Showing posts with label Sarah Silverman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sarah Silverman. Show all posts

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving: The U.S., Canada and Israel

In a recent video, comedian Seth Rogen complained that he was deprived of celebrating Thanksgiving while growing up in Canada because he was Jewish:

There is actually some truth to this.  For the most part, Canadian Jews do not normally celebrate Thanksgiving.  But there are some reasons for this.  Canadian Thanksgiving differs from American Thanksgiving in at least two key respects. 

1.  Timing.  Timing can be everything.  Canadian Thanksgiving is much earlier in the year than American Thanksgiving.  It takes place in mid-October.  If you happen to be Jewish, that might create some problems.  Thanksgiving can fall on Yom Kippur, on Sukkot or on other Jewish Holy Days.  It might be Rosh Hashanah or it might be Simchat Torah.  So trying to celebrate an annual holiday of festive eating might be quite problematic if it frequently occurs on Yom Kippur, a fast day.  Jewish people are not the only one with the concerns.  October Thanksgiving can also coincide with the Hindu holiday of Diwali or even the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.  Since Diwali, like Jewish holidays, runs according to a solar-adjusted lunar calendar, Diwali is much more likely to fall on Thanksgiving.  Overall, having the holiday take place in mid-October is bound to create problems for some religious and cultural groups.

2.  Multi-Culturalism.  Canadian Thanksgiving has simply never reached the status of a universally celebrated holiday in the way that American Thanksgiving has.  Perhaps the fact that it is on a Monday rather than a Thursday influences its national status.  But I think it has much more to do with the fact that Canada is more of a multicultural society than a melting pot.  There is little sense that Thanksgiving is truly a "national" holiday as it is in the U.S.  There is no real sense, in Canada, that one must celebrate Thanksgiving to be "Canadian."   Seth Rogen jokingly complains in his video that his parents told him that Jews did not celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada.  He says that they "lied to him."  But his parents were probably right.  As he points out, he really only came to celebrate Thanksgiving when he moved to the U.S., where Thanksgiving is one of the two or three most universally celebrated national holidays.  While I know one or two Jewish Canadians who actually have a Thanksgiving dinner, the vast majority of Jewish people do not celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada.

What About Israel?

There is a significant expatriate American community in Israel and many of them are more than happy to celebrate Thanksgiving.  After all, there is something appealing about the notion of a family-oriented holiday that emphasizes giving thanks for all of the great things we are able to enjoy in our lives.  While living in Israel, we have been invited to a few Thanksgiving dinners in Israel, hosted by Americans - or at least couples with one American spouse.  Any time I have the opportunity to get together with friends and family and eat turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and pumpkin soup (all kosher, of course) - while drinking some great wine - I am hard pressed to pass up that kind of evening.

Some Israelis I know are somewhat opposed to the idea.  If Thanksgiving represents the thanks, as they see it, for the great life in America, how can that be reconciled with the Zionist dream and the notion that Israel is the true homeland of the Jewish people?  Interesting question.  But let's face it - it is hard to deny that the United States is truly one of the greatest nations in the world.  The vibrancy of its democracy, the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the struggle to achieve greater equality are all values promoted by the United States and its ideals.  These are wonderful concepts that are worth celebrating.  Americans are lucky and blessed to be living in a free society.  I don't see a clash between Jewish values and the celebration of Thanksgiving.  As Seth Rogen points out in his video, people get together with their close friends and family, eat a lot and then complain.  What could be more Jewish?

Perhaps Canada will move its version of Thanksgiving to coincide with the American celebration. That would certainly make it more likely that it would be more widely celebrated in the Jewish community.  After all, Canadians also have much to celebrate with the opportunity to live in a truly free society.  But I'm not sure that Israelis will ever really embrace the idea.  We already have so many Jewish holidays.  In Israel, we can wait a few more weeks and start eating donuts and potato latkes while lighting candles and celebrating Chanukah.  Besides, good turkeys are much harder to come by in Israel.  (By the way, Thanksgiving actually took place on the first night of Chanukah last year, leading many American Jews to come up with Thanksgukah recipes....)

But for the closing word on Thanksgiving, I have to defer to potty-mouthed comedian Sarah Silverman (2010 video), who has a different take on the holiday (You tube has apparently taken the video down - so here is a working link).  (It is worth watching...)

