Wednesday, March 9, 2011

2000 Jews in the Dessert - Is this a Joke

2000 Jews in the Dessert - Is this a Joke?
TribeFest 2011

I was enticed by a video clip, linked from a December email forwarded to my inbox by my loving mother. She asked if this was real, or maybe just some silly email hoax that I would make her research on to validate. The video featured a 30-something guy in a black suit and shades, immersed in a huge hot tub, welcoming me to Vegas for the "TribeFest" weekend. Cool, very cool. I was 80% sold.

I was pushed over the hump to apply when I learned that my teenage heartthrob, the Barbara Streisand of my generation, Mayim Bialik (aka Blossom - and now star of the hit show Big Bang Theory), would be a speaker.

The convention began promptly at 2pm on Sunday, and prompt was the good word for the convention - there was no Jewish Standard Time on Federation's watch. Each session began promptly, speakers were introduced briefly, orderly, and in as professional a setting as you could ever hope to have. I have self-diagnosed ADD when it comes to conventions, and I can say that my schpilkas (that persistent urge to check your phone, move in your seat, or bounce your knee) was kept in check by the amazing speakers at the convention. Someone from my peer group must have been a screener.

The vibe of the convention was 'Real'...we were all here to speak truths about our culture, both our love of things Jewish, and our distaste for some things Jewish. I didn't expect the honesty and critical assessment of our own character as US Jews. Typically, we like to cheer-lead at Jewish conventions and sell ourselves on everything we do right. Instead, 2000 of us gathered to hear speakers explore real analysis of our own behaviors; small mindedness towards gender equality, hypocrisy on Israel issues, and not considering our role in supporting Judaism beyond our own regions. There was a fair share of back-patting, too, as this was Vegas, and we were all there to have a good time.

Amongst the speakers were Jewish team owners from the NFL...the room shook in laughter when one participant asked "what do you intend to do about footballs being made from pigskin". We were treated to hearing the author of the Social Network and Bringing Down the House (the book that inspired the hit film '21'), the Jewish Mayor of Las Vegas, Congressmen/women from both sides of the aisle, and a cadre of incredible Jewish authors, activists and creatives. Our convocation was lead by the Hebrew Mamita, a sharp-tongued Jewish Latina slam poet, who brought spoken word from Mt. Sinai to us in Vegas. At the evening sessions, we were serenaded by the hip-hop beats of Jewish rappers Diwon and Y-Love, and mesmerized by the incredible talent of hip-hop violinist Miri Ben-Ari, as we made new friends and visited with old camp buddies we hadn't seen in 20 years.

Breakout sessions brought intimacy amongst different affinity groups over the 3-day convention, and through it, I was able to meet other artists and writers within our Jewish world. TribeFest was progressive and intensely enjoyable. I was surrounded by a peer group without equal in the US Jewish world, and I was humbled by the intellect, sincerity and ambition of the people in the room. The casino (TribeFest was hosted at Mandalay Bay Casino) did not welcome me as favorably, but I did appreciate their open bar policy.

Many thanks to our anonymous Federation sponsor who donated to cover our $475 registration fees for the convention - I'm pretty sure I would not have taken the gamble on the hype of TribeFest otherwise. Dallas had 8 attendees...Atlanta boasted about 35, LA and San Francisco each had 100+ attendees, Toronto also had heavy representation. I hope that they will continue to fund this event for participants to attend from Dallas - it was clear that our connection to the greater US Jewish world will be key to keeping our Federation and local Jewish community current and relevant in the lives of our young professionals.

Most sincere thanks to our Federation Young Professional leader, Drew Berliner, and our chairs for this event (Jarrod Beck and Dani Golan), for making us a part of this tremendous program and for networking us with the Austin Federation group.

We are all leaving with a great sense of inspiration...everything else stays in Vegas.

Friday, February 11, 2011

If you want to know what’s in my heart, you’ll have to break it. Happy Valentine’s Day.

If you want to know what’s in my heart, you’ll have to break it. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Friday, February 11, 2011
By Jared Green

64 year old Larry Johnson is an Air Force brat and a former enlisted NCO with over 20 years in our Nation’s service. This muscular and stocky 5’8” Dallas resident is tough. He braved winters in Germany and Alaska and has explored most of the world in its harshest conditions. But that doesn’t mean that Johnson is made of stone.

The army regimen has prepared Johnson for early mornings, and his 4:30am wake-ups make time for 5am drive-thru runs. To clarify, he’s not ordering Egg McMuffins…every weekday morning Larry Johnson wakes up and prospects the ground below the drive-thru windows at 7 local fast food restaurants. Some days he cobbles together petty change, other days his efforts earn a few dollars more for his piggy bank.

Strange? How about Romantic?

