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Confessions of a Bible Contest Alum

How my family turned Torah study into a competitive sport

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The author crams at the last minute before the National Bible Contest in New York in 1983, wearing the Chidon's trademark blue and white yarmulke. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Today, Yair Rosenberg takes Tablet readers behind the scenes of the game-show-like drama of the Chidon ha-Tanakh, the annual International Bible Contest being held (and televised) in Israel this Monday, Israeli Independence Day. I come from a Chidon family, so I know the contest well; in 1979, when I was 8 years old, I was in the Chidon audience in Jerusalem.

It was exciting to watch the contest—and not just because the show opened with a choir performing “Hallelujah,” the Israeli pop song that had won the Eurovision Song Contest just a few weeks earlier in Jerusalem. There, on stage with Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was my 15-year-old brother Scott, competing for the prize. (more…)

Sitting in The Mother of All Chairs

Smothering or mothering? That’s the question artist Mirta Kupferminc asks

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Artist Mirta Kupferminc sits in her work Eve: Chair of All Mothers.(Mirta Kupferminc)

A chair made out of breasts. An inhabitable scene from the Garden of Eden. A beautiful woman eating a fig, blood dripping down one leg. These were among the offerings of Argentinian artist Mirta Kupferminc in the culminating ceremony of LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture, in which artists come together to study Jewish texts.

This year’s theme was motherhood, and when the lights came on after a presentation of her 13-minute film Divine Desire, Kupferminc was sitting ensconced in the chair, which is called Eve: Chair of All Mothers and is made out of beanbag breasts, an example of Kupferminc’s wonderful ability to playfully engage with the most serious topics. “At first glance, this work is humorous, even ludicrous,” she explained to the audience. “Sexuality and maternity, this is the way the chain is shaped, l’dor v’dor.” (more…)

Anne Frank Sapling Planted on Capitol Hill

Grown from the chestnut tree that stood outside Frank’s Amsterdam home

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor during the dedication ceremony for the Anne Frank Memorial Tree in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol April 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Anne Frank drew hope from the white horse chestnut tree that grew outside the window of her Amsterdam home. “As long as it exists, how can I be sad?” wrote Frank, who later died in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp at age 15.

A three-foot sapling of the tree that stood outside Frank’s window was planted on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol yesterday, Religion News Service reports.

“May this tree grow to its full height, serene and bursting with life, planted in our nation’s capital,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., at yesterday’s ceremony, which was moved indoors due to rain. (more…)

Ed Koch Pal Cardinal O’Connor Actually Jewish

Research shows Archbishop of New York’s mother was born Jewish, converted

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John Cardinal O’Connor and Mayor Edward Koch turn out with thousands of others for the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade down Fifth Avenue in New York, on Sunday, June 11, 1989.(Mario Cabrera/AP)

When former New York City Mayor Ed Koch died in February 2013, he had a Jewish funeral at Temple Emanuel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He also, however, was memorialized in a Mass at St. Patrick’s the following month, a testament to his special appreciation of Catholicism and close friendship with John Cardinal O’Connor, the Archbishop of New York. Koch and O’Connor together wrote the book His Eminence and Hizzoner, and after O’Connor died in 2000, Koch kept the memorial card from the funeral on his desk. (more…)

Forget J Street; Should We Accept the Conference of Presidents?

A bad decision raises questions about the group that claims to speak for us all

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J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami. (J Street)

I don’t like J Street.

Since its establishment in 2008, it has taken a host of positions I’ve found maddening and even some I’ve found morally deplorable, from its criticism of Israel’s counterattack of the Gazan terrorists who were lobbing missiles at its civilians to its insistence that America kowtow to the nuclear-hungry regime in Iran. I was also dismayed by the group’s obvious partisan politics: For all of its hawkish reputation, if you attended AIPAC’s 2013 policy conference, you would’ve heard from Joe Biden and Eric Cantor, John McCain and Steny Hoyer, while J Street’s conference that year featured the vice president and Democratic senator Tim Kaine, making it clear that the self-proclaimed pro-Israel, pro-peace organization saw itself as little more than a representative of liberal politics. So, really, no love lost. (more…)

Israeli Actor and Director Assi Dayan Dies at 68

The son of Moshe and Ruth Dayan created some of Israel’s most iconic films

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Teenage Assi Dayan and his father, Moshe Dayan. (Assi Dayan)

Assi Dayan, writer, director, actor, and scion of Israeli aristocracy, died today at his Tel Aviv home at 68. He was responsible for some of Israeli cinema’s greatest popular hits, as well as some of its bleakest cynical moments.

