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In 1997, Anita Diamant published The Red Tent, a novel inspired by the Biblical story of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, who – despite inspiring one of the bloodiest chapters in early Biblical history – never speaks a word in the text. Diamant gave her a voice and a context that enthralled many readers, and even enraged a few, showing that her work interpreting biblical characters and context had really touched a nerve.
Tonight and tomorrow night, Lifetime Television airs its original two-part miniseries (not written or necessarily sanctioned by Diamant) of The Red Tent, starring Minnie Driver as Leah, Morena Baccarin as Rachel, Iain O’Glen as Jacob and Rebecca Ferguson as Dinah. After catching part one at a screening, it occurred to me that what this interpretation of Diamant’s book (itself an interpretation of and vast extrapolation from the biblical text) required was group watching, plust a bit of alcohol. (Friends who not consume alcohol may substitute caffeine. Friends who consume neither alcohol nor caffeine are probably not reading this because they are out being productive citizens who sleep 8 hours night. But feel free to substitute another fizzy beverage that will at least enable you to belch like those who are indulging.)
The following educational drinking game is inspired by part one, but I can imagine that many of these rules will hold throughout the mini-series.
Jews have always been involved in the American comedy scene. I won't get into the history, frankly because I don't have that kind of time right now. But this December, a group of writers and content creators/producers are gathering in Jerusalem to talk about Jews, comedy and how the two can come together for social change in a first-of-its-kind conference called "Comedy for a Change." And to celebrate Jews and comedy - and promote the conference - the organizers (including the incredible and creative Omri Marcus, profiled in Tablet Magazine earlier this year) have unleashed GoHora.com, a somehow alarmingly-perfect mashup of today's greatest musical hits and videos of people doing Israeli dancing. (So if the goal was to prove that Jews could make those songs funnier, then DONE.)
Featuring some of the world's leading TV writers and execs, including BBC Director of Television Danny Cohen, as speakers, the Comedy for a Change conference is designed to address how, in today's modern media reality, comedy can be a powerful game changer. What's funny today? What's taboo? And what will happen when writers - the comedy and content creators from all over the world - come together with the idea of change as an organizing principle?
Speakers hail from countries including the US, Canada, Israel, The Netherlands, Denmark and others, and include Natalie Marcus and Assaf Beiser, the co-creators of the recently-aired, envelope-pushing historical sketch comedy show, "The Jews Are Coming" (which I wrote about here last year, and which is the subject of an upcoming follow-up piece). The agenda also features a salute to the late Joan Rivers, and the mayor of Jerusalem being interviewed by a puppet. In one session, writers of the American, German and Israeli versions of "The Office" will gather in a workshop called - of course - "That's What She Said." (Full agenda is here.)
My friend Brett, as Van Gogh. Me as...what? I'm wearing a glitter headband and big earrings. Thought I was an 80s club diva. But that's not a costume.
Eight years ago, I wrote about my first Halloween. Here is that "zombie blog post," back from the "mostly-dead" Idol Chatter blog-that-has-ceased-to-be, freshly revived (I mean, "heavily revised" - with new references to INTERNET! BUFFY! and GOLEMS! ) and ready to eat your brain. Enjoy my Halloween grinchiness!
A Yeshiva Girl's First Halloween by Esther D. Kustanowitz (revised 2014)
“What did you wear the last time you trick-or-treated?” my college friends asked.
“Umm, I’ve never been trick-or-treating.”
Their silence made me realize I had managed to terrify my friends on Halloween–quite a good first effort at the holiday.
Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I always knew what Halloween was: the week when television switched to a “Fright Night/Shocktober” format, candy unveiled its fall color palate, and packages of food suddenly sported ghosts, witches, skeletons and corpses (very appetizing). And it was also always the week when my yeshiva (Jewish religious school) sent home a letter to parents informing them that Halloween was a pagan holiday that had become a fulcrum for mischief and destructive pranks–sometimes of an anti-Semitic nature. We had Purim as our designated dressup day. It was highly advised that we not be permitted to participate in any Halloween celebrations.
Halloween's real impact was the constant ringing of our doorbell, as trick-or-treaters made their way down the block. My brothers and I would open the door and distribute candy to costumed kids, occasionally pocketing a piece of candy for ourselves, and never whining to my parents to let us participate. It wasn’t our faith. It wasn’t our holiday.
When I got to college, I realized that I had missed something vital in the secular calendar cycle. As October waned, people started talking about Halloween–instead of door-to-door candy collecting, there were fraternity keg parties and prizes for best costume. Costume strategies for men involved creativity and for women often included cleavage. My friend Mike dressed as a Mother Superior (he came out a few years later). Gary went as "Lampshade Man,” sticking a lampshade on his head, going up to women and saying “Turn me on!” Debbie dressed as a phone–she drew a telephone keypad (remember those?) on a white t-shirt, attached a phone receiver (remember those?) to a headband, and went to a party saying, “Ring, ring, I’m for you! Pick me up!”
My friends vowed to take me trick-or-treating, and for an authentic experience, they made me dress up. I raided my conservative closet and selected a longsleeved black shirt, a pretty modest, nearly-above-the-knee skirt, tights, and boots. (New Jersey in October, you know.) I didn’t look that different from shul-going Upper West Siders, but we added a bright lipstick, and my friends proclaimed the costume “a prostitute.” (Huzzah, college empowerment!)
We left campus and went to the suburbs of East Brunswick. House by house, as people - expecting local children - opened their doors, we yelled “trick or treat” and thrust out our bags waiting for them to deposit the candy goodness. But the homeowners were suspicious. “Aren’t you a little old for this?” So we upped our game, offering a trade: our singing services for their candy. “Halloween carols? Really?” one homeowner queried. “Sure!” we agreed. (I obviously had never been caroling either, so this was a double treat.) We were the singing telegrams no one had asked for - starting with some classics, Frank and Broadway show tunes, and moved to some more contemporary stuff. Debbie Gibson songs may have been involved.
That first time was a little weird, and uncomfortable, and not because of our caroling - it felt like I was pretending not to be Jewish. But most of the friends I was out with that night were also Jewish; they were just used to Halloween - celebrating it for them hearkened back to fond childhood memories. All I had was the inherited fear of something that used to be called "Mischief Night" or "Goosey Night," and the instilled guilt over celebrating something that didn't feel like my holiday.
I appreciate the creativity of a good costume - even more so now, with the internet enabling so much creative costume-sharing. But some of the more graphic costumes seem to have lost their fun. I'm a loyal fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for its mythology, humor and empowerment themes - but bereft of that context, bloody monster masks left me unsettled. After endless CNN footage of 9/11, I found the “bloodied accident victim” genre disturbing. And then there are the "sexy ______" costumes, providing an excuse to wear revealing outfits and drink until they can’t tell the difference between friends and friends-with-benefits. Which may suit everyone else fine, but that kind of obfuscation usually isn’t necessarily my cup of poison. Even on the Jewish holiday of Purim, a yeshiva girl’s approved day of dress-up, I’m always paralyzed when it comes to costume creation. My costumes are typically more clever, based on a turn of phrase ("media queen") or something else that needs to be explained ("the cliches of JDate"), rather than "sexy golem" (which come to think of it, isn't a bad idea.) So when it comes to Halloween, I hope my friends have an amazing time, but I generally opt out.
Of course, you never know. Maybe someday I’ll come around. There is definitely something appealing about a day of fun and freedom from the strictures of contemporary dress and behavior. And, oh, the candy. (Which, hot tip, goes on sale at most stores after Halloween for 50-75% off. You're welcome.) But I probably won't be doing much this Halloween. Unless you happen upon a group of trick-or-treaters singing show tunes, in which case I expect you to text me immediately.
Happy Halloween!! (You know, if that's like, your thing. No judgments.)
Tonight is Rosh Hashanah, the start of the new Jewish year - it's been a bit of a crazy year for me, as my return to freelancing has landed me with great companies and organizations, like Pictures From the Fringe (follow us on Facebook & Twitter), G-dcast (check out eScapegoat & SinfulGoat) & ELI Talks (check out this talk about God and this one about hacking Judaism), among others. I'm also relaunching EstherK.com with fresh content coming soon, and am starting to put together a newsletter to share helpful social media tips, interesting articles and things I've written, so stay tuned.
This coming year is 5775, which I realized a few weeks back is a palindrome. Since I missed all the fun with 2002 (no one was really allowed to have fun that year) and don't remember why I didn't figure this out in 1991, I decided to pay tribute to this special occasion by playing around on Imgur.com. (This is obviously a tradition that dates back to rabbinic times.)
