The Biblical Side of ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Spielberg’s WWII epic alludes to Abraham Lincoln and Abraham the patriarch

Still of Tom Hanks and Matt Damon in 1998's Saving Private Ryan.(Amblin Entertainment © 1998)

At the heart of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan is an act of compassion.

After learning that the mother of four U.S. servicemen has lost three sons in one week—two at Normandy and one in the Pacific—Army Chief of Staff George Marshall orders that the fourth, a paratrooper located deep behind enemy lines, be found and sent home, so as to spare the mother any further suffering.

Saving Private Ryan is not an explicitly Jewish movie. It’s conceivable that after Schindler’s List, which came out less than five years before it, Spielberg was looking to work in a more universal—or at least in a more decidedly American—idiom. Still, the treatment shown to the film’s Iowa mother—and other figures in the script—is consistent with Jewish law and custom in ways that add texture and meaning to the film as a whole. (more…)

Man Sentenced for Synagogue Bomb Threat

Faces 33 months in prison for calling in threat to Houston congregation


A Houston resident was sentenced to more than two years in jail for calling in a bomb threat to Congregation Beth Israel. a local synagogue, in April 2013, JTA reports. He faces 33 months in jail after pleading guilty to threatening to bomb a synagogue as well as making a bomb threat over the telephone.

Dante Phearse, 33, was sentenced in federal court for threatening to bomb Congregation Beth Israel, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Justice Department. The statement said Phearse was an ex-convict with a long criminal record and a history of mental illness.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt also ordered Phearse to pay $13,000 in restitution and to serve three years of supervised release after his prison term.


World Leaders Condemn Israeli Teens’ Deaths

As thousands in Israel attend the funerals of the three kidnapped teenagers

Israelis light candles in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on June 30, 2014 after the announcement that the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers had been found near Hebron. (OREN ZIV/AFP/Getty Images)

As the families of the three murdered Israeli teens—Naftali Frankel, 16, Gilad Shaer, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19—bury their sons alongside thousands of mourners, memorials are being held throughout Israel and in the United States for the three slain teens. In the aftermath of the discovery of their bodies in a field near Hebron, details have emerged about exactly what happened in the short time between when the three hitchhiking teenagers were kidnapped June 12 and when they were shot to death. Israeli forces have struck back forcefully against Hamas, bombing dozens of Gaza sites and demolishing the homes of Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, the missing Hamas operatives suspected in the murders, killing a Palestinian teen during an arrest raid in the West Bank.

World leaders, meanwhile, have roundly condemned the kidnapping and murders of the three Israeli teens. (more…)

Poet and Scholar Allen Grossman Dies at 82

One of the most important voices in 20th-century poetry

Allen Grossman; Descartes' Loneliness. (Brandeis; New Directions Books)

Allen Grossman, the renowned poet and scholar, died on Friday of complications from Alzheimer’s the New York Times reports. He was 82.

Grossman was born January 7, 1932 in Minneapolis. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard and received his PH.D in English at Brandeis. He went on to teach poetry, poetics, and humanities at Brandeis from 1957 to 1991, and later at Johns Hopkins.

Grossman has published several collections of poetry, including A Harlot’s Hire and Descartes’ Loneliness. Grossman also wrote extensively about poetics; his essays discussed the works of writers such as Milton, Wordsworth, and Whitman. Grossman received the prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship as well as the Bollingen Prize for Poetry from Yale University. (more…)

Lou Reed’s $30 Million Legacy

The legendary rocker left behind a massive estate when he died in 2013

Lou Reed presents on November 16, 2012 in Madrid, Spain. (Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)

When Lou Reed died in October 2013, the rocker left behind more than just his iconic music catalog. According to the New York Post, he also left a whopping $30 million fortune.

Robert Gotterer, the Velvet Underground frontman’s longtime manager, reported to Manhattan Surrogate’s Court last week that he has collected $20,379,169 since being appointed to oversee Reed’s estate in November.

And the $20 million-plus in “money and other property” doesn’t include the approximately $10 million in gifts Reed left to his wife, sister and mother in his will.


