The Shmooze

3 Can't Miss 'Humans of New York' Photos From Israel

By Rachel D. Benaim

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:


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Bibi Has the Veal — With Sheldon on the Side

By JTA

Getty Images

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.

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Beyonce Meets Bibi in J Street Campaign

By Anne Cohen

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.

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VIDEO: Shimon Peres Needs a Job

By Anne Cohen

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:


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Mandy Patinkin, Prime Minister of Israel?

By Hody Nemes

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:

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Lady Gaga Greets Tel Aviv Fans With 'Shalom' Video

By JTA

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.

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Turning Brownstones Green: Interview with Eitan Baron

By Maia Efrem

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.

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When Russell Brand Dropped Acid at Seder

By Anne Cohen

Getty Images

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.

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#IceBucketChallenge Goes Sabra — With Hummus

By Talia Lavin

Wikimedia Commons

(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.


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Nazi-Themed Spaghetti? Why Not.

By Anne Cohen

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.

{h/t Grubstreet]

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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach vs. Russell Brand

By Anne Cohen

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?

Boteach continues:

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.

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George Clooney's Fiancee on Israel War Crimes Panel

By Stephanie Nebehay

Getty Images

(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.

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Wanted: Israeli Soldiers' Sperm

By Hody Nemes

Getty Images

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.

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A Brief (And Violent) History of The Middle East

By Gabe Friedman

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.

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Dana International: 'Europe Has No Lessons To Teach Israel'

By Yanir Dekel

Facebook/Exodays

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.

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What Media Bias? Stephen Colbert on the War in Gaza

By Rachel X. Landes

Everyone seems to be divided over Gaza — One Direction has all but lost its identity over the issue. And the media is no exception.

In a segment on The Colbert Report devoted to the conflict, Stephen Colbert lamented the current state of affairs.

“This conflict in Israel has been going on for — What is today? July 31?” He paused. “3,000 years.”

Colbert then went on to outline the accusations of a pro-Israel slant in the media, showing clips of interviewees criticizing the prevalence of Benjamin Netanyahu on American television screens.

“I never see one Palestinian being interviewed,” said Rula Jebreal, MSNBC contributor, in one clip.

Colbert dead-panned that he hasn’t noticed any pro-Israel bias in the media — and mocked CNN’s Wolf Blitzer for reporting from the “Situation Kibbutz,” rather than the “Situation Room.”

On the other hand, all images of dead bodies and destroyed buildings abound — the real anti-Israel bias, according to Colbert. After all, “We all know whoever has the most dead bodies wins.”

Colbert then tried to report on the conflict without any bias, and predictably couldn’t get any words past the censor.

Well, except the comment: “The entire situation is f***ing BS.”

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Jon Voight Slams Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz for Gaza Letter

By Anne Cohen

Getty Images

Actor Jon Voight has written a letter condemning Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz for their letter referring to Israel’s operations in Gaza as “genocide.”

In a guest column for the Hollywood reporter called out the couple for inciting anti-Semitism, and being “oblivious to the damage they have caused.”

To be fair, both Bardem and Cruz issued statements last week apologizing for the letter, and expressing their support for Jews and their desire for peace in the Middle East.

Not good enough, says Jon Voight, who took the opportunity to call out celebrities everywhere commenting on the conflict:

You have forgotten how this war started. Did Hamas not kidnap and kill three young teenagers for the sake of killing, and celebrated after the killing? What a travesty of justice.

I am asking all my peers who signed that poison letter against Israel to examine their motives. Can you take back the fire of anti-Semitism that is raging all over the world now?

You have been able to become famous and have all your monetary gains because you are in a democratic country: America. Do you think you would have been able to accomplish this in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, et cetera? You had a great responsibility to use your celebrity for good. Instead, you have defamed the only democratic country of goodwill in the Middle East: Israel.

“You should hang your heads in shame,” Voight concluded. “You should all come forth with deep regrets for what you did, and ask forgiveness from the suffering people in Israel.”

You can read Javier Bardem’s apology right here.

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'Big Brother' in Bomb Shelter

By Rachel X. Landes

Keshet Broadcasting

The show must go on! This time with a new bomb shelter.

Although many Israeli shows and networks have gone on hiatus due to Operation Protective Edge, Big Brother Israel is undeterred. The show, filmed in Neve Ilan, a village near the outskirts of Jerusalem, was in the middle of its sixth season when the conflict started.

