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Seeking Knishes, Finding Lobster Rolls

New England native finds two kinds of comfort food on the Lower East Side

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Katz's Deli and Lobster Joint, side-by-side on New York City's Lower East Side. (Photo by the author)

Around lunchtime the bus creaked to its first full stop in traffic, and my mouth started to water like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Every inch we crawled was an inch closer to hot pastrami on rye, knishes, sweet kugel, chopped liver you couldn’t ignore. I’d left home in New Hampshire without breakfast six hours earlier. I was saving myself for the Lower East Side.

There’s no Jewish food in New Hampshire (except for one temple’s annual festival, where every Jew in the state comes together to consume 500 blintzes and 40 gallons of matzo ball soup in three hours). All my life I’ve made pilgrimages to New York, where both of my parents are from, to eat The Food of Our People. This time around, as soon as I got off the bus and dropped my bags at my friend’s apartment, I would go get my fix.

And this time around, on a sidewalk that could fry blintzes, I would stop, poleaxed, and stare at the two signs. To the left, “KATZ’S.” And to the right, “LOBSTER JOINT.”

I didn’t come all the way from New Hampshire to the Lower East Side for a lobster roll. (more…)

Neo-Nazis Embrace Hipster Chic

The union makes sense: Nazism and consumerism have always been linked

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Hitler Youth units parade in the streets of Soltau in September 1937, in front of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.(OFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Well, the hipster love of all things retro has finally come full circle, from heritage flannel and artisanal sausage-making to…eugenics. That’s right. Young neo-Nazis in Germany, finding the hulking, booted, shaven-head uniforms of the past so unflattering (not to mention pretty hot in the summer) are adopting instead the mismatched, sweetly-scruffy look of Bushwickians everywhere (because yes, they live all over the world): the bandanas, the whimsical eyewear, the canvas totebags whose racist slogans are made all the cuter for being written in swirly café French, like something you’d buy from the sale section of Anthropologie.

It reads like something out of an Onion article—is it just me, or is it getting harder and harder to tell The Onion apart from the real news these days?—but don’t worry, these neo-Nazis, or should I say, Les Nouvelles, are just as deathly serious as their less polished predecessors. When interviewed, they mention that the old look of the white supremacists was “intimidating” and, frankly, a bit of a turn-off to those young Volk who might be sympathetic to their ideology but loath to give up their Ray-Bans and vintage Red Wing boots. (more…)

Norway Passes Law Protecting Circumcision

New legislation on the religious practice goes against the European grain

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House of Parliament, Oslo, Norway (Shutterstock)

Typically, when circumcision makes headlines in Europe, it’s because a court or a parliament is attempting to ban it. Despite the practice being fundamental to both Judaism and Islam, and despite research by the National Institutes of Health and American Academy of Pediatrics documenting circumcision’s ample medical benefits, many European countries have taken steps to restrict or outlaw it. Just this past October, the Council of Europe overwhelmingly passed a resolution declaring circumcision to be a “violation of the physical integrity of children,” to the chagrin of religious minorities across the continent.

But Norway has just challenged this state of affairs by passing its own legislation protecting the right of religious parents to circumcise their sons, while also implementing several safeguards for the practice. (more…)

Holocaust Mass Grave Looted in Ukraine

Local anti-Semitic watchdog group says the area has been raided before

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Mass graves looted outside the western Ukrainian city of Volodymyr-Volynsky.(Jewish Kiev group)

There are few more disturbing images than looters digging up a mass grave filled with the remains of people summarily executed by the thousands more than 70 years ago looking for gold teeth and valuables to hawk. Yet according to a Kiev-based anti-Semitic watchdog group, that’s exactly what happened last week outside the western Ukrainian city of Volodymyr-Volynsky, north of Lviv, JTA reports.

The site contains the remains of Jews shot by Nazis in 1941, and according to the watchdog group, robbers have looted the area in search of valuables before.

