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:
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.
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.
The Israeli Google homepage pays tribute to Ofra Haza
Israelis visiting the Google homepage today got a fun surprise, in the form of a Google Doodle dedicated to the one and only Ofra Haza.
Haza, a famous Israeli singer of Yemenite Jewish heritage, died in 2000 of AIDS-related pneumonia. She was 42. Today would have been her 57th birthday.
Sometimes called “the Madonna of the East,” Haza was known for her unique fusion of Eastern and Western musical traditions — a style that managed to charm audiences in both Israel and Arab countries. Israeli musical heavyweights like Naomi Shemer and Ehud Manor contributed to her albums, and she later collaborated with everyone from Paula Abdul to Iggy Pop to Michael Jackson. In 1983, she won second place in the Eurovision Song Contest.
My favorite Haza single is “Im Nin’alu,” which became a huge international hit back in the eighties. This is the Haza I like best — her early stuff, the very strongly Yemenite-inflected music, from before she started singing in a more commercial Israeli vein.
The lyrics — ”Even if the gates of the rich are locked, the gates of heaven are never locked” — are taken from a poem by 17th-century Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, and always make me think of the ancient rabbinic saying, “Even if the gates of heaven are locked, the gates of tears are never locked.” Haza’s use of the flipped phrase reminds me of her modest upbringing: Before she became a world-famous singer, Haza was the youngest child in a Mizrahi family of nine, growing up in one of Tel Aviv’s poorest neighborhoods.
Watch, enjoy, and join me in laughing at the way Haza’s producers (for some inexplicable reason) felt the need to roll the credits exactly halfway through the music video.
(JTA) — Jon Stewart is no stranger to harsh criticism. Some Jews have called him a self-hater, while the Iranian media has painted him as a Mossad agent. But “The Daily Show” host wasn’t on the receiving end Tuesday when he dished out some tough love to his fellow Jews.
In an interview with Canada.com to promote his new movie, “Rosewater,” the Jewish comedian commented on a number of things he found “troubling” with Judaism and the Jewish state.
“It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not. And normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish but apparently now it’s done by people who are,” Stewart said. “And you can’t observe [Judaism] in the way you want to observe. And I never thought that that would be coming from brethren. I find it really sad, to be honest.”
He went on to describe certain Jewish behavior as “fascistic.”
Asked whether he could criticize Israel, Stewart’s answer was a resounding “No.” Although that’s not a new revelation.
Looks like Professor Sprout has stepped out of the Hogwarts greenhouse — right into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Miriam Margolyes, who played the matron of the Hogwarts greenhouses and Head of Hufflepuff house in the “Harry Potter” franchise, spoke out about the recent war in Gaza to Radio Times, a British television and radio magazine.
According to Haaretz, the actress, who was raised Jewish and grew up in a Jewish household in Britain, said, “I loathe Hamas, but they were democratically elected and Israel’s behavior is not acceptable.”
Margolyes observed that, “there’s been a troubling backlash” against Jews as a result of Operation Protective Edge.
In Belgium and France, rioters shouted “Death to Jews!” In Germany it was, “Gas the Jews!”
Britain itself saw a fivefold increase in calls to the country’s anti-Semitic hotline. July alone saw 240 calls, up from the previous average of roughly 50 a month in the first half of 2014.
“Anti-Semitism is horrible,” Margolyes said, “and can’t be defended, but Israel is stupid for allowing people to vent it,” she said.
“I don’t think many people like Jews,” she added.
But don’t worry, it’s not all bad. After all, Margolyes continued, “I’m lucky they like me, and one always needs a Jewish accountant.”
Maybe someone should lay off the mandrake potion from now on…
New York’s favorite hipster photographer, Brandon Stanton, founder of Humans of New York (or HONY, to those in the know!), just published a selection of portraits from his recent “unscheduled side trip” to Israel.
The photos, posted on his Humans of New York Facebook page, are no different than his other work: they are not politically driven — they just capture a snapshot of regular people’s lives. Israelis and Palestinians shared their hopes and dreams with Stanton as he roamed in and around Jerusalem.
Check out a few of our favorites below:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had lunch in a Midtown Manhattan restaurant hosted by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson following his address at the United Nations General Assembly.
The lunch for five people required ever customer of the restaurant to enter through a metal detector, Page Six reported.
Netanyahu arrived at the restaurant, Fresco by Scotto, with some 30 security guards, the New York Post’s gossip page reported Monday. It also reported that the prime minister ordered veal chops.
Queen Bey, meet Bibi.