Rather than shut down, the show’s producers got creative.The house now contains regional alarms and a bomb shelter, even though that violate the rules of the show that houseguests cannot have any contact with the outside world – Security will out.

According to Quartz, Keshet, the network that produces “Big Brother Israel,” waited almost a month to tell contestants about the escalating conflict between Israel and Gaza.

The first time an air-raid siren went off in the outskirts of Jerusalem, where the house is located, its residents—by then nearly two months into their confinement—were told it was a technical glitch (link in Hebrew). But after a second alarm the next day, July 8—almost a month after three Israeli teens were kidnapped, on June 12, and later found dead, setting off an escalation of tensions and violence—the show’s producers decided to break the rules and tell the contestants what was going on.

A video via Jerusalem Post (in Hebrew) shows some of their reactions.

Also from Quartz, here’s a translation of the announcement from the disembodied Big Brother voice:

“Tenants of the house… As you all know, with your entrance into Big Brother, you were disconnected from the outside world. Living in a place cut off from outside is an essential part of your, and the viewers’, experience in the house. The producers do everything to preserve this disconnection. We don’t allow messages from the outside or updates on events outside of the house—unless the situation can have a direct impact on the house’s tenants, or on their family members outside. Big Brother feels obliged to update you that in the past few days, the security situation has become tense. There has been an escalation in the south, which includes rocket fire, mainly on those living just outside the Gaza Strip, but which this evening has spread to Gush Dan [the Tel Aviv area] and our area.”

Only after milking the moment for the benefit of reality television viewers did the announcer admit that the show’s producers had confirmed that everyone’s families were safe and sound.

Keshet has lost $13.1 million over the past two weeks, a rep for the company told The Hollywood Reporter last week. Despite the rockets, 45% of Israeli audiences still watch the show, which switches to the news if there are any significant developments.

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Why Mayim Bialik Supports Israel

By Anne Cohen

Mayim Bialik has been active on social media since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, sending thoughts and prayers to her friends and family in Israel.

But in a personal piece posted on her Kveller blog on Thurday, the “Big Bang Theory” explained her decision to send money to the Israel Defense Forces. The list is simple and to the point:

  1. I need to feel like I’m doing something.

  2. No matter what your politics are, soldiers sent into war zones deserve to be protected from enemy fire.

  3. Every soldier is someone’s son or daughter. Every single one.

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Javier Bardem Apologizes For Anti-Israel Letter

By Curt Schleier

Javier Bardem has joined his wife Penelope Cruz in saying “Oops.”

Bardem, Cruz and Pedro Almodovar were the three most famous Spanish celebs who signed a letter earlier this week calling Israeli operations in Gaza “genocide” against the Palestinians. But as many an NFL referee has said, on further review, Bardem changed his mind.

Yes, while, he said, he was “critical of the Israeli military response,” but meant to say he had “great respect for the people of Israel.” His signature was only “a plea for peace.”

Some thought his remarks anti-Semitic, which is the “antithesis of who we are as human beings.”

Obviously, there’s no way to tell whether Bardem/Cruz just didn’t read the letter before signing it, wanted to jump aboard the growing European Israel bashing wagon or believed the letter’s contents and are just now backing off fearful of a backlash.

In any case, here is his four paragraph statement:

This week, along with a number of artists in my home country of Spain, I spoke out about the conflict in Gaza urging all governments to intervene in this escalating crisis. My signature was solely meant as a plea for peace. Destruction and hatred only generate more hatred and destruction.

While I was critical of the Israeli military response, I have great respect for the people of Israel and deep compassion for their losses. I am now being labeled by some as anti-Semitic, as is my wife - which is the antithesis of who we are as human beings. We detest anti-Semitism as much as we detest the horrible and painful consequences of war.

I was raised to be against any act of violence, and the consequent suffering of humanity for it, regardless of religions, ethnicities and borders. Too many innocent Palestinian mothers have lost their children to this conflict. Too many innocent Israeli mothers share the same grief. There should not be any political reason that can justify such enormous pain on both sides. It’s my hope that leaders involved in this complicated struggle will heed the call of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, ‘In the name of humanity, the violence must stop.‘

Palestinians and Israelis in the region deserve to have their safety and human rights recognized and respected so in the near future they may find peace and co-existence, for themselves and their innocent children. So generations to come could bring hope, forgiveness and compassion for each other. This is the most basic and necessary way to peace for all of us.”

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