Construction Worker Indicted in Stark Murder

Told investigators the Hasidic landlord was killed in a kidnapping gone wrong

(Brooklyn Criminal Court)

The suspect arrested last week for the January kidnapping and murder of Hasidic landlord Menachem Stark has been indicted, the New York Post reports. Kendel, 26, worked for a contractor who was hired by Stark, and his account of what happened confirms initial reports that it was a business-related kidnapping gone badly wrong, with Stark’s burned body discovered several days later in a dumpster on Long Island.

Felix told investigators that “he and an accomplice only wanted to scare Stark when they accidentally killed him during the abduction outside his Williamsburg office.” (more…)

A Mother’s Move Back to New York From Israel

The New York Times parenting blog documents one family’s return to the U.S.

Jerusalem. (Wikipedia)

Lest you thought Motherlode took to heart some reader complaints that it’s somehow too Jewish focused, the New York Times parenting blog has launched a three-month series called Diary of an International Move by Devorah Blacher, a freelance writer and novelist.

In the first installment, Blacher discusses her ambivalence about picking up stakes after 20 years in Jerusalem and relocating to Rockland County, New York. Change is hard, after all, and moving is arduous even when it’s just across town. (more…)

Center of Nazi-Looted Art Dispute Dies at 81

German recluse Cornelius Gurlitt leaves art trove worth $1.4 billion and no will

The house of Cornelius Gurlitt in the Aigen district of Salzburg, Austria, where the German recluse stored part of his art collection. (Joerg Koch/Getty Images)

The 81-year old recluse German Cornelius Gurlitt, who hoarded modern European masterpieces in his Munich apartment for decades until the trove was discovered in 2012, died after a heart operation on Tuesday, the New York Times reports. Gurlitt inherited the art collection from his father, who was reportedly ordered by Hitler to acquire and sell the “degenerate art” in order to help finance Nazi activities. The collection has nearly 2,000 pieces, including works by Chagall and Matisse, and is worth an estimated $1.4 billion.

In February 2012, authorities found the trove while investigating Gurlitt for possible tax evasion. The German government has been in the process of returning the masterpieces to the heirs of their rightful owners, many of whom are Jewish families. Last month, Gurlitt’s lawyers reached an agreement with a team of international experts granting them the right to continue researching the provenance of the paintings.

Gurlitt’s death ends “both the court-ordered care as well as the investigation,” said Stephan Holzinger, Gurlitt’s spokesperson, referring to the tax evasion inquiry. In terms of a will stipulating what would happen to the collection the event of Gurlitt’s death, no document has yet been found.

Previous: Major Nazi-Looted Art Collection to be Returned
Germany Reaches Deal on Nazi-Looted Art Trove
Related: Why the Germans Haven’t Returned $1 Billion Worth of Nazi-Looted Paintings

Visitors to Auschwitz Are Stealing ‘Souvenirs’

Vandals are also scratching their names onto bunks at the concentration camp

A mass of suitcases removed from men, women and children are displayed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oswiecim, Poland. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Visitors to Auschwitz are taking in more than just the experience of being at the infamous concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland—they’re taking actual artifacts from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Last month, an Italian tourist was arrested at the airport for attempting to smuggle 16 inches of barbed wire from the concentration camp out of the country. Now, according to the Telegraph, the rise in acts of vandalism and theft at the museum has stymied administrators.

Visitors of all ages, apparently, have been scratching their names onto the walls where prisoners slept. “I had a smoke here,” one vandal wrote. Others have stolen “souvenirs” from the camp, including spikes from the railway line that transported thousands of Jews to Auschwitz. (more…)

Why Alicia Silverstone Didn’t Give Her Son a Bris

It would mean “God made the body imperfect,” the actress argues in new book

Alicia Silverstone. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Alicia Silverstone, the latest celebrity mother to bring her Hollywood-tinted wisdom to the world in the form of a parenting guide, has attracted a lot of attention with her new book, The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning. She’s also gotten a fair amount of criticism for some of the book’s bolder claims, including that eating plant-based foods “can demolish your need for pharmaceutical drugs,” and that some children are “never the same” after vaccinations (the Daily Beast has a list of Silvertone’s scientifically dubious arguments).

The Jewish actress also jumps into the heated circumcision debate, explaining why she chose not to circumcise her son, Bear, now three. (more…)

High Schoolers Vandalize Tunisian Synagogue

Prayer books and shawls littered the ground in third such incident in four years

Beith El synagogue in Sfax, Tunisia. (Facebook)

The Beith El synagogue in Sfax, Tunisia was ransacked last week, JTA reports. The floor of the synagogue was littered with prayer books and Jewish prayer shawls according to a report filed by human rights activist and attorney Ftouh Souhail.

