Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Jackie Mason, Comedian, Dies at 93

You Know What I'm Talkin' About? Jackie Mason (Yacov Moshe haKohen Maza) has died. Which comes to Abq Jew as a shock. Abq Jew had sorta lost track of Jackie Mason for a few decades, but fondly - warmly, lovingly - remembers when Jackie Mason was just starting out.

Just a few years ago.

Jackie Mason

For you younger folks out there, here is Tom Hanson's tribute, which ran last Sunday on the CBS Evening News:

Philissa Cramer says in The Forward that Jackie Mason was a Jewish American comedy icon, and provides some videos to prove it. Michael Goldfarb, also in The Forward, describes how Jackie Mason remade the world of Jewish stand-up comedy.

Matt Schudel of The Washington Post wrote:

Jackie Mason, onetime rabbi who became a Broadway standup star, dies at 93

“My ambition all my life was to be a star,” Jackie Mason once said, but few stars had a slower or more roundabout path to fame. He didn’t become a stand-up comedian until he was about 30, after giving up his original name, Yacov Maza, and his original profession as a rabbi.

The brash edge of chutzpah was always there — Mr. Mason’s first comedy album was called “I’m the Greatest Comedian in the World Only Nobody Knows It Yet” — but he was as surprised as anyone when his astringent jokes about modern life and Jewish cultural identity finally struck a chord with the wider culture.

He was in his 50s — his exact age was always a matter of conjecture — when he became a sensation with the 1986 Broadway debut of his one-man show, “Jackie Mason’s The World According to Me!

 Matt Schudel continues:

A comic bit about visiting a psychiatrist became a madcap tale of wordplay and philosophical absurdity — the Marx Brothers filtered through Abbott and Costello.

“I went to a psychiatrist,” Mr. Mason said in one version of the routine, “and I’m not ashamed to admit it, because I did not know who I was. He took a look at me; right away he said, ‘This is not you.’ 

And I said, ‘If this is not me, then who is it?’ He said, ‘I don’t know either.’ ‘Then what do I need you for?’ He said, ‘To find out who you are; together we’re going to look for the real you.’ 

And I said, ‘If I don’t know who I am, how will I know who to look for? And even if I find me, how will I know it’s me? Besides, if I want to look for me, what do I need him for? I can look myself. Or I can take my friends. We know where I was.’ ”

And William Grimes of The New York Times wrote:

Jackie Mason, 93, Dies; Turned Kvetching Into Comedy Gold
He kept the borscht belt style of comedy alive long after the Catskills resorts had closed and eventually brought it, triumphantly, to Broadway.

Jackie Mason, whose staccato, arm-waving delivery and thick Yiddish accent kept the borscht belt style of comedy alive long after the Catskills resorts had shut their doors, and whose career reached new heights in the 1980s with a series of one-man shows on Broadway, died on Saturday in Manhattan. He was 93.

His death, at Mount Sinai Hospital, was confirmed by the lawyer Raoul Felder (see 2012's Save The Last Dance), a longtime friend.

Mr. Mason regarded the world around him as a nonstop assault on common sense and an affront to his sense of dignity. Gesturing frantically, his forefinger jabbing the air, he would invite the audience to share his sense of disbelief and inhabit his very thin skin, if only for an hour.

“I used to be so self-conscious,” he once said, “that when I attended a football game, every time the players went into a huddle, I thought they were talking about me.” Recalling his early struggles as a comic, he said, “I had to sell furniture to make a living — my own.”

The idea of music in elevators sent him into a tirade: “I live on the first floor; how much music can I hear by the time I get there? The guy on the 28th floor, let him pay for it.”

Here's the Luxury Apartments bit, which anyone who has ever lived in - or thought about living in - NYC (or any big city, these days) can surely relate to:

May his memory be a blessing

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Where is Anne Frank

A New Animated Film: In a year from today, Kitty, Anne Frank’s imaginary friend, the one that Anne devoted her entire diary to, magically comes to life at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. She believes that if she’s alive, Anne must be alive as well. She sets out on a relentless quest to find Anne.

Where is Anne Frank

Abq Jew has decided not to address (at least, at this time) the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Wars, BDS, the progressive attempt to eliminate Zionists (which is to say, most Jews) from progressive politics, or the recent attempts by two billionaires (with a third slated to follow) to escape paying taxes by rocketing into space.

Don't Even Go There

Abq Jew sincerely hopes that you, his loyal readers, will not be disappointed.
Besides, it's almost Shabbat Nachamu. May we be consoled.

Cannes Film Festival

Instead, Abq Jew would like to direct your attention to Where is Anne Frank, a new animated film by Israeli director Ari Folman that made its premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

Cnaan Lipshiz wrote about the film last week for JTA; his article was later published on Kveller.
A new animated Anne Frank movie brings her diary to life in modern-day Amsterdam

A disoriented teenage girl lies on Anne Frank’s bed as people swarm the family house. But these people are not Nazis; they’re modern-day tourists. And the girl on the bed isn’t Anne, but Kitty — the imaginary friend to whom she addressed her now world-famous diary.

Where is Anne Frank 

Magically resurrected from the page and transported into modern-day Europe, Kitty is appalled by how society has fetishized her best friend Anne, hawking cheap merchandise and endless inaccurate reinterpretations of her words. Eventually she takes it upon herself to reclaim Anne’s legacy, by any means necessary.

This is the bold reimagining of Anne Frank’s story found in the new animated film “Where is Anne Frank,” which premiered last week at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was made by acclaimed Israeli director Ari Folman ...

