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‘Ghostbusters’ for Libertarians

How the 1984 paranormal comedy ended up in the conservative film canon

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(Scene from 1984's Ghosbusters)

One of the T-shirts for sale at despair.com, the Austin-based purveyor of souvenirs satirizing platitudes of corporate motivation, features side-by-side icons of a Democratic donkey and a Republican elephant, sandwiched together within the phrase “Choose the form of the Destructor.”

As everyone knows, that’s a line from Ghostbusters, still going strong as a pop-culture touchstone, and, having been the box-office champ of Ronald Reagan’s re-election year, also sometimes as a trumped-up political talking point. (more…)

‘Transparent’ is the Most Jewish TV Show in a While—and it’s Great

Jill Soloway’s latest offering is absorbing, sincere, and tender

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Still of Jeffrey Tambor from 'Transparent.' (Amazon)

Lech lecha, go forth.

God utters those indelible words in the 12th chapter of Genesis, telling Abram (he hasn’t yet adopted monotheism and the corresponding H in his name), “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.” Ali, the youngest of the Pfefferman clan in Jill Soloway’s break-out hit Transparent, utters those words, too. (more…)

My Husband Wanted to Break the Fast Early and I Didn’t

A case of how doing what seems wrong can also be what’s right

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(Shutterstock)

“I need to end the fast at six,” Jon said as he pushed the stroller along the East River promenade. He was wan. His voice was quiet. “We’ll have dinner with Zee, then put her to bed.”

I paused. Yom Kippur was going to end at 7:55. The thought of eating when still light out felt illicit, wrong.

Though Jon and I were both secular Jews, our backgrounds differed. (more…)

Is Baseball’s Rod Carew Jewish?

Setting the record straight on the Hall of Famer’s 69th birthday

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Hall of Famer Rod Carew is introduced during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 27, 2014 in Cooperstown, New York. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

“O.J. Simpson, not a Jew. But guess who is? Hall of Famer Rod Carew—he converted!”

So claimed Jewish historian Adam Sandler in his definitive 1994 song chronicling famous Jewish Americans, “The Chanukah Song.”

But is Rod Carew, who turns 69 today, in fact a Jew? (more…)

A Brief History of a Fowl Custom

Talmudic scholars have never agreed on the pre-Yom Kippur chicken sacrifice

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Ultra Orhodox Jews take part in the ritual Kapparot ceremony in Mea Sharim, Jerusalem September 18, 2007. (MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

When I was a 16-year-old yeshiva boy studying in Jerusalem, my friends invited to go with them to “shlug kaparos” on the day before Yom Kippur. Though I grew up Orthodox, in Houston, I was not familiar with the term (which translates loosely as “beat the atonements”), but I was quickly off to the Mahane Yehuda market, where we said a quick prayer as a shochet waived a chicken over our heads. He slaughtered the animal and threw it into an overflowing bin destined for the poor. Later that day, fearing that I ruined the ritual by cheaply “sharing” a chicken with others, I did it again, this time in the parking lot outside the Har Menuchot cemetery. (That shochet had run out of live chickens so we used a dead one instead.) As I recited Kol Nidre that evening, murmurs of angst crept into my head: Was that really a holy act? As it turns out, many commentators, both medieval and modern, have called it was a grave mistake.

Like many rituals, kapparot emerged in the early medieval period as a folk custom that scholars later struggled to understand. They questioned the origins of the practice, which, like tashlikh, might appear as an attempt to magically manipulate one’s fate. (more…)

Watch Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s Moving Anti-Racism Message

Rivlin joins 11-year-old George Amira, whose anti-bullying video went viral

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This past Saturday, George Amira, an 11-year-old student in Tel Aviv, became an overnight celebrity in Israel when he posted a plaintive video protesting the bullying he was experiencing in school over his appearance and high-pitched voice. In a simple 90-second clip, with no spoken words, Amira displayed the slurs he’d been subjected to on pieces of paper: “homo,” “cheerleader,” “doesn’t belong with the boys.” “Look at me, then at yourselves,” he wrote on a sign. “We are exactly the same.” Amira’s video went viral, racking up over 8,000 Facebook shares and airtime on Israeli television, as well as plaudits for bravery from Israel’s education minister, Shai Piron.

