The Shmooze

'The Great Gatsby' and Religion Swapping

By Nathan Burstein

Shooting is under way on the new Hollywood version of “The Great Gatsby,” and director Baz Luhrmann has made several interesting choices, including casting.

The Australian director behind “Moulin Rouge” has cast Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan in the role of Meyer Wolfsheim, a shady Jewish character based on real-life criminal Arnold Rothstein, whose most infamous fraud was fixing the 1919 World Series. Entertainment Web site shockya.com says picking Bachchan is a savvy business choice, since it’ll greatly expand the film’s appeal in the actor’s native India. This isn’t the first time the pseudo-Rothstein and his associates have inspired notable casting choices: one of Rothstein’s real-life partners, the Jewish gambler Nick Arnstein, was played by Omar Sharif in “Funny Girl.” That role, as a Jew opposite Barbra Streisand, got Sharif in trouble in his native Egypt.

Also in the cast of the new film is Isla Fisher, a convert to Judaism playing one of “Gatsby’s” famous upper-crust WASPs. Fisher’s playing Myrtle Wilson, mistress of the odious Tom Buchanan — and looks pretty great in a ’20s-style ‘do on the set.

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Howard Lutnick on 9/11 and Remembering What Is Important

By Renee Ghert-Zand

We all have 9/11 memories etched into our brains, and it’s funny how your mind can play tricks on you.

On September 11, 2001, I was beginning my first year as director of education at Park Avenue Synagogue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The next day, when the scope of the devastation was becoming clearer, the senior staff was called in for an emergency meeting. Given that so many of our members worked on Wall Street, we were bracing for news of many deaths within our community.

Fortunately, it turned out that very few synagogue members lost their lives — though almost everyone had been touched by the tragedy in some way.

One quick-to-emerge piece of Park Avenue Synagogue 9/11 lore was that the life of Howard Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, had been spared by a stroke of luck. Lutnick had been at PAS that morning, dropping off his son for his first day at the synagogue’s nursery school, at the moment the plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center.

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Wake-up Calls Help People Rise and Pray

By Nathan Jeffay

Jewish tradition teaches that the current Hebrew month, Elul, is a wake-up call to repent and prepare for the High Holy Days that follow. Well Israel’s largest telecommunications company, Bezeq, is taking this idea rather literally.

As if weekday synagogue services don’t already start early enough in Israel — often between 5am and 6am — many congregations recite selichot or penitential prayers around the High Holy Days, and start even earlier. The most pious of congregants can have difficulty getting up in time.

And so Bezeq has told customers that it is offering free wake-up calls to anybody who wants. It’s another sign of the importance of the religious market to telecommunications companies. Bezeq and cellular providers have special deals for students at the same yeshivah, seminary or kollel to call each other cheap or free. And if you are religious and don’t call on Shabbat, you can have a discount and a special Bezeq number (starts with 80) to identify you to other religious people.

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Gadhafi Invited To Become Israeli

By Nathan Burstein

Muammar Gadhafi has been invited to become Israeli.

A Jewish family of Libyan descent has extended the offer to the deposed dictator, who as of this writing is still at large. Gita Boaron, who lives in the Tel Aviv suburb of Netanyahu, has told local media that Gadhafi is eligible to make aliyah because she and Libya’s former “Brotherly Leader” share a great-grandmother, and that religious tradition would define him as a Jew.

“She fled her Jewish husband for a Muslim sheikh,” she says, referring to the relative they supposedly have in common. “Her daughter was the colonel’s mother, making him Jewish under rabbinic law.”

Gadhafi’s fall from power has stirred up memories within Israel’s Libyan community, which numbers about 100,000. Some recalled his presence at a Jewish wedding in Tripoli in the 1960s, before he became famous as a terrorism-supporting tyrant. He has not been a notable supporter of Israel.

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Mel Gibson and the Real Miracle of Hanukkah

By Dan Friedman

Alan Light / Wiki Commons
Mel Gibson, before we knew what he thought.

Mel Gibson, the Hollywood star so tarnished by anti-Semitism that a foul-mouthed tirade of bigotry can be called “doing a Gibson,” is in talks with Warner Brothers to develop a film about Judah Maccabee — the Jewish hero of Hanukkah, also known as Judah the Hammer.

Reportedly joining up with Hungarian-American Joe Eszterhas, who wrote “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls,” Gibson is, seemingly, attempting to resurrect a career which went south with the 2004’s oddball “The Passion of the Christ” and went souther when he told Jewish police officer James Mee, “F–king Jews… the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”

Although it’s not confirmed what part Gibson is looking to play, there would be a strange poetic justice if he were able to attain forgiveness from Hollywood and the cinemagoing public by playing a fundamentalist religious zealot who, by opposing the global superpower of the age using terrorism, was able to drive western civilization out of the Middle-East.

