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Sheldon Silver Blaming Stuff on Sheldon E. Silver

N.Y. Assembly Speaker enjoys the perks of having a common Jewish name

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sit in a classroom at P.S.1 on Henry St. on April 3, 2014. (Susan Watts-Pool/Getty Images)

In March, the New York Times published an article highlighting New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s involvement in a late 1970s push to keep a 20-acre lot in his Lower East Side district free from the construction of new affordable housing (the vast lot remains vacant to this day, to the consternation of housing advocates). The article reported that the young assemblyman, along with his longtime friend William Rapfogel, the disgraced former CEO of the Metropolitan Council for Jewish Poverty who last month admitted to stealing $7 million from the charity, worked behind the scenes, at times under the auspices of an organization known as the United Jewish Council, to promote certain developers and advocate proposals that were aligned with their goal of maintaining the neighborhood’s Jewish character.

It’s a pretty damning revelation. Silver, however, has an alibi. According to a new Times article, the assemblyman says it wasn’t him doing some of the things they accused him of doing, it was another Sheldon Silver. Sheldon E. Silver, to be exact: a local Brooklyn lawyer who also briefly worked for the United Jewish Council. (more…)

Literary Festival Draws Crowds, Stirs Drama

This week’s International Writers Festival in Jerusalem

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Jerusalem's Old City. (THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)

The fourth International Writers Festival opened Sunday night at Mishkenot Shaananim in Jerusalem, playing host to 10 authors from around the globe and dozens of Israeli writers. Held every two years, the festival is almost as well known for its backdrop: jaw-dropping views of the Old City and an atmosphere both ancient and effervescent. But like almost everything else in this city, the festival is not without its complexities.

The festival, which runs through Friday afternoon, has a program packed with readings, film screenings, and sessions where Israeli authors engage in dialogue with their counterparts from abroad. Most of the big names of Hebrew literature are on display, with the “three tenors”—Amos Oz, A. B. Yehoshua, and David Grossman—appearing alongside representatives from the younger generation, including Etgar Keret, Shimon Adaf, and Dorit Rabinyan. (more…)

Sinkhole Forms Outside Katz’s Deli

Water main ruptures outside iconic New York City restaurant

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Sinkhole outside Katz's Deli in New York City. (Twitter/@NYCityAlerts)

Locals and tourists heading to Katz’s Deli for lunch today may find an unexpected obstacle between them and their pastrami sandwich. A 55-year-old water main burst this morning, flooding the street and creating a 20-foot sinkhole just outside the Houston St. eatery, the New York Daily News reports.

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection quickly shut off the main, which left five businesses — including Katz’s — and eight residential buildings without water, officials said.

The 125-year-old deli, however, remains open amidst the chaos and clean-up crews. “We’re open, but we’re using bottled water, not tap water,” an employee said. (more…)

Drew Barrymore Loves Rosh Hashanah

The actress also enjoys challah, french fries, and gardens

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Actress Drew Barrymore arrives for the red carpet premiere of 'Blended,' May 21, 2014 at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Drew Barrymore dropped by Billy on the Street, the delightful Fuse game show where comedian Billy Eichner alternately screams at celebrities and random strangers in New York City. They played one of Eichner’s favorite games: Would Drew Barrymore Like That? Eichner played it with Will Ferrell last year, but something about having Barrymore herself play was extra special.

The premise of the game is simple: Eichner lists an item and Drew Barrymore has to say whether or not Drew Barrymore would like it. French fries: yes; gardens: yes; milk chocolate: no (Barrymore gets a few wrong). Eichner throws out Rosh Hashanah, to which Barrymore tentatively responds “Drew Barrymore would love Rosh Hashanah?”