One person who was moved by Amira’s message was Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who has made anti-racism advocacy a cornerstone of his political work, and served as a vociferous defender of the rights of Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens long before he was sworn in as the country’s 10th president in July. This week, Rivlin met with Amira and his family, and commended the youth on his courage. The two then filmed a message modeled on Amira’s video for the entire country, condemning “violence, hostility, bullying, and racism.” It was released this morning, just days before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. Watch it below with English subtitles (click the caption button on the bottom-right if not already enabled): (more…)

‘Roving Rabbis’ Cater to Jews in Western U.S.

Chabad rabbinic students travel to rural areas with small Jewish populations

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Show Low, AZ, pop. 10,000, is one of the areas Chabad's roving rabbis reach. (Wikimedia)

As Yom Kippur approaches, many Jews around the country prepare to head to local congregations to hear rabbis give their High Holiday sermons. But in many rural areas in the Western United States, where Jewish populations are small and congregations scarce, that sense of community simply doesn’t exist. NPR’s Weekend Edition featured the story of Chabad’s roving rabbis, rabbinical students who do the equivalent of asking “Are you Jewish?” on the streets of New York City and then offering you Shabbat candles, just way out West.

The rabbis keep a list of Jews they know about in these small towns. Often, people request a visit — or their family elsewhere requests one for them. Some days, the rabbis just pick up a phone book and start looking for Jewish names.

(more…)

El Al Petition Seeks to End Gender Discrimination

After delays caused by Orthodox men refusing to sit next to female passengers

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(Lukas Rebec / Shutterstock.com)

Last week we published Elena Sztokman’s account of traveling from the United States to Israel when an Orthodox man seated next to her on the airplane refused to sit next to her because she was a woman. The flight was delayed 20 minutes until a new seat was found for the passenger. That same week, an El Al flight from New York was delayed significantly when a group of Orthodox men refused to take their assigned seats next to women, reportedly offering passengers money to switch seats.

Now, a petition is demanding that the Israeli airline “Stop the bullying, intimidation, and discrimination against women” on its flights. (more…)

The Truth About Israel and Dissent

The New York Times substitutes a bogus headline for actual reporting

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(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

You don’t have to be the Newspaper of Record to recognize the distinction between reported news pieces and op-eds. Even so, op-eds must still be subject to normal journalistic standards. When an opinion piece suggests a starkly different reality than the one the newspaper’s own correspondents and editors have conveyed to readers, you’d expect a serious outlet like The New York Times to carefully scrutinize the contribution and, should it fail to support its own arguments in a thoroughly convincing way, reject it.

Little of this diligence was on display this weekend when the Times published an opinion piece titled “How Israel Silences Dissent.” The harsh headline suggested blow-by-blow accounts of reporters rounded up, activists stopped for interrogation, and other means of intimidation—a curious proposition as no such horrors have been reported by the Times’s correspondents on the ground. One imagines that the piece rocketed to #1 on the Times website almost instantaneously precisely because it promised to blow the lid off the repressive ethno-centric Jewish dystopia that some Times readers believe exists, contrary to the paper’s own reporting, and that other readers see in their nightmares. (more…)

The Most Important Thing Netanyahu Did in New York Wasn’t at the U.N.

It was meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

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Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi in New York, May 28, 2014. (IsraeliPM/Flickr)

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations. Like every year, the event was covered assiduously by both the American and Israeli media, who carefully parsed each element of the Israeli leader’s speech. But in fact, the addresses at the annual U.N. General Assembly are usually just window dressing that obscures the main event: high-level meetings between heads of state that take place on the sidelines of the New York confab. This was especially true for Israel, for whom the most important development this year was not a predictable speech in which Netanyahu likened Hamas to ISIS, but a little-heralded handshake with recently elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The two leaders met on Sunday, in what was the first meeting between an Indian prime minister and his Israeli counterpart in 11 years. It was also Bibi’s first scheduled stop when he arrived in New York. “We are two old peoples, some of the oldest of the nations on earth, but we’re also two democracies,” Netanyahu said at a press appearance with Modi. “We’re proud of our rich traditions but we’re also eager to seize the future.” The Indian leader, who met earlier that day with American Jewish leaders, reciprocated in kind, noting “India is the only country where anti-Semitism has never been allowed to come up, and where Jews have … lived as an integral part of our society,” and that “there was a time in the city of Mumbai that Hebrew was officially taught in the university and even one of the mayors of Mumbai city was from a Jewish family.” But the meeting wasn’t simply an exchange of pleasantries. (more…)

