Last month, I wrote about political, religious and sports news in the life of Jews and Judaism in 2012. I’ll conclude my review of the Jewish year with economic and cultural news. Enjoy!
In economic news, Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison retained his sixth richest spot on Forbes’ list of world billionaires ($36 billion), which was also the number one spot among Jews. Casino magnate and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson ($25 billion) was #14, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was #20 ($22 billion), George Soros was #22 ($20 billion), Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page were #24 ($18.7 billion each) and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was #35 ($15.5 billion). (Thirteen Israelis also made the list.)
More importantly, in Judaism, we don’t honor people for accumulating wealth, but rather for how generously they share it. Thus, thankfully, Mark Zuckerberg gave $500 million to a foundation that focuses on health and education issues, hedge fund mogul John Paulson gave $100 million to the New York Central Park Conservancy and real estate tycoon Mortimer Zuckerman gave $200 million to Columbia University for brain research. Most impressive was Talia Leman of Waukee, Iowa who began a charity for Katrina victims 7 years ago that has raised $10 million to date. Talia is now only 17 years old!
In cultural news, President George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, RI, declaring “to bigotry no sanction” because part of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia after being hidden from view for many years.
In music, Zion 80, a rock ensemble, blended Shlomo Carlebach neo-Hasidic melodies with Kuti Afrobeat style arrangements, and Madonna began her MDNA World Tour in Israel, thrilling tens of thousands of fans at Ramat Gan Stadium near Tel Aviv. While some American singers have boycotted Israel because of its policies towards the Palestinians, Madonna, a non-Jewish devotee of Kabbalah, has continued her support.
A new book, “Superman Is Jewish: How Comic Book Superheroes Came To Serve Truth, Justice And The Jewish-American Way” by philosophy professor Harry Brod, described the Jewish origins of superheroes not only because so many Jewish writers and artists created Superman, Spider Man and others, but in the way these characters reflect Jewish folktales, such as the Golem and the Dybbuk as well as the ethical debates of the Talmud. According to Brod, “before Joe Shuster drew Superman, the only artist drawing Jews flying through the air was Marc Chagall.” Brod also wrote about the Yiddishist irony of Mad Magazine and praised Art Spiegelman for taking comics to new levels in “Maus.”
After writing 25 novels over 50 years and winning the National Medal of Arts, Philip Roth, one of America’s most esteemed and infamous writers, announced his retirement at the age of 79 saying that not only did he no longer want to write fiction, but he no longer even wanted to read it.
In television, “Who’s Still Standing” on NBC, “Traffic Light” on Fox and “The Ex-List” on CBS were all based on Israeli TV shows, but none succeeded. However, Showtime’s “Homeland,” based on an Israeli show about a POW, was incredibly successful. So successful, in fact, that it swept the Golden Globes and Emmys and also became President Obama’s favorite show.
In additional Emmy news, Jon Stewart won his 10th consecutive Emmy and Lena Dunham’s “Girls” on HBO about New York Jews and non-Jews in their twenties became a critical favorite. (“Girls” was the only TV show last year to mention Camp Ramah, although “Will and Grace” did so years ago.)
On NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” 14-year old kipa-wearing finalist, Edon Pinchot of Skokie, IL, was loved by millions. (By the way, all three judges – Howard Stern, Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel – are Jewish.)
On “Mad Men’s” fifth season, Jews started coming out of the closet – Michael Ginsberg, the creative light of the office, and Abe Drexler. The show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, has always presented a few strong Jewish women characters, as well as hints that Don Draper, the star of the show (played by Jewish actor Jon Hamm), might secretly be Jewish. Starz TV presented “Magic City” about Miami Jewish gangsters in the 1950s. It aspired to be a period piece like “Mad Men,” only with violent Jewish sociopaths.
At the “Comedy Central” awards, there were so many Jewish winners that the host quipped: “Giving a comedy award to a Jew is like giving a science award to an Asian!”
In cinema news, Roman Polanski announced that he would be directing a film about the French anti-Semitic Dreyfus Affair entitled “D.”In 2012 Oscar news, Israel’s entry, “The Gatekeepers,” was nominated for best documentary, presenting harrowing interviews with the last six heads of the Shin Bet – all urging Israel to negotiate more actively for peace. At the 2012 Oscar ceremony, the best picture award went to “The Artist,” the silent film created by the Jewish troika of director Michel Hazanavicious, producer Thomas Langmann and producer Harvey Weinstein. (Another Jewish troika – director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner and actor Daniel Day Lewis – were nominated for “Lincoln,” but only the actor won last week.) Also winning was Woody Allen for “Midnight In Paris” (best original screenplay). Even more unusual was the “Woody Allen Israel Project,” which became an online petition campaign to get the director/actor/writer to make a movie in Israel, as he recently has in Barcelona, Paris and Rome. Finally, Billy Crystal served, once again, as Oscar host and, as the New York Times put it: “Out with the new, back with the old.”
So, too, in 2013, we wonder: What will this year hold for Jews and Judaism? Will we go back to the old or improve on it? Will the new be creative and exciting or trivial and faddish? Will we proclaim at year’s end: “how fascinating” or “how foolish,” “how exciting or how wasted?”
In the end, it’s up to us – Jews everywhere – to ensure Jewish continuity and creativity by our time, energy and funds. Most of all, we need to ask: how can we grow as members of University Synagogue and the Jewish people in the year ahead, and what can we do to make Jewish life more interesting, inclusive and exciting.
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis