Evan and Jaron: Fire Your Agent

evanandjaronThere is no doubt that Evan and Jaron Lowenstein are very, very cute Jewish boys. Our people could not ask for more — not one, but two mensches with identical handsome punims out there representin’ and declining Friday night gigs.

The kosher duo has played pro baseball together, had more than a couple hit songs together, shilled for Israel together and are surely at least partly responsible for the sexy makeover that modern Judaism has received in the new millenium (at least in America, anyway), kicking off that “it’s so cool to be Jewish” wave that launched a thousand hipster t-shirts and the invention of the faux mitzvah.

But their singular career is in dangerous D-list territory. Last year they shamed themselves on a painfully dumb reality show where they showcased an “invention” that hides olive pits and were never seen again in the series. How long could it be before they ended up on some has-been graveyard show like Celebrity Fit Club, all Elvis-obese times two, having gaining 50 pounds each in a desperate attempt to keep themselves in fame’s addictive light?

They’re not Chyna Doll’s b*tches yet, but it’s getting there. Just last night I saw the Wonder Twins of Modern Orthodox with their latest joined-at-the-hip adventure on Character Road Trip on the USA Network, and I was really rooting for them.

Unfortunately, the boys quote awful made-up dialogue and travel the country in search of “unusual characters” like a guy who makes Etch-A-Sketch art (this is not, actually, that unusual,) a roller derby queen/sex therapist named Markie D. Sod (OK, she qualifies) and fading celeb Corbin Bersen (sorry no one’s producing Major League 7, Corby, I always liked ya.) It’s just terrible TV, people. Trust your yenta.

The shanda here is that these boys are talented — and the good news is that they’re in Nashville producing a new album. But now they’ve got to keep the interest of a fan base who has since tasted novelties like Hasidic reggae dub. Can Evan and Jaron come up with something new and exciting, like a genre-busting album of Jewish alt-country?

The Anti-Semitic Asian Book Club?

koreancartoonWhat the heck is going on on the other side of the planet? Last week we learned that books claiming to teach the secrets of “how to get rich the Jewish way” are bestsellers in China, and this week a Korean comic book is in the news with some scary propaganda within its pages:

The book says Korean-Americans are diligent and successful in the U.S., “but in the end, always run into the wall called the Jews.” The accompanying picture shows an exasperated man walking up a hill only to be blocked by a brick wall with a Star of David and the word “STOP” in English.

It goes on to hold Jews responsible for 9/11, claims the American media is run by Jews and asserts these are commonly held beliefs. The comic is part of hugely popular South Korean series called “Distant Countries and Neighboring Countries” and is supposed to be teaching children about the rest of the world.

Korean-American groups are outraged and have teamed up with the Simon Wiesenthal Center (which has posted ANOTHER story about anti-Semitic books in Japan) to raise concerns with the publisher, Gimm-Young. Rabbi Abraham Cooper of SWC has urged Gimm-Young in a letter to replace the “litany of hate” in the comic book’s pages and will travel to Seoul in two weeks, presumably to see these changes through. These dangerous beliefs about Jews have likely flourished in Korea because there is no established Jewish community there to provide a truthful representation. Too bad there’s not an emergency arm of Chabad (or maybe that’s a good thing.)

Since the story broke, author Lee Won-Bok has beleagueredly defended that he is not anti-Semitic in the least, it’s just that “the Jews are the invisible force that controls the U.S.” and he wrote the chapter to let people know that “you can’t understand the U.S. without knowing the Jewish community.”

Can you believe this guy is a university professor? Are they handing out PhDs with the BBQ or what? Can’t wait to see that chapter on Israel.

*Thanks to reader Jonathan Moeller for the tip!

Purim Costumes Made Easy

doraCartoon characters may be all the rage in Israel for Purim, but I’ll tell you what, a plastic Spongebob cape is not gonna fly for my kids at the synagogue’s Megillah reading. What kind of neurotic Jewish mother would I be if I made it as simple as buying some leftover Halloween schlock Wal-Mart? I couldn’t take the guilt.

When I was a girl, there was none of this commercial nonsense on Purim: You wrapped some tulle around your waist and put on too much of your mother’s blue eyeshadow and you were Queen Esther, no fussing allowed. (Your idea to go naked under a bathrobe as Vashti was shot down three years in a row.)

Your brother had two choices: He could make a robe out of some hideous sheet and use your mom’s brown eyepencil and make a goatee to be Mordecai, or take her mascara, brush on a Hitler moustache and don a three-cornered hat made out of construction paper and a thousand staples to be Haman. Things were simple back then.

