Friday, September 30th 2022   |

Jewish Trivia Quiz

from RASHI, RAMBAM and RAMALAMADINGDONG: A Quizbook of Jewish Trivia Facts & Fun by New Orleans native Mark Zimmerman

The Shofar

Jews around the world are listening to the blowing of the shofar during the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and again on Yom Kippur. The shofar is typically a hollowed out ram’s horn, though other animals’ horns are also used, including goats, ibexes and kudus. While there is not a specific reference to the shofar in the Torah, it says in Leviticus Chapter 23 Verse 24, “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.” What shofar-related event took place that made the Guinness Book of World Records?


Shofar bslgckgc is licensed under CC BY 2.0

AAt the Reform Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles in 2018 a shofar blower set a record for the loudest recorded shofar blast, hitting 125 decibels (most shofar blasts are in the range of 90 decibels).

BIn 2014, the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life sponsored the “Great Shofar Blowout” in Whippany, New Jersey, where 1,022 participants blew the shofar at the same time, breaking the old Guinness record of most shofar blowers by more than 300.

CA Chabad rabbi set the record for the longest held tekiah gedolah note at Kfar Habad in Israel on Yom Kippur 2017. The blast lasted 1 minute and 55 seconds.

DIn 2012, at a synagogue in Safed (Tzfat), Israel, the record was set for the longest length shofar ever blown, a kudu horn measuring 34" long.

EIn 2021, a congregation in Jerusalem set a record for the most people infected with COVID-19 by a shofar blower. Within days of the Rosh Hashanah service, 53 people tested positive after the shofar blower, not knowing he was positive for the virus, unwittingly spread his germs throughout the congregation with his many tekiahs, shvarims, and teruahs, not to mention his outstanding tekiah gedolah.

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Yeshiva University

Yeshiva University has refused for years to recognize the Y.U. Pride Alliance, an LGBTQ student organization. The organization has sued the university, which argued in court that the school’s “religious freedom” rights as the “world’s premier Torah-based institution of higher education” would be violated if it has to recognize and support the LGBTQ group. The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that the school must obey the decision of the New York State Supreme Court, which stated that because the school is incorporated as an educational institution, not a religious one, it cannot deny the club’s request. In response, Yeshiva University announced that for the time being, they are suspending all student club activities. A lawyer representing the student organization called the university’s action “a throwback to 50 years ago when the city of Jackson, Miss., closed all public swimming pools rather than comply with court orders to desegregate.” There are almost 100 student organizations affected by the University’s decision, including which of the following?

Yeshiva University Zysman Hall from northeast

Yeshiva University Zysman Hall from northeast bBeyond My Ken is licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0

AThe Bagel Club, whose members “dive into the plethora of bagels available in New York, the ultimate Jewish dining experience.”

BThe Out-of-Towner Club, whose signup sheet says, “Are you an out-of-towner? Are you looking to make new friends! The Out-of-Towners club has got you covered!”

CThe Rock-Paper-Scissors Club, an organization whose members “engage in serious competition followed by camaraderie and schnaps.”

D. The Catholic Student Organization, which provides “a place of fellowship” for Yeshiva’s Catholic students.

EThe YU Menswear Club, whose mission is “to inspire, educate and introduce students to real world fashion and menswear professionals.”

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Queen Elizabeth II, RIP

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth died at the age of 96, having reigned for 70 years. She is being mourned around the world, including by members of the British Jewish community. According to Ephraim Mirvis, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, “Her affection for the Jewish people ran deep, and her respect for our values was palpable.” In 2005, the Queen bestowed knighthood on Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi. In that same year, Queen Elizabeth met with a group of Holocaust survivors at St. James’s Palace, where according to Rabbi Sacks, she remained long beyond her scheduled appointment (very unusual for the Queen) in order to spend time hearing the stories of each of the survivors. The Queen was criticized, however, in 1996 on an official visit to Poland, because she did not visit Auschwitz. She also received criticism on that visit for not referencing the Polish Jews who had suffered under Nazi occupation in a speech she gave to the Polish Parliament. What was the official explanation for this omission?

