Category Archives: Judaism

Again with Allan Sherman

Allan ShermanI recently interviewed Mark Cohen, whose terrific new biography of Allan Sherman is Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman. Sherman was the song parodist who sold millions of records briefly in the 1960s, Cohen’s contention is that Sherman’s work — My Son, The Folk Singer, etc. — helped invent the modern Jewish personality.

The article I wrote, based on the book and the interview, is Nothing to be Ashamed of. The transcript of the full interview with Mark is here.  You can read the profile I wrote of Allan Sherman a while back, Hail to Thee Fat Person.


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The journalist yells ‘fire’

I used to know Andrew Adler. When I worked at the Atlanta Jewish Times, he was the newspaper’s former managing editor. He’d come to our office periodically to have his start-up Jewish newspaper designed by our art department. It was an odd arrangement, and it didn’t last long, as he positioned his Maccabiah Press as a competitor to the Jewish Times.

Like the name of his publication, Andrew’s journalism was a bit tone-deaf, a touch parochial and essentially superficial.

Along with these fairly harmless sins I now suspect he has one that can be crippling for a serious journalist: an inability to see the big picture.

That could be why Adler, as  publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times, wrote a column last week in which he suggested that Israel might want to consider assassinating President Obama. The text of his “Publisher’s Letter” is here.

Adler subsequently apologized and explained that he wrote what he wrote “just to see what kind of reaction I would get from readers.”

It turns out the reaction has been “overwhelmingly negative,” Adler told JTA.

If there’s a learning moment in any of this, it might be in the overwhelming revulsion Adler’s column caused. Most people, regardless of their politics in the U.S. or Israeli contexts, still have their heads screwed on the right way.

That’s a cause for hope as American Jews as a group move to the right on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, as their position hardens on what Israel must be willing to do for a negotiated peace, and more often people are willing to demonize those they disagree with.

In the American context, as Chemi Shalev wrote in Ha’aretz, Andrew Adler’s column is part of a larger movement which seeks to delegitimize Obama as president.

Adler’s crazy and criminal suggestions are not the ranting of some loony-tune individual. They were not taken out of thin air. Rather, they are the inevitable result of the inordinate volume of repugnant venom that some of Obama’s political rivals, Jews and non-Jews alike, have been spewing for the last three years.

In such an atmosphere murder may seem to someone as the only possible course to take. That’s what happened in 1996, back when Andrew Adler was launching his Maccabiah Press,  when a Jew assassinated Yitzhak Rabin after a Tel Aviv peace rally.

Yes, this may be a learning moment, and we may become better for it. It may also be a reminder why we don’t shout “fire” just to see the reaction.

Jan 24 —

Following Andrew Adler’s resignation, J.J. Goldberg wrote this fine piece in the Forward. What made Adler “wander so far off the reservation?” Goldberg writes. “The answer is, he didn’t.”

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Jerome Rubin, a co-founder of LexisNexis, has died.

The Washington Post obituary says that “his parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia.”

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Born to Russian immigrant parents

Eve Arnold and Marilyn Monroe

Eve Arnold with Marilyn Monroe during the filming of 'The Misfits', 1960 Photograph: Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

Twice in today’s obituaries the phrase “born to Russian immigrants” appeared. One was for screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas, who was 111 years old (the third-oldest person in California) and who was “born in New York to Russian immigrants.”

The other was photographer Eve Arnold (only 99), who was “born Eve Cohen to Russian immigrant parents in Philadelphia.”

Every time I read that someone was “born to Russian immigrants” the voice of correction in my head shoots back, “Jewish. She was Jewish. Say it with me: Jewish.”

When did Russian become a euphemism for Jewish? It’s like when you read about someone being flamboyant, you know the writer means gay. My guess is that Eve Cohen’s parents didn’t leave Russia because they were Russian, but because they were Jews who were sick of anti-Semitism and were trying to get away from the Russians.

And I say that as the son of a Polish immigrant and grandson of Russian immigrants.


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With friends like these

Saint Bernard: Friend of foe?

St. Bernard: Keep on expiating.

In his review in Tablet of “Philosemitism in History,” edited by Adam Sutcliffe and Jonathan Karp, Adam Kirsch made clear to me why people who Love the Jews are so creepy:

“…closer to the bone is the saying that ‘a philo-Semite is an anti-Semite who loves Jews.’ That formulation helps to capture the sense that philo- and anti- share an unhealthy interest in Jews and an unreal notion of who and what Jews are.”

That unhealthy interest is what is perverse about Christian Zionists of the fundamentalist kind. It’s why Washington Post opinionaire Dana Milbank called the news that Sen. Joe Lieberman was going to join Glenn Beck’s rally in Israel in August a shande.

Milbank wrote: “Beck’s descriptions of his event as a gathering and a restoration echo his Mormon faith’s theology: there will be a ‘Gathering of Scattered Israel’  in which Jews return to the Holy Land and are converted to Christianity as part of ‘the restoration of all things’ and the Second Coming.”

For this we should send a thank-you card?

If so, one for Saint Bernard is long overdue. In his review, Kirsch quotes Saint Bernard warning the Second Crusaders not to slaughter Jews like the First Crusaders did:

“The Jews are for us the living words of Scripture, for they remind us always of what our Lord suffered. They are dispersed all over the world, so that by expiating their crime they may be everywhere the living witnesses of our redemption.”

It’s a bit like the punchline of the joke in which the Jew asks God if the Jews were really the chosen people: Would you mind loving someone else for a change?

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Did Moses go by his English name, except when he was called to the Torah?


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A Chinese, a Jew and a German Shepherd walk into a bar.

Please pass the kneidlach.I don’t know how the set-up to this joke would go, but here’s the kicker, according to the Washington Post:

The Zeta Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia (its motto: “We aim to turn out into the world self-respecting, original-thinking, self-controlled, purposeful gentlemen”) reportedly serves a pledges-only meal consisting of dog food, matzah balls, gefilte fish and soy sauce.

I don’t know whether to call the ADL or see if there’s kosher-for-Passover Alpo and serve it at my seder.

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