The Times’ take on the AJWS video


The New York Times yesterday dissected the recent Judd Apatow directed public service message for American Jewish World Service.

The video, which was unveiled at the 70th birthday party for its president Ruth Messinger/lavish fund-raiser for the organization, provides sometimes raunchy slapstick about Judaism from a mix of famous Jewish and non-Jewish A-listers.

Apatow, who produced the segment for free, took a risk with both the content and the performers – as did the AJWS for sending it viral – but the risk seems to have paid off, as the video and two outtake clips have garnered more than 1 million views, according to the Times:

The shorter versions include some raunchier takes, like the one in which John Mayer, the guitarist and singer, says, “I’m John Mayer, and since I’m only half-Jewish, I’m only half-circumcised.”

Until recently, nobody would have thought it advisable for a Jewish philanthropy to embrace ethnic humor. But Ms. Messinger, who at 70 remembers a time when Jews had to be far more sensitive to stereotyping, says that the film has been an unqualified success.

There has been “almost no criticism,” Ms. Messinger says. “Some loved it because it appealed to their notion of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century, and some loved it because it’s funny.”

“What it means to be Jewish in the 21st century” — Ms. Messinger’s words allude to an old debate among Jews, about whether Judaism is a religion, a culture or, to use the word preferred by Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, a civilization.

Mr. Apatow’s video offers Judaism detached from synagogue observance or ritual piety — perfect for Hanukkah season, American-style. The Jews here are interested in matzoh, dreidels, Jewish humor, good works and a self-deprecating Jewish humor that can be comfortably shared with gentiles.

“I am a secular type,” Ms. Silverman said in an e-mail this week. The “J” in American Jewish World Service may stand for Jewish, she wrote, but “it’s just because it’s run by Jews (like the media and the banks).

“But it’s for everyone and anyone in need, and they do truly just work.”

Mr. Apatow, one of the all-powerful media figures Ms. Silverman had in mind, e-mailed a similar comment about his Judaism.

“I am the kind of Jewish person who feels very Jewish but does not practice at all,” he said. “I did not take part in this project because Jewish people run this charity. I got involved because they do very important work that is changing many people’s lives in a positive way.”

If you want to hear Mayer actually describe the half-circumcision, here are the out-takes from the video:


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