Thursday, May 22, 2008
The organisers sold the event using Jackie Mason’s name as a draw, but in reality the audience Israel 60 Gala Show got a lot more excited about a lesser known performer on the night.
Sarit Hadad is Israel’s biggest pop star and even counts Madonna as a fan — but she is hardly known in the UK. So it came as a surprise that the young Zionists in the 7,500 -strong crowd last Thursday night went bonkers over her — singing along to the lyrics, waving their Israeli flags, and doing the conga in the aisles as she sung her brand of Middle Eastern-infused pop. The sense of solidarity in the audience was overwhelming.
When the 29-year-old singer-songwriter showed off her fast finger work on the darbuka (a Middle Eastern drum), it proved how versatile the former Eurovision Song Contest entrant is.
In comparison, the king of kosher comedy Jackie Mason went down like a lead gefilte fish. His jokes about Indian doctors, gay interior designers and “schwarzer” US presidential candidates felt dated and unfunny and caused some members of the audience to walk out. His impression of Henry Kissinger and an admittedly rather funny gag about Moshe Dayan proved how long he has been using this material.
The former rabbi got a few laughs as he delivered his punchlines which invariably included the words “putz” or “shmuck” or “yenta”, but mostly out of a kind of nostalgia.
His observation that Barack Obama had not done anything particularly noteworthy apart from being black — and even then he is only half-black as his mother is black but his father is white — verged on the offensive. No less questionable was his line: “If you ordered a black couch and something the colour of Barack Obama turned up, you wouldn’t be happy.”
His gags about Israelis not looking like they are related to the less than athletic Jews of the diaspora were well observed and relevant to the event. “In Israel they are tough Jews,” he said. “I know because when I saw them I thought they were Puerto Ricans.”
At certain points during his impressions, he descended into a series of splutters and spits, which were supposed to be funny but were actually an obvious cover for a lack of dexterity.
There was a sense that while British Jews hold Mason close to their hearts as the most demonstrably Jewish comic in the world and quite clearly pro-Israel with it, his performance here showed it is high time for him to give up the Borscht Belt act and hand over to the new generation of Jewish comedians.
In response, Rabbi Benjamin Lau, nephew of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the former chief rabbi of
Jewish Journal: What do you think the ramifications will be of the
Rabbi Benjamin Lau: First you have to understand the context: Nearly 30 years ago, the Israeli Rabbinate gave Rav Druckman and Rav Zefanya Drori the mandate to create special courts for conversion. Since then, thousands of people were converted to Judaism by these religious courts, and now this judge wanted to annul one of these conversions [which were sanctioned by the Rabbinate]. It started with one rabbi -- Rabbi Atia -- who wrote a few words dealing with the convert in his psak din [ruling], but the majority of it was terrible words about [Religious Zionist] Rav Druckman.
BL: It was an assault against him personally and against the Religious Zionists.
JJ: Can one 'undo' a conversion?
BL: It's a machloket [rabbinic dispute].
JJ: But what does this mean for the future of conversions? It's not just the Religious Zionists -- I think the majority of rabbis in
JJ: You are talking about the Lithuanians, a sector of the ultra-Orthodox.
BL: If we talk about all the religious people in
BL: Yes. The Chief Rabbinate serves the State of Israel. If you work officially under the flag of
JJ: Many Israelis have been complaining for a long time about the religious hijacking of life-cycle services, such as marriage, divorce, brit milah, conversions, etc. How would the Religious Zionists differ from the Lithuanians?
BL: The secular know that Religious Zionists are partners with them all the way. The secular and Religious Zionists are together -- this is a fact.
JJ: Are you aligned with Conservative and Reform groups in
BL: I must tell you as an Israeli rabbi, it's not an issue.
BL: We follow halacha, but we connect with a big smile. If you have good will, people find a way.
JJ: What does your uncle, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the former chief rabbi of
BL: I think about my uncle and his responsibility to all of klal Yisrael-the people of
JJ: Are you afraid?
BL: Afraid? I'm just a rabbi. How is Tzohar going to change the way things work in
JJ: What else is Tzohar doing? I learned the idea of community outside of
JJ: Why do people in
BL: We are talking about the cities. Settlements are communities. Kibbutzim are communities. Small towns are communities. But in the big cities, there are community rabbis, but most people are not in touch with them.
The idea of community is to break the walls between the sections -- if the regular synagogues serve the religious people, a secular person will never ever come into a synagogue. If you interview me in 20 years, the idea of community will have spread around the country.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
On April 17, I got more emails criticizing Rabbi Kalmanson.
I surfed the web and found a website where he got a ton of criticism.
On April 17, I emailed Rabbi Kalmanson for a response to these negative things said about him.
I did not hear back.
Today I finally got to speak with Rabbi Kalmanson.
He said he never received my email of April 17.
Luke: "I wanted to get your point of view."
Rabbi Kalmanson: "First you put all this shmutz about me on there and now you’re asking me for my point of view?"
"I would assume that one would try to get a second side or try to check something out unless there’s a motive here for all this?
"Anybody who is in the public eye as much as I am, literally traveling the globe, I have become a lightning rod. One item that you have there can you back up factually? Nothing. I challenge you to do that. Not that I have anything against you. I’m just trying to understand. What are the motives of this story?"
Luke: "I write a blog on Jewish life. The only motive is to try to find out what is true."
Rabbi Kalmanson: "All that you have there is dirt upon dirt upon dirt. You haven’t said one thing that may resemble some truths. If you were going to go looking, I’m sure you’d find some positives as well."
