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U.S. Journalist Being Held By Pro-Russian Forces in Ukraine

Vice reporter Simon Ostrovsky has dual American and Israeli citizenship

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Simon Ostrovsky. (YouTube)

American journalist Simon Ostrovsky, a reporter for Vice who has dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, was taken into custody by pro-Russian separatists yesterday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk. Ostrovsky has been reporting from Ukraine for the past few weeks, producing provocative videos for Vice about Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the growing tensions in the region.

TIME’s Berlin correspondent Simon Shuster and three other journalists were also detained, but have since been released. According to TIME, “The journalists were traveling in a car in the separatist-held town of Slavyansk when they were stopped at a checkpoint by armed separatists.” Local separatist leader Vyacheslav Ponomarev, who calls himself the “people’s mayor,” has confirmed that Ostrovsky is in his custody. (more…)

When a Famous Architect Is Also an Anti-Semite

I love Philip Johnson’s buildings not in spite of him, but to spite him

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Part of the closed New York State Pavilion is viewed as part on a tour during festivities marking the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World's Fair, which opened in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on April 22, 2014 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the opening the 1964 New York World’s Fair (and yes, that also means that Season 4 of Mad Men also took place 50 years ago, but we’ll get to that later.) In celebration of such an august anniversary, the beloved structures designed for the fair by legendary architect Philip Johnson in Flushing Meadows Park opened to the public for the first time in nearly three decades.

With people lined up around the block to see the crumbling but still imposing structures, it’s also a good time to point out some of Johnson’s less admirable achievements, notably his warm, and never renounced, embrace of fascism. As Matt Novak pointed out on Gizmodo, Johnson was an avowed anti-Semite, a man who referred to Jews as “a different breed of humanity, flitting about like locusts.” (more…)

Israeli Startup Lets You Spy on Your Cat All Day

Workplace productivity rates projected to decrease a trillion percent

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(Shutterstock)

Israel may have been the Start-Up Nation for a while now, but never was that title more deserved than right this second. That’s because an Israeli start-up has created something that might just completely change the way we see our world our cat’s world.

Cat2See appears to be a device that allows users to solve one of the most vexing questions of our era: what does my cat do all day long? It’s a roving webcam, feeding device, and toy, all of which can be operated remotely from a smartphone. Plus there’s a way to share photos from the webcam, because cats. (more…)

Abbas’s Choice

How reconciliation with Hamas reveals the PA boss’s true intentions

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press meeting on April 22, 2014 in Ramallah, West Bank. (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press meeting on April 22, 2014 in Ramallah, West Bank. )

Meeting with Israeli reporters in Ramallah yesterday, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which controls the West Bank, will end its seven-year feud with Hamas and form a unity government within five weeks.

“There is no contradiction,” Abbas said, “between the [internal Palestinian] reconciliation and the peace process.”

Let’s focus on the specifics of this curious statement. (more…)

Rapfogel Pleads Guilty To Met Council Scam

Admits to stealing more than $7 million from the charity organization

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Former Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty CEO William Rapfogel. (Michael Priest)

William Rapfogel, the former CEO of Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty who was arrested in September 2013 on charges of grand larceny and money laundering, pleaded guilty today in New York’s State Supreme Court. The New York Times reports that Rapfogel, who led the organization for more than 20 years until getting fired in August 2013 during the investigation, admitted to stealing more than $7 million from the charity. (more…)

On Display in Tel Aviv, the Art of Secular Judaism

New exhibit showcases artistic depictions of various forms of Jewish study

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Photograph from the Nahum Gutman Museum of Art's 'Secular Judaism' Exhibit. (Roee Rosen)

Gazing out from a large photograph by Israeli artist Roee Rosen are 14 bearded men surrounded by books. That these exaggeratedly hirsute men might be anything other than rabbis is, at first glance, improbable. But a closer look reveals that the men aren’t wearing skullcaps, most of their beards look glued on, and some of their faces seem oddly familiar: Doron Rabina, Yair Garbuz, and Boaz Arad are icons of the Israeli art scene, and Adi Ophir and Moshe Zuckermann are Tel Aviv University professors. They are spiritual leaders, but of a decidedly secular sort. It’s no surprise, then, that this is the photo that greets visitors to Secular Judaism, an exhibit that recently opened at the Nahum Gutman Museum of Art in Tel Aviv’s quaint Neve Tzedek neighborhood. (more…)

How It Feels For a Jew To Become German

The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors reflects on taking up citizenship

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(Shutterstock)

My mother was teary-eyed when the woman at the consulate gave us our papers. Just like that, with one certificate each, my mother and I became German citizens. It was hard to believe that we were being reclaimed by a nation that, 70 years ago, tried to exterminate our people.

It was even harder to believe that we as Jews had given up our grudge and accepted the invitation codified through Article 116, Part 2, of Germany’s Basic Law: “Former German citizens who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945, were deprived of their citizenship for political, racial or religious reasons, and their descendants, shall be re-granted German citizenship on application.”

For a long time, my mother wanted only to ignore our chance to become Germans. (more…)

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…)

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