Synagogue Ark Finds New Home—in a Church

Unlikely arrangement saves ornate ark as NYC temple becomes condominium

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St. Paul's Chapel on Wall Street in Manhattan. (Flickr)

The latest depressing installment of New York City real estate having its way with historic houses of worship (see: “Historic NYC Synagogue Fights Foreclosure;” “16th Street Synagogue Fights to Stay“) has at least avoided a tragic casualty. The ark at Congregation Adas Le Israel Anshei Meseritz—the last surviving tenement synagogue in the East Village, which was sold to a developer and is being renovated into a controversial condominium with the synagogue occupying the ground floor—has found an unlikely new home: an Episcopal Church on Wall Street.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the ark has been acquired by Tamid, a congregation that meets at St. Paul’s Chapel on Wall Street. (The stained glass windows at Anshei Meseritz have also been removed for construction.) With a few tweaks—”A local general contractor reassembled pieces of the ark to fashion a large, rolling, ornate cabinet that both fits the style of St. Paul’s Chapel and tucks easily into a corner”—the ark has been spared an uncertain future as its old home undergoes a dramatic transformation. (more…)

Welcoming Tablet’s New Contributors

Paul Berman, Matti Friedman, Todd Gitlin, Heather Rogers, and Marc Weitzmann Give Us Five Reasons to Celebrate the New Year

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Tablet is delighted to welcome the New Year 5775 by introducing our new contributors to our News and Politics section. While they have all distinguished themselves as clear thinkers and honest reporters in their respective fields, what they share in common is a fierce attachment to heterodoxy, which is the closest thing that Tablet has to an editorial policy or a political line. We couldn’t be prouder to have them at our editorial table, and to introduce them to you here: (more…)

Mossad Looks for New Recruits Online

Israel’s elite intelligence force now accepts virtual applications

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(Mossad website)

Today the AP reports that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, will join its international brethren MI6 and CIA by listing jobs within the agency on a website. It may seem completely unremarkable that in 2014 an organization should be offering online applications, but over the last half century Mossad’s recruiting techniques have been a lot more Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than Monster.com. Gone are the days when Mossad hopefuls would have to post an envelope with their resumes and a list of family secrets to the bottom of a mailbox on a deserted street. (more…)

Mickey Cohen is What ‘Boardwalk’ is Missing

The real-life gangster was a few years too late for the Prohibition-era show

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Mickey Cohen's 1961 Alcatraz mugshot. (Wikipedia)

If the Boardwalk Empire storyline were to trail into the following decade, we would inevitably be introduced to the dealings of distant Meyer Lansky associate Mickey Cohen.

Like most Jewish mobsters, Cohen was born in New York to Eastern European parents after the turn of the century. Cohen, however, started his career in crime a bit earlier than most—he started moonshining gin at age seven in the back of a drugstore. His frequent, although not surprising, absences from school led to an extended, year-and-a-half stay in first grade. At nine, he was apprehended for trying to hold up the box office of a theater with a baseball bat. After that, Cohen participated in a string of robberies, graduating from baseball bats to proper firearms. (more…)

Neil Diamond Heads Home to Brooklyn

The rocker will perform a free concert at his former high school tonight

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Neil Diamond performs on July 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Kris Connor/Getty Images for Capital Concerts)

Neil Diamond is coming home. This morning the singer, who grew up in Brighton Beach, announced he was heading to Brooklyn tonight for a free concert at Erasmus High School, his alma mater. Fans can line up at 3 p.m. at the high school—after classes let out—to claim one of a limited number of tickets.

The intimate concert is part of a promotional effort for Melody Road, Diamond’s first studio album in six years. (more…)

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