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March 1, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 1, 2013 By Rob Eshman Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles LOS ANGELES--No one sends out press releases to an- pounce that something is not anti-Semitic. That's why this morning's [Feb. 25] media is full of reports that host Seth Mac- Farlane's Oscar performance the previous night was just shy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's U.N. speech. TheAnti-Defamation League was first out of the gate, calling MacFarlane "offensive and not remotely funny"--which in and of itself is funny, the idea that the ADL is not just the arbiter of anti-Semitism but of humor. Then came a press release from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, seeing the ADL's urn- By David Suissa Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles Is it possible to build Jewish pride in a very short period of time, like, say, at one dinner party? Seriously, how can you instill a love of Judaism in the time it takes to watch a Lakers game? And how do you do that withoutbeing overlylreachy or superficial? There's a man in New York who thinks he has an answer: Edgar Bronfman. Bronfman, one of the Jewish world's most prominent leaders and philanthropists, has an obsession with Jewish pride. I heard him speak several years ago at a dedication ceremony for UCLA Hillei, and the one thing I remember is that he couldn't stop talking about the importance of Jewish pride. "It was my reaction to the Holocaust," he told me over the phone when I asked him where this obsession came from. "How By Peter Dreier LOS ANGELES (JTA)--It seems as though the Oscars writers think that Hollywood is so liberal that they can get away with making offensive comments because everyone knows they're "just joking." I don't agree. Sunday night's Academy Awards ceremony featured a not very subtle onslaught of sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic "jokes." At a time when America is facing an epidemic of gun violence and debating how to limit the spread of assault weapons, host Setl MacFar- lane thought itwould be clever to make a joke about the assas- sination of Abraham Lincoln. "Daniel Day-Lewis" is not the first actor to be nomi- nated for playing Lincoln," MacFarlane said. "Raymond Massey portrayed him in the 1940's'Abe Lincoln in Illinois.' I would argue, though, the actor who really got inside Lincoln's head was John Wil- kes Booth." Perhaps hoping to win an award for "most racially insen- sitive" comment, MacFarlane joked about Lewis' habit of staying in character during the filming of Lincoln, even when the cameras were off. "If you bumped into Don Cheadle in the studio lot," Mac- Farlane said, lookingat Lewis in Seth MacFarlane: Not an anti-Semite brage and raising it to world historical levels. "It is unfortunate that at a time when anti-Semitism is so prevalent throughout the world," said the center, "that Seth MacFarlane used the pulpit of the Oscars, before an audience of more than a ' billioy people, to contribute to the myth that Jews own HoP lywood." I found these reactions more annoying than MacFarlane's comments, which varied from the very funnyto the remotely funny, but never came close to anti-Semitism. Seth MacFarlane was jok- ing. He was poking fun. He was mocking the widespread understanding that Jews are disproportionately represented in the entertainment business. This fact comes as a shock to exactly no one, and the idea that joking about it "feeds" anti-Semitism misunderstands both the nature of humor and of anti-Semitism. , One thing humor does well, even better than press releases, is diffuse prejudice. It does that through mockery, exaggeration andsometimes byjustbringing prejudice to light. That explains everything from Charlie Chap- lain in "The Great Dictator" to Sacha Baron Cohen's character of Borat, who got hundreds of Arizonans ata rodeo to sing the "famous" Kazhakstan folksong "Throw the Jew Down the Well." Cohenwasn't out towhip up Jew hatred, he was out to expose human--hmm, what's the word?---Stupidity. MacFarlane doesn't really believe you have to clange your name or give to Israel to make it in Hollywood, he was rifting on the simplistic belief that that's all it takes. Billy Crystal could make a dozen Jewish references at the Oscars and no one would do anything but kvell. Granted, MacFarlane's humor is more in- your-face--butitgoes nowhere that Crystal, orAdam Sandier in his"Chanukah Song,"or Lenny his Jewish/gentile rift, or a hundred other comedians, haven't gone before. So why the outrage? Maybe because against the backdrop of increasing anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, Jews are extra sensitive. Maybe because an older generation of Jews is unfamiliar with a newer brand of "Family Guy'/"South Park" humor. Even Amy Davidson, writing on the New Yorker