Once a musical icon dies, or even before, his or her impersonators seem to come out of the woodwork. Jews are no exception to this phenomenon, as witness Jewlarious's previous article by Richard Rabkin about Dan Hartal, the world's only Orthodox Jewish Elvis impersonator, who goes by the moniker -- Elvis Schmelvis. It was only a question of time before a Jewish Michael Jackson impersonator reared his yarmulke-covered head, and now he has. Meet Mendel Jacksonstein.
The first Orthodox Michael Jackson impersonator has reared his yarmulkah-covered head.
Jacksonstein grew up in New York City and, after flunking out of law school, medical school, and the Allstate Insurance Salesperson Training Program, made the decision to dedicate his life to becoming the first, and best, Jewish Michael Jackson impersonator. "I honestly feel it's a calling," states Jacksonstein, whose only regret is that his family has disowned him. Still, the show goes on and Jacksonstein thrills audiences hungry for Michael Jackson music with a kosher twist -- with Jewish versions of Jackson's songs, such as "The Way You Make Me Qvell":
Hey Pretty Isha With The
You Give Me Nachas
Like I've Never, Ever Known
You're Just A Product Of
I Like The crackle Of
Your Talk, Your Dress that covers your knees
I Feel Your Berakhah
From Miles Around
I'll Pick You Up In My Car (assuming it's not Shabbat)
And We'll Respect The Town
Just Smile at me Nice
And Tell Me Twice
That You're The Beshert For Me
The Way You Make Me Qvell
(The Way You Make Me Qvell)
You Really Turn Me On to the Torah
(You Really Turn Me On to the Torah)
You Knock Me Off Of the Bimah
(You Knock Me Off Of the Bimah)
My Shlimazl Days Are Gone
(My Shlimazl Days Are Gone)
Jackson's and Jacksonstein's lives are eerily similar. Jacksonstein has four brothers who early on created a wholesale door-to-door yarmulke decorating business. His albums have never been off the Jewish pop charts. They include: "Yeshiva Thriller," "Off the Wailing Wall," "Bad to His Mother," and "Dangerous to Mix Milk with Meat." He popularized several physically complicated dance moves, such as the Goyish Robot and the Shabbat Shuffle.
Like Jackson himself, Jacksonstein's personal life has generated much controversy, dating from the early 1980s, when Jacksonstein had his skin darkened to appear "less white." Coincidentally, his original nose was almost a dead-ringer for Jackson's original nose, but he kept having plastic surgery to keep up with Jackson's changes. Jacksonstein was accused in 1993 of pastrami abuse, although no charges were brought by the pastramis. He, too, was briefly married to Lisa Marie Presley, but then, who wasn't? In 2005, Jacksonstein was tried and acquitted of corned beef on rye molestation allegations and was often seen in public with a tallis covering much of his face.
His life-long love affair with deli food inspired Jacksonstein to write one of his most-requested hits:
They told her "Don't you ever come around here
Unless you share your recipe for kugel my dear"
"The secret's in the egg whites," she made it quite clear
"So beat ‘em, just beat ‘em"
Better let me show you, better do what I can
Won't make no matzoh brie, or no kugel from a can
Your bubby's gonna eat it and she knows good from bland
So I'll beat ‘em, just beat ‘em
No one wants to eat treif
It tastes funky, just a fright
I'll even let you say you made it – all right?
Just beat ‘em, beat ‘em
Just beat ‘em, beat ‘em
Just beat ‘em, beat ‘em."
Stylistically he moves from Jewish Funk to Sinai Soft Rock, even some Old Testament Jazz.
Stylistically, Jacksonstein's songs have nearly as wide a range as Jackson's. The impersonator moves easily from Jewish Funk to Hebrew Disco-Pop, from Yiddish Soul to Sinai Soft Rock, even some Old Testament Jazz and Zionist Pop Ballads. Thematically, just as "Thriller" explored darker imagery, Jacksonstein's "Don't Stop ‘Til You Get Enough Blintzes" deals with a culinary obsession that threatens to overshadow all aspects of Jacksonstein's life.
As for his outfit, just as Jackson wore military costumes and one glove, Jacksonstein wears a chassidic frock decorated with Israeli medals and a tallis just hanging from one side. Jacksonstein may not have Bubbles the Chimp with him, but has been known to keep company with Gornisht the Hamster.
Perhaps Jacksonstein's most popular song, next to "Don't Stop ‘Til You Get Enough Blintzes" and "Wanna Be Davenin' Somethin'" is his take on "Billie Jean," which he calls, "Rivka Jean."
She was more like an Esther queen from a Purim scene
I said don't mind, but what do you mean I am the klutz
Who will moonwalk just like a yutz
She said I am a klutz who can moonwalk just like a yutz
She told me her name was Rivka Jean, she was very clean
Then every head turned with eyes that dreamed of being the one
Who'd taste her babka – how's that for fun?
People always told me be careful how you eat
And don't go around chompin' like a chazzer
And mother always told me be careful of who you date
Or wind up with a mate – gevalt! – that you will hate
Rivka Jean won't be my wife
She's just a girl who claims that I am farklempt
But it's just dust in my eye
She says I am farklempt, but it's just dust in my eye
Michael Jackson's Jewish fans have ensured that Jacksonstein's act is a success – he is booked solid for the next three years. In October, Jacksonstein launches his Ganif For Your Gelt Tour of Florida condos. Then, in December, he'll be doing his Meshuginah For You Baby tour of the Catskills. Crowds have been generally enthusiastic, though clearly disappointed that Jacksonstein cannot do Jackson's famed Moonwalk. "I didn't want to copy him exactly," explained Jacksonstein. "So I do my own version – the Treifwalk, where I dance like a man who's just eaten a bellyful of non-kosher food. If I do say so myself, it kills."