America's Got Talent


Musings And Meanderings On Matters That Matter To Me
#1 In A Series

Why It’s Good For The Jews… Whether We Like It Or Not

So before we get to the reason for this article (aside from the fact the title will help it show up on search engines), let me address some preliminary questions about why I’m doing this (if you don’t care why, skip or scroll down to the paragraph that starts with So anyway”

Will this be the first of many columns?

Too early to tell.

If it causes an outpouring of comments (good or bad) the answer is yes

If it causes an outpouring of apathy that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

That’s not to say I won’t try again. Maybe the topic I’m about to pontificate on only matters to me and the next one will better resonate with the masses…whatever, if I don’t get started on the reason for today’s THAT’S WHAT I FEEL, the reasons for tomorrows—or next week’s or next month’s won’t matter anyway, right? Right.

So anyway, I’ve been watching America’s Got Talent—in the interest of full disclosure, I never watch these kind of shows beyond the audition weeks mainly because like everyone else, I’m fascinated by what people seem to think constitutes talent these days.

In the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s it was the soda counter at a Hollywood luncheonette. In the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s the video revolution first inspired-then proved Andy Warhol’s now prophetic “15 minutes of fame” remark.

Then the internet came and begat broadband which begat streaming which begat myspace (a’h), Youtube, Facebook, twitter and all bets that required talent to be a part of the “15 minutes of fame” equation were off.

Suddenly the concept of ”so bad its good” was given new meaning as careers—and bank accounts were built on the strength of how many people checked out whatever the poster’s idea of talent was.

If this brings to mind “rubbernecking” that disturbing yet unexplainable phenomenon that causes people to slow down at accidents—and the very same phenomenon where the amount of rubberneckers is in direct proportion to the degree of gruesomeness of the accident, my apologies for the reality check.

So if we have the internet to blame for some of America’s Got Talent’s more bizarre auditions, feel free to complain to it’s founder Al Gore.

Yet every so often buried ‘midst the outrageous oddities and just plain “out of their mind” you come across some real talent—performers who’ve Got Talent (with a capital G & T) and you sit there hoping the judges agree with you. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, there’s a panel of 3 celebrity judges who act as “gatekeepers”. They’re the ones who decide (based on performances obviously) which acts will make it to the “next level”—until the next level becomes the level(s) when we the people are given a chance to decide if this act has really “Got” talent…or if its just an act.

So there I was watching the Austin auditions (and seriously thinking about never going near the great state of Texas again) when the host says “next up, a 14 year old singer from Chicago… give it up for Edon”

When I hear the words “14 year old” and “singer” in the same sentence, that’s my cue to head for the kitchen and microwave another frozen pretzel, get another frozen fruit bar, (lime lasts longer than grapefruit) check my emails (China’s 12 hours ahead of us, so while we’re watching potential entertainment history in the making, they’re watching production schedules) . Sometimes I can accomplish all the above—especially if I think this is the last act before a commercial break.

This time the connection between my ears, brain and motor skills was a bit slow as I was still getting up off the couch when I glanced at the TV and saw that this particular 14 year old singer from Chicago was sporting a yarmulke.

Back down on the couch I went, all thoughts of pretzels, ices and emails banished for at least 5 minutes.

Good thing I stayed—as Edon was fantastic. Truth be told, I never heard One Republic perform “Good Life” (the song Edon chose for his audition). But I didn’t have to to realize that this kid kippah or no kippah had Talent (wth a capital T).

Apparently the judges unanimously agreed, as they waved him on to Vegas where the first round of eliminations would take place. About the only thing that matched their “kvelling’ was the wonderfully beatific smile Edon’s father was wearing when the camera cut to him standing backstage.

Then I did what I’m assuming a goodly portion of frum Jewish viewers did after watching Edon’s audition, I hit Google. As the night was still young the background on him was sparse but after a bit of poking around I found out that aside from some early YouTube videos which got him knows as “the Jewish Justin Beiber”, he was the very same Edon who had performed with Shalsheles Junior as well as for an NCSY benefit.

Then the “fun began” and out of the woodwork the gatekeepers who have graciously taken upon themselves to approve all that is appropriate for the rest of us weighed in.

Their comments ranged from “Chilul Hashem” for being part of ANY mass culture event to being lambasted for having the temerity to sing secular music to “if he and/or his parents felt compelled to do this how could he appear with his yarmulke on, as this isn’t what yarmulke-wearing Jews are/should be about.

Please note, the preceding are all paraphrasings of actual comments that appeared on various sites and blogs—and also the reason for this inaugural “That’s What I Feel” column.

Memo to all those of you using a 14 year old kid to further your own agendas/careers/site traffic.

Open up a paper, or Google “Orthodox Jewish” and see the less than complimentary stuff that comes up—even in today’s age of 24 hour news cycles (that lately feel more like 24 minutes).

There’s stories of DA’s and abuse, scams, investigations and lawsuits. I recently spent Shabbos in Monsey and couldn’t help noticing that the cover story of the Journal News (Rockland/Westchester’s equivalent of the Times) had a story about a local development about to get cited for numerous safety violations…that’s safety as in violations that were going uncorrected even though they’d pose a sakanah to the frum families the development was targeting.

In short—and despite the fact that the “frum demographic” is more “chessed centric” than any other religion, ethnicity or branch of Judaism for that matter, the media seems to love pointing out our missteps and foibles.

