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The Property Rights Controversy over "Ushpizin"

Two Saturdays ago I saw that the "Israeli Club" at a large synagogue in Fairfield County, Conn., would be screening the hit Israeli movie Ushpizin. I showed up, only to find a bar mitzvah party ending and no movie screening -- not that I could find, anyway.

Had I attended the screening, I might very well have become a direct participant in a simmering controversy regarding the movie: well-intentioned but illegal screenings of Ushpizin in shuls and other places. Capitalizing on the growing appeal of this breakthrough film, the screenings violate copyright law and the property rights of the U.S. distributor of the film, Picturehouse, a joint venture of HBO and New Line Cinema (both units of Time Warner).

I learned of the problem of illegal screenings through a full-page ad for the film in the Dec. 23 issue of the Jewish Week in New York. The ad announced Picturehouse-sanctioned screenings at the Yeshiva of Flatbush on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. The ad caught my attention with a statemen…

Family Matters, Past and Present

A favorite memory of my late mother, gone 22 years next month, is her fierce financial correspondence with her older sister Charlotte, in Tyler, Texas. Their weekly letters traded news about their investments and the gyrations of Wall Street; Mom groused a lot about a company called Overhead Door. Charlotte was a steel-nerved stock-market ace, creating her own price-trend charts and knowing to the second when to turn on the radio in her kitchen to catch the mid-day market report on KRLD in Dallas. When Charlotte attended my 1980 graduation from Princeton, she reached stock-picker nirvana by meeting Professor Burton Malkiel, who wrote the book "A Random Walk Down Wall Street." She even had Malkiel autograph her copy of his book.

My mother lacked Aunt Charlotte's zest for trading, but she did OK. When she died in January 1984, she left equal amounts of her portfolio to me and my brother, Mission2Houston, 100 shares of each stock to each of us.

During my marriage, the unrele…

Miracle on 47th Street: A Heartwarming Holiday Encounter

Yesterday I took a late-morning train into New York. A young woman sat beside me with a rolling suitcase. Once she got arranged we started talking. She lives in Connecticut and was going into the city to meet her boyfriend of the past four years. He now lives, temporarily she hoped, in North Dakota. Let's call her Maria Theresa (not her real name).

They were meeting at a hotel across the street from my office, and she said they wanted to go look at engagement rings, in the famous Diamond District on West 47th Street, where Orthodox Jews run most of the stores. The place totally shuts down on Friday afternoon.

"I figure we can go look tomorrow," she said innocently, referring to Saturday.

"Um, you might want to go today," I told her. "They're, um, religious Jews who don't work on Saturday."

This surprised Maria Theresa. "Not even during the Christmas season, for the shoppers?"

The question gave me pause. Visions of pious Jews in elf hats d…

"I Am Jewish": A Response

A rabbinical friend recently forwarded a thought-provoking email to me. It came from Rabbi Carol Stein in California and read, in part,

I am preparing to teach a course at the High School for Jewish Studies in San Diego this coming semester. The course is entitled "I Am Jewish" - the last words spoken by the journalist, Daniel Pearl, before his death at the hands of his kidnappers in the Middle East. I am hoping to guide the students so that they too can make that same statement proudly and with an understanding of what "being Jewish" means to each of them. I ask your help.

Please take a few minutes to write a few sentences or a few paragraphs explaining what you mean when you say "I am Jewish." Of course, there is no "right" answer -- being Jewish means different things to each of us. Some of us may think only of the religious aspect -- some the cultural or social or gastronomic.

Below is my response to Rabbi Stein's request.

We live in …

Jewish Policy Forum: Staring into the Abyss That is Iran

Some of the sharpest thought leaders among Jewish conservatives gathered at the Jewish Policy Center forum on Sunday, Dec. 11, at the West Side Institutional Synagogue in New York. The theme that sliced through the two-hour discussion: what can be done, if anything, to counter the onrushing nuclear capabilities of the frothingly anti-Israel leadership in Iran.

Panelists Daniel Pipes, Mona Charen, and Michael Ledeen (all members of the Board of Fellows of the JPC, a non-profit Washington think tank that takes a Jewish and conservative perspective), grappled with the question raised by moderator Michael Medved who asked, aping the tone of liberal arguments, whether the threat of Iran has been left to fester while the U.S. pursues the war in Iraq.

