schneider: “Nazzo Good”
Who would ever believe this was someone’s actual name?

Taye Diggs: “Scott Diggs”
So Taye, the point of a fake name is to have a FAKE name.

Debra Messing: “Ava Harper”
Almost. Almost.

And okay, not Jewish in any way but COME ON:
Tom Hanks: “Harry Lauder” and “Johnny Madrid”

Walgreens Hanukkah Wrapping Paper Has Swastikas

By Anne Cohen


Nothing says Happy Holidays like Nazi-themed wrapping paper.

Cheryl Shapiro was shopping in the Northridge, California, Walgreens’ Hanukkah section when she came across something odd — something swastika-shaped. Shapiro, who was in the store with her grandson, was outraged.

“I told them I wanted this taken off the shelves immediately – not just your store, but national,” Shapiro said. “I was really putting my foot down because I was appalled by this.”

“I came home and I spoke to my rabbi. He couldn’t believe it,” she continued. “I’m still very upset about it, that something like this could be on the market.”

NBC4 Los Angeles reports that Walgreens is “looking into” the incident, but that the local store has removed the offending item from its shelves.

UPDATE The international Raelian movement has issued a statement calling for the item to be placed back in stock.

“We feel outraged by Walgreen’s decision and ask for this gift wrapping paper to be made available again,” said Raelian Guide Thomas Kaenzig, who is also president of an organization known as the ProSwastika Alliance.

“The swastika is still a holy symbol for billions of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Raelians,” Kaenzig explained. “Long before it was unjustly hijacked by Hitler and the Nazis for ill purposes, it was revered for thousands of years as a religious symbol and a sign of good will. It can be found worldwide in architectural features and decorative ornamentation of all kinds, including in Jewish synagogues. It can even be found in many places in Israel. [See]

“It’s unacceptable for us to see a major U.S. retail chain ban this symbol that is so dear to billions around the world,” Kaenzig said. “Would Walgreens dare to remove gift wrapping containing crosses if a Native American complained that his culture suffered enormously under the Christian cross? And what about an African American whose ancestors died at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan in front of a burning cross?”

“Why this double-standard?” he asked. “In the name of Raelians, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Native Americans and others around the world for whom the swastika conveys only its beautiful ancient meaning, we demand that Walgreens swiftly reintroduce this wrapping paper,” Kaenzig said. “And we ask that Walgreens also issue an apology to the millions of people right here in the United States for whom this symbol is sacred.”

{h/t Tablet]

Einstein to Marie Curie: 'Ignore the Trolls'

By Anne Cohen

Getty Images

Trolls are the worst. Even Einstein said so.

A new trove of Albert Einstein letters put online this week has revealed a piece of correspondence in which the physicist gives some friendly advice to contemporary icon Marie Curie.

The gist? Haters gonna hate.

(The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein)

Despite a Nobel Prize for her work on radioactivity in January 1911, Curie faced widespread criticism. As Vox points out, this was likely due to her having, you know, women parts, and her atheist beliefs. Rumors that she was Jewish didn’t do anything to help in Dreyfuss affair-era France.

So, to anyone who has to deal with those “reptiles,” heed the wise words of Albert Einstein: “Don’t read that hogwash.”

The Real Life Mensch Behind Mensch on a Bench

By Maia Efrem

Courtesy of Neal Hoffman

On his first day of MBA classes at the University of Virginia, Neal Hoffman called Hasbro Toys and offered to work for them without pay. That call led to six years of working at Hasbro’s marketing department on G.I. Joe, Tonka Toys and Chuck & Friends. A self-described, “big kid at heart,” Hoffman early on decided he wanted to work with toys or comic books, and so it was no surprise to those who knew him that he was behind The Mensch on a Bench, one of last year’s most talked about toys for Hanukkah.

The plush toy and accompanying book tells the story of Moshe, the friendly and helpful mensch, who helped the Maccabees by sitting and watching over the oil as it burned for eight full days and nights.

Three years ago, Hoffman, 37, left his job at Hasbro when his wife Erin was promoted to a job and along with their two boys, Jacob and Alexander, the family relocated to Cincinnati. While walking through a department store two years ago, Hoffman’s son, ironically named Jacob Maccabee Hoffman, asked for The Elf on a Shelf, Hoffman replied, “Jews don’t do elves on shelves, we do mensches on benches,” and thus the idea was born.

Hoffman went home, wrote the book, trademarked the name and started working on a prototype. In March of 2013 he took to the crowd-funding website, Kickstarter, and he raised $22,000. He launched sales in October and sold out of the thousand produced units of The Mensch in just ten days, gaining much social media attention along the way.

That spotlight has led to Hoffman’s upcoming appearance on a December 12 episode of ABC’s Shark Tank in the hopes of striking a deal with one of the sharks.

Hoffman, a native of Marble Head, Massachusetts, spoke to the Forward’s Maia Efrem about Moshe’s future, starting new traditions and the Christmas-Hanukkah competition.

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