Author Archives: Simcha Weinstein

Simcha Weinstein

About Simcha Weinstein

Rabbi Simcha Weinstein is the founder of the downtown Brooklyn Jewish Student Foundation. Rabbi Simcha is a sought-after television and radio guest, and has been profiled in many publications, including the New York Post, the Jerusalem Post and the Washington Post. He is also the author of Up, Up and Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero.

I Hate Thanksgiving

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Guest blogger Simcha Weinstein is the rabbi of the Pratt Institute. His latest book, Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century, was just released by Barricade Books. His website is www.rabbisimcha.com.

Maybe I’m just a “fundamentalist� rabbi who’s lost his sense of fun, but when it comes to giving thanks, I don’t “get� it.

thanksgiving dinner on a cupcakeWe don’t celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in my native country of England, and can you blame us? Imagine gathering around plates of mushy peas to express your gratitude for another year of record rainfall.

Being new around here, I looked up the history of Thanksgiving and now I’m more confused than ever. Those Pilgrims and their native neighbors first gathered around the table in 1565, in the month of September. Now that makes sense: celebrating a harvest festival during harvest time. (That’s what they still do up in Canada, by the way; their Thanksgiving always falls on the second Monday in October. This year that was also the first night of Sukkot, so that must have made it extra special.)

But November? Did someone just figure we all needed a party between Halloween and Christmas & Hanukkah?

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not because Thanksgiving seems so “goyish,� thanks to all those indelible Norman Rockwell paintings. I think goyish is great; being a child of American culture, I’ve written extensively on its many virtues. a norman rockwell thanksgivingAnd let’s face it: American Jews have much to be thankful for. We enjoy security, civil rights and material success here in the U.S. that we only dreamed of in other nations throughout history.

But I find Christmas more, well, exciting. No, I don’t celebrate it, but my father owned a toy store, so the holiday holds special memories for me. (And this year, December 25 also happens to be my wife’s due date. Please: no manger jokes.)

These days, Thanksgiving marks the official start of the Christmas shopping season, and maybe that’s why it leaves me with mixed feelings. Given the current economic downturn, it seems bizarre to see people shivering in sleeping bags outside the nearest big box store, just to buy their kids latest plasma gadget for a few dollars off. That’s a scary combination of guilt and gelt. Especially since that cool, must-have, “state of the art� thingamajig will be obsolete right after New Years.

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Only in America

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Guest blogger Simcha Weinstein is the rabbi of the Pratt Institute. His latest book, Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century, was just released by Barricade Books. His website is www.rabbisimcha.com.

shtick shift, by simcha weinsteinIf the polls are any indication, only an act of God can prevent Barack Obama from becoming the next President of the United States. Given Barack’s meteoric rise from obscurity to worldwide fame, it certainly looks like Somebody up there likes him.

There’s something very Jewish about this man’s rise from poverty and mediocrity to fame and fortune. Millions of Jews came to America with nothing and achieved the American dream. As Obama himself said during his star-making speech, only in America is his story possible. One of Obama’s, and America’s, heroes is Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously reminded the world of how Moses led the Jews to the Promised Land. Today, that Promised Land is America, and millions dream that Obama will usher the nation into a new age of hope and change.

When George Bush was being sworn in back in 2000, hardly anyone knew Barack Obama’s name, let alone how to pronounce it. Yet after one stirring speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, two bestselling autobiographies (written by the tender age of 47), and a short, undistinguished stint as a U.S. senator, he is now poised to take that oath of office himself.

As my overbearing bubbe often reminds me: with a bit of mazel, you can accomplish anything.

Speaking of bubbes, Obama is a big favorite among many Jewish voters, who have literally schlepped across the country, pushing his punim to the masses. Then again, a vocal minority believes the Democratic nominee to be some kind of Muslim “Manchurian Candidate� with secret anti-Israel leanings.

Personally, I don’t dig the notion of schmoozing — “without preconditions� —with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That said, I find Obama an inspirational candidate. Being an Englishman in New York, I’m not eligible to vote, but I would seriously consider casting my ballot for Obama if I could.

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Daily Show Democrats and Larry-publicans

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Guest blogger Simcha Weinstein is the rabbi of the Pratt Institute. His latest book, Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century, was just released by Barricade Books. His website is www.rabbisimcha.com.

Democrats must be praying that “Cool Jewâ€? Jon Stewart doesn’t tempt Barak Obama in saying anything stupid tonight. Senator Obama will appear on the Daily Show via satellite, which will air just hours after the Democratic candidate appears on the major networks after having bought a half-hour time slot to pitch his candidacy.

shtick shift, by simcha weinsteinThis will be Obama’s fourth appearance on the Daily Show, but his first since last April.

On the other hand, if you want to hear what Republican candidate John McCain has to say, you can catch him tonight as he sits down with a less “Cool Jew� on Larry King Live.

The two interviewers could not be more emblematic of the two candidates themselves.

The current U.S. election has seen an unprecedented Shtick Shift whereby Jon Stewart and his cast of comedic connoisseurs have replaced the traditional news media as many voters’ main source of information about issues and candidates. As the Rabbi at New York’s prestigious art school, the Pratt Institute, I can assure you that, for better or worse, countless young people look to Jon Stewart’s program as their main, and sometimes only, source of news.

If the Daily Show comes across as written especially by and for hip, young, people with a penchant for irony and iconoclasm, that’s no accident. Jon Stewart acknowledged as much when he accepted his Emmy in 2005: “When I first said that I wanted us to put together a late-night comedy writing team that would only be 80 percent Ivy League-educated Jews, people thought I was crazy. They said you need 90, 95% . But we proved ‘em wrong.�

The program grapples with the inconsistencies and contradictions ignored by the mainstream media, and gives voice to our frustrations with traditional news. If you look past the Daily Show’s cynicism, you see a real attempt to introduce ideas into the nation’s political conversation.

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Superman: From Cleveland to Krypton

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Coming over from the old country, changing his name like that. Clark Kent, only a Jew would pick a name like that for himself.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon

The Birth of Superman

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the two ordinary young men who created an extraordinary hero, lived twelve blocks apart from each other in Cleveland. The pair collaborated on stories for their high school newspaper and shared a passion for science fiction and pulp comics. It was the 1930s, and comic book publishing was in its infancy. Like many young Jews with artistic aspirations, Siegel and Shuster yearned to break into this fledgling industry. Comic book publishers actively hired Jews, who were largely excluded from more “legitimate” illustration work. 

superman, action comics #1The 1930s were also, arguably, the most anti-Semitic period in American history. Nazi sympathizer Fritz Kuhn of the German-American Bund led legions of rabid followers on marches through many cities, including Siegel and Shuster’s hometown. Radio superstar Father Charles E. Coughlin of the pro-fascist Christian Front was one of the nation’s most powerful men. And Ivy League colleges kept the number of Jewish students to a minimum, while country clubs and even entire neighborhoods barred Jews altogether.

So Siegel and Shuster began submitting treatments under the pseudonym Bernard J. Kenton, just to be on the safe side. Throughout the Great Depression, the two boys scraped together every penny they could just to cover postage. Shuster sketched on cheap brown wrapping paper.

From these humble beginnings, Shuster and Siegel carved out a character that embodied their adolescent frustrations, served as a mouthpiece of the oppressed, and became an American icon. Many years later, Jerry Siegel recalled the birth of Superman:

 “The story would begin with you as a child on far-off planet Krypton. Like the others of that world, you had super-powers. The child’s scientist-father was mocked and denounced by the Science Council. They did not believe his claim that Krypton would soon explode from internal stresses. Convinced that his prediction was valid, the boy’s father had been constructing a model rocket ship. As the planet began to perish, the baby’s parents knew its end was close. There was not space enough for three people in the small model craft. They put the baby into it. The mother chose to remain on the doomed planet with the man she loved, and die with him. Tearfully, hoping that their baby boy would survive, they launched the craft toward the planet Earth. Shortly, Krypton exploded and its millions of inhabitants were destroyed.”

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