Saturday, July 2nd 2022   |

Jewish Trivia Quiz

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

Elvis

A movie has just been released called Elvis, starring Austin Butler as Elvis Presley and Tom Hanks as Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker. It’s long been known that Elvis served as a Shabbos goy for Rabbi Alfred Fruchter and his family, who lived upstairs from the Presleys. A Shabbos goy is a non-Jew who is tasked with performing certain jobs which are prohibited for Jews on the Sabbath, such as turning on lights or heating systems. Rabbi Fruchter was the first principal of the Memphis Hebrew Academy. Rabbi Fruchter’s son Harold later said that his father would not have asked Elvis to be their Shabbos goy had he known what?

Elvis Presley in his prime, 1958

Elvis Presley bRossano aka Bud Care is licensed under CC BY 2.0

AThat Presley was actually Jewish, thus making him ineligible to act as a Shabbos goy. It turns out that Elvis was descended from a Jewish great-great grandmother, whose daughter and subsequent female descendants, including Elvis’s mother, were all halakhically Jewish, though practicing Christians.

BThat their apartment building would always be swamped by crowds of young fans, tour groups, and others wanting to see the place where Elvis grew up.

C. That Presley’s father Vernon was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi.

DThat he would start dating his future wife Priscilla when he was 24 and she was only 14.

ERabbi Fruchter once saw Elvis sobbing in the sanctuary where students held prayer services at the Hebrew Academy. The Rabbi did not interrupt Elvis, so as not to embarrass him, but later asked him what was wrong. Said Elvis, “Rabbi, You saw me crying in the chapel. The tears I shed were tears of joy. I know the meaning of contentment. Now I am happy with the Lord.” The Rabbi was moved, and gave Elvis a hug. But Harold Fruchter later said, “It was only after my father had died that we heard the record Crying in the Chapel and realized that Elvis was simply writing a song that day. Had my father known that Elvis was composing, and not having a true religious experience, he would have been angry and not allowed Elvis to continue acting as our Shabbos goy.”

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Revlon

The Revlon Company, founded in 1933 by brothers Charles and Joseph Revson, and a chemist, Charles Lachman (the source of the “L” in the company name), declared bankruptcy last week, overwhelmed by debt, supply chain problems, and more. The Revson brothers were raised in Manchester, New Hampshire by Eastern European Jewish immigrants. They and Lachman started the company by creating a new kind of nail enamel, and by the end of World War II had built the enterprise into a multimillion dollar company. Revlon continued to expand with new products and acquisitions, including Charlie and Jean Nate perfumes, Mitchum deodorants, Ty-D-Bol, Evan Picone and Elizabeth Arden. The company went public in 1996, and was eventually acquired by a subsidiary of Ronald Perelman’s MacAndrews & Forbes. Perelman, the grandson of Litvak immigrants, was raised in a Conservative household, but became an Othodox Jew in adulthood. He is a major financial supporter of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, and he is Sabbath observant and keeps kosher. In what unusual way has Perelman maintained his Jewish practices?

Revlon products

Revlon bMike Mozart is licensed under CC BY 2.0

APerelman employs a private chef to cook all his meals, and he paid for the chef, who is not Jewish, to live in Israel and France for a year studying with kosher chefs and learning all the rules of kashrut.

BPerelman had a private synagogue built in the garden space between his two back-to-back Upper East Side townhouses.

C. Some makeup, in particular lipstick, is not kosher for Passover as there are some ingredients which are chametz, and might be ingested. Perelman paid to have a small lab set up in one of Revlon’s manufacturing facilities specifically to make lipstick for his wife with products that are all certified kosher for Passover.

DPerelman paid to have a Torah scroll written by a scribe in Jerusalem, which he dedicated to his parents, Ruth and Raymond Perelman. The scroll, which is guarded and maintained by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation (official overseers of the Wall) is only brought out two or three times a year when Perelman comes to say Shabbat prayers at the Western Wall.

ESometimes when Perelman travels to his home in the Hamptons, or to Miami or other destinations, he’ll take a group of at least nine Lubavitch rabbinical students with him to be sure he has a minyan for services.

