Tag Archives: Passover

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
necessary.

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.
**

MORE EXCLUSIVE PASSOVER COVERAGE:

** 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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Prince of Egypt: Steven Spielberg’s Country Music Moses

Prince of Egypt Moses Pharaoh

Val Kilmer is the voice of Moses

Culture Schlock — By Darren Garnick
“Country Music Moses won’t get a free ride at the box office”

Originally Published: The Telegraph, August 18, 1998
**

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why dost thou cry to me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward. But lift up thy rod,and stretch out thy hand over the sea and divide it – and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.'”
— Exodus 14:15-17

“The Prince of Egypt tells the story of two men – one born a prince, the other born a slave … A lie made them brothers, the truth will destroy a kingdom and forever separate them … The country music ‘inspired-by’ album will feature an all-star lineup of the some of the genre’s top selling recording artists, including: Vince Gill, Reba, Randy Travis, Clint Black (and) Wynonna.”
— DreamWorks press release.

DreamWorks SKG – the superstar movie studio formed by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen – is tiptoeing through the Promised Land. Wanting to avoid any mass scale protests upon the release of their upcoming Moses cartoon, “The Prince of Egypt,” they have reportedly sought the advice of dozens of Christian, Jewish and Moslem clergy.

Giving religious leaders too much say in shaping an animated feature can be a dreadful mistake. For evidence, check out the old kids’ TV program “Davey and Goliath.” There’s one minute of action (i.e. Davey breaks a window) for every ten minutes of spiritual introspection and guilt. But based on promotional trailers showing in theaters now, gripping visuals such as Pharaoh’s armies, pyramid construction scenes and the Ten Plagues, should avoid the boredom problem.

Big name celebrity voices – including Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Martin Short and Patrick Stewart – will ensure a high entertainment value.

Val Kilmer Sandra Bullock Jeff Goldblum Michelle Pfeiffer

The Voices of the Prince of Egypt

However, the creators are doomed to fail miserably in achieving an authentic or a controversy-free film.

The real Moses had a terrible stutter and hired his brother Aaron as the official “Let My People Go” spokesman. Will movie goers pay eight bucks
to listen to star Val Kilmer stutter for two hours? Doubtful.

“Prince of Egypt” also faces the same wrath as any movie or TV program which dares to tackle the history of the Middle East. When Disney’s “Aladdin” hit the screen, it was assailed for portraying the ancient Arabian culture as too violent and barbaric. Unless the building of the pyramids are going to be presented as free job training programs, “Prince of Egypt” will likely generate complaints of anti-pharaoh slander.

As chief courier and guardian of the Ten Commandments, the character of Moses will be under tremendous scrutiny. The potential of Hollywood cheapening his stature is a religious landmine. If McDonald’s, for example, comes out with a Moses Happy Meal, the prophet’s stature may descend to the same level as Princess Jasmine or Buzz Lightyear.

Cognizant of religious sensibilities, DreamWorks executive Walter Parkes recently told the London Telegraph that all merchandising tie-ins will be carefully considered for taste and appropriateness. He promised there will be action figures, but “no burning bush night lights, no Red Sea shower curtains (or) no 40-days-in-the-desert water bottles.”

There are three CDs planned: the regular soundtrack and two inspirational albums (one country music, one R & B/ gospel). The music, scheduled to hit the shelves by mid-fall, should appease most Bible readers. DreamWorks say the songs stick to “themes inherent to the film’s story, including love, faith, freedom, deliverance and family.”

But no matter how many clergy DreamWorks consult, even Moses can not emerge from the cartoon dessert without controversy. Try this one for starters: “Prince of Egypt” is scheduled for release on Dec. 18, 1998.

That’s right, Passover’s big star is about to compete with Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman.


THE ANNOTATED SCHLOCK

In retrospect, I wound up liking this movie — despite the time-wasting chariot races and the buddy-buddy international brotherhood subtext.

There’s a rather moving (and tasteful) slavery montage with animated hieroglyphics.

