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New Film Follows Hebrew Bible Quiz Hopefuls

‘Bible Kings’ features competitors in the world’s biggest Tanakh contest

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(Vimeo)

Call it the Jewish Spellbound. Bible Kings switches the arena from the Scripps National Spelling Bee to the Chidon HaTanach, the International Bible Contest. But instead of a group of anxiety-ridden teens, the stars of this new documentary are adults from all over the world, with various Jewish backgrounds, who have undergone an intensive year of studying and memorization of Tanakh (the acronym for Torah, Nevi’im, Prophets, and Ketuvim, Writings), the culmination of which is a televised competition.

Premiering on French television channel Escales on February 22, Bible Kings is the second documentary for Antoine Arditti, a 34-year-old French filmmaker. Arditti’s first film, I Am Dallas Malloy, featured a female bodybuilder in Los Angeles and impressed his production company enough that they left the subject of his second project entirely up to him. (more…)

Report: Decrease in U.K. Anti-Semitic Incidents

Last year saw an 18 percent decline in reported incidents

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A swastika and the word “HEIL” drawn in snow in a synagogue car park, Greater Manchester, January 2013. (Community Security Trust)

A new report released by Britain’s Community Security Trust reveals a decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported to authorities in 2013. According to the Jewish Chronicle, the figures are the lowest they’ve been in several years.

The 529 cases in 2013 included 69 violent assaults, and just over 360 incidents of abusive behaviour — a 23 per cent drop on the previous year and the lowest recorded since 2008. (more…)

Why Not Let the Settlers Stay in Palestine?

It could create a viable Palestinian state. But will the parties go for it?

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(Shutterstock)

A funny thing happened last week in Israel: both the Israeli right and left managed to agree on something with regard to the peace process. First, an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office told the Times of Israel that in the event of a peace deal with the Palestinians, “settlers [should] be given the free choice of remaining in place and living under Palestinian rule.” Then, just a few days later, famed Israeli author and left-wing peace activist A.B. Yehoshua suggested the exact same thing to the media: “The fear of evacuating settlements is preventing peace. Maybe, just as we have an Arab minority within our midst, they [settlers] can remain as a Jewish minority among the Arabs. They can become Palestinian citizens if they do not want to evacuate.” (To get a sense of the vast political divide between Yehoshua and Netanyahu, Yehoshua offered this proposition while advocating a cultural boycott of the settlement of Ariel.)

When both sides of the Israeli political spectrum come to the same conclusion, they’re probably on to something. In this case, they may have just discovered the key to creating a viable Palestinian state. (more…)

Outrage Over Party at Moscow Synagogue and Holocaust Memorial

Russian Jewish Congress says it regularly rents the space out for events

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Poklonnaya Hill Memorial Synagogue. (Traveler.com)

It may surprise you to learn that the World Congress of Russian-speaking Jewry and the Russian Jewish Congress don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on certain issues. Yesterday JTA reported that the latter, who happen to own Poklonnaya Hill Memorial Synagogue—which serves not only as a synagogue but also as a Holocaust memorial—rented out the space to Russia’s PIR bank for their 20th anniversary party last month, which featured a barbeque, alcohol, and “loud music.” The World Congress of Russian-speaking Jewry wasn’t pleased; the move was criticized by many Russian Jews, who felt that renting out the space was inappropriate.

The Russian Jewish Congress defended their decision by pointing out that the synagogue has been rented out to host many cultural and often secular events, such as a jazz concert, and that they “plan to continue this practice, acting upon the example of most of the leading museums of the world.”

While the statement makes a good point, there seems to be a glaringly obviously difference between a gala at the Met and a rager at a Holocaust memorial. (more…)

Schumer Trying To Get Yogurt to U.S. Olympians

Russia won’t allow massive shipment of Chobani yogurt into the country

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Russia has a spotty history when it comes to corrupt regimes. But never before have they targeted yogurt.

Yes, yogurt. Chobani Greek Yogurt specifically. A massive shipment of these protein-rich, creamy snacks are being held hostage in a temperature-controlled storage unit near Newark Liberty Airport, the New York Times reports. The yogurt, intended for the United States Olympic Team, of which it is a sponsor, had already been given USDA approval when the embargo ensued. The shipment is being blocked due to a need for “special certification,” according to the Russian government agency in charge of, you guessed it, yogurt border-control. (more…)

Israel Freezes Yeshiva Funds Over Draft Deferrals

Halts nearly $3 million in funding to protest haredi deferrals of IDF service

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Israeli Supreme Court.(Flickr)

In a bold move, Israel’s Supreme Court has frozen almost $3 million of funding for haredi yeshivas, part of their effort to force the government into ending military deferrals for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, JTA reports. This is the latest development in the ongoing debate over ultra-Orthodox exemptions from IDF service, which, after the Tal Law exempting ultra-Orthodox students from serving in the army was invalidated, took the form of government-approved draft deferrals.