“There are two payoff dates for my sweetie,” says a beaming Johnson, “her birthday and Valentines’ Day”. For years, he’s spent the days leading up to these two celebratory events creating singularly unique ways to deliver the cash gifts.

Two years ago Johnson researched how to make an origami heart from a dollar bill. On Valentine’s morning he showed up at his wife’s lab, where she analyses cancer biopsies, with a large vase holding dozens of long stems, but with no roses. Instead, Larry hung $10 hearts from each branch, totaling more than $600. A few years ago, for her 55th birthday, he made her a tiered birthday cake completely out of five dollar bills and brought it in to their bedroom on her birthday morning. Other gifts have included custom made art boxes, made by the crafty Johnson, stuffed with cash, and one custom birthday card featured the faces of US Grant on 56 fifty dollar bills, each captioned with a Happy Birthday message.

Since his marriage to his wife Sonia some 8 years ago, Johnson estimates that he’s collected nearly $10,000 in change. It’s easy to see the love between the two as she cheerfully teases him about being a work mule, and he complies with a “hee-haw” to acknowledge that he’s her loving mule.

The love affair with his Columbian wife started at work, 10 years ago. He put the word out that he would marry any woman that would build him a shed for his lake house. Sonia never built him a shed, but curiosity did entice her and a chaperone out to Johnson’s former home at Lake Texoma. From there, it was stunning match made in Dallas.

Larry has collected just north of $1,000 for this banner Valentines’ Day. He’s commissioned a pinata’ shop to build a custom heart, tagged with a foreboding line – “If you want to know what’s in my heart, you’ll have to break it.”

Let’s all wish the Johnson’s a wonderful Valentine’s Day, as we try to bring a little romance into the lives of those we love.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

20 Questions that could change your life

Here's the short version, and a link to the longer article coming from Oprah's world...a nice, piece, but I do think ethical people who stand for something are made better by their support of something greater than themselves.

I encourage you to read the entire article which elaborates well on each of these techniques, tactics and mindsets...

1. What questions should I be asking myself?
2. Is this what I want to be doing?
3. Why worry?
4. Why do I like {cupcakes} more than I like {people}?
5. How do I want the world to be different because I lived in it?
6. How do I want to be different because I lived in this world?
7. Are {vegans} better people?
8. What is my body telling me?
9. How much junk could a chic chick chuck if a chic chick could chuck junk?
10. What's so funny?
11. Where am I wrong?
12. What potential memories am I bartering, and is the profit worth the price?
13. Am I the only one struggling not to {fart} during {yoga}?
14. What do I love to practice?
15. Where could I work less and achieve more?
16. How can I keep myself absolutely safe?
17. Where should I break the rules?
18. So say I lived in that fabulous house in Tuscany, with untold wealth, a gorgeous, adoring mate, and a full staff of servants...then what?
19. Are my thoughts hurting or healing?
20. Really truly: Is this what I want to be doing?

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Black Rabbi in Our North Carolina Shul

My Grandpa, Bernie Szabo, would always spend time talking with Rabbi Levi Ben Levy when he would pop in from Linden, North Carolina, just 18 miles from our synagogue in Fayetteville…Beth Israel.  My brother Steven and I would linger nearby, studying the only black Jew we had ever met, listening in on the conversation.  Grandpa was a Holocaust survivor and one of the best storytellers I’ve ever encountered.  It was common for him to regale a visitor with stories of his life.  Rabbi Ben Levy was always attentive and smiled around him.

We watched him daven, listened to the difference in his unique pronunciation of the Hebrew words, and greeted him with deference, largely because of the honor paid to him by Grandpa Bernie.  He always gave us a kind “Shabbat Shalom” and strong handshake when we would see him. 

Rabbi Levi Ben Levy would pop into town from time to time, I suppose when he was visiting Linden, his birthplace, from his home in New York, and then later in life he would appear more often, after his retirement to North Carolina.  His beard was close cropped, manicured with precision, clean under the neck and he was always impeccably suited.  He was prestigious.

Occasionally, he would be joined by his family members.  His son, now a Rabbi, Schlomo Ben Levy, would often join him in our small chapel for Shabbos services on Saturday mornings.  There weren’t more than 15 people gathered in the shul. 

I always imagined that Rabbi Levy led a small congregation of black Jews, convening in a tiny room of a Brooklyn apartment.  It’s been over 10 years since he passed away, and I was pleased to read a NY Times article that Steven stumbled on today.  I was clearly small-minded in my thinking about his contributions to Judaism.

One NY Times article on Obama’s brother-in-law cites Rabbi Ben Levy as his spiritual source and Rabbi Ben Levy was the Rabbi credited with ordaining Funnye, “As his interest in Judaism deepened, Funnye was increasingly drawn to the more conventional teachings of a black, Brooklyn-based rabbi named Levi Ben Levy, the spiritual leader of the Hebrew Israelite movement. “He taught me that real Judaism isn’t mixed in with Christianity,” Funnye says.”

