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Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: The Musical?

A 28-year-old Broadway actress takes on an unexpected new project

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Footbridge over Chłodna St. in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1942. (Wikimedia Commons)

One would be forgiven, upon hearing the words “Warsaw Ghetto Uprising” and “musical,” for cringing—or at least cocking an eyebrow.

But Haley Swindal, the non-Jewish granddaughter of former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, is on a quest to bring Warsaw: A Musical Drama to Broadway audiences. The 28-year-old Broadway actress first encountered the show, written by William Wade with lyrics by John Atkins, when she was cast in it. The show had been performed in abbreviated form as a concert in synagogues, churches, and theaters, and on this past Tuesday, at the Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater as an industry concert Swindal hoped would showcase “how special this piece is and how special the story is of these heroes” to the New York theater community. (more…)

Search Continues For Missing Israeli Teens

Israeli forces arrest more than 200 Palestinians in crackdown on Hamas

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Israeli soldiers walk in a single file on a path during an operation in the West Bank town of Hebron on June 17, 2014 as Israeli forces broadened the search for three teenagers believed kidnapped by militants and imposed a tight closure of the town. (HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)

The search for three Israeli teenagers kidnapped last Thursday while hitchhiking continues as Israeli forces mobilize throughout the West Bank in search of 16-year-olds Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach, closing off towns and searching homes and vehicles. Soldiers arrested more than 40 Palestinians in an overnight raid, the AP reports, bringing the total number of arrests to more than 200. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly blamed Hamas for the kidnappings—and Israeli forces targeted its members for arrest—but the terrorist organization has not claimed responsibility.

Tuesday’s arrests brought the total number of Palestinians detained since the teens disappeared Thursday to over 200, most of them Hamas activists, the biggest West Bank crackdown on the militant group in almost a decade. Israel has vowed to exact a heavy price from Hamas, saying the aim of the military operation goes beyond searching for the boys. (more…)

World’s Largest Shabbat Draws 2,226 to Tel Aviv

The mega-dinner was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records

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World's largest Shabbat, in Tel Aviv on June 14, 2014. (Casey Kelbaugh)

History—at least the Guinness Book of World Records kind—was made in Israel this weekend, as more than two thousand people gathered for what was officially deemed the world’s largest Shabbat dinner. The record-breaking event, which was organized by White City Shabbat, drew an impressive crowd of 2,226 (with 3,000 more people on the waiting list) and required “800 bottles of wine, 80 bottles of vodka, 50 bottles of whiskey, 2,000 challah rolls, 80 long tables, 1800 pieces of chicken, 1,000 pieces of beef, 250 vegetarian portions,” according to the jubilant press release.

Guinness World Records adjudicator Pravin Patel, in town from London to oversee the record-setting attempt, called it at 11 p.m. according to Haaretz, the Guinness rules guiding the event were almost as strict as the halakhic ones.

All the attendees needed to be in their seats and served their first course by the waiters within five minutes, and then be at their tabled eating for a full hour. Table captains were appointed to make sure that the meal adhered to traditional Jewish customs for Shabbat, including the proper prayers, Kiddush, HaMotzei, and that no Jewish religious laws were broken.

(more…)

Hate Is Always Wrong—No Matter the Victim

PETA responds to Tablet’s article about the organization’s latest campaign

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PETA's 'Rights for All' banner in Washington, D.C. (Photo by James Kirchick)

As an openly gay man and the senior vice president of campaigns for PETA (where I’ve worked since 1985), I’m perplexed by James Kirchick’s take on our “Rights for All” banner. Much of the gay community has long embraced animal issues. PETA’s most notable celebrity spokespeople have always included gay icons, including k.d. lang, members of The B-52s, Tim Gunn, the duo from Erasure, Martina Navratilova, Lady Bunny, and Alan Cumming. Gay kids know what it’s like to be bullied for being different, so it’s hardly surprising that many of us grow up speaking out against all forms of mindless prejudice—including prejudice against animals.

