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Italian Politician’s Primo Levi Parody Panned

Beppe Grillo under fire for anti-government poem based on ‘If This Is a Man’

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Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo gives a press conference on January 23, 2014 in Rome. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Beppe Grillo, the Italian comedian-turned-politician otherwise known as Italy’s Yair Lapid, has found himself in hot water over a parody poem he wrote attacking the Italian government, which he posted on his blog. Grillo, who founded the Five Star Movement, an anti-establishment party which pulled off a major upset in the 2013 elections, posted a poem he titled “Se questo é un paese,” or “If This is a Country,” an obvious play on the title of Primo Levi’s well-known poem, “Se questo é un uomo,” or, “If this is a man,” Italy’s The Local reports.

Levi’s poem, which now serves as the introduction to his book of the same name (known in English as Survival in Auschwitz), is a somber accounting of the struggle to maintain humanity while imprisoned in a concentration camp. Grillo’s poem, meanwhile, is a scathing attack on the Italian government. (more…)

Is This the Jewish James Bond?

Funny or Die’s solution to gratuitous violence in movies: a menschy 007

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Jewish James Bond. (Funny or Die)

As the movie industry finally becomes attuned to the issue of gratuitous violence in blockbuster films often marketed to—or, at least, regularly viewed by—young audiences, and industry titan Harvey Weinstein pledges to make less violent films, it seems we’ve arrived at an important cultural moment. And since no cultural moment would be complete without a comic send-up, Funny or Die has a solution to the problem of violence on the big screen: Jewish James Bond.

This newest iteration of 007 is played by Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal, who shudders at his weapons cache (“I’m one guy—how many guns does a person need?”) and would prefer to drive a Prius. “Bond. James Bond,” he says, his voice cracking. “But you can call me Jim, Jimmy…”

You get the idea. (more…)

Egypt Thwarts Smuggling of Jewish Artifacts

Authorities discovered the trove, headed for Belgium, during a cargo search

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A crown from a cache of Jewish religious artifacts seized by officials in Damietta, Egypt on Friday, April 18, 2014, after a smuggling attempt. (AP Photo/Egypt Ministry of Antiquities)

Egyptian authorities have rescued a trove of Jewish treasures from smugglers trying to export the artifacts to Belgium, the AP reports. The artifacts recovered include a silver Torah case and a silver knife which is believed to date back to 1890.

Antiquities Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said in a statement on Friday that the trove, which was discovered by officials during a cargo search Thursday at the port in Damietta, “embodies a period of religious tolerance in Egypt’s history.” (more…)

James Franco Directs Rant at NYT Theater Critic

Is his attack on Ben Brantley a star’s bruised ego or something more…artistic?

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Chris O'Dowd and James Franco take a bow during the first curtain call for Broadway's 'Of Mice And Men' at Longacre Theatre on March 19, 2014 in New York City. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

You guys, social media feuds just got a lot more highbrow. The latest celebrity to call another well-known person out for being “a little bitch” on Instagram (the message was scrawled over a photo, the modern equivalent of Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin) is not your usual breed of Real Housewife or pop star I’ve recently become too old to have heard of, but James Franco, the polyglot actor who is the only person in the history of the universe to actually do everything that artsy boy from Jewish summer camp told you he was planning to.

The subject of his ire is none other than Ben Brantley, the lead theater critic of the New York Times, who recently reviewed the production of Of Mice And Men Franco is currently starring in with Chris O’Dowd, with his patented brand of tepid criticism. Franco, he observed, “is often understated to the point of near invisibility. It’s a tight, internal performance begging for a camera’s close-up.” (more…)

Israel’s Shas Party Gets Controversial New Leader

Rabbi Shalom Cohen has likened Modern Orthodox Jews to Amalek

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Rabbi Shalom Cohen. (Yonatan Sindel)

The Shas party has a new spiritual leader. Shalom Cohen, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Porat Yosef religious seminary, will replace Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who died last year, as the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Sephardi Shas Party. Aryeh Deri remains the political leader of the party, which is Israel’s fifth largest and holds 11 out of 120 Knesset seats.

