Category Archives: Jerusalem Report Flashback

I would have been a horrible Pharaoh

Pharaoh Egypt Sims video game ancient civilizations

Be a tyrant from the comfort of your own living room

“A Virtual Failure as Pharaoh”
By Darren Garnick

Originally Published: The Jerusalem Report, April 2001
I would’ve made a terrible Pharaoh, perhaps even the worst Pharaoh ever.

Moses would’ve worn me down after the first “Let My People Go!”

Hailstones, bloody rivers and voracious grasshoppers would not have been

I know this after my brief stint on the Egyptian throne in “Pharaoh,” a new role-playing computer game that lets you build the pyramids to your own specifications. Part of the Great Empires Collection by Sierra Studios – other volumes let you recreate Ancient Rome (“Caesar III”) and Ancient Greece (“Zeus”) – the game makes the assumption that urban planning is an enjoyable experience. Are homes along the Nile protected with adequate drainage ditches? What kinds of commercial development should be permissible near the Sphinx? Is Alexandria’s tax rate sufficient to build new schools?

All of this tantalizing minutia was left out of the Passover story. But it’s now available in the “Pharaoh” user’s guide, a volume about three times as thick as my Maxwell House Haggadah, which players must consult constantly for tips on keeping the Egyptian public happy. The game shares this much with the Passover seder: It goes on for hours with lots of redundant reading. For those with the patience, “Pharaoh” can span a time frame of 5,000 years – more than 10 times the amount of time the Hebrews spent schlepping rocks.

“Build A Kingdom. Rule The Nile. Live Forever.” The game’s slogan makes the Pharaohs sound like cool dudes. The term “slavery” is never mentioned, making ancient Egypt appear to be a place where labor unions thrived. One of the first stages of pyramid building requires contacting the “carpenters, bricklayers and stonemasons’ guilds,” leaving the “peasants” to deliver raw materials. Because peasants are included in the government’s unemployment figures, it appears as if they are paid for their work.

I didn’t have to worry about pay raises, though. A large percentage of employees died from malaria, a disease delighted by my failure to build medical clinics. As Pharaoh, I was also incompetent in agriculture, not producing enough grain to feed the masses – or enough straw to make the bricks. I was oblivious to it all, hearing only whispers of adulation from my sycophant advisors: “People love you… People idolize you as a god.”

To avoid controversy, the video game designers conveniently don’t identify the ethnicity of those who would have been building my cities (if there were any bricks). Although the Israelites were likely not the only people enslaved by Egypt, they were the only ones to have a movie made about them. That standard carries no weight here – there’s not a single reference to the Hebrews, the Israelites or the Jews. Though this game has no overt political leanings, it is interesting to note that the Libyans and Syrians get plenty of face time.

My major accomplishment as Pharaoh was building a dance school and a jugglers’ school, both of which emerged unscathed after enemy troops torched my capital city. Needless to say, the local deities were not pleased with my overall performance. Seth, the god of destruction; Prah, the god of craftsmen; and Bast, the goddess of the home, all put me on their hit lists.

According to a papyrus memo dated October 1834 BC, I was deemed the worst Pharaoh ever:

“O bitter day! Your ignoble end should’ve been unthinkable. Your failure stains the names of descendants yet unborn. You might have joined the elite who achieved immortality in the Field of Reeds. Instead, you will pass unlamented into shadow.”

Too bad that a bumbling guy like me wasn’t really running the show.


** Why I would have been a horrible Pharaoh !

** Schlock Flashback: Steven Spielberg’s Country Music Moses

** The Joys of Plastic Lice: Passover toys celebrate Ancient Egypt’s regime change

** Schlock Flashback: Origins of the Moses Duck

** Let My Tastebuds Go: I dare you to try Passover breakfast cereal!

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Phishing for Jewish Heritage

phish 96

Though many may see Phish as the heirs to the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia’s band never regaled audiences with renditions of “Jerusalem of Gold” – in Hebrew, no less

Originally Published: December 26, 1996
The Jerusalem Report

By Darren Garnick

They never asked to inherit the mantle of the Grateful Dead after Jerry Garcia’s death. They seldom sing about utopian peace, love or brotherhood. But whether they accept the honors or not, the members of the undefinable Vermont band Phish are the shaggy-haired heirs to the Grateful Dead. Their ever-expanding and faithful population of “Phishheads,” comprised mostly of those born after Volkswagen buses went out of vogue, are keeping the American hippie mystique alive.

Guitarist Trey Anastasio, keyboardist Page McConnell, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman, all hovering around age 30, often bounce mid-stage on trampolines, not missing a beat in their performance – which is never the same set of songs as the previous night. The crowd-pleasing Fishman wears a polka-dot dress in concert and sometimes plays the vacuum cleaner as a musical instrument. Like the Grateful Dead, Phish has always sold more concert tickets than albums and encourages its fanatically loyal fans to make bootleg tapes of their shows.