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II March 2015 bJoel Rouse/ Ministry of Defence is licensed under the United Kingdom Open Government Licence v3.0

AAccording to the Communications Secretary to the Queen, “The Queen had no desire to offend her hosts at this official address.”

B. According to officials at Buckingham Palace, the omission was a “typographical error.”

CAccording to the Queen, “My remarks today were intended to be non-political.”

D. According to Queen Elizabeth’s Press Secretary “This event was a joyous occasion that Her Majesty did not wish to mar with references to that tragic time.”

EAccording to a spokesman from Buckingham Palace, “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl but she doesn’t have a lot to say.”

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Jane Fonda & Mikhail Gorbachev

Last week saw the passing of Mikhail Gorbachev, the former  General Secretary of the Communist Party and head of state of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev instituted a policy of glasnost (openness), pursuing more democratic ideals, ultimately leading to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Also last week, Jane Fonda announced that she is being treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Fonda has pursued a 7-decade long acting career, while also being an active political voice in America, opposing the Viet Nam war, fighting for civil rights and feminist causes, and advocating for climate change efforts among other issues. How did Mikhail Gorbachev and Jane Fonda cross paths in their lives in a Jewish-related way?

Mikhail Gorbachev and Jane Fonda

Mikhail Gorbachev bYuryi Abramochkin is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0

Jane Fonda at the Cannes film festival bGeorges Biard is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0

AIn the 1950’s and 1960’s, Gorbachev was working as a bureaucrat, first at the Stavropol regional procurator’s office and then other low to mid-level local government positions. But in 1972, Gorbachev saw news coverage of Jane Fonda’s trip to Hanoi, where she was famously photographed standing on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, the picture which earned her the nickname “Hanoi Jane.” Gorbachev said in his autobiography that he was inspired by that photo, which made him begin to think about the Soviet government more critically. Said Gorbachev, “I thought about that photo when I struggled with the question of allowing our Jewish citizens to leave the Soviet Union. Jane Fonda criticized her country because she knew her country was wrong. And I knew that it was wrong for my country to not allow so many of our citizens to follow their own beliefs. So I opened the doors to more religious freedom, and I opened the doors of exit for those who wished to leave.”

BGorbachev visited Israel in 1996, a few years after his time as General Secretary of the Communist Party, and his term as President of the Soviet Union. Coincidentally Jane Fonda visited Israel at the same time, and both were invited to dinner with Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres. They began a relationship with ongoing correspondance and occasional visits that continued until Gorbachev’s death.

CIn 2009, Fonda was a signatory of a letter protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s spotlight on Tel Aviv, which she later apologized for, noting that while it was legitimate to criticize Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, that letter was overly broad in attacking independent Israeli filmmakers. Said Fonda in an interview with Diane Sawyer, “I recently read Memoirs, the autobiography by Mikhail Gorbachev. He said that one of his proudest moments was when he visited Israel in 1992 and received a Peace Prize from the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology. Just think–Gorbachev, who oversaw the jailing of hundreds of Jewish dissidents, later was honored for his freeing of Jews to go to Israel. It’s a reminder that everything is complex, and there is good and evil on all sides.”

DFonda was an advocate for Soviet Prisoners of Conscience, many of whom were Jews who simply wanted to practice their religion or emigrate to Israel, including Ida Nudel and Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky. Fonda even traveled to the Soviet Union and secretly met with Nudel, and then launched a public campaign on behalf of her cause. As a direct result of the efforts of Jane Fonda and others, Gorbachev granted Ida Nudel an exit visa in 1987, and she left the Soviet Union for Israel.

EAccording to Natan Sharansky, the Jewish activist who spent nine years in a Soviet labor camp, the first sign that he saw of a loosening of restrictions by Gorbachev was when the prisoners were provided with a VCR for entertainment. Said Sharansky, “We had only been able to watch mind-numbing government propaganda on the television, but then, with the VCR, all of a sudden our world expanded. I remember all of the prisoners joining together to exercise to the Jane Fonda’s Workout video. That’s when we knew that Gorbachev was bringing about real change.”

