Purim, Jews, and the Academy Awards

Ted, voiced by Oscar host Seth MacFarlane, and Mark Wahlberg present at Sunday night’s Academy Awards.

This year Purim and the Academy awards happened to fall on the same day. Personally I thought the show was classy and the most fun in a long time. Seth McFarlane can sing and dance and deliver a joke. I loved the dance numbers and I only fell asleep once. (I read in the paper the next day that Barbara Streisand had been there. I totally missed her!!!)

The next day, there were many articles about Abe Foxman, the head of the Bnai Brith Anti Defamation League, who objected to Seth’s jokes about “Jewish Hollywood.” and a series of responsive essays on why these jokes were the best thing that ever happened to Jews. I think they all have a grain of truth but the funniest aspect is that it all happened on Purim: the day that Jews celebrate an ancient anti-semitic attempt to eliminate them by making jokes and putting on parodies called “Purim shpiels”. Some feel that the whole tradition of Jews and the theatre was born in this tradition of Purim shpiels. Check out my blog which explains this tradition and has a terrific modern day example of a Purim Shpiel video.

Now what’s the back story that validates all of this brouhaha? I have read the book “How Jews invented Hollywood” and watched the recent PBS Television documentary about Jewish song writers and creators of musicals on Broadway. Jews wrote many favorite Christmas Songs like “Silent Night” and “I am dreaming of a White Christmas“. Yes Jews excelled in these areas starting in the early 1900′. The dirty little secret is that they excelled in these areas because they were restricted from other occupations by anti-semitic social structures. What you did not know that anti-semitism was alive and well in the US at the turn of the century? It was, especially a part of the upper classes. A very good book that illustrates this social phenomenon is “An Orphan in History“, a memoir by Paul Cowan that shares the history of two Jewish families, his paternal and maternal parents and grandparents living in the US since the 1850’s. Jews were restricted in universities, corporations, and lawyers’s firms even in the United States of America even into the 1950’s. Read Dershowitz’ book “Chutzpa” where he talks about graduating from Harvard Law School in the fifties, and being unable to get a job in any firm, because they did not want any Jews. Yes, he had to start his own firm. Independence is the name of the game. Jews have always had to thrive in spite of anti-semtism. During the middle ages in Europe they were restricted from farming, and so had to engage in commerce to make a living. Also lending money was forbidden by Christian laws so Jews became the only legal money lenders. But I digress.

This morning I was shmoozing about the Academy awards issue with my trainer who is a practicing Mormon. He was telling me about the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” which has been having a strong Broadway run for the last four years. Yes it makes fun of Mormons, but it also shares their story and he loves it. Similarly, he was telling me how he loved “Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat”  because the music and the parody still tell the wonderful Joseph story in all its details. Then he said; Could you ever imagine something like that using the Koran as a base text?  End of story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.simchajtv.com/im-thinking-of-suing-iranian-dictator-mahmoud-ahmadinejad-over-hollywoodism/

Purim 2013 Facts and Fancies

What is Purim? Purim is a Jewish holiday that is celebrated exactly four weeks before Passover. It is based on the story told in the Book of Esther and offers an ancient blueprint for that age-old scourge, Jew hatred or anti-semitism. We read in the Book of Esther Chapter 3:1:

3:8 And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. 3:9 If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king’s treasuries. 3:10 And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews’ enemy.

The rest of of the story recounts the escape from this cruel fate by the actions of Esther who manages to sway the king and acquire the right for the Jews to defend themselves. Those who attack the Jews are killed but the Jews do not touch their spoils. (Verses 9: 1 – 9:16) The Rabbis thought long and hard about whether to include this text in the Jewish cannon. and in our own time Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, the former chief Rabbi of England admits that he always wondered “Why is this book worthy of celebration.” And celebration indeed marks this holiday more than any other: Children and adults dress up in disguise, food and drinks are passed form neighbour to neighbour.

Play and laughter, food and drink is the order of the day. Here are some recent pictures posted to my facebook page from our recent Purim holiday which took place last Sunday.

Rabbi Jonathon Sacks says, “It is important to celebrate because here is an instance where Jews overcame their enemies and were victorious, and this is worthy of celebration.

And here is my favorite Purim video for this year – Move Like Graggers Remix (Purim Song) by Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, Michigan

How many Purim themes can you name here?

Purim Today – 2012

Esther ScrollToday I attended the CIJR Colloquium on the Iranian question. Three professors, Prof. Frederick Krantz, Chair (Concordia University), Prof. Harold Waller (McGill University),
and Prof. Norrin Ripsman (Concordia University) all spoke on the topic of Syria, Egypt and the “Arab Spring”: Israel’s Security Situation, following an introduction by  Rabbi Yonah Rosner.

The Rabbi spoke using the drama of the Purim story as a backdrop. (This week will host the Jewish celebration of Purim, March 7th & 8th). Yesterday, in synagogues, in Israel and all over the world, Jews participated in Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath before Purim which each year reminds us of the injunction “to remember and not to forget” those who have attacked our innocents in the past, (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) or the dangers that these kinds of enemies pose at any time. In my own synagogue Rabbi Aigin also spoke about these issues.

Iran has made open and clear threats to annihilate the Jewish people, to wipe Israel off the map. Both Rabbis reminded us of Queen Esther’s injunction, and the importance of Jewish unity in the face of these kinds of threats. Our history reminds us that threats are serious. And as Prof. Krantz (a historian), pointed out, the only difference between pre Holocaust times and post Holocuast times is that the Jewish people now have a state, the independent State of Israel, and a well trained army and armaments to address these kinds of threats.

However, we are also reminded that the Book of Esther, never mentions G-d, but only the acts and foibles of men and women, some ordinary and some in authority, Kings and Ministers. Tomorrow President Obama addresses AIPAC, (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) the annual gathering of heads of American Jewish institutions and ordinary folk. We will all have to judge, is Obama Ahashverosh – the weak and easily influenced vacillating King described in the Purim Story who first has his Queen Vashti killed for insubordination, i.e. refusing to appear before his party in the nude, and then gives Haman permission to murder all Jews in his Kingdom on a certain day in spring, the day we celebrate as Purim, in exchange for ten thousand ducats. – not a very wise or compassionate King, although in the end he sees the error of his ways. But rulers are not always wise or compassionate. This we see clearly in our our own time. Most of them seem to be focused clearly on acquiring wealth and retaining power at any cost.

Prof Krantz reminded us of the heavy responsibility that Prime Minister Netanyahu now carries on his shoulders, the responsibility of guarding over six million Jews in Israel and the fate of their brethren in the Diaspora as well. For our fates have and always will be linked. Esther in the Purim story reminds us that if Jews have any hope for redemption they must be united, especially in times of crisis.



The Purim scroll is called the Megillah, and it is a tradition to have fun and to put on satirical plays on Purim, they are called Purimshpiels in Yiddish. Another Yiddish expression is “man tracht und G-t lacht.”  Man works and G-d laughs or the English idiomatic equivalent is “Man proposes G-d disposes”.

This article: Remember: The Answer to Terrorism has a deep message regarding how to respond in the face of threats.

Happy Purim to all.