Nazis and local collaborators were responsible for mass executions in Volodymyr-Volynsky, where 18,000 people were buried. Grave robbers raided the area in 2010 and 2011, according to Vladimir Muzhichenko of the Jewish Kiev group, who complained authorities did little to go after perpetrators.

“There is every reason to believe the desecration will continue,” said Muzhichenko.

(more…)

Film Honors South African Freedom Fighter

Jurist Albie Sachs fought apartheid from within, helping to shape life after

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Albie Sachs stands next to the grave of anti-apartheid activist Ruth First at Llanguene Cemetery near Maputo, Mozambique. (Courtesy Abby Ginzberg)

A documentary that begins with a bang—the literal bomb blast that would forever change the life of anti-apartheid activist Albie Sachs—might suggest a film in which the violence of the South African struggle allows for its most striking revelations. But the most illuminating moments in Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa, come not from riotous sound, but from the silence of solitary confinement and the quiet of exile.

“There is a vast amount of literature about our struggle to transform our country,” Sachs told Tablet over email. “I wish there was more candid self-reflection. A good, strong cause can only benefit from internal critique.”

The documentary, directed by lawyer-turned-filmmaker Abby Ginzberg, fulfills that wish, depicting the introspective freedom fighter, legal scholar and future constitutional court justice in triumphant moments of strength as well as tender moments of vulnerability. But in our exchange, Sachs, the son of Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants to South Africa, expanded matters to include the effect his heritage had on the strength of his convictions—especially when he was placed in solitary confinement and the only book in his cell was the bible. (more…)

Beth Din of America Goes Public

Orthodox ‘Supreme Court’ has begun releasing its rulings to the public

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(Shutterstock)

This week, all eyes have been turned to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already rendered key rulings on privacy and lawful protest, and will soon decide whether Hobby Lobby must comply with the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. But at the same time, another Supreme Court of sorts has been releasing landmarks rulings of its own–the Beth Din of America. The national religious tribunal run by the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest American association of Modern Orthodox rabbis, has just published six of its decisions from recent years, in an effort to demystify the court and advance its transparency.

Based in New York, the Beth Din of America adjudicates everything from religious divorce to commercial arbitration for Jews who voluntarily accept its authority. Like the Supreme Court, it is staffed by elite legal professionals trained in places like Yale Law School. Unlike the Supreme Court, it is also staffed by top Talmudists and Jewish legal experts. The resulting rulings resemble contemporary court opinions, except the only parties are typically Jews and the law applied is Jewish law. Thus, one of the court’s newly released rulings grapples with whether a Jewish Passover resort is required to refund patrons after it served them food acquired on the holiday itself, potentially violating religious law. Another deals with a dispute over the sale of a kosher pizza store. (more…)

Suspects Named in Kidnapping of Israeli Teens

The two Hamas members have reportedly not been seen since the incident

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Israeli soldiers take part in a search operation in the West Bank city of Hebron on June 26, 2014, to try to locate the three teenagers the army believes were abducted by Islamist movement Hamas on June 12, 2014. (HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli authorities have released the names of the two prime suspects—both members of Hamas—in the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, Reuters reports.

An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed reports that troops were seeking Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha, militants in their 30s from the Hebron area of the occupied West Bank, both of whom have served time in Israeli prisons in the past.

Israel’s Shin Bet Security Agency said in a statement both men had been wanted and at large since the kidnappings, adding that several other Palestinians suspected of involvement in the abductions were being questioned.

According to the Times of Israel, the two men are believed to have been in the car that picked up the three teens—16-year-olds Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach—as they hitchhiked from their yeshiva in the West Bank. (more…)

London Gorges at Gefiltefest

Ottolenghi protégés dazzle as the city’s Jewish food scene continues to bloom

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Chef Silvia Nacamulli leads a Gefiltefest session at the London Jewish Cultural Centre. (Gefiltefest)

Jewish London was jumping last week as the city celebrated its fifth annual Gefiltefest food fair.

