High Holiday Feature: a Reporter’s Notebook – a Lighter Look at the Jewish News

As the Jewish year comes to a close, here’s a look back at some of the year’s strangest episodes, dubious distinctions and superlative achievements from around the Jewish world:

Best marketing slogan: “He’Brew — the Chosen Beer.” Sales of the San Francisco microbrew took off with Shmaltz Brewing Company’s first creation, Genesis Ale. As the fine print on the label proclaims, “Exile never tasted so good.”

Most poorly thought-out boycott idea: A Swiss grocery chain decided to remove Jack Daniels whiskey, among other American products, from its shelves in response to U.S. boycotts of Swiss banks. Jack Daniels is one of the main competitors of Seagram, which is owned by Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress and one of Switzerland’s most vociferous critics.

Tastiest foot: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told American Jewish Committee staff members at their annual meeting they were very lucky to have David Harris as their executive director. “I hope you pay him well,” the Israeli premier said, apparently unaware of the staffers’ recent one-day work stoppage protesting that their salaries were low compared with other Jewish organizations.

Most vexing mystery: Who swiped the Viagra from the Israeli Knesset? Samples of the anti-impotency drug disappeared as the Knesset’s Science Committee was meeting to assess its risks. According to news reports, someone stole the sample while experts were giving testimony, and following a recess, the box disappeared as well.

Most inspired government conspiracy theory: The idea advanced in some Arab circles that the Monica Lewinsky scandal started as a Zionist plot. The story broke as President Clinton was hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the White House, prompting charges that Zionist conspirators had orchestrated the scandal involving the Jewish intern to twist the president’s arm and scuttle peace efforts. As Syria’s state-run newspaper so keenly observed, “All these scandals are prepared in minute detail so that they will break out just as (Netanyahu) enters the White House (so as) to paralyze the president and prevent him from thinking calmly.”

Poorest foray into Middle East diplomacy: William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky’s former lawyer and talk show mainstay. Ginsburg remarked that neither he nor his client wanted to see Clinton forced from office because he is “very positive toward Israel and the Jews, and Monica and I are Jews.” Later, in a positive development for Israel and the Jews, Ginsburg was forced from our living rooms.

Worst timing for an evening program: The American Jewish Committee, which held a gala dinner on the night of the last episode of “Seinfeld.” Chiding the deprived dinner-goers in a surprise videotaped message, Jason Alexander, who plays George Costanza on the show, said, “What the hell are you all doing here? Don’t you know what tonight is?”

Most “comical” display of Holocaust revisionism: The continuing adventures of Superman, 60th anniversary issue. The comic book depicts the “Man of Steel” traveling back to fight the horrors of Nazi genocide, but DC Comics censored all references to Jews. Apologetic editors said they worried about having Nazi characters use Jewish slurs and creating a negative stereotype. A number of substitutions for “Jews” were awkwardly inserted, including one character’s reference to “the Nazi Final Solution to ridding the world of peoples they hate.” The issue was a best seller.

Best example of youthful innocence inside the Clinton White House: Eleven-year- old Hebrew day school student Danny Lew, who lit the candles at this year’s Oval Office menorah lighting, said afterward he was not sure why he was given the honor. “It might have been because I’m president of the student council at my school, or it might have been because my father works here,” he said, referring to Jack Lew, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Coolest discovery of a cryptic Hebrew text: The inscription on Darth Vader’s control panel. A close-up look at the costume, which went on display this year as part of the Star Wars exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, reveals Hebrew lettering that George Lucas’s creative team used to represent an other-worldly language. Don’t bother searching for hidden messages — it’s all gibberish. But if you insist on a closer look, you can buy a limited edition replica of Darth Vader, complete with the Hebrew script, for a mere $6,000.

A Theodor Herzl commemorative shovel awarded for outstanding achievement in Israeli ingenuity: An unknown culprit tried to grow dozens of marijuana plants in a traffic island on a major road in Jerusalem. The plants, discovered by plainclothes detectives, stood interspersed with flowers planted by the city.

Most incisive Israeli commentary on the U.S. role in Mideast peacemaking: “We innocently thought the fate of the peace process was in the hands of a Jewess, born in Prague, named Madeleine Albright,” wrote columnist Nacfhum Barnea. “Apparently the fate of the peace process is,” he continued, “in the hands of another Jewess, named Monica Lewinsky, who spent a fun-filled summer three years ago as a White House intern.”

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