"I don´t totally disagree with you," said Pipes, noting the Bush administration has been "overly ambitious" in Iraq" and that he hoped the U.S. would "reduce our intense engagement" for a larger Iraqi role. He …

Howard Stern? Feh. Let's Talk About Abbie Hoffman.

The well-lubed publicity machine is now squirting out dispatches on the meaning of Howard Stern's move from WXRK (K-Rock) in New York to Sirius satellite radio on Janury 9. I have nothing of contemporary interest to add to the discussion, since I stopped listening to the radio show years ago and never had any interest in Stern's TV show. I still follow his career out of nostalgia for the days 20 years ago when I was a huge fan of him on WNBC and then K-ROCK and even had the incredible opportunity to interview him -- about his back problems and healthy lifestyle.

Around 1986-1987 I did celebrity interviews for a groovy publication in New York called Whole Life Times. Somehow WLT snagged an interview with Stern to talk about his involvement with the Alexander Technique. I drew the assignment. Like other journalists, I found the off-mike Stern polite, cooperative and amused by the on-air alter ego. That was before he got divorced and became the gargantuan King of All Media. The pa…

My Special Evening With Candida Royalle, Femme Deluxe

When I heard that former porn actress and now producer/porntreprenuer Candida Royalle would speak last month at the New York City Junto, a libertarian group, I had a major 80s-90s flashback. Between 1987 and 1995, I was East Coast Bureau Chief for Video Store Magazine. Royalle's company, Femme Productions, was a loyal exhibitor at video trade shows, promoting its expanding line of "sensually explicit" woman-friendly erotica to the retail channel. Royalle started Femme in 1984, so it was still the hot new thing when I started attending conventions of the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) for Video Store. I still have a business card handed to me by Femme sales rep (and former actress) Veronica Hart. Our hands almost touched!

Dressed completely in black with striking blonde hair, Royalle arrived at a hotel meeting room that was packed with at least 75 people. As they say, sex sells, although on this night the sex (talk) was free. Her new book, "How to Tell a Na…

Drop Everything and Listen to This Song, Right Now

The good and daring folks at WFDU in New Jersey played this here little song yesterday. I thought, "Hey, this song is about me!" My ears pricked right up. After the first chorus I wrote down the lyrics and immediately located the song and the artists online. Vince Gill's country supergroup the Notorious Cherry Bombs released the song on its self-titled album last year.

Without further ado or introduction, click on this link. Really, right now, don't wait a minute, to enjoy this classic country anthem, "It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night . . . " and I'll let you figure out the rest.

"Where God Was Born:" Bruce Feiler Visits the Delivery Room

A few days ago I heard Bruce Feiler speak at the Borders store in Stamford. He was promoting his new book "Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion." His other books on the Bible (a/k/a the Torah to we folks of the Hebraic persuasion) always catch my eye at bookstores; I've never read them but decided an author appearance would be a good way to start.

Rabbi Josh Hammerman of Stamford's Temple Beth El introduced Feiler, who visited Israel, Iraq, and Iran while researching "Where God Was Born."

Feiler spoke of the Bible as a book about God and humans struggling to develop a relationship, despite constant disappointment. The exile to Babylon (modern Iraq) was critical to Jewish thinking, he explained, because the exile showed that the relationship with God matters more than the land and state that disappeared after the exile.

Despite the common image of the Bible (and reggae singers), Jews did not just sit by the rivers of Babylon and wee…

Confessions of a Jerry Capeci Junkie

The deal went down like this, as it does every Thursday morning.

Before leaving my apartment, I checked to make sure I had a quarter. I always do the deal with a quarter. Things go faster that way, you know?

I hit Hope Street and scurried south, toward the Springdale train station. I knew exactly where to go, and my supplier was waiting inside with a fresh batch of the best stuff. My hungry hands grabbed what I wanted. Looking around, I slid the quarter toward her on a glass counter. In return, she said the mysterious words she always says, in her mysterious Filipino accent, "Have a nice day."

The tension rose as I walked quickly to the Springdale station, as I had to wait to get on the train and be seated before I could finally get my fix. But my patience earned its reward, for a few minutes later my Thursday could properly begin.

