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While You Were Away

With readers on vacation or out enjoying Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa parties, The Shmooze spent the holidays on the lookout for broadcast nuggets that might have been lost in all the year-end reveling. Our favorites:

Jay Leno took an unusual interest in comic actor Jack Black’s Jewish background when Black appeared December 7, 2006, on “The Tonight Show” (re-broadcast three weeks later, December 28, during Leno’s holiday break). It started out when Leno asked Black what his holiday plans were. Black explained that both his and his wife’s parents were divorced, “so we’ve got Hanukkah with my mom, Christmas at my dad’s farm in Oregon, Hanukkah with her mom and then more Hanukkah with her dad.” A few minutes later, Leno asked Black to tell the story of how he had first “caught the acting bug” at a Seder. Black first explained that he is “a Jew,” to which Leno replied that the “Hanukkah thing was a dead giveaway.” Black earnestly noted that he also had mentioned Christmas, but then conceded that being Jewish passes through the mother, so he was “automatic.” He went on to tell a rambling story about a childhood Seder at which an aunt organized a skit for the kids, “and I was hooked.”

It could be mere coincidence, but just minutes before Black came out, Leno had planted another Hanukkah bit in one of his man-on-the-street interview segments. He was asking passersby to try out their best Christmas carol, and amid the usual parade of befuddled tourists and busy shoppers, he cornered a statuesque, sexily dressed brunette who identified herself as Donna Feldman, an actress. (Her Web site shows her to be a prolific swimsuit model and game-show mannequin of “Israeli origin,” and her appearance was evidently prearranged.) She offered a credible round of “My Little Dreidel,” while Leno leered approvingly, his eyes all but making her the star of the segment.

Was there a point to Leno’s burst of Jewish holiday cheer? Perhaps none — or perhaps it was his announcement, before the show ended, that his scheduled guest the next night was Mel Gibson.

It was the pre-Christmas broadcast of “The McLaughlin Group,” but things sure felt more like Easter season when it came time for each host to name the “Turncoat of the Year.” They could just as well have dubbed it the “Judas of the Year” award, with the picks that host John McLaughlin and his panelists were making. No surprise in former GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan picking the neoconservatives. MSNBC senior political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell mentioned Richard Perle, McLaughlin named Jack Abramoff, while Newsweek contributing editor Eleanor Clift pointed the finger at Senator Joseph Lieberman. Tony Blankley, editorial page editor of the conservative Washington Times, chose Gwyneth Paltrow (rabbinic scion, occasional synagogue goer), and O’Donnell also collared Colin Powell (claims to speak Yiddish).

Jackie Mason has issued his verdict on the media frenzy surrounding Senator Barack Obama. Let’s just say that the comedian-turned-pundit sounds like he’d rather eat a prune Danish than see the Illinois Democrat in the White House. During a December 27 stint subbing for conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, Mason weighed in on Obama-mania: “If he was a tall white man or a short Jew, do you think after two years in the Senate having accomplished nothing that he would be the hottest candidate for the presidency?”

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