It is no accident if some of Phish’s infamous free-wheeling jams – which never get airplay on mainstream radio stations – include occasional snatches of Hebrew. Fishman and bassist Mike Gordon are Jewish, and bundled in their tie-dyed core are strands of klezmer and even “Jerusalem of Gold.” The Hebrew lyrics of Naomi Shemer’s classic song, which turned into an ode to the reunification of Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day War, was featured in the liner notes of the group’s 1994 album “Hoist,” and the melody made its way into the end of a long instrumental on the disk, just as it sometimes unexpectedly surfaces in concert.

Gordon, who attended the Solomon Schechter Hebrew Day School in Newton, Massachusetts, in his youth, used to hear the tune on one of his parents’ Israeli “Greatest Hits” compilation albums, which got major air time in the house. “It’s been a melody that has been stuck in my head since childhood. We sort of sing a mediocre – or bad – version of the song,” the self-effacing Gordon recently told The Jerusalem Report. “The first time we played the song in concert was a great moment. It was at a sold-out show near Boston, and 17,000 people were perfectly silent. They didn’t know what they were hearing” – not surprising, since Phish was performing it in Hebrew. “It was special, because my grandmother was there.”

Phish Billy Breathes

Gordon, whose grin adorns the cover of Phish’s 1996 release, “Billy Breathes,” recalls that the non-Jewish band members “were eager to do ‘Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.’ I’m more familiar with Hebrew than Jon. It was difficult for them to learn their parts. I’m not as religious as I used to be,” he says. “But at the same time, I feel I have a strong Jewish identity and it is an important part of who I am.”

THE “PHAB PHOUR,” as some wryly refer to them in writing, are always striving to outdo themselves on the quirky meter. Adopting “musical costumes,” for Halloween concerts, the band has done shows consisting entirely of cover versions of the Beatles’s “White Album” and The Who’s “Quadrophenia.” This year they were the Talking Heads, performing songs from their album “Remain in Light.”

While non-Phish fans are quick to dismiss some of the band’s own lyrics as foolish babble, they will never be accused of attending the Cliche School of Songwriting. “Scent of a Mule,” for example, is about a girl and her donkey trying to make peace with their UFO abductors. Trying to be diplomatic, she urges the aliens: “Stop, we ain’t looking for a fightin’… Come on over for some lemonade – just follow me now with the whole brigade.” The appropriately titled “Dinner and a Movie” is an endless reel of the dating refrain, “Let’s go out to dinner and see a movie.” And another foot-tapper called “Contact” is a silly, rhyming tribute to our dependence on the automobile: “The tires are the things on your car that make contact with the road… Bummed is what you are when you find out that your car has been towed.”

The band has been together since 1983, when three of its four members met as freshmen at the University of Vermont. Attracting a strong following on the college pub circuit, the musicians held a series of jobs as odd as their song lyrics. According to their fan newsletter, “Doniac Schvice” (the name was chosen by the band itself, and has no known meaning in any modern language), McConnell once worked in a candy store painting white spots on chocolate cows and Fishman formerly stitched maternity bathing suits.

What probably draws most fans, Jewish or otherwise, to Phish is the energetic dancing the band’s concerts afford them the opportunity to partake in. “The appeal of a Phish concert is sweat, gallons and gallons of sweat, although the stench from the unwashed hippies can be a turnoff,” says Al Kaufman, a music critic from Austin, Texas. “Phish just plays. There is no overpowering light show or technical wizardry. It is just a bunch of great musicians on stage enjoying what they are doing. That’s rare today.”

That may be why a two-day concert at an air force base in Plattsburgh, New York, last August, drew 135,000 fans. And why, in the spirit of the Deadheads, Phish has a ferociously loyal national following that includes fans who follow them from show to show. And though live performances are still their bedrock, record sales are nothing to sneeze at either: The band now has three gold albums (500,000 copies sold), “Hoist,” 1995’s “A Live One” and “Billy Breathes,” their latest.

Cincinnati social worker Jonathan Willis, who regards himself as a fan of both Phish and the Grateful Dead, maintains that the comparison between the two bands is an unfair one. “Obviously, the death of Jerry contributes to their recent surge in popularity. The Generation X-ers are looking for a sense of community and bonding around the ideas of hope and peace. People are projecting that onto Phish,” Willis says. “But Phish has a much more ironic and fun view of the world than the Grateful Dead. They don’t buy into that peace, love and harmony bit as much as the Grateful Dead theoretically did.”