A J Street campaign called “Put a Border on It” is applying Beyonce’s admittedly flawless rhetoric to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
The organization has been tweeting out a poster advertising their petition calling on Benjamin Netanyahu to halt settlement expansion in the West Bank. The slogan plays on the chorus from “All the Single Ladies” which goes “if you like it then you should have put a ring on it,” replacing it with “if you like it you should have put a border on it.”
“Countries should only build within their recognized borders,” the petition reads. “Instead of announcing new settlements, Israel should announce its commitment to peace: offer a serious proposal for a secure border between Israel and Palestine, recognized by the entire world. Israel needs peace; the Palestinians need a state. It’s time to put a border on it.”
In case you felt the need to sing along, they’ve also helpfully provided appropriate lyrics.
Hiring? Shimon Peres is your man.
A newly released video (in Hebrew with English subtitles) from the Peres Center for Peace has the former president seeking help from an unemployment office.
Turns out, the 91-year-old shows an impressive range of skills. from pumping gas to pizza delivery, with a skydiving session or two thrown in for good measure. Given his ability to perform these tasks with a straight face, we would settle for a Shimon Peres TV show (with your host, “Shimi P!”)
The clip, while silly and — at times— actually funny, also offers not-so-subtle messages showcasing Peres’ insights on everything from Israeli technology to the peace process.
Watch the full clip below:
Watch out, Netanyahu. You’ve got company.
Mandy Patinkin, star of the hit TV series “Homeland,” announced Tuesday night that he wants to be Israel’s next prime minister. Patinkin delivered the news while promoting the new season of “Homeland” on the set of the “Colbert Report.”
“I am going to tear a page out of your book…and I’m going to enter myself to be possibly elected as the new prime minister of Israel,” Patinkin told host Stephen Colbert, who himself launched a failed bid for president in 2008. He said plans to run in order to “balance my participation in this world for however long I might have left to be in it.”
Patinkin, who is known for his dovish views on Israel, invited the ostensibly hawkish Colbert to become his security advisor. “The combination of the two might calm the region into, on occasion, laughing at itself,” said the man better known as revenge-obsessed Inigo Montoya.
Check it out for yourself here:
Lady Gaga issued a short video in advance of her performance in Tel Aviv, greeting her fans with “Shalom.”
“Shalom, Israel,” the American pop star said in the 10-second video. “I’m so excited to perform my new tour in Tel Aviv.”
The performer’s manager announced Sunday that the Sept. 13 concert would go on as planned, despite cancellations by other high-profile performers due to the Gaza conflict and its aftermath.
The video, which reportedly has gone viral online elicited angry responses from some of her Arab fans, Al Arabiya News reported.
Fans in social media platforms called her “disgusting,” “devilish” and insensitive, in response to the video. The date for the concert in Yarkon Park, part of her “artRave: The ARTPOP Ball” international tour, is listed on Lady Gaga’s official website.
Tickets remain on sale and tens of thousands of Israeli fans are expected to attend.
Neil Young, The Backstreet Boys, America and Lana Del Rey are among the stars who canceled performances this summer due to Israel’s conflict with Gaza.
Lady Gaga performed in Tel Aviv in August 2009, despite of attempts by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to have her cancel.
Courtesy of Greenstone
It takes a certain set of skills to make it in New York, and when Eitan Baron moved to the Big Apple in 2000, he definitely didn’t have it.
Picking up a suitcase and moving from Azor, Israel, to try his luck at selling oil paintings in Florida was not quite what Baron wanted to do with his life. Also, not knowing English made him a terrible salesman. So he relocated up to New York to try his luck at moving furniture for local Israeli companies. He even worked for Moishe’s Moving & Storage for a few days. He was determined to make it.
Then a Judaism seminar organized by Orthodox Jews in Monsey, New York, turned his luck around. Baron, 36, went to yeshiva for 10 days in exchange for an opportunity to work for a construction company. He did everything from cleaning constructing sites to learning all there is to know about home improvement from Home Depot guidebooks.
One opportunity led to another, and before long Baron was buying up historic Brooklyn brownstones and renovating them with environmentally friendly materials and methods, paving the way for his development company, Greenstones. And the rest, as Baron says, is history.
The Forward’s Maia Efrem spoke with Baron about his humble beginnings and his long road toward the American dream.
Maia Efrem: Can you tell me about your entry into development and construction?
Eitan Baron: I got to America in the year 2000. I didn’t speak English and couldn’t find a job, so the quickest way to make money and find work was to use my hands. I was pretty handy, so I worked for someone in the construction industry for about six months, doing anything from cleaning to painting. Two years after that I met a person who was connected to large real estate developers who said let’s do something together. So in 2002 we opened a construction company together. Real estate was booming in New York.
