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Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. America’s first small-screen star, Berle influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “His success came about because early television sets were mostly sold in wealthier urban areas, with Jews and gentile urbanites accustomed to and appreciative of Jewish humor. ... Ironically, it was Berle’s success with those urban audiences that propelled the sales of televisions around the nation,” Lawrence Epstein, author of “The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America,” tells JNS.org.
Twenty years after his October 1994 death, robust accounts of musician Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s life are emerging. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy.” This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s “The Soul of Jerusalem” hit the shelves. But even the authors admit that this larger-than-life rabbi’s legacy cannot be fully captured in black-and-white pages. “Shlomo did not seem to fit any restrictive, defining label,” Ophir said. “Reb Shlomo was… a charismatic teacher who combined storytelling, sermonic exegesis, and inspirational insights into creating a new form of heartfelt, soulful Judaism filled with a love for all human beings.”
Having started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. “I can't help but smile and get happy when I hear a frying pan played well,” says Jonas, who also credits his childhood cantor with inspiring his path. “I remember going to synagogue during this time and listening to Cantor Harry Lubin, and being awestruck by the beauty and power of his voice,” he says of the legendary chazzan for synagogues in Chicago and Bethesda, Md.
During the current conflict in Gaza a number of celebrities have voiced their opinions in support of either the Israeli or Palestinian positions. But others—be it during Operation Protective Edge or at other times—have gone further than simply supporting the Palestinians by actively supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, making false accusations about the Jewish state, ignoring Israel’s position on the conflict, or justifying the actions of the terrorist group Hamas. JNS.org presents a list of such celebrities and some of the brands they have endorsed.
A Jewish upbringing taught Paul Shaffer, David Letterman’s musical director and sidekick for 32 years, the value of giving back. “My mother taught by example,” Shaffer said. “She was a great supporter of Israel. She was a great supporter of local charities and gave her time for the Hadassah as well as the ladies auxiliary at the hospital. Growing up I watched this, so it just came natural to me. Getting involved in charities and fundraisers myself became a great opportunity for me to use my musical talents to do some good.” Letterman has announced his intent to retire in 2015, meaning the end of the line for the “Late Show.” Shaffer speaks with JNS.org about his ‘dream job,’ his Jewish upbringing, and his future.
Seven decades after the Holocaust, Josef Mengele is still a difficult name to stomach, as the repercussions of his medical experiments echo throughout history. So when film reviewer Jason Stack first heard about “The German Doctor,” a historical drama set in early 1960s Argentina and focused on part of Mengele’s life on the run from the Mossad, he wondered: Would the film portray the Angel of Death in a sympathetic light, or would it show the man as history remembers him?