What Happens in Vegas: An Orthodox Entertainer’s Night of Jewish Pride in Sin City
It was supposed to be just another Saturday night rave in Las Vegas at the Wynn Encore’s XS nightclub. With an estimated eight thousand revelers in attendance and many of them on spring break, the setting called for an evening of drinking and dancing to the music of the wildly popular Swedish DJ Avicii. But in unrivalled Vegas fashion, no one could have predicted that the night was about to take on a considerably more meaningful significance.
As is common in the music industry, Avicii was joined that night by a posse of friends and VIPs including the Jewish Orthodox comedian Mendy Pellin, who took to the stage as the crowd erupted in approval. “It was all so surreal,” Pellin said, “many in the crowd began copying my weird dance moves. I raised my hands in the air and waved them around, shaking my body from side to side, and hundreds did the same” he exclaimed. “They were looking at [the] stage as if it were the Holy of Holies” he wrote via Facebook.
But just then in the midst of the revelry, one of the party goers faced the stage and gave the Nazi salute, trying albeit futilely to damper the spirit of the evening. “I knew I had to do something to counter that repulsive act,” Pellin said, “but more importantly to use that literal platform for some Jewish pride.” He quickly turned to his smartphone and searched for an image that might best express that dignity, and what he came up with was a picture of an Israeli flag. “I held it up high on all sides of the stage,” he said, “it was an incredible sight to see random people in the crowd going crazy with pride, they were even gesturing the Magen David with their hands.”
Everything was going so well that Pellin then geared up for another daring move by “switching from Hipster to Hasid, taking off my hat [and] revealing the big yarmulka” another gesture that was widely acknowledged by the dancing masses. “After the show so many people were coming over to me excited to tell me they were Jewish. Was awesome seeing all that Jewish pride in Sin City,” he declared. “It’s very important to show them kids the pride when you’re in a moment of ‘respect'” he said, referring to his time on stage. “Sometimes that moment is when they least expect it, and those times are the best.”
But the night and Mendy’s inspiring efforts were far from over.
As the show winded down, close to 4 AM, one of the accompanying Swedish VIPs began telling Pellin of how Jews are viewed back home in Sweden. “His description was full of stereotypical anti-Semitism,” Pellin sighed. “He said they don’t like Jews because of Jewish control of media and finance, and that people are basically jealous of authority which Jews are perceived to possess.” Sweden, with a Jewish population of only about 20,000, currently has the third highest rate of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe. Further, a recent government study revealed that 15 percent of its population agrees that “Jews have too much influence in the world today.”
Most observers attribute Sweden’s increasingly anti-Semitic attitude to its rising Muslim population and a public acquiescence to the view of Israel as an aggressor in the Middle-East. But whatever the reason, it’s certainly a departure from prior Swedish attitudes, such as their efforts throughout the Second World War to save the neighboring Norwegian and Dutch Jewry, and that of famed diplomat Raoul Wallenberg’s struggle on behalf of Hungarian and Polish Jews during the Holocaust.
Ultimately, however, this anti-Semitism and other such racial prejudices are generally rooted in ignorance, as Avicii’s VIP friend later admitted to Mendy that most Swedes, himself included, “don’t really know many Jews.”
So although it was already quite late, Mendy knew he needed to continue the conversation. “I told him we have to Farbreng” Pellin said, using the Yiddish term for a Chassidic gathering where participants are inspired to overcome personal adversities in collective encouragement and camaraderie, “we needed to be honest with each other and just let it all out.” So as the wee hours dragged on, a lengthy and quite candid discussion ensued as the men considered Jewish tradition and culture, and searched for what might be the source of his countrymen’s anti-Semitism. “They see Jews and Chassidim in particular with their strange garb and Shtreimels as pretty weird people. But after talking it out and getting to know me his views changed and he now appreciates and kind of gets what we’re all about.”
Mendy may have succeeded in changing one mind that night but clearly there’s much more work to be done. One of Avicii’s other fan followers that evening included the famous Swedish radio and TV personality Fredrik Wikingsson, who later posted a picture of himself and Pellin on his Instagram account. It garnered more than 2,000 likes, and was also peppered with some extremely malicious anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments. But as with everything else he does, Pellin proved once again his ability to respond to adversity with good humor and finesse. “Thanks for the love!” he replied, “and if there was any hate… I don’t understand that language.”