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Britney Spears

Performer Britney Spears got married last week to Iranian model and actor Sam Asghari. Spears has struggled for many years with mental health issues and had been placed under a legal conservatorship in 2008, with control over many aspects of her life given to her father Jamie. Late last year, after a series of legal interventions, the conservatorship was ended. In 2003 Spears became a practitioner of Kabbalah, having been introduced to this tradition by Madonna. Spears said at the time, “Through Kabbalah, I was able to look within myself, clear all the negative energy and turn my life around.” But she gave it up a few years later, saying, “I no longer study Kabbalah. My baby is my religion.” She had also considered conversion to Judaism at a time when she was romantically linked with another model, who was Jewish, but the relationship ended quickly. Britney Spears has often been seen wearing a Star of David necklace, and she also has a Hebrew tattoo on the back of her neck. What does the tattoo say?

Britney Spears

Britney Spears Domination Announcement by Afq Aden is in the public domain,

AThe tattoo says אין סוף, Ein Sof, which means “the Infinite,” which is a name that Kabbalists use to refer to God.

BThe tattoo says יצחק, Yitchak, which is the Hebrew name of Isaac Cohen, the Jewish model she was dating at the time.

CThe tattoo was supposed to read שלום, Shalom, meaning peace. She says she chose this tattoo to help her focus on inner peace as she struggled with her many public legal and health issues. But in fact, the tattoo actually reads שלוס, Shalos, because the tattoo artist incorrectly inked the letter ס, Samech, instead of the similar looking correct letter, ם, Mem Sofit.

DThe tattoo reads המש, the Hebrew letters Hey, Mem, Shin, which she says means “healing” (though that is not accurate).

EThe tattoo reads אופס אעשיתי את זה שוב, Oops, Asiti et zeh shuv, which means “Oops, I did it again.”

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Britney Spears

Performer Britney Spears got married last week to Iranian model and actor Sam Asghari. Spears has struggled for many years with mental health issues and had been placed under a legal conservatorship in 2008, with control over many aspects of her life given to her father Jamie. Late last year, after a series of legal interventions, the conservatorship was ended. In 2003 Spears became a practitioner of Kabbalah, having been introduced to this tradition by Madonna. Spears said at the time, “Through Kabbalah, I was able to look within myself, clear all the negative energy and turn my life around.” But she gave it up a few years later, saying, “I no longer study Kabbalah. My baby is my religion.” She had also considered conversion to Judaism at a time when she was romantically linked with another model, who was Jewish, but the relationship ended quickly. Britney Spears has often been seen wearing a Star of David necklace, and she also has a Hebrew tattoo on the back of her neck. What does the tattoo say?

Britney Spears

Britney Spears Domination Announcement by Afq Aden is in the public domain,

AThe tattoo says אין סוף, Ein Sof, which means “the Infinite,” which is a name that Kabbalists use to refer to God.

BThe tattoo says יצחק, Yitchak, which is the Hebrew name of Isaac Cohen, the Jewish model she was dating at the time.

CThe tattoo was supposed to read שלום, Shalom, meaning peace. She says she chose this tattoo to help her focus on inner peace as she struggled with her many public legal and health issues. But in fact, the tattoo actually reads שלוס, Shalos, because the tattoo artist incorrectly inked the letter ס, Samech, instead of the similar looking correct letter, ם, Mem Sofit.

DThe tattoo reads המש, the Hebrew letters Hey, Mem, Shin, which she says means “healing” (though that is not accurate).

EThe tattoo reads אופס אעשיתי את זה שוב, Oops, Asiti et zeh shuv, which means “Oops, I did it again.”

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Jerry Nadler & Carolyn Maloney

A court-ordered redistricting in New York has resulted in two current Democratic members of Congress having to run against each other, as the newly-drawn district borders now encompass both of their residences. Jerry Nadler’s 10th district is primarily based on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, while Maloney’s 12th district is centered on the Upper East Side. The newly configured 12th Congressional District covers both sides of uptown Manhattan. Both candidates have strong connections to the large Jewish community in the district. When Nadler was seen on C-Span carrying a bag from Zabar’s, a famous Upper West Side appetizing store, his spokesman said that the bag contained “A babka and the Constitution, what else?”. Maloney has touted her authorship of the Never Again Education Act, providing support and funding for Holocaust education. But Maloney made a gaffe recently when she attempted to prove her bona fides to Upper West Side Jews by referring to another dining institution in that neighborhood, the Jewish-style deli and appetizing store Barney Greengrass. What did she incorrectly call that store?

