The Shmooze

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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Remembering Claire Barry at Folksbiene

By Masha Leon

The first time I met Claire Barry, the then-surviving sister of the legendary Barry Sister who died on November 22 at 94, was in July 1983 at the Catskills hotel Brickman’s a.k.a. “The Citadel of Comedians.”

My husband Joe and I were leaving after a week but resident comic Jan Murray insisted we stay one more day to hear Claire Barry who had just begun to launch her solo career following the death of her beloved sister and singing partner Merna.

She literally “flew” on stage — vibrant, in a stunning pearl grey chiffon gown as the audience gasped and you could hear whispers of “how old is she!?” Charming the audience with a medley that included “Mame Loshn,””Abi Gezint.” and “Bei Mir Bistu Shein” (and other Yiddish favorites) she revealed: “I’m from the Bronx, went to Monroe High School…and if you want to know how old I am — I’m in my middle earlies.”

Neil Sedaka and Claire Barry at a 2005 Folksbiene Gala // Photo by Karen Leon

Barry attributed her youthfulness to “sex, exercise and diet,” then invited everyone to an afternoon session where she promised to answer all questions — except her age — and to share her recent pains and victories. Always meticulously dressed and coiffed, she reminisced about her sister Merna’s and her long career, starting in their pre-teens as the Bagelman Sisters.

Over the decades we continued to meet, at The Concord or other hotels, where we’d shmooze over a glezele tei (glass of tea) following her performance.

In 2004 at the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre Gala at Carnegie Hall, the ageless Claire Barry in a hot pink pants suit joined with **Neil Sedaka” at the piano and thrilled the audience with a medley of Yiddish favorites. “As for my age…” Barry told the audience, “It’s like a telephone number — unlisted!”

We caught up at a June 2, 2005 reception for Eli Wallach’s launch of his autobiography at Elaine’s attended by Alec Baldwin, Ben Gazzara and attorney Barry Slotnick at which she held court in a black outfit with hot pink scarf.

Her most recent public appearance at which we had a chance to chat was the June 27, 2005 Yiddish Artists & Friends Actors Club and Yiddish Theatrical Alliance dinner dance held at Park Avenue Synagogue. The evening coincided with the Alliance’s president Corey Breier’s’ 50th birthday and his parents’ 59th wedding anniversary. Breier — who had been a fellow student with me at Queens College’s Yiddish Studies Program in the mid 1970’s — was ever at Barry’s elbow maneuvering the ageless gradually vision-challenged star as my mother once said, “vi a kavalier” — like a gentleman.

Could Teacher's Star of David Be Illegal?

By Raffi Wineburg

(JTA) — Here’s a tough question: Where might it break the law to wear a Star of David around your neck?

(Hint, the answer is not Nazi Germany.)

Give up? The correct response is the Township of East Pennsboro, Pa., where one man has a filed a formal complaint with the school district after his son’s teacher wore a Star of David necklace to class.

“[Students] are there to learn about education, not to learn about religion,” Ernest Perce, the offended parent told a local ABC affiliate.

Despite his questionable understanding of U.S. public school curriculum (do students learn about education?) Perce’s complaint has some legal backing.

A 1949 Pennsylvania statute holds that “no teacher in any public school shall wear … any dress, mark, emblem or insignia indicating the fact that such teacher is a member or adherent of any religious order, sect or denomination.”

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Bono Likes To Bike Around Dressed as A Hasidic Jew

By Anne Cohen

Getty Images

I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I hate Bono. And now, he’s just given me another reason.

In an interview with CBS radio station KROQ’s Kevin & Bean Show, fellow U2 band-member The Edge mentioned that the lead singer casually dresses up as a Hasidic Jew while cycling around New York City.

This explained why no one managed to snap a picture of him when he took a major tumble in Central Park, causing U2 to cancel several shows. Asked about the mishap, The Edge replied, “You know, when Bono goes cycling he likes to dress up as a Hasidic Jew.”

Right. I seem to remember another famous human who was chastised for doing something similar (cough John Galliano). So, we’re just supposed to feel sympathy for Bono? Good to know.

Last month, U2 posted a messaged to fans on Facebook informing them that “…Bono has injured his arm in a cycling spill in Central Park and requires some surgery to repair it. We’re sure he’ll make a full recovery soon, so we’ll be back!…”

In the meantime, continue deleting the free U2 albums from your iCloud here.

You can listen to the full interview here.

