The Shmooze

The Man Behind the Madness: Matthew Weiner

By Anne Cohen

Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

America’s love affair with the sixties dates back to July 19, 2007.

That’s the day an unknown show made its debut on an obscure network known for John Wayne western reruns. Seven and a half years later, “Mad Men” has become a cultural touchstone while AMC has been home base for landmark shows like “Breaking Bad” and the Walking Dead.”

The man behind the madness? Matthew Weiner, a nice Jewish boy from Los Angeles, via Baltimore, who developed the pilot for the hit series while working as a writer for “Becker.” “Sopranos” director David Chase was reportedly so impressed by the script that he offered Weiner a job as writing for the HBO show.

“Mad Men” has won 15 Emmys and four Golden Globes. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked it seventh in its list of 101 best TV-series of all time. Starting April 5, fans will have seven final episodes to say goodbye to Don Draper’s broody genius, Betty Draper’s fabulous outfits, Roger Sterling’s memorable quips, and Pete Campbell’s plaid pants.

The Forward’s Anne Cohen caught up with Weiner by phone to ask him what comes next, what he kept from the set, and really, what’s the deal with all the Jews on “Mad Men”?

Anne Cohen: Tell me about your Jewish upbringing.

Matthew Weiner: My parents were first generation — both New Yorkers and all their parents were immigrants. They were raised in the classic bourgeois Ashkenazi Judaism. My mother and sisters were not bat mitzvah’d but my brothers and I were.

Getty Images
Matthew Weiner

I was not much of a student. When I went in for my bar mitzvah training I was older because I had no other previous [Jewish] education. They put me in a class with kids who were much younger than me. The teacher would teach the class to me — and I was very interested in it. I wasn’t interested in the arguments; I was interested in the stories, in the parasha.I still feel like the story of Moses is one of the best dramas ever. There aren’t a lot of cultures that have a story like Jacob and Esau, where the more athletic first-born is undercut by the one who is loved by his mother and is intelligent. That says something about [us].

My parents kept kosher for many years but believe it or not I think the butcher died and they kind of stopped. I was raised with a real Jewish intellectual identity. Freud, Marx and Einstein — those were the holy trinity of the household I grew up in. There real pride in anyone who made it who was Jewish. My father is named after Leslie Howard.

My grandfather lived with us. He had been born in Russia and was part of a social club of landsmen and worked as a fur dresser in Manhattan. He wasn’t a particularly religious person but I would go to Temple with him until he passed away. I never saw my parents deny that they were Jewish. We never had a Christmas tree. We went to see “Gone with the Wind” and went for Chinese food.

Read more

Charoset-Flavored Ice Cream is a Thing. And It's Kosher for Passover

By Anne Cohen

It’s T-minus 12 days until Passover. So, while you’re getting your bread-binge on, consider this: There is a charoset-flavored Ben & Jerry’s pint waiting for you on the other side.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, charoset-flavored. And what’s more, it’s kosher for Passover (but only available in Israel — sorry guys!)

Because there are about as many versions of charoset as there are Jewish opinions (ie — infinite), let’s get specific. The Ben & Jerry’s version seems to be based on the classic Ashkenazi take, which includes apples, walnuts, cinnamon and honey. Sephardis tend to add dried fruits to make the charoset thicker and more like a paste than a compote.

Read more

Enough With The 'Ashkenormativity,' Buzzfeed

By Anne Cohen

Another day, another Buzzfeed Jewish-centric video. And much like their other chosen productions, it’s incredibly Ashkenormative.

11 Things Jewish Friends Just Get” tells the tale of two nominally Jewish ladies, who have to stick together in the face of incredibe goyish ignorance. Thank God someone in this room understands what “schlepping” means, amirite?

Read more

Abraham Lincoln: Champion of Jews as Americans

By Masha Leon

It was an elbow-to-elbow noshing crush at the March 19 preview reception of the New-York Historical Society’s exhibition: “With Firmness in the Right: Lincoln and the Jews” which was inspired by the publication of “Lincoln and Jews: A History” (Thomas Dunne Books) by Jonathan D. Sarna (dubbed by the Forward in 2004 as one of the 50 most influential Jews in America) and Benjamin Shapell, founder of The Shapell Manuscript Foundation.

Among the 350 movers, shakers and literati in the Jewish community: The Forward’s editor-in-Chief, Jane Eisner, its founding editor Seth Lipsky, Israel’s consul general Ido Aharoni, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Ken Bialkin, Mark Podwal, John Ruskay, and George Blumenthal — who will digitize the show.

Introduced by Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, Rabbi David Wolpe Sinai Temple, Los Angeles informed: “Having actually read the book…whenever you have a great man, everyone wants to claim him. And it is no surprise that in some ways, Jews want to claim Lincoln…There are three aspects of Lincoln that make him profoundly Jewish…The first is that Lincoln grew up alienated– which is very Jewish. Second: more than any other president, Lincoln is characterized by his use of words. In our tradition there is no perfect life — only the perfect words. When you come into a Jewish building you kiss a word…When Lincoln used words to sway a nation, we remember [the] words. Like the biblical Abraham he was blessed with eloquence and a passionate and articulate people who celebrate and share his legacy.”

Read more

52 Reasons Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is My Favorite Human

By Anne Cohen

Lior Zaltzman

Today is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s birthday. She is 82. She is my favorite. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to humbly pay tribute to her amazing and fantabulous life.

Born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1933, this woman has done it all: she broke down barriers, paved the way for others, left her detractors in the dust, lived a real-life fairytale love story, and fought her way to the highest judicial position in the land. Oh, and she’s also an internet meme.

Below are 52 reasons that explain and illustrate why we should all be worshipping at the altar of RBG:

1) Let’s start with the obvious: She knows how to accessorize.

2) She has a jabot for every occasion, including majority opinions and dissents.

3) She’s the first Jewish female justice to serve on the Supreme Court.

4) She’s Notorious and she knows it.

5) She even jokes about it:

6) “The ‘Notorious R.B.G.’ was started by a student at NYU Law School, and when the Tumblr first appeared, I asked my law clerks, “What is this all about?” but I didn’t know about Notorious B.I.G. And then I discovered that we had at least one thing in common: we both grew up in Brooklyn.”


8) She’s the ultimate bon vivant:

9) She fell asleep in the State of the Union…

10) …Because she was TIPSY.

11) And a little sleepy having stayed up all night writing because “her pen was hot.”

Getty Images

12) She hasn’t cooked a meal since 1980. Lucky for her, her husband Marty was a “fabulous cook.”

Read more

Andy Samberg Will Host the 2015 Emmys

By Reuters

Getty Images

Andy Samberg, star of the comedy TV show “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and our second favorite Jewish funnyman (Jon Stewart comes first — obviously) will host the 2015 Primetime Emmy Awards, the highest honors in U.S. television, organizers of the show said on Thursday.

The comedian, actor, writer and producer, whose breakthrough came on late-night sketch show “Saturday Night Live,” will emcee the show from the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles that will be broadcast live by Fox TV on Sept. 20.

“Andy has excelled in all aspects of the television universe, both from behind and in front of the camera,” said Bruce Rosenblum, the chairman and CEO of the Television Academy.

Samberg, 36, performed on “SNL” for seven seasons before joining Fox police sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” to play Det. Jake Peralta, a role that earned him a best comedy actor Golden Globe last year.

Samberg shared an Emmy for outstanding original music and lyrics in 2007 for an SNL sketch song “Dick In A Box,” alongside pop singer Justin Timberlake.

The Television Academy announced new rules last month that will increase the number of contenders in comedy and drama categories to seven nominees from six in previous years.