Because for mission2moscow, Thursday is always JERRY CAPECI DAY in New York.

My quarter supported the only newspaper I actually buy daily, the New Yo…

Winter Wonderland, and Preparations Thereof

Winter came early with snow Sunday morning. That was the teaser for the bigger Nor'easter to start Monday evening. Since I'm working at home, I took the time to swing by the Greenwich library to stock up on provisions, since I may also be snowbound Tuesday. Thus, solitary entertainment:

"Dressed Up to Get Messed Up" by Roomful of Blues, with the delightful album art, below.





Now that's what I call album art. 


"Santana" by Santana

"Abraxas" by Santana

"Caravansarai" by Santana

"Light of the Moon" by the Pierces (I've never heard of this female duo, but I sure liked the cover art)

"Live" by Delbert McClinton (can't wait to hear ol' Delbert sing "Lipstick Traces")

"Day Dreaming at Midnight" by the Sir Douglas Quintet (a buncha long-haired Austin hippie types who were popular in the 1960s. Can't wait to hear "She Would If She Could, She Can't So She Won't." Pure poetry)

&qu…

A Father's Obligations: Shmoikel and I Go Ape

As a father, my portfolio of responsibilities includes giving my son Shmoikel a good cultural and moral grounding. Some highlights of my efforts:

-- Ending each night by saying the "Shema" prayer together, and starting each day by reciting "Modeh Ani"

-- Driving him around as a baby on Saturdays to the sounds of Irish and Gaelic music on WFUV

-- Explaining the difference between capitalism and communism

-- Teaching him that "bad pop music is bad pop music, whether it's in Spanish, Swedish, or Hebrew"

-- Together Watching "The Planet of the Apes" (POTA) movie series

We had great father-son bonding this weekend with POTA. Over the summer we watched the original POTA and greatly enjoyed it. It holds up incredibly well from the eerie beginning to the shattering climax. The cultural pay-off came quickly when Shmoikel saw the movie "Madagascar," which has a scene of a tiki version of the Statue of Liberty. One of the characters sees it and sta…

Greatest Mis-Heard Song Lyrics Ever

Every year or so, I'll hear a song on the radio that breaks through the aural sludge to capture my attention. That happened with "Closing Time" by Semisonic and even in Spanish, with "Soy Mujer" (I am a Woman) by La India (The Latina Kate Smith, given her belt-it-out style). I became entranced with a snippet of theme music from the Brazilian telenovela "Senhora do Destinho" (Woman of Destiny). Those melancholy five seconds of music haunted me for months until I finally heard them again on my Rhapsody online music channel and I identified the song as "Encontros e Despedidas" (Arrivals and Departures) by the incomparable Maria Rita.

Lately, I found myself tuned in to a group called the Killers because of radio play of their song "Somebody Told Me." The song has a dense, lyric-heavy sound; what caught my attention were the lyrics I heard, or, more important, thought I heard when the song played on WPLJ in New York.

I found one phrase p…
College Editor 

I'm playing around with Blogger technology to add photos to the site. I have no idea what I'm doing. This looked like a good one to start with. Yes, I used to have hair on top.

Sparkle Time: "Valley of the Dolls" Due on DVD!

Ace Village Voice columnist Michael Musto has exciting news for culture vultures: the prayers of 50,000,000 Jacqueline Susann fans will be answered in 2006 when the greatest bad movie ever made, "Valley of the Dolls," debuts on DVD. Musto writes in his "La Dolce Musto" column that the DVD "is being sumptuously repackaged, and there will even be special featrues, like a documentary I've been interviewed for."

Since this summer I have become a dues-paying member of the cult of VOTD. I always had the vague impression that it was incredibly racy, and I always liked the poignant theme song as performed by Dionne Warwick (true story: I was once in the Toys R Us store in Westport CT and the public address system actually played this song; some eager-beaver marketer took the "dolls" reference too literally).

The weight of second-hand impressions finally pushed me to read the paperback. Its sweeping plot staggers from 1945 New York to swingin' Hol…

12 Years Gone: The Return of Jody Watley

In 1993, during marital crisis No. 177, I raced along the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, feeling exceptionally down about the wreckage of my life. Then radio played a song with lyrics that captured a mood a despair and loss of love. It hit me very hard.