Footage of the incident, which has been identified as an act of anti-Semitism, reveals that the vandals were a group of 10 high school students wearing hoods to conceal their identities. A video of the synagogue after the incident is available here. (more…)

Meet the Americans Who Won Last Year’s Chidon

Yishai Eisenberg and Shalhevet Schwartz talk about memorizing the Bible

Chidon victors Yishai Eisenberg and Elior Babian with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Education Shai Piron (Israeli Ministry of Education)

Last year, for the first time since 1988, an American won the International Bible Contest in Israel. How did Yishai Eisenberg, a freshman at Yeshiva University High School for Boys, accomplish the feat? Simple: From the American competition through the Israeli finals, he didn’t get a single question wrong. In advance of today’s contest in Israel–which just concluded with Canadian Eitan Amos taking the crown–I spoke with the two top American finishers in 2013, Eisenberg (tied for first) and Shalhevet Schwartz (tied for fourth), about their experiences and the secrets to their success.

So, how does one go about memorizing entire books of the Bible? “I read the Tanakh, and that was pretty much it,” said Eisenberg. “The studying itself is very simple: you just have to read and re-read Tanakh, but you have to be very persistent about it.” Whenever he had a spare moment, whether at home or at a bus stop, he would pull out his Tanakh and begin reviewing it. Eisenberg also had an advantage: he lived in Israel from age 7 to 13, so his Hebrew was excellent, unlike many overseas contestants who had to work to overcome the language barrier presented by the biblical text. (more…)

What You Learn From IDF Krav Maga Masters

A violent kick to the groin and a punch to the back of the head, then lights out

Ran Nakash, former chief commander of the Israeli Defense Forces’ Krav Maga division, gives a demonstration at Gleason’s in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Photo by the author)

Last Thursday, Ran Nakash, former Chief Commander of the Israeli Defense Forces’ Krav Maga division, strolled through Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, wearing a shirt that said, “Bones Heal but Glory is Forever.” The shaved-headed, tattooed Israeli stopped at a door displaying two posters: one of a young blonde woman biting an attacker in the arm; the other of his own face, half covered in shadow, looking fearless while thwarting a knife attack.

Nakash, 35, who’d flown in from Tel Aviv along with head IDF Krav Maga instructor Itay Danenberg, walked up a dingy stairwell into Gleason’s, the famous gym. Barrel-chested with a massive neck, Nakash—also a pro boxer whose career record is 26-1 with 18 knockouts—was recognized by boxers, who stopped their workouts to greet him. Hector Roca, the legendary Panamanian trainer who mentored Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby, offered a hug. (more…)

The 111-Year-Old and His Chicken Noodle Soup

Alexander Imich, the world’s oldest man, likes to eat Jewish comfort food


At 111 and one quarter years old, Alexander Imich is the world’s oldest man. (The world’s oldest woman is 116, and lives in Japan.) The New York Times sat down with the Jewish scholar of the occult (really), who was born in Poland in 1903 and now lives on the Upper West Side, as he celebrated his 111th birthday.

Mr. Imich remembers the first automobile in his hometown, fighting the Bolsheviks in the Polish-Soviet War, escaping the Holocaust and surviving a Soviet gulag. He then immigrated to the United States, finding time to master the computer and publish a book on the paranormal at 92.

He grew up in a well-to-do family of secular Jews in Czestochowa in southern Poland, known for its famous painting of the Black Madonna. His father, who owned a decorating business, installed an airstrip for early aviators.


When Mad Men’s Don Draper Reads Philip Roth

The fallen ad man turned to Portnoy’s Complaint on last night’s episode

Don Draper in 'Mad Men.'(Lionsgate Publicity. )

Well, well, well, ring them bells. Last night on Mad Men, a semi-penitent Don Draper, hemmed in by the draconian rules his reproachful partners made as a condition of his returning to work (no new business, no private client meetings, and—horror of horrors—no drinking in the office, which for Don is sort of the normal person equivalent of being forbidden from using the toilet on the job) was forced to find new, creative, SC&P sanctioned ways of playing hooky from work. Out go the daytime benders and lunchtime trysts with a variety of dark-haired mistresses; in come the passive-aggressive catnaps, the games of solitaire, and last but certainly not least, the reading of novels.

