Tag Archives: Jon Stewart

The Israeli Daily Show

By Daniel Hoffman

The controversial educational video from the Israeli Ministry of Education opens with a kindergarten teacher asking tough questions “to prepare the children for the complicated life in Israel.”  Shockingly, the tots reply straight off with traditional right-wing arguments. When the teacher wonders what Israel needs to have peace, the answers come from all sides. “There’s no one to talk on the other side!” one cutie cries. “I got to be a leftist but I became disillusioned,” another admits. “It’s proven, removing settlements doesn’t bring peace,” a third says. The video goes on, parodying many clichés of Likud rhetoric, such as the world’s hostility toward Israel and the country’s famous “PR problem.”

The hilarious skit is an excerpt from the comedy show Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country), broadcast on Channel 2 since 2003. One of the most influential TV programs in Israel, it gathers one million viewers every Friday night, more than 50 percent of the television audience. Like The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live, the show is a humorous reflection on Israeli society in its most ludicrous and laughable aspects. No burning issue (the conflict, the religious tensions, the political mess) and no side (left, right, Israelis, Palestinians) are spared by the writers’ caustic pens. In a country where anguish and tensions are ubiquitous, the black humour and satire Eretz Nehederet brings is a weekly relief for many.

Many clips from Eretz Nehederet have gone viral on the ‘net. A few years ago,  the show made fun of French tourists, depicting them invading Israeli beaches during summer and creating a buzz among the French Jewish community. Another famous clip is this spoof on the dancing Na Nachs, and this brilliant video from last November, watched 360,000 times on YouTube, parodies the failed peace negotiations, using characters from the iPhone app Angry Birds to “embody” Israelis and Palestinians.

Like its American counterparts, the show mocks the grotesque and the absurd in political discourses, helping citizens better understand the thorny issues and have a somewhat more sane, more relaxed debate about them. They are not “just for fun” programs; they fulfill an important social role, greasing the wheels of political debate.

Eretz Nehederet also highlights a paradox of diaspora Jewry. Connoisseurs of Israeli culture and society know that there is no other place in the world where the criticism against politicians, the army and religion is so virulent as in Israel. Yet it is in the diaspora that Jews find it difficult to distance themselves from these topics. Even if they rarely agree with everything Israel does or says, many diaspora Jews think that they have to defend it to restore the balance (See Moment‘s “From the Editor” on the difficulties of discussing Israel within the American Jewish community).

Israelis don’t feel this type of obligation at all. On the contrary, they use
self-deprecating humor and self-criticism as a weapon. A weapon that
helps them preserve and strengthen their most important asset:
democratic vitality. It is a “wonderful country,” indeed.

At Sanity Rally, Sense Through Satire

By Symi Rom-Rymer

In the weeks leading up to last Saturday’s Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, the media world was practically falling over itself trying to analyze, explain, and dissect the event before it even happened.  Pundits were asking each other, what it will it mean for the midterm elections, what did it mean about the state of centrist politics, is Jon Stewart preparing for a political campaign, will it draw more crowds than Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor, and most importantly, will it be a success?  Today, having almost fully recovered from being crushed morning ‘til night by 214,000 of my closest friends, I can unequivocally answer, I don’t know, I don’t know, I certainly hope so, and it seems that way.  As for the rally’s success, the answer is yes.

Initially, it was a bit of a letdown.  The musical guests, ranging from Cat Stevens to Tony Bennett, while eclectic, didn’t translate well to the crowds.  At one point during the performance of gospel singer Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy, leader of the band Wilco, the people around me were less excited about the singers than watching someone trying to climb a tree for a better view.  And some of the Stewart/Colbert shtick like the “sanity” and “fear” award ceremony or the mock debate between Stewart and Colbert soon lost steam to a mixture of painful silliness of some of the content, the enormity of the crowds, the poor sound, and too few jumbotrons.

And yet what did translate across the Mall, despite the technical difficulties and general goofiness, was the core impetus for the rally: to demonstrate frustration, but sanely.   People came from California to Maine to Alaska and willingly stood jammed shoulder to shoulder for three hours, to not just have a few laughs, listen to some nice music and go home.  They came to support the idea that despite shouting voices that too often dominate the political and journalistic landscape, there truly is more that brings us together than pushes us apart.  This spirit was best exemplified during Father Guido Sarducci’s benediction when he asks God to name his favorite religion and Sarducci’s suggestion that “someone could say to [Jews and Muslims], ‘They don’t eat pork, you don’t eat pork.  Let’s build on that” drew the loudest cheers and shouts from the crowd.

Perhaps some pundits have declared the rally a failure because it did not sufficiently energize the democratic or even centrist base to vote or because it was unclear what the ralliers were rallying for.  Indeed, the apolitical nature of the rally was almost shocking given that both Stewart’s and Colbert’s show seem to lean left both in audience and in content.  But standing there, in the midst of the crowd, there seemed to be little doubt as to the message that the hosts wanted to impart.  This was not a rally to whip people up, but rather to calm them down.  In echoes of President Obama’s post-partisan campaign, Stewart, in his closing speech, acknowledged the legitimacy of both the Tea Party-ers and Progressives and separated their rhetoric from those of real bigots.  “There are terrorists, and racists, and Stalinists, and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned! You must have the resume!” he declared.  “Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Party-ers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult–not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. “

In the wake of the rally, many people are suggesting that Stewart run for office; including Washington Post On Leadership columnist Jena McGregor who wrote that Stewart’s leadership skills outstrip those of real politicians.  But we don’t need another politician.  What we do need is a 21st century jester who is not afraid to poke fun at the theatrical pompousness of political leaders and media personalities all the while demonstrating a cunning mastery of the issues.  We need someone whose job it is not to pander or bloviate, but rather who can effectively take on the aptly dubbed, “24-hour, political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator.”  So far, neither political leaders nor media commentators seem up to the task.  So we have no choice but to turn to comedians and satirists, as people often do in times of crises, to help us make sense of our situation and offer us the opportunity to laugh at our struggles.   And as the throngs on the Mall demonstrate, I am not alone.