Who told the Hollywood Reporter:

I was looking for a new dimension, a new way to tell the story. And I tried to figure out how to bring it to the youngest audience I could. And when you start a movie with a miracle, like with this creation of Kitty, you build the fairy tale.

Where is Anne Frank 
In addition to the film, Folman also collaborated with the Anne Frank Fonds on a graphic novel adaptation of Anne’s diary, illustrated by David Polonsky and published in 2017. 
The film and the book will be part of a new educational package that the Fonds will share with hundreds of schools worldwide to which it provides Holocaust-education programs and materials.


But wait

Anne Frank's Diary

As it turns out, Abq Jew discovered that another animated retelling of Anne Frank's Diary - this one directed by Julian V Wolff - was released in Europe in 1999. But not in the United States. Here is the trailer:

Nevertheless, the film (says YouTube) was awarded the Children’s Jury Award at the Chicago International Children’s Festival.

Buddy Elias, then President of Anne Frank Fonds, in 1998 wrote:
The Film has moved me and I want to congratulate you for the high standard and sensibility in producing this film. I am sure it will be successful not only with the young audiences, but also for the elder generations.
And Simon Wiesenthal wrote:
I must admit that at first had my doubts whether an animated film could do justice to Anne Frank’s Diary. I was therefore pleasantly surprised upon viewing it that the film doesn’t trivialize the story of Anne Frank and makes for exciting viewing. 
This depiction of the growing up of a vivacious young girl in very difficult and extremely threatening surroundings will touch the hearts of young viewers - and will hopefully lead them to be wary of all signs of collective hatred, racism and anti-Semitism. 
It is good that with such well-done animated film more young people can be reached than would be the case with the book alone.
The English version of Anne Frank's Diary - the full movie - is available for free viewing on YouTube:


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A Sabbath of Vision: 5781

Shabbat Hazon 2021: This Sabbath is called the Sabbath of Vision because of its Haftorah - the third in the series of three Haftorot of Affliction - which begins:

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the LORD hath spoken: Children I have reared, and brought up, and they have rebelled against Me. 
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider. 
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that deal corruptly; they have forsaken the Lord, they have contemned the Holy One of Israel, they are turned away backward.

Much of the Haftorah is sung to the tune of Eicha (Lamentations), which we will - unless the Messiah comes while we wait! - sing mournfully when the Black Fast of Tisha b'Av begins this coming Motzei Shabbat, Saturday evening.

As Charles Dickens put it

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us ....

The days surrounding Tisha b'Av, we all know, were and have continued to be the absolute worst of times.

What Happened on Tisha b'Av

The classic 5 calamities:

  1. The Twelve Spies sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission. 
  2. The First Temple built by King Solomon  was destroyed by the Babylonians. 
  3. The Second Temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah was destroyed by the Romans.
  4. The Romans crushed Bar Kokhba's revolt, destroyed the city of Betar, and 
  5. plowed the site of the Temple in Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

And more calamities:

  1. The First Crusade officially commenced.
  2. The Jews were expelled from England.
  3. The Jews were expelled from France.
  4. The Jews were expelled from Spain.
  5. Germany entered World War I.
  6. The "Final Solution" was approved by the Nazi Party.
  7. The mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka began.

And even more calamities:

  1. The AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was bombed.
  2. The Israeli disengagement from Gaza began.
We are Jews, and we continue to have hope. 
Even as we prepare for Shabbat Hazon, A Sabbath of Vision.

Each year, as we approach Tisha b'Av, we are not supposed to be joyous or joyful, or even just happy. And we are not supposed to do anything that will make us happy.

For Abq Jew, and for many others, this means no listening to (especially, live) music. But sometimes music doesn't make us happy - it makes us think (see, for example, Sunita Staneslow's performance of Al Naharot Bavel).

This year, Abq Jew offers - for your introspection - How to Be Sad on Tisha B'av, written by Laura E Adkins, the Forward's Opinion Editor.

How to Be Sad on Tisha B’av
By Laura E. Adkins   July 14, 2021

No one likes to be in pain. But what if we stopped resisting it? Just for one day?

Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, begins Saturday evening. For 25 hours, observant Jews fast and deny themselves certain other comforts to mourn the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago, along with myriad other tragedies in Jewish history.

The halachic rules of Tisha B’av are straightforward: don’t eat or drink, bathe or have sex, sit or sleep in comfortable positions, wear leather shoes or put on makeup or lotion.

But too often, many of us follow these strictures yet ignore the larger point.

On Tisha B’av, our tradition offers us a clear path toward experiencing something transcendent. I’ve collected several strategies below that you can use, whether or not you’re a religious person, to get into the right headspace. 

Abq Jew strongly encourages himself ... and you, his loyal readers ... to read Ms Adkins' complete article. Here are her nine key strategies:

  1. Get uncomfortable.
  2. Take a break from distractions.
  3. Let it be hard.
  4. Go somewhere bigger than you are and let yourself empty.
  5. Approach your pain with curiosity.
  6. Write it down.
  7. Ask why — and accept when you do not and cannot know the answer.
  8. Get mad at God.
  9. Choose to have a relationship with the divine anyway.

About that last strategy, Ms Adkins writes:

Traditional Jewish sources suggest that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’av. Whether you take this literally or metaphorically, the awesome power of pain is what can emerge after it clears away what wasn’t meant to be there in the first place.

When the temple is restored, we’re told, Tisha B’av will be a day of celebration. But this restoration can only come when we’ve truly processed our pain and trauma, and corrected our mistakes.

The key is to let yourself be moved. 

Fast Days

May we be comforted among the mourners 
of Zion and Jerusalem.