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September 2007

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007
613 Words: 13 again, with 600 words to go

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

"613 Words" is an feature we run in each issue of AJL Magazine where we ask a prominent Jewish American to compose an essay in, you guessed it, 613 words. This month we're proud to present an installment by AJ Jacobs, the author of The Know-It-All and a writer at Esquire magazine.

Okay, I've got 613 words to tell a tale. A Jewish-themed one. Hence the number 613. Each word represents one of the famous 613 rules in the Hebrew Scriptures. I'm going to say this word coming up -- HERE -- represents the law that the leper should shave all his hair.

To be totally honest, I had trouble coming up with a topic. Maybe you noticed? I started writing an essay about how I worked at a small-town newspaper in California, and in their computer system, they had a list of all the local Jews. About 200 of them. I think one of the interns just went through the phone book and wrote down all the Jewish-sounding last names. Here's a witz! Oh, and a dozen Cohens -- jackpot!

Every time we were running an article about Israel or a brisket recipe, the editor asked for the local angle. And out would come the list of Jews. "Yes, Mr. Finkelstien. This is the Antioch Ledger calling. We wanted to know how you felt about Shimon Peres becoming prime minister." It was kind of creepy. There was no malice intended, but the very existence of a list of Jews is wrong on 43 different levels. In any case, I ran out of things to say about the list after about 164 words.

Instead, I settled on a brief essay about adolescence, outsider status, and the harrowing ritual of bar mitzvahs. This essay concerns perhaps the single most formative object of my youth: A t-shirt from the joint bar mitzvah of Andrew Shapiro and Kim Glickman. It's an object I didn't even own.

To back up: I was not a popular child. I was invited to only a handful of bar mitzvahs, and most of those featured a 90/10 percent male/female ratio. The parties at these bar mitzvahs usually involved fourteen-sided dice and a book of spells, if you know what I mean.

The A-list bar mitzvahs were out of my reach. As were the B-list ones. And the bar mitzvah event of the season, Andrew and Kim's combined gala? Not a chance.
It was unpleasant enough not to be invited. It was unpleasant enough to sit at home wondering who won the limbo contest, and which attractive 13-year-old couples were dancing together to Eye of the Tiger. But far worse was the fact that everyone who was invited got a souvenir t-shirt. I remember that t-shirt well. It was white with blue sleeves. In red lettering it had a big number 13 on the back. And around that 13, in small cursive font, was a list of every single person who attended the party. Melissa Katz. Daniel Sassoon. And on and on. It was like a Vietnam War memorial of eighth-grade popularity.

Inevitably, every day, one of those lucky attendees would wear the t-shirt to school. Which meant that every day I was confronted with a visible, tangible, poly-cotton reminder of what a loser I was.

As with everything unpleasant in my life, I found the best coping method has been to redefine the meaning of this t-shirt. To embrace my lack of t-shirt. To see it as a good thing. You see, my lack of t-shirt represented my status as an outsider. And what could be more Jewish than that? What could be a better education in the history of our people than to be the one who was in exile? That t-shirt taught me as much about my heritage as several days of Torah study. And for that, I am grateful. Sort of.

I still have 15 words left. Maybe I'll devote them to the mitzvah of not bearing a grudge.

-- Text by AJ Jacobs

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 3:13 PM | Link | |
The AJL Mini Hot List: Hot Nosh 24/6 (Hot vending machine)

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Kosher and on the road? No need to go hungry or buy a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread from a roadside convenience store. Now kosher travelers will be able to find snacks that answer to a higher authority. Kosher Vending Industries (, the makers of Hot Nosh 24/6, was founded eight years ago and began distributing Glatt kosher food to various locations. Now with an infusion of cash from their new donor, a former hip-hop executive, the company is readying for nationwide expansion that would enable even more kosher travelers to dine on the go.

The company is run by Alan Cohnen, 30, of Teaneck, and Doron Fetman, 31, of Monsey, and based in Rockland County, NY. Ruby Azrak -- former Phat Farm executive who himself eats only kosher food and partner to hip hop mogul Russell Simmons -- has invested "millions" toward the nationwide expansion, bringing the vending machines to many of KVI's current customers, including universities, corporations, hotels, and hospitals.

If you find the dairy machine, pop in some cash or a credit card and enjoy Sicilian pizza, mozzarella sticks, potato knishes, onion rings, and vegetarian cutlets. The meat machine provides fresh kosher hot dogs in a bun, grilled in a faster-than-the-speed-of-charcoal 45-second process.

Snacks are all certified kosher by the strictest of standards. Current KVI customers already include Rutgers University, Drew University, The College of NJ, Somerset Hospital, Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, as well as the corporate headquarters of IDT, Double Tree Hilton, Marriott, Merrill Lynch, Aramark dining services, Verizon, and Metlife. Now Jewish mothers can finally rest, knowing their boychiks and maidelehs won't go hungry.

-- Text by Esther Kustanowitz

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 3:10 PM | Link | |
The AJL Mini Hot List: Duff Goldman (Hot Baker)

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

No one would have figured that a bald-headed baker would become the Food Network's highest rated, youngest-skewing attraction, least of all Duff Goldman, but the hyper-imaginative cake artist has done just that in his year as the eponymous Ace of Cakes, which is now in its third season. The 32-year-old product of a family of cooks was always at home in his artist mom's kitchen and favored Chef Tell over cartoons. "Growing up in a Jewish household you're surrounded by food, all the time," says Goldman, praising his mother's brisket and charoset as well as her sushi and fondue.

Now he works amid the baking supplies, power tools, and a staff of 15 at his seven-year-old Baltimore custom bakery Charm City Cakes, and "doesn't turn the ovens on for less than $500" per creation, though orders like the massive Super Bowl party assignment can run into five digits.

Featuring such flavors as pumpkin chocolate chip, peanut butter and jelly, and cardamom pistachio, Goldman's wedding, bar mitzvah and birthday cakes have included "really cool stars of David" and "a replica of the Western Wall," which Goldman had visited on a "life-changing" trip to Israel at 14 that awakened him to his Jewishness. "I read my Torah portion on top of Masada," he says.

His elegant, whimsical and outrageous designs tap into an artistic talent that got him into trouble -- and jail -- when as a thrill-seeking youth, he graffiti-painted murals on trains and overpasses before finding a safer outlet in metal sculpture.

A live cooking show with an underground theater and a rule-breaking but buzz-worthy loss at a cake-decorating contest led to Food Network competitions and paved the way for TV stardom, which he insists hasn't changed him. He still plays bass in the instrumental post-rock band Soihadto, drives a beat-up van, and not only does he give his staff two months off, he takes them on a paid vacation "somewhere warm" every February.

Raised Reform and living with a non-Jewish woman, Goldman practices tzedakah, giving back by donating his services to charities, visiting sick kids, or buying his mom a house. "Being a good person," he reflects, "makes me a good Jew."

Goldman, whose nickname Duff arose from his brother's inability to pronounce Jeffrey, says his future ideally includes a book, another trip to Israel, children, and of course, more cake: "I eat at least a slice a day."

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo courtesy the Food Network

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 3:06 PM | Link | |
The AJL Mini Hot List: Noah Graff (Hot YouTuber)

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Meet Noah Graff. Noah is a 27-year-old resident of Chicago. He's a magazine editor and a film school graduate. He's quirky, smart, kind of cute and guess what ladies? He's Jewish, he's single, and he wants to meet the girl of his dreams. Despite years of dating non-Jewish women, Noah has decided that his ideal companion must be Jewish too. She should also be smart, attractive, a good conversationalist and ... willing to be followed around by a film crew on dates with Noah and have the date broadcast over the Internet where viewers will decide whether or not Noah should pursue a long term relationship with her.

As a teenager Noah attended Camp Ramah and loathed it. When he was 16 he went to Israel with USY, but found the same cliquey dynamic that he hated in camp. Then came the college and post-college years when, turned off by his earlier experiences, he gravitated towards non-Jewish women. Noah isn't religious, describing himself as a "holiday Jew" who loves the ritual and who now wants his kids to be Jewish. "I couldn't imagine my kids being Christian," he tells AJL. "Celebrating Christmas. That would kill me. I'm not so religious but I figure later in life I will be. Also we are a disappearing people because of intermarriage. It's also the family and the culture, but mostly it's the kids."

To that end, Noah tried all the usual things to find his ideal Jewish mate. Jewish singles parties were unsatisfying. He tried JDate but found that it was full of serial daters. He noted that "the women on JDate can't keep my name right because they go out with a different guy every week." After numerous failed efforts Noah decided to take a unique, decidedly Web 2.0 approach and combine his quest for a mate with his love of film. To that end he created a reality show, broadcast over the Internet at JewCompleteMe will broadcast all his dates and viewers will be asked to select his soul mate. (How 21st century is that?) JewCompleteMe chronicles one date with Sarah, a bubbly blond Catholic (in an attempt to demonstrate why it is that he needs to meet a Jewish woman), as well as interviews with Noah and his family.

Despite the difficulties, Noah vows to persist and he vows to only date women who will agree to be filmed. "Bitter experiences in the past jaded me but I have an open mind," he says. "I'm an optimist, I'm pretty sure I'll find someone eventually."

-- Text by David Abitbol / Photo courtesy Noah Graff

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 3:04 PM | Link | |
The AJL Mini Hot List: (Hot Jewish MySpace)

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Ah, the Internet. Y'know, that thing that provides so many opportunities to connect with friends, jobs, singles, apartments, parties, and just about anything else you can think of. You could join online dating services, events and meetup sites, job and apartment classified sites, and other sites tailored to your unique interests. But that's not very Web 2.0 of you. Perhaps it's better to consolidate (or aggregate) the search into a central portal. Many sites have begun to offer such services, but one of the best entries in this approach to weblife is, which has advertised itself as "The World's Jewish Social Network" with a flashy, slick set of viral videos that take aim at engaging Jewish members of today's YouTube nation.

The site cleverly notes that Jews "have been networking long before the Internet ever existed and will be doing so for centuries to come," and offers Jewish people everywhere "an opportunity to come together and share trusted, select and relevant information about anything and everything." That "everything" currently includes live forums, chats, blogs, photos, messaging, video conferencing, with more functions being added all the time.

As for their slickly produced promo ads, some use anime-style violence -- equal parts Matrix and Lord of the Rings -- to hammer home a message, while others owe a debt of inspiration to the James Bond spy genre, including a healthy helping of general sexual innuendo. In one video, a beautiful woman dives into a pool. As she emerges from the pool, a man is behind her, shielding her breasts from view with his hands. The tagline: "Support Your People." Finally, Jews are using sex to promote themselves. Maxim magazine would be so proud.

-- Text by Esther Kustanowitz / Photo courtesy

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 2:58 PM | Link | |
The AJL Mini Hot List: Andy Samberg (Hot hot rod)

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

The shaggy-haired imp known for his dead-on impersonations of such pop culture icons as Prince Harry, Kevin Federline and American Idol's Sanjaya and scathingly funny music video parodies like "Lazy Sunday" and "D**k in a Box" on Saturday Night Live graduated to the big screen this summer in the comedy Hot Rod.

"It was my first movie, and I didn't realize how much work it was," says Samberg, admittedly nervous about stepping out of the ensemble comfort zone to carry a multi-million dollar film. His character Rod Kimble is an Evil Knievel-esque wannabe stuntman who stages a big jump to raise money for the heart transplant that will save his ailing stepfather "so that he can kick his ass."

Samberg had a stunt double, but he "did as many stunts as Paramount's legal department would let me do. If something bad happened they'd have had to stop the whole movie."

Co-starring Isla Fisher, Sissy Spacek, Will Arnett and Ian McShane, Hot Rod is the biggest production yet from Lonely Island, the creative collective composed of Samberg and his junior high school buddies Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, whose series of popular Internet video shorts led to writing gigs and Samberg's featured player spot on SNL in 2005.

Samberg was promoted to the sketch show's repertory company last year, and the 28-year-old Berkeley, California native is now the heartthrob of the ensemble, whose former flames include Kirsten Dunst. Most recently, he's been linked to Natalie Portman. How's that for a cute Jewish couple?

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Ellen Matthews

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 2:54 PM | Link | |
The AJL Mini Hot List: OnSitein60 (Hot business concept)

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

If the Geek Squad were started by a young Jewish guy, his brother and some friends, you might get something like OnSiteIn60, the fast-growing tech support service that promises to respond to your computer crisis within an hour.

Founded in 2001 by 32-year-old Akiva Goldstein, OnSiteIn60's two-pronged objective is to provide tech support to small businesses and to respond to computer emergencies 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. "When you have a network emergency and no one can print, we are on site in 60 minutes, that's the core," Goldstein says.

A consummate entrepreneur, Goldstein launched his first business at age 12 when he began fixing window screens as a summer job. "I got a $100 advance from my grandfather to buy tools," he says of a job he did for five summers. "I have the small business buzz."

He tapped into that experience when conceiving of his current venture. "As a small business owner I can tell you, when things aren't working you're starting to sweat bullets," he explains. "It's not cool."

Initially, Goldstein launched the company with one Israeli partner, which made covering Jewish holidays a challenge since Goldstein doesn't work on the Sabbath. Today, OnSiteIn60 employs nine 20-somethings plus Goldstein, a self-described "old man." Roughly half the guys are Jewish, and among them, they speak several languages, including Hebrew and Spanish, which is particularly useful in New York City, where the company is based.

In May, the company opened its first drop-off repair depot on West 23rd Street in Manhattan. OnSiteIn60 also works with tech support vendors in Miami, Washington, D.C., and London.

In each location, tech support is available 24/7 for any computer emergency. In New York, each man covers a zone and hops into a cab when called. ("Subways are too slow during the day," Goldstein says, conceding that a recent taxi fare hike cost the company a small fortune.)

In his line of work, Goldstein says he rarely turns down a customer, although he sometimes proceeds with caution. "We got a home user call and he said his laptop was running really slow, so he punched it and now it won't turn on," Goldstein says, laughing as he recalls cautioning an employee not to ask the client for money off the bat because he seemed angry.

Another time, he explains, someone called him at 1 a.m. on a Saturday night to see if he sold cans of compressed air. "My wife was not amused," Goldstein says. "I told him to go to Staples for goodness sake."

-- Text by E.B. Solomont / Photo by Chaim Jaskoll

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 2:48 PM | Link | |
The AJL Mini Hot List: Main Page

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Featuring seven hot things, people, and ideas:

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 2:39 PM | Link | |
The AJL Mini Hot List: Seth Rogen (Hot next big thing)

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Move over Johnny Depp, Tobey Maguire and the Ocean's Thirteen movie hunk trifecta of Clooney, Pitt, and Damon. The star with the biggest slice of this summer's box office pie just might be Seth Rogen, thanks to this summer's hit comedy Knocked Up and a bit part (as the ship captain) in the animated smash Shrek the Third. And the comedy Superbad (which he wrote and stars in) is currently cashing in at the box office.

"It's a very filthy, funny movie," sums up Rogen, previously best known for supporting roles in The 40-Year-Old Virgin (which he co-produced) and TV series Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, all with director Judd Apatow.

Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg began writing the transparently autobiographical tale of two horny high schoolers soon after they met in bar mitzvah class in their native Vancouver, and they've since written another comedy for release next summer called Pineapple Express, about a pair of stoners (starring Rogen and fellow Freaks and Geeks alumnus James Franco) on the run after witnessing a murder.

Now 25, Rogen has a dozen years' experience in the comic trenches, with credits including standup at a lesbian bar, his Jewish summer camp, and writing jokes for a mohel who wanted to be funny during circumcisions. His busy 2008 slate also includes roles in the comedy Fanboys (January), the fantasy Spiderwick Chronicles (February), and the animated Horton Hears a Who, with the voice of Jim Carrey as the titular elephant (March).

The Knocked Up DVD will be out in October, and Rogen promises a plethora of outtakes considering the heavy improvisation. "We shot three times as much as they normally do in movies so it should make for hours of filthy, filthy jokes," he says. As for the movie's ostensibly improbable premise, Rogen doesn't think it's all that farfetched, since he says his live-in girlfriend of two years was out of his league when they met, "and there's a long line of Jews getting tall blonde girls in film. I'm just the next in line."

-- Text by Gerri Miller

This is part of our Mini Hot List in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 2:38 PM | Link | |
Eight Questions with Jerry Seinfeld

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

This November, Jerry Seinfeld is making his big screen debut as an animated insect in Bee Movie, a movie he wrote, produces, and stars in. He voices Barry B. Benson, a bee fresh out of college who is disillusioned at his lone career choice: making honey. On a rare trip outside the hive, Barry discovers humans are mass consumers of honey and decides to sue the human race for stealing bees' honey. We had the opportunity to give Seinfeld a call to shmooze with him about the upcoming film, fatherhood, and what's in store for his future.

AJL: There's a line in the movie where your character's mom says about a girl you're interested in, "I hope she's bee-ish" -- which is an obvious reference to your religion. How does your Judaism influence your work?
Jerry Seinfeld: I think it's more the heritage of being Jewish; you tend to make fun of things. I don't know why Jewish people do that, but they seem to do a lot of it. And I think what's affected my work the most is somehow when you grow up in a Jewish family, there's a lot of joke making.

AJL: What did you learn about bees while making this film?
JS: One of the things that you have to know about in the movie -- we talk about the fact that all bees, once they sting, that's it for them. You sting, your life is over. So it's a big step. You really have to control your temper. You don't just sting somebody because you get upset. You have to control yourself. Makes you really think about anger management, doesn't it?

AJL: Sure does. Speaking of bee behavior, where did the idea for a bee to file a lawsuit come from?
JS: I figured that bees don't know that we're taking their honey, and what if they found out. What would they do? And I see bees as very civilized and very elevated socially and I thought they would want to try and do this in the most civilized way. And they wouldn't want to be violent. They wouldn't want to organize an attack. They'd say let's try and do this like grown-ups. Let's settle our differences like mature adults. And that's why they go to the court system.

AJL: Have your kids gotten a chance to see the movie?
JS: They haven't seen the whole thing yet, and I think once they do, I think they're going to really like that their dad is a bee. But I hope they don't go up to bees after this. That's what I'm worried about is a lot of kids seeing bees after the movie and trying to go pet them.

AJL: Now that you're a dad, can you tell me what some of your favorite things to do with your three kids are?
JS: My favorite family activity is putting all the kids on the bed and then trying to roll them all up in a blanket. And then piling them all up on top of one another and I like giving them horsy rides. I like making up funny, crazy games. I like hitting them in the face with a pillow. I like when they push me in the pool. I like looking at them underwater. They're very cute underwater.

AJL: How do you balance work and family?
JS: Oh, that's a good question. Well, the answer for me is I am unable to. And as a result I'm not going to work as much after this because I have worked a lot in my life and now I want to make my family more important. So after this movie, I don't know if I'm going to do anything for a while besides perform stand-up which doesn't require that much time. You know, you can go out for a night or two and come home.

AJL: Do you think that you'd ever do another TV show?
JS: No. I could never do a TV show better than the one I did. And I wouldn't want to do another one that's worst. That would be depressing.

AJL: What do you hope people will remember you for at the end of your life?
JS: Oh, that's a heavy one. I hope that the humor in everything I did was original and hopefully funny. I try to be original. I try to do things where people feel like, well gee, I haven't seen anything like that or that feels new and fresh. So that's important to me.

-- Interview by Benyamin Cohen / Photo by Andrew Brusso

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 2:33 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Simon Helberg

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

From playing a nerdy Jew to a Hasidic Jew, this guy has range.

It's a stretch for me to play a nerd, but I'm willing to study with a coach and do what I need to do," jokes Simon Helberg, who has carved out a nice career playing nerdy types in film and TV, most recently in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip as sketch player Alex Dwyer. This fall on CBS' The Big Bang Theory, he's Howard Wolowitz, one of several cerebral but socially-challenged guys confounded by the arrival of a gorgeous but less than brilliant blond (Kaley Cuoco) in their midst. Think the sitcom version of Beauty and the Geek.

"A nerd is overly analytical and smart almost to a fault and I'm that," says Helberg, adding that it's "fun to root for the underdog." Of course, some of Theory's comedy stems from the notion that Wolowitz sees himself as the Casanova of Caltech, even though no one else does. "He's deluded, but that's fun for me. I get to pretend I'm God's gift to women," says Helberg. "He's a lot more confident than myself so I get to pretend in that way."

Helberg hasn't talked to any Caltech types for research. "I've got enough awkward neuroses to draw on -- I don't need any expert Ph.Ds," quips the L.A. native, the son of actor Sandy Helberg and casting director Harriet Helberg and also an accomplished musician. "I played piano in a jazz band and I wanted to do that, but I was always goofy and funny and I ended up doing a play and loved it, so I went to NYU and studied it there," he explains. His first job was a small part in the movie Mumford, and he segued to TV shows like Undeclared, Mad TV, and Joey.

Studio 60, he reflects, had problems that became "like the elephant in the room but it got to the point where it was not working and we all recognized that. But it was great to be around that caliber of people." When Theory came up, he thought it would be fun and give him more to do. "Being in front of an audience and having a character that's developed and has potential and being in a small group, it's all very nice. And the hours are great. I can eat dinner at home," notes Helberg, who got married in July.

Raised "Conservative to Reform but more Reform as time went on," Helberg had a bar mitzvah and visited Israel as a boy. He has often played Jewish characters, and will next be seen in the spoof Walk Hard as a record company executive named Dreidel L'Chaim. "All the record company execs are Hasidic Jews," he explains.
It will be released Dec. 14, and in '08 he'll be seen in Mama's Boy, a comedy with Diane Keaton, Jon Heder, Ana Faris, and Jeff Daniels. "I play a Dungeons & Dragons nerdy kind of guy." Go figure.

The Big Bang Theory premieres Sep. 24 at 8:30 PM on CBS.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Robert Voets.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 1:21 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Carter Jenkins

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

The novelty about CBS' drama Viva Laughlin is the characters occasionally burst into song, a daunting prospect for someone like Carter Jenkins. "I don't come from a singing background and I did have to sing at the audition. Very nerve-racking. I thought, 'If I make a fool of myself, I make a fool of myself,' but fortunately they weren't looking for a Broadway singer. It's more about the characters and the music showing where the characters are," says Jenkins, who was attracted to the father-son dynamic in the show and working with actors like Hugh Jackman, a producer and recurring guest on the series.

Tampa, Florida native Jenkins is best known for the sci-fi series Surface and movie Keeping Up With the Steins, which came along at the time he was moving to L.A. and supposed to be studying for his bar mitzvah. "So I consider the move my bar mitzvah. I got to work with some good actors, but no gifts."

Viva Laughlin premieres Oct. 18 at 10 PM on CBS. It's regular timeslot will be Sundays at 8 PM.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Ron Tom.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 1:18 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Zach Braff

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

On the verge of cancellation several times, the critically acclaimed but ratings-challenged hospital sitcom Scrubs has a loyal audience that will get to see it for one final season as part of NBC's Thursday night comedy block. "There's something really cool about knowing it's your last season. I think it's really going to excite the crew and the cast, knowing we're going out with a bang," says star Zach Braff. "Seven years is a really awesome run for a TV comedy. I think that we're all in a place where it'll be a good way to go out."

Plots will, among other things, see his character coping with fatherhood. "Think of all the comedy of J.D. trying to deal with an infant. I can't wait," says Braff, but don't expect to see any Chanukah episodes. "I was trying to think of a nice Jewish holiday theme," he says. "It's hard to do that when we're only two percent of the population."

Scrubs premieres Oct. 25 at 9:30 PM on NBC.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Mitchell Haaseth.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 1:15 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Samantha Harris

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

The Dancing With the Stars co-host has her own production due this month -- her first child.

She has juggled jobs as a correspondent for E! Entertainment Television and, during its production season, as co-host of Dancing With the Stars, and this fall Samantha Harris will be doing both in her ninth month of pregnancy, as she's due to deliver her first child in early October. She plans to work full time until then. "I'm the best when I'm busy and have a lot to juggle," she says, noting that she and her husband Michael plan to keep their child's sex a mystery until the birth. "We want to be surprised."

Also a mystery as of this writing are the names of the stars who'll vie for bragging rights and a tacky disco ball trophy on the latest installment of Dancing. "There are rumors of Jennie Garth, there are rumors of Melanie Brown. I have not heard any guy rumors but you never know what's going to happen," Harris says. "I wouldn't mind seeing David Beckham now that he's in town, although he might be a little busy," she adds, admitting to a crush on the British soccer star.

Joining DWTS in its second season, Harris lobbied hard for the job when she heard it was available and calls it a dream position. "I love working with the people that I work with. They're incredible and they make the job that much better," she raves.

Harris, née Shapiro, grew up in a Reform Jewish home in the Minneapolis suburb of Hopkins, MN, where she founded a chapter of B'nai Brith Youth. A good student in the National Honor Society and on the dance team in high school, she spent summers performing and working at renaissance festivals her parents founded called King Richard's Faire. Experience as a correspondent for a local entertainment show and her high school's TV station helped her get into Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and paved the way for her future on-camera career, as did acting classes she took in college.

Moving to L.A. six months after graduation, Harris opted to pursue acting while waiting for hosting opportunities, and played Mary Ann in a Gilligan's Island telemovie. Her correspondent career took off when she landed gigs at Extra, Joe Millionaire, and E! These days, she prefers interviewing actors to acting herself, and names Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, and Jeremy Piven to her list of her favorite stars to talk to on the red carpet.

Unless she delivers early, Harris hopes to attend the Sept. 16 Emmy Awards, where Dancing With the Stars is nominated in eight categories. "It's going to be a challenge to find the right Emmy gown," she observes, "but this is a time to cherish in my life."

Dancing With the Stars premieres Sep. 24 at 8 PM on ABC.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Michael Desmond.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 1:11 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Josh Schwartz

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Best known for teen soap The O.C. and putting Chrismukkah into the pop culture vernacular, writer/producer Josh Schwartz has two new series on the air this fall, NBC's action comedy Chuck and The CW's Gossip Girl, a teen soap set in Manhattan. Neither show features any Jewish characters yet, "Although in New York you would think it would be easier to find a Jewish person. They're on the Upper West Side," Schwartz cracks, adding we'll see some "eventually."

Chuck premieres Sep. 24 at 8 PM on NBC. Gossip Girl premieres Sep. 19 at 9 PM on The CW.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo courtesy of FOX.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 1:07 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Lauren Cohan

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

The British actress is playing it tough in her new role as a mercenary.

This season The CW sci-fi series Supernatural gets an injection of estrogen in the form of Bela, a mercenary who'll make trouble for the spook-hunting brothers Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles). "She is on a mission. She has a definite agenda," says Lauren Cohan, who describes the character as strong, sophisticated, and conniving. "She's a firecracker. She'll break somebody's leg if she has to."

Supernatural is the first series for Cohan, whose previous roles included parts in Young Alexander, Van Wilder 2, and Casanova. Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in Britain and studied English and drama at the U.K.'s Winchester University. "My mom is British. Her father's job brought her here when she was a kid and my dad's job brought us back there. I have a couple of passports," explains Cohan, who had been living in Los Angeles for just six months when she got the series job, which required her to relocate to Vancouver. That meant leaving her musician boyfriend Matt behind, "but he'll come up," she notes.

Cohan, whose mother converted to Judaism when she married her stepfather, was raised in the faith from the time she was five, attending Hebrew school and celebrating her bat mitzvah. Moving to England from the Philly suburb of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where half her friends were Jewish, she was surprised to find that the only Jews in her school "were myself and the headmaster."

These days, "I'm not religious, but the tradition, the culture and the history are very important to me," says Cohan, whose boyfriend is also Jewish. She hopes to visit Israel on a Birthright trip, but so far her schedule has been too tight to plan it. Her film career is thriving too. She'll be seen next in Float, playing the daughter of a man (Gregory Itzin) having a midlife crisis.

Supernatural premieres Oct. 4 at 9 PM on The CW. Cohan's first episode airs Oct. 18.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Frank Ockenfels.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 1:02 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Jonathan Prince

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

I did American Dreams about a nice Catholic family in Philadelphia. Now it's Cubans in Miami," observes Jonathan Prince, whose experience as a writer, producer, and actor, if not his ethnicity, prepare him for his "general contractor" job as showrunner on CBS' new drama Cane. On a set, "It can be the Tower of Babel -- nobody knows how to talk to each other. My years in the SAG, DGA, and WGA make me multi-lingual," explains Prince, a Beverly Hills native who doesn't think the old "write what you know" axiom applies to TV series. "So much of the Jewish experience is about assimilation," he explains. "We're a little too afraid to call attention to ourselves."

That doesn't mean Prince doesn't miss the attention he received as an actor. "I wasn't very good," he admits. But if a part should happen to arise in Cane as, say, the family's CPA? Prince doesn't hesitate. "I'd be there in a heartbeat."

Cane premieres Sep. 25 at 10 PM on CBS.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Damian Dovargan/AP.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 12:59 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Josh Gad

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

The irony of playing a stressed-out TV news director named Ryan Church in the Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton Fox sitcom Back to You isn't lost on Josh Gad, who grew up in an Orthodox home in Hollywood, Florida. "In the back of my mind the character is Jewish. I play him with that Jewish sense of neuroses, but his religion isn't something we focus on," says Gad, a TV newcomer whose break came on Broadway in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee last year.