Cohen is a controversial rabbi perhaps best known for saying that anyone who voted for Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party is going to hell, or his statement suggesting that anyone who wears a knitted yarmulke, as is customary for modern Orthodox Jews, is part of the tribe of Amalek—a group the Bible demands be wiped out. (more…)

Chelsea Clinton And Marc Mezvinsky Expecting

The first Clinton grandchild is due later this year

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Chelsea Clinton speaks at a Clinton Foundation event on April 17, 2014 in New York City, where she also announced her pregnancy. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Chelsea Clinton crashed a Clinton Foundation event yesterday to share the news that she and husband Marc Mezvinsky are expecting their first child later this year. The announcement brought cheers from the crowd and surprised even host America Ferrara, who recovered by asking Hillary Clinton, seated on stage next to her daughter, if she too was pregnant.

Clinton’s pregnancy marks the beginning of the next generation of the Clinton dynasty—or the beginning of the Clinton dynasty, or the continuation of it, I’m not sure how these things work. Both parents tweeted their excitement about the news, which mostly proves that if you say how badly you want to become a grandparent to enough news outlets and in enough interviews (or just out loud to enough people), it will eventually happen. (more…)

Israeli Poet Chronicles Vietnamese Exodus

Vaan Nguyen, child of Vietnamese refugees, is one of Israel’s rising stars

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Israeli poet Vaan Nguyen. (Sivan Tzadok)

Vaan Nguyen is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who were among the so-called Boat People who fled Vietnam by sea in the late 1970s. After failing to find refuge in the Philippines, the family was given asylum in Israel by then Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Born in Israel in 1982, Nguyen grew up in Jaffa. Today she is an up-and-coming Israeli poet, championed by some of the country’s leading critics. (more…)

The Real Story Behind Those Fliers in Ukraine

Leaflets telling Jews to register with authorities not actually from ‘authorities’

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Controversial leaflet distributed in Donetsk, Ukraine. (The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism)

It’s use the Jew day in Ukraine—again. For millennia, treatment of a country’s Jews has served as the canary in the coal mine, and now the canary is tweeting all over the American and Israeli media. According to reports, a leaflet, now basically debunked and yet still inspiring fury all over Twitter, was handed out in Donetsk, the heavily Russian-speaking town in Eastern Ukraine, instructing Jews to register with authorities.

According to Ynet, the flier read as follows:

“Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality, due to the fact that the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendery Junta [Stepan Bandera] and oppose the pro-Slavic People’s Republic of Donetsk, (the interim government) has decided that all citizens of Jewish descent, over 16 years of age and residing within the republic’s territory are required to report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and register.”

(more…)

French Court Drops Charges Against Bob Dylan

‘Hate speech’ charges stemmed from 2012 Rolling Stone interview

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Bob Dylan performing in France. (FRED TANNEAU/AFP/GettyImages)

Way back in 2012, Bob Dylan gave an interview with Rolling Stone in which he spoke extensively about race in the United States. The interview is long and rambly, as you might expect from the then-70-year-old folk legend, but there was one especially odd remark strewn throughout. “If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day,” Dylan told Rolling Stone. “Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.”

That comment—made in an American magazine which also publishes a French edition—didn’t sit well with the Representative Council of the Croatian Community and Institutions in France, who mobilized to have Dylan charged, in December 2013, with “public insult and inciting hate.” (more…)

Why Amy Schumer is the Future of Comedy

Her pitch perfect Aaron Sorkin parody is the smart, gutsy humor we need

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Amy Schumer. (Comedy Central)

Are you watching Inside Amy Schumer religiously yet, or can you never remember which channel Comedy Central is on your new cable affiliate and there are so many other shows you already have to watch? Well, if it’s the latter (as it has been for me) it’s time to commit your channel guide to memory and tune in. Along with her compatriots Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson on the equally excellent Broad City, Amy Schumer is one of the funniest, sharpest, and most subversive comics to come along in years, with an uncanny ability to skewer whatever morsels seem ripest for a shish kabob.