A special court panel ruled 8-1 late Tuesday that state funding for students aged 18-20 who have received draft notices since last summer but did not appear for their induction be withheld from their yeshivas. (more…)

Jewish Grandma to Gay Grandson: Stay Away From Sochi

Worried bubbe leaves best pre-Olympics voicemail ever

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(Shutterstock)

The Sochi Olympics start tonight, which, in protest of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s abhorrent treatment of gays and lesbians, Tablet won’t be covering. We’re not the only ones concerned about Putin’s anti-gay policies—one worried Jewish grandmother left her gay grandson the most adorably perfect voicemail warning him to stay far, far away from Sochi during his upcoming travel. (Slate clarifies that he’s going to Southeast Asia.)

“You don’t have to call me back if you’re busy,” she begins. (more…)

How ‘The Monuments Men’ Became a Film

Talking to Robert Edsel, author of the book the new movie is based on

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Matt Damon and George Clooney in 'The Monuments Men.' (Columbia Pictures)

In 1996, the writer Robert Edsel was walking across the Ponte Vecchio in Florence—the only bridge not destroyed by the Nazis during World War II—when he had an unexpected thought. How did so many works of art manage to survive a war that claimed 65 million lives? Who saved the art?

“I was hugely embarrassed that I didn’t know,” Edsel explained over the phone recently while on a train to New Haven. “I started asking everybody I knew that lived there. Everyone shrugged their shoulders. It was perplexing to me. World War II is the most documented, photographed event in history. Here was a pretty big hole—what happened to the art?” (more…)

Liz Claiborne Co-Founder Arthur Ortenberg Dies at 87

The garment industry executive changed the women’s fashion landscape

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Arthur Ortenberg.(Rob Loud/Getty)

Arthur Ortenberg, the fashion industry legend best known for launching the clothing company Liz Claiborne in 1976 with his wife—Liz Claiborne—and a partner, died of pneumonia complications Monday in Manhattan, the New York Times reports. Ortenberg, who was born in 1926 and raised in Newark, N.J. by immigrant parents (his father from Russia and his mother from Poland), met Claiborne in the 1950s while working at a garment manufacturing company. He saw her sportswear line, hired her, and together they put out a new line (it failed); the rest is fashion history.

They started Liz Claiborne with a third partner, Leonard Boxer, with $250,000. The concept was to create a clothing line for working women that was both fashion-forward and affordable, and it took off almost immediately. (more…)

What ‘Mitt’ Leaves Out About The Romneys

The compelling, intimate look at the family glosses over one important detail

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Former Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

The afterlife of a failed political candidate is a strange thing; that of a failed presidential candidate perhaps the strangest of all. As Mitt Romney puts it himself in Mitt, Greg Whiteley’s Netflix documentary about the two-time presidential candidate and governor of Massachusetts,“They become a loser for life, all right? That’s it. It’s over.” And yet, with that finality comes a wave of sympathy from the public. Enter the post-campaign documentary, an art form that at its core feeds on those very emotions, particularly among viewers who didn’t vote for the candidate.

Fittingly, Mitt starts at the end: the camera opens on a hotel room filled with Romneys; the time, 11:15 p.m. on election night, 2012. The first line is delivered in the voice of an off-camera child. “You’re at, like, 101, and he’s at, like, 259, or something?” one of Romney’s grandchildren tells him.

“Yeah, yeah. Exactly,” Romney answers. His tone, amazingly, is compassionate, consoling. More than anything in the world, Romney hates to disappoint, one of his sons tells us later in the film. The camera passes over the heads of Taggs and Bens and over the beautiful hair of the Romney daughters-in-law, landing finally on Mitt Romney, sitting on a couch next to two grandchildren in a posture that in hindsight can really only be called brave. “By the way, someone have a number for the president?” the presidential candidate says to lighten the mood. “I do,” a voice calls from offstage. “Ok,” Romney says. “Hadn’t thought about that.” He laughs. “So… what do you think you say in a concession speech?” (more…)

Anne Frank’s Childhood Marbles Recovered

Frank had asked a neighbor to take care of her toys before she went into hiding

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Anne Frank's marbles, currently on display at the Kunsthal Art Gallery in the Netherlands. (AP Photo/Anne Frank House Amsterdam, Diederik Schiebergen)

In 1942, Anne Frank was worried about losing her marbles. According to the Associated Press, Anne Frank gave some of her toys to a non-Jewish friend who lived next door in Amsterdam before she and her family went into hiding. The friend, Toosje Kupers, explained that marbles were not particularly valuable, but that she agreed to take care of them—and Frank’s cat Moortje—at Anne’s request.