I first made this connection when I was in school, where I got beaten up for being gay. I vividly remember lying on the ground, gasping for breath, surrounded by other kids who were looking down at me and laughing. Around this same time, I went on a fishing trip and caught a large flounder. When I pulled the animal onto the boat, the fish was gasping for breath, too. At that moment, the flounder was the only other being I could relate to, and I realized that I had become the bully.

Just as it is always wrong to bully and abuse people simply because they’re different—whether they are Jews, women, gays or people of color—it is always wrong to abuse and oppress animals. (more…)

At Masada, Opera Gets a Powerful Backdrop

Israeli Opera performs La Traviata this week at the ancient fortress

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'La Traviata' performed at Masada. (Yossi Zwecker)

Unlike a lot of Jews, Israeli maestro Daniel Oren, now conducting the Israeli Opera’s production of La Traviata at Masada, never visited the iconic national symbol as a child. He said his mother was too busy shuttling him between lessons among Israel’s most talented musicians to give the prodigy a chance to go on frivolous hikes.

“I had a Jewish mother, that’s my problem,” Oren said in his dressing room, moments before the final dress rehearsal of the week-long Verdi run last Wednesday. “She decided that I should learn signing, composition, painting, piano, violin, cello, and then when I was 13 years old, conducting. So no friends, no friends for my mother also. She didn’t want friends also because, she said, ‘It will disturb my child’s studies.’ No hikes, no school trips, nothing, only study.”

Oren conducts regularly in leading opera houses in New York, Rome, Paris, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Venice and he is the artistic director of the Verdi Opera House in Salerno, Italy. He visited Masada with his family for the first time about six or seven years ago, he said. In 2009, in an ambitious move meant to rejuvenate flagging audiences, the Israeli Opera began staging operas at the historic site. Oren has directed all four productions: Nabucco (2010), Aida (2011), and Carmen (2012). The hulking mountain of Masada provides an unforgettable backdrop. (more…)

Presbyterian Minister to Israelis: ‘Come Home to America’

Advocate of Israel boycott tells Jews that America is ‘the Promised Land’

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America. (Shutterstock)

Jewish-Presbyterian tensions are high this week, as the Presbyterian Church (USA) votes at its General Assembly on divestment from Israel. Thus far, the assembled delegates have heard arguments in favor of the proposal from groups like the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and Jewish Voice for Peace, and arguments against from others like J Street, Reform Movement head Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and the American Jewish Committee.

And then there are the arguments of Reverend Larry Grimm of the Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church in Colorado, a longtime boycott advocate who apparently wants the Jews to get out of Israel.

In a Facebook posting yesterday that was quickly shared and seconded by other Presbyterians, some of whom are currently attending the Church’s General Assembly, Grimm patiently explained to Israelis that they ought to leave the historic Jewish homeland and “come home to America”:

America is the Promised Land. We all know this. Come to the land of opportunity. Quit feeling guilt about what you are doing in Palestine, Jewish friends. Stop it. Come home to America! (more…)

Eric Cantor’s Sermon

The House majority leader spoke at the Hampton Synagogue last weekend

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) arrives for a meeting with House Republicans at U.S. Capitol, June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Eric Cantor, the House majority leader who last week lost the Republican primary for the Virginia congressional district he’s led for seven terms, told CNN’s State of the Union that he had “no regrets” about his unexpected loss to little-known Tea Party candidate Dave Brat, Time reports.

“We don’t always know right here and now why,” he said during a Sunday appearance on CNN‘s State of the Union. “And I think the perspective of time will actually indicate [how] something that may have seemed really bad at the time can turn out to be really good.”