I was living in Park Slope and I was into the environment, and I just saw a growing demand for family-friendly homes, and anyone who comes to Brooklyn hears about Brooklyn brownstones. And once you buy a brownstone, you realize it’s old with a lot of things to fix.
I saw Park Slope as a beautiful place to buy something small. I decided to turn one brownstone into three environmentally friendly units. So the name came: Greenstone.
Russell Brand wants you to know he’s not an anti-Semite.
In light of accusations made by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in the New York Observer on Monday that Brand is an “Israel hater,” the British comedian has written an essay in the Huffington Post explaining his side of things.
Being Russell Brand, the piece opens with an anecdote about drugs — at a Passover Seder, no less.
The year is 1992, I am 16 years old. It is Pesach, the Jewish feast of Passover; I am in Frinton On Sea, Essex, with the Hirsch family at the evening meal. Wine is drunk, there are incantations and Torah readings, my mate Matt’s little sister is beautiful, the sense of family unity and tradition is also beautiful.
Me and Matt, now obediently sat in those little hats, kippahs they’re called, had dropped some acid earlier in the evening and the whole thing suddenly gets a bit too much. Matt’s dad is sort of singing in Hebrew, the old bloke they invite every year from down the street, is smiling with cardigan kindness, Matt’s sister is still beautiful, and of course, there’s the acid. I am overwhelmed by melancholy and, oddly guilt, at the holocaustal images that lysergically zip through my sad and lively mind and I, in front of everyone, begin to weep.
Brand continues: “I am at my first Pesach with a lovely family and feel personally responsible for the holocaust; I think that constitutes ‘a bad trip.’”
Check out the full piece here.
(JTA) — Over the past month, a viral sensation has flooded the Internet: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people post on social media videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice water over their heads to raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the neurodegenerative disease colloquially known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The challenge — which requires anyone who undertakes it to nominate someone else — was inspired by 29-year-old former athlete Peter Frates, who suffers from ALS. It has spread from his Boston peers to police chiefs, celebrities, and pop stars, helping the ALS Foundation raise millions of dollars. Not bad for what’s essentially a giant digital game of freeze tag.
Jewish celebrities — from Adam Levine to Mark Zuckerberg — have enthusiastically taken up the cause.
(Appropriately enough, given that her name means “water” in Hebrew, actress Mayim Bialik also took up the challenge. )
But the phenomenon moved into the political arena last weekend when Justin Bieber nominated President Obama to douse himself in ice.
Even without a personal invitation from the Bieb, pols in Israel have begun taking up the challenge. Two members of Knesset have videoed themselves speaking about ALS awareness, then succumbing to buckets of ice — probably just about tolerable in August in Israel.
Yesh Atid Knesset member Dov Lipman, in a full suit, announces in both Hebrew and English that he’s “bringing the challenge to the Knesset,” and challenges three other MKs to take part as well.
How about a side of Hitler with your pasta?
Taiwan restaurant owner Tsao Ya-sin caused quite an uproar when she unveiled her latest Italian special: “Long Live Nazi Spaghetti.”
Why the Third Reich theme? Tsao explains that the dish has German sausage in it.
Tsao was also quoted as saying that she just “wanted to get customers attention” — but sharp reprimands from both the Israeli and German embassies in Taiwan was probably not was Ya-sin had in mind.
What’s more, the dish has apparently been on the menu since Rock Hill’s grand opening — last year. But don’t worry: In light of the controversy, the dish has been renamed to “World Champion Spaghetti” — in honor of Germany’s World Cup victory.
Russell Brand is no stranger to controversy. Between calling out Hugo Boss as a Nazi during a GQ gala and calling Fox News’ Sean Hannity a “terrorist,” the British comedian has certainly made his fair share of enemies.
Now, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has joined the chorus of haters. In an op/ed published in The New York Observer today, Boteach denounced Brand’s call to boycott Israel over the war in Gaza.
He probably would have been more effective had he focused less on Brand’s past struggles with addiction, and more on rebutting the comedian’s claims and arguments.
“So Russell Brand has joined the league of those demanding a boycott of Israel,” Boteach writes. “I’m going to go soft on him because of all the personal problems he’s had, with multiple addictions, 12 arrests for drug possession, rehab for sexual compulsion, and two arrests for attacking paparazzi taking pictures of him.”
Okay. So, Brand is a disgusting person. Does that make his opinion worthless, regardless of whether or not one agrees with him?