Three Kidnapped Teens Found Dead Near Hebron

Believed to have been shot to death soon after abduction


The bodies of Naftali Frankel, 16, Gilad Shaer, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, were found near Hebron, after an 18-day search following their abduction, according to several international news outlets. While an official announcement is still forthcoming from the Israeli government, the New York Times spoke with an Israeli official who said that “the three appeared to have been shot to death, likely ‘very close to the kidnap’ time.” The discovery of the bodies was also confirmed on the IDF’s Twitter feed.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is set to meet with his security cabinet within the hour, and local media is reporting troops massing outside Hebron. The Israeli government has previously blamed Hamas for the kidnapping, naming two suspects from the terrorist group–Amer Abu Aysha and Marwan Kawasme–who had disappeared from Hebron at the same time as the teens. At present, the perpetrators remain at large. (more…)

Supreme Court Rules For Hobby Lobby on Contraception Mandate

The case exposed sharp divisions among American Jews

Hobby Lobby store.(Wikipedia)

In a 5-4 decision this morning, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, the religiously-owned crafts store chain that challenged the Obama administration’s contraception mandate on the grounds that it forced them to subsidize the violation of their faith. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito stated that the mandate unnecessarily burdened the challengers’ exercise of religion, given that the government could provide birth control to those in need without forcing employers to do so, as it did when it exempted non-profit religious organizations from the mandate and set up an alternative system.

Rather than compel closely-held corporations to fund birth control against their owners’ creed, the court said that the government could instead provide the birth control directly to women who seek it, thus ensuring access while also preserving religious liberty. “There are other ways in which Congress or HHS could equally ensure that every woman has cost-free access to the particular contraceptives at issue here and, indeed, to all FDA-approved contraceptives,” the court held. In other words, the opinion exempts Hobby Lobby from providing coverage but does not bar the government from using alternate means to achieve the same ends. As the legal experts at SCOTUSBlog quickly noted, “The Obama Administration is almost certain to provide contraception coverage to women covered by today’s decision.” (more…)

Eric Clapton at Auschwitz

The singer headlined the fifth annual Life Festival in Oswiecim, Poland

Eric Clapton performs at the 2014 Life Festival in Oswiecim, Poland. (© Ruth Ellen Gruber)

The Rolling Stones may have played in Israel this summer, but Eric Clapton played at Auschwitz.
Well, not at the Auschwitz death camp, which is now a memorial museum. But in Oswiecim, the town in southern Poland outside which Auschwitz was built.
Clapton’s 90-minute set was the final performance of the annual Oswiecim Life Festival, an event founded in 2010 with the aim of using music and the arts to fight anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia, sending “a message of peace and tolerance” from the place that is a universal symbol of the Holocaust.
The festival was the brainchild of Darek Maciborek, a well-known radio DJ who was born and still lives in Oswiecim. It’s one of the latest steps in Oswiecim’s ongoing struggle to redefine its role as a real, living city—and not just an appendage of the death camp where the Nazis murdered at least 1.5 million people, most of them Jews. (more…)

Teens Arrested for U.K. Jewish Cemetery Vandalism

Two 13-year-olds reportedly spray painted swastikas, pushed over headstones


Two teenagers were arrested for vandalizing a Jewish cemetery in Manchester, England, the Jewish Chronicle reports. The two boys, who police say were 13 years old, were arrested “on suspicion of committing a racially aggravated public order offence” and will face a hearing on July 25.

The attack at the Rochdale Road cemetery – in which swastikas covered tombstones and 40 headstones were pushed over, causing an estimated £100,000 worth of damage – was described as “sickening” by Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

According to JTA, a similar attack was reported earlier this month in Manchester, and more than 100 residents volunteered to clean up the desecrated Jewish cemetery. Typically, the families of the deceased get left with the repair bill. (more…)

Michael Douglas Says ‘Shalom’ From Israel

The actor visited the Holy Land last week to celebrate his son’s bar mitzvah

Michael Douglas on June 5, 2014. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)

Michael Douglas’ trip to Israel might be over, but the 69-year-old actor left a lasting impression. (He made a video.)

Douglas, who recovered from the hora-related injuries he sustained at son Dylan’s bar mitzvah last month in time for a family trip to Israel in honor of the teenager’s milestone, didn’t waste any time oversleeping in the presidential suite of the King David hotel. On their first day in Israel, Douglas, wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, and their two kids dropped by the City of David, where an affable (if unkempt) Douglas tells a cameraman that their tour of the underground archaeological excavation was a “wonderful wonderful history lesson.” (more…)

Seeking Knishes, Finding Lobster Rolls

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

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

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

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

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.


Film Honors South African Freedom Fighter

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

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…)

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