Who knew? New York's coolest Jews share their views on the High Holy Days

Matisyahu talks about his son's love for honey, while R&B star Ari Gold complains about hosts who dribble it before passing it around the table.

September 28, 2008 15:58
3 minute read.
Matisyahu 88 224

Matisyahu 88 224. (photo credit: AP/Wide World)


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Who knew? The shofar reminds former New York City mayor Ed Koch of an Australian didgeridoo. Rachel Sklar, a columnist for the left-wing online newspaper The Huffington Post, thinks it would be funny to hold up her cell phone and sing out "No-kee-aahh" when the congregation calls for tekiya. And the comedian Yisrael Campbell, an Irish Catholic who converted and made aliya six years ago, can't elicit more than a hollow whistle from a ram's horn, despite the black hat and sidecurls he wears. "So Jewish-looking, but he can't blow a shofar," Campbell quipped to the makers of Holy Dazed, a new interview series debuting just in time for Rosh Hashana on the American cable network The Jewish Channel. While the channel is often called "the Jewish HBO," the program looks more like something that would be more at home on the Jewish Vh1: A carefully selected minyan from across the landscape of contemporary pop culture cracking jokes about brisket and sharing clever High Holy Day resolutions in front of bright neon backdrops. Like any good cable show, Holy Dazed lingers on topics like sex and drugs - interviewees compare the shame of not being able to "get off a good blow" on the shofar to failing in bed, and bemoan the replacement of booze with food in the Jewish New Year tradition - but the overall effect is sweet: It gives people known for being flip and crass space to talk about their Jewishness. Sklar reminisces about the extra whole onions her mother used to throw in the chicken soup for her to eat. Ultra-Orthodox reggae star Matisyahu talks about how much his young son adores honey in all forms, while gay Jewish R&B star Ari Gold complains about hosts who dribble honey on halla before passing it around the table. "I never liked honey on halla," says Gold, whose tough mohawk haircut belies his ability to lapse into Hebrew and Yiddish phrases. "It annoys me when people serve halla and they put the honey on before they ask you whether you actually want the honey on the halla." In one episode, titled simply "Sin and Forgiveness," more than a dozen participants chatter about their plans for this year's atonement. New York magazine senior editor Jesse Oxfeld, reading from a prayer book, cheerfully admits he has scorned, but says he has "not engaged in any rebellion this year." "I don't think I'll be atoning for anything terribly specific this year, just, you know, a general sort of hedonism," he added. "Guilt is why I fast," American comedian Jon Fisch deadpans. "I have an entire section of my closet for when I see my mother." Koch chimes in with the wisdom of age. "Remember, we do it only once a year and Catholics in particular do it every week," he tells the camera, shrugging slightly. The shows are planned to coincide with holidays throughout the year on cable and online, said Steven I. Weiss, director of original programming for Compass Productions, parent company of The Jewish Channel. The interview format was designed to attract a hip, urban audience - the sort of people who might be surprised to find that Maer Roshan, editor-in-chief of the sly pop-gossip magazine Radar and an enfant terrible of the Manhattan media scene, used to be able to blow a shofar before his pack-a-day cigarette habit threw him out of practice. "These are not Jewish celebrities, these are celebrities who happen to be Jewish," Weiss said. "These are people who are paid to be cynics about everything, but they're like, 'The High Holy Days? I dig that.'" Which isn't to say the cynicism is ever far away: These are, after all, the coolest kids in the shul. "I like to imagine that, uh, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson celebrate the holidays together, having a pillow fight," says writer Daniel Radosh in the closing credits of one show. "Yes, they're atoning. For their sins... Did you get Scarlett? Is she gonna be here later?"

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