Home > D'vrei Torah > “The Eighth Sign”- d’var torah for Shabbat Chanukah, 12/31/05

“The Eighth Sign”- d’var torah for Shabbat Chanukah, 12/31/05

A few months after Katrina, I gave the year-end d’var torah during Shabbat Chanukah. We were in the middle of renovations, folks were coming back to town slowly, and the community was starting to get back on its feet. King Kong was the hot holiday movie, and the eighth sign of the apocalypse occurred on Days of Our Lives.

The Eighth Sign

So what’s been happening? Have you seen any good movies lately? Have you seen the new King Kong? I hardly ever go to movies anymore, but I try and stay informed. I like to peruse Entertainment Weekly. I have a number of shows that I follow. 24, The West Wing, The Office, The Apprentice—did you catch that? Did you catch the big finale? Randall who was the likeable hero for the whole series becomes the villain in the last minute by not letting Rebecca be a co-apprenti. She fared out okay. The next morning on the Today Show, she was offered a job from yahoo.com, which conveniently was one of the major marketing partners in the show. You couldn’t escape watching the TV show without seeing any of the scores of companies clamoring for marketing opportunities on the show. Yahoo.com is everywhere, Star Wars, Burger King, American Express—so many companies paying big bucks to be included within the scope of the show. You see it on Survivor—“the winner of this challenge gets a can of Pringles, and how would a tasty can of Pringles go right about now?”

Of course, you can’t go anywhere without seeing King Kong related merchandise. The movie promotional tie-ins are everywhere.

  • Chase King Kong Universal Entertainment Master Card
  • King Kong is on 18 million Kellogg Cereal boxes
  • Volkswagen has a new commercial that was shot on the King Kong movie set
  • Kong images on 10 million Nestle candy bars with their “Crunch and Win” online game
  • Toshiba Computers’ “Capture The Beast” Promotion
  • Royal Brunei Airlines—not sure how they’re involved, but they’re a sponsor
  • Burger King- The King Kong Double or Triple Whopper with a guaranteed artery clog
  • California Lottery, Georgia Lottery, New York Lottery
  • And of course, once again there’s the Pringles King Kong game, and Pringles is also offering new Pringles Prints with items from the 2006 Guinness Book of World Records imprinted on every chip.  They just paid me $5,000 to give that plug.

The King Kong Pringles game, where apparently you have to jump over cans of Pringles.

Cross promotion is everywhere. Companies are tying in with each other finding new ways to promote and new ways to reach out to potential customers. We’ve seen a paradigm shift in the world of advertising that totally changes around the world of consumer marketing. One of the more alarming examples of this happened a couple of weeks ago—you probably didn’t see it. But it was a sign of the END OF THE WORLD. The Rolling Stones appeared on Days of Our Lives. The episodes that aired December 16, 19, and 20, had four cast members winding up at a Stones Show in Anaheim. During the concert, which of course had Mick Jagger strutting like a chicken on stage, the cast members showed up on the arena’s Jumbotron, which played a role in the show’s storyline which I won’t go into because it’s insipid, and I stress that I only watched the show for research purposes. There have been other Rolling Stones tie-ins in recent weeks. The music video for the new single “Streets of Love” had its premier on the show, with two characters saying “hey, let’s watch tv—the new Stones video is on. Man, I love that band. They’re the greatest rock band of all time!”

(If you have the stomach, you can watch it here.)

So why are the Rolling Stones, whose four members have a combined age of 245, appearing on Days of Our Lives? Because they’re trying to reach a new market. According to NBC, the Stones came to them because they were trying to reach out to the demographic of women ages 18-49, because that was a previously untapped market for them. They’re trying to find new ways to reach out and market their product with a previously underutilized audience. Their album entered the Billboard chart at #3 and sank pretty quickly. Sure, it sold 129,00 copies its first week, which we would pretty happy about for any album at Basin Street Records, but it very quickly sank in the ratings, down to #154 a couple of weeks ago, so they needed to something drastic, and selling their souls to Days of our Lives was pretty drastic.

Conducting research for this sermon with Days Of Our Lives' Bryan Datillo (Lucas), back in the early 90s

But that’s what companies need to do to keep up with changing times and changing trends. And synagogues and Judaism need to do the same thing. This was addressed at the USCJ Biennial convention at which I had the honor of speaking a few weeks ago. During a major address, USCJ CEO Rabbi Jerome Epstein introduced the concept of edud: encouragement, support, and inspiration towards interfaith families. While continuing to encourage marriage within the Jewish community, reaching out to both the Jewish and non-Jewish spouse when intermarriage occurs—to outreach to the non-Jewish spouse to encourage their involvement in synagogue life, to inspire Jewish study, and to make the non-Jewish spouse feel comfortable with our religion for the eventual goal of halakhic conversion. I will leave it to Rabbi Lichtenfeld upon his return to further explain the concepts and principles behind this, and to elaborate on what he feels that our congregation and other congregations should do in response to these new principles. The movement has published a booklet—in their words “A Roadmap of Approaches, Suggestions and Expectations offering a Sincere Concern and Encouragement of Intermarried Families to Become Part of Conservative Judaism.” This is a tremendous change for the movement, but it shifts towards principles of encouraging conversion and creating programs of methods of outreach. This is a whole new demographic to which Conservative Judaism is trying to market.