She’s right, Eichner shouts: “Drew Barrymore isn’t Jewish per se but she enjoys tradition and you can bet your ass there’s nothing she likes more than a ritual, plus you know she’s going to bring up Steven Spielberg 900 times during dinner.” (more…)

Swiss Court Rules Nazi Salute Not Always Illegal

No longer a punishable criminal offense if used as a personal statement

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German nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his army parade in Prague on March 15, 1939, the day of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Wehrmacht. (-/AFP/Getty Images)

The Nazi salute, outlawed as a criminal offense in countries like Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, remains a thorny legal issue in other European countries. In Switzerland, a 1995 anti-racism law criminalized the use of racist symbols in promoting discriminatory ideologies. But yesterday a Swiss court ruled that the symbol isn’t in fact a criminal offense if it’s used as a personal statement, the Associated Press reports.

The Federal Tribunal’s ruling, titled “Hitler salute in public not always punishable,” said the gesture is a crime only if someone is using it to try to spread racist ideology to others, not simply declaring one’s own conviction.

It seems to be a rather small technicality, considering the instantaneous associations most people presumably make upon seeing a Nazi salute being performed. (more…)

Spend Summer on Spielberg’s Hamptons Lot

The director’s East Hampton property can be yours (for $24.5 million)

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Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux, Steven Spielberg, and Kate Capshaw during the 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 25, 2013 in Cannes, France. (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Steven Spielberg is looking to sell the East Hampton getaway he bought for $20 million in 2008—except this time there’s no house on the waterfront property, and it costs $24.5 million. The director tore down the original home (built in 1900, sad face) after he bought it, and never built anything in its place, the New York Post reports, making the “E.T. sell home” joke themselves so you don’t have to.

The 3.2 acre lot is one of several properties Spielberg owns in the area, the others of which presumably have houses on them. (more…)

Stanley Fischer Confirmed to Federal Reserve

Former Israel Central Bank chief will likely become next vice chair of the Fed

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Stanley Fischer testifying to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on his nomination to be the vice chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System on March 13, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Senate confirmed Stanley Fischer as a member of the Federal Reserve in a 68-27 vote today, leaving the economist well on his way to succeeding Janet Yellen as vice chairman of the Fed. Fischer, who has dual American and Israeli citizenship, retired as the head of Israel’s Central Bank in January 2013 after nearly a decade in the post. He previously worked at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Fischer’s name surfaced quickly as a likely successor when Yellen ascended to the role of Fed chair in December, with his legacy of keeping the Israeli economy on track during the economic downturn likely a strong factor in his appeal. (more…)

Prince Charles Likens Putin to Hitler

Compares Russian leader’s annexation of Crimea to Nazi invasion of Poland

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Prince Charles at an official ceremony at Grand Parade on May 19, 2014 in Halifax, Canada. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

The latest public figure to find himself in the news for making a Nazi comparison is none other than Prince Charles, who on a visit to Canada made an offhand remark likening Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine to Hitler’s annexation of Poland. Charles, acting in an official capacity as a British royal, was touring an immigration museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia when he struck up a conversation with a volunteer there named Marienne Ferguson, who told him that her family had fled Poland before the Nazis invaded in 1939, the New York Post reports.

Ferguson, who volunteers at an immigration museum that Charles visited, said when she told Charles about her family background, he replied that Putin is doing the same thing as Hitler. Russia recently annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region.

According to NBC, the Prince of Wales’ people played down the significance of the statement, saying, “We don’t comment on private conversations but we would like to stress that the Prince of Wales would not seek to make a public political statement during a private conversation.” (more…)

Sabra Calls For U.S. Hummus Standards

Hummus company petitions FDA for regulations over the chickpea spread

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(Sabra Dipping Co.)

Sabra made a major play for hummus in the U.S. market last summer when they became the official dip of the N.F.L. Now they’re looking to sideline the competition (sorry). Sabra Dipping Co. has apparently petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to adopt a standard for determining what does and does not qualify as hummus, JTA reports.