I did not hear the song again for 12 years, until three days after I posted an entry on my new fave radio station, the Mix 102.7 FM in New York. I wrote about that kind of dance music, and immediately the universe hurls the music back at me: same parkway, different station, same electrified response. Could this be a "compulsion of music," similar to my madcap experience discussed a week ago about "The Da Vinci Code"?

This time, however, I listened carefully and learned that the artist was Jody Watley. I searched online and found, indeed, she recorded the song in 1987 with the title, "Don't You Want Me." The lyrics that packed such a jolt are:

Are you looking for a new love?
Or does commitment seem to brin…

A Compulsion of Words: Morrie Schwartz Edition, Rena Frank Chapter

Last Tuesday "Nightline" on ABC finished concluded its 25-year run with Ted Koppel. The final episode looked back on the most popular episodes Nightlight ever ran, involving retired college professor Morrie Schwartz. He had inspired, through his public battle of Lou Gehrig's Disease, the book "Tuesdays with Morrie" by sportswriter Mitch Albom.

The book appeared in 1998; in typical fashion, my interest lagged the general public's by years. I found a copy at a summer library sale and grabbed it. I read it about six weeks before the Nightlight rebroadcast. This congruence of book and viewing, although not as striking as "The Da Vinci Code" episode discussed last week, is still eerie.

The book touched me on several levels. I had my own Morrie. For 13 years I volunteered with Dorot, a group that served the Jewish elderly in New York. My Morrie, if you will, was Rena Frank, a retired nurse who escaped Germany in 1938 for England, settling into New York i…

Dater's Choice: Pick Four out of Five

An old software development maxim always charms me: “You can have it Fast, you can have it Good, or you can have it Cheap. Pick Two.” In short, you can’t have it all.

I've decided that a similar analysis applies in the Jewish dating world. The thought came to me after two lissome ladies in the Mid-Atlantic region replied to emails I sent them remarking on my height-challenged stature. One wrote back, "I hate to admit it but, although you sound quite interesting and I usually don't let height make a difference, I am afraid that 4" difference in our height (without shoes) was too much of a difference. I am sorry. I just grew too much!!!"

To which I replied, software development glowing red-hot in my synapses, "Good luck on the quest for the tall single straight Jewish male! At least I got four out of the five key attributes. Here's hoping you find five-out-of-five, or a four-out-of-five that works." I did not suggest she read this article, but perhaps…

42 Years Later: Another November 22

The American media thrives on anniversaries, remembrance of the same things passing again and again.

And yet today, November 22, 2005, 42 years after November 22, 1963, barely anybody has a comment. A Google news search on "November 22, 1963" turns up only 31 hits, hardly any from major media outlets. The silence is odd, unsettling in its deviation from the ritualized mourning common in our society.

With all the recent misfortunes and blind alleys, Americans are too tired or distracted to memorialize the past. For once, we are leaving the dead to rest.

John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963. I am now three years older than he was on that day.

Watch Out: It's a Republican (Laff) Riot

In 1982 I attended an event that so traumatized me that I lost my appetite for political stand-up comedy for decades. I took a date to a radical comedy night at Stuyvesant High School in New York. After four or five wretched acts, along the lines, "Hey man, Reagan really sucks, man," we snuck out to comfort ourselves with ice cream and Tab.

Except for one or two nights of improv, I never again had any interest in comedy clubs. The pain of bad political comedy remained raw and unhealed. Then, perhaps soothed by the calm balm of John Roberts as the new Chief Justice, my interest in stand-up comedy perked up. I started to get in touch with my long-suppressed desire for political stand-up by checking out a Margaret Cho CD from the library. While I disagree with her politically, Cho was very amusing and sometimes moving. "Say," I thought, "This political stand-up isn't so bad. Could some of it, left or right, actually be funny? How long should I let one horrid e…

The Compulsion of Words

Twice in my life a compulsion gripped me to finish a book, to race ahead and be done with it for some reason I didn't understand.

This first happened when I read John Hersey's "Hiroshima," about the atomic bomb attack on Japan. I finished this book late on the night of Sept. 9, 2001.