The Times also gave him a lovely Obit that we would all hope to deserve at the end of our lives.  During his life, our North Carolina black Rabbi, Rabbi Ben Levy, attended Ethiopian Hebrew Rabbinical College, founded Beth Shalom Ethiopian Congregation in New York, then Beth Elohim in Queens, and was the Chief Rabbi of the Israelite Board of Rabbis.  He also guided his two sons into the religious world, to his credit. 

So often, the stories of our neighbors and associates are hidden because our casual interactions cause us to miss these brilliant accomplishments.  I'm pleased, just in time for Shabbos, to learn the deeper story of our friend Rabbi Levi Ben Levy.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ron English Breaks Records in Phillip's Film Auction

Ron English, the Urban Artist known for legitimizing the term 'Popaganda' has made it in the fidgety New York auction market, realizing $31k ($26k hammer + buyer's premium) for his 2009 screenprint of Marilyn Monroe.  At 3pm on June 24th, 2010, I watched online as a series of competing bids drove the price from an opening price of $7,000 (hammer) to a final record auction price of $26k (hammer) a few seconds later. 

Those of us who have been following Ron's work for years can tell you that he's produced far more major works than this ripe pair of Mickeys, so the sky is the limit for the works of this Billboard revolutionary.  Celebrity collectors have added English's works to their collection, and it's a well-known fact that musician Slash has several pieces of Ron's work. 

English's stock is on the rise.  Ron was featured briefly in the movie Exit Through the Gift Shop, a film directed by another artistic rebel, Banksy, the anonymous street artist whose works have sold through Sotheby's and Christie's for millions of pounds.  If you don't know Ron's story, add his documentary 'The Art & Crimes of Ron English" to your Netflix queue.  You won't be disappointed.  Here's a clip of the pre-documentary teaser reel:

Ron's work may have been hiding underneath our noses for a few years, but he's been there.  English was asked to illustrate Morgan Spurlock's eat-em-all hit Supersize me.  And during the HOPE campaign, you might have seen the Abraham Obama image that garnered media attention for morphing our now president into the iconic Honest Abe.  Contemporary art commercialist, Michel Roux, who envisioned Absolut Vodka's famous art campaign has been working with English for years.  Ron joined Motherwell and Warhol in designing his own Absolut ad, then painted the well-known Van Gogh'esque image used to promote Absente around the world.

He's a star, and I wish him well on his already impressive career...I think it's only the beginning.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

National Lampoon's New Vacation

Since I was old enough to define 'lewd' I was reading National Lampoon's Magazine.  Later I graduated to enjoying the series of National Lampoon's Vacation films beginning in 1983 with Vacation, and European Vacation in 1985 (25 years ago!).  Apparently, the franchise isn't done with Chevy Chase & Beverly D'Angelo just yet.

It's rumored that New Line Cinema is producing a new Griswold Vacation movie, apparently directed by David Dobkin, known best for his role in developing Wedding Crashers, the 2005 comedic insta-hit with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.   We'll keep our fingers crossed for as explosive of a hit. 

Confusing the rumors is a series of promotional shorts of Ellen and Clark Griswold (called Hotel Hell Vacation) commissioned by an online vacation property company (  This 14 minute Vacation video was released by HomeAway following a Griswold HomeAway Superbowl ad.  

Boris Vallejo was the artist tasked with designing the iconic images gracing the VHS boxes and movie posters for National Lampoon's Vacation and European Vacation.  The art for Vacation is buried in a celebrity collection, the other is making its way to auction this year - perhaps it will overlap with some interesting news about the newest Vacation flic?  In August 2010 Heritage Auctions ( is offering this painting from National Lampoon's European Vacation in an online/Live auction of Illustration Art.

BORIS VALLEJO (American, b. 1941)
National Lampoon's European Vacation, 1985
Oil on board
37 x 25 in.
Signed lower left
National Lampoon's European Vacation, original one-sheet movie poster illustration.

In any case, 2010 should be a good year for fans of Chevy Chase and National Lampoon's Vacation franchise...(insert favorite Griswold quote here).  

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fingers on a Common Hand

Fingers on a Common Hand

Fingers on the almighty hand,
was this the Master Plan?
That we would all be connected,
and not controlled,
by its command.

We live a life of reason,
and still we cannot see
that our fellow man
is just a finger on a common hand.

A complex enigma, a puzzling reality,
If I loved you,
would that mean I might marry me?
Do I lose my identity,
by recognizing that You are a part of Me?

If I am a part of You, how can We be anything but equal?
Why give us individual identities and call us people,
if we really are just You,
…only independent and doing exactly what we want to.

- Jared Green