Jews Named Yair Aren’t Named After a Terrorist

The Economist makes a bizarre claim about a biblical name

(Gil C /

As we’ve seen in the past, wild claims about Israel and Jews are sometimes too salacious to fact-check. The latest issue of The Economist offers one such example. In a May 3 book review entitled “The making of a martyr,” the magazine evaluates an account of the life and death of Avraham “Yair” Stern. Stern headed the eponymous Stern Gang, a Jewish terrorist group in Mandatory Palestine that was condemned by both the British and Jewish groups for its attacks on civilian targets. Understandably, and with justification, the review is not particularly kind to Stern. Less justifiable, however, is how the writer ignorantly impugns thousands of Jews when he turns from history to the contemporary:

Stern still commands a striking hold over many of Israel’s ruling right-wingers, including the successors of the mandate-era Jewish underground who continue to perpetrate attacks on Palestinian civilians. Many still choose his nom de guerre, Yair, for their sons, including Israel’s current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. One of the most fanatical settlements, Kochav Yair, is named after him.

This passage, which attempts to tar contemporary Jews and Israelis with Stern’s unsavory legacy, contains two major errors. One of them has been corrected. The more egregious one, unfortunately, has not. (more…)

The Opposite of Schadenfreude?

The Hebrew word ‘firgun’ describes taking pleasure in another’s good fortune

Firgun! (Liana Finck)

Today on BuzzFeed, New Zealand-based artist Anjana Iyer’s clever illustrations of words without direct English translations are featured, and they are nothing if not delightful. The German Waldeinsamkeit, for example, is “the feeling of being alone in the woods,” while the Pascuense word Tingo is “to gradually steal all the possessions out of a neighbour’s house by borrowing and not returning.” If nothing else, click though for her depiction of the Yiddish schlemazel.

In the spirit of Iyer’s project, allow us to submit our own nomination for the best word without a direct English counterpart. Literally the best because it’s quite possibly the nicest, most selfless word of all. It’s firgun, a Hebrew word that describes the ungrudging pleasure one takes in someone else’s good fortune.

Tablet contributor Irin Carmon wrote about the word in 2012, which has its roots in both fargin—a Yiddish word whose definition is, naturally, not as optimistic—and the German vergonnen. (more…)

Michael Douglas Suffers Hora-Related Injury

The actor partied a little too hearty at his son’s bar mitzvah

Michael Douglas. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

Michael Douglas celebrated his son Dylan’s bar mitzvah last weekend, but he may have overdone it on the dance floor. The New York Post‘s Page Six reports that the 69-year-old actor suffered a hora-related injury that left him limping days later. Stars—they’re just like us!

“I’m hurting,” he told us. “I don’t know whether it’s my groin or a hernia. I got carried away at my son’s bar mitzvah this weekend. You know they put you up in the chairs over the top — I think something happened there.”

I’m telling you, the hora can be dangerous. There are elderly relatives to watch out for, gnashing stiletto spikes to avoid, plus everyone’s going at a completely different speed. Those concentric circles are basically a dance floor version of Frogger. (more…)

German Artist Marks Book Burning With Reading

Wolfram Kastner converts a dark anniversary into a celebration of words

Wolfram Kastner burns a black circle into the Königsplatz lawn in Munich to commemorate the Nazis' May 10, 1933 book burning in the same spot. (Wolfram Kastner)

On May 10, 1933, as part of a nation-wide “campaign against the un-German spirit” organized by university students, tens of thousands of Nazis and their sympathizers celebrated a huge “burning ceremony,” incinerating books by outlawed authors in a bonfire in the center of Munich’s Königsplatz, the square where Nazis held mass rallies and established their national headquarters.

This year, on the anniversary of the event and at the very site of the original book-burning, the provocative political artist Wolfram Kastner will burn a black circle into the Königsplatz lawn, as he has done more than a dozen times since 1995, a vivid act of remembrance in the city that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in 1945 called “the cradle of the Nazi beast.”

“The Holocaust didn’t start in Auschwitz,” says Kastner. “It started right here in the streets of Munich.” (more…)

How Motherhood Changes Mother’s Day

My mother and I used to be at each other’s throats; now everything is different

The author with her mother. (Courtesy of the author)

In the grand history of stereotypical projections, perhaps none ring truer than those of the Jewish mother. Even if our own modern moms fell far short of the typical depiction—the self-sacrificing, smothering, guilt-inducing nag—some kernels of truth remain. My own mother, for instance, was certainly no cunning Rose Morgenstern as depicted by Herman Wouk in Marjorie Morningstar, who orchestrated her daughter’s love life until she finally married Jewish lawyer Milton Schwartz and moved to the Westchester suburbs, but she certainly had ideas for how I should comport and dress myself. And I enjoyed quashing them.