“Which novels?” I hear you cry. Why, none other than the smash bestseller of 1969, Portnoy’s Complaint, by none other than Phillip Roth, who, as the fine writer Daphne Merkin once told me at a party with only half her tongue in her cheek, “speaks for all men.” (more…)

State Senator Compares Obamacare Signups to Nazi Deportations

Tennessee Republican Stacey Campfield ‘regrets’ that people missed his point

Tennessee Senator Stacey Campfield. (AP)

It’s time to welcome yet another politician into the ‘open mouth, insert foot’ club for the erroneous use of Holocaust metaphors when trying to make a political point. Our newest inductee is Tennessee Senator Stacey Campfield, a Republican who really, really doesn’t like Obamacare. How much doesn’t he like it? Well, just this morning he posted this ‘Thought of the Day‘ on his blog:

Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory (sic) sign ups for “train rides” for Jews in the 40s.

He quickly backtracked, telling Nashville’s News 2 that he “is not minimizing loss of life” during the Holocaust, just trying to make a point. (more…)

Elena Kagan’s Very Jewish Dissent—and Mistake

The Supreme Court Justice appeals to her heritage, with one small misstep

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (KNIX)

Today, in a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Town of Greece, New York, to begin monthly meetings with a prayer, ruling that the practice did not violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. Proponents of the practice noted that the town had never discriminated between religions in selecting prayer leaders and allowed chaplains of all faiths and none to address the meetings. Opponents maintained, among other points, that the predominantly Christian character of the area resulted in de facto establishment of Christianity through the practice, because nearly all chaplains available were Christian. In an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court sided with the town, stating “The town of Greece does not violate the First Amend­ment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition and does not coerce participation by nonadherents.”

Two of the justices in the minority authored dissents, one of them being Elena Kagan, who concluded hers with a fascinating–and very Jewish–rhetorical flourish. It also featured a small mistake. After critiquing the arguments of the majority, Kagan closed with an appeal to her own Jewish heritage: (more…)

Iran Bans WhatsApp Because Mark Zuckerberg is Jewish

But Facebook, which bought the free messaging service this year, isn’t banned

(Twin Design /

Iranians are no longer able to use the free text messaging service WhatsApp, JTA reports, because the app was recently bought by Facebook, which is run by Mark Zuckerberg, who is Jewish. That’s right: Iran banned the app, which allows users to communicate via text message without having to purchase a dedicated SMS plan, because it is owned by a company whose CEO is, as they put it, is an “American Zionist.”

“The reason for this is the assumption of WhatsApp by the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is an American Zionist,” said Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, head of the country’s secretary of the Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content, Fox News reported Sunday.

The move would make more sense, though, if Facebook was also banned in Iran. (more…)

Former NYPD Cop Arrested for Swastika Graffiti

Charged with criminal mischief and aggravated harassment as hate crimes


A former policeman with the NYPD was arrested on Sunday after reportedly spray painting a string of anti-Semitic messages on cars and and buildings in Brooklyn, Haaretz reports. The vandalism, which occurred Saturday night in the Borough Park neighborhood, included spray painted swastikas near a synagogue and graffiti on the doors of a Jewish elementary school.

Police arrested Michael Setiawan, 36, whom police say “separated” from the NYPD in 2007 after serving in it for two years. He is being charged with criminal mischief and aggravated harassment, both as hate crimes.


Is Shimon Adaf Israel’s Next Literary Luminary?

Acclaimed alongside Stephen King and Margaret Atwood, his work comes to America

Shimon Adaf (

Gan Meir is the oldest public park in Tel Aviv; its central location has made it the starting point for Tel Aviv’s annual Gay Pride parade as well as home to a dog run and a water-lily pond. Gan Meir is important not only for the rare green space for families it provides in the bustling city, but also, now, for how it is used in the private imaginings of Shimon Adaf, the 42-year-old Israeli writer of six novels and three books of poetry. Adaf, who is also head of the creative writing program at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva, is the 2013 winner of Israel’s prestigious Sapir Prize for his novel Mox Nox. Gan Meir is part of the Tel Aviv setting for Adaf’s third novel, Sunburnt Faces (2008), his first to be newly translated into English by Margalit Rodgers and Anthony Berris—a coming-of-age story with fantastical elements whose opening section occurs in Netivot, in the south of Israel. Though he is a popular literary figure in Israel, he is not yet well known outside of the realm of Hebrew readers. Now, with Sunburnt Faces—and Mox Nox slated for translation next—Adaf’s unique take on modern Jewishness should deservedly reach a wider audience. (more…)

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