Need proof? Look no further than the clip from her show that went viral this week, an Aaron Sorkin parody set in a fast-food restaurant that is brilliant in its unsparing view of the self-regarding maestro’s work. (more…)

JCC Hosts Interfaith Vigil For Shooting Victims

Victims’ families speak at moving memorial service in Overland Park, Kansas

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A Crime Scene Investigation unit sits parked outside the Jewish Community Center on April 14, 2014 in Overland Park, Kansas. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Four days after Frazier Glenn Miller shot and killed two people outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and a third person outside Village Shalom, a nearby Jewish retirement home, the JCC reopened to host an interfaith memorial service for the three victims. Miller, 72, a well-known anti-Semite who yelled “Heil Hitler” from the back of a police car after his arrest, made no secret of his decades-long vitriolic hatred of Jews. In a dark and morbid twist to the tragic shootings, which took place the day before Passover, none of the victims were Jewish.

The first two victims, William Lewis Corporon and his 14-year-old grandson Reat Griffin Underwood, a high school freshman who was at the JCC to audition for a local singing competition, were members of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood. The third victim, Terri LaManno, who was visiting her mother at Village Shalom when the shooting occurred, was a longtime parishioner at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Kansas City along with her husband and children. (more…)

The Best Passover Snack You’ve Never Heard Of

Matzos Coffee, the sweet, sugary European treat that’s as simple as it sounds

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(Shutterstock)

Matzos Coffee, also known as Matza Café, is a European Passover treat that has become forgotten for reasons I can’t fathom, since not only is this dish deceptively simple—it’s really nothing more than its name, matzoh soaked in coffee—it’s delicious and especially loved by children.

When I was growing up, my late father had the job of making it for the family. He’d start by cracking a few pieces of matzoh with his strong jewelers hands. Then he’d pour boiling hot freshly-made coffee on top. The hot coffee melted the matzohs into a velvety softness. After that he poured on milk and sugar. In prewar Romania, where my father spent his boyhood, they used cream instead of milk, making the snack doubly delicious—and doubly fattening, as well. (more…)

After Passover, Counting the Omer With Mussar

Embracing a simple, rewarding practice devoted to Jewish moral conduct

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(Shutterstock)

During the period of counting the Omer, between Passover and Shavuot, it is traditional to do ethical study; typically people read Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). This week, when we start counting the Omer again, I will continue a form of Mussar practice I began two years ago—Mussar being a 19th-century movement dedicated to Jewish moral conduct. You don’t have to be religious to do Mussar. It is accessible, efficacious, and fun—and it is doable. (more…)

Poems About Kaddish, War, and Everyday Life

Celebrate National Poetry Month with Tablet’s stories about poets and poems

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(Shutterstock and Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University)

“April is the cruellest month, breeding,” sang T.S. Eliot. “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,” launched Chaucer. Sayeth Tablet, “Yea, April is National Poetry Month.” Our archives are proudly brimming with material about poetry and poets: interviews with Poet Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners, literary criticism of new work, appreciations, commemorations, obituaries, celebrations, readings, profiles, and new original verse.

Each week this month we’ll be bringing you highlights from Tablet’s archive. Please join us in helping the American Academy of Poets carry the flame. (more…)

The Artist Formerly Known as Cat Stevens

Yusuf Islam gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, performing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction on April 10, 2014. (Larry Busacca, Getty Images)

Cat Stevens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Thursday, but predictably a man named Yusuf Islam turned up to accept it.

Yusuf Islam is, of course, the name adopted by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens upon his conversion to Islam and abrupt departure from the music business in 1977, citing the temptations of the pop star lifestyle as incompatible with his newfound faith. But it’s a stance that has softened considerably in recent years, as the singer has made a slow return—beginning with recordings of religious music and gradually expanding to more traditional pop offerings (often for various charities) with messages of peace. It all culminated on Thursday, when his friend Art Garfunkel—an odd choice if Islam was really as sympathetic to, say, Hamas as the 2004 NSA decision to bar him entry to the United States would have it—presented him with rock’s highest honor, comparing him favorably to…Paul Simon. (more…)

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