The second happened today, when I slogged through the last 150 pages of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." Ordinarily this type of book would take me two weeks to read; it had a level of mechanical mystery that moved the plot forward, but the writing and concept did not inspire me in the way of, say, "A Conspiracy of Paper" by David Liss. Yet I decided to shorten the reading cycle on an obligation-free Saturday and so I kept pushing forward.

I finished it around 6:15 pm, and a half-hour later I was signing in at the local Jewish Community Center for "Tapestry: A Community Celebration of Jewish Learning." I had no idea what classes I would take. Most were fil…

The Republicans Attack! Weapon of Choice: Progressive Rock

Going back to at least Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" theme two decades ago, the Republicans have shown a knack for communicating their message. In the past week, they've unleashed another attention-getting message. It caught my attention not just for what it says -- that Democrats saw Saddam Hussein as a threat -- but how it says it. Go here and click on the video link on the home page.

Listen to the soundtrack playing behind the Democratic talking heads. Rather than pull ominous classical music, the GOP marketing mavens selected the bewitching riff from "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" by Traffic, from 1971. What midnight planning session led to this stroke of genius, I know not, but the choice works incredibly well.

What's the message of the music? I doubt the GOP is taking a subliminal poke at the Democrats with the title of the song (which stops when Pres. Bush speaks at the end of the 3:45-long video). Perhaps it suggests that Republicans k…

A Modest Improvement for Sir Eric's Song, "Cocaine"

Over the summer, during a long drive to Washington, D.C., young Shmoikel and I checked out different radio stations. We finally settled on a classic rock station that wowwed me with a broader selection of songs than these tightly formatted stations usually play. Somewhere around the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore the station played Eric Clapton's version of "Cocaine," by J.J. Cale.

Something clicked in me. I realized that this song cried out for some slight editing. The song resonates, but even the classics benefit from occasional spiffing up -- in the same spirit that generations of grade schoolers have tinkered with the lyrics to the "Star Spangled Banner" (speaking of Fort McHenry . . . )

So here's what I did. As the song played on the radio, the revised -- and, I think, improved -- version of "Cocaine" burst full-fledged into my mind. I simply substituted the word "SpongeBob" whenever Sir Eric mentioned "cocaine." And you …

A Pleasure, and Not a Guilty One

In July 1985 I met a woman named Loretta (real name, too) at a New York dance place called Visage, way out on West 56th Street. "I'm a reporter -- I write on computer stuff," I shouted into her ear over the thumping beat, and that caught her attention.

We kept talking. Before long she yelled, "I've taken the EST training and I'm also in therapy." Knowing my interest in Russia, she told me about the great possibilities of EST moving into the USSR.

I think about Loretta and our screwdrivers- and disco-driven night at Visage when I cruise Fairfield County in my fabulous 2004 Hyundai Elantra, radio tuned in to my new fave station, The New Mix 102.7 (technically WNEW, but nobody calls it that) in New York. The concept is simple: disco and dance classics, with long blocks of ad-free music. Over the past two months or so, I have found myself returning again and again to the station as a listening pleasure. To my surprise, I recognize only about half the music, …

They're All Democrats in France

Question: How do you tell the difference between Democrats, Republicans and Southern Republicans?

The answer can be found by posing the following question:

You’re walking down a deserted street with your wife and two small children. Suddenly, an Islamic Terrorist with a huge knife comes around the corner, locks eyes with you, screams obscenities, praises Allah, raises the knife, and charges at you. You are carrying a Glock cal .40, and you are an expert shot. You have mere seconds before he reaches you and your family. What do you do?

Democrat’s Answer:

Well, that’s not enough information to answer the question!
Does the man look poor! Or oppressed?
Have I ever done anything to him that would inspire him to attack?
Could we run away?
What does my wife think?
What about the kids?
Could I possibly swing the gun like a club and knock the knife out of his hand?
What does the law say about this situation?
Does the Glock have appropriate safety built into it?
Why am I carrying a loaded gun a…

John Fowles, Lord of Flip Value

In addition to Tom Sawyer and biographies of Davy Crockett, my most memorable adolescent reading experience involved The French Lieutenant's Woman, written by John Fowles, who died on Monday. This is remarkable especially because I did not read the entire book until I was in my 40s.