It might not be such a bad thing, though. As Joan Nathan pointed out in 2011, the only places selling hummus hummus in the United States in the 1970s and 80s were Middle Eastern ethnic stores like Sahadi’s in Brooklyn. Now hummus—or at least a distinctly Americanized version of it—seems to be everywhere. (more…)

Rabbi Charged in Major Child Pornography Bust

At least 70 others, including a police officer, nabbed in federal investigation

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(Shutterstock)

A major federal child pornography investigation led to the arrests of at least 70 people in the New York City area, the AP reports. One of the people charged with possessing and sharing child pornography, disturbingly, was a rabbi. He reportedly home-schooled his own and other children.

The five-week probe, which is being called “one of the largest local roundups ever of individual consumers of child porn,” nabbed some other seemingly upstanding citizens—a police officer, paramedic, nurse, and a Boy Scout leader were also charged. (more…)

U.S. Calls For Probe Into Nakba Day Shootings

Two Palestinian teenagers were killed by Israeli forces during rally last week

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Family members and supporters attend the funeral of two Palestinian youths, Nadim Seeam Abu Kara and Muhammad abu da'har, on May 16, 2014 in Ramallah, West Bank. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

Israeli forces intervening in a Nakba Day demonstration in the West Bank last week shot and killed two teenage protestors, an incident the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Hanan Ashrawi called a “deliberate execution.” Israel Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon defended the soldiers’ actions, and the IDF maintained that they used only riot control techniques and no live fire.

Now, the United States and the United Nations are both calling for an investigation into the two deaths after footage surfaced appearing to show the soldiers using live fire as well as suggesting that the victims were unarmed, JTA reports. (more…)

Hosni Mubarak Convicted of Embezzlement

Ousted Egyptian president and his two sons sentenced to three years in prison

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Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak sits inside a cage in a courtroom during his verdict hearing in Cairo on June 2, 2012. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons were convicted of embezzling public funds and sentenced to three years in prison, the AP reports. They were fined $3 million and ordered to repay the $17.6 million of government funds funneled towards personal use. (more…)

Amanda Peet Writing Children’s Book About Being Jewish

The actress and mother of two to publish Dear Santa, Love Rachel Rosenstein

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Actress Amanda Peet. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Jewish actress Amanda Peet knows what it’s like to grow up feeling a bit… different. The New York City native and mother of two is writing a children’s book about growing up Jewish, the AP reports. Dear Santa, Love Rachel Rosenstein will tell the story of a young Jewish girl who wonders why Santa always skips her house on Christmas.

According to MediaBistro, Peet’s children inspired the book, which she is co-writing with her friend Andrea Troyer. (more…)

Israel Sports Win Prompts Anti-Semitic Tweets

Nearly 18,000 Twitter insults posted after Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Euroleague win

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Maccabi Tel Aviv players celebrate in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on May 19, 2014, following their victory over Real Madrid in the Euroleague 2014 Final Four basketball match in Milan, Italy. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s unexpected victory over Read Madrid in the championship of the Euroleague Final Four basketball tournament this weekend was met with revelry in Israel—and vitriol online. A deluge of anti-Semitic comments hit the Twittersphere in response to the team’s win in Milan, the New York Times reports, with a whopping 18,000 tweets posted to the social networking site believed to be from Real Madrid fans angry about their team’s loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Jewish organizations in Spain have requested a formal investigation into the comments and have filed a compliant against five Twitter users whose full names are associated with their accounts. (more…)

Germany Identifies 20 Former Majdanek Guards

Probe into 1,000 former guards reveals nearly two dozen still alive in Germany

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Majdanek concentration camp. (Patryk Kosmider / Shutterstock.com)

In the latest German probe into Nazi concentration camp guards, investigators have identified 20 suspected former guards at Majdanek who are still alive and living in Germany. The Associated Press reports that the results of the investigation by Germany’s special Nazi war crimes office into more 1,000 former guards at the concentration camp would be handed over to state investigators.

Lead investigator Thomas Will told The Associated Press that about 30 suspects were identified and located, but around ten had already died. The remaining 20 men and women all live in Germany, he said, but refused to elaborate further.

Some 220 others are still being investigated for possible charges but have not been located.

It’s not up to state investigators to decide whether or not to press charges. (more…)

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