While I have yet to see a major media outlet do a story heralding the achievements of Tomchei Shabbos, Hatzoloh, Mekimi, Ohel, HASC, Misaskim, Chaveirim, Bikur Cholim, Vaad Refuah or the countless other Chessed organizations who are there for virtually anyone in need (regardless of your beliefs and in some cases even religion or ethnicity), stories covering the exploits of less than savory members of our community seem to be given the spotlight whenever the crop up.

So here we (note: by “we” I mean frum/yarmulke wearing Jews) finally get one of own in the limelight—a 14 year old kid whose only sins (depending on which sites you read) are being talented, listening to secular music and wearing non black yarmulkes and rather than either be complimentary or just be quiet they choose to target him because he represents all that’s wrong with the K’lal.

So let’s clarify a few things. On the subject of secular music. Back in the glory days of pre Holocaust Europe. way more than a few “Rebbishe nigunim” were ‘inspired” by the marches and bar songs that the ‘goyim” of the village used to sing when marching, working or drinking.

On the subject of Chilul Hashem. Really?!?!. To hear Edon being described as being “not a showbiz kid… just humble and nice and America is going to fall in love with you”. Forget the talent, that’s a comment on the kid’s middos if I ever heard one.

On the subject of being upset by the yarmulke wearing because it links him to you. Again there’s worse things…way worse things. Yes, Mr Frum/Orthodox/Observant, I understand in a perfect world you wouldn’t want to be linked to either Edon or those of our tribe members who run afoul of the law.

But let’s face it, most of the world views all us frum folks as one quasi homogenous Group. Sure they know that the ones with the ear curls and long black coats probably don’t go to movies or watch TV and the ones without black hats and T shirts are more likely to know what the Knicks did last night, but those are all subtleties. Fact is, regardless what else you’re wearing, the world tends to ‘lump’ most frum people under one general yarmulke.

And while I don’t claim to know the color of this general (and metaphoric) yarmulke (though I AM pretty sure it’s made of suede), I will say I don’t mind if that yarmulke is being worn by someone described to millions of people as so “humble and nice…America will fall in love with you”. Look at it this way, he’s got talent, he’s ‘aidel’ if he was in medical school, it’d be the ultimate trifecta

In any case, it beats the way we’re usually described by members of the ‘Fourth Estate” (yes, I know the Fourth Estate usually refers to journalists, but as Howard describes himself as the “King of ALL Media”, I’m staying with that reference) .

While I’m at it, to all those who felt we’d all be better served if Edon chose to give in to his “Yetzer Horah” ALL the way and not just perform but do so sans Yarmulke, I have two words for you; Get Real.

Find me ANY serious/savvy community or lay leader who feels there’s a negative message in the way this humble, nice, monstrously talented kid who also happens to be a straight A student (ok so I watched the B roll background footage , sue me) is portraying Orthodoxy, and find you a person who is looking for attention…instead of looking out for the people he or she serves.

Edon’s meteoric rise through the America’s Got Talent ranks sends a message to frum kids everywhere “Being real to yourself beats being embarrassed to those around you. Bottom line, it’s a two way street, your yarmulke makes you as much as you make your yarmulke.”

Let’s say he would have taken it off and given the media savvy world we live in all it would take is a few days and fewer yentas for the word to get out that he IS in fact frum, would the fact he was hiding it send a better message?

Didn’t’ think so.

Bottom line to all this? Well truth is there isn’t. I doubt this will stop people from taking Edon and his family to task for succumbing to the “dark side”. I just hope they’re 100% sure they KNOW what/who/where defines the dark-side., because from where I’m sitting there’s not much “dark” about a kid with a yarmulke, midos, poise…and of course talent showing millions of people that certain things matter more to him than the opinions of three judges and for that matter millions of his fellow Americans. Because if you think for a second that Edon’s yarmulke hasn’t sparked a plethora of Google searches into what the “Yarmulke” is all about, what it represents, etc then think again.

And once people get that answer and realize what the yarmulke represents, they’ll realize that what we have here is a kid—and for that matter parents, who are potential role models for kids and parents everywhere.

Using this opportunity for Kiddush Hashem to instead lambaste him—and those who admire him isn’t just ill advised it’s bad karma as we’re right on the cusp of Shiva Asar B’tamuz and the Three Weeks/Nine Days…one of the darkest times in our people’s history. If memory serves, what began that chain of horrific events was a confrontation between Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Had they chosen a “live and let live” approach, it’s more than likely I’d be writing this from my home in Israel and Edon would be one of the judges of America’s Got Talent, But Israel Has The Jews…And The Jews Have God

Which makes me wonder what Judge Edon would say about Howard Stern’s ‘talents”?

And life goes on…which usually beats the alternative.

THAT’S WHAT I FEEL represents musings and meanderings on matters that matter to the person writing them. While he (yes he is a he) prefers to remain anonymous for now, some readers may recognize his literary style (primarily because he’s big on parenthetical asides and “print versions” of those annoying “air quotes”) . If you want to comment on this column feel free. If you want to reach him with ideas for future columns, critiques of past or present columns or threats of violence unless he stops saying what’s on his mind, he can be reached at THATSWHATIFEEL@GMAIL.COM. If you want to ignore him in the hope he’ll just go away that’s an option as well.

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