Kanye West and latkes?

Are you ready for some new Hanukkah music?

A vocal group called Six13 that includes two Rockland County natives has released a video that turns three popular songs into Hanukkah anthems.

It’s also tremendously fun to watch.

The video, called “I Like It,” is said to be going viral. I’m not sure what the standard is, but the video has gotten over 61,000 views in a couple of days on YouTube.

Alan Zeitlin, a member of the group who comes from Monsey (and used to work for the Journal News), says this: “It was very cool when Adam Sandler’s Chanukah song came out. But it was definitely time for something new. I think in an age where viral videos have become extremely powerful, it’s a great way to impact people. I think people appreciate this video because the parodies are funny but also musically sound and it’s great to see different people in parts of the city.”

Six13 is a Jewish a cappella group that performs all over, including during the seventh-inning stretch of a Mets game.

Band member Mike Boxer, who arranged the music and wrote most of the lyrics, is from Spring Valley.

The video turns Justin Bieber’s “Baby” into “Dreidel,” Kayne West’s “Heartless” into “Latkes,” and  Enrique Iglesias’ “I Like It” into “I Light It.”

The National Council of Synagogue Youth asked Six13 to come up with some Hanukkah parodies of pop songs. Boy did they deliver.

Check it out:

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Here’s a comment from Boxer: “It wasn’t too tough to come up with new words. These are great songs with great melodies that you can take it all sort of lyrical directions, and when it comes to our heritage, there’s lots to sing about!
I’m definitely happy with the way we came off in the video — after all at the end of the day we are six white Jewish guys doing hip-hop. But what I love best is getting to see the whole city getting down to the music, all races, all ages, all backgrounds. Truly a unifying effort and really embodies the spirit of the holiday season!
Rapping like that was tough, because I’d never really tried anything much like it before. But I took a deep breath and gave it my best shot. Turns out, I got flow.”

NYC seminary to host Jewish/Muslim forum

Just announced: The Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC will host a forum on the Jewish and Muslim experiences in America and how to foster Jewish/Muslim cooperation on Oct. 25.

The 7:30 p.m. program is being sponsored by the seminary (the main seminary of Conservative Judaism), the Islamic Society of North America and Hartford Seminary.

The seminary is hailing the event, called “Judaism and Islam in America Today: Assimilation and Authenticity,” as a “landmark program.”

In 2007, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform Jewish movement, addressed the Islamic Society of North America.

According to a release:


The participants in the roundtable include Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of JTS; Sherman Jackson, professor of Islam at the University of Michigan; and Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary. The moderator will be Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America and director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary. The panel will discuss the shared challenges faced by Jews and Muslims who live in this country, focusing on the delicate balance between assimilation into a predominantly secular and Christian society and the desire to retain one’s religious and cultural authenticity.


When Eisen became chancellor of the seminary a few years ago, he said that one of his priorities would  be to make JTS a center of Jewish/Muslim dialogue. This would appear to be a step in that direction.

The release also says:


Despite a history of close relationships and religious dialogue spanning more than a millennium, the difficult recent relations between Jews and Muslims have created a degree of mistrust and misunderstanding that many religious and communal leaders are eager to resolve. Both the workshop and public roundtable will offer an opportunity for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders to come together and discuss the points of commonality in Jewish and Muslim experience in this country. Participants will also explore ways in which American Jews and Muslims, with all that they share, can work toward better cooperation.

Soupy Sales, the KKK, Mister Rogers and me

Two quirky notes about Soupy Sales, the pie-throwing comedian and early TV star who died yesterday:

Obit Soupy Sales1. The AP notes that Sales was born Milton Supman in 1926, in Franklinton, N.C., where his was the only Jewish family in town. His parents owned a dry-goods store and apparently sold sheets to the Ku Klux Klan.


2. TV writer Verne Gay notes that when Fred Rogers — Mister Rogers — graduated from a (Presbyterian) seminary and saw a TV for the first time in his parents’ home, the first thing he saw was Sales and someone else throwing pies at each other.

Mister Rogers was so turned off that he decided to start his own TV show as a non-pie-throwing alternative.


One final, completely unrelated note: When I was a kid, my parents somehow came up with a Soupy Sales doll (remember, he was a big star back in the day). I cried whenever I saw the doll. I still remember the fuzzy black hair on its head.

