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December 11, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 11, 2009 Convert cuts up in one-man show 'Circumcise Me' PAGE 21A By Gil Shefler NEWYORK (JTA)Did co- medianYisrael Campbell con- vert to Judaism for the jokes? If so, he might have tried to avoid the three circumcisions he had to endure to become a member of the tribe. Then again, maybe his new off-Broadway show, "Circum- cise Me,"wouldn'tbe as funny. When the Catholic-born Campbell stumbles onto the stage at the start of his one- man play--now showing at the Bleecker Street Theater in New York--he looks like a fervently Orthodox Jew. He sports a long beard and sidecurls, a black hat and long black coat, and.appears clutching a plastic bag filled with books. "I brought with me my haredi briefcase,': he jokes. Referring to his s.idecurls, the Philadelphia native cracks, "These payos are just the be- ginning of a comb-over." Over the course of the hourlong play Campbell, 46, uses humor to bring to life the story of his transforma- tion from lapsed Catholic to observant Jew. Sitting down for an inter- view at a cafe on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Campbell cites Jewish funny- men Woo@ Allen and the late Lenny Bruce as his comedic inspirations. He says his jokes are styled after their irreverent and self- deprecating routines. Campbell also holds the late Richard Pryor in high esteem, especially fo r the way he incor- porated the less savory parts of his life into his act. "Pryor talked about the most horrible situations," Campbell said. "When you can make people laugh with the story of how you lit yourself on fire," referring to Pryor's infamous free-basing cocaine accident, "then I say 'kol ha- kavod.'" Like Pryor, Campbell talks candidly about his unhappy childhood, struggle with alcoholism and failed rela- tionships. "I'm the first-born son of a manic-depressive Italian woman and a pathologically silent Irishman," he tells the audience. "That makes me wildly a very quiet way." During those years, Camp- bell says, he remembers fee.ling a spiritual void that yearned to be filled. Enter Leon Uris. In his early 20s, Campbell was given a copy of the author's famous novel "Exodus" by a Jewish woman he was dating at the time. He was taken in by the idealistic descriptions of Zionist men and women toiling under the sun and turning the desert into fertile land. "I dreamed of plucking out avocados from the ground," he recalls. "I didn't know they grew on trees." A few years later Campbell signed up for classes on Juda- ism with a Reform rabbi and likedwhat he learned so much that he decided to convert. Convert to Judaism? Not so fast. First Campbell had to sat- isfactorily answer a number of questions, get the approval of a committee and, finally, there was the small matter of circumcision. Though Campbell was cir- cumcised at birth, he still had to undergo the ritual penile blood-letting to enter the fold of Judaism. The ceremony took place at a local Jewish center in Los Angeles. "Afterwards I was given a document confirming the circumcision," he said. "I neatly folded it into my pocket; I was not going to lose this document." Cambell underwent two more blood-lettings when he converted to Conservative Judaism and finally to Ortho- doxy. He moved to Jerusalem, changed his first name from Christopher to YisraeI and married his Talmud teacher Avital, with whom he now has three children. "If I'm not Jewish by now, there's a cheeseburger some- where with my name on it," Campbell quips. Campbell's amazing jour- ney became the subject matter of a come@ routine he put on at venues in Jerusalem, and then of a documentary that was relSased in 2008 to criti- cal acclaim. Spurred by his success, Campbell has adapted the routine for the stage. "It always had the elements of a different telling," he said. "When I showed it to Sam [Gold, the director] he was convinced I should do an hour of theater." One of America's top comics has taken note of Campbell's show. "Yisrael Campbell is the funniest Roman Catholic Orthodox Jewish comedian in the world," Stephen Colbert, the Come@ Central talk show host, is quoted as saying on the show's poster. "Hurry and see him before he turns Buddhist." Of course, it's easier to get the covetous "Colbert bump" when Evelyn McGee-Colbert, the real-life wife of the famous faux pundit, is one of your producers. However, if the play receives the same kind of reviews as the documentary, it should do fine. "In many ways the dream has come true for me," Camp- bell said over coffee. "And all I had to do was change my reli- gion, nationality, and marital and parental status." Courtesy Yisrael Campbell In his off-Broadway show, Yisrael Campbell talks can- didly about the three penile blood-lettings he had to undergo in his journey to Orthodox Judaism. Sharansky fighting to connect youth with Israel By Rita Poliakov Canadian Jewish News Natan Sharansky fought against the Communist re- gime in his native Soviet Union in the 1970s. Now, as the new chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel, he's fighting something different: Jewish apathy. "Jews in the free world have no interest in IsraeL. I [have been] on 70 different campuses. I can't say that the situation here [in Toronto] is much worse, I also can't say it's much better," he said in an exclusive interview over breakfast at a downtown Toronto hotel, "We're facing many hostile demonstrations, and liberal Jews who believe that because they're Jews, they have to be the first to condemn Israel." Sharansky, a