But my daughter has been wearing her Wonder Woman costume for five straight days (to school, to the grocery store, out to dinner, over her pajamas.) I may have to explain that Queen Esther is feeling a little superheroine-ish these days. *Sigh* Yet Another Bad Jewish Mother Moment.

(For those scrambling for ideas to wear to this weekend, check out Aish’s suggestions for easy, no-sew costumes.)

Stop Zeeking? Never!

jlightsThis month’s issue of Zeek,” that edgy, fascinating “Jewish journal of thought and culture,” features Jay Michaelson’s provocative, somewhat topsy-turvy look at the paradox of spiritual practice, the point of which is to “stop seeking” spiritual fulfillment — presumably because we’ve reached that point of fulfillment. But it ain’t so easy:

Stopping seeking actually takes a great deal of effort, because human beings are genetically and environmentally conditioned to seek all the time. Every moment, most of us are thinking about the future or the past, chasing something pleasant, or trying to avoid something unpleasant. Sometimes we’re just clueless. And once in a blue moon, we’re sameach b’chelko, happy with what we’ve got. But usually, in ways so subtle that they escape attention, we’re seeking something.

This seeking (even if it’s as subtle as say, attempting to relieve boredom by distracting ourselves with blogsurfing) causes suffering, since it takes us away from the moment, from God, from What Is. And so the path to happiness lies in what helps us “not seek” ways to make reality different, or better; maybe for you it’s prayer or meditation or just stopping the neurotic monkey monologue our minds run constantly.

(Like just a little while ago, I was totally absorbed in writing and then this thought that I really need a chocolate croissant kept poking up and no matter how much I ignored this desire it kept disrupting my flow. Now, if I went ahead and purchased this gooey goodie, something would have be satiated, but would it have made me happy in the sense that my ego is diminished in the face of the greater glory of the world? Maybe I’d experience bliss for ten minutes or so while the sugar buzz lasted, but ultimately, no, I’d be the same compulsive nutjob I was before, just chubbier.)

The Zen-nish admonition that we quit trying so hard to find happiness and instead let it meet us in the big quiet space between our thoughts makes more sense to me than making myself insane about kashrut laws and exactly what minute to light the Shabbos candles. Because surely part of these rituals are designed to help us meet God in the deeper pockets of our consciousness, or as he puts it, “what it really is about is the purification of the present moment from desires or fears of other ones. It’s about showing up.”

Of course, as in any spiritual activity, the “not seeking” can become food for the ego, just like with yoga or meditation or observance. But being a spiritual slacker isn’t the way to enlightenment either, since the not seeking takes a sincere effort, too. *Sigh* I guess that’s what makes it a paradox.

So thanks, Jay Michaelson. I’m as confused as ever. Maybe a chocolate croissant will help?

*Jay’s book God In Your Body is available at JewishLights.

The Fists From Odessa To Fight Again

dmitiryandbushI’m whiner, not a fighter. But something about Jewish pugilist Dmitriy Salita has me shadowboxing the drapes and attempting one-handed push-ups, he’s so inspiring.

The 24 year-old Ukrainian-born New Yorker is the only Orthodox Jew in the glitzy, bloody world of professional boxing and lays tefillin every day before heading to the gym. He has a strong relationship with a Lubavitch rabbi, doesn’t fight on Fridays and of course, his nutritional counselor makes sure his diet is kosher and designed for optimal performance.

Our boy Dmitriy is fast on his way to becoming the next high-profile Jewish media icon; in fact, Matisyahu opened for him at the NABA championships last August. He attended the Chanukah festivities at the White House this past season, where he stands to the right of President Bush in this photo. No, the naturalized citizen did not take the opportunity to suckerpunch G.W. for his immigration policies.

Jimmy O’Pharret, his mentor the Starret City Boxing Club and the gentleman on the left who looks like he might goose Laura just for kicks, has seen every kind of person hit the ring in his place, but says he’s never seen one like Dmitriy: “Kid looks Russian, prays Jewish and fights black.”

This video feature showcases this articulate and faithful young man who intends to smack down Grover Wiley at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan on March 22. Look for the lightning fists and the Star of David on the shorts.

yidshirtI just hate it when I’m noshing on the chicken (it’s always chicken) at the JEA Senior Lunch Bunch and suddenly three or four of the ladies put their heads together and start murmuring in Yiddish. Are they discussing my unshaved legs? Is there food in my teeth? What, ladies, what?

