Weekly Quiz

Uber

Uber founder Travis Kalanick (whose mother is Jewish, but whose religious identity is not known) resigned as CEO of the company last week, under pressure from major shareholders following a number of scandals, including reports of sexual harassment and other workplace discrimination, intellectual property lawsuits, and controversy over Kalanick’s participation in Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum. What Jewish-related scandal also added to the company’s troubles and Kalanick’s downfall?

IMG_3714 by TechCrunch is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. Many of the company’s drivers in New York are Muslim immigrants, particulary from Bangladesh and Pakistan. Many of those drivers were refusing to pick up religious Jews in Brooklyn, who they identified by their yarmulkes or black coats and long beards. At first the company responded simply by offering financial bonuses for drivers who increased their numbers of pick-ups in such neighborhoods as Borough Park and Williamsburg, where there are high concentrations of Orthodox residents. However, after reports broke on social meda, the company apologized and indicated that it would not allow any such discrimination by its drivers.

B. Uber launched in Germany in 2014. However, there was an immediate outcry from the Jewish community there when the company launched ads on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media, using the catchphrase “Über Deutschland Alles,” meaning “Uber Over All Germany.” The phrase was a play on the words “Deutschland über alles” from the song Deutschlandlied which was adopted as the German national anthem in 1922. While that song remains the German national anthem today, only the third verse is typically sung, avoiding the reference to Germany above all other nations, which epitomized the Third Reich government of Adolph Hitler, and which is particulary offensive to Jews who hear those words as echoing the German nationalism which led to the Holocaust.

C. In New York City, there is a very large number of Israeli Uber drivers, and this became a problem on the major Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In 2016, the first day of Rosh Hashanah fell on a Monday and Yom Kippur was on a Tuesday. Because so many of the Israeli drivers did not work on these days, Uber instituted surge pricing, which is normally enacted when there is an overabundance of demand, such as during special events or bad weather. When many regular Uber riders complained on social media that rides that are usually regular priced were unexpectedly charged at the higher rate, Uber apologized and offered refunds, saying that surge pricing should only reflect the reality of customer high demand, rather than “punishing” customers because of a shortage of drivers.

DUber was intending to launch in Israel in 2015. Despite opposition by the Egged and Dan bus cooperatives, as well as taxi and sherut shared taxi drivers, the company received a license from the Ministry of Transport to begin operations, at first in Tel Aviv, with plans to spread throughout the country. However, at the last minute, representatives of the Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism raised objections because the Uber drivers would offer their services on Shabbat. As a result, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu overruled the decision of Transport minister Yisrael Katz and prevented Uber from legally operating. In fact, taxi cabs operate in Israel on Shabbat without objection from the religious parties, and it is rumored that Shas and UTJ leaders objected to Uber because representatives of the taxi industry offered them financial incentives to pressure the Prime Minister to block this new competition.

E. In Uber’s recently released diversity report, besides presenting gender, ethnic, and other demographic information about the company’s workforce, there was also mention of a variety of “affinity groups” of employees, such as the Hispanic group, Los Ubers, and UberHUE, promoting Black diversity and culture. There was an outcry on social media, however, at the Jewish affinity group’s description of themselves as Jewbers. Tweeted one critic, “I don’t work in HR but seems if you’re releasing a diversity report using the slang ‘Jewbers’ isn’t the way to go.”

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Whole Foods

It was just announced that grocery store chain Whole Foods is being acquired by Amazon for $13.4 billion. Whole Foods once found themselves in the middle of which of the following Jewish-related controversies?

Whole Foods by Mike Mozart  is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AIn 2015, charges were leveled against the Whole Foods store at Columbus Circle in New York when Jewish employees were told that they would not be paid for days missed as a result of the Jewish holidays. Specifically, some workers who had used up their personal days attempted to use sick days for the additional days of work which they had to miss. A company spokeswoman said that while the company respected the rights of Jewish employees to take off work for religious holidays, “being Jewish” was not a medical condition, and therefore, sick days could not be applied. The case is currently in the courts and remains unresolved.

B. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey was the co-chair of the executive board of the Center for Integral Wisdom, a think tank whose mission is to partner with “leading thought leaders and change agents to transform and evolve the source code of culture through application of ‘The Universe: A Love Story’ principles.” The organization’s founder, Marc Gafni, a former Orthodox rabbi, found himself in the middle of a sex scandal, leading to an online petition calling for Mackey to disassociate himself from the controversial Gafni. In 2016, Mackey removed all online connections between Whole Foods and Gafni, though he maintains a personal relationship with him and the Center for Integral Wisdom.

CControversy arose in 2008 when it became known that Whole Foods had removed Israeli products from the shelves of their store in Detroit and replaced them with halal products. A spokesman for the company said that this was in no way a political decision, but that it simply reflected the population who shopped at that particular location, where there is a large Muslim population. They pointed out that the Israeli products were readily available at their Bloomfield Hills location, where the Jewish population is centered. However, after calls for boycotts by many in the Jewish community, Whole Foods restored the Israeli products to the shelves at their Detroit location.

D. In July 2016, the Whole Foods location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn co-sponsored a “Kosher Food Fair” with the Chabad of North Brooklyn, offering a wide variety of Israeli and certified-kosher products. Chabad even kashered the store’s kitchen so that cooked kosher foods could be made and sold. However, as an accommodation to the local religious community, the store designated one checkout aisle for men only, so that ultra-Orthodox men could avoid standing in a line with women (including less modestly dressed women who were shopping in the store on the hot summer day). When the word got out, a protest was quickly organized in front of the store, leading to an apology by store management and the removal of the segregated line.