Of course, if he doesn’t want to play Judah Maccabee he could always play the antagonist: historical Jew-killer and opponent of Jewish self-governance, King Antiochus. Either way, forget about a drop of sanctified oil staying alight for the eight days that it took to produce more, the real miracle of Hanukkah will be Gibson avoiding getting a hammering for messing with the Maccabees.

Addendum: Jeffrey Goldberg details his meeting with Mel Gibson in which they discuss hanging weights on penises to reverse circumcision.


Galliano Found Guilty, Gets Slap on the Wrist

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

Case clothesed.

Six months after an anti-Semitism scandal engulfed his high-profile fashion career, John Galliano got off essentially scot-free in a Paris courtroom today, avoiding jail time and a fine. Despite being found guilty of “public insults toward persons on the basis of their religion or origin,” the court slapped the designer with a suspended fine of 6,000 euros, far less than the maximum. Galliano will only have to pay the penalty if he repeats the sort of comments that started the scandal, including a declaration that he “love[s] Hitler.”

Galliano’s lawyer — not his original Jewish attorney — argued that the designer’s alleged substance abuse caused him to make the statements, and that he shouldn’t be punished for them anyway, because they were said too quietly to be considered “public.”

Although the panel of judges went easy on Galliano, they rejected both claims — a good thing, since the last thing the world needs is legal backing for the argument that drugs and alcohol magically implant anti-Semitic ideas in the heads of otherwise praise-worthy people.

A lawyer for the target of one Galliano tirade also approved of the verdict, noting that the designer will face his greatest punishment outside the courtroom. Galliano was fired as the creative director of Christian Dior in March, and remains a pariah to the likes of Natalie Portman, if not to everyone in the fashion industry.


Tent Protests Immortalized in Taiwanese Cartoon

By Nathan Burstein

Israel’s “tent protests” have joined the ranks of America’s recent sex scandals by earning the attention of Taiwanese animators.

Cartoonists for the country’s NMA media company have depicted the protests in a new video, which provides background about the demonstrations in the local language, as well as in English subtitles. The clip features a look-alike of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as references to Daphne Leef, one of the key organizers behind the movement, which is fighting for more affordable housing, among other issues.

Appearing as a Taiwanese cartoon has become something of a rite of passage — often a dubious one — in recent years. Sex scandals involving Tiger Woods and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner have gotten the cartoon treatment, as have topics such as the life and career of Steve Jobs.

A representative of the company tells Israeli news site YNet that a team of 300 animators produces 32 minutes of video each day. Previous videos related include one about an Israeli polygamist named Goel Razon.


Israeli Scientists Isolate Nearsightedness Gene

By Renee Ghert-Zand

iStockphoto

Most people take nearsightedness, or myopia, for what it is — and deal with it by donning a pair of fashionable glasses, getting fitted for contact lenses or getting Lasik surgery.

Dr. Ohad Birk and his team of genetics researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, on the other hand, have wanted to know exactly why so many of us cannot see things that are far away. It is well known that myopia, the most common eye disorder, is caused by light being focused in front of the retina instead of on it. Scientists and lay observers have also long observed that there is a hereditary component to nearsightedness. Now, the BGU researchers are the first to have determined the exact gene responsible for the disorder.

The discovery, made during a study led by Shikma Levin and Dr. Libe Gradstein from Birk’s team, was published on September 1 in the American Journal of Human Genetics. The scientists studied severe early-onset myopia among members of a certain Bedouin tribe living in the Negev. Genetic research results from this endogamous sample, together with related research on insect cells done in collaboration with a Finnish research group, led to the discovery that a mutation in the LEPREL 1 gene is responsible for the disorder.

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Orthodox IDF Men Boycott Women Singing

By Nathan Jeffay

Getty Images

Where are the limits to Israeli multiculturalism? This is the question that the Israeli military woke up to today, after a seminar focused on the Gaza War last night turned controversial.

Cadets who will soon become officers were seated in the audience at the event, when two female soldiers got up to sing. Orthodox Jewish law raises problems with men hearing women’s singing voices. The issue is addressed in the Talmud, and is translated into a very strict prohibition by many rabbis. Other rabbis take a more lenient view.

When the female soldiers sang last night, dozens of religious male soldiers walked out. One of them told the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot that “it was spontaneous. We know it’s forbidden, but we left quietly without coordinating it.” As they were leaving, their commander threatened punishments for doing so.

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Shabbat Dinner: NBC’s Next Sitcom Premise?