The popular festival, started by the energetic and charming Michael Leventhal, was held at the sprawling Ivy House in Golders Green. Kosher food was being made—and discussed—in every corner: teenagers on how to raise free-range eggs at home, a challah-baking workshop with Challah for Hunger, Claudia Roden and Chef Silvia Nacamulli on Italian-Jewish cuisine, a local rabbi on the kosher status of the giraffe. (Last year, the same fellow, Rabbi Dr. Harvey Belovski, discussed the kashrut of locusts—with samples.)

Two days before the festival, Nacamulli delighted the fair’s three American authors—Kim Kushner, Poopa Dweck, and myself—with a Roman Jewish Shabbat dinner featuring eggplant dishes, and, as a special treat, carciofi alla giudia, with artichokes she’d brought from Italy, and then fried. (more…)

Israel’s Education Minister to Gay Couples: ‘That’s Not a Family’

Also, don’t call yourselves couples

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Israeli Minister of Education Shai Piron. (Israel Chemical Society)

Earlier this month, as 125,000 Tel Avivis marched in the city’s largest-ever gay pride parade, Yair Lapid, Israel’s Minister of Finance, was on hand to offer his greetings. “I’m proud to be here today because supporting the gay community, its rights, its equality before the law, that’s part of what defines me as a human being,” he said. “As long as the gay community doesn’t enjoy all of its rights, that means we’re not yet living in the kind of country where I want to live.”

Lapid’s number two, however, Minister of Education Shai Piron, wants to live in a very different country. “I think it’s a Jewish state’s right, maybe even its duty, to say to same-sex couples who decide to live their lives together—that’s not a family,” Piron said in an interview today. A rabbi and the former head of a yeshiva, Piron went on to express his support for basic economic rights for gay Israelis, but repeated that he could not stomach the usage of terms like “a couple” or “a family” to describe same-sex unions.

Piron’s statement would have been lamentable regardless, but the fact that it was made by the man helming Israel’s educational system is particularly troubling. Instead of carrying out his mission, so central to Israel’s democracy, and sending a message that all human beings are worthy of dignity and liberty and respect, Piron chose to tell a large swath of the Israeli population—including teachers, students, and parents—that their choices were invalid, unnatural, and wrong. He should apologize immediately. And if his political patron Lapid is truly as committed to gay rights as he declared, he would do well to consider installing someone more worthy of the honor in the ministry of education.

Previous: A Jewish Reading Guide for Pride Month
Related: A Jerusalem Love Story
Shades of Gay in Israel

A Very Broken Hallelujah

Moscow produces most insufferable cover yet of Leonard Cohen’s classic

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Leonard Cohen. (THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/GettyImages)

I spent the last four years of my life writing a book about Leonard Cohen. When you devote so much of your time, emotional reserves, and intellectual energy to one artist, you really get to ponder the meaning of their work, which, in my case, meant focusing intensely on Cohen’s best-known song, “Hallelujah.” I interviewed the song’s producer at length, compared it to Jeff Buckley’s better known rendition, and parsed its lyrics. And while I have a lot to say about the song in my book, I don’t claim to have arrived at any definitive understanding of this masterpiece.

I’ll tell you one thing, though: I know for certain what it’s absolutely not about. It’s absolutely not about Russian oligarchs singing it for three hours straight in an effort to break the Guinness World Record for longest song ever released. (more…)

France to Extradite Brussels Shooting Suspect

Mehdi Nemmouche faces murder charges for Jewish Museum shooting

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Flowers are pictured at a makeshift memorial at the entrance of the Jewish Museum in Brussels, where a deadly shooting took place May 24, 2014. (GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images)

Mehdi Nemmouche, the 29-year-old suspected of carrying out the May 24 shooting at the Brussels Jewish Museum in which four people were killed, will be extradited from France to Belgium to face trial, JTA reports. Nemmouche, a French citizen who was arrested in Marseilles the week after the attack, faces murder charges.