Although her video is crude at parts, Sarah Silverman manages to touch on some very important topics including cruelty to animals, vegetarianism and the American historical treatment of America's Native communities.  These are issues that resonate for many Americans as they celebrate the holiday.  But although Thanksgiving is becoming overrun with Black Friday hype and shopping craziness, there is still much to be said for a holiday that causes people to think about the many things in life for which they are or should be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who are celebrating it - in the U.S., Canada, Israel - and anywhere else.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sarah Silverman's Election Videos and the Exchange with Yaakov Rosenblatt

Comedian Sarah Silverman can be quite raunchy and sometimes downright offensive.  But some of her publicity stunts in connection with this year's upcoming Presidential election have generated quite a bit of hype.  In one video, Let My People Vote, she agitates against voter ID laws that were actually put forward in some U.S. states.  The campaign against these laws has apparently achieved partial victories in Pennsylvania and Mississippi.  In another video, an Indecent Proposal she offers Republican donor Sheldon Adelson sexual favours if he would only be willing to contribute his $100 million to Obama instead of Romney. 

The videos have attracted quite a bit of attention.  In an Open Letter in the Jewish Press printed on October 11, 2012, Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt attacked Silverman for using "biblical language" in her campaign.  Although the initial focus of Rosenblatt's letter was, ostensibly, Silverman's use of crude language, he shifted to the real purpose of his attack on Silverman - her failure to marry and have children.  If there was any basis for criticizing Silverman's admittedly crude videos, it was so dramatically undermined by Rosenblatt's transparent attack on Silverman as a career minded woman rather than on any other aspect of her productions, that the thrust of the attack was rendered impotent.

Numerous letter writers skewered Rosenblatt.  But most forcefully, Silverman's dad wrote a letter back to Rosenblatt which was printed in the Jewish Press.  He included this statement:

"Hey asshole: Daughter #1 is a rabbi. Not by your standards. She's reform. How dare she, a lowly woman think god wants her to be a rabbi, created from a mere rib. Her hubby, three times nominated for a nobel peace prize was listed by the Jerusalem Post as the 49th most influential jew in the world built the worlds largest solar field in israel. By the way, Sarah was also on the list. I missed your name. Oldest granddaughter is serving in the Israel Defense Forces. I'm sure you also served.Oh I forgot the orthodox don't do that. You don't fuck with my family."

Although Mr. Silverman's choice of language was an illustration of some of what Silverman might have learned at home, the criticism was biting and spot on.  The reference to Silverman's sister was a reference to Rabbi Susan Silverman, a Reform rabbi living in Jerusalem.  Sarah Silverman herself visited Israel for the first time last year and performed at a number of clubs.   More poignantly, Mr. Silverman exposed the bitter misogyny that was the root of Rosenblatt's open letter to Silverman.

In an October 18, 2012 piece in the Tablet, Liel  Leibovitz responded with a partial defence of Rosenblatt.  Attacking the vulgar nature of Silverman's comedy, Leibovitz asserts that Silverman has simply "turned the electoral process into a spotlight with which to illuminate her own oversized and cartoonish personality for fun and profit."  Like Rosenblatt, Liebovitz misses the mark in his assessment of Silverman's bitingly satirical videos which have apparently served their purpose, at least partially.  In Let My People Vote, for example, Silverman draws attention to the fact that some of the new Voter ID laws permit residents to use gun permits but not veteran cards or student IDs, by suggesting that Americans should get guns and gun permits for their grandparents and students - to ensure that they can vote.  It is unfortunate that Liebovitz can only call this "self-centred" on Silverman's part.  Judging from the tone of the majority of responding letters in The Tablet, readers seem to be siding with Silverman rather than Liebovitz and Rosenblatt.

Satirical comedy has a role to play in election campaigns. Saturday Night Live has often left a lasting impression about particular candidates, sometimes more indelible than the persona that the candidates themselves have tried to present.  Just look at the effect of SNL on the public perception of of Sarah Palin.  

While crude, potty-mouthed humour is not for everyone, I can't remember anyone attacking Eddie Murphy or Richard Pryor for failing to focus on their own domestic lives and focus on having children.  While I don't attribute the same misogynist motivation to Liebovitz as I do to Rosenblatt, it seems to me that satirical videos like these, even if they are vulgar, have a role to play, either politically or in the world of comedy, whether the comedian producing them happens to be a woman or a man.  In Silverman's case, both videos provide a sharp message, the essence of which should be carefully considered even if the vehicle is viewed as flawed.