Phish fan Lynda Segal, who works in magazine production in Massachusetts, claims to be drawn by the band’s nonromantic lyrics and Fishman’s offbeat feminine wardrobe, which has been copied by numerous male fans. “I hate groups that sing about love. Love is so overrated,” she says. “And I have to admire any guy who wants to wear a skirt. Pants are very restrictive. There is a certain freedom that comes with wearing a dress.” (Fishman, it should be noted, is not a transvestite per se; he’s just a guy in a dress who plays the drums.)

phish rolling stone

Segal, who says she was first exposed to Phish while visiting an American friend who was spending time studying in Israel, also likes the idea of Hebrew-influenced hippies: “It’s cool that the band has tapped into their heritage. It’s cool that a Jewish song has become a pop song. But I wonder if the crowd really understands it.” Gordon, who occasionally has sung verses of the High Holy Days hymn “Avinu Malkenu” in concert, concedes that not too many fans probably “get it.” Phish fans, however, have come to expect becoming familiar with the unfamiliar.

“To some, it seems blasphemous to take a holy prayer and play it in concert. I don’t sing it as a joke. It’s an acknowledgment of my heritage,” Gordon says. “When we play it, I can always look up and see the Jews in the audience smiling.”


I’ve read this unsubstantiated statistic in several Phish profiles, based on anecdotal evidence at Phish concerts (or by prejudiced bastards who think they can spots Jews in a crowd just by looking at them).

In any case, I highly recommend checking out the most entertaining travelogue ever written about the Jewish-Phish connection: Felix Vikhman’s 1999 Salon essay exploring those “looking for God in a haze of mushrooms and acid.”


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Yasser Arafat deserves wax museum spot as much as the Penguin or the Riddler

Does Yasser Arafat deserve to be evicted from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum?

Does Yasser Arafat deserve to be evicted from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum?

By Darren Garnick
The Jerusalem Report

Originally published: May 26, 2001

Does Yasser Arafat make good company for Barbra Streisand, John Travolta and the Dalai Lama? The new Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Times Square says he does, and it is not melting under pressure to remove the Palestinian figure from their world leaders room.

Remarkably, a wax statue eviction notice is being backed by 50 members of the New York state legislature. Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn), an Orthodox Jew, shockingly asserts that Arafat’s image does not evoke pro-Jewish sentiments – and thus, does not belong in the most Jewish city (population wise) on earth. Furthermore, reveals Hikind, Arafat is a “terrorist,” an occupation that makes him a very bad man.

I went to go visit Yasser the weekend after Hikind and his supporters picketed Madame Tussaud’s, urging Gov. George Pataki to cancel a $100,000-a-plate Republican Party fundraiser scheduled for June 14. Pataki also branded Arafat a “killer,” and a “terrorist,” promising he’d raise the money with non-terrorist wax figures instead.

Before I got to the world leaders room, I tried to put myself in Assemblyman Hikind’s shoes. Who else should be yanked from this museum for dissing the Jews? Richard Nixon would never have worn a kippah and spun a dreidel in the White House like Bill Clinton did. Listen to his tapes, Dov, he used the word “Jew” like the “F-word.” (Ironically, the wax Nixon has to stare at Jew Mark Spitz and his seven gold medals).

Henry Ford wasn’t a great guy either, practically having offered complimentary copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” with every purchase of a Model-T. Give Elton John the boot, too. Remember his 1993 hissy fit when he canceled (and later rescheduled) a Tel Aviv concert because he didn’t like the security goons at Ben Gurion Airport?

Personally, I’ve never been a big Arafat fan. I think Benny Begin got it right when he said, “A snake in a coat and tie is still just a well dressed snake.” Arafat never wears Armani, however. He is like Charlie Brown, wearing the same clothes every day. Olive green shirt. Olive green pants. Khaffia folded in the shape of Palestine. Trusty gun in his holster. Arafat’s career goals may be a mystery, but his wardrobe is not.

Encountering Arafat “in person” is empowering to any pro-Zionist museum visitor. Most striking is how tiny and frail this scraggly weasel really is. Forget Ariel the Bulldozer, even skinny Shimon Peres could make some convincing points with his fists. But alas, the Middle East conflict cannot be resolved like the Cold War was in “Rocky IV.”

In the world leaders room, Arafat is surrounded by Gandhi, Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, Mikhail Gorbachev and Golda Meir. It’s a good mix. For pure historical drama, Madame Tussaud’s needs good guys and bad guys. Featuring Golda without her old PLO nemesis is like watching Batman without the Penguin or the Riddler. In my world view, Israel is Batman, and Arafat’s been the bad guy for way too many episodes.

As for “glorifying” Arafat, pro-Israel forces need not worry. He’s generating far less camera flashes than supermodel Elle McPherson or transvestite RuPaul. Then again, not too many tourists want their pictures taken with Golda Meir, either.

Culture Schlock Story: “Yanking Yasser: Evicting wax Arafat is a slippery museum slope.”“Shedding no tears over the wax Hitler beheading.”

Schlock Blog: “The Hezbollah Children’s Museum: A Cross-Cultural Study”

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Filed under Asinine Mideast Analogies, Darren's Archive Vault, Elton John's Hissy Fit, Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem Report Flashback, Middle East, Uncategorized, Yasser Arafat wax statues