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Italian Wine

Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine, with almost 2 million acres of land devoted to cultivation of grapes. There are a number of kosher wineries in Italy, including Bartenura, which is named for Rabbi Ovadia ben Avraham of Bertinoro (who was known as Bartenura) and Cantina Giuliano, one of the newer kosher wineries, which is located in Tuscany and also features kosher apartment rentals on their estate. The Wine Company Alessandro Lunardelli was founded in the Pasian di Prato region of Italy (the northeast corner) in 1968, with an annual production of around 100,000 bottles. Why is the Lunardelli Wine vineyards controversial within the Jewish community?

Bartenura wine

ALunardelli Wine vineyards, which is not primarily a kosher wine producer, markets a small quantity of kosher wine every year that is released prior to Passover to be used by members of the Italian Jewish community for their seders. Each year the vineyard uses a different picture on their wine label representing scenes of the Exodus from Egypt, such as Moses parting the Red Sea or frogs and locusts representing the 10 plagues. But in 2021, during the pandemic when it was not as easy to bring together members of the Jewish community for input, a marketing director chose a picture which represented Jews dancing around the Golden Calf.

BMevushal wine is wine that has been heated during the packaging process. Wine that is mevushal may then be touched by non-Jews, such as caterers and servers, unlike non-mevushal wine that can only be produced and handled by Shabbat-observant Jews. Many people think that this heating process yields a wine that is less tasty than non-heated wine. It was discovered that Lunardelli Vineyards had not actually heated their mevushal wine in order to get better taste reviews, but this in fact voided the kashrut of the product.

CLunardelli Vineyards, which is not a kosher wine producer, was approached by members of the local Jewish community in the Veneto region of Italy and asked if they might consider producing kosher wines for their community. An internal email written by the vineyard’s head of marketing was released by a disgrunted employee which read, “It makes no sense for us to hire a Rabbi to oversee our wine production. I recommend that we reject this Jewish tax and we reject this project.”

DThe vineyard, which is not a kosher wine producer, markets some of their wines under the heading Famous People (Gente Famosa), and one collection of wines under that umbrella is called Jewish People (Ebrei), with labels featuring pictures of David Ben-Gurion, Maimonides, and Primo Levi. But there was controversy because one of the bottles featured a picture of Madonna, who is not Jewish, though she is a follower of the mystical thread of Judaism known as Kabbalah.

EThe vineyard, which is not a kosher wine producer, markets some of their wines under the heading History Line (Linea Storia), and one collection of wines under that umbrella is called Der Fuhrer, with labels featuring pictures of Adolf Hitler and slogans including “One People, One Empire, One Ruler,” “Sieg Heil,” and “Der Prosecco Vom Führer” (“The Führer’s Prosecco”). Andrea Lunardelli said that the wines represented “a nice joke” because Hitler was a teetotaler.

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Allen Weisselberg

Allen Weisselberg, longtime Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization, pleaded guilty to 15 felony criminal charges including grand larceny, tax fraud, and falsifying business records. While he has not agreed to testify against Donald Trump, he is expected to testify against the Trump Organization in a trial scheduled to begin in a couple of months. Weisselberg must pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes which he illegally avoided paying, and he is expected to serve at least a few months in jail. Weisselberg lived in Wantagh, New York, and in 2004 his mother died. Donald Trump paid a shiva visit, and according to Weisselberg’s former daughter-in-law Jennifer Weisselberg, when Trump arrived and saw the modest home, he said, “This is where my C.F.O. lives? It's embarrassing!” What else inappropriate did Donald Trump do at the shiva?

Allen Weisselberg

Allen Weisselberg by ruperto miller is in the public domain

ATrump didn’t even greet Allen Weisselberg upon arrival, but went straight to the dining room table and took a large plate of rugelach, bagels and lox.

BTrump approached many of the shiva attendees and began telling them about available apartments at Trump Tower, and that they should let Allen Weisselberg know if they would like more information.

CTrump showed pictures to a number of the shiva attendees that were of nude women with Trump on a yacht.

DTrump refused to wear a yarmulke when the shiva minyan service began, saying “Sorry. No way I’m putting that on top of my head.”

ETrump was speaking to Allen Weisselberg and other family members when he said “I hope someday my daughter marries a nice Jewish boy, so when his mother dies I can throw a party like this.”

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Olivia Newton-John, RIP

Four-time Grammy Award winner Olivia Newton-John died last week. Newton-John first gained fame with a “girl next door” image while singing such songs as I Honestly Love You  and Have You Never Been Mellow. Her image took a turn for the wilder when she was cast as Sandy Olsson in the movie Grease, starring opposite John Travolta as Danny Zuko. The soundtrack of the movie yielded two number 1 hits for the duo, You’re the One That I Want and Summer Nights. Newton-John followed this success with the double-platinum album Physical and the single of the same name which tied the record for most weeks spent at number 1 in the rock era. Olivia Newton-John was not Jewish, though she had Jewish ancestry, including what renowned individual?

Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton John op Schiphol, Bestanddeelnr 930-0131 by Bert Verhoeff / Anefo, CC0, is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

AOne of her grandfathers was physicist Max Born, who fled Nazi Germany in 1933, settling in Cambridge, United Kingdom, where he continued his study of quantum mechanics, solid-state physics and optics. In 1954, Born won the Nobel Prize in physics.

BOne of her ancestors, from centuries earlier, was Sir Isaac Newton, the English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, and author. In 2005 Britain’s Royal Society (which had once been led by Newton), in answer to the question of who had the greater effect on the history of science–Newton or Albert Einstein–selected Newton.

CHer maternal grandfather was Sidney Myer, a businessman and philanthropist who was born in Russia and emigrated to Melbourne, Australia at the turn of the twentieth century. Myer initially sold haberdashery to miners as an itinerant peddler, and eventually parlayed that work into the creation of a major retail empire in Australia.

DHer paternal grandfather was Sir Alan Newton, a noted Australian surgeon of the early 20th century who was one of the founders of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Newton was knighted by King Edward VIII in 1936 and went on to serve in World War II as chairman of the Medical Equipment Control Committee. He was also instrumental in promoting the manufacture and use of penicillin in Australia.

EShe was descended from a Sephardic Jew who lived in Toledo, Spain. The ancestor, Figureroa Newton-Juan fled Spain during the Inquisition and sailed with other Jews to Australia, where they settled in Sydney. The Jews established a small synagogue, a mikveh, and a kosher butcher. Looking to enhance the lives of his community, Olivia’s ancestor started a kosher cookie company, creating a treat which he named after himself, the Fig Newton.

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Alex Jones

Alex Jones, host of the far-right conspiracy theory website Infowars, was sued for defamation by parents of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre. Jones claimed that the parents lied about the shooting, which he said was “completely fake with actors.” A jury ordered Jones to pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages and $45.2 million in punitive damages. During the trial, what Jewish reference did Alex Jones’s lawyer, Andino Reynal, make when offering his closing arguments to the jury?

Alex Jones

Alex Jones DC Press Conference 2018 bJaredlholt is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

AReynal claimed that Alex Jones and his message should be welcomed by all, as he was simply exercising his American freedom of speech rights. Reynal then quoted The New Colossus, by Jewish poet Emma Lazarus which is engraved on the Statue of Liberty, saying “ ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ Mr. Jones, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is just yearning to breathe free, as we all are.”

B. Reynal said that Alex Jones is like all Americans, and should not be held to a different standard, even if he said things that are not always popular. Quoting from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Reynal said, “ ‘I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?’ Alex Jones is no different than that Jew, and no different than any of us. He has hands, organs, and opinions that are sometimes incorrect.”

C. Reynal told the jury, “There is no justification for what the plaintiffs have put my client through. He has been wronged in all of the claims against him. And yet, whatever you the jury may decide, Mr. Jones will remain true to himself and his beliefs, just like Ann Frank, who notably said, ‘It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.’ ” 

DReynal asked, “Do you want to choose what you get to watch and listen to or do you want a plaintiff’s attorney to decide for you?” He then quoted Martin Niemöller’s Holocaust poem First They Came – “First they came for the communists, and I said ‘I’m not a communist’ and didn’t do anything. Then they came for the trade unionists and I said ‘I’m not a trade unionist.’ Then they came for the Jews, and I said, ‘I’m not a Jew.’ And when they came for me, there was no one left.” Reynal’s message apparently was that we should all stand up for Alex Jones so that we do not become the next victims, like the Jews and others during the Holocaust.