He was born in 1945 in the moshav Nahalal, in the Jizreel Valley, to Moshe Dayan—IDF Chief of Staff, Defense and Foreign Minister, and surely one of this country’s most iconic faces—and Ruth Dayan, a pioneer of the Israeli fashion industry (now 97 and still active, Ruth Dayan survives her son). Even before the Six Day War, of which Moshe Dayan was architect, the younger Dayan was treated as royalty. At 13, as he recounted in the recent autobiographical documentary Life as a Rumor, he was pulled over by a cop that had caught him speeding in his father’s car. Luckily, dad was in the back seat, and the policeman was quick to release them both, with a salute (“No one would dare touch us, a two-man mafia,” Dayan said). (more…)

Mad Magazine’s Al Feldstein Dies at 88

The Brooklyn native edited the iconic comedy publication for 28 years

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'FELDSTEIN: The MAD Life and Fantastic Art of Al Feldstein,' a biography of the Mad Magazine editor. (IDW)

Al Feldstein, who edited the iconic American humor publication Mad magazine for 28 years, has died at the age of 88, the AP reports. Best known for his depiction of Mad’s freckly mascot Alfred E. Neuman, Feldstein began at Mad in 1956, four years after the magazine was founded.

Together with publisher William M. Gaines, Feldstein oversaw Mad’s most successful years, and the artists and writers they recruited to the magazine came up with some of its best known and beloved features, such as “Spy vs. Spy,” “The Lighter Side of…” and “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” (more…)

Lost Shul Mural Found in Vermont Carpet Store

The massive work, painted in 1910 by a Lithuanian artist, is being restored

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(Lost Shul Mural)

In 1910, Lithuanian artist Ben Zion Black painted an extravagant floor-to-ceiling mural in the Chai Adam synagogue in Burlington, Vermont. The building was eventually converted into apartment units and much of the painting was destroyed during renovations. Now, a century later, the Burlington Jewish community is determined to preserve the artwork, which may be the only surviving example of a long tradition of Jewish art that was almost entirely obliterated during the Holocaust.

Burlington native Aaron Goldberg first spotted the Lost Shul Mural—as the Vermont masterpiece has been nicknamed—in the 1970s on the back wall of a carpet store that had once been a synagogue. Goldberg’s family was among the mostly Lithuanian Jewish immigrants who settled in the area in the late 1800s. In a new NPR story, Goldberg recalls admiring the painting as a child: the rays of sunlight, a crown hovering above a tablet with the Ten Commandments, and a throne supported by two lions of Judah. (more…)

East Ramapo Tries To Heal Rift Over School Cuts

Hasidic leaders join public school parents to get more money from Albany

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East Ramapo Central School District. (News 12 Westchester)

Yesterday, a Latino pastor, a Haitian reverend, and a lot of Hasidic rabbis walked into a room in Monsey, the ultra-Orthodox enclave outside New York City. Inside were residents and elected officials of East Ramapo, the divided district where ultra-Orthodox Jews and Haitian immigrants, many of them refugees from the 2010 earthquake, have been battling over control of the local schools and, more important, over control of the money to fund them.

They were there to mark the launch of a new initiative, Community United for Formula Change, that would change the way Albany allocates money to districts like East Ramapo’s, where almost two-thirds of children—22,000 of them, mostly Jewish students sent to yeshivas—are enrolled in private schools, while the public schools serve 8,000 predominantly minority children. Parents of children who attend the public schools have accused ultra-Orthodox members of the school board of gutting the district’s programs. But those gathered yesterday said the problem is more basic than that: They simply aren’t getting enough money from the state. (more…)

Suspect in Custody for Menachem Stark Murder

Hasidic landlord’s body was found in a Long Island dumpster in January

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Menachem Stark. (ELI WOHL/VIN NEWS)

New York Police have arrested a suspect in connection with the murder of Hasidic landlord Menachem Stark, the New York Daily News reports. Stark was kidnapped Jan. 2 outside his office in Williamsburg, and his burned body was discovered the next day in a dumpster on Long Island. Now, with a suspect in custody, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says the pace of the investigation “has accelerated significantly.”