blog, took offense--this from a magazine whose editor David Remnick once wrote a much- deserved, flattering profile of Howard Stern. Sterns brand of satire paved the way for come- dians like MacFarlane. Or maybe the outrage arises because Jews are still uncom- fortable with the notion of being powerful. Deal with it. Jews are disproportionately represented in Hollywood. But vait, there's more: The Jewish state has 200 nuclear weapons anda hegemony of power in the Middle East. Jews are dispropor- tionately represented in govern- ment, finance, law, publishing and medicine. Only Jews can read these factual statements and think, Oy! can we recover and go forward if we don't have Jewish pride?" But Jewish pride isanebulous concept. It's often confused with Jewish loyalty, which is more tribal and visceral. I can be deeply loyal to a friend or family member without necessarily being proud of them. Bronfman is aiming for something more realistic, more achievable. To appeal to a generation of Jews who haven't grown up with the tribal loyalty of their ancestors and who don't feel much connection to their Jew- ish tradition, Bmnfman knows that Jewish pride--and any hope ofloyalty--mustbe rooted in knowledge and values rather than just membership. Thisiswhere the dinnerparty comes in, or, as it is commonly referred to, the Passover seder. Bronfman is convinced that the Passover seder is the ideal setting to ignite Jewish pride, and he and his artist wife, Jan Aronson, have spent the last The seder of Jewish pride few years creating the fruit of reach. So, while it embraces moral responsibility, with the that mission, "The Bronfman Haggadah" (Rizzoli). This is not your ordinary haggadah. What hits you first are Aron- son's luminous and evocative illustrations. Each of the 127 pages of this coffee-table-size book has been designed as a work of art. But ifhe art is meant to de- light you, the words are meant to disarm and inspire you. You can tap into your Jewish pride, Bronfman intimates, even if you have issues with "religion" or a traditional God. He speaks of a Godly "energy" that is transcendent and "does not intervene in our social or political affairs." But in its imminent form, this energy is the "Godliness within us," expressed "when a father plays with his child or nations collaborate on the problem of climate change." The haggadah is written to maximize meaning and out- the rituals and blessings of the traditional seder, it takes a few liberties. The four sons, for example, become the four types of Jews: the wise, rebellious, simple and indifferent. The Jewish commu- nity must engage with all four types, Bronfman says, especially with the "indifferent Jew," who must be "gently invited" back into the fold. In this haggadah, the door is opened for the prophet Elijah at the very beginning of the seder. as this reminds us thatwe must "open the doors of our hearts" to the "hungry stranger. ''- Elijah, Bronfmanwrites, rep- resents thathungrystranger, as well as a "redeemed world--a world free of racism, slavery, cruelty, poverty and greed ... that the Jews are commanded to build." That-is the main theme of the "Bronfman Haggadah:" In the Jewish tradition, freedom is inextricably linked with commandment to build a bet- ter world. That's why Bronfman in- cludes in his haggadah the counting of the Omer, which leads to the seminal event 49 days after Passover when the Jews received the Torah laws-- the laws that embody Our moral responsibility. Every section of the hag- gadah speaks to this respon- sibility and works to one end: To position the Jewish story "and the Jewish tradition as an empowering source of light for humanity. Through metaphors, poetic sayings and innovative storytell- ing, itweaves the key milestones of the master Jewish narrative and delves into how that narra- tive and its values can improve our world. Will this be enough to ignite Jewish pride, especially among indifferent Jews? Put it this way: If the alterna- tive is to recite the traditional Oscars crossed a line into bigotry the audience,"would you try and free him?" MacFarlane also made outra- geous remarks about Adele's weight, gays, women, Latinas and Jews. It would be difficult to pick a winner in the "most sexist comment" category. MacFar- lane sang a juvenile song, "We Saw Your Boobs," about movie scenes in which former Oscar -nominees were topless. " Refer- ring to the decade-long questto find Osamabin Laden by Jessica Chastain's character in "Zero Dark Thirty," MacFarlane said it was an example of women never being "able to let anything go." To those women who lost weight before attending the Oscar ceremony, MacFarlane said, "For all those women who had the 'flu; it paid off. Lookin' good." Referring to Latina actresses Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek--both of whom speak impeccable English--MacFar- lane said, "We have no idea what they're saying, butwe