By Lucy Cohen Blatter

Getty Images
NBC producer Greg Daniels

As Jews, we know that comedy and drama often unfolds over the Shabbat table. And it seems the TV networks are catching on.

“The Office” executive producer Greg Daniels is said to be developing a series for NBC called “Friday Night Dinner,” based on the British series of the same name. The British series revolves around the often-awkward Friday night dinners held at the North London home of the Goodmans, a traditional — if idiosyncratic — Jewish family.

On the British version, mother Jackie, is bold and saucy, father Martin is socially awkward, and 20-something sons Adam and Jonny are always playing pranks on each other (while their parents obsessively try to find a girlfriend for Adam).

A second season of the series has been commissioned for the U.K.’s Channel 4. Here’s hoping it makes it over to this side of the pond. We’re thinking an Upper West Side version of the Goodmans could work.


Disgraced Designer John Galliano Mocked on T-Shirt

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

It’s been a big week for John Galliano: first he got a shout-out from Madonna, and now he’s featured on a new t-shirt.

The satirical shirt, on sale in Italy, features the Hitler-loving former fashion designer as an Orthodox Jew, replete with sidecurls and a hat. Intended in jest, the item has reportedly offended some customers at Milan’s La Rinascente department store, who felt that the shirt mocked Jews rather than Galliano.

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September 7 Declared ‘Gilad Shalit Day’ in NYC

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images
Noam Shalit speaks in Gaza on August 28, 2011, Gilad Shalit’s 25th birthday.

San Francisco’s Mayor Edwin Lee declared this past August 28 “Gilad Shalit Day” in that city. That was the date of Shalit’s 25th birthday, his sixth in captivity. Now, just a week and a half later, September 7 will be “Gilad Shalit Day” in New York City.

Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, will be in town to meet with foreign ambassadors in advance of the upcoming U.N. General Assembly, scheduled to open on September 13. The elder Shalit will be reminding those with whom he meets that Hamas’s holding of his son in isolation without visits by the Red Cross or other humanitarian organizations is “a flagrant breach of international law.”

On September 7, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, together with other City Council members and Jewish leaders, including Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, will present Noam Shalit with a proclamation declaring that date to be “Gilad Shalit Day” in New York City. Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York, will be in attendance at the ceremony, which will take place at the Office of New York City Council Speaker.

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Jewish Scrabble Fan Was Once Fidel Castro’s Bodyguard

By Nathan Burstein

iStockphoto

Life is getting better for Cuba’s Jews — and for the country’s Scrabble players. Just ask a guy named Fidel.

That’s the gist of an entertaining feature in yesterday’s L.A. Times, which tells the story of Fidel Babani, a member of Cuba’s tiny Jewish community and the president of the Cuban Scrabble Association.

Dubbed “Señor Scrabble” by the paper, the 50-year-old Babani is only slightly younger than the Castro regime. He has a close personal connection with Cuba’s most famous Fidel, having served for years as his bodyguard.

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Liza Minelli to Headline White Rose Charity Ball

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

Liza Minelli is squeezing into her busy concert schedule this fall a special one-off performance at the White Rose Charity Ball in London on September 25. The event will be a fundraiser for the Holocaust Centre.

The Holocaust Centre, established in 1995, is Britain’s first dedicated Holocaust memorial and education center. It is located on the grounds of a former farmhouse on the edge of the Sherwood Forest and houses a permanent exhibition, research and seminar facilities, and a rose garden for personal reflection.

The White Rose Ball is named for White Rose Group, a non-violent, intellectual resistance group against the Nazis made up initially of students and professors from the University of Munich. It eventually expanded to include students from Hamburg, Freiburg, Berlin and Vienna. Six core members of the group were executed by the Nazis in 1943.

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Is Madonna’s New Film Soft on Nazis?

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

Madonna brought Kabbalah to the masses, but New York magazine still wonders whether her new movie might have a “Jewish problem.”

Last week, the singer attended the Venice Film Festival premiere of “W.E.,” her second effort as a director. Early reviews were mostly abysmal, but the film’s quality is only part of the story.

Co-written Madonna, the movie apparently offers a fawning vision of Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee who famously inspired England’s King Edward VIII to give up the throne. The movie ignores the pair’s friendly relationship with Hitler, which included a visit to his Berchtesgaden retreat in 1937, well after the nature of his regime became clear.

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Midrash Manicures: The Torah at Your Fingertips

By Michael Kaminer

Courtesy of Rabbi Yael Buechler
‘Clean’ and ‘unclean’ animals from Parashat Re’eh. (Click to enlarge.)