“S’nothing, honey. Ess your string beans.”

Yet another reason to study the language of the Ashkenazic ancestors, the foremost being that if you don’t, who else will? Start with these phrases, and sign up to kibbitz with some locals in your area. They’ll probably make fun of you, but it’ll take you at least six months to figure out what they’re saying.

The shirt’s on sale available via CafePress. I’ll take a dozen.

The Menschy Man-Boy

I first caught comedian Gary Gulman as part of Dane Cook’s Tourgasm and I was all, Wow, now that’s a fine-lookin’ Jew. Tall, too. With a punim and shoulders like that, he could get on stage and discuss the nutritional value of pencil shavings and I’d be captivated. It turns out his comedy is as good as it looks — Gary’s got an understated, intelligent style practically devoid of obscentities, a rare feat in the gross, grosser and gross-out world of stand-up. A finalist for two seasons on Last Comic Standing, he mostly mines the ordinary for absurdity; a little Seinfeldish, without the smarminess.

His 2006 full-length special, “A Boyish Man” has been running on Comedy Central as of late, so maybe you’ll watch Gary with your bubbie without being embarrassed. Unlike last time at the nursing home with that other Jewish comedian who has a Tourette’s-like affinity for the word “vagina.”

What Do Valium, Sports Bras and Polaroid Cameras Have In Common?

polaroidHa ha, tricked ya, the answer is not “items found in the Yenta’s bedside drawer.” (Although if you were at a party at my house and you were tacky enough to sneak in and check, you might find two out of the three.) And they don’t have anything to do with Britney Spears, either.

No, the above-mentioned inventions were all created by Jews, as were shopping carts, sonar, the electron microscope and drive-thru banking. Wikipedia’s long list of Jewish inventors is fascinating, although it’s important to stay wary of compilations of famous Jews. Bad people are known to use such lists to justify their delusions and conspiracies, even though it’s plainly obvious that Jews are smarter, richer and have more sex than anyone else.

In fact, I would be suspicious as to why a list of Jewish inventors is relevant at all in the sifting quicksands of the Wiki universe, as much as we enjoy shouting our collective accomplishments from the rooftops. However, seeing as there are inventories of Muslim mathematicians, Christian scientists (Tom Cruise is noticeably absent) and notable athiests, I won’t call Abe Foxman. But I would like to find Ralph Bauer, the dude who invented the gravel-voiced electronic memory game Simon (whose voice chip ought to be used at Gitmo for the serious cases) and yell at him for four or five days straight.

Surely, the world would be a quieter, less exciting place without the products of these great minds. C’mon, would your life be the same without the Flexistraw? And while you’re flipping channels this evening, don’t forget to send up a “thank you” prayer up to Robert Adler, the Jewish creator of the remote control, who passed away this week at 93.

Hat tip: Jewlicious.

Sarah Who?

saraharoeste Now that The Blind Eye, Marcia Fine’s prize-winning novel about Sephardic conversos fleeing from 15th-century Portugal, has found a publisher at AuthorHouse, the writer has discovered you can’t just quote song lyrics in a book willy-nilly without permission.

“Track down the singer and get the okay,” demanded her editor. Apparently publishers are more paranoid than doctors when it comes to being sued. So Fine (who, fine, full disclosure here, is my mother) has made phone calls, sent e-mails, faxed faxes and generally torn her hair out for the past year over trying to make contact with one Sarah Aroeste, whose song “A La Una” is excerpted in The Blind Eye.

Just when my mother was about to rewrite her whole darn book to accomodate taking out those unconsented lyrics, the phone rings and the caller ID flashes “Sarah Silverman.” Now why is that disturbed potty-mouthed girl from Comedy Central calling me? she wondered, and at the risk of hearing “I pooped” on the other end, answered the phone. Turns out it was the Sarah she was seeking, who’s adopted the more exotic stage name to reflect her family’s Spanish-Greek origins.

Aroeste’s music floats on funky, Latin-flavored jazz beats sung in Ladino, the fading language of the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. She’s divine; listen here. She not only weaves a beautiful soundtrack, but performs a mitzvah by keeping the dying language of the Sephardic ancestors alive. Mom reports that Sarah Silverman/Aroeste apologized for not getting in touch sooner and admitted that the words to “A La Una” are so old that they’re considered part of the public domain, so no one needs permission to use them after all.

So this story has a happy ending — not just for an author published her fourth novel, but for you and me, because now we all know who Sarah Aroeste is and can adore her. A good excuse to brush up on the ol’ espanol, sì?