Comedy series will also be defined as shows that are 30 minutes or shorter per episode and drama will be shows over 30 minutes. The mini-series was renamed “limited series” and changes were also announced in the variety series category.

Nominations for the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards will be announced on July 16.

Read more

Watch Bette Midler Sing Kim Kardashian Tweets

By Anne Cohen

What’s better than mocking a Kim Kardashian tweet? Hearing Bette Midler sing them out loud.

During an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on Monday, the Broadway star took the comedian’s signature bit, “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets,” one step further, belting out such gems as: “Ugh, I hate falling asleep with all my makeup on,” and “I never thought I would ever say this … But I’m wearing flats today.”

Thank you Bette, for giving voice to Kim’s deepest and darkest thoughts.

[h/t Time]

Read more

Ruth Bader Ginsberg is So Cool, She Has Her Own Lego Figure

By Lior Zaltzman

Maia Weinstock Forget Lego Friends — MIT news editor Maia Weinstock has created custom legos any mother would love to have her daughters (and sons!) play with.

A real life (Lego) Justice League!

In honor of International Women’s Day (Sunday, March 8), Weistock created a custom lego set of the four Supreme Court women justices. Including MOTs Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elana Kagan. Yes, 50% of this awesome Justice League is Jewish. Major pride.

Aside from creating the lego replicas of the four justices, which she calls “the Legal Justice League”, Weinstock also created a replica of the Supreme Court and a SCOTUS library/study, so kids can engage in some serious legislative play.

Weinstock says she created this judicial replica ” to encourage girls and women to work toward high positions in the U.S. judicial system.”

I have to say, if I had this lego set growing up, I would definitely be inspired to don some black robes and do some real justice!

Here, see for yourself:

Maia Weistock

Read more

Ben Bram Wants to Bring A Cappella Back to the Masses

By Hilary Saunders

Kevin Olusola, Ben Bram, Scott Hoying, Mitch Grass, Kirstie Maldonado and Avi Kaplan of Pentatonix at the Grammys // Getty Images

Back when we rounded up 11 Jewish Things To Watch For At the Grammys, we directed your attention to the main televised performance that featured on screen. But a few hours before Tony Bennett performed a duet with Lady Gaga and Kristen Wiig dressed up like Sia, hundreds of musicians and music professionals gathered for a pre-telecast awards ceremony.

“There are two ceremonies,” explains Ben Bram, a Jewish millennial, music producer, arranger, music director, and engineer. “There’s the main telecast where they give out the top awards and all the performances. And then there’s the pre-telecast. They call it the Premiere Ceremony. It’s like three hours long and they give out like 75 awards.”

Bram calls from the road in Oakland while on tour with Pentatonix, a five-person a capella group with whom he won the Grammy for “Best Arrangement, Instrumental, A Cappella” at the 2015 award ceremony. The group’s medley of Daft Punk songs (that includes “Technologic,” “One More Time,” “Get Lucky,” “Digital Love,” “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” “Television Rules The Nation,” and “Around The World”) beat out other nominees who performed versions of standards like “Guantanamera” and “Beautiful Dreamer.”

Pentatonix, comprised of Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, Avi Kaplan, Kirstin Maldonado and Kevin Olusola, are signed to RCA Records. Along with Bram, who records their albums and co-arranges with the band, Pentatonix attended the ceremony and celebrated their new hardware together.

Bram recalls: “The six of us were sitting together on the aisle. I hadn’t really been nervous at all…but then two awards before ours, I started getting really nervous. My heart was pounding and I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is a really big deal!’ It just hit me then.

“So then they read off the nominees and then they read off our names. And my name was actually first because it was in alphabetical order. So they said my name and then everyone just got up and cheered. We all rushed the stage. It was crazy!”

Read more

Say It With Nutella — Unless You're Jewish

By Anne Cohen

Courtesy of Nutella

You might want to reconsider those Nutella-filled hamentaschen this year.

The beloved purveyor of spreadable chocolate hazelnut goodness has banned certain words from its “Say it With Nutella” campaign, which allows people to customize their jar labels. This policy would be totally understandable if the list of so-called inappropriate words didn’t also include “Jewish,” “lesbian,” and “Muslim,” alongside reasonable options like “Hitler,” “poop” and various controversial sex acts.

For some reason, “Gay” and “Christian,” are both good to go.

In a statement, Ferrero (Nutella’s parent company) said that “negative or insulting messages were directly removed from the field of possibilities, the idea being to use the jar of Nutella as a communication medium to share enthusiasm … similarly, words of communities that are often subject to attacks by malicious people were removed from the proposals.”

For the record, “palm oil,” the controversial fat that makes Nutella taste like heaven on toast, is also banned.

Click here for the full list of banned words.

[h/t Grubstreet]

Read more

My Memories of Leonard Nimoy, Yiddish-Speaking Vulcan

By Masha Leon

I first met Leonard Nimoy — a.k.a. Spock from the hit TV series “Star Trek,” who died today at 83 on February 27, 2015 — when as a celebrity at the 1973 American Booksellers Convention in Anaheim, California. He stopped by my publishing company’s exhibit booth.

A distant Litvak cousin of my mother’s from Grodno Gubernie (Byten-Slonim) in what is now Belarus, he became a friend and would later be showcased in several of my columns.

Masha Leon and Leonard Nimoy, 1973 // Karen Leon

At the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre’s June 12, 2003 “Broadway Salutes Yiddish” Gala, Nimoy recalled his audition for Maurice Schwartz — actor/director who founded the Yiddish Art Theater. Nimoy joshed, “Schwartz’s wife said: ‘He looks like a goy!’ But when I replied in Yiddish, Schwartz nearly fainted. I got the job.” That night Nimoy sang Itzik Manger’s “Oyfn Veg Sheyt a Boym” (On The Road Stands A Tree) then offered the Vulcan split-finger parting gesture which, he explained, “I first saw as a boy in shul.”

My favorite handwritten Nimoy letter dated August 12, 1994 — on stationery headed Susan Bay Nimoy & Leonard Nimoy reads:

Dear Masha:

Thank you so much or your letter and columns. It means a lot to me to find myself in print in my Zeide’s favorite paper!

I read and enjoy your columns regularly! I was touched by your piece about the your father and totally agree that it was a pity that “only 600 supporters saw the National Foundation for Jewish Culture Awards.

Zei gezunt,
Leonard Nimoy

At the October 9, 2013 American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s benefit at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Nimoy was “beamed” onto the stage and set forth the IPO’s remarkable evolution from its 1933 nascence in Palestine — including a reference to violinist Bronislaw Huberman’s vision to bring Jewish
Courtesy of Masha Leon
Letter from Leonard Nimoy to Masha Leon
musicians from Europe to safety to its present world-class prominence.

A visibly fragile Nimoy left the stage and did not remain, as he had at past events, to mingle with the guests.

With my Nimoy correspondence I found the following Interview that appeared in a blurb from Publishers Weekly — possibly in conjunction with his 1973 ABA appearance: “By the time I was cast as the alien “Spock” in “Star Trek,” I had appeared in several other science fiction vehicles I usually played aliens. I suppose the reason was that I simply didn’t fit the image of the clean-cut astronaut from Terra. Whatever the explanation, I was happy to get the work… There is something very protective, very territorial that lives in the breast of the science fiction reader. Probably that accounts for the outpouring of mail to NBC, which resulted in “Star Trek” being continued for a third season. Many TV station managers have told me they’d rather not answer the phone when they take “Star Trek” off their rerun schedule.

Read more

Katy Perry Visits Auschwitz

By Anne Cohen

Katy Perry took a break from the European leg of her “Prismatic World Tour” to visit Auschwitz on Wednesday. The pop star posted shared a picture of the concentration camp with her 15 million Instagram followers with the following caption:

“My heart was heavy today.
For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazi murdered about one and a half million men, women and children mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.
Auschwitz - Birkenau
‘>The one that does not remember history is bound to live through it again’ — George Santayana”

No selfies were involved, and for this we are thankful.

Instagram/Katy Perry

[h/t Tablet]

Read more

Monica Lewinsky's Life Has Been Turned Into a Mini-Series

By Anne Cohen

Remember when Monica Lewinsky tried to put that whole Bill Clinton scandal behind her by moving to Manhattan and starting her own handbag line?

Well, now the whole saga has been immortalized in a new 6-part DIY mini-series, the Fader reports.

The series, directed by Doron Max Hagay, seems loosely based on New York Magazine’s 2002 profile, “Monica Takes Manhattan,” which showed Lewinsky struggling with the Big Question: How does one get over being notorious? (Apparently, there’s a lot of yoga involved.)

“The obvious route of representing Monica as a joke or vixen was an appealing aspect of her story to play against, and once I began to ask questions in the process of figuring out the story, complexities began to emerge,” Hagay told the Fader. “I began to empathize with Monica, whom I saw as gravely hurt and misunderstood. I love melodrama, especially the films of Douglas Sirk, so crafting a narrative with a female protagonist whose desire to control her destiny and regain a semblance of normalcy, which fits in in the intensely emotional realm of melodrama, was exciting to me.”

The first episode (below) shows actress Lily Marotta (as Lewinsky) arriving in the West Village wearing her signature beret. For more, check out the project’s website here.

{h/t FADER]

Read more

Marisa Tomei Will Play Gloria Steinem in New HBO Series

By Anne Cohen

Oscar winner Marisa Tomei will be playing Gloria Steinem in a new HBO-series produced by George Clooney. (Yes, that’s a lot of big names. Take a minute to process.)

The project, which will also star Kathy Najimy, will reportedly be set in 1971, during the early days of Ms. Magazine. The story will be told both from the perspective of the founders of the iconic magazine, and also through the narratives of women’s whose lives were changed by the Women’s Movement. According to the Wrap, Steinem will be a consultant on the show.

Najimy will play Bella Abzug, who joined Steinem in founding the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. Bruce Cohen, George Clooney and Grant Heslov will executive-produce with Najimy and Tomei.

Tomei previously worked alongside Clooney and Heslov in “The Ides of March.” She won an Oscar in 1992 for her performance in “My Cousin Vinny.”

Can I just say, this show sounds AWESOME. Can’t wait.

Read more

Would You Let Your Jewish Grandpa on Tinder?

By Anne Cohen

You’ve heard about Jewish moms hijacking their kids’ JDate accounts — but what about grandfathers taking one for the team on Tinder?

Jewish Youtuber Ethan Cole wasn’t having much luck with the ladies. So he asked his 89-year-old zayde, Joe, for help. The plan? The pair would create a Tinder profile using a somewhat outdated picture of Joe, who would then take the lucky women out for a night on the town. Once things got weird — as they tend to do when an old guy shows up for your date — Ethan would swoop in and save the day.

What could possibly go wrong?

[h/t Mashable]

Read more

Jon Stewart's 18 Most Jewish Moments

By Hilary Saunders

Jon Stewart announced last night that after 16 years, he will be leaving Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, the news host/comedian has always infused a bit of Judaism into his satire. From the scathing to the self-deprecating, from the educational to the historical, Stewart has managed to reference his people in ways that make fellow Jews knowingly laugh with him, without ostracizing others. So in honor of Stewart’s storied career and his continued success in life, we’ve found 18 hilarious instances he honored, teased, and stood up for our people. L’chaim, Jon. L’chaim.

1) November 2, 2006 – Borat Sagdiyev

Read more

Joan Rivers 'Haunted' Pad on Market for $28M

By Anne Cohen

Corcoran Group

Got a cool $28 million to spare? You could be living in Joan River’s swanky apartment, complete with four-bedrooms, 4¹/₂-bathrooms, five fireplaces and a 23-foot-high sky-blue ceiling. And, oh yeah, the ghost of J.P. Morgan’s niece.

Yes, you read right. the late comedian was so convinced that her apartment was haunted that she brought in Sallie Ann Glassman, a Jewish voodoo priestess from New Orleans, to exorcise the spirit.

“It was just very strange,” Rivers told “Celebrity Ghost Stories” in a 2009 episode. “The apartment was cold. I could never get any of my electrical things to work correctly.”

When she complained to the doorman, he said: “I guess Mrs. Spencer is back.”

The 5,000 square-foot penthouse occupies the top three floors of a seven-story Gilded Age mansion at 1 East 62nd Street. Built in 1903) by John Drexel, the house was converted into condos in the 1930s. Rivers purchased the apartment in 1988.

If gold ceilings and gaudy crystal chandeliers are your thing, then this place is definitely for you. “It’s what Marie Antoinette would have done if she had money,” Rivers once joked. The Louis XIV-inspired ballroom has hosted the likes of Nancy Reagan, Steve Forbes, Martha Stewart and Regis Philbin.

Check out the pictures below:

Read more

10 Jewish Designers to Know at New York Fashion Week

By Elyssa Goodman

This week, fashionistas will flutter through Lincoln Center, Soho, and Chelsea to see what designers have in mind for their Fall/Winter 2015 collections at New York Fashion Week, beginning on Thursday, February 12 and ending next Thursday, February 19. What you may not know, though, is that some of the hottest emerging and established designers are also members of the tribe! Take a look below to learn more about some great Jewish voices in fashion design today.

Rachel Antonoff

Rachel Antonoff began her line in Spring 2009, but since then has established a cult-like following with today’s “it girls,” like Alexa Chung and Aubrey Plaza, the latter of whom was the model for her Spring 2014 collection look book. Antonoff’s designs are feminine and vintage-inspired, with sprightly patterns and soft shapes.

Yigal Azrouel

Azrouel, who launched his line in 1998, has been participating in New York Fashion Week since 2000. He was born in Israel, of French-Moroccan Jewish descent. Azrouel is known for “an effortless tough-chic style,” which includes draping and structural details. He regularly donates to charities like UJA-Federation of New York and JFS Heart and Soul, among others.

Read more

Are You Ready to Call Saul?

By Anne Cohen

Courtesy of AMC

Good news “Breaking Bad” fans. On Sunday, our favorite slightly shady, Jewish-impersonating legal mind, Saul Goodman, will be making his comeback on TV and computer screens everywhere.

I’m referring to the premiere of “Better Call Saul,” which airs in two parts on Sunday, February 8 and Monday, February 9 on AMC.

The spinoff stars “Breaking Bad“‘s Bob Odenkirk as James McGill a.k.a. Saul Goodman —  “The Jew thing I just do for the homeboys. They all want a pipe-hitting member of the tribe, so to speak,” he informs a confused Walter White.

When we first meet Saul (in season 2, episode 8), he’s an already an established defender of the underworld, known for his low-budget ads. (“I had a good job until my boss accused me of stealing… I better call Saul!”)

Read more

Natalie Portman Ruins Her Wedding in Dior Ad

By Anne Cohen

Natalie’s back!

The new ad for Dior fragrances stars our girl Natalie Portman in what is honestly the most beautiful wedding dress I have ever seen (drool). “It’s Miss, Actually,” directed by Anton Corbijn, shows Miss Dior on her wedding day. But here’s the twist: in what is every Jewish parent’s nightmare, she gets cold feet halfway down the aisle, dumps what we assume is a nice Jewish boy, and hitches a helicopter ride to Paris with her lover, all set to Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.”

Read more

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.