In a week in which Hollywood and New York exhibit poor taste, Israel shines.
Once upon a time (last week at the Oscars, to be precise), a cute little stuffed bear (dressed in a mini tuxedo) named Ted (voiced by Oscar host Seth Macfarlane), got up on a stool, stood next his film co-star Mark Wahlberg, and engaged in some controversial Oscar banter.
Ted: Look at all this talent, all this talent in one spot.
There’s Daniel Day-Lewis... there’s Alan Arkin... there’s Joaquin Phoenix. And you know what’s interesting? All those actors I just named are part-Jewish.
Mark Wahlberg: Oh. Ok.
Ted: What about you? You got a ‘berg’ at the end of your name. Are you Jewish? Wahlberg: Am I Jewish? No, actually, I’m Catholic.
Ted: (whispering) Wrong Answer. Try again.
Wahlberg: What? Ted: (still whispering) Do you want to work in this town or don’tcha? (to audience) That’s interesting, Mark, because I am Jewish.
Wahlberg: No you’re not.
Ted: I am. I am. I was born Theodore Shapiro and I would like to donate money to Israel and continue to work in Hollywood forever. Thank you, I’m Jewish.
Wahlberg: You’re an idiot.
Ted: Yeah, well, we’ll see who the idiot is when they give me a private plane at the next secret synagogue meeting.
And so the next day, Monday, The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a statement criticizing the sketch.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti- Defamation League, said in the statement: “While we have come to expect inappropriate ‘Jews control Hollywood’ jokes from Seth MacFarlane, what he did at the Oscars was offensive and not remotely funny. It only reinforces stereotypes which legitimize anti-Semitism. It is sad and disheartening that the Oscars awards show sought to use anti-Jewish stereotypes for laughs.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Marvin Hier, added: “The Oscars are transmitted to every corner of the globe, even to such places where such hateful myths are believed as fact. Every comedian is entitled to wide latitude, but no one should get a free pass for helping to promote anti-Semitism.”
The statement continued with the League accusing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of failing to show “greater sensitivity” by allowing the sketch to be aired during the show.
Our story could, and possibly should, have ended right there. Seth Macfarlane has already stated that he has no intention to host the Oscars again (and would he even be asked to?) so perhaps we can all move on.
Or so you’d think.
OUR STORY now moves to the East Coast where another bear (well in Hebrew his name, “Dov,” means “bear”), well-known New York Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who also happens to be a kippah-wearing orthodox Jew, got himself into hot water that same weekend with his unfortunate choice for a Purim costume.
Hikind wore the costume, consisting of blackface, an Afro wig and a basketball jersey, to a costume party at his own Purim party at his home. At first Hikind vigorously defended his costume, saying he didn’t mean to hurt anyone.
When Hikind was harshly criticized, he initially dismissed it as “political correctness to the absurd.” But later, however, at a news conference outside his Brooklyn home, Hikind pledged to be “a little more careful, a little more sensitive.” He added: “I repeat, it was not meant to in any way hurt anyone. And those that were? I’m sorry.
That was not my intention.”
Assemblyman Karim Camara of the state Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus had called Hikind’s actions at the party “callous and repugnant.”
“It brings back the memories of African-Americans being reduced to buffoonery just to gain access to the entertainment industry,” said Camara, who is also a Brooklyn Democrat and a black leader in the New York state legislature.
Hikind represents the 48th district in New York, which includes the strongly Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Borough Park and Midwood. But there are also black residents of these neighborhoods, as well as numerous residents with the good conscience to be disgusted at such ignorance by an elected politician.
The irony, of course, is that Hikind has a history of quickly accusing organizations and individuals of anti- Semitism. In fact, earlier this month, Hikind criticized fashion designer John Galliano, who was recently photographed in New York City dressing as a Hassid with a long jacket and curly sidelocks. Two years ago, Galliano was fired from Christian Dior after his anti-Semitic rant was caught on video. Hikind demanded an explanation from Galliano for his costume.
“If it was just anyone else, I wouldn’t know what to say. But considering who this guy is, considering his background and what he’s said in the past, let him explain it to all of us: Are you mocking us?” Hikind told the New York Post.
On January 31, Hikind asked the president of Brooklyn College to resign for failing to stop an event he said had a racist agenda. He wrote on his blog at the time that the “BDS Movement Against Israel” event called for a unilateral boycott against Israel and Israeli businesses.
SO, OUR story has a little bit of everything: anti-Semitic jokes, racist costumes, accusations and weak apologies.
All that’s missing is a happy ending. Can one be found? The happy ending comes from Israel, of all places, in last week’s crowning of Ms. Israel. The winner of the beauty pageant was none other than Yityish Aynaw, a former Israeli army officer, who became the first Ethiopian- Israeli to win the Miss Israel pageant. Aynaw, a 21-yearold model, came to Israel about a decade ago when she was 12 along with her brother after their parents had passed away. Acclimating to Israel was difficult at first, but she picked up the language quickly with the help of a friend. During the competition, Aynaw cited the slain American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. as one of her heroes.
“He fought for justice and equality, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here: I want to show that my community has many pretty qualities that aren’t always represented in the media,” she said.
“It’s important that a member of the Ethiopian community wins the competition for the first time,” she was quoted by Israeli media as telling the judges in response to a question. “There are many different communities of many different colors in Israel, and it’s important to show that to the world.”
And who knows how this “fairy tale” might end. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few weeks time we see our first ever Ethiopian-born Ms. Israel being photographed with the first ever African-American US president, Barack Obama, when he visits Israel later this month.
Now there’s a photo op that Ted and Dov could only wish for! The author has an MA in creative writing from Bar-Ilan University.