And I wish that Dreamworks execs were a little more creative with the merchandising. Personally, I would have loved the opportunity to buy a Red Sea shower curtain or a Burning Bush nightlight.

**

MORE EXCLUSIVE PASSOVER COVERAGE:

** 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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Filed under Darren's Archive Vault, Middle East

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

Ten Plagues Bag of Toys -- More fun than spilling wine on a paper plate

CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
“Passover toys celebrate Ancient Egypt’s regime change”
Originally Published:
The Telegraph, April 10, 2003

**
As an adult, I find the Passover story to be compelling and overflowing with life-affirming themes. Survival. Freedom. Redemption. Triumph of the Human Spirit. As a kid, I was preoccupied with two themes: “When is this story going to end?” and “Why is my family service sponsored by Maxwell House coffee?

Passover, which commemorates Moses’ showdown with Pharaoh, begins next week. On the first two nights, Jewish families retell the story at Seders (a dinner-prayer combo), and read from the Hagaddah. The English translations of these Hagaddahs are horrendous, written by Shakespeare wannabes who sprinkle around words like “whilst,” and “thee.” After the sixth or seventh poem about rams and sheep skipping around the Sea of Galilee, the average kid is zonked.

Many Hagaddahs printed in the 1950s and 1960s, and handed down to the next generation, were published by Maxwell House coffee. The back page shows a happy Jewish family gathered around the Passover table and enjoying a freshly brewed pot of coffee. What better way to commemorate the liberation of the Hebrew slaves, after 400 years of pyramid construction, than to pour your loved one a cup of Maxwell House?

I don’t know if Sanka or Taster’s Choice ever infiltrated Easter Baskets, but I am proud to report that this marketing ploy was not 100 percent effective. I never touch the stuff.

On behalf of all the children celebrating Passover next week, I implore parents to shake up the Seder plate a bit. If cute little Aaron or Rachel are staring at the coffee ads, you have sentenced them to an evening of intolerable boredom. Luckily for the kids, there is a growing adult movement to make Passover more engaging. Two examples are the Exodus board game and the “Plagues Bag.”

The Exodus game is Passover’s version of Trivial Pursuit. Answering the Who, What, Where, Why and How the Israelites bolted from Egypt brings you one step closer to the Promised Land. First one to cross the Jordan River wins.

“Exodus came out of the desire to get my family recharged about Passover,” says game creator Syndi Kercher, a school teacher from Tucson, Arizona. “I invented the game for us to use during our Seder and we had a blast… Other things I’ve done is play Passover Jeopardy, held the Seder picnic style in the backyard, and held multiethnic/spiritual Seders in the park.”

Exodus, aimed at ages 8 and up, is content driven and will delight parents who prefer not to resort to a Moses vs. Pharaoh video game to get their message across. But will kids want to play? You bet. Even without questions about Harry Potter, it is a game that involves winning and losing. I remember even in junior high school our Spanish class would be clamoring for the chance to play “Vocabulary Volleyball.”

Out of context, you may expect the “Plagues Bag” to be filled with anthrax. But of course, it refers to the infamous Ten Plagues that convinced Pharaoh that Moses was backed by the world’s most formidable superpower, God. The Plagues Bag is filled with the following gimmicks/toys:

1. BLOOD – Red food coloring to turn the Nile into hemoglobin.
2. FROGS – A springloaded frog that does a backflip and lands on its feet.
3. LICE – Black plastic lice that could double as plastic ants.
4. WILD BEASTS – A rubber elephant nose representing the wildlife rampaging through downtown Cairo.
5. CATTLE DISEASE – A collapsible plastic cow with wobbly knees recalling Pharaoh’s agricultural woes.
6. BOILS – Bubble wrap which is more pleasant to pop than skin lesions.
7. HAIL – Styrofoam balls.
8. LOCUSTS – A hot pink grasshopper.
9. DARKNESS – Cardboard sunglasses.
10. DEATH OF THE FIRST BORN – A jigsaw puzzle of a distressed Egyptian mother.