Last week, The Shmooze reported on SpaMitzvah, a bodycare company whose new apples-and-honey based beauty products pay “homage to Rosh Hashanah.”

Now, a Westchester County, N,Y., rabbi is adding her own gloss on the notion of Jewish glamor.

Rabbi Yael Buechler has an unusual hobby: She paints her nails to correspond with a Torah portion, midrash, holiday or “lifecycle event,” according to her website, midrashmanicures.com.

For Passover, Buechler depicted the 10 plagues in miniature; for her own ordination, she spelled out “Yesh Li Rav Yael” [“I have a Rav (Rabbi), Yael”], a pun on the Hebrew phrase for “I have plenty” from her senior sermon on Parshat Toledot. For Parashat Re’eh — the Torah portion that includes a list of “clean” and “unclean” animals — Buechler illustrated her digits with a menagerie of legal and illegal beasts.

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Lauren Bush and David Lauren Wed in Jewish Ceremony

By Lucy Cohen Blatter

Getty Images
Lauren Bush and David Lauren in February, 2011.

It was the society wedding of the season. There were plenty of boldfaced names, designer dresses — and a chuppah, too.

Over Labor Day weekend, Lauren Bush — granddaughter of George H.W. Bush and niece of George W. Bush — married her longtime boyfriend, David Lauren, son of iconic fashion designer Ralph Lauren, in a Jewish ceremony outside Telluride, Colo.

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Scarlett Johansson Endorses Jewish Candidate for NYC Mayor

By Renee Ghert-Zand

The Jewish Scarlett Johansson is standing by her Jewish man - that man being not actor Justin Bartha, but rather Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. The 26-year-old actress and singer is putting her celebrity weight behind Stringer’s bid for mayor of New York in 2013.

Getty Images

Observer.com’s Politicker NY reports that Johansson has said she has had enough of life in New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and looks forward to the kind of city she thinks it will be when – not if – Stringer is at the helm.

The actress views Stringer as environmentally aware and the type of leader who would invest in making the city more affordable and accessible for people. “Growing up, all my friends lived in affordable housing, which is something that I want to fight to get back,” said Johansson, a native New Yorker. “Scott’s been a big advocate of affordable housing. I want my friends back in the city. So I believe in Scott,” she was quoted as saying.

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The Rosh-Hashanah Beauty Regimen

By Michael Kaminer

It sounded a bit like a HEEB parody: SpaMitzvah, a body-care company “Where Gorgeously Yiddish Beauty Reigns Supreme!”, issued a press release this week about a High Holidays-themed body-care line.

ISTOCK

The “homage to Rosh Hashanah,” with apples-and-honey-inspired body and bath products, “commemorate[s] the sweet treats that are enjoyed at the Jewish New Year,” the press release said.

How does that translate into product? Think body scrub “in such flavors as Applebaum (apples & cinnamon), Honeybaum (pure honey) and Apple Rosenbaum (a luxurious blend of organic rose and apple),” and a matching range of bath gels dubbed “shower syrups.” A bath milk called “Honey Rosenbaum” combines organic Milk Powder [sic], Honey Powder, Cocoa Butter and Kosher Honey,” and SpaMitzvah Body Oil — our favorite — “will anoint your temple with oils of Shea Nut and Vitamin E.”

Aside from Jewishy names and holiday themes, the company’s website doesn’t really clue you in to what “Yiddish beauty” means. “Whilst our fabulous skincare is proudly described with a shameless sprinkling of Mame-loshn — topped off with a haute kosher heaping of Yiddish flair — we are proud to be an eclectic group of shiny happy people from all cultures, races and religions,” it trumpets. “Not to mention the fact that we are all a bunch of ‘type-A,’ ‘earth hugging,’ pamper-privileged ‘mavens and mensches’ – with an uber cool company name! Yet, we are most proud of being committed to serving you – whilst pampering your precious body temple and our big beautiful planet, equally!”

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More Accusations From Sara Netanyahu's Former Employee

By Nathan Burstein

Another day, another round of embarrassment for the Netanyahu family.

Tara Mela, the Nepalese household worker injured during an argument with Sara Netanyahu, gave a press conference yesterday, in which she alleged further mistreatment by Israel’s first family. A caretaker for Sara Netanyahu’s 96-year-old father, Mela claimed she was fired last night and had not been allowed to enter the Netanyahu residence - where she lived - to collect her things. (She later received them through an intermediary.) Yohanna Lerman, the lawyer representing her, said that preventing Mela from gathering her personal belongings would be a violation of Israeli law.

Mela and her lawyer also claimed she had been denied pay and vacation time, and that Mela’s right to privacy had been violated when the doctor who treated her made public details of her injury.

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