They told us in my religious Jewish elementary school that every day should be Mother’s Day; that is, you are expected to respect and honor your parents all the time, and to make a one-day-a-year show of it, while not exactly blasphemous, was still a bit irreverent. Though much of my early schooling was devoted to the importance of the commandment of kibbud av va’em, honoring your father and mother, and all its many concrete nuances—standing when they enter a room, not sitting in their seats at the table, not disturbing their sleep—less time was spent on the emotional implications of respecting one’s parents day in and day out, and zero time was spent on what respect means when you yearn to spread your wings. (more…)

Michelle Obama Celebrates Yiddish Literature

Awards Yiddish Book Center nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries

First Lady Michelle Obama presents the National Medal for Museum and Library Service to Yiddish Book Center community member Peter Manseau (L) and Founder and President Aaron Lansky (C).(Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS))

First Lady Michelle Obama presented the National Medal for Museum and Library Service to the Yiddish Book Center today. The National Medal is the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community, and 10 institutions were recognized this year.

Aaron Lansky, founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center, and Peter Manseau, whose National Jewish Book Award-winning novel Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter was inspired by his 1996 summer internship at the Amherst, Mass institution, accepted the award from the first lady in Washington, D.C. (more…)

Israeli Start-Up Ad Stars a Familiar Face

Fake sign language interpreter from Mandela funeral appears in new video


We haven’t heard much about Thamsanqa Jantjie—the sign language interpreter from Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December who, it was revealed, was not only signing gibberish at the official ceremony, which he blamed on schizophrenia, but had a disturbing criminal history—in the past few months. That’s because he’s been in a South African mental hospital. But a Tel Aviv-based start-up decided that Jantjie should be back in the spotlight and cast him in an ad for their live-streaming service.

The ad is billed as “Mandela’s sign language interpreter’s return to fame” and feels as exploitative as it is downright confusing. (more…)

Monica’s Wrong About One Thing

If the scandal happened today, she would have seen all of us who are, and always were, on her side

Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky gets leaves the offices of her attorney William Ginsburg in Washington, DC on April 1, 1998. (JOYCE NALTCHAYAN/AFP/Getty Images)

I love Monica Lewinsky. I always have. I remember the first time I saw her face on the cover of Newsweek in my high school American history class, and far from being horrified that our president (who I also loved) had clearly had sexual relations with “that woman,” I felt secretly thrilled he’d chosen to do so with “one of us.” (On Twitter today, my friend David Levy concurred that I was not alone: “I thought USY was going to give her an alumni award at the time.”)

Due to both my deep personal affinity for her and my generally being a fair-minded human being, I also felt that the ritual shaming and persecution she endured as a result of her brief and consensual, if inappropriate, relationship with a powerful man was an utter travesty, a morally repugnant display that left the shameful hypocrisy of our society and the institutional sexism which we live with and enable daily laid hideously bare for all to see. (more…)

Obama Calls For Confrontation of Anti-Semitism

President named Ambassador for Humanity by USC Shoah Foundation


President Barack Obama spoke about the need for ”confronting a rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world” in at the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation on Wednesday night, JTA reports. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who created the the Shoah Foundation, presented Obama with the Ambassador for Humanity award at the event, which was emceed by Conan O’Brien.

“We see attacks on Jews in the streets of major Western cities, public places marred by swastikas,” the U.S. leader said. “From some foreign governments we hear the worst kind of anti-Semitic scapegoating.”

The president also spoke out in support of the state of Israel, saying it’s “up to us to speak out against rhetoric that threatens the existence of the Jewish homeland and to sustain America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.” (more…)

Liel, Liel, Liel

What my fellow Tablet writer gets wrong about privilege—and liberalism

Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. (Pete Spiro /

Dear Friend, Colleague, Utterly Misguided Pedant,

I’m never sure how much of what you write is performance art and how much is what you truly believe. But since your “go, Princeton dude” rant may very well fall in the latter category, I feel compelled to respond—and will do so in a rational point-by-point manner.