I think I found a picture of it:


Christmas trees in September?

A few tidbits for a Tuesday:

1. In a Village Voice report on how much New Yorkers make, we learn that Archbishop Dolan’s official salary is $23,500. I always wondered what an archbishop makes (but not enough to remember to ask).

2. When I watched a bit of the Detroit Lions winning their first game in a very, very long time on Sunday, I found myself wondering if new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz might be Jewish. Apparently, he’s not.

3. I heard that there are Christmas trees up in Macy’s and other department stores. It’s September, one month removed from August. So much for the War on Christmas.

4. I came across a short piece that Father Thomas Reese, the oft-quoted Jesuit, wrote about, of all things, the Roman Polanski case. He writes:


Imagine if the Knight of Columbus decided to give an award to a pedophile priest who had fled the country to avoid prison. The outcry would be universal. Victim groups would demand the award be withdrawn and that the organization apologize. Religion reporters would be on the case with the encouragement of their editors. Editorial writers and columnist would denounce the knights as another example of the insensitivity of the Catholic Church to sexual abuse.

And they would all be correct. And I would join them.

But why is there not similar outrage directed at the film industry for giving an award to Roman Polanski, who not only confessed to statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl but fled the country prior to sentencing? Why have film critics and the rest of the media ignored this case for 31 years? He even received an Academy award in 2003. Are the high priests of the entertainment industry immune to criticism?


Fine point, Father Reese.

5. Check out this artful AP photo (by Biswaranjan Rout) at a Hindu festival in India, where believers dress like the gods Ram and Hanuman:

APTOPIX India Hindu Festival

Budget crisis extends to death

From the Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City’s medical examiner warns that proposed budget cuts could threaten Jewish and Muslim burial rites.

Dr. Charles Hirsch says the cuts could hamper his office in its efforts to expedite the burials of observant Jews and Muslims, whose religions call for burials within 24 hours of death.

The city has ordered the medical examiner’s proposed operating budget of about $80 million for the fiscal year beginning in July cut by $7 million. And the state has threatened to withhold about $18 million in reimbursements.

Hirsch told a City Council committee hearing Wednesday the budget cuts could delay the issuing of death certificates needed for burials and force his bureaus outside Manhattan to close.

The city’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner opened in 1918 and was the first such governmental agency in the United States.

A warning of our nation’s sinfulness

Is the U.S. something like the Weimar Republic, heading for a really ugly fall?

That’s the contention of a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis and others who held a news conference yesterday in Spring Valley to warn that our society is morally deteriorating.

As my colleague Laura Incalcaterra reports, the group said that it is becoming more and more difficult to live Torah-observant lives when surrounded by sin.

img_1119.jpgThe event was set up by two groups, Jews for Morality and the Rabbinical Advisory Committee on Religious Affairs. Jews for Morality is sort of the Orthodox Jewish version of the “religious right,” condemning abortion and homosexuality as sinful blights on the culture.

Rabbi Noson Leiter, who is involved with both groups, said they want to call attention to the “free fall of standards of decency and basic moral principles in the public arena.”

As Jews for Morality’s website explains:

The world has been led to believe that living in grave sin, can be an ‘alternative lifestyle’ and the slaughter of infants, as a bizarre ‘right of the individual.’ These and similar doctrines which are infiltrating more and more into our society, is bringing our country and the rest of the world to a social disaster, and above all incurs the wrath of the Almighty. We fear the punishment of the Master of the Universe, may He protect us.

Praying for conversion is fine, Jewish scholar says

Here’s another Jewish view on whether Catholics — in a revised version of their Latin Good Friday liturgy — should pray for the conversion of Jews.

neusner_jacob.jpgOf course they can, writes Jacob Neusner, professor of history and theology of Judaism at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson (and, already, a favorite theologian of Pope Benedict XVI).

He notes that there is a daily Jewish prayer for the conversion of gentiles.

Neusner writes in The Forward:

The text is uniform in the worship of Judaism. In it Israel — the holy people, not to be confused with the State of Israel — thanks God for not making the holy people like the other nations. In worship, holy Israel asks that the world be perfected when all mankind calls upon God’s name and knows that to God, every knee must bow.