Symi Rom-Rymer writes and blogs about Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and Europe.

Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly and the Jewish Question

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Perhaps the winter weather is making people a little crazy or perhaps liberals, fed up with current political narrative, are just itching to remove the gloves.  Whatever the reason, a willingness to venture onto Republican turf has been on the rise these past few weeks.  First, there was President Obama who, in a riveting piece of political theater, took on the House Republicans during their annual retreat in Baltimore.  Then, just a few days ago, Jon Stewart appeared on Fox as a guest of Bill O’Reilly.

(Can someone explain to me why he is so popular?  Political views aside, he comes across as so condescending and self-righteous—why do viewers find that appealing?  Or is he just that way when non-Republicans are on his show?  If someone could let me know without my having to watch more of him, that would be much appreciated). Continue reading

An Interest in Hanukkah? Jon Stewart Sings!

By Mandy Katz

Hanukah caroler Jon Stewart

Hanukkah caroler Jon Stewart

“Can I Interest You in Hanukkah?” may be the first ever TV ditty sung a due by Jon Stewart and fellow faux-newsie Stephen Colbert. It’s part of Colbert’s upcoming TV special, A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All, airing Sunday on Comedy Central. Audio of the duet aired yesterday on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air — you can hear it on the show’s website (click “Listen Now” and skip to minute 7:07). Sample lyric: “Yes, indeed, 8 days of presents, which means one nice one, then a week of dreck.”

Colbert, the show’s host and self-described “broadcasting legend,” also sings his own original carols. After all, the crusty newsman explains, perched on a piano bench in a cozy cardigan sweater, every time we hear one of those other, familiar, Yuletide standards, “someone else gets the royalty check. That doesn’t sound like Christmas to me.”

Colbert’s got some stage chops you would never have guessed at: a little soft-shoe, a cozy baritone. Stewart’s voice, too, isn’t half-bad. But he’s no Joseph Shlisky.

Photo by ninjapoodles.

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The Forward 50: 2008 Jews of the Year

By Jeremy Gillick

The Forward has published its annual list of America’s 50 most important Jews: the Forward 50.

f50-remanuel-081Winners include Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s newly appointed Chief of Staff, about whom you can read here.

There’s also Morris Allen, a Conservative Rabbi from Minnesota who helped re-invent kashrut as a moral rather than merely legal imperative, just as Agriprocessors, America’s largest kosher meat producer, sunk deeper and deeper into sin, exploitation and eventually, bankruptcy.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of the new, liberal Jewish, Israel lobby group J-Street, is at the top of the list too. Although this choice is perhaps more a reflection of the Forward‘s editorial stance than of Ben-Ami’s success, the creation of a viable alternative to AIPAC is, at the very least, a major symbolic accomplishment. And it could become much more than that. Here’s what Moment columnist Eric Alterman had to say about J-Street back in July. Continue reading

November/December Issue of Moment

200811-mom_web_cover1It’s on newsstands now!

The election is over. Take a deep breath. Now, curl up at home with the new issue of Moment.

First you’ll meet Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, aka Jon Stewart. Even with an anglicized name, the Daily Show host is still the quintessential Jewish boy from Jersey. He may also be the perfect Jewish ambassador for our times—smart but not arrogant, extremely funny but not mean—a valedictorian, most popular, best-looking and class clown all wrapped into one. In this exclusive cover story, discover Stewart’s Jewish background and beliefs, and hear from family members, teachers and friends.

In the spirit of Jewish Book Month, we asked co-founder Elie Wiesel and other Nobel laureates Eric Kandel, Avram Hershko, Martin Perl, Robert Solow, Robert Aumann, Eric Maskin, Sidney Altman and Roger Myerson to reflect on their favorites. Our book section, edited by Mike Levitas, former editor of The New York Times Sunday Book Review and op-ed page, includes renowned cookbook author Joan Nathan’s take on Maria Balinska’s history of The Bagel. And don’t miss Allan Nadler’s review of Joel Kraemer’s Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization’s Greatest Minds. Plus, we present the winners of our fiction contest.

Happy reading!

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This Week’s Links

This week’s links are blissfully non-political. Enjoy:

— Angelina Jolie, who gave birth to twins in Paris on Saturday, has a Jewish obstetrician. Dr. Michel Sussmann was pleased the babies were born on a Shabbos: “The delivery was very emotional and exceptional as Ms. Jolie is a superstar, but I think that it happened on Shabbat made it that much more moving.”

— The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts, only the second professional kosher school in the world, and the only one in North America, is up and running in Flatbush, NY.

— An old Jon Stewart video has surfaced from 1999 (via Dovbear). The young (and in-need-of-a-haircut) Stewart pokes fun at a screaming match between Orthodox and Reform Jews at the Western Wall.

— Are you afraid of the decline of denim styles? Not to worry, Israeli designer Nathan Menashe (Freedom of Choice) has it under control.

— Sacha Baron Cohen (Da Ali G show, Borat) has an Oscar vote!

— Looks like you might have to put that nose job you were planning on hold. Judaism apparently frowns on cosmetic surgery.

The Huffington Post satirizes the contentious New Yorker cover. (Oops. Did we say no politics?)

Benjamin Schuman-Stoler


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