The suspect, who police say is the “main player” in Stark’s murder, has not been publicly identified. Two other individuals linked to the crime have been questioned but not charged. (more…)

Man Who Threw Bleach at Rabbi Avoids Jail

Sentenced to five years probation for 2012 attack on Nuchem Rosenberg

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Brooklyn Supreme Court. (Wikimedia)

A Hasidic man who threw bleach in the face of a Brooklyn rabbi in 2012 has been sentenced to five years probation, the New York Daily News reports. Meilech Schnitzler, 38, pleaded guilty to felony assault for throwing bleach at Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg as he walked past Schnitzler’s Brooklyn fish market on December 11, 2012. Rosenberg, a well-known advocate for victims of sexual abuse in the haredi community, had reportedly accused Schnitzler’s father of being a molester. (more…)

David Geffen Wants To Buy the L.A. Clippers

The Jewish billionaire makes a play after Donald Sterling’s lifetime NBA ban

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David Geffen. (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

In the hours since NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the Los Angeles Clippers’ longtime owner Donald Sterling would be banned from the league and a forced sale of the team would be encouraged, a host of big names have expressed interest in taking the team off Sterling’s hands. The octogenarian millionaire, whose swift downfall was precipitated by the airing of an audio recording last weekend in which he made racist remarks (and who happens to also have a long, public history of unsavory business behavior), does not appear to be long for the world of NBA ownership.

Joining a list that includes former NBA star Magic Johnson (who was named by Sterling in his now-infamous racist rant) and the rapper P. Diddy, Jewish billionaire David Geffen has thrown his hat into the ring, Reuters reports. (more…)

Israeli Students Propose New Secular Holiday

‘Ten Days of Thanks’ would fall between Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’atzmaut

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Israelis celebrate the Jewish state's 65th Independence Day on April 15, 2013 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

The 10 days between Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day—and Yom Ha’atzmaut—Israel’s Independence Day—filled with anticipation and mixed emotions, have always been a bit awkward. So why not fill the time with a new holiday?

That’s what students at the secular-religious yeshiva of Ein Prat thought, at least. They proposed a new holiday called the Ten Days of Thanks (step aside Passover and Hanukkah), to be observed between Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’atzmaut. The 10 days are meant to correspond to the 10 Days of Repentance traditionally observed by religious Jews between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. However, unlike the Days of Repentance, the Ten Days of Thanks will service the secular Jewish community, the Jerusalem Post reports. (more…)

Historic NYC Synagogue Fights Foreclosure

Manhattan congregation home to Holocaust survivors faces uncertain future

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A historic synagogue in Washington Heights is on the brink of foreclosure, the New York Times reports. The Fort Tryon Jewish Center, perched at the edge of a cliff between Fort Washington Avenue and Overlook Terrace, was founded in 1938 and served as the spiritual home for many Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States and settled in New York.

The once magnificent house of worship has since fallen into disrepair. For the past five years, the synagogue has been completely out of commission, its members gathering for Shabbat services at a nearby Catholic school. But even this temporary arrangement is indefinite—Mayor de Blasio recently announced that a new charter school would be housed there, throwing the future of congregants into further uncertainty. (more…)

Donald Sterling Banned From NBA For Life

After the Los Angeles Clippers owner’s racists remarks were made public

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Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling attends the NBA playoff game between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, April 21, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has been banned from the National Basketball Association for life. “Effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life with any association with the Clippers or the NBA,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said this afternoon at a press conference, where he confirmed that a leaked recording of Sterling allegedly making racist remarks was authentic. Silver also announced that he would encourage the NBA Board of Governors to force a sale of the team, which Sterling has owned since 1981.

Sterling was a figure likely known only to basketball fans before this weekend, when TMZ leaked an audio recording of the octogenarian millionaire allegedly telling his girlfriend V. Stiviano not to bring black people to Clippers games and chastising her for posing with Magic Johnson in pictures posted on Instagram. The backlash was severe and immediate, with everyone from the ADL to President Obama condemning Sterling’s comments. (more…)

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