'Spaceballs: The Schwartz Awakens' Is Spoof of Your Dreams

By Anne Cohen

With all the excitement over the release of the new “Star Wars” teaser, it was only a matter of time before the spoofs started rolling in. Well, look no further. This is the best one.

Behold “Spaceballs: The Schwartz Awakens.” Take that J.J. Abrams.

And if, unlike me, you haven’t been obsessively re-watching the original trailer for that brief (and oh so exciting) glimpse of the Millenium Falcon, here it is:

[h/t Heeb]

Paris Hilton Threatened by Man Who Thinks She's Jewish


American actress (using the term loosely here) and socialite Paris Hilton has been threatened on social media by a man who believes she is Jewish.

“I know ur Jew family gives nothing” and “KILL JEWS FOR FUN” are among the threats that have been left on the Instagram account of Hilton and her father, Rick, TMZ reported Tuesday. The man also has threatened to kill and rape Paris Hilton.

The family filed a report with the Los Angeles Police Department, which has obtained a search warrant to allow it to track down the Instagram and Facebook accounts of the man threatening them.

Bibi's Youngest Son Joins the IDF

By Anne Cohen

Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu with sons Avner and Yair on election day in 2013 // Getty Images

Avner Netanyahu waved goodbye to mommy and daddy Netanyahu on Monday, as he began his military service in the Israel Defense Forces.

Proud papa Bibi was there to see his youngest son off, along with wife Sarah and son Yair, who has already completed his own military service. According to the Times of Israel, Avner was offered a position in the military’s media corps but chose to serve in a combat unit.

The Israeli prime minister, who served as an officer in the Sayeret Matkal commando unit, assured the other worried parents that really, he gets it. Keep calm and carry on.

“We are moved just like every mother and father who watch their son go off to the army,” he said. “We are full of pride and naturally worry. Everyone knows this, every home in Israel, and we are no different. I told Avner to take care of the state and to take care of himself.”

“I wish success to all the soldiers who are being inducted today and to all the parents who are feeling the way we do — calm down, it will be okay,” he added.

Maccabee on the Mantel, For Jewish Tyke Who Has Everything

By Ed Rampell

Move over “Elf on the Shelf” — the “Maccabee on the Mantel” may be just the ticket for the Jewish child aged three to eight who has everything.

The 10-inch plush depicting a smiling, bearded, robe-, sandal- and helmet-clad ancient Maccabean warrior bearing a Star of David-emblazoned shield comes with an illustrated storybook that briefly explains Hanukkah’s origins and significance.

Manufactured by the Toy Vey! LLC, the Maccabee on the Mantel is the brainstorm of a Jewish mother, co-creator Abra Liberman Garrett, who explained in a phone call to Dallas how she hit upon the idea. As a teacher at the Temple Emanu-El pre-school in Dallas, her children received “a very Jewish experience.” But in 2008, when Garrett’s son Jackson began public school, the secular Texan institution didn’t observe any Jewish holidays, customs, etc. At the same time, the Garretts encountered Elf on the Shelf — an elfin doll-like toy who, Garrett said, “lives with a family prior to Christmas, gets into shenanigans, hides, moves from spot to spot around the house, and ‘reports’ the kids’ behavior back to Santa.”

Her son’s request of an Elf on the Shelf inspired Garrett to create a sort of Jewish version. “The thing is, we don’t have Santa Claus,” so the impish plush “didn’t make sense at our house.” However, Garrett’s then-five year old son and three year old daughter didn’t care about the toy’s religious tie-in. “I realized my kids were more excited about the prospect of waking up each day, finding it, looking for it, and that made a ton of sense to me, because I remember being so excited searching for the afikomen, one of my favorite parts of Passover,” recounted Garrett, who was born 1973 in Deerfield, Ill. and majored in communications and PR at the University of Texas, Austin.

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Ted Cruz and Alan Dershowitz Talk Tough at ZOA Dinner

By Masha Leon

At the annual ZOA (Zionist Organization of America) dinner honoree Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was greeted by the record 1,100 guests including 261 activist students from U.S. universities as though “a favorite son.” Dinner chair Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus’ welcomed the guests at the Grand Hyatt with “If you shopped at other stores — may your toilets run forever.”

“I’m here as a Liberal Democrat Zionist, in the spirit of unity and bipartisanship” said Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz recipient of the Mortimer Zuckerman Award for Outstanding Pro-Israel Journalism. “To be anti-Israel today is to be anti-American. To love America is to love Israel…. We who support Israel must express our deep gratitude and yes — our admiration — to those who stand up for the nation state of the Jewish People–even if we disagree with their political, theological or social views. We must express our disdain and opposition to those who try to demonize Israel—even if we agree on some other social and political issues.”