Luke: "I’m willing to go through things point by point."
We talk about my missing email of April 17.
Rabbi Kalmanson: "I’ve been dealing with media for many many years. I’ve been in the public eye for 40 years. It was brought to my attention last night by somebody. That was the first I’ve seen of it."
"Is there anything that you’ve written that you have an ounce of back-up? Even a shred?"
Luke: "I believe that all of it is accurate."
Rabbi Kalmanson: "Where do you have it accurate that the rebbe did or did not send me to serve under Rabbi [Zelig] Sharfstein?
"The rebbe sent me to Cincinnati. Rabbi Sharfstein never came to Cincinnati as a shaliach (emissary of the rebbe). Rabbi Sharfstein got married in 1956. Through Torah Mesorah as a work referral service, he came to the Chofetz Chaim Hebrew Day School in Cincinnati to become a teacher. He did not succeed. He became a principal to finish off the year. He did not succeed. Rabbi Silver, who was the chief rabbi at the time, took him in as a kosher supervisor. There he remained until an issue occurred.
"I was the one who saw to it that he got promoted to the rabbi of Nevalde Yeah (sp?). Nobody else did.
"The people who dealt with myself and the rebbe at the time have passed away. You may have heard the name of Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Reichitz (sp?)? He was an emissary of the rebbe to go to Rabbi Sharfstein’s father-in-law to not stand in the way of this particular shaliach [referring to Rabbi Kalmanson’s Cincinnati appointment for the rebbe]."
"I don’t really care. I just want to know what motive somebody in Los Angeles has to come forward and besmirch somebody.
"Let me ask you: If I am this big of a bumpkin, how come I am traveling around the globe speaking on behalf of issues of Chabad? Why would anyone emulate somebody who defied the rebbe? In Chabad, that would be the worst negative that you could talk about. Somebody defied the rebbe’s instructions? Would somebody in Chabad emulate a person like that?"
Luke: "That’s a good point."
Rabbi Kalmanson: "I travel to Israel, Australia, England, around the globe, all 50 states. If I was as big of a bum as you make me out to be? If I defied the rebbe’s will, I don’t think anybody would bother with me. I would be laid away somewhere like many other people. There are thousands of shalichim (emissaries for Chabad) around the world. Some are quieter than others. Some are just going on with their routine daily lives and nobody remembers that they are there with the exception of something occurs."
"Every person who is high profile has enemies. You become a lightning rod."
"Can you tell me one place where I have wasted money? And have needed someone else to manage my money? That was a statement in the blog."
Luke: "I quote from another blog that you are the only person to open and then close two educational institutions."
Rabbi: "Really? First of all, the yeshiva is open. I don’t know what you’re talking about. On the other hand, I will show you hundreds of institutions around the world. This is no different than any other business. If a person sits and does nothing, you can’t fail.
"The girls’ school didn’t close because of failure. My wife who was running it got breast cancer. She couldn’t run it at that time. That nobody’s telling you.
"That there are 15 or 20 other institutions in the city that are open under my auspices, that nobody talks about. That are very successfully running."
"Don’t you see through the dirt and the garbage?"
Luke: "I’m hearing what you’re saying and I’m taking careful notes."
"So the only schools that have closed?"
Rabbi: "Let me explain to you something… We have a successful Chabad house in the Amberley area. That’s the regional headquarters. We have a successful Chabad house in Mason and on the campus [of Ohio State?], we have a successful institution in Blue Ash, in Dayton, we have a Russian center, we have several synagogues running here… We have a mesivta — a yeshiva high school running. We have a cheder. We have a successful summer camp with 300 or 400 children. We have a separate winter camp. It’s the only American Camping Association accredited camp in this region.
"Just from this alone, tell me where my failures are?"
Luke: "I could not. Let me come back to you. Let me talk to my sources."
Rabbi: "You shouldn’t be taking anonymous garbage. If somebody is bold enough to make an accusation against somebody, let them stand up and say it openly. If I get mad at you, I can call some other blogger and make anonymous accusations against you. Obviously I don’t have to live up to any standards. If I want to besmirch somebody, I’ll do it straight to their face."
"I could call you up and say that so-and-so slept with somebody’s wife. Are you going to then print it? If you want to have some semblance of credibility, things should be checked out, or at least call the other side before you put it on the blog and see what he has to say. You can be like a journalist and provide both sides."
"From what I’ve told you now, you can check me out. Check to see how many institutions are running successfully under me."
Luke: "I’m going to do what you say and then I’ll come back to you."
Monday, May 19, 2008
Sunday, May 18, 2008
"I just went to Torah classes," she said. "I learned that we never know how profound a mitzvah can be."
I pat a spot next to me.
"No," she says. "I just came back from a Torah class. I'm not doing that with you anymore. We're just friends.
"We sometimes think, 'What's the big deal with foregoing some pleasure?' But every mitzvah profoundly affects us and the universe. Every mitzvah helps heal the shattered vessels."
We toss the football back and forth until it falls between us.
She gets up, picks up the football, looks at me, and reluctantly sits beside me.
"I'm only sitting," she says. "So I don't have to yell across the room."
I rub her back.
"I want to play with you," she says, "but first I need to cover that."
She takes a towel but it is too heavy to hang over my Jerusalem poster.
"Don't worry about it," I say. "That's stupid."
"No, I can't look at that if I'm going to be naughty."
I throw her a sheet. She drapes it over the tacks and covers the poster.
Every mitzvah is a big mitzvah.