A moral beacon he isn’t. A light unto the nations? Fugggetaboutit. And I commend Russell for making no pretensions to being anything other than what he is. A comical, messed up, confused clown. There is something redemptive about his honesty that ought to be commended. Russell Brand belongs to a new, self-declared showbiz genre: the celebrity as moral idiot. And if he has such low expectations for himself, why should we make the mistake of elevating Mr. Brand and his fellow ethical imbeciles by taking him seriously?
Still not seeing any actual rebuttal to Brand’s claims that banks like Barclays “facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza.” Rather, Boteach continues in this vein of personal attacks on Brand’s drug use, “fried neurons,” relationships, messy divorce with Katy Perry — you name it.
One particular jab, implying “that he’s not exactly the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree,” manages to snub Christianity as a whole.
Boteach makes the point that some Hollywood celebrities do have the right to speak. Like Sean Penn, whom his organization honored last May.
Calls to boycott Israel should be scrutinized and argued. With arguments. Facts. Not personal attacks about how someone’s salacious past renders them unfit for any future brain activity.
(Reuters) — Amal Alamuddin, the British-Lebanese lawyer engaged to George Clooney, was named with two other experts experts to an international commission of inquiry into possible human rights violations and war crimes committed by both sides during Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Alamuddin will join William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law and Doudou Diene, a veteran U.N. human rights expert from Senegal.
The independent team will investigate “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law … in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014,” the U.N. statement said.
A month of war, marked by Israeli air strikes on Gaza and rockets fired by Hamas militants into Israel, has killed 1,938 Palestinians and 67 Israelis while devastating wide tracts of densely populated Gaza.
The panel is due to report by March 2015 to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Israel has long accused the 47-member state forum of bias against it.
Soldiers serving in combat units in the Israel Defense Forces are now being asked to make another sacrifice: donating their sperm.
Israeli parents seeking sperm donors at the Rambam Medical Center have shown a noticeable preference for the sperm of combat soldiers in the wake of the Gaza conflict.
In recent weeks, nearly half of the women seeking sperm at Rambam’s sperm bank have requested the sperm of combat soldiers, according to a statement by the sperm bank.
“Women seeking sperm donors build an ideal profile in their head of the father of their future child,” said Dina Aminpour, head of the Rambam Medical Center’s sperm bank. “The Gaza military operation and the tales of the bravery of the IDF soldiers served to clarify the personality traits which were important to those requesting donations.”
But the patriotism isn’t the reason parents are flocking to combat soldiers’ sperm; the soldiers’ genetics play a role, too. Women assume that combat soldiers will be “fit, healthy, resilient and determined, among several other important attributes,” according to Aminpour.
When it comes to recruiting donors, Israeli sperm banks often feel like they’re swimming upstream. The sperm bank at Rambam Medical Center, the largest hospital in northern Israel, is facing a major shortage of donors, and reported having only 10 donors as of last month.
Only 10% of potential donors qualify for the sperm bank, thanks in part to low sperm quality, according to Dr. Shachar Kol, director of Rambam’s artificial insemination clinic. The sperm bank is using the news of spike in demand for combat soldiers’ to put out a call for more donors. “[T]he center itself is suffering from a shortage in quality donations, and is desperately looking to recruit more men to donate,” the sperm bank said in its announcement.
It wouldn’t be the first time the sperm bank has taken a clever approach to recruiting donors. About three years ago, it teamed up with a local graphic design school to produce snazzy advertisements aimed at male college students.
The results were both humorous and shocking. “Think you’re God’s gift to women? Prove it,” one ad reads. Another shows a box of tissues, along with the phrase “It’s in your hands.” In a third, the words “Giving sperm: it’s a lot more pleasant than giving blood,” appear next to a winking baby.
Sometimes history is so absurd that it’s funny.
“This Land is Mine,” an animated short film about the history of Israel by cartoonist and animator Nina Paley, has resurfaced in the wake of the latest war in Gaza. The short displays all of the tribes, empires, and countries that have claimed the region at some point in history killing each other in chronological order. The result – set to an exaggerated, Frank Sinatra-style theme song – is a ruthless but hilarious historical timeline of the fate of one of the world’s most contested regions.
Dana International made quite a splash this weekend at the Gay Pride in Amsterdam, when the Israeli transgender singing sensation lifted a cardboard sign in the shape of the Ten Commandments.
The sight of the Israeli singer, perched atop the Pride’s first Jewish boat, caused anti-Israel protestors to shout. But Dana, not one for shyness, answered back. Grabbing the microphone, she answered that the Jewish people are people who believe in love, in peace and in respect for all human beings.