The assortment of trinkets is packaged in a handsome burlap sack that summons up the image of papyrus hieroglyphics. Toy quality is also a level above Skee Ball prizes or birthday party booty, making it likely kids can use the same plague props a few years in a row.

Plagues Bag creator Simon Jaffe, executive director of Congregation B’Nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ, was inspired by his daughters Kori and Molly.

“I didn’t want the Seder to be as uninteresting as the one’s I remembered from my childhood,” he says. “… To me the purpose of the Seder is to bring the next generation into the collective memory of our people and our history.”

Jaffe has sold more than 60,000 of the Plagues Bags to raise money for scholarships and educational programs. Beyond the plagues, he also places a bowl of goldfish on the table as a reminder of the parting of the Red Sea and dresses up as Moses for the second half of the Seder.

“My guests’ favorite plagues are the plastic lice and hail balls which they love to hurl at each other,” reveals Jaffe. “The most difficult plague to represent was death of the first born because of the harshness of it. What I decided to use was I think most respectful of the severity of the plague.”

My only critique is that Jaffe doesn’t include enough lice. Six little critters isn’t enough to infest a single scalp, let alone a whole table full.

Lice portions aside, both the Plagues Bag and the Exodus game are two steps in the right direction to make the Seder table a desirable destination for kids. And neither toy contains propaganda for the coffee companies.
**

MORE EXCLUSIVE PASSOVER COVERAGE:

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

Cleopatra wouldn’t have put up with mediocre Passover food

Here’s a secret that most of your Jewish friends won’t share with you: During Passover week we eat sawdust. Lots and lots of sawdust.

It dates back to the Hebrew slaves, you see. After 400 years toiling in Pharaoh’s non-union shops, Moses brought them on a 40-year retirement hike through the desert. In sandals. No snacks. Every morning they’d slurp the dew, marketed as “manna,” off the sand. But for the first week or so, they had access to carbohydrates – in the form of flattened bread. In the mad rush to scoot out of Cairo, there was no time for the bread to rise in the ovens. Crispy, brittle “matzah” was born.

Slurping moisture off the grass never caught on with the Jewish people. But to commemorate our freedom, we still choose to eat only unleavened bread for the week. Coming from the oven or even a freshly opened box, matzah tastes pretty good. A French toast version of matzah – soaked in water and fried in egg batter – tastes even better. But its versatility ends there. When matzah meal (flour with no yeast) is used to bake cookies, cakes and other starchy staples, the result is wallpaper paste mixed with the aforementioned sawdust.

Two New Jersey food manufacturers think they have the alchemists to change that reality, using “Passover cake meal” as the primary ingredient in breakfast cereal. The problem is a heartbreaker for Jewish kids: Passover means no Cheerios, no Lucky Charms, no Frosted Mini-Wheats.

Manischewitz, making kosher stuff since 1888, is best known for its holiday wine that tastes like melted lollipops. No surprise then, that they opt for “FRUITY’s” as their marquis cereal. Similar in texture and shape to Kix’s corn-flavored spheres, “FRUITY’s” taste sweet at first, but their starchy aftertaste brings us back to the wallpaper bucket. The brand’s chief competition is T. Abraham’s “CRISPY-O’s,” a fruit flavored Cheerios hybrid. Those, too, taste okay in the first few chews, but later come back to haunt you.

Both cereal boxes tout that their contents were “Prepared for Passover under strict rabbinical supervision of The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America,” a fact I hardly consider impressive. I’d rather see the words, “Spiderman Prize Inside!”

Breakfast cereals are supposed to be fun – and that means having top-notch cartoon mascots. “CRISPY-O’s” features a very conservatively dressed cow – her blouse buttoned to the neck — holding a giant spoon. She beckons kids to have “MOOORE FUN IN THE MORNING.” If you missed the humor, the cow sound “Moo” is subtly hidden within the extended word “more.” Meanwhile, “FRUITY’s” put a pair of sunglasses on a piece of its cereal and calls it a “cool dot.” Imagine the promotional tie-ins! The cool dots are smiling at the prospect of being digested. Their daring leader is balancing on a spoon like a surfboard; another fun-loving dot buoyantly replaces the dot in the “i” in the cereal title.

For a holiday with such dynamic Biblical characters, a prudish cow and California Raisin wannabe don’t cut the horseradish. Allegedly, there is a tremendous amount of creative talent in the Jewish community, a fact that led to the paranoid stereotype (professed by Marlon Brando and others) that the Jews control Hollywood. Other crazed conspiracy theories have 12 Jewish bankers in Zurich running the world economy and 15 Jewish copyeditors in Milan controlling the world media. Comprising just one-fifth of one percent of the world’s population (13 million out of 6 billion), the Jews simply don’t have enough manpower to staff even one of these conspiracies. But back to breakfast cereal.

Steven Spielberg showed the kid-friendly potential of Passover with his 1998 animated feature, “Prince of Egypt.” His portrayal of Moses during his rambunctious teenage years (racing chariots with the Pharaoh’s son) was sort of a Scrappy Doo meets the Book of Exodus. That’s the type of imagination Jewish kids deserve at the breakfast table.

How about “Plague Flakes,” a crumbled matzah base with locust and frog-flavored marshmallows? Or “Red Sea Crunch,” an opportunity to drown the Egyptian infantry in milk to simulate what happened when they tried to recapture the fleeing Israelites? Moses could be the cartoon pitchman for either brand, yelling “Theyyyrrrre Greaaaaatttt!” ala Tony the Tiger. Or if you prefer the Trix route, Moses could be bugging some of the younger Israelites in the desert for a taste of their cereal. “Silly Moses,” the children would reply. “Red Sea Crunch is for kids!”

Regardless of their poor mascots, the kosher food manufacturers are betting that most of us would rather have pasty cereal than nothing at all. As far as my breakfast bowl goes, they bet wrong. The Hebrew slaves didn’t have Rice Krispies Treats, and for one week, neither will I.

Bon Appetit!
**

MORE EXCLUSIVE PASSOVER COVERAGE:

** 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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Schlock Flashback: Origins of the Moses Duck

Moses rubber duck collectibles rubber duckie

Andy Warhol-style portrait of the Moses Duck (actually a corrupted photo file)

“Bye, Bye Red Sea – Hello Bathtub!”
By Darren Garnick
Originally Published:
The Jerusalem Report, March 10, 2003

Forget about the Golden Calf: Imagine a rubber duckie at the base of Mt. Sinai.

Meet the Moses that squeaks instead of stutters, a waterproof prophet who would have had no troubles crossing the Red Sea parted or not. The world’s first Moses rubber duck is the brainchild of 31-year-old Chicago entrepreneur Benjamin Goldman, a former yeshiva student in Gush Etzion.

“I’ve been on a search for spirituality my whole life,” he says. “I believe people connect to Judaism in many ways, whether it’s through the pages of the Talmud or through a Moses duck.”

A first production run of 2500 Moses ducks were specially commissioned through Celebriducks, a company that normally puts bills and feathers on sports stars from Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League. Moses and the sports-themed ducks retail for $12 at novelty stores across the United States and on-line at http://www.celebriducks.com.

Goldman says that most of his sales are to Bible Belt Christians who are drawn to the duck’s Ten Commandments tablets in Hebrew. The most common feedback from potential Jewish customers is that “Moses looks too much like Santa Claus” and that the duck is “not respectful.”

So far, only about one-fifth of the Moses ducks have made it to the Promised Bathtub. Goldman says his 2 ½ year old son Levy is a good barometer of the slow sales: “Embarrassingly enough, his favorite duck is (Los Angeles Laker) Shaquille O’ Neal.”

MORE EXCLUSIVE PASSOVER COVERAGE:

** 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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Sacreligious Rubber Duckies