“‘I’m worried about my marbles, because I’m scared they might fall into the wrong hands,’” Kupers said Anne told her. “‘Could you keep them for me for a little while?’”

(more…)

Four Charged In Foiled Jerusalem Terror Plot

Plan was to infiltrate a crowded wedding hall with mini Uzi guns

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Four East Jerusalem residents were indicted today on charges of planning to carry out a large-scale shooting attack in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Post reports. The plan, according to the indictment filed with the Jerusalem District Court, was to dress as ultra-Orthodox Jews and enter a crowded wedding hall in Bayit Vagan, Jerusalem, with firearms concealed beneath their clothing. The four suspects, all of whom were between the ages of 19 and 21, had reportedly been planning the attack since December 2013.

One of the suspects had suggested attacking the Nof wedding hall because he had worked there and was familiar with the venue, which can hold 800 to 1,500 people. They were said to be collaborating with a West Bank weapons dealer who gave them a 50,000 NIS estimate for mini Uzi guns for the attack. The group has been charged with conspiracy to aid and abet the enemy in a time of war, and will remain in police custody until a final verdict is reached.

East Jerusalem terror cell charged with planning attack on wedding hall [Jerusalem Post]

Israel’s Newest Delicacy? Chocolate Shawarma

New hybrid confection swaps the block of rotating meat for a slab of chocolate

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(ChocoKebab)

Shawarma is one of Israel’s most popular street foods, and a new confection, Chocolate Shawarma or Choco-Kebab, is taking that obsession—and Israelis’ newfound love of chocolate—to the next level. The concept is simple: The giant rotating meat stack is replaced by an Italian chocolate stack with layers of milk and white chocolate, which instead of being heated are refrigerated. The chocolate is shaved off into a pita-crepe, a slightly thicker version of the French crepe that replaces the original pita or lafah in which the meat shawarma would be served. Instead of hummus or tahini you can top the crepe with dulce de leche, maple syrup, halva, baby marshmallows, Adashim (essentially the Israeli version of M&M’s), whipped cream, chocolate sauce, nuts, granola, and chocolate sprinkles. (more…)

New Film Tells the Story of New York’s Russ & Daughters

‘The Sturgeon Queens’ documents 100 years of the iconic appetizing shop

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Hattie Russ.(The Russ Family)

What more is there to say about Russ & Daughters, the family-owned appetizing store and Jewish food landmark that has peddled herring, smoked salmon, cream cheese, caviar, and rugelach on the Lower East Side since 1914? The shop has been immortalized in countless articles, in a book, and, recently, in a delightfully hedonistic scene on comedian Louis C.K.’s hit TV series, Louie.

If you ask Hattie Russ Gold, 100, and Anne Russ Federman, 92, the two (of three) surviving Russ daughters, it turns out there is still plenty to discuss. Last week, in conjunction with the shop’s 100th anniversary, The Sturgeon Queens a documentary about Russ & Daughters, premiered at Jewish film festivals in Palm Beach, Tucson, and Virginia. The film spans more than a century, starting with founder Joel Russ, a Polish immigrant who began selling herring from a pushcart, and culminating with Josh Russ Tupper and Niki Russ Federman, cousins who in recent years became the 4th generation of Russes to run their family’s business. (more…)

Israeli Musician Ariel Zilber Denied Lifetime Achievement Award

Right-wing artist’s snub sets off a firestorm about free speech and art

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Ariel Zilber. (Facebook)

Ariel Zilber, one of Israel’s most revered singer-songwriters, is 70 years old. Many believe it’s about time he got a lifetime achievement award from ACUM (the Israeli version of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)—and he almost did. But the planned award fell through at the last minute due to Zilber’s political beliefs, deemed by many to be too radical.

It all started less than a week ago, when the singer Noa turned down her ACUM award because of the group’s decision to award the big prize of the evening to the controversial Chozer B’Tshuvah star. She said she objected to Zilber being honored, arguing that granting him the award would give legitimacy to his many extreme public statements. For starters, that includes his support of Rabbi Meir Kahane, as well as his statement advocating for the release of Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin’s murderer (a statement he now denies). Following public pressure from Dalia Rabin, the daughter of Yitzhak Rabin, ACUM soon decided to downgrade his “lifetime achievement award” to a “prize for contribution to music.” (more…)

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