ENear the end of 2011, Whole Foods opened a new store in the Foggy Bottom section of Washington, DC. Washington Post reporter Jessica Goldstein reported on the store’s Hanukkah display, which featured matzah and matzah ball mix. Wrote Goldstein, “What Whole Foods is really displaying is a casual kind of ignorance for which there is no excuse...Even a Jew who only knows about Hanukkah and Passover from Rugrats or a shiksa who’s seen The Prince of Egypt could give you the rundown.”

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Bette Midler

Bette Midler won the 2017 Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, for her starring role as Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly!. Midler, who is Jewish and first performed on Broadway in 1966 as Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof, has had many Jewish connections in her life and career. Which of the following is true?

Bette Midler concert - Chicago by Alan Light  is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AMidler, who was born and raised in Aiea, Hawaii, won a singing contest in 1st grade, but she was afraid to tell her parents, as she knew her father would be angry about the winning song that she sang, Silent Night

B. Bette’s family would celebrate seders with the few other Jewish families that lived in her hometown of Aiea. Her mother always made gefilte fish from fresh carp, which was available in Hawaii. Inspired by this annual ritual, when Bette was 8 years old, as the guests sat down for seder, she wheeled herself into the room on an office chair, with her legs wrapped in a blanket. “I’m the Divine Miss Gefilte,” she sang, provoking much laughter among her siblings and the other children, but anger from her father, who chastised her for disrespecting the holiday and embarrassing him in front of their guests. Many years later, he forgave her, as she garnered great success in the personas of the Divine Miss M, and Delores DeLago, the kicklining mermaid in a wheelchair. 

C. In junior high school, Bette went to a luau with friends, and when she came home she told her mother how delicious the dinner was. When asked what she ate, Bette said, “I don't really know. It was something called kalua pua’a.” Her mother was very upset as she explained to Bette that this dish was the traditional (and very unkosher) Hawaiian roast pork.

DIn one of her comedic sketches, Midler said that she was going to make a sequel to the erotic movie Emmanuelle. Said Midler, “I call it Temple Emmanuelle. Actually, it’s not dirty at all, it’s just a lot of kissing of mezzuzas.”

EIn 1974, Bette starred in a show on Broadway called Bette Midler’s Clams on the Half Shell Revue, for which she won a special Tony award “for adding lustre to the Broadway season.” Der Tzeitung, a Chassidic newspaper, listed the special Tony Award as going to Bette Midler’s Lox on a Bagel Revue. (This is the same paper that later gained publicity when it ran a photograph of President Obama and his staff in the White House Situation Room watching the Bin Laden raid, from which Hillary Clinton had been “Photoshopped” out because she was female).

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Wonder Woman

The movie Wonder Woman, starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot, premiered this weekend to mostly rave reviews and the biggest opening ever for a female director, Patty Jenkins. Gadot, who previously won the Miss Israel contest, starred in the Fast & Furious movie franchise, and worked as a model and product spokeswoman, has found herself in the middle of some controversy as a result of her casting. Which of the following is true?

Wonder Woman by FaceMePLS  is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. When it was announced that Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman, some complained that she was not buxom enough for the role. An Israeli news station interviewed her, and the reporter posed the question, “Wonder Woman has curves, will you be getting those...what about your breasts?”

BIn October, 2016, Gal Gadot and Lynda Carter jointly announced that Wonder Woman, a character whom both have portrayed, was the new United Nations Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls (other United Nations honorary ambassadors have included Tinker Bell and one of the Angry Birds). However, protests arose, including a petition which said that “A large-breasted white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee-high boots” is not an appropriate representative of gender equality. As a result, the United Nations fired Wonder Woman.

CA number of guests on the Fox News show Your World With Neil Cavuto criticized the costume design for Gadot’s Wonder Woman because the colors are not as prominently red, white and blue as they are in the comics and previous Wonder Woman movies and TV shows. Said media personality Mike Gunzelman, “I think the Hollywood aspect, we see this time and time again, it’s cool to hit America these days.” And commentator Dion Baia said, “Gal Gadot is a part of the Jewish Hollywood liberal, Obama-loving, America-hating, Israel-bashing, quinoa-eating, Soros-funded, Saul Alinsky-idolizing movie star elites who you would expect to take the God Bless America out of Wonder Woman. But boy, is she hot!”

DThere have been complaints on social media that there are no persons of color in the movie Wonder Woman. Matthew Mueller, a writer for comicbook.com, disavowed that criticism, noting that “Gal Gadot is not actually Caucasian, but is in fact Israeli.”

EWhen a trailer for the Wonder Woman movie was released in March, one brief scene showed Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, with her arms raised high as she lifts and hurls a car down the street. Many viewers posted on Twitter and other social media that Gadot’s armpits were a lighter tone than the rest of her skin, implying that her armpit hair had been shaved, digitally bleached, or in some other way altered. Said one tweeter, “Why is an Amazon with no previous contact with humankind shaven?” And HuffPost United Kingdom blogger Kirsty Baines wrote, “Although I am thrilled that a gorgeous, fierce, strong and independent woman is taking the lead on our screens, in my opinion the Photoshopped armpit saga has pushed feminism a couple of steps backward rather than forward.”

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