Weekly Quiz

Justin Bieber

After touring for almost 2 years, last week Justin Bieber abruptly canceled the remaining 14 concerts of his Purpose world tour, with little explanation. Bieber, who is not Jewish, participates in what Jewish ritual?

Justin Bieber by Adam Sundana is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A. Bieber wears a red string “Kabbalah bracelet” which he received as a present from Madonna.

BPrior to eating, Bieber recites the Motzi blessing.

CPrior to each concert, Bieber recites the Shma in Hebrew.

DAt the end of each concert, as he leaves the stage, Bieber recites the Shechecheyanu prayer.

EAfter running into a photographer with his truck last week in Beverly Hills, Bieber crouched next to the injured man and chanted the Mi Shebayrach prayer for a speedy recovery.

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Kermit the Frog

Kermit the Frog is in the headlines, with the news that longtime Kermit puppeteer and voice Steve Whitmire was fired by Disney, curent owner of the Muppets. Whitmire became the voice of Kermit when creator Jim Henson died in 1990. While Kermit has only rarely been officially voiced by anyone other than Henson and Whitmire, there have been many others who lent their voices to unofficial Kermit videos, including Cantor Michael Smolash of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan, who performed what song as Kermit the Frog?

Kermit The Frog by Eva Rinaldi is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

AThe Temple held a Bible Stories Family Fair. At this event, Cantor Smolash sang The Noah Connection, including the lines “Why am I sitting here, with so many animals?/They’re hairy, they’re noisy, they stink./But God said to build this,/This rickety old ark boat./It was right to do this, I think./But soon we’ll be landing, at least that’s what God said/Because a dove brought me a sign./So I’ll just relax now, and milk this old milk cow, and wait for the rainbow to shine.”

B. During the Temple’s community-wide second Passover seder, Cantor Smolash introduced the section on the plagues by singing “It’s not easy being a frog/At Passover time, when we’re just another plague/We’re included in with pestilence, and locusts, and vermin, and slaying of the firstborn./I don’t know why frogs were a plague./Because I think we’re pretty nice, so I wonder, I wonder, why choose frogs, instead of crocodiles, or turtles, or reptiles more despicable than us.”

C. The Temple held a Torah Fair, which included a concert of songs about the Torah and its teachings. As part of that presentation, Cantor Smolash sang The Shalom Connection: “Why are there so many prayers about shalom,/The word that is hebrew for peace?/There’s Oseh Shalom Bimromav, and Shalom Rav, plus there’s the birkat kohanim./In Proverbs it says D’racheha, darchei-noam, V’chal n’tivoteha Shalom./The Torah is pleasant, it’s pathways are peaceful, the Shalom connection. Amen.”

DAs part of a Purim spiel at Temple Israel, Cantor Smolash sang Haman Remembrance, including the lines “Why are there so many songs about Haman/When we should be blotting his name?/Haman’s a villain–the worst one in Shushan./He made Mussolini look tame.”

E. Temple Israel held a Judaism Fair, which included opportunities to learn about the many laws of the Torah. As part of a play about keeping kosher, Cantor Smolash wore a Kermit the Frog mask and sang, “It’s not kosher eating frogs./Or serving your meals with escargot or squid./Or even eating things like pepperoni pizzas, or cheeseburgers, or bacon and eggs, or baby back ribs./But if treif is all there is to eat/Then you can eat it all, to save a life, pikuach nefesh,/Eat your treif, it’s so delish, but I still think you should not eat frogs.”

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Donald Trump Jr.

Donald Trump Jr. is in the headlines over a meeting he took with Russians for the purpose of obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton, a meeting that was at the least politically questionable, and at worst, collusion that might be illegal. Trump Jr. was a big defender of his father last July when Trump Sr. tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton with the anti-Semitic imagery of a Jewish star and a pile of cash. Though Trump Sr. said it was simply a sheriff’s badge, the original source of the image came from a racist, anti-Semitic message board favored by white supremacists. How did Donald Trump Jr. defend his father against charges of anti-Semitism?

Donald Trump, Jr. by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A. Trump Jr. said “I grew up in New York City. Three of my five best men at my wedding are Jewish.”

BSaid Trump Jr., “I was always my father’s favorite son until my Jewish brother-in-law came along. Now I’m number 2!”

C. Trump Jr. stated that his father “probably knows more Jewish people than he does Christians.”

D. Referring to anti-Semitism, Trump Jr. said “You’re doing a major disservice to the people who are actually afflicted by that plight.”

E. Trump Jr. said, “Those charges are ridiculous. And I’m tired of constantly being asked about this. I don’t have time for this foolishness. In fact, right now I’m late for a meeting at Trump Tower with my Jewish brother-in-law Jared and a good family friend, Rob Goldstone, who’s a Jewish music publicist from England. We’re having a real important meeting with some Russian folks about Hillary. I’m sorry. Did I say Hillary? I meant adoption. Anyway, it’s such an important meeting, but you’ll probably never read anything about it because all the media wants to talk about is this stupid Jewish star thing. I mean, sheriff’s badge. Really. I promise you. The biased media will never give good coverage to this important meeting with Russians about adoption.”

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Jews of India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi just completed an official 3-day visit to Israel. The highly successful trip included agreements in the areas of technological innovation, water conservation, desalination, space technology, and more. There was also discussion about the more than 80,000 Jews who live in India, many of whom trace their roots back many generations. Which of the following is true about the Jewish communities of India?