human rights activist and former Israeli cab- inet minister, visited Toronto recently to meet with Jewish organizations, including UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. He said his goal as chair of the Jewish Agency, which has helped more than three million Jews immigrate to Israel since it was founded, is to help youth in the Dias- pora strengthen their Jewish identity. This is being done Natan Sharansky says, "In a world where there is nothing to die for, there is nothing to live for." through programs such as MASA Israel Journey, which Sharansky wants to expand. MASA enables young Jews from all over the world to spend a semester to a year in Israel on any of over 160 programs. He also hopes to increase the number of high school trips to Israel through the agency. As an example of why he wants to focus on youth, Sharansky said he was asked a disturbing question when he spoke at York University a few years ago. "The first question was, 'Why do I need Israel?'" For Sharansky, the answer is simple. "You're giving [students[ the opportunity to belong," he said. "We're talking about their desire to be proud to belong to this path of history." The main battlefield for Jewish identity is usually university campuses, Sharan- sky said. "[There's] the idea that you're now becoming part of the big world," he said, adding that it's harder for students without strong Jewish back- grounds to feel connected to Israel. "A lot of [people] are against Israel." Sharansky paraphrased a lyric from thesong"Imagine" by John Lennon: "There is nothing to die for," he said. "It is very important to prove that this is a false idea. In a world where there is nothing to die for, there is nothing to live for." In the late 1970s, Sharan- sky, who was born in the former Soviet Union, was sent to jail and convicted of treason and espionage while fighting for human rights. As he embarks on a differ- ent fight for Jewish identity, Sharansky uses the same logic now as he did then. Museum calls for award nominations The Jewish Museum of Florida's "Breaking the Glass Ceiling" awards annually recognizes Florida Jewish professional women who have become successful pioneers in fields generally dominated by men. The award is also based on their activities in 1he Jew- ish community and serving as role models for other women. More than 50 winners have been presented since the inception of this award in 1995, from diverse fields such as banking, politics, law, avia- tion, journalism, sports and entertainment. Each year, without excep- tion the program is uplifting, inspiring, and often sparked with humor and emotion. The honorees discuss the ob- stacles they faced and how they broke through the glass ceiling. The 2010 Awards program will take place on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. at the Mi- ami-area museum and is spon- sored by Dr. Abraham L. Gitlow, Dr. Judi Berson-Levinson and Ruth W. Greenfield. The museum is now ac- cepting nominations for po- tential honorees. If you know someone who satisfies the above requirements, and can be present for the awards cer- emony, you can download the application form and a list of previous recipients from the museum's Web site at www. or con- tact Jo Ann at the museum, 305-672-5044, ext. 3164. The deadline to receive nomina- tions is Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 at 5 p.m. "[Opinions] can be changed very quickly. The more you can succeed in bringing [students] the real [facts] of hu- man rights, the rights of women, sexual minorities [in Israel], they are happy to hear it," he said. For Sharansky, identity is synonymous with freedom. "Jewish influence is weak- ening .... If you believe that it's better to live in the world where people have no identity...we're powerless to defend ourselves against our enemies," he said. Kosher00that's how Toot& rolls Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc. last week announced that Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Fruit Rolls, Frooties and DOTS have become kosher- certified by the Orthodox Union, the world's largest kosher certification agency. New packaging bearing the "OU" symbol will be distrib- uted nationwide beginning in the next few weeks. "We take great pride in producing wholesome con- fectionery products with fresh ingredients of the highest quality. This will bring our iconic brands to an entirely new consumer base that can now enjoy our products," said Ellen Gordon, president of Tootsie Roll Industries in a press release. The OU monitors all aspects of production. It supervises the process by which the food is prepared, examines the ingredients used to make the food, and regularly inspects the pro- cessing facilities to make sure that its standards are met. "We are very pleased to have Tootsie Roll join with other leading confectionery producers who have attained OU certification in recent years. It was also gratifying for OU to guide Tootsie Roll through the certification pro- cess and bring these famous candies to the growing kosher market place," said Rabbi Eli- yahu Safran. OU Kosher's vice president of communications and marketing. A gift card good enough to eat. This Chanukah take a bite ozit of your holiday shopping with Too Jay's Gift Cards. But don't! Ill|. GOOD. FOOD. ORLANDO Colonial Marketplaza (407) 894-1718 SOUTHWEST ORLANDO The Marketplace at Dr. Phillips (407) 355-0340 EAST ORLANDO Waterford Lakes Town Center (407) 249 9475 ALTAMONTE SPRINGS Palm Springs Shopping Center (407) 830-1770 LAKE MARY Lake Mary Centre (407) 833-0848 OCOEE Shoppes of Ocoee I407) 798-2000