don't care cause they're so attractive." Mter singing "We Saw Your Boobs" with the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus, MacFarlane made a point O f explaining that he wasn't actually a member of the chorus, as if being gay was something to be ashamed of. MacFarlane also observed that the show's producers had invited the cast of "Chicago" to perform on the telecast because "the [Oscars] show isn't gay enough yet." Perhaps the most offensive comments were made by "Ted," the talking stuffed bear who bantered (through MacFarlane's voice) with actor MarkWahlberg about Hollywood's domination by Jews. If putting those words in the mouth of a talking bear is supposed to make the l:emarks cute and cuddly, it didn't work with me. The set-up was Ted's desire to gain acceptance with the Hollywood "in" crowd, which he said were the Jews, so he could attend a post-Oscars orgy. Ted begged Wahlberg to tell him where the orgy would be held. Wahlberg finally spilled the beans--it would be "at Jack Nicholson's house." It was a not very subtlemanc[ not very funny--reference to a 1977 incident that occurred at Nicholson's home, where director Roman Potanski raped a 13-year-old girl. Polanski pleaded guilty but fled to Paris before he was sentenced. Remarking on all the talent assembled at the ceremony, Ted said to Wahlberg, "You know what's interesting? All those actors I just named are part Jewish," referring to Joaquin Phoenix (who has a Jewish mother), Daniel Day-Lewis (ditto) and Alan Arkin (both parents were Jewish). "What about you?" Ted asked Wahlberg. "You've got a 'berg' on the end of your name. Are you Jewish?" Wahlberg explained that he is Catholic. Ted responded: "Wrong answer. y again. Do you want to work in this town or don't you?" To gain favor with the Hol- lywood crowd, Ted claimed that he was Jew ish, that he "was born Theodore Shapiro," and that "I would like to donate money to Israel and continue to work in Hollywood forever." When Wahlberg called Ted an idiot, Ted responded, "We'll see who's an idiot when they give me my private plane at the next secret synagogue meeting." Ted's (or, in reality, Mac- Farlane's) remarks about the "secret" Jewish cabal that con- trols Hollywood, discriminates against non-Jews and is tied to Israel were not clever andwitty. They were anti-Semitic. I'm certain that many film industry folks sitting in the audience were uncomfortable with the barrage of offensive comments throughout the evening. I'm not a prude and I believe it's OK to make fun of one's foibles. But the com- ments by MacFarlane and Ted comments did not simply poke fun at specific individuals; they targeted entire groups. Sunday night's Oscars show crossed the invisible line be- tween satire and bigotry. It was ugly and unfunny. As a progressive and a Jew, t found the comments outra- geous, and I'm confident that many of the millions of Ameri- cans watching the show on TV alsowere offendedby the bigoted stereotypes aboutwomen, gays, Latinas and Jews. Of course, there were no hooded sheets, burning crosses, N words, or "fag" jokes. But bigotry comes invarious shades. Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Envi- ronmental Policy department at Occidental College. His most - recent book is "The100 Greatest Americans of the 2Oth Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame" (Nation Books, 2012). PAGE 5A The ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center not only miss the point, they are missing the opportunity. MacFarlane's jokes, like all good humor, can get people thinking, can open a conversation: Why are Jews so prevalent in Hollywood? How does their Jewish identity reform their creahve choices? How would Hollywood look if it were composed, dispropor- tionately, of WASPs or Thais, or anti-Semites? Hollywood is one of America's greatest gifts to theworld--why else would 2 billion people tune in to see "Lincoln" get robbed of best picture? There is nothing to hide and plenty to joke about. . Rob Eshman is publisher and editor in chief of the Jewish Journal. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism. text of the haggadah in a lan- guage most Jews don't under- stand, it's certainly a major step up. But there are plenty of other haggadot that are also user- friendly and written in English. What's so special about this one, aside from its obvious beauty and aesthetics? In my view, it's how it marries modern sensibili- ties with old school Jewish peoplehood. Bronfman has taken the secular and spiritual values that resonate with the new generation--such as tikun olam, pluralism, human dignity and social justice--and rooted them proudly in the story of the Jewish people. = He's made the seder night different by appealing to the indifferent. That alone is worthy of Jewish pride. David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp.Jewish Journal and can be reached at Dry Bones