Karen Leon
Ted Cruz

Introducing his former student and friend Cruz, the senator described his former professor Dershowitz as “an incredible teacher who fiercely defended his principles—even when he was wrong.” Cruz, recipient of the Dr. Bob Shillman Award, joshed: “If you keep saying nice things about me, they will not let you back into the Harvard faculty lounge.”

Recalling his dilemma whether to cancel a keynote address at a Washington, D.C. event, when he discovered that some in the organization had ties to Hezbollah, Cruz said: “I decided to go ahead and said: ‘Tonight we stand united in defense of Christians and in defense of Jews…. Christians in the Middle East have no greater friend than the nation of Israel.’ That those who hate Israel hate America and those who hate Jews hate Christians.” He was booed and left.

Recipient of the Dr. Miriam & Sheldon Adelson “Defender of Israel Award,” John Hagee, pastor of the 20,000 member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio and President and CEO of John Hagee Ministries — “the largest pro-Israel organization in the world” declared: “We aim to combat anti-Semitism in Europe.” With a radio and TV ministry reaching 150 million households, Hagee said: “While Iran is playing chess, America is playing checkers.”

Alluding to President Obama, Hagee said, “Telling the Jewish People what they can and cannot do in Jerusalem is — to borrow your own words — ‘above your pay grade.’” There were gasps in the room! “Israel is not a vassal state of the United States. It is a free and independent democracy…Mr. President, tell the Palestinians to stop deliberately ramming their cars into groups of Jewish pedestrians, killing innocent men and women.”

At the end of his speech, ZOA National President Mort Klein told the assemblage: “Had there been Jews and Christian Zionists in the world like these in this room in the 1930’s and 1940’s, history would have been very different.”

At the event: Rabbi **Shmuley Boteach, **Fox News TV host Judge Jeannine Pirro, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and recipient of the Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award Michael Leven President and COO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Cuddle Alert! Giant Pandas Coming to Israel


The Chinese government has agreed to send two giant pandas to a zoo in Israel.

The gift will be conferred on the Haifa zoo if Chinese panda experts agree that the conditions in the zoo will be appropriate for the animals, according to Haaretz, including providing the appropriate food, which is a certain kind of bamboo. The zoo must also build a special habitat for the pandas.

A delegation from the Haifa zoo must also visit China to observe the rare animal, which is considered an endangered species.

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People Magazine Accidentally Declares Kirk Douglas Dead. He's Not.

By Anne Cohen

Getty Images

Kirk Douglas will be celebrating his 98th birthday next week. But not according to People Magazine, who accidentally published the actor’s obituary on their website.

“DO NOT PUB Kirk Douglas Dies”

“Kirk Douglas, one of the few genuine box-office names to emerge just as TV was overtaking American culture in the years right after World War II, died TK TK TK,” the article said, with the “TK” referring to copy “to come.”

“He was 97 (DOB 12/9/1916) and had been in good health despite having suffered a debilitating 1996 stroke that rendered his speech difficult,” the article continued.

Well, that’s awkward. The Hollywood Reporter notes that the article is timestamped September 29, though it’s unclear when it was actually published on the magazine’s website.

To be fair to People, this is every news organization’s worst nightmare. At least Kirk Douglas knows that he will be remembered, even if it’s a little in advance.

A 'Broad City' Guide To Surviving the Holiday Party

By Anne Cohen

Thanksgiving is over. The turkey leftovers have been sandwiched and your family has come and gone. And so starts the holiday season.

Dreading the usual slew of boring parties that you just can’t avoid? “Broad City”‘s Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer have some handy tips that will make the most dreary party seem like… well, a “Broad City” rager.

Number 1 rule? Avoid hipster libertarians. And drink aug nog. Lots of aug nog.

{h/t Heeb]

4 Actors Who Had Nothing Better To Do Than Star in 'The Red Tent'

By Anne Cohen

What do you get when you combine Brody’s wife from “Homeland,” that guy from “Game of Thrones,” Minnie Driver in some kind of linen robe and the writers from the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”? Lifetime’s adaptation of “The Red Tent,”, a two part-miniseries set to air December 7 and 8.

Anita Diamant’s best-selling novel from 1997 tells the story of Jacob and Leah’s daughter Dinah, who only gets one sentence in the Bible (SPOILER ALERT: There was no rape of Dinah. It was actually all a big misunderstanding. Oops). Most of the action takes place in the eponymous red tent, where the women of Jacob’s tribe tap into their inner Sascha Fierce and dance to “All the Single Ladies” — or some Bible time version of that.

The trailer promises a lot: blood, sex, sandals — there’s something for everyone. But much like the trailer for “Exodus,” starring a very spray-tanned Christian Bale as Moses, I am left with one question: Why are these people all white?

Jacob, Leah, Rivka, Rachel — all nomadic desert folk. Joseph (as in technicolor dream coat) spends decades in Egypt all while retaining a pretty milky skin-tone. Once again, we seem to be in for the trope that white = good, while dark = shady and suspicious (I’m looking at you Simon and Levi).

In any case, the two-night event promises to be fun for those of us who enjoy watching talented actors slumming it on TV. Just because you star in a Oscar-winning movie or Emmy-nominated show, doesn’t mean you don’t have bills to pay.

1) Morena Baccarin as Rachel

Jessica Brody has moved on to better things. At least this guy isn’t a confused sometimes-terrorist who’s in love with a CIA agent.

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Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters at World Jewish Congress Dinner

By Masha Leon

Hailing Henry Kissinger, honoree at its Theodor Herzl Award Dinner, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said of America’s first Jewish Secretary of State that “during his shuttle diplomacy, he made it clear to Golda Meir — that he was an American first, Secretary of State second, and a Jew third. Golda replied ‘Fine since Israelis read from right to left.” And that when Richard Nixon mentioned to Golda Meir that the U.S. and Israel both had Jewish foreign ministers —Kissinger and Abba Eban — Meir agreed ‘That’s true. But ours speaks English.’”

Defining the Jewish World Congress to the 500 strong crowd at the Waldorf-Astoria as “a foreign ministry — a diplomatic arm of the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora,” Lauder offered an overview of the organization’s emergence in 1936 in Geneva where Jews from 32 countries met and drew attention to the growing threat from Germany. “Until that moment there was no mechanism in place for all the Jewish communities around the world to speak as one people. No organization that could stand up for Jews when they were in trouble whether there are 70 Jews in a country or 700,000.” Apropos he described his recent visit to the Jewish community in Albania. “When I asked exactly how many Jews live in Albania, they started counting the people in the room. I met with the entire Jewish community of Albania! But we were there and we showed that somebody cared.”

Karen Leon
Barbara Walters and Henry Kissinger

“This past summer looked more like 1936 at times than 2014” said Lauder citing events in the Middle East and Europe. “The irrational hatred of Jews has returned [and] this is why we need a WJC today.”

Reflecting on his recent Op-Ed in the N.Y. Times: “Who Will Stand Up for the Christians?” Lauder said “I did this as the president of the World Jewish Congress” and that among the “thousands of ‘thank you’ letters I received, “many noted that it took a Jewish leader to finally acknowledge the slaughter of thousands of Christians throughout the Middle East and Africa… That’s because Jews understand what can happen when the world is silent.” He concluded: “May our children live through the same Golden Period that we have lived through: the ‘60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.”

Introducing award presenter Barbara Walters Lauder informed that she would have “ regular lunches with my mother and Estee was always giving her advice on everything from makeup to what color outfit looked best on her.” Walter confirmed “I was close to his mother…and so I will [share] with you the advice she gave me: ‘Always pinch cheeks, wear white around your face and don’t divorce one guy for another—they’ re all alike!’”

After accepting the Theodore Herzl medal from Walters, Kissinger offered a detailed overview of the current state of the world and mused: “For us [refugees] America was always a magical country…. We always knew that for the rest of the world, the fate of America was essential for the future of freedom.”

Among the stellar guests: Ralph Lauren, Itzhak Perlman, Peggy Noonan, Lally Weymouth, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Robert Kraft and Lord Weidenfeld.

Forget Uber — Let Jewish Moms 'Schlep' You Around

By Anne Cohen

Imagine a world in which your car service is run by your worst Jewish mother stereotype nightmare…

…I’ll just pause for a moment so you can get over flashbacks of your own mom driving you to Hebrew school.

From the twisted minds at Elite Daily: “Schlep,” the Uber alternative run entirely by Long Island Jewish mothers. Hope you’re not in a hurry — drivers tend to be 15 minutes late.

[h/t Heeb]

WATCH Rabbi Susan Silverman's Adoption Video

By Anne Cohen

It’s not often we get an “aww” moment courtesy of Sarah Silverman, but this definitely qualifies.