It involves promotion and marketing, but now more than ever, we need to have a shift in the ways in which we are thinking to be able to attract more people into our synagogues. We’re going to face the same thing at Shir Chadash, but we have the opportunity now to market ourselves, to promote, to show to the community and to the world that under the most dire of circumstances, we will continue to be a vibrant congregation in a rebuilding city, and we will be on the forefront of providing a comforting spiritual home to those who are returning to their physical homes. How we do this? By showing that we are back and being consistent with programs, education, services, and events. We had 85 people at the amazing Chai-nese Chanukah dinner earlier this week, and yasher koach to Nicole Tygier and her committee for all of their work. There were over 500 people at the JCC Chanukah party a week ago, and several hundred people Thursday night at the annual Chanukah celebration at the Riverwalk. And here on a Shabbat morning, we have seen over the last 13 weeks attendance going up each and every week. On October 8, our first Shabbat back, we had 12 people. Last week, we had 86.

And the numbers are growing. That’s the word we need to get out—that it is still possible to live Jewishly in New Orleans and that Shir Chadash can and will be a haven for more than just a place to pray. Our Religious School reopens a week from tomorrow. In discussions a few weeks ago, we agreed that it doesn’t matter how many kids are back—what matters is that they have a place to come back to—a place to learn, to socialize, and to feel good about being home. Even if we only have 3 children in religious school—Shir Chadash is going to offer it. We have over 20 signed up, and more are on the way.  It’s incumbent for us to re-start our Adult Education programs, our Men’s Club minyanim, Sisterhood Programs, USY and Kadima events, Israeli Dancing, and those things for which our synagogue is known. It’s even more important, however,  for us to be able to find new ways to get people involved. Jewish Yoga as an example, music, cultural events—Shir Chadash needs to the catalyst for a new and innovative way of looking at a synagogue.

Within the last ten days, a new event was born in the city of New Orleans. I was asked to attend a breakfast during which we began to develop the first annual New Orleans International Jewish Music Festival, to be held April 1 and 2, 2006. Details are in the works, but through the generosity of Gary Rosenthal and the assistance of Moment Magazine, this promises to be an event that will showcase national as well as local Jewish musicians, and provide an outlet for people around the country to visit New Orleans, to help rebuild the Jewish community, and to enjoy the finest names in Jewish entertainment. During the discussions, there were some concerns brought up that we are trying to do this too big and too quickly. But we said this needs to be done because it needs to be done—and this is our opportunity while we are in the public eye to reach out to potential sponsors and benefactors and to showcase a resurgence of the New Orleans Jewish Community.

(Editor’s Note: A recap of the event can be found here)

For businesses, they must adapt to constantly changing business climates. We saw it with the record label with the paradigmatic shift towards downloading music online rather than buying CDs from record stores. Companies are having to come up with new ways of getting the word out about their product. The good folks at Pringles are showing their creativity in finding new ways to showcase their chips. Judaism and Shir Chadash need to find new and creative ways to market and to outreach.

Tanya Boyd (ex-Celeste, Days of our Lives) helps me with research for the dvar torah I would give almost twenty years later.

And we have much to showcase. At Shir Chadash, we have a great new Rabbi. We have a dedicated group of people who make up our congregation, and we have a physical home that is making strides every day. How fitting it is that this morning on Shabbat Chanukah, we are back in the newly carpeted Sanctuary—and while we still have a ways to go, there has been much progress in painting, carpet, wallpaper, bathrooms, electrical, and more. Yasher Koach to Sande Burstein and Pat Klein for spearheading the efforts to improve our building.  During Chanukah, in the Amidah and Birkhat Hamazon, we read a special prayer called the Al Hanisim, where we tell G-d thank you for the miraculous deliverance, for the heroism, and of the triumphs in battle of our ancestors in other days, and in our time. We read the story of the Maccabees and of the great miraculous deliverance enabled by Hashem. Then we read, “Your children came into Your shrine, cleansed your temple, purified your sanctuary, and kindled lights in your sacred courts. They set aside these eight days as a season for giving thanks and reciting praises to You.”  As this Chanukah and as this tumultuous year conclude, we thank G-d for giving us all that we have. And as we turn the corner on this new secular year, we open another chapter in our lives and in the life of this synagogue. Let us rededicate ourselves to New Orleans and to Shir Chadash, let us spread the word that it’s time to come home, and let us hope for G-d to give us the strength and courage to get through all the Days of our Lives.  Amen.

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