The text of the prayer reads, “It is our duty to praise the Lord of all things.” It offers thanks to God for giving Israel its own “portion,” its own destiny and lot in life, and making it different from the other nations of the world. God is asked to remove “the abominations from the earth” when the world will be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty.

This prayer for the conversion of “all the wicked of the earth,” who are “all the inhabitants of the world,” is recited in normative Judaism not once a year, but every day.

Normative Judaism, it can reasonably be argued, asks God to enlighten the nations and bring them into his kingdom. As if to underscore this aspiration, the prayer “It is our duty” is followed by the Kaddish: “May he establish his kingdom during your life and during your days and during the life of all the house of Israel, even speedily and at a near time.” I do not see how in spirit or in intent these prayers differ from the Tridentine Mass.

Anti-Semitic incidents fall

Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. are down for the third straight year, the ADL reports.

Their annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents counted 1,357 “incidents of vandalism, harassment and other acts of hate against Jewish individuals, property and community institutions in 2007,” a 13% decline from the 1,554 incidents reported in 2006.

New York state had the highest number of incidents — 351 — up from 284 in 2006.

tjndc5-5b592co8y8j18gcdc7p4_layout.jpgADL national boss Abraham Foxman said:

We are certainly encouraged that the total number of anti-Semitic incidents has declined for three years in a row. Yet we are still troubled that there are so many incidents reported, and that these incidents often involve expressions of anti-Jewish animus that are ugly and deeply hurtful to their victims and the communities where they occur.

A community of cantors to sing out

Cantorial singing is an amazing art form.

A cantor, in synagogue, sings a musical recitation of liturgy. But he (or she) does so liketjndc5-5b4nq4toi0wt22zhnb6_layout.jpg an opera singer, seeking to stir the hearts and souls of their congregations.

So when at least 20 cantors sing together this Saturday evening (March 1) at Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, it should be really something. Thunderous. (Pictured is Cantor Elizabeth Grover of the Sinai Free Synogoue in New Rochelle, one of the cantors scheduled to sing.)

It will be the debut performance of Kol Hazzanim — the Westchester Community of Cantors.

The event will keynote the 32nd annual gala of the Westchester Jewish Conference.

You can get more info here.

Lutherans talk sexuality, AIDS, and their legacy

More than 500 pastors, lay delegates and others attended the annual assembly a few days back of the New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The synod includes about 230 churches in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, as well NYC, Long Island, Dutchess, Sullivan, Ulster and Orange.

Next year, the synod will choose a new bishop to succeed Bishop Stephen Bouman of New City, who has served two terms as the ELCA’s spiritual leader in New York.

“What will our legacy be?” he asked the assembly. “What are the dreams of the next generation?”

voting.JPGDuring one of his talks, Bouman listed 10 subjects that Lutherans must be tired of hearing him talk about, including: sexuality, the “rerooting” of churches in their communities, Sept. 11, the Yankees and the fact that on any given Sunday, the synod worships in some 25 languages.

There’s no getting around the sexuality question, of course, as mainline Protestant denominations continue to tie themselves up in knots over homosexuality.

The synod passed a resolution that asks an upcoming national ELCA assembly to remove from church rules provisions that keep homosexuals from “the rosters of this church” and that require gays and lesbians to abstain from sexual relationships.

The synod also passed a resolution asking the ELCA to do what it can to reduce the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.

Bishop Bouman offered a 10-year financial plan for the synod to ensure the long-term funding of ministries. The plan begins, he said, “with a basic trust in the generosity of God.�

Additionally, Pastor Dianne Loufman, one of Bouman’s assistants, had words of encouragement for ELCA churches that are struggling or, in her words, caught in a “wilderness time:”

“God can take an ending and make it a beginning. God can take the wilderness times and make it a pathway to through the wilderness.”

In the same vain, pastor Gary Mills, Bouman’s chief of staff, said that ELCA churches need to shake things up by reaching out to immigrants, youth, gays and the poor:

“I do not want a church that is clean and orderly, that is black and white; where every ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ is crossed. I want a church that is down and dirty… a church that affirms and re-affirms the world.�

The synod also revised the “call” process for choosing pastors for churches.

And it paid tribute to Joanne Strunck of Brewster, the well-liked administrative assistant to Bishop Bouman, who retires in June.