Since then he's filmed three movies, playing Rainn Wilson's nephew in The Rocker, one of several MIT brains who beat the house in blackjack in Las Vegas in 21, opposite Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne, and a British Jew in December's Crossing Over, which he describes as "Crash but about illegal immigration. "A non-practicing Jew who's trying to get into the country and I tutor him for the test."

Back to You premieres Sep. 19 at 8 PM on FOX.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Sam Jones.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 12:55 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Adam Arkin

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

The actor-turned-director returns to the front of the camera as a convicted white-collar criminal. Not bad work if you can get it.

NBC's new drama Life stars Damian Lewis as a detective who served time in prison for a crime he didn't commit, and Adam Arkin plays his former cellmate Ted Early, who was convicted of insider trading. "I don't think he's villainous in the typical sense of the word. He's addicted to playing with numbers, and he can't resist the temptation to take money that might not be his, not necessarily in order to line his own pockets, but in order to prove that he can do it," Arkin observes. "I would like to play him as a good person with flaws, and I think he will probably be tested again before the series is done."

The script, story and character, including the idea that Early "was someone used to having a certain kind of power that was now having to deal with a lot more humble surroundings," and the opportunity to direct episodes drew Arkin back to acting after a year spent in the director's chair.

"I directed a lot of stuff that I was really proud of. I did two episodes of Grey's Anatomy that turned out really nicely, and episodes of The Riches and Dirt. I made it clear to the producers on Life that I didn't want to give that part of my life up. It's part of my deal."

Arkin has been working on the other side of the camera since he directed an episode of Northern Exposure, followed by four episodes of Chicago Hope, in which he also starred, and subsequent directorial gigs on Ally McBeal, Monk, Boston Legal and most recently, State of Mind. "It's about being engaged in a different kind of way and using more parts of myself," he says.

The Brooklyn, New York-born son of actor Alan Arkin would love to work with his Oscar-winning father again, "but we just haven't found the right thing. We talk about it periodically and every once in a while people send us things," he notes.
Arkin has played Jewish characters over the years, starting with his first regular series role at 18 as Lenny Markowitz in Busting Loose, but wasn't raised as an observant Jew and didn't have a bar mitzvah. He identifies culturally, not religiously. Judaism is "important to me, but not in a religious form," he says, but relates a telling story from his youth.

"In my mid-teens, I said to my grandmother, 'I really don't know what I am.' Without missing a beat, she said. 'Hitler would know exactly what you are.' I was like, 'OK, thank you, Grandma.'"

Life premieres Sep. 26 at 10 PM on NBC.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Mitchell Haaseth.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 12:51 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Ben Silverman

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

The brains behind The Office and Ugly Betty is now running a network. And, oh yeah, he's single and looking for a nice Jewish girl.

He was a successful talent agent-turned-producer who developed recent hits like The Office, Ugly Betty and The Tudors for his own company, Reveille Entertainment but last May he left it behind to run the fourth-place TV network. Why would a 37-year-old wunderkind with a great gig want to take the helm of NBC?

"I've had enough creative fulfillment in the past 16 years," says Ben Silverman. "I grew up watching television and this was what I always wanted to do. I believe that the place I would have the greatest opportunity to make decisions about television shows and enable creativity and have opportunities to find ideas and bring them to the market quickest was going to be at a network. The combination of opportunities was something I couldn't pass on. I'm very happy to be doing my dream job."

The Co-Chairman (with Marc Graboff) of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Television insists there's no conflict of interest in now having to program against rival networks' shows he put on the air. "It's not an issue for me at all," he says, pointing out that last season, "The Office was up against Ugly Betty and I produced both and I distributed Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? I had three shows up against each other. I am 1000% focused on making NBC successful and continuing to build on its success."

He does admit, however, that "there's intense pressure, big-time pressure, but I'm excited, confident and I'm not scared of facing it head on." He's already made news by hiring embattled, notoriously fired Grey's Anatomy star Isaiah Washington as a Bionic Woman cast member and hopes to make Rosie O'Donnell part of the celebrity version of The Apprentice, to be played for charity.

In the same way he sought out the Colombian telenovela that became Ugly Betty at Reveille, Silverman is mining international sources for the NBC slate, including Britain's Kath & Kim, Spain's Sin Tetas, and Israel's illusionist competition The Successor, which as Phenomenon will star Uri Geller and Criss Angel here. He also tapped veteran producer Norman Lear to develop a one-hour comedy about the battle of the sexes.

Silverman, born in Pittsfield, MA and a cum laude graduate of Tufts University, grew up an avid TV viewer of such shows as Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, Thirtysomething, Cheers, and The Cosby Show. His mother, Mary, was a theater-turned-cable television producer for Lifetime, USA and Court TV and his father, Stanley, composed avant-garde chamber music.

His Reform Jewish upbringing included Hebrew day school and a bar mitzvah that included theater luminaries like Joe Papp and gifts like an autograph from the Boston Red Sox. "Unfortunately, my voice broke so it wasn't my most shining performance. I wish I had a rehearsal day on that," Silverman reflects.

Proud to be Jewish, the single exec is looking for a nice Jewish girl. "Sarah Silverman is going out with Jimmy Kimmel so that's out. Too bad, we wouldn't even have to change the stationery," he laughs. "There's an Allison Silverman who's the showrunner of The Daily Show. I was thinking maybe I should call her for a date." Athletic by nature, "I like an active lifestyle so I want an active Jewish girl with a sense of humor," he adds.

Silverman is also passionate about global and environmental causes and toward that end will program a Green is Universal week of programming across NBC and its cable networks Nov. 4-11. "It's a massive issue that needs light shed on it," says the eager exec. He's currently helping to reduce his carbon footprint by living in a two-bedroom apartment, but if he does decide to move up to something more lavish, he assures, "I'll try to make sure it's carbon-neutral."

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Mitchell Haaseth.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 12:45 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Alona Tal

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

It seems fitting that a show with an ethnically diverse cast largely made up of Latinos of various heritages playing a family of Cuban-Americans would star an Englishwoman and an Israeli in love interest roles. In Cane, Sabra Alona Tal plays Rebecca, the girlfriend of Jaime Duque (Michael Trevino), the biggest role yet for the Herzliya native whose previous TV appearances included Meg on Veronica Mars and Jo on Supernatural.

"I picked up English from TV when I was four. I don't remember not speaking English," says Tal without a hint of an accent. "I always knew I wanted to come here," she notes. "I went to an arts high school and was in a theater group in the army, traveling to different bases and units to perform." She made a name for herself on Israeli TV first before moving to New York and then Los Angeles, where she landed guest spots on CSI, Cold Case, 7th Heaven, and Commander in Chief.

Also a talented singer, Tal recorded the Hebrew chorus for Wyclef Jean's song "Party to Damascus," and she'll next be seen in the teen movie Taking 5, about girls who kidnap a boy band.

Cane premieres Sep. 25 at 10 PM on CBS.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by David Grey.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 12:41 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Joshua Malina

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

From Mr. Nice Guy to Mr. Guy Who Cheats on His Wife. The consummate Jewish actor takes on a new role.

After playing nice-guy characters on The West Wing, Sports Night and in numerous other roles, Joshua Malina plays against type in the new ABC series Big Shots, about four successful men whose personal lives are a wreck. His character, Karl Mixworthy, is cheating on his wife, but can't extricate himself from the affair because his manipulative mistress has managed to get his wife to hire her as a decorator. Karmic dark comedy ensues.

"He's wracked with guilt about what he's doing," says Malina, who loves the complexity of the situation and the flawed character. "It's a fun departure from what I've done before, which is always what you're looking for. Having worked so much for Aaron Sorkin, I played really smart, really kind, really good people of character. It's really interesting to play someone who's more on the morally challenged end. You see in the pilot that he knows what's right. He just struggles to actually live that life. I'm not really even sure how it's going to play out over the course of the season, but I look forward to finding out."

Of course, Melissa, his real-life wife of ten years, "would prefer that I not be licked on screen," he says, referring to one racy scene. "But if the alternative is being out of work she's willing to put up with it," quips Malina, who has two children to support, a nine-year-old daughter, Isabel, and a five-year-old son, Avi.

While he has occasionally portrayed Jewish characters in his career, Mixworthy's ethnicity has not been established but it's likely he's not a Member of the Tribe. Malina says he did several different versions of a line where he described the character as sad, middle-aged, neurotic and lactose intolerant and added "Jew" to the adjective list on a few of the takes, "but they decided not to use it. I guess it's possible that we find out in the future he's Jewish and it's an Ellis Island situation" where names were changed. "But you know, I'd rather it not be," he muses. "If I'm going to be cheating on my wife, I'd rather it not reflect badly on my people."

Big Shots premieres Sep. 27 at 10 PM on ABC.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Sam Jones.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 12:37 PM | Link | |
Fall Tv Preview: Paul Adelstein

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Every Jewish mother's dream: Her son the doctor, at least on the new Grey's Anatomy spinoff.

Three years ago, Paul Adelstein was cast as a surgeon named Dr. Burke on a new show called Grey's Anatomy but had to drop out due to a film commitment. It was, perhaps, a blessing in disguise: he went on to acclaim in the profile-raising part of Agent Paul Kellerman on Prison Break, and never had time to mourn that character's end because Grey's producer Shonda Rhimes didn't forget about him.

Cast in the backdoor pilot episodes of Grey's centering on Dr. Addison Montgomery's (Kate Walsh) move to L.A. that aired in May to ratings success, Adelstein is in the ensemble of the spinoff series, Private Practice, the sole new fall series with a built-in audience. Adelstein plays Dr. Cooper Freedman, a pediatrician whose misadventures with women will provide fodder for comedy. "I like that he's a man who has dedicated himself to helping other people," he says, and is thrilled that the show reunites him with old friends.

"I've known Kate for 15 years, from acting class in Chicago and waiting tables together. I did a Eugene O'Neill play reading with Amy," he says referring to co-star (and fellow Member of the Tribe) Amy Brenneman, "and a pilot with Audra" (McDonald, recast in the role originally played by Merrin Dungey).

Reflecting on his Prison Break role, "It was an actor's dream, to play an extremist like that, and a surprising role for me to get. I feel it wrapped up well, and to go from that to this is pretty special. It's like being called to play in the big leagues, and it's just a joy."

He reports that his mother is pleased he's playing a doctor, but adds that his parents were always supportive of his artistic endeavors. "I always acted, but I never really thought of it as something to do with my life until I got involved with a theater company in Chicago when I was 20." Jeremy Piven and John Cusack were the founders, and for the first time he saw that making a living as an actor was feasible. He followed his buddies to L.A. and made his TV debut in Piven's short-lived series Cupid.

Adelstein was raised Reform but not bar mitzvahed; his synagogue banned the celebrations in response to over-the-top stunts like arrival of the bar mitzvah boy by helicopter that had turned the ceremony into a circus. "I regret it because I wish I'd learned how to speak Hebrew," he reflects. He did, however, have a Jewish wedding when he married actress Liza Weil (Gilmore Girls' Paris Geller) last November.

They'd met at a playwright's conference in Ojai, California, where they were cast in the same play. "It was like actor camp. We had eight-hour rehearsal days and were staying in the same place," relates Adelstein, who liked Weil -- and immediately looked her up on "She was at the tail end of a relationship so I had to be patient -- not one of my strong suits. But it was worth it." The two will appear together in both the short film Order Up and the crime caper comedy Little Fish, Strange Pond.

Also a singer-songwriter-guitarist, Adelstein has always played in bands and currently fronts one called Doris, which recorded a CD and performs around L.A. "It's my mother's name," he notes. "I'm a nice Jewish boy."

Private Practice premieres Sep. 26 at 9 PM on ABC.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Bob D'Amico.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 12:32 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Main Page

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Another year, another fall season, with a couple dozen new TV series vying for your -- or your TiVo's -- attention. Many of them will get canceled and won't make it to November. But each fall brings a few hits and breakout stars, or at least another chance to see some familiar faces like Adam Arkin and Joshua Malina in new situations, and relish the return of favorites like Larry David in HBO's Golden Globe-winning comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm. To help you decide what to watch, we checked in with Jewish stars of new and returning shows and a few behind-the-scenes movers and shakers. So sit back, relax, and grab your remotes.

Feeling nostalgic? Here's a link to our 2005 Fall TV Preview as well as our one from 2006. Enjoy.

All entries by Gerri Miller. Larry David photo by Jill Greenberg.
posted by Benyamin | 12:17 PM | Link | |
Fall TV Preview: Larry David

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Last season he tackled Gentiles, mezuzahs, and a near-death experience. What's in store when the show returns this month?

Just how close to the cranky, ornery master of the comically awkward social situation is the real Larry David to the semi-fictionalized version of himself that he portrays on HBO's unscripted comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm? "There's a very fine line between TV Larry and me. Very close, very close," admits David, though he does draw a distinction between them. "I really love the guy who's on that show. I love that guy because he says everything that I'm thinking and feeling and he doesn't have to behave in a way that society really wants everybody to behave. I love being that honest. I wish I could be that way in my life. I'm getting closer to him every day, let's put it that way," he says.

Ending speculation that Curb's fourth season would be its last, David wrote ten new episodes when he realized how bored he felt after it ended. "I thought, 'What am I going to do now? This is very uncomfortable. I'd better do another season.

"Every season that I do is my last season -- that's the only way I can get through it," he continues. "If I thought that I had to come back and do it again, I would never do it in the first place. So the way I trick myself is to tell everybody that it's my last season. And then after it's over, I go, 'Oh, maybe I'll do another one.'" Not surprisingly, season five is left open ended.

"We'll just see when I get back to my desk in October if I want to do it again. It's possible," David notes, adding that Curb offers him a less pressured situation than he had as the co-creator of Seinfeld. "I don't have to keep writing shows under deadline. I can write at my leisure and we don't film until all the shows are written. On Seinfeld it was week to week, I was working weekends a lot of the time and it was more stressful."

Both shows have a decidedly Jewish sensibility in common, but David claims not to be conscious of it. "I'm not one of these guys that goes 'Hey, I'm a Jew. I'm a Jew. I'm a Jew.' I don't do that," noting that his lower-middle-class Brooklyn upbringing was more of an influential factor. "People were screaming and yelling all the time and the neighbors could hear everything that happened in that very tiny apartment. I guess I have a lot of experiences as a Jew that sometimes find their way into the show," he concedes, "but I don't think the show is for Jews just as I don't think Seinfeld was for Jews. I think everybody can appreciate it if they have a sense of humor. I don't feel that it's a Jewish show at all."

David, who started out in standup comedy, would never have gone into show business had he listened to his mother. "She said, 'You're not special, Larry.' She begged me to take a Civil Service test to work in the post office. That was her dream for me, to work in the post office. I thought, 'Maybe she's right, it's not such a bad job.' But I didn't take the test."

Fortunately he listened to people who told him he was funny, but insists that he never got much encouragement from others, especially early on. "Nobody told me to believe in myself, and if they did, I wouldn't have believed them," he says. Nevertheless, he gave standup a shot. "It takes a lot of courage to walk out on stage and try to make people laugh. It's a very daunting thing to do. It requires a particular constitution," he reflects, but doesn't rule out doing more of it.

"It's something I am thinking about. I don't know what venues it would be. I have no act. I have nothing right now. It's something I'd have to put a lot of work into," he says, though he allows that his divorce from his environmental activist wife Laurie would be a topic of discussion. "If I was going on stage of course I would talk about it. How could I not?" he asks, agreeing that personal adversity can fuel creativity. "When something bad happens you generally can use it to some degree," he says.

The father of two daughters, ages 11 and 13, David recently appeared as himself on an episode of the Disney Channel hit Hannah Montana. "My daughter is a big fan of the show so I took her to a taping, and the following week the producer called and asked me if I wanted to be on it with my daughters." Did his cred as a cool dad rise as a result? "It did," he nods. "For two days."

Curb Your Enthusiasm premieres Sep. 9 at 10 PM on HBO.

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Claudette Barius.

This is part of our Fall TV Preview in the Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 12:12 PM | Link | |
Monday, September 3, 2007
The Essayist: Bringing Home the Bacon

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

I'm cheating on my husband. It's not sex, although it might as well be. It's still a love affair -- passionate, forbidden, conducted in secret. I sneak out and conduct my dirty business in a frisson of illicit excitement, and then skulk back home, the scent of my beloved lingering on my skin, ashamed, addicted, eager for more.

For the past decade, I've kept a kosher kitchen. To fully understand my situation, you have to know that I didn't grow up in a kosher household, loathed every minute of my formal Jewish education, and couldn't wait to flee the coop and leave the cloister of suburban, community-centered life behind. So I grew up, moved into Manhattan, into a studio apartment with a teeny kitchenette. I even learned how to make shrimp scampi on my two-burner stove.

And then I fell in love. Hard.

The courtship period was brief, even whirlwind, full of sweet nothings and surprise gifts and dinners out where I didn't notice that my boyfriend never ordered meat. We went to jazz clubs and read the Sunday papers together and touched electric fingertips like we invented the concept.

I soon learned that this man -- now my fiancée -- had grown up in a kosher home, and that he continued to observe kosher dietary laws wherever he went. At first, the interior monologue went something like this: Oh, crap. And later: What am I getting myself into?

But I decided he was worth it, and so we were married in a shiny glatt-kosher catering hall. We moved in together, and set up a life, and an apartment, and a kitchen together.

I wanted to please my new husband, and I wanted him to feel comfortable living and eating in our new home together. So I volunteered to keep our kitchen kosher. In shorthand, this meant I was committing myself to not bringing non-kosher food into our home; never mixing milk and meat; and certainly no more shrimp scampi since pork and shellfish are strictly trayfe.

I'm hardly the first person to adopt a kosher lifestyle. Between 25 and 30 percent of the nearly six million Jewish people living in the U.S. keep kosher to some extent, according to a study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If 1.7 million people across the country can do this, I can too, I figured.

As we unwrapped the dishes we received as wedding gifts, we asked each time -- is this milk or meat, or pareve, neither milk nor meat? Some of it was logical: the wedding china would be reserved for meat, as I envisioned Thanksgiving turkey dinners on our brand-new china platters; the espresso maker would be dairy, so I could steam milk for my daily cappuccino. But we needed two sets of flatware, two sets of everyday dishes, two sets of pots and pans. And a third set for Passover, too.

Our tiny New York kitchen felt filled to overflowing before we'd properly begun, a sad turn of events for someone obsessed with food. Imagine keeping three wardrobes in a tiny closet. Now imagine that pint-sized closet is owned by a Prada-loving clotheshorse. I'm sure you see where this is going.

There's an old euphemistic saying that a man won't go out for a hamburger if he's getting steak at home. But what about a woman who's craving a trayfe cheeseburger, even if she's bringing home sirloin from the kosher butcher?

Like so many illicit affairs, mine began in small and innocent ways. At first, I tried to bring my husband into my pre-kosher world, lugging home bags of soy bacon (affectionately referred to in our kitchen as "fakin'") for soy BLTs, gardenburgers to top with cheese, and frozen pollock, a kosher fish that can be prepared to approximate the texture and taste of crabmeat.

"Is this really what it tastes like?" my husband would ask, two game forkfuls into a mock crabmeat salad.

"Kind of," would be my inevitable reply. The truth is that it tended to resemble bacon or crabmeat or whatever in appearance, aroma, or taste, but rarely all three, and never enough to truly satisfy a craving. It's akin to closing your eyes during a kiss and fantasizing about Brad Pitt -- for a moment, you might fool yourself, but deep down you always know that it's not the real thing.

So I began to sneak around behind my husband's back. It started small -- the occasional Cobb salad garnished with Niman ranch bacon, or chicken wings with a luscious dollop of blue-cheese dressing on the side. As my addiction grew, restaurants became my cheap motels, where I would go for sweet-and-sour shrimp or Italian prosciutto sandwiches. The rich silken texture of a pork-belly appetizer thrilled me as much as any satin sheets.

So now, I'm in the thick of this torrid affair. Lunchtime trysts are easy -- I can grab Chinese takeout at midday and no one is the wiser about the pork-studded egg roll I consume, hunched over the countertop, in greedy, happy haste. But satisfying a late-day craving is difficult. After such a binge, I creep home, reeking of McDonald's quarter-pounder-with-cheese fumes like a floozy's perfume on my clothes, and I suffer double pangs of Jewish guilt when my husband greets me cheerfully, innocently, at the door.

"So, what do you want to do for dinner?"

"Um, nothing. I already ate."

To be honest, I think he's on to me. I can tell that he's grown suspicious, that he knows I'm not always telling the truth about where I've been and what I've been doing. I can almost see him now, standing in the doorway, bristling for confrontation, brandishing the ladle we use to stir the matzah-ball soup.

I just hope a cheeseburger isn't grounds for divorce.

-- Text by Kara Newman

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 2:56 PM | Link | |
The Bookshelf: The Ten

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

David Klinghoffer thinks the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But with a little help from a couple stone tablets, we have the power to turn things around.

David Klinghoffer, a fair-haired, boyish, 40-something intellectual, who is an author, husband and father of five is hyper vigilant as he makes his way from the bus each day to his Third and Pine Street offices at the Discovery Institute in the heart of Seattle's increasingly dense and dangerous downtown grid.

Although the drug dealers, junkies, and prostitutes along his route are likely oblivious to him, he has been watching them. They are the poster children -- Exhibit A -- prima facie evidence that American society is in serious decline, adrift without its divine blueprint -- the Ten Commandments.

Klinghoffer's urban neighbors also inhabit the first chapter of his latest book, Shattered Tablets: Why We Ignore the Ten Commandments at Our Peril. In it, Klinghoffer "calls out" secular Seattleites and other moral relativists across America, including many in the highest ranks of Jewish leadership, who, he writes, are arguably much worse, unabashedly rejecting God himself.

As I make my way to his office on the 14th floor, I am greeted by a gracious and welcoming guy sporting a slightly disheveled and casual collegiate look marked by an untucked blue and white-striped cotton shirt and well-faded Levis. His "ensemble" is offset by a yarmulke affixed to the top of his head, a look that is familiar to many a yeshiva boy.

It reveals Klinghoffer's commitment and conversion to Orthodox Judaism.

Having grown up in a "very sweet" but "completely vacuous" Reformed Jewish temple in San Pedro, Calif., Klinghoffer was born to non-Jewish parents and adopted into a casually Jewish family. He would later choose Orthodoxy. His first book, The Lord Will Gather Me In, is a memoir about his transition to observant Judaism.

In his new book, he is hoping to capture the attention of "swing" readers, he tells me -- those people who have not yet decided if there is a God. "My main point in Shattered Tablets is that ultimately, you can't have a moral, ethical society without God and societies that attempt to disentangle themselves from faith ultimately fail," he says, getting very assertive in a way that you don't see coming. "Our culture is attempting to do just that."

Klinghoffer graduated from Brown University in 1987. After working at the National Review for 10 years and the Washington Times for two, he moved to Mercer Island, Wash., a mostly affluent suburb-turned-city, just east of Seattle. For the last year and a half, he has been a senior fellow in the Discovery Institute's Program on Religion, Liberty & Public Life.

In Shattered Tablets, Klinghoffer tours the reader through Seattle's moral milieu and the country as a whole. He explains how the first five commandments guide human relations, which, if disregarded, play out rather poorly in the second five commandments. "I'm not a rabbi, I'm a journalist, and I'm very far from being any sort of a moral exemplar," Klinghoffer admits. "But I try to use the insights of the Torah to help explain it to people who are curious and who are interested."

In today's atmosphere of materialism, a worldview that says "this is all there is," it is impossible to explain why some things are right and some things are wrong, he writes.

"We're in the very early stages of societies attempting to sever themselves from faith and we don't yet know what the ultimate outcome of that will be, but the Ten Commandments makes the prediction that it will be disastrous," he says. "It's not just a set of rules that keeps people in line. In the simplest terms, it's an answer to the question, 'Why does anything matter?'"

In this would-be cultural war, Jews could play a critical role if they would only step up and be a "nation of priests" as God intends, Klinghoffer explains, because the deep levels of meaning hidden in the Decalogue, according to Jewish rabbinical teaching, cannot be fully understood by those outside of the Jewish faith.

"It's a locked tradition to which Jews hold the key," explains Klinghoffer. "Christians don't have access to the deepest levels of meaning in the Ten Commandments without the Jewish tradition. That's why Christians need Jews and many Christians today in America understand that and would agree with it."

Instead, he writes, unrepentant anti-faith Jewish intellectuals like atheists Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and antitheist Christopher Hitchens are paraded on cable news networks. They are Jewish by birth but have no reverence for God, says Klinghoffer.

"They're absolutely contemptuous of the Hebrew Bible," he adds. "These Jews will protest any negative depiction of Israel, we're all over that, but if the God of Israel is depicted in the most hateful, false, simplistic terms, than we've got no problem with that. That's fine. Not a peep from the Jewish community. Nothing."

As he sees it, the moral relativity that has invaded everyday American life can't
possibly hold up for very long. The next step is barbarism, tyranny, or religious revival.

"If the Torah is a fraud, if the Torah is not from God, then why on earth identify yourself as a Jew? For Jews it's the core."

-- Article by Janis Siegel -- a freelance journalist living in Seattle, Washington. Ms. Siegel often writes on religious issues and interfaith relations. / Photo by Steve Shay.

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 2:46 PM | Link | |
Musical Notes: Sharon Bernstein and others

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Jew to be proud of: Sharon Bernstein
She may lead High Holiday services, sing in Yiddish, and compose music that sounds more like Shlomo Carlebach than System of a Down, but Sharon Bernstein is not your grandparent's cantor. For one, there's nothing traditional about Bernstein's services, which draw from varied, and undeniably eclectic sources. Bernstein, who studied liturgy at the Jewish Theological Seminary and did her thesis on Italian cantillation, includes everything from folk-pop, neo-Chassidic tunes, and Iraqi melodies to Moroccan liturgy and Afghani music in her services. "I see as my mission to bring a spectrum of colors into our synagogue," she says.

Not to mention original compositions. Bernstein, who is leading the High Holiday services at the Montebello Jewish Center in New York this season, plans to include some original songs -- like her beautiful children's repentance song, "Put Back the Pebbles."

As far as Yiddish music, Bernstein is clear that her interest is not gimmicky. "A Yiddish song is just a song in Yiddish," she explains. It's the content that interests her, and when Bernstein participated in both "Yung Yiddish" and the Jewish National & University Library in Jerusalem, she ran themed workshops: Yiddish songs about prostitutes, thieves, and the Warsaw underworld.

Bernstein doesn't know if being a woman in a historically male profession has any connection to her eclecticism, but she sees them both tied to a new kind of aesthetic permeating the synagogue. "I think a lot of things started happening at the same time. The kind of openness that allowed women to be cantors, allowed openness in other ways," she says. Either way, she's a new type of cantor -- the 21st century postmodern chazzanit.

Bernstein & Poland: When NYU cultural professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett embarked on a project, connecting her elderly father's paintings of his childhood in Apt, Poland, with his memories of the same, Bernstein was recruited to find Yiddish songs that matched. The result? A multimedia potpourri exhibit starting this month at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in California that combines the Yiddish songs, paintings, and language of pre-war Poland.

Bernstein & Italy: For her thesis on Italian cantillation, Bernstein and her husband, an Italian scholar of musicology, went to Italy to see it first hand. There, she met with different readers, keepers of the Italian tradition, and transcribed their readings. To make sure she was getting the real deal, she used a colleague of her husband. The colleague's name is Franco Segre, and he's the official cantor of the Turin Synagogue and an expert in Italian Jewish music.


Beastie Boys: The Mix Up
Every Modern Orthodox high school has some urban legend about the Beastie Boys having attended there. It's juicy to believe that the boys that rapped "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" once struggled over Talmudic tracts. And their deft wordplay didn't disappoint, either. Three hyper-articulate Jewish boys make good, becoming hip-hop superstars? It's a Yeshiva Cinderella story. Which makes the new album, all instrumental tracks, disappointing. Without their distinctive flows, The Mix Up could have been produced by anyone. It makes the album title prescient -- they got turned around on this one and phoned it in.

Balkan Beat Box: Nu Med
Balkan Beat Box's latest album is a club med for the apocalyptic dancing hipster -- the kind that turns its dancers into sweaty pulps of flesh by track five, "Digital Monkey." On the last album, the influences of ex-Gogol Bordello member Ori Kaplan had left their imprints all over BBB. Now, though, despite Eastern European interludes ("Hermetico") the band seems far more enamored with electronica and a New York club scene. Nu Med is a fervent dance reminiscent of a masquerade to hold off some unnamed Red Death. But somewhere in the process, the soul got lost.

DJ Balagan: Funny Accent
The first thing to realize about Funny Accent is that it's only an album in the most superficial sense. Yes, it has a number of tracks (though where they begin and end is mostly arbitrary). And yes, it has music. But when you listen to it as DJ Balagan's, also known as Sam Hopkins, unique curation of Judaism, it becomes far more enticing. Samples, beats, and spoken word are layered over each other like a ghetto mix tape. Israeli soul singers bop next door to a linguistic lesson transposed over a Middle Eastern beat. It's the authentic multiple personality disorder 21st century document, and if it disappoints, it's only because of how exhausting it is to listen to. DJ Balagan is the ADD librarian -- desperate to show off his wares.

Infected Mushroom: Vicious Delicious
Infected Mushroom, a psychedelic trance Israeli duo from the 90s, has been consistently, and quietly, releasing albums for the last decade. And while the international trance scene has respect for the duo, it hasn't been until the track "Artillery," featuring Canadian hip-hoppers Swollen Member, that Infected Mushroom finally sounds painfully contemporary. The track is foreboding and combines vague antiwar phrases with dark psychedelia. "It half-cracked with cold shards of glass / Ritualistic annihilators that murder your cast." It's ironic that Infected Mushroom had to collaborate with a Canadian hip-hop group to make the menacing psychedelic music for which they deserve to earn acclaim.

Keren Ann: Keren Ann
Thirty-three year old, French-Israeli chanteuse Keren Ann sings with an angelic voice and plays lullaby-soft rock on her guitar. Her words seem to swirl into one another, an efflux of tender haze. When she sings "We sail the harder ships of the world / And we get closer to nowhere" on "The Harder Ships of the World" she sounds like a Diaspora Cat Powers or Beth Orton. The longing for home in her voice is tangible, melancholic, and pained.

Paul Brody: For the Moment
Berlin-based Paul Brody and his band, Sadawi, play the sound you expect when you think of John Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture label. It's a combination of modern European jazz, klezmer, and avant-noise. The song "Too Low" interrupts a jazz-klezmer track to drop Kraftwerk inspired blips and beeps, the sort that evokes robots and spaceships, only to return to the blinding klezmer beat. The title track uses simchah music to achieve an explosive sense of joy, accompanied by guest John Zorn's scratchy, excitable alto sax playing. Frank London also joins on the track, with his horns, making the song a potpourri of contemporary klezmer interpretation.

-- Text by Mordechai Shinefield / Photo by Albane Navizet.

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 2:30 PM | Link | |
Culinary Corner: No Reservations

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Cooking for celebs in Hollywood has given Chef Samantha Garelick a novel idea: Make kosher cuisine just as classy as the food at the best non-kosher restaurants.

If you were writing a profile on Samantha Garelick (which as it turns out, I am), you'd have a few different ways to introduce her. You could talk about how she recently married and moved out to L.A. with her Hollywood screenwriter husband. You could write about her inspiring journey to becoming a religious Jew, or maybe even write about how she's cooked food for famous celebs. If you were me, you'd choose to open the profile with everything I just wrote and then end the first paragraph by mentioning the project that has brought her to the food section of AJL magazine -- her quest to take everything she's learned as a professional chef and make kosher cooking healthy -- and classy.

Garelick's love for cooking started as a child in her mother's kitchen, continued through high school, and made her a favorite among her study group at Cornell. But it wasn't until the petite brunette from New York quit her job at a Fortune 500 company to enroll in culinary school, that a pastime became a passion. "They put us through the ringer," Garelick recalls. "But I learned so much and it was so much fun."

A mere year later, she found herself far away from her air-conditioned office in New York City, slaving away as a sauce chef in the basement of a swanky Mexican restaurant in downtown Chicago. The only English speaker in the hot, crowded kitchen, she lugged 50-pound vats of chili sauce around. "Every morning, I would come in at seven and have to transfer all the sauces in the walk-in refrigerator from the big containers to the small containers," Garelick laughs. "My entire apron was covered in sauce by 7:15 a.m., the true sign of a rookie."

But she's a rookie no more. Garelick has worked for world-renowned chefs in both Chicago and New York. Much like a writer or an artist, she mixes ingredients to create her own unique recipes, an average of 20 a season. And in a kosher market where most cookbooks feature salt and margarine-laden recipes, Garelick's recipes are deliciously health-conscious. This isn't your bubbe's potato kugel.

At the same time that Garelick followed her own creative path, she followed her future husband, The Breakup screenwriter Jeremy Garelick, on a different path, to learn more about her Judaism. Together, they made the decision to keep a kosher and Sabbath-observant home. Most people who make this decision reluctantly exchange fine dining for frozen bourekas.

But Chef Sam didn't settle for that. Especially since playing with recipes was her specialty. "Even in school, I would ask permission to make a recipe a certain way," Garelick remembers. "And I realized that I could teach people how to cook interesting healthy foods and make them kosher."

And teach she does. A Jewish Martha Stewart (without the prison record) Garelick is spreading her message to the masses. She is the contributing chef for, an online community for Jewish cooks, and is a creative consultant for Wild Pomegranate, a kosher specialty gifts company with a hip, unique flavor.

Like all successful preachers, Garelick's excitement is infectious. Her private cooking classes are growing in popularity; she is often asked to serve as the entertainment at bachelorette parties and wedding showers. People even buy her for a one-hour cooking class as a gift for friends and family.

Recalling kosher grocery marts of yore whose shelves were dusty and whose aisles smelled of grease, Garelick explains how the marketplace is rapidly changing. She is ever-optimistic about the changing face of kosher and the improvements it will bring. "The kosher world was always just a couple steps behind, but the number of people keeping kosher is growing, and there's finally nice restaurants to go to, and nice wine to drink." She pauses. "It doesn't suck to be kosher anymore."

"Things are only going to get better for the kosher market," Garelick assures me with confidence at the end of our conversation. And with Garelick as a driving force, that's almost a certainty.

Chef Sam's Roasted Corn Salad

I power up my Mac laptop and set it on my kitchen counter, anxiously awaiting Chef Sam's expert guidance. She had created a mini instructional cooking video for me to try out one of her recipes. My own private cooking show, I thought, this is going to be great.

I had asked her for an easy yet impressive recipe because my in-laws were coming this weekend. I needed to show them that their new daughter-in-law was the perfect wife (they didn't need to know that most nights of the week we ordered takeout). I started the video she had created for me, and listened carefully, poised to start working as she told me to shave the roasted corn off the cob and into a bowl.

Wait a minute, the corn had to be roasted first? I quickly shut the video off, and spend the next half hour expeditiously roasting all the corn I had on my George Foreman grill.

I restart the video and carefully follow Sam's direction as she guides me through the rest of the recipe. It is actually pretty simple, and as I pour the salad from the mixing bowl into a plastic container, I think myself pretty darn talented. I should cook more often.

The phone rings. It's my husband at the Chinese place down the block. Do I want the usual, he asks? Yes, and don't forget the egg roll. The roasted corn salad will only go so far.

-- Text by Chanie Cohen Kirschner / Photo by Joy Jacobs.

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 2:11 PM | Link | |
Heretic of the month: Anan Ben-David

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Who gets to interpret the Torah? For the last 1300 years, the traditional Jewish answer has been: the rabbis. Want to decide Jewish law? Fine. Here's your curriculum: several years of intensive Bible and Talmud study, and a final exam consisting of detailed legal questions regarding dietary, family purity, and Sabbath laws. Receive ordination from a rabbi who himself -- until the last forty years, always "himself" -- received it from a qualified rabbi, and you're all set. Until then, however, it's not your place to decide questions of law, for yourself or for others.

Of course, within the rabbinic tradition, there are a lot of peculiar ideas -- not least, the convenient belief that said tradition actually dates all the way back to Mount Sinai. Never mind the fact that the Talmudic rabbis were, themselves, always disagreeing about what the law says, and that the Bible nowhere mentions a full-blown system of oral law. Actually, were told, every "jot and tittle" of Jewish law is part of an oral tradition that dates back to the earliest days of the Jewish covenant with God.

Disagree with that idea, and you're a heretic. A Karaite, to be precise -- literally, someone who reads (as in, the Bible — the Hebrew word may actually be derived from mikra, Bible, rather than likro, to read) for him or herself. The founder of this breakaway sect was a sage named Anan Ben David, this issue's heretic of the month.

Anan lived in the eighth century, shortly after the final codification of the Babylonian Talmud. Unsurprisingly, there are varying accounts of his life -- this is one of those areas in which dueling sects battle it out in Wikipedia entries. According to some, Anan and his brother Josiah were both eligible to be the Exilarch, the head of the Jewish community in exile in Babylonia, with Anan losing out to his brother. But there is little textual evidence of this, and many claim that the story is a fabrication by Anan's followers, who sought, long after his death, to boost his reputation.

What is undisputed is that Anan had independent, and idiosyncratic, interpretations of Biblical law, which placed him squarely at odds with rabbinic tradition. And, lest one think that "independence" equals liberalism, Anan's approach to Jewish law was often much stricter than that of the Talmudic sages. For example, Anan rejected the Talmudic expansion of "do not cook a kid into its mother's milk" to include everything from (in our culture) cheeseburgers to chicken parmesan. (Did you ever see a chicken producing milk?) But then, he was so strict about methods of slaughter, and standards for contamination, that most meat was prohibited anyway.

Or, to take another example, traditional Jews know that if you turn a light on before Shabbat, you can leave it on -- but not according to Anan, whose views often bordered on the ascetic. Anan was also prone to outrageous stretches of interpretation -- including word-play that put the Talmudic rabbis to shame -- to locate current practice in Biblical scripture.

In fact, while Anan's anti-rabbinic attitude appealed to many, his ideas were so strict that, within a generation, his Karaite successors were already squabbling amongst themselves over which to keep and which to discard. Within a century, Anan's views became known as "Ananism," as distinct from Karaism, which, like rabbinic Judaism, evolved to meet the worldly needs of ordinary people. Some Karaites continued to follow Anan's views, eventually turning toward a hermit-like, almost monastic existence. But most did not, and by the tenth century, Karaism had grown to rival rabbinic Judaism in acceptance and importance. Karaism produced its share of sages, like Benjamin al-Nahawendi, who produced his own code of law based on allegorical and even philosophical readings of the Bible, and several critics of Anan, including Moses al-Kumisi and Ishmael of Akbara.

But for the active persecution of Karaism, Judaism might well have split into two sects -- not unlike Islam, which was similarly divided between Sunnis who believed the hadith (religious law) was more or less fixed in tradition, and Shi'ites who, a bit like the Karaites, saw themselves as empowered to interpret it. Indeed, throughout much of the ninth century, Karaite scholars were often held in higher regard than rabbinic ones.

That all changed with Saadia Gaon (892-942), one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of all time, arguably the first Jewish philosopher -- and a severe critic of the Karaites. Where other sages had more or less put up with Karaism, Saadia went on the attack, excommunicating the entire sect, forbidding intermarriage with them, and publishing detailed refutations of their ideas. The movement never recovered. It did endure -- remarkably, Karaism has had its own parallel history for the last 1200 years, and there are up to 30,000 Karaites still alive today, mostly in Israel. But despite a rich history of sages, communities, books, and movements (and, today, websites and logos and MySpace pages), Karaism remains on the fringe of Judaism, regarded by most as a heretical sect.

Of course, today, it's hardly shocking to "not recognize the authority of the post-Biblical tradition incorporated in the Talmud and in the latter rabbinic works," as the website summarizes the Karaite belief: most Jews don't. But there's that distinction between heretics and everyone else, which we've seen month after month in this column: heretics are believers. From Anan's idiosyncratic asceticism to the faithful of today, Karaism is not agnosticism; it's a different way of being religious. Just not the one the rabbis want you to see.

Previous heretics include: Shabbetai Tzvi, Jacob Frank, Baruch Spinoza, and Joseph Rabinovitch. Next issue's heretic: The Witch of Endor. And we're not talking about the fictional one from the Horatio Hornblower series. We're talking about the real, live, Jewish one who predicted King Saul's downfall.

-- Text by Jay Michaelson / Photo Courtesy the Encyclopedia Judaica.

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 12:53 PM | Link | |
The Answer Maven Column

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for what I can dress my kids up as for Halloween?

A: Alright, who let this one through? This is American Jewish Life magazine, not American Pagan Life. We're always getting their mail… How about this? I'll pretend you asked me about Purim. So you'd like to know what costumes you should dress your kids up in for Purim? Well, it's not a very timely question, but I'll forgive that.

We'll need to take a short trip back in time to about 1987, when the trend was to dress your child up as a non-specific noun -- hobo, witch, a ghost, a Chassid. However, over the years the Purim costume trend has moved towards proper nouns, i.e. specific people -- President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This type of outfit has reigned supreme as the costume of choice for young Jewish children across America. If you were my parents though (which thank God, you're not), I'd like you to dress me up as a proper noun -- with some pizzazz. Instead of picking the obvious choices (Harry Potter, Hillary Clinton), go for the less obvious ones (Hermione, and Mitt Romney respectively).

Q: With Yom Kippur almost upon us, do you have any good tips for making the fast go by faster?

A: What do you mean, make it go by faster? Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year, how could you want to make it go by faster? I actually wish Yom Kippur were longer, a two or three day fast. That way, I could be extra holy (and skinny) by the end.

But I guess not all of my readers are on the same spiritual level as me (such is life as AJL's Answer Maven -- not everyone can be as perfect as me), so I'll give you some tips from my latest self-help book Make the Most of Your Time in Synagogue and Look Good Too.

Firstly, you can think of all the yummy non-kosher food you can break your fast on, and by extension go to hell for.

In addition, most car games you play on road trips will transfer remarkably well to the synagogue. For example, instead of finding license plates from each of the 50 states, you can count how many people in synagogue are wearing red. Then count how many people are sleeping. Then count how many are bald. See? It's easy and fun for all ages. Then you can go out to the social hall and count how many people are in there. There's lots of interesting things to watch in the social hall (mating tactics of the single and desperate, mothers wrestling with screaming children…). Not that I would know. Considering I come from a large rabbinical family, I have never even seen the inside of the social hall during services. But I do have an active imagination and can guess what it must be like for the spiritually-challenged set.

Q: Happy anniversary, Answer Maven. This time last year, you got married. How was your first year of wedded bliss?

A: Why thank you, Allison W. from Idaho, I appreciate your well-wishes. But I have a little-known, well-kept secret to share with you that may come as a surprise. And I believe this little whopper should be hollered from the rooftops so that all newlyweds can hear and breathe normally as they realize they're not alone.

The first year of what you call wedded bliss? Not exactly a walk in the park. I mean, everyone tells you what it's going to be like to spend the wonderful first year of marriage with your beloved, but nobody tells you what it's going to be like to wake up and find your beloved's hair in the drain and dirty dishes in the sink (ok, my hair in the drain and his dishes in the sink).

Living with someone -- living with all those little quirks that you once thought were cute and now annoy the *&^% out of you -- can be very difficult.

But I do have some good news: It gets better. With a lot of hard work, some good communication, and a little humility, it gets a whole lot better, and it's well worth the trouble. Then you have those mornings you wake up and think, "That's my best friend lying next to me, and together we can do anything" (cue sappy music from St. Elmo's Fire).

Like my grandmother once told me about her 69-year relationship with my grandfather: "Do I think about divorce? Never. Do I think about murder? All the time."

-- Text by Chanie Cohen Kirschner / Illustration by Fred Harper.

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 12:38 PM | Link | |
The Jewish Paparazzi: Greg Grunberg, Jason Isaacs, and Brad Garrett

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

The Disappearing Hero: Greg Grunberg
Heroes fans will see less of Greg Grunberg this season, but not of his character Matt Parkman, who in fact has received a promotion to detective. Grunberg has lost 35 pounds and two inches from his waist on Weight Watchers and a workout regimen that includes a half hour on the exercise bike every morning, while his wife does her Pilates. "We've got this competitive thing going," says Grunberg, who surprised his better half with an unexpected trip to Paris and London over his hiatus. "I feel really good. I've got more stamina for playing the drums in my band."

Aptly called Band From TV, the group includes Desperate Housewives' James Denton on guitar, House's Hugh Laurie on keyboards, and on vocals, Bob Guiney (The Bachelor) and Bonnie Somerville of the upcoming series Cashmere Mafia. All proceeds from live appearances go to charities including Save the Children, Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the Epilepsy Foundation of America.

Next year, Grunberg will appear in the drug trafficking movie Fast Glass, also featuring past AJL coverboy Bill Goldberg. "I play a government official whose team is trying to stop the drug runners."

Busiest Jewish Actor of the Month: Jason Issacs
Whether he's playing a hero, anti-hero or an out-and-out villain doesn't make a difference to Jason Isaacs, for whom the script takes precedence over all. "It's no fun playing a badly written guy. That's when you really want the big bucks," observes the British actor, who is equally adept at portraying love-to-hate types like Col. Tavington in The Patriot and Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies as he is as the protagonist of the acclaimed BBC miniseries State of Play or the antiheroic gangster Michael Caffee in Showtime's Brotherhood, which has the character recovering from a brain injury as the second season begins Sept. 30.

The Liverpool-born actor has a "parallel life" in Providence, RI with his wife and two daughters while shooting on location, and reports, "My five-year-old is speaking like a Rhode Islander."

On two occasions, Isaacs flew from Providence to Hungary to film the movie Good, a drama starring Viggo Mortensen set in 1930s Germany. "I play his best friend, a Jewish psychiatrist. The world gets a lot smaller for me as 1933 turns into 1938 and 1941," observes Isaacs, who studied Holocaust material and watched documentaries of the period for research. "There I was in Hungary, recreating Germany of the '30s and there were swastikas all around and people dressed as German guards and in pajamas with yellow stars, and Kristallnacht. It was an incredibly intense, overwhelming experience." The movie is due out next year.

The Candy Man: Brad Garrett
With a few months off from his Fox sitcom 'Til Death, divorced dad Brad Garrett spent much of the summer traveling with his kids. "We went to Orlando and New York and Atlantic City. It's the first time that I really took off," he says. He has had children -- not only his own -- in mind when selecting his most recent movie roles, the voiceovers he did in Ratatouille and Underdog. "With kids, it's all about the animated shows,” says Garrett. That goes for goyish ones too: he’ll next be heard in the animated holiday musical Christmas is Here Again, due in November.

As for his appearances as a green M&M in a series of print ads, "I'm a little bit of a candy junkie," Garrett confesses, and the free bags the company sent don't do much for his will power. "I go up and down," he says of his weight. "I love food, but I'm trying to keep it off." Perhaps fortunately, the M&M stash isn't a lifetime supply. "No," says Garrett. "Who lives that long?"

-- Text by Gerri Miller / Photo by Mitchell Haaseth.

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 12:15 PM | Link | |
Kibbitz Cover Girl: DJ Stacy Stylez

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.

Stacy Spierer, aka DJ Stacy Stylez, did not make it big by carefully poking her big toe in the water.

She dove straight into the deep end. The Long Island native taught herself the basics of spinning (she would later have big-time producers mentor her) and convinced a club owner to give her a shot at the turntables. It turned out she was in the right place at the right time.

"I was literally thrown into deejaying," Stylez tells AJL. "The first time I ever DJ'd in my whole life, I was booked for David Letterman."

Stylez used her spot on Letterman to launch a career as one of the hottest DJ's in New York City. She can be found making bodies bounce at a different club just about every night in the city that never sleeps. It has gotten to the point where it's hard to find a hot spot she hasn't rocked anywhere in the country. Styelz has spun at private parties for the likes of Paris Hilton. She worked the 2007 NBA All-Star game in Las Vegas. And she has been a regular DJ at Saturday Night Live after-parties.

And through it all, Stylez has held on tightly to her faith. "I think every moment in my life, everything that I do in my life, is rooted in my Judaism," she says. "And I really mean that."

And how does her Judaism affect her when she's on the job? "Well," she quips, "obviously I just play Hava Nagila over and over."

-- Text by Mason Lerner / Photo Courtesy DJ Stacy Stylez.

This is part of our Sep/Oct 2007 issue.
posted by Benyamin | 11:58 AM | Link | |
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