The Shmooze

Meet Josh Bernstein, the Next Teen Pop Idol

By Renee Ghert-Zand

iStockphoto

Josh Bernstein has got an amazing set of pipes, and he is using them to his advantage in the Kidz Star USA Talent Search, under way right now. The 14-year-old student at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Md., is one of four finalists in the competition sponsored by KidzBop.com.

This morning, Bernstein appeared along with the other three finalists on the “Today Show” together with Kris Allen, a mentor and judge for the contest. Allen found fame as the 2009 winner of “American Idol.”

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Israeli Man Is Seven Months Pregnant

By Nathan Jeffay

iStockphoto

Mazel tov — it’s a boy! Not the baby, but the person giving birth.

That’s right. If the news broken by Yediot Ahronot is correct, a man is to have a baby.

Apparently, a 24-year-old Israeli who had a female-to-male sex change operation went to a hospital on Sunday and told doctors that he’s pregnant. According to the report, he sports a goatee and is married to a man.

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Video: The Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem

By Eileen Reynolds

Remember that peculiar Kia commercial with hamsters dancing to LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem”?

Not exactly an instant classic — but the Shmooze does appreciate Aish.com’s new Rosh Hashanah-themed remake of that song. With lines like “Three times a day I’m shucklin’ shucklin’, shucklin,” and “Stand up, sit down, pass the prayer books around,” the tongue-in-cheek music video serves as lighthearted primer on the Jewish New Year. Sure, the music’s a bit insipid, but the dancing — increasingly elaborate hip-hop moves performed by a group of yarmulke-clad young men — just about makes up for it.

Watch the ‘Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem’:


ESPN Cracks Down on Anti-Semitism in Fantasy Football

By Renee Ghert-Zand

iStockphoto

It’s not just Arsenal football fans in the U.K. who are using their websites to spread anti-Semitism.

Here in the U.S., ESPN was alerted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center that people were setting up fantasy (American) football teams with names like “Jews are Immoral,” “Jews are Terrible” and “Jews Love Pennies” on the ESPN website.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told USA Today that he was alerted to these names when a Jewish father went to sign his son up to participate in fantasy football. “They may have been fantasy leagues but the hate is all too real,” Cooper said.

ESPN responded quickly to the complaint and removed the teams immediately. “Offensive hate speech like the examples discussed here have no place on our site. While we have systems in place to protect against inappropriate team and league names clearly with millions of users and deceptive ways around the safeguards, we can never completely eliminate it,” ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said.


Sex Toys Sold Modestly

By Renee Ghert-Zand

iStockphoto

It’s got the goods, just not the suggestive photographs to go with them. And that is exactly the way KosherSexToys.net thinks it should be catering to the sub-sector of the Orthodox public interested in shopping for sexual aids and fetish gear.

Those in the market for these kinds of things can find a nice selection of lubricants, vibrators, clamps, beads and blindfolds for sale for competitive prices on the website. The furry handcuffs are reportedly a big seller.

What’s the big difference between this site and other ones selling the same kinds of products? It’s all in the presentation. Whereas other sites have raunchy photos with explicit visuals depicting how these items might be used, KosherSexToys.net just sticks to the facts. You’ll see photos of the merchandise with accompanying descriptions using language that would not shock the average adult.

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Former NBA Star To Coach at Jewish Day School

By Nathan Burstein

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A former NBA All-Star has landed an unlikely coaching gig — at a Jewish prep school in Florida.

It sounds like the set-up for a movie, but it’s true: Former professional point guard Kenny Anderson has signed on to coach boys’ basketball at the David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie, Fla., a town located between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Anderson got the job after receiving an invitation via Twitter from Jay Doobrow, the father of two students at the school.

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Hasidic Biker Gang Spreads the Word on Wheels

By Renee Ghert-Zand

iStockphoto

It’s time to let go of the incorrect assumption that all ultra-Orthodox Jews try to turn away as much as possible from the outside world. You’d be wrong to think that all of them spend every waking moment at serious study, prayer and work.

It turns out, at least in some cases, that Haredim just want to have fun. In fact, some of them are downright daredevils.

First, there was the recent profile in the New York Post and other outlets of the Rebbe’s Riders, Lubavitcher motorcyclists who do kiruv (religious outreach to fellow Jews) on wheels. “The Riders…say their love of choppers gives them something in common with Jews who might have strayed onto the Highway to Hell,” according to the Post. These guys still wear black — only they’ve traded their kapotes (long coats) for padded leather jackets.

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Would Bar Refaeli Ever Date Prince Harry?

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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If the latest rumors about Prince Harry are true, Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli’s dad is going to have to learn to keep his temper in check.

What do the 57-year-old Rafi Refaeli and the 26-year-old who is third in line to the British throne have to do with one another? More than you might think. It turns out that they both have a common interest in beautiful Bar.

The Jewish Chronicle has asked whether the model, also 26, is on “the Kate Middleton path” in light of gossip reports in Now magazine that Harry is chasing her. Has he personally called her for a date? No. But he has asked his aides to track her down and set up a meeting between them. The word is that she has not expressed any interest. The Shmooze guesses that she, as a proud Israeli, is not into guys who show up at costume parties dressed as Nazis.

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'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

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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

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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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