You say:

“To begin with, because liberal politics, like all other seriously practiced beliefs, are not just about convictions but also about instincts and moods, its adherents should reject, right off the bat, any conversational strategy, no matter how well-meaning, whose inescapable outcome is the quelling of conversation.”

Nu, who’s quelling? Invoking censorship when someone takes issue with the content of your speech is disingenuous. No one is saying Princeton Dude should not be allowed to talk; we’re leaping to weigh in and disagree and argue. Have you MET the Internet? The Internet inherently understands that the answer to words we don’t like is not censorship; it’s more words. (more…)

Israeli Start-Ups Want To Be a Part of It, Too

New York is edging out Silicon Valley as the favored U.S. foothold

The Flatiron Building in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Last night, the US Israel Business Council invited eight Israeli start-ups to present their business plans to American investors and technology executives at a “roadshow” event in lower Manhattan.

There was a reason, beyond convenience for money men, that the event was hosted deep in the heart of New York’s financial center: Many of these start-ups will be based here. In a sharp break from years past, which saw Israeli tech companies attempting to conquer North America from Silicon Valley, the latest wave of Israeli entrepreneurs is increasingly pitching up on the East Coast, and specifically in New York City. (more…)

Simon Schama’s Essay Contest for Students

Writing prompt asks high schoolers to examine how stories shape our identies

Simon Schama at Ben Ezra Synagogue, Cairo, Egypt. (PBS)

In this moment of checking your head, your privilege, and your coat (assuming you’re lucky enough to have one), along comes an essay contest for teenagers in grade 9 through 11, ages 13 to 18, encouraging them to “examine how stories shape our identities.” The contest springs from Simon Schama’s acclaimed TV series and book The Story of the Jews. Among other prizes, winners will get a trip to New York City and lunch with the ever enthusiastic Columbia University historian. (more…)

College Basketball’s Yanni Hufnagel Heads West

Leaves Vanderbilt for an assistant coaching gig at the University of California

Yanni Hufnagel at Penn on Feb. 10, 2012; Harvard won 56-50. (Drew Hallowell)

Yanni Hufnagel, college basketball’s rising star—as a coach, that is—has made his latest move, leaving Vanderbilt after one year with the men’s basketball team for an assistant coaching gig at the University of California. Ben Cohen profiled Hufnagel in 2013 when the Cornell grad was on Harvard’s coaching staff, calling the 32-year-old “the paradigmatic nice Jewish boy”—and one hell of a recruiter. (more…)

Nazi-Looted Art Trove Willed to Swiss Museum

Cornelius Gurlitt, who died Tuesday, leaves massive collection of contested art

(Kunstmuseum Bern)

When German recluse Cornelius Gurlitt died yesterday, he left behind a massive trove of Nazi-looted art recently discovered by German authorities, who with the help of art experts were beginning the process of returning the masterpieces, by artists like Matisse and Chagall, to the heirs of their rightful owners. Now, however, according to Gurlitt’s will, the entirety of his contested art collection—which he inherited from his father, who Hitler tasked with dealing with “degenerate art,” and which is estimated to be worth more than $1 billion—has been bequeathed to the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern Switzerland, known as the Kunstmuseum Bern, an institution with which the 81-year-old had previously had no relationship.

The museum, it seems, is as surprised as anyone. They issued a statement about the unexpected development, which they described as a “bolt from the blue.” (more…)

Amy Schumer Kibitzes With Someone’s Bubbe

The Jewish comedian interviews a 106-year-old in an unexpectedly sweet clip

Amy Schumer. (Jeff Bottari/Getty Images for Variety)

I love Amy Schumer. I think she’s hilarious, and one of the most refreshing, smart acts in comedy today. She’s also usually pretty high-energy, raunchy, and in-your-face (at least in the clips that go viral), so seeing her subdued interview with a 106-year-old woman named Downing from last night’s episode of Inside Amy Schumer might be a bit of a surprise. It’s one of Schumer’s man-on-the-street segments, which are interspersed with scripted clips on her Comedy Central show, and which offer some of the best windows into Schumer’s range as an entertainer.

It feels more like a genuine interview than a gag, because Schumer asks thoughtful questions, and listens attentively to the answers even when she has jokes planned. It also feels intimate, which is unusual for this type of segment, in which the interviewee is typically used more for laughs than for anything substantial or narrative. (more…)

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