I did, however, read a page or two while a teenager, around 1974. Somehow I got my hands on the paperback edition and, with a hormonal teenage male's unerring instinct for "the good parts," my eye fell on page 313. (that's the hardback I found at the Westport library, end of chapter 40; go ahead and pull the paperback off the shelf and see what I mean; I'll wait for you.)

"She reached then and took his recalcitrant right hand and led it under her robe to . . . " You get the point -- certainly, the male protagonist did.

As you are now experiencing, my heart raced, my puka-bead necklace quivered, my imagination soared, and what seemed like scaldingly erotic prose permanently …

Dept. of Most Unfortunate Timing

Far be it from me to waste a few minutes of prime page-flipping time at the dentist's office. On Saturday before my semi-annual checkup I perused the November issue of Travel+Leisure. The cover article, titled, "Best of Paris," is in some places unintentionally amusing in light of the current youthful hijinks in France.

Writer Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni starts with an overview of the political potential of prime minister Dominique de Villepin and interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, then writes, "They're just part of the general excitement and optimism of Paris these days." (Both men figure prominently in the excitement of Paris, although the optimism is suddenly subdued.)

Soon, Fraser-Cavassoni uncorks THE best line in the entire issue, "Suddenly, the City of Light is smoldering again."

Let me repeat, just to make sure you don't mis-read it: "Suddenly, the City of Light is smoldering again."

Elsewhere, the article discusses the Hôtel du Pe…

The Secret Relationship of Jews and Cricket: Who Knew?

Leave the comfortable yet self-tormented shores of American Ashkenazic Jewry and wonders emerge from the fog. Jewish film festivals are a great way to vicariously meet our landsmen of different habits and hues, and actions. See enough films and startling patterns take shape. I had that experience during the Jewish Film Festival of Lower Fairfield County, which finished last night. Out of the three films I saw, two of them involved the deep love of Jews for . . . cricket.

I delighted to see people playing cricket, a game far removed from the mainstream American, and American Jewish, experience. Well, not totally removed; in 2000 I played cricket for the one time in my life, when a team from the Stamford office of Mongoose & Co. (my affectionate pet name for the World's Greatest Consulting Firm, which employed me at the time) squared off against a team from a New Jersey office. Mostly I recall how hard it was to hit the ball, and the little sandwiches we ate on the sidelines.

So …

Bring Me the Aroma of Carlos Santana

Cosmopolitan magazine always amuses and informs me, far more than the lame pages of, say, GQ or Maxim. The October issue alerted me to the dangers of thongs and unhygienic bikini waxes (ouch!). The ads are great, too, for mysterious products I never need, in colors of subtleties I'll never grasp.

Without a doubt the most attention-grabbing ad in the October issue has the simple headling, "Introducing Carlos Santana(TM) fragrances for men and women." The tagline at the bottom purrs, "Arouse Your Senses." Red-themed native-looking artwork shows Santana with his ever-present hat against a background of densely drawn bongos, spirals, hands, eyes-in-hearts, and even a man looking like Carlos putting his hand on the head of a kneeling peon, an ambiguous scene suggesting either a blessing or a plea for oral sex.

Now, celebrity perfumes are common. Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker, Shania Twain have them. I can see the logical connection between fashionable, attracti…

Loathsome Marketing, First in a Series

As a demographic unit, I'm a tasty morsel for financial marketers. Born in the center of the baby boom (1957), white collar, single, urban, nicely cash-flowed, investment oriented, and educated, I'm a "good catch," as somebody recently said in another context.

So the American Express spin-off, Ameriprise Financial, had people like me in mind for its new advertising campaign now being flogged on TV and Metro-North trains. These ads tout Ameriprise's financial planning for a generation as "unique" as mine. You may have seen the ads with a VW hippie van morphing into something more modern. Train ads show 15 or so iconic images of the 1960s and 1970s carefully balanced between the social categories we referred to at Mission High School in Texas as the "dopers" and the "ropers."

So, you'll see peace symbols and Cub Scouts, long-haired hippie freaks and cheerleaders, groovy types and squares, images that make me want to tune in to VH1 …