Jerry Nadler & Carolyn Maloney

Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney by U.S. House Office of Photography are in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

ABarney Crabgrass.

BBarney Green Beans.

CGrassroots.

DMr. Green Jeans.

EBarney Rubble.

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Don McLean

Don McLean, the singer/songwriter best known for his song American Pie, was scheduled to perform at the National NRA convention last weekend in Houston but he withdrew following the horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. McLean stated that because of that tragedy “it would be disrespectful and hurtful” for him to perform. McLean has a number of Jewish connections in his life, most notably his song Dreidel, with the lyrics “I feel like a spinning top or a dreidel/The spinning don’t stop when you leave the cradle.” What is another Jewish connection in McLean’s life?

Don McLean

Don McLean at Westport 2009 bAlan Howard is licensed under CC BY 2.0

AIn the late 1970’s, McLean was in a long-term relationship with Orly Sarfati, an Israeli army sergeant. Said McLean later, “We had a great time together. I knew her family, and I enjoyed her and the country very much.”

B. At the behest of Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, McLean appeared in a promotional film about the city for which he wrote a song titled “Jerusalem.” Among the lyrics are the lines “Jerusalem is old, Jerusalem is new./Jerusalem can hold, Moslem, Christian, Jew.”

C. McLean’s Jewish former wife of 27 years, Patrisha McLean, obtained a restraining order against the singer in 2016 after she accused him of trying to strangle her. She also claimed that he abused her in many other ways, including calling her a “hebe,” a claim which he denied.

DMcLean included the song By the Waters of Babylon (written by Philip Hayes) on his album American Pie, and he regularly performed the song when touring. Among the lyrics are the lines “By the waters, the waters of Babylon/We sat down and wept, and wept for thee, Zion.”

EPrior to writing the song Dreidel, McLean toyed with other Jewish themes to the same tune. Among the lyrics he wrote but never released were:

I feel like a matzah ball, a kneidel./I'm boiling in the soup, sitting in the ladle.

I feel like a slab of meat, a pastrami./I ate the whole thing, my gut's a tsunami.

I feel like an old grandma, or a bubby./I’m eating lots of kugel, I'm feeling chubby.

I feel like a fried potato, a latke./I need to chill out, gotta get me vodka.

I feel like a duck foie gras, or chopped liver./I’m floating in the sun on the Jordan River.

I feel like a giant meal, or a seder./I’ve eaten all the food in the refrigerator.

I feel like a holy book, or a Torah./Except the chapter on Sodom and Gomorrah.


Feel free to write your own…

or

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Amar’e Stoudemire

Former NBA all-star Amar’e Stoudemire started his professional career in 2002 with the Phoenix Suns, where he won the NBA Rookie of the Year honor. He later played for the New York Knicks, the Dallas Mavericks, and the Miami Heat. He retired from the NBA in 2016, and then played for Hapoel Jerusalem and most recently for Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he earned the Israeli Basketball Premier League Finals MVP honors. While living in Israel, Stoudemire began the process of converting to Judaism, which culminated in his final meeting with the Bet Din (the religious court) and a visit to the mikve (the ritual bath) in August 2020. For the last two years, Stoudemire has served as an assistant coach for player development with the Brooklyn Nets, but he just announced his resignation from that position. Why did he decide to leave that job?

Amar'e Stoudemire

Israel-Amar'e Stoudemire is in the public domain.

AStoudemire announced that he would be making aliyah, moving permanently to Israel, where he is a part owner of the Hapoel Jerusalem Basketball Club.

BStoudemire had a number of conflicts with current Nets player Kylie Irving. Irving refused to be vaccinated against COVID, leading the Nets to bench him for much of the last season. While this was at the center of tension between Stoudemire and Irving, Stoudemire said that their relationship was complicated by the fact that Irving is a Muslim and Stoudemire is Jewish. Stoudemire said that it was best if he removed himself from this situation so that Irving can repair his relationship with team management.

C. Traditionally, after a Nets home victory, the team would go to dinner at Brooklyn’s historic Peter Luger Steakhouse. Stoudemire has transitioned to a kosher diet since his conversion, and he decided that his not eating at these get-togethers was bad for team morale.

DStoudemire said that his observance of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, conflicted with his ability to do his job well, as he could not be available to the team on Friday nights and Saturdays.

EA primary part of Stoudemire’s job of player development is to work with players on their basketball skills, in particular through scrimmages that Stoudemire would participate in. But as he became more religious, he decided that whenever he fouled another player, he needed to recite the Jewish prayers of forgiveness, including the “Al Cheyt” prayer stating, “And for the sin that we have sinned before You through wronging a neighbor.” Stoudemire found that because he committed so many fouls, he was spending too much time in prayer rather than helping the team members improve, so he turned in his resignation.

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Lag B’Omer

Lag B’Omer will be celebrated this Thursday. The name of the holiday means “the 33rd day of the Omer,” a period which begins on the second day of Passover. Counting the Omer historically references the harvesting of the new barley crop to be brought to the Temple, and the counting is a 49-day period ending on the holiday of Shavuot. The days of the Omer are also considered a mourning period, commemorating the massacre of Rabbi Akiva and his disciples during the Crusades, along with other tragic events in Jewish history. But Lag B’Omer is the exception, the one day during the Omer period which is considered a joyful day. What is one unintended negative consequence of the celebrations that take place in Israel on Lag B’Omer?

First traditional hair cutting

Traditional Hair Cutting by Government Press Office (Israel) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

AOne of the ways that Lag B’Omer is celebrated is with picnics and bonfires throughout Israel. However, as a result, the level of air pollution on this holiday has increased more than tenfold as a consequence of the bonfire smoke.

B. A Lag B’Omer tradition is for children to play with bows and arrows on that date. One of the explanations for this custom is that under Roman rule after the destruction of the Temple, students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai would go into the woods and shoot bows and arrows. But this was just a cover for their time secretly studying Torah, which the Romans forbade. Sadly, in Israel, there is a significant increase of eye injuries on this holiday resulting from the toy bows and arrows which so many children are shooting at each other.

C. Every year on Lag B’Omer, the number 033 is selected by tens of thousands of Israelis in one of the games sponsored by Mifal HaPais, Israel’s national lottery. The number is chosen because “Lag” is an acronym of the letters Lamed and Gimel, the Hebrew equivalent of the number 33. In 2020, 033 was the winning number, leading Mifal HaPais to pay out record sums of shekels to the many winners, leading to the first year in lottery history that the games actually lost money.

DOne Lag B’Omer tradition is that many Orthodox boys receive their first haircut on the Lag B’Omer holiday following their third birthday. One unfortunate result is a significant increase in plumbing problems in Orthodox neighborhoods as so much hair is flushed down drains by families performing this ritual.

ELag B’Omer is the one day during the 49-day Omer period in which marriages can be performed. As a result, there are typically thousands of weddings scheduled in Israel, placing great stress on businesses in the wedding industry. One example is the kosher caterers, whose purchases have led to shortages of kosher meat for weeks following the holiday. This has led to the tradition of serving dairy food on Shavuot at the end of the Omer period, since there is no meat available.

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Laws & Judaism

Federal, state, and local authorities regularly consider and pass legislation that impacts Jews, as do authorities in other countries as well. What recent controversial legislation has gotten the attention of some in the Jewish community?

Constitution of the United States

Constitution of the United States of America (3679492168) from The U.S. National Archives is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A. The Supreme Court is apparently on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade, the law guaranteeing women the right to an abortion. Most Jews and Jewish authorities support this right, as Judaism does not view life as beginning at conception. The state of Texas passed Senate Bill 8 last September, greatly restricting women’s access to abortion. The law bans most abortions after 6 weeks, as opposed to the standard set in Roe v. Wade, which generally allows abortion during the first 20 or so weeks of pregnancy. One Texas legislator, when speaking in favor of the law, stated, “It says in the Bible that God worked 6 days, and then he rested. With this law, abortion doctors can work 6 weeks, after which they must rest. Or be arrested.”

B. Many states have passed laws in recent months decriminalizing, and even legalizing, the use of marijuana. In Exodus 30:22-24, it says, “Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Take thou also unto thee the chief spices, of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty, and of kaneh-bosem two hundred and fifty...’ ” It has been suggested by some that kaneh-bosem is actually marijuana, and that this is the derivation of the word cannabis. YIVO (The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research) has just mounted an exhibit at their New York gallery about Jews and marijuana entitled, Am Yisrael High.

C. Along the lines of Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, a New York state senator representing Crown Heights in Brooklyn, home to many Chassidic communities, has introduced similar legislation. The Chassidic community wants to be able to control any discussions about homosexuality or other sexual identity issues in their day schools. Chassidic Jews and most other Orthodox Jews see homosexuality as a sin, based on Leviticus 18:22 which states, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination.” The proposed New York law is being referred to on social media as the “Don’t Pray Gay” law.

DMany state and local authorities in the United States have passed laws banning the teaching of critical race theory (CRT). CRT views United States social institutions such as criminal justice, housing, and healthcare as embedded in racism, going back to the role of slavery in the history of this country. But opponents have expanded that view to criticize CRT, claiming that it casts all white people as racists. In Israel, the far-right Otzma Yehudit political party has introduced legislation based on anti-CRT laws, calling for a ban in Israel of any teaching in schools about the plight of the Palestinians, claiming that this is an effort to paint all Israelis as racist. Speaking about this issue, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson recently said, “We shouldn’t be surprised that the same people who are calling you and me racist would also be calling Israelis racist.”

EMany European countries have passed, or are considering legislation banning the kosher ritual slaughtering of meat. Some believe that this method of slaughter is not humane, and advocate for first stunning the animals, which is not allowed in kosher slaughter. In Belgium there has been much debate about this issue, with some municipalities passing such legislation while others have failed to do so, leading to a headline in the International Herald Tribune reading “Belgian Waffles on Kosher Meat.”

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Passover Gaffe

Passover 2022 is over, with a number of seders making the news. Vice president Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff hosted a seder at their residence at the Naval Observatory. Meanwhile many Ukrainian Jews celebrated seders in exile, while Jews world-wide added prayers for peace for the embattled country. In the United States, controversy surrounded a Passover product which was offered for sale before the holiday. What was that product?

Szyk Haggadah

szyk_Lo_Adonai bKaren is licensed under CC BY 2.0

AKosher Plus, a food supply company in Manhattan, offered many kosher for Passover products, including jams, candy, and tomato sauce. However, there was a mixup with their supplier in Indonesia who, based on language confusion, supplied a horseradish product that actually contained an extract from horses.

B. An alliance of young hipster Jews in Brooklyn called Broo-Jews offered a seder plate, created by one of their members, for sale on Etsy. But the plate was missing the section for Hazeret, a spot where most Jews place lettuce. Said a Broo-Jew spokesperson, “We’ve already got the Karpas slot for the parsley. No one I know could explain why there’s room for another green. Not even my rabbi. So we dumped it.” Some traditional Jews purchased the plate and were very surprised when they realized it was missing that section, and they posted angry reviews on Etsy’s website.

C. Impossible Foods created a gefilte fish based on their other non-meat products. The Impossible Gefilte, like their other products, closely mimics the flavor of the original product, yet is vegan and kosher/pareve. However, the company received criticism when they tweeted, “Impossible gefilte fish–no catfish were killed to create this product.” Apparently the person who wrote the tweet was not aware of what fish are typically used in gefilte fish, not to mention that catfish is not a kosher fish.

DKosher-Dekel, a New Jersey based company, offered a peel-and-stick product, designed to be easily applied to kitchen countertops, making the counters usable during Passover. The product adheres with a glue similar to that on Post-It notes, making removal extremely easy. Except that an error by the manufacturer of the product led to many consumer being unable to remove the paper, or ending up with torn shreds still sticking to countertops.

EWonderWords, a greeting card company, produces a line of Jewish-themed cards under the name Schmooze Views. Among the cards they placed on store racks this year was a Passover card which on the outside read, “May your Passover joy rise, though your matzah should not.” However, there was an unnoticed  printing error, where the inside message on the card was swapped with one on an Easter greeting card. Thus, the inside message, instead of saying “Rejoice together on Passover,” showed a picture of Jesus with the message, “Rejoice. He is risen.”

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