His Sunday comments, tinged with the Bible Belt religiosity he honed successfully for years as a Jewish congressman in Virginia (read Allison Hoffman’s 2011 profile for more on Cantor’s distinctly Southern brand of Judaism), came on the heels of an address he made the previous day which offered a more, well, Jewish message. (more…)

Netanyahu Blames Hamas for Kidnapping

As Israeli forces carry out massive West Bank search for three missing teens

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Israeli soldiers man a checkpoint in the West Bank town of Hebron on June 15, 2014, as Israel broadened the search for three teenagers believed kidnapped by militants and imposed a tight closure of the town. (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

A massive search is underway for three Israeli teenagers kidnapped Thursday in the West Bank, with Israeli forces detaining nearly 150 people—many of them members of Hamas and some of them senior Hamas officials—in door-to-door searches of six Palestinian towns. A 20-year-old Palestinian was killed by gunfire after protestors threw stones at the Israeli troops.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly blamed Hamas for the kidnapping of the three boys—16-year-old Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Frankel and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrah—who disappeared while hitchhiking from their yeshiva in Gush Etzion. Frankel has dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship, which, according to the New York Times, has meant Washington “has been deeply engaged in the crisis.” (more…)

Ruby Dee’s Jewish Turn

The actress saw her 1953 role in The World of Sholom Aleichem as formative

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Ruby Dee in 2008.(Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Essence)

You might say that the resplendent actor and activist Ruby Dee, who died on Thursday at the age of 91, was presciently typecast when she played the Defending Angel in the 1953 play The World of Sholom Aleichem. Over some seven decades of championing civil rights and humanitarian causes, and of lighting up stage and screen (she amassed a small forest of acting awards along with Kennedy Center Honors and a National Medal of the Arts), she seemed like a divine messenger, combining grace and grandeur—that sultry voice, that stunning solidity—and demonstrating that there is no contradiction between devoting one’s life to high artistry and radical action.

Yet the role in The World of Sholom Aleichem was also an unlikely one, not least because the production itself was so improbable. Created by writer Arnold Perl and director Howard da Silva as they sought to put themselves and other blacklisted artists back to work, the play was a surprise hit, an early off-Broadway production that ran at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel, and the first popular stage work in English drawn from the Yiddish canon. (more…)

The Nagging Jewish Question About Cantor

A host of theories emerge after the Republican’s shocking primary defeat

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor addresses a news conference after telling the Republican caucus that he will resign his post on June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

I suppose it was maddeningly instinctual for me to try to find anti-Semitism behind Eric Cantor’s shocking primary defeat last Tuesday. There was no overt reason to believe it; after all Cantor had represented Virginia’s 7th Congressional District for over two decades, and, as John Podhoretz pointed out in Commentary, the strong evangelical presence in Cantor’s district should have been a plus, noting “…evangelicals are more likely to be philo-than anti-Semitic.”

And yet; and yet. New York Magazine’s influential critic Jerry Saltz posted on Facebook (where he has 44,000+ followers): “Last night Roberta (wife Roberta Smith, a New York Times art critic) and I kept saying “Fuckers in Virginia got rid of the Jew.” The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg, another voluble observer of the Jewish scene, agreed with Saltz and Smith and titled his most recent column, “Did Eric Cantor lose because he’s Jewish? You Betcha.” (more…)

Where To Eat in Tel Aviv This Summer

From chic fast food to eco-friendly, six restaurants worth a visit

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Tel Aviv, Israel.(Shutterstock)

Tel Aviv, home to some of the most distinguished chefs and restaurants, has quickly become Israel’s culinary hotspot. If you’re in Tel Aviv this summer, take a break from the beach and check out these five picks from Israeli food blog Matkonation’s new summer Foodie Guide.

1. Best lunch restaurant: The Basta, meaning “market stall” in Hebrew, is located in the Carmel Market—and the menu changes based on what’s for sale that day. Location: 4 Hashomer St.

2. Best dinner restaurant: Salon, the upscale restaurant from well-known Israeli chef—and Israeli MasterChef judge—Eyal Shani, offers not only great food but also entertainment: most of the kitchen is smack in the middle of the restaurant, with chefs preparing the food in view of diners. (more…)

At MAD Magazine, an Unlikely Rabbinic Figure

What the magazine’s humorist and artist Dave Berg taught me about Judaism

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Two of David Berg's MAD magazine comic strips. (MAD magazine. Top: MAD #134, April 1970; Bottom: MAD #261, March 1986)

In my high school confirmation class, the rabbi of my synagogue at the time, Richard Sherwin, used an unorthodox approach to teach us about the essence of Judaism; he used essays from the book My Friend God by MAD magazine writer and artist Dave Berg. Not only did it work in getting me excited about all of the things my religion had to offer, but it reinforced my love for MAD.