Below are some of the results of this experiment, with apologies to Girls, The Simpsons, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Frozen. Wishing you and your families a wonderful new year, of health, happiness and humor.
2:15 - What is the difference between "laughing with" and "laughing at Judaism"?
5:25 - Talking beards with Lubavitchers
13:04 - Will the Messiah be one big comedy club?
14:17 - Is there a role for comedy in these uncertain times?
18:25 - Is Jewish humor about joy or pain?
20:28 - How might humor mend the rift between Israelis and Palestinians (or at least contribute to Jewish unity)?
25:00 - What is the deal with puppets? (And is there a role for them in the Middle East?)
32:06 - I ask them about the comparison to Monty Python, making an error in announcing the number of Pythons in trying to make a joke that doesn't work.
32:39 - As we approach the High Holidays, so much of our focus is on fixing our speech, making sure we don't spread rumors, gossip etc. How do we create comedy that incorporates our aim to use speech more carefully?
37:40 - We talk about the Pew study. But only briefly. Because enough already.
38:40 - Right before we end, we talk more about Monty Python, and I tell a joke that goes nowhere.
I'll be hosting (and occasionally livetweeting) more of these in the future - ELI on Air (#ELITalks on Twitter) happens every Thursday at 1pm Eastern/10am Pacific (unless otherwise scheduled) - join us live with your questions, and/or subscribe to the YouTube channel, and listen at your leisure.
As everyone in the free world knows by now, Mick Jagger and the rest of the scraggly, scrawny superheroes of rock-and-roll have been touring Israel, taking photos at the Wall and - Mick in partick - showing off Hebrew study by interspersing their betwixt-songs banter with salutations and crowd-pleasing Hebrew phrases. (You can read all about it in Times of Israel.)
But what you may not know is that beyond the 12 phrases shared in TOI, Mick had a whole host of Hebrew phrases up his sleeves for use, should the occasion arise. In an My Urban Kvetch exclusive interview (so exclusive that the interview only happened in my brain), Mick shared an additional list of phrases that he's hoping to use at the Stones' upcoming concert to be held in Kikar Tzion (right near where the Kent sign used to be, you remember):
I've seen Star Wars more times than I can count (because I stopped counting around time #47); I know a good portion of Episodes 4, 5 & 6 by heart, and prefer to forget about most of 1, 2 & 3. But my favorite part was always Mos Eisley Spaceport ("you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villany - we must be cautious...") and its creature-diverse cantina. Big drama goes down at the cantina - altercations that result in an arm on the floor (more on this later) and a dead Greedo; smugglers make business deals; and we get a glimpse of fan favorite Hammerhead. And of course, best cantina music of all time. Iconic.
And so, in honor of Star Wars Day - May the 4th Be with You All (get it?) - it's about time that the cantina had its day in the Tatooine suns. So before I run back to Toschi to pick up more power converters, I'm pleased to share this collection of some of my favorite cantina-related video clips (some of them new for this year).
College Humor takes you inside the auditions for the new Mos Eisley band - featuring some familiar faces.
Kid Snippets has children retell the Mos Eisley scenes with adults acting out and lipsyncing the kids' audio. Ponda
Speaking of the aforementioned arm on the floor, here's Robot Chicken's version of what happened to Ponda Baba (Walrus Man) that day.
"Sid Caesar invented sketch," said comedy legend Carl Reiner in an interview with Phil Rosenthal (creator of "Everybody Loves Raymond") at the opening night of the L.A. Jewish Film Festival on May 1, which was in honor of Reiner and in memory of Caesar, who died in February. "Sid performed it in such a way that it was never the same after."
As the evening stretched on, the 92-year-old Reiner used his memories of time served on "Your Show of Shows," "The Dick Van Dyck Show" and others to bring the crowd to laughter and applause. Of course, we were there to laugh, and had been warmed up considerably by the film that preceded the conversation: "Ten From 'Your Show of Shows'," a 1973 compilation film by Max Liebman of ten sketches from the show's 1950-1954 run. Although the sketches were first performed 60 years ago, the actors' commitments to character and relationship made the bits are relatable today as they were when first they aired.
Ten seems like a good round number. A one and a zero to please the mathematicians. Passover's plagues. Sinai's commandments. So I understand why "Ten From 'Your Show of Shows'" focused on the number 10.
In that spirit, here are 10 things I learned from Carl Reiner at tonight's event: