The Funniest Jew on Earth - Mel Brooks and What's My Line? - Willie Mays; Jack Paar [panel] (Jul 11, 1954) and Drones Take Flight over City of Hadera in Test of Israel’s National Commercial Drone Network and Supreme Court Cheerleads for First AmendmentBy Alan M. Dershowitz
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement.
Supreme Court Cheerleads for First Amendment By Alan M. Dershowitz
In an 8-1 decision, the United States Supreme Court reminded a nation that seems to have forgotten freedom of speech about the importance of the First Amendment.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a thoughtful decision denying public schools the power to discipline high school students for talking the way high school students tend to talk among themselves outside of school. A 14-year-old cheerleader had made the mistake of sending a rant to a few friends, one of whose mothers was a coach.
This was not a broad decision that gave students the right to say or do anything outside of school. It was limited to cases in which students are disciplined for making statements that would generally be protected by the First Amendment and did not significantly affect the educational mission of the school. It would not apply, for example, to bullying or other harmful speech that would impact other students.
The significance of this decision goes well beyond the cheerleader and her juvenile gestures and words. It sends a powerful message that the Supreme Court is still in the business of protecting offensive speech, even as big tech, universities and many progressives have tried to justify pervasive censorship of speech with which they disagree. "Free speech for me, but not for thee" has become a common mantra of the hard left, and of those institutions that kowtow to the most radical elements of our society.
In a recent book, entitled, The Case Against the New Censorship: Protecting Free Speech from Big Tech, Progressives and Universities, I argued that the most dangerous form of contemporary censorship comes not from the government, but rather from private parties who themselves have the First Amendment right to censor speech with which they disagree. In other words, what we are experiencing is an attack not on the First Amendment itself, but rather on the culture of free speech that the First Amendment is designed to protect.
Although the cheerleader case involved a public school, its implications go beyond government. Many private universities, for example — such as Harvard, where I taught for 50 years — loudly proclaimed that although they are not technically bound by the First Amendment, they follow it to the letter. It will be interesting to see whether these private schools will now stop disciplining and denying admission to students and applicants based on statements they made on social media. Today many such institutions punish students and applicants for social media statements they may have posted when they were the same youthful age as the cheerleader. Nor is the punishment always based on neutral or objective standards. It tends to be imposed far more on conservative students who have violated political correctness norms of the left. It is rarely, if ever, imposed on left-wing students, especially students of color, who make statements that are deeply offensive to conservatives and/or white heterosexual men. The constitutional reach of the First Amendment permits such selective punishment by private institutions, but the culture of freedom of expression does not.
Justice Louis Brandeis correctly pointed out a century ago: "The Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher…", to which may be added, "and the Supreme Court is the dean." When the government suppresses speech, the lesson is learned and often emulated by other institutions. This is especially true of our public schools, which, as Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out, are the nurseries of our Constitution.
Surprisingly, Justice Clarence Thomas was the sole dissenter. He usually can be counted on to defend freedom of speech and other core constitutional values, especially against partisan and selective attacks from the left. But Thomas is an originalist who interprets the Constitution in accordance with what the Framers intended, and he concluded — erroneously in my view — that the Framers placed a higher value on school discipline than on freedom of speech for students. The important point, however, is that eight justices — three liberals and five conservatives — sided with the First Amendment over the claims of school authorities.
Let us see, then, how these new censors respond to that new decision.
Drones Take Flight over City of Hadera in Test of Israel's National Commercial Drone Network
Israel's National Drone Initiative, which first began its flights over urban areas in January 2021, entered a new phase in its pilot program on Sunday with flights over houses and above residents in and around the northern city of Haderaת as part of the NAAMA Initiative (a Hebrew acronym for Urban Aerial Transport).
In this current phase of the pilot project, various Israeli companies will collaborate with state-funded companies operating drones to conduct pilots of commercial goods delivery including cosmetics, food and medicine, directly to the doorsteps of Hadera residents.
This is the second stage in a series of eight demonstrations expected to take place during the coming two years, in which tens of thousands of sorties will take place in the skies above Hadera.
The initiative, which originated via a collaboration between the Israel Innovation Authority, the Israeli Ministry of Transport, the Israel Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) and the Smart Transportation Authority, was established to improve the functionality of drones for the benefit of the public, ultimately helping to reduce road congestion.
Likewise, the initiative is working towards creating a national network of air corridors for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) deliveries of medicine, medical examinations and equipment, eCommerce, and more.
Dror Bin, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority, said that "the National Drone Initiative is reaching new heights, initiating services to customers."
"The Israel Innovation Authority sees great value in ensuring that Israeli citizens will be able to benefit from local innovation and enjoy advanced services such as receiving goods delivered via drones to their home," he said.
This pilot project will serve as a catalyst for additional public entities such as the IDF Home Front Command, Magen David Adom and United Hatzalah emergency services and other commercial entities which joined this program.
Over the past 18 months, various activities have been carried out with the aim of building experience, knowhow and familiarity with the regulatory framework necessary to maximize the utilization of rapidly developing technologies while removing barriers and opening up opportunities for participating startups, thus turning Israel into a beta site for conducting such pilot tests.
The first demonstration took place in March 2021 as part of a series of eight demonstrations under the Israel Innovation Authority pilot program in collaboration with the initiative.
Five companies operated about 20 drones in the demonstration, flying over 2,000 sorties in the skies above the city of Hadera, conducted under one unified command and control system.
The airspace was managed by an autonomous Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) system operated from the Ayalon Highways aerial control center – the command and control center of the demonstration.
The drones flew about 300 sorties a day over open areas, with each drone simulating one of range of a tasks: food deliveries, transport of medicine and medical equipment, as well as agricultural services.
The first demonstration achieved numerous goals, demonstrating proof of concept of managing a unified airspace for a number of companies controlling an autonomous drone fleet and flying in a multi-drone environment – in a coordinated and safe manner while crossing over roads. These achievements demonstrated Israel's position as one of the most advanced pilot sites in the world in this field.
The second demonstration in this series began on Sunday, with the participation of companies which received the support of the Israel Innovation Authority as part of the Authority's pilot program managing and operating autonomous drone networks, alongside other companies and entities with drone fleets which were interested in taking part in this first-of-its-kind experiment.
In this second phase of the pilot project, flights are being carried out over residential neighborhoods in the city of Hadera.
In addition, there are demonstrations of end-to-end drone deliveries – from the moment the order is placed via an app, up to and including the delivery of the goods to the end customer.
This is the first time that drone delivery flights will be carried out within urban residential neighborhoods from key takeoff points in the city, in close proximity to businesses, public institutions, etc.
The flights are operated by the six different companies.
They are expected to be joined by the Israeli Police, the National Fire Department and the IDF Home Front Command.
The Funniest Jew on Earth
On Mel Brooks' 95th birthday, a celebration of the man whose humor faced down death and made generations of Jews feel seen
Ask Americans—well, Jews, well, most Jews, well, some Jews—over the age of 60 who is the funniest man on Earth? The answer is "Mel Brooks." Brooks is the last great Hollywood Jew and when he goes—kinahora not for another 25 years—something will die with him. He might be the last great American Jew, period, some cross between a Kishinev shochet and a Williamsburg ganif, with that voice so full of wryness that the mere anticipation of what it might next utter brings a smile to our lips and comfort to our hearts.
It started in Europe, where the American-born Brooks followed his brothers into the army and ended up serving in the final advance on Germany in 1945. Mel says it was the war that really connected him to a deeper sense of his Jewish identity. In Patrick McGilligan's exhaustive biography, Funny Man, he says, "I knew what Hitler was doing to Jews, so I really did feel this was a proper and just war." He even tells a story of being called a "dirty Jew" by a fellow GI during training and reflexively lunging at him, proud of being "a tough Jew from Brooklyn." By the end of his tour, he was entertaining troops with what would become his signature impression: Adolf Hitler with a comb for a tiny mustache and manic German gibberish.
Upon returning to New York, and every day hence, he has carried the torch of Jewish indignation, and pride. Publicly. This torch has created gifts for the millions, Jew and gentile, but especially a subset of us Jews for whom the jokes are not only funny but deeply personal and somehow cleansing—an unabashed embrace of being one of us.
Though he wrote for Sid Caesar throughout the 1950s and beyond, Mel's big break came with the release of the "2000 Year Old Man" in 1960, recorded with his friend Carl Reiner. In it, Reiner plays the straight man to Brooks' ancient storyteller, the twist being that the ancient man speaks like a Lower East Side loxmonger circa 1925. Part of what makes the conceit hilarious is that the 2000 Year Old Man's responses to Reiner's questions don't often reflect the answer an ancient Israelite might give, but rather the answer that your great-uncle Sauly would. On Ed Sullivan in 1961, he waxes rhapsodic about the greatness of wax paper, "mankind's greatest development." When asked about the discovery of space he says, "That was good. That was nice. Finding space was cute."
Interviewed by McGilligan, Carl Reiner is asked why it took them so long to actually perform the sketch publicly. "Would WASP America get him? ... Would Christians find the old Jew funny? Do 'our people' still consider the Yiddish accent to be non grata?" Whatever the Jews thought about the accent, the Christians ate it up. Including the Queen Mum apparently. As Reiner recalled, "If the biggest shiksa in the world loves it, we're home free."
Brooks' films, the body of work which has made him an American icon, are hilarious, sometimes moving, always gratuitous and therefore often wildly uneven attempts to get every last bissel of his id onto the screen. And so much of that id speaks in a secret dying language. Sometimes literally Yiddish, but more than that, the sensibility of the "Ostjuden"—as the haughty Austrian Jews sometimes referred to their Eastern brethren.
In Blazing Saddles, Brooks' Native American chief speaks fluent Yiddish, out of nowhere, with no translation for the audience. Mel just lays it on you, you don't like it, vell, gay kaken ofn yam. By minute 14 of History of the World, Part I, a Black, Jewish, Roman slave is performing "Hava Nagila" for an enthusiastic crowd, and later, the sail of the ship the good guys escape on to the Holy Land is emblazoned with "El Al."
Robin Hood: Men in Tights is not Brooks' best work, but the best moments are Jewish. To wit, when the hero of the story barges into a banquet and drops a dead boar on the table of the usurper Prince John (played by Richard Lewis) he looks away and mutters, "treyf." The scene continues as if he hadn't said anything, but I was smacking my desk with glee.
Later, out of nowhere, Mel, as a traveling rabbi, pulls up to Robin and his merry men in full Hasidic regalia. When Robin asks who he is, he responds in a pitch perfect accent, "I am Rabbi Tuchman, purveyor of sacramental wine, and mohel extraordinaire." The merry men greet him "Hello, Rabbi" and he tips his cap with a jaunty, "Hello boyis." Pronounced boy-iss; which is what my father would sometimes call us, aping the old survivors he grew up around on Chicago's West Side, and which is hilarious in this context. Rabbi Tuchman goes on to explain what a mohel does with a mini-guillotine and a carrot and decides to help the boyis get "verschnickered" on holy wine.
And there's the screwy, moronic, sublime Spaceballs. I must have been 8 or 9 years old when I first saw it. "Dark Helmet" and "Major Asshole" speak for themselves but even at that age, I felt some ownership over "funny, she doesn't look Druish" and all the bits with "Yogurt," the Borscht Belt Yoda. When the heroes enter Yogurt's cave, John Candy's "Barf" says to the C3PO proxy, "It looks like the Temple of Doom!" Her reply, "Well, it sure ain't Temple Beth Israel."
The beauty of all these asides is that they're completely unnecessary. They do absolutely nothing to further the story of these films. That's the nature of a gift, nu?
Of course, there are more pointed choices. In his 92-minute film on the entire History of the World (Part I), Mel gives 8 minutes and 34 seconds to a showstopper about the Inquisition. A million other Jewish comedians would have thought through the history of the world, but a musical number detailing how the Jews of Spain were tortured would never have crossed their minds. But, Mel. It's a brilliant song and dance, and shockingly specific. "I'm sitting, picking chickens and I'm looking through the pickingsand suddenly these goys break down my walls! I didn't even know them and they grabbed me by the scrotum andthey started playing ping pong with my balls. Oy, the agony! Ooh, the shame! To make my privates public for a game!" I wonder how many people learned about the Inquisition, and even, if they were very curious, Sephardic Jewry, from this stinging farce?
His furious need to Judaize every piece of art is most acutely displayed in his remake of To Be or Not to Be, originally directed by Ernest Lubitsch and released on March 6, 1942, not two months after the Wannsee Conference cemented the "Final Solution" for the remaining Jews of Europe. I watched both versions and Lubitsch's is a daring, masterful satire, with more wit than humor, centered on a married Polish acting duo of some fame living in Warsaw during occupation. They become embroiled in the plots of the Polish and British underground and hijinks ensue, using the convention of a theatrical troupe to mock the absurd nature of the Third Reich.
In the original, there is barely a reference to Jews, besides a member of the troupe named Greenberg who performs Shylock at a crucial moment toward the end, and even then, the term Jew has been stripped from the famous speech in favor of a universal "have we not eyes?" et al. Such was the state of the world in 1942, or maybe the specifically Jewish anxiety of mainstream Hollywood in 1942.
In Mel's version, the "Jew" was put back in, and he wanted it emphasized. The adaptation was made in the house style, substituting a vaudevillian dancing Hitler for the more serious drama of the theater company in the original. One new line from this new version which summarizes his approach, "It's good to breathe the air of the Gestapo again."
And one result of his protest, not accidentally, was the elevation of Jewish dignity in the wake of suffering.
There was also the addition of an openly gay character and a family of Jewish refugees who hide out in the theater basement. Biographer McGilligan sees the addition of the gay character, Sasha, as recompense for Brooks' track record of unfortunate gay jokes throughout his career. At one point Sasha gives a resigned speech to Anne Bancroft's character about having to wear the pink triangle, and later is almost "deported" by the SS before Brooks' character manages to save him. It's heavy-handed moralizing but nothing Mel does is ever subtle.
The addition of the specifically Jewish family of refugees is also a blunt force instrument. To Be or Not to Be isn't going to go down as one of the great cinematic confrontations with the Shoah. But they are there. They wear the yellow star. They are terrified. And Brooks finds a way to save them through a clown car routine.
At the seminal moment of tension as the clowns run down the aisle to the theater exit through a packed house of Nazis, one old woman breaks down and freezes. Sheer terror of the Nazis stops her in her tracks, she is weeping and shaking. It seems that their cover is about to be blown until another "clown" pulls out a yellow star, slaps it on her, and shouts in a mocking voice, "Juuuuden!" which of course brings the house down. The appeal to the Nazis' Jew hatred works, they assume it's meant to be part of the clown act, and the "Juuuuden" escape. The moment works, it's deeply ugly and deeply true; and very concisely, Mel makes his update yet another fuck you to Germany, or to anyone who by 1983 had started to forget, or to generalize the suffering.
Something which didn't make it into the film but which you can look up on YouTube is the "Hitler Rap" music video Mel recorded—perhaps as an ancillary marketing tool. The underlying jam evokes Carl Carlton's masterpiece "She's a Bad Mama Jama (She's Built, She's Stacked)" crossed with early hip-hop rhythms and a slightly camp late disco style. It looks like they shot on the set of Tron. A representative lyric: "Like Humpty Dumpty over that wall, all the little countries they began to fall. Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Poland, the troops were rockin' and the tanks were rollin'." It's insane. But it leaves me feeling the same way the inclusion of the Spanish Inquisition number does in History of the World … grateful for Brooks' massive Jewish balls.
And the relentlessness doesn't just show up in his work. You can find Mel inserting angry Jewish invective in interviews since at least 1975, and probably before. That year he gave a massive, hilarious interview to Playboy. He uses the word Jew, or Jewish, 75 times in his answers. At one point he riffs on what he knew growing up about the Jews:
When I was a kid, I was very confused by what the Jew was in the outer world. I knew what he was in Williamsburg. He was a runner and a rat and scared as hell. But Jews in the outside world I heard different, conflicting things about. First of all, I heard that they were the Communists, overthrowing all the governments in the world. When I was in high school, I thought a Jew's job in life was to throw over every government. The other thing I heard was that the Jews were capitalists and had all the gold and the banks and that the Jews' job was to kill all the socialists and the radicals. So I never really figured out what the Jewish mission was. Should I kill the capitalists and take their money? No, I'd be killing Jews. Should I stamp out the radicals so that we could keep our money? No, I'd be killing Jews. Very confusing. BUT (leaps to his feet) ENOUGH OF JEWS! I WILL SPEAK NO MORE OF JEWS! IN FACT, I WILL SPEAK NO MORE OF ANYTHING!
That same month, on Carson, he is telling Johnny about the disastrous first screening of Blazing Saddles for the studio execs who greenlighted it, trying to describe how they watch films. "These are clinicians, professional people, they're not laughing like Jews, for happiness, or Germans, for killing …" Can you imagine anyone doing anything equivalent on any late show now?
Later, Carson brings on his second guest, Susan Blakely, an actress. Mel is constantly interjecting in their interview, and interrupts again when Blakely reveals she was an army brat "born in Germany." Mel instantly mutters "wie gehts dir heute nacht?" Blakely says, "You don't like Germans do you?" "I hate 'em." She laughs. Mel says, "Oh no it's OK, I only hate Nazis and only in black-and-white old '30s movies, I mean a kid is a kid, you can't yell at a kid." Carson asks her if Mel was actually speaking German, they establish that he was. Mel offers up, "I also know 'Heil Hitler.'" Carson laughs, but says, "No."
The examples go on and on. His 2001 Tony Award acceptance speech for The Producers thanks "Hitler" and "a phalanx, an avalanche of Jews who have come with their talent, their money, but most of all their spirit and their love for the theater." He wants the audience to know who made this record-breaking musical—as if they couldn't tell. Even in victory he's waving the flag.
When I see Mel Brooks, at age 94, still taking out that stupid comb and heiling his head off, I feel seen and loved. You see, I grew up a very particular kind of way. Lots of ghosts.
It wasn't unusual at any given moment to hear my father singing "Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles" quietly to himself, or loudly, to no one in particular. My father would often respond to simple requests with an impassioned and sarcastic, "Yes meine Fuehrer!" with the two fingers of his left hand beneath his nose, almost poking into his nostrils and his right hand held shoulder high, but weak at the wrist. Bent back just enough to make the tableau comical. "Oh vat das de Fuehrer want now?" Or he would respond to our insolence with, "How dare you talk to the Fuehrer that way?!" Anyone, or anything, could be the Fuehrer in any moment, sometimes even inanimate objects.
Rather than saying, "it's time to go now" when we were meant to be somewhere, my father would declaim in his exaggerated impression of an SS officer, "Raus Juden! Juden, Raus!" And of course, I grew up singing a little ditty that goes, "Haben Sie Gehört Das Deutsches Band?" knowing when to come in with the "mit a bang, mit a boom, mit a bing bang bing bang boom!" I didn't know it was from The Producers until later.
Whether or not Nazi cosplay is a normal coping mechanism for other children and grandchildren of Auschwitz I do not know. I don't know that many. After all, ash doesn't produce very many descendants. But in our relentless, neurotic house, this constant mockery of the Nazis was my fathers', and later, my and my brothers' way of coping with the vast, furious shadows inside. It also gave us a way to be close to our dad, who was clearly in pain.
In 2013, Mel told Marc Maron that Jewish humor is born of "fear." "Fear is always lurking and it creates a pizazz, an energy, fight or flight is right there for every Jew." In his Playboy interview, he tries to explain how his own fear of death powers everything he does:
My liveliness is based on an incredible fear of death. In order to keep death at bay, I do a lot of "Yah! Yah! Yah!" And death says, "All right. He's too noisy and busy. I'll wait for someone who's sitting quietly, half asleep. I'll nail him. Why should I bother with this guy? I'll have a lot of trouble getting him out the door." There's a little door they gotta get you through. "This will be a fight," death says. "I ain't got time." Most people are afraid of death, but I really hate it! My humor is a scream and a protest against goodbye.
Across nine decades, Mel Brooks has been screaming and protesting against death and making us fall on the floor in hysterics. And one result of his protest, not accidentally, was the elevation of Jewish dignity in the wake of suffering. Like Mel, a great many and various Jews spent the 20th century protesting against goodbye. Unlike the Hollywood of the 1940s, and a great many today, Mel never forgot the protesters. I can't really think of anything more generous for them, for us, for my father and me, than Mel and his comb mustache, snarling at history with a ludicrous German accent.