After 20 years, I finally bought my own copy of Berg’s long-out-of-print book. When I began flipping through it, I discovered that the edition I bought included a letter from Rabbi Sherwin, with whom I had recently reconnected through the magic of Facebook. I called him immediately and he told me about his ongoing correspondence with the late humorist, with whom, apparently, he had grown pretty close until Berg’s death in 2002. (more…)

Three Israeli Teenagers Missing in West Bank

Hitchhikers, one of whom reportedly has U.S. citizenship, feared kidnapped

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Village near Hebron, where border police are searching for three missing teenagers. (Shutterstock)

Three Israeli teenagers, two 16 and one 19, went missing Thursday night in the West Bank and are feared to be kidnapped, Haaretz reports. The Border Police and the Israel Police are searching for the teens near Hebron, and roadblocks have been erected near Kiryat Arba. The teenagers are yeshiva students at Makor Chaim who were believed to be hitchhiking to Modi’in. One of the teens reportedly has U.S. citizenship.

According to Haaretz:

The Shin Bet security service has warned in recent weeks of increasingly frequent attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers and citizens in the West Bank. According to Shin Bet data, in the past nine months there have been 11 cases of Palestinians incarcerated in Israel making contact with operatives in the West Bank in an attempt to carry out kidnappings. (more…)

A Stroll Through Jewish Savannah

A visitor takes in the Southern city’s surprising—and enduring—Jewish roots

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Savannah, GA. (Shutterstock)

Walking over cobblestones on streets lined with monuments commemorating the American Revolution, it is easy to forget that Savannah is a profoundly Jewish city. To someone from New York, the billowing Spanish moss and knotted trees belong more to Gone with the Wind than they do a Jewish haven. Not only is it hard to remember that Savannah has a long Jewish history, it’s hard to believe in the first place.

In 1733, shortly after the colony of Georgia was founded, an epidemic (thought to be Yellow Fever) started killing off the settlers. Because Savannah’s only doctor died early on, a ship carrying Sephardic Jews was allowed entry on the condition that a doctor onboard, Samuel Nunis, would treat the sick. Soon after their arrival, the Jews organized what would later become Congregation Mickve Israel, one of America’s oldest Jewish communities. Robert Haas, Mickve Israel’s current rabbi, explained to me that at one point as much as 35 percent of Savannah’s population was Jewish. (Today the number is closer to 2.5 percent.) (more…)

100 Years of Jewish Archives on Display in NYC

Collection includes letter from Albert Einstein and a dress worn at Ellis Island

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U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau, Sr. asks New York philanthropist Jacob H. Schiff to secure aid for Jews in Palestine in a cablegram dated August 31, 1914. (Joint Distribution Committee)

“I LIVE REQUIRE HELP.”

These four words, sent in a cablegram from Luba Mizne in Warsaw to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in July 1945, perfectly encapsulate the theme of an exhibit opening tomorrow at the New-York Historical Society. Aptly titled “’I Live. Send Help:’ 100 Years of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee,” the exhibit commemorates the aid organization’s 100th anniversary by sharing its diverse collection of photographs, artifacts, film clips, and documents with the public in partnership with the New-York Historical society.

Highlights include a 1940 letter from Albert Einstein to JDC Chairman Edward Warburg, in which he praises the JDC for its work in organizing the evacuation of refugee children from Europe, and a cablegram sent from Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, to Jewish philanthropist Jacob Schiff in New York, requesting assistance for Jews in Palestine at the start of World War I. There’s an audio recording of entertainer Eddie Cantor endorsing the JDC’s work during WWII, and of Alaska Airlines president James Wooten describing his involvement in the JDC-organized evacuation of Jews from Yemen. (more…)

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