The comedian took to Twitter on Monday to share a video of her sister, Reform rabbi Susan Silverman, greeting her adoptive son Adar for the first time (Bonus: shots of Sarah Silverman as a proud auntie!)

Susan Silverman, Sarah’s older sister and a member of Women of the Wall, moved to Jerusalem in 2006. She and her husband Yosef Abramowitz have five children, two of whom were adopted from Ethiopia. You can read more about her work on international adoption here.

In the meantime, check out the family’s “Happy Adoption Day” video. Tissues recommended.

Monica Lewinsky Won't Change Her Last Name

By Anne Cohen

Getty Images

So, Monica Lewinsky won’t be changing her last name. (In case you were up last night wondering.)

In an interview with Porter Magazine focusing on Lewinsky’s return to public life after 16 years of silence, and her recent campaign against cyber bullying, the 41-year-old was adamant that she never considered changing her name.

“No one else in the investigation had to change their name. Why should I? I use aliases at times to protect my privacy, but I’m not ashamed of who I am.”

Despite the brave front, the woman who referred to herself as “Patient zero: the first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet,” admits that she’s had trouble maintaining a sense of privacy.

“For a long time I didn’t realize the implication of simple things, like looking for an apartment,” she said. “Now when I fill out a form I have to think, ‘Will somebody go to the press with my private information?’”

You be you, Monica. You be you.

Check out the full interview, plus a photo shoot by photographer Bjorn Iooss, in Porter Magazine on newsstands Friday.

Hebrew Home Fetes Y and R CEO David Sable

By Masha Leon

At the 1994 Hebrew Home for the Aged Gala, opera diva Beverly Hills touted the residence as the place where her mother Shirley Silverstein “found peace” and Henry Kissinger’s mother Paula was a resident. In a special appearance via film clip, Senator Robert Kennedy lauded the then 19.5 acre facility catering to 1000 patients with 1200 staffers and said: “I wanted my uncle to live there.” From the audience came “You should live so long!”

At this year’s November 2014 Hebrew Home at Riverdale Gala at the Waldorf-Astoria, its chairman of the board Jeffrey Maurer told the nearly 700 guests: “In 1917 my great grandparents Harry and Anna Barschi were part of the core founders of this remarkable institution. Today my mother Phoebe and father Herbert are residents. At ninety-seven, we have grown beyond what our founders ever imagined…. We are RiverSpring Health and are confident that our new brand will help steward our growth into the future.”

Karen Leon
David Sable, Global Chief Executive Officer, Y&R,

Hebrew Home president and CEO Daniel Reingold informed: “At 97, we have grown into much more than the original nursing home our founders started…. With services like managed long-term care enabling people to stay at home longer, premiere apartment for independent seniors, assisted living-and more—we are true leaders in the art of caring for older adults. Our managed care program serving 10,500 poor New Yorkers, Hudson House our Federally subsidized low income building, the Weinberg Shelter –the first elder-abused shelter in the U.S. and now RiverSpring Health—are part of a new brand.”

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Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Talk Talmud

By Anne Cohen

It was a Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert lovefest last night as the comedian appeared on “The Colbert Report” to promote his new film, “Rosewater.”

Colbert, who let’s remember, got his start on “The Daily Show,” threatened to expose some dark secrets about what goes on behind closed doors. Jon Stewart’s response was to do a pretty impeccable Jewish sage impression.

“I’m going to say something to you, and you know this,” Stewart quipped. “Behind closed doors I only quote rabbinical texts. You know that. There is no dark secret, there is no hidden agenda, I am merely an arbiter of biblical law.”

Laughing, he added: “If you want to have a Talmudic discussion, I’m happy to have it.”

Please comedy gods, make it so.

Watch the whole clip below.

[h/t Tablet]

Stacy London Wants to Give You a 'Make-Under'

By Anne Cohen

Getty Images

Dust off those 360 degree mirrors, ladies — Stacy London is back to clean out your closet.

The co-host of TLC’s “What Not to Wear,” which ended in 2013 after a 10-season run(RIP) has signed on for a new show, People Magazine reports. And yes, it’s still fashion-focused.

Called “Love, Lust, or Run,” the new series shows London giving “make-unders” to women who just have waaay too much going on in the makeup/clothes department (I nominate Snookie!).

“I’m super excited to be back,” London told people. “I was burnt out after What Not to Wear. It was a good amount of time for me to take off. I rested and did a lot of traveling, it was amazing!”

“It was an easy thing to say yes to,” she added about her new show “Everyone here is like family and it felt like the right time.”

“Love, Lust, or Run” premieres Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. on TLC.

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