11-Cochin-jew-town by Bernard Oh is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

A. The Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela visited India in the 12th century and reported finding a community of about 1000 Jews, “all of them black.” 100 years later, explorer Marco Polo traveled to the same area and described a thriving Jewish community there.

B. Cochin was a major center of the Jewish population in India, but now, only about 26 Jews remain in Cochin (approximately 8000 Cochin Jews live in Israel). One Cochin Jew, living in the Mattancherry section, was interviewed last year and said that there were only 6 members of the community left, but that was because she ignored the 20 “downtown” Jews in the Malabari area, with whom her group doesn’t speak. A Malabari Jew who was also interviewed said that “Those Jews [in Mattancherry] are idiots.”

COne of the oldest Jewish communities in India is the Bene Israel, who live primarily in Mumbai and western India. They claim to be descendants of Jews who left the Galilee in the 2nd century BCE to escape persecution. They also claim to be descendants of Aaron, and DNA tests in 2002 confirmed their shared heredity with the Kohanim.

DThe Bene Menashe Jewish community of India resides in the northeast of the country. Claiming descent from the Biblical tribe of Menashe, they converted to Christianity in the 19th century, but many began practicing Judaism again after one of their leaders dreamed that God said he should return his people to their pre-Christian religion. Many have since emigrated to Israel.

E. Among the oldest Jewish communities in India is the Bene Lee-Verpuhl, who settled in Peh-Purland, an Indian state in the north of the country. Only a few dozen members of the community remain, under the leadership of Rabindra Shankar Chowdhury. Though not a seminary-trained clergyman, Chowdhury, known locally as Rabbi Shankar, leads services on the sitar and has composed liturgical music, including a well known niggun (liturgical chant) that goes “Naaa, na na, na na na naaaa, na na na naaaa, Hey Jew.”

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Mika Brzezinski

MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski found herself in the middle of a media controversy last week, as President Trump attacked her and her co-host (and fiancé) Joe Scarborough in a Twitter storm that has brought much criticism of Trump for his insulting and misogynistic words. What Jewish-related controversy has swirled around Mika Brzezinski in the past?

The World Affairs Council presents Mika Brzezinski, May 20, 2011 by The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A. Mika Brzezinski’s father was Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor. The elder Brzezinski’s father, Tadeusz Brzeziński, was a Polish diplomat in Germany who collaborated with the Nazi regime during the rise of Adolf Hitler to power. Mika Brzezinski was criticized upon publication in 2010 of her autobiography, All Things at Once, for leaving out this information when she wrote about her grandfather. Mort Klein of the ZOA said that she was attempting to whitewash her family history in order not to hurt sales of her book within the Jewish community. Her response was that the book was about her life, not her grandfather’s, and just because she told some of her family background did not obligate her to delve into this unfortunate aspect of his life.

B. Brzezinski is the daughter of Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose own father Tadeusz was a Polish diplomat, stationed at various times in Germany, the Soviet Union, and Canada. The Brzezinski family were Catholics, but in 2005, a genealogist published an article claiming that Tadeusz Brzeziński’s mother was actually born Jewish. Her family, however, converted to Catholicism in reaction to pogroms in Poland in the early 20th century. When Mika Brzezinski was asked about this report, she replied, “I don't believe it. I’m not Jewish. Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” referencing the famous line from the Seinfeld television show about being homosexual. After criticism from the Jewish community, Brzezinski apologized for trivializing the issue.

C. In 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to address the United States Congress by then Speaker of the House John Boehner. The visit was controversial, as normal protocal called for the president to initiate such a visit, and the speech focused on the agreement being negotiated between Iran and the west over Iran’s nuclear program, an agreement that was opposed by Netanyahu and many in the American Jewish community. Brzezinski and her co-host Joe Scarborough got into a heated debate as he supported the visit and strongly criticized President Obama, while she opposed the visit and supported the proposed Iranian agreement. In their discussion, Scarborough said to Brzezinski, “The more this president shows his hand, umm, on what he thinks about Middle East politics, and the more chaos we have in the world, the more I think yes it was—that Benjamin Netanyahu, the people of Israel, and Jews across the globe, need to know that there’s at least one country, ONE COUNTRY, that understands what they are going through, the anti-Semitism they face every day...I know there are a lot of people out there who hate Jews. Go ahead, tweet me. . .I know you hate Jews. I know you’re anti-Semitic.” Brzezinski responded simply, “That’s just low-hanging fruit.”

D. When President Bill Clinton began work on what would become the 2000 Camp David Summit with Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Mika Brzezinski was working as a reporter for CBS News. She accompanied an administration delegation which travelled to Israel for preliminary talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. She angered American and Israeli Jewish leaders when she filed a report from Jerusalem, referencing the efforts to bring peace between Israel and Palestine. At that time, both news media and government officials would only refer to the “Palestinian territories,” or “Palestinians.” When questioned, Brzezinski initially stated that she used that terminology because there would only be peace when Israel recognized a state of Palestine. However, she later apologized after executives from CBS News made it clear that their guidelines required the use of the phrase “Palestinian territories,” not “Palestine,” until such time as the adversaries resolved this issue at the negotiating table.

EFollowing a 2014 interview on the Morning Joe show with Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, Brzezinski led into a commercial break, reminding viewers to “Keep it right here on Morning Jew..., Joe.”

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