Video footage released by Brussels police after the attack show the shooter entering the museum and opening fire with an AK-47 before quickly leaving. Nemmouche was detained during a routine customs search at the Marseilles bus station on June 2 after authorities discovered “Kalashnikov rifle, another gun and ammunition similar to those used in the shooting.” He has since been held by French authorities on suspicion of murder, attempted murder, and possession of weapons “in the context of terrorist activity.” (more…)

Gary Oldman’s Bigotry Blindspot

The actor’s problem is that he sees Gibson and Baldwin as one and the same

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(Mel Gibson: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images; Alec Baldwin: Brad Barket/Getty Images)

We’ve been through it many, many times before. A famous white man past 50, in a fit of pique toward somebody exerting an unwanted and presumably undeserved amount of authority over him—be it the cops, the ever-present paparazzi exercising their constitutional right to free assembly, or simply a much younger woman he very much wants to sleep with—lets loose with an emotional tirade in which he says something offensive about the Jews/blacks/gays. The Internet goes bananas, every trend reporter with a blog to maintain breathes a sigh of relief that we’ll have something juicy to write about that day, and said over-50 white man releases an ill-advised, often grandiose, apology that nobody is appeased by. And then everyone forgets about it when Prince George does something cute. This is the way the world ends, fa la la.

So it’s almost refreshing that Gary Oldman’s recent anti-Semitic-ish remarks in Playboy and subsequent bizarre and unconvincing apology followed a somewhat different template. Unlike Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin, whose controversial utterances he was purporting to defend, Oldman was speaking on the record, to an interviewer, and on a topic on which he had obviously had time to formulate a opinion. (more…)

Swastikas Spray Painted on Philly Synagogue

Congregations of Ner Zedek a target of anti-Semitic vandalism in the past

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Two large swastikas were spray painted outside the Congregations of Ner Zedek in northeast Philadelphia Sunday night, JTA reports. The city sent a maintenance team to remove the graffiti when congregants discovered it Monday morning. Congregants began poring over footage recorded by the synagogue’s recently-installed security cameras, hoping to identity a suspect.

According to Fox 29 News, the Conservative congregation includes many elderly members, some of them Holocaust survivors. “I have a number of Holocaust survivors here in my congregation, and if they see something like this. Of course it brings back all sorts of terrible memories of what they went through,” the synagogue’s rabbi, Reuben Israel Abraham, told reporters. (more…)

Judy Blume is Publishing a Novel for Adults

Beloved young adult writer’s new book is described as ‘quintessential Judy’

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Judy Blume with Sofia Coppola and Sarah Flack on November 13, 2003 in New York City. (Scott Gries/Getty Images)

Shhhh, now! Listen closely to the gasps of glee escaping across this vast land for happy news is out: Judy Blume will publish a new novel next year for adults! It’ll be her first novel targeting the older set since Summer Sisters came out 16 years ago. Carole Baron, Blume’s editor at A.A. Knopf, tells the New York Times the still untitled book is “pure Judy Blume, writing about family and about friendships, about love, about betrayal. It’s quintessential Judy.”

Blume, who briefly figures in Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year looking askance at the placement of her books on the shelves in the offices of a former agent, says she’ll spend the summer revising her manuscript. (more…)

‘SpongeBob’ Restaurant Opening in Ramallah

Landlocked city to get replica of the cartoon’s underwater Krusty Krab eatery

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Krusty Krab, the local eatery on SpongeBob Squarepants. (SpongeBob wikia)

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? The Palestinian entrepreneurs who decided to build an exact replica of the Krusty Krab—the fast food joint that employees the world’s cheeriest and most porous short-order cook, Spongebob Squarepants—in the center of Ramallah.

Questions abound: what, given that SpongeBob’s home, Bikini Bottom, is a nautical wonderland while Ramallah is landlocked, will the new eatery serve? Do the folks at Nickelodeon know about this bit of entrepreneurship? Is Spongebob that popular among Palestinians that his likeness is likely to draw diners? And if so, will the joint’s employees be required to dress up in square pants and little red ties?

These will all be answered in time. (more…)

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