EReynal noted that ordering his client to pay millions of dollars in fines wouldn’t make any sense. Said Reynal, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as you know, God made many many poor people, and my client is one of them. Now, Mr. Jones realizes, of course, that it’s no shame to be poor, But it’s no great honor either! So, what would have been so terrible if he had a small fortune?” At which point, Alex Jones jumped up, began wiggling his belly, and sang “If I were a rich man, Ya ba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dum, All day long I’d biddy biddy bum, If I were a wealthy man.” Mr. Reynal then closed his arguments, saying, “And since he is not a wealthy man, I implore you to dismiss this case so that my client can get back to the synagogue and pray.”

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Drag Queens

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida filed a complaint against a Miami restaurant which hosted a drag brunch performance, with children in the audience. The complaint noted that “The nature of the performances...particularly when conducted in the presence of young children, corrupts the public morals and outrages the sense of public decency.” DeSantis also noted incredulously that the restaurant “had a children's menu.” Though many Judaic authorities view cross dressing as a violation of Jewish law, drag performers are not uncommon within the Jewish community and in Israel. An early Jewish drag performer was Gilbert Block, also known as Sadie, Sadie the Rabbi Lady. Sadie was arrested in 1987 when protesting the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion during a Papal visit to San Francisco. In his show Torch Song Trilogy, Harvey Fierstein played a Jewish drag queen named Virginia Ham, while Jason Gerber, a quarter-finalist on America’s Got Talent, performs as All Beef Patty. There have been two Jewish winners of RuPaul’s Drag Race–Jinkx Monsoon and Sasha Velour. Other Jewish drag queens include Gina Tonic, Gila Münster, and Belle Bottoms. Who are some other Jewish drag performers?

Jinkx Monsoon

Jinkx Monsoon 004 - DC Capital Pride street festival - 2013-06-09 by Tim Evanson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

ATrish Knish and Inge Potchket.

BMiss Shugenner and Trudi Jew-Liani.

CMelba Toast and Cassie Varnishkes.

DFay Kakte and Faye Gornisht.

ELady SinAGaga and Hanukah Lewinsky.

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Vince McMahon Jr. of World Wrestling Entertainment announced his retirement last week. This came a month after he resigned as the organization’s chairman and CEO, following allegations that he had paid millions of dollars in hush money to female WWE employees with whom he had sexual encounters. The Jewish connection to wrestling, and specifically to the WWE, goes back to the early 1950’s through the unlikely path of a Jewish boy from Vienna. Rafael Halperin was a student of the famous rabbinical scholar Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, known as the Chazon Ish. Halperin moved with his family from Vienna to Palestine in 1933, where he began pursuing athletic endeavors including weight lifting and body building. He then opened a gym, which eventually led to a chain of health clubs (The Samson Institute for men and The Venus Salon for women) and he organized the first Mr. Israel contest, which he won. He later became a professional wrestler in the United States, working with Vince McMahon Sr.’s Capitol Wrestling (the precursor to WWE), where he competed under the names “Mr. Israel” and “The Rasslin’ Rabbi,” at one point winning 159 consecutive bouts. Halperin returned to Israel where he further popularized the sport. Halperin’s last professional match was in 1973 against Abu Antar, the “Jordanian Tiger,” at a sold out match at Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu Arena. What else did Rafael Halperin do in his life besides professional wrestling?

Israel wrestler Rafael Halperin

Israel Wrestler Rafael Halperin from Dan Hadani Collection, The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, The National Library of Israel is licensed under CC BY 4.0

AHe worked as a diamond cutter.

BHe opened a glatt-kosher ice cream shop in Mea Shearim which has separate lines for men and women.

CHe started a number of businesses in Israel, including an automat, a summer camp, an automated car wash, and the largest optical chain in the country.

DHe helped develop a credit card with a chip which would disable the card on the Sabbath, ensuring holders wouldn’t violate the rules of Shabbat by buying things.

EHe served as a personal trainer to the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.

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