Pickling Pioneer Preaches Gospel of Fermentation

When it comes to brines, Sandor Katz bubbles with enthusiasm

Sandor Katz teaching in Hobart, Tasmania in February 2014. (Kate Berry)

If you have friends who brew kombucha, ask around for kefir grains, have a jar of kimchi bubbling away on the counter, or wax poetic about salty dill pickles fermented in brine, you can probably thank Sandor Katz.

The grandson of Jewish immigrants who came to New York from Belarus in 1920, Katz grew up on the Upper West Side, and has written about his fond memories of “yummy garlic-dill sour pickles [from] Guss’ pickle stall on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Zabar’s on the Upper West Side.” (more…)

Yiddish Goes Virtual With Online Classes

More proof the language isn’t dying: interactive online courses


Forget the trend stories decrying the death of Yiddish or proclaiming Yiddish’s trendy revival: the Jewish language remains very much alive in the United States, and by the looks of things, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

The Workmen’s Circle, which bills itself as “the largest provider of Yiddish language classes in the United States outside of academic institutions”—and where your humble blogger took an introductory Yiddish literacy course several years ago—is now offering online Yiddish courses. While those might be three words your bubbe would never expect to hear in the same sentence, the virtual classes are further proof that the language of our Eastern European forebears is continuing its long tradition of adapting to fit the needs of its speakers. (more…)

Kentucky Senate Candidate: With Jews, We Lose

Anti-Semitic write-in candidate affiliated with white supremacist group


A Kentucky man is running a write-in campaign for Senate, plastering the area with signs proclaiming, “With Jews, we lose.” The aspiring anti-Semitic senator is Robert Ransdell, a longtime white supremacist who has spoken at KKK-type rallies and is affiliated with the National Alliance, an organization whose web site bills itself as “your single source for pro-White news.”

USA Today reports that Ransdell has vowed to raise his profile, and is currently actively campaigning in the state. “I am absolutely chomping at the bit going forward with my campaign,” he wrote last month at the white supremacist forum Stormfront. (more…)

Excavation Unearths Gas Chambers at Sobibor

Discovery enables further research of the Nazi extermination camp

Sobibor railway yard. (Wikimedia)

An archaeological excavation at Sobibor, a Nazi extermination camp in Poland, has yielded an invaluable result. The excavation—which began in 2007, JTA reports, and has uncovered various personal items belonging to Jewish prisoners—has now unearthed the death camp’s gas chambers.

Yoram Haimi, an archeologist working on the project, said finding the gas chambers was the goal of the excavation. “We were amazed at the size of the building and the well-preserved condition of the chamber walls,” he said. “The most poignant moment was when we found a wedding band next to the gas chambers, on which was the Hebrew inscription: “Behold, you are consecrated unto me.” (more…)

Editor Misreads Press Release, Thinks He Won MacArthur Genius Grant

A case of mistaken MacArthur identity

(Image via Shutterstock; Photoillustration Tablet Magazine)

NEW HAVEN, CONN. – Westville neighborhood resident Mark Oppenheimer was up early on Wednesday, ready for his favorite annual ritual: checking the news to see if this was the year he’d win a MacArthur “genius grant.”

As in previous years at this time, he began with his award-day routine: cold shower, extra conditioner, trim the ear hair (in case of press conference), walk the dog, stop at “the ’buck” for a no-whip Frappuccino, quickly peruse the Times dining section.

Then he turned on his computer and saw that, at last, his work had paid off. (more…)

The Road to the New Jerusalem, Part 2

If Israel and the Holocaust are most Jews’ points of identification, which holidays are really the High Holidays?

Annual Israel Day Parade in New York City on June 01, 2014. (lev radin /

Earlier this summer, my brother-and-sister-in-law made aliyah. To say the timing was poor would be a dramatic understatement. Objectively, the timing was terrible.

Granted, there’s never a very good time to move to Israel, or go there, even: The same way an observant Jew might mark time by the holidays (he was born around Purim, she was married by Hanukkah-time), a visitor to the Holy Land generally recalls his stay by the conflict that was raging then (I was on Birthright during the Gaza pullout; on our last visit they were drilling for possible gas attacks from Syria). (more…)

Listen to Jews, Not Just Ted Cruz, on Middle East Christians

Controversy over the senator’s remarks has distracted from the real issue

Iraqi Christians who fled the violence in the village of Qaraqush, about 30 kilometres east of the northern province of Nineveh, rest upon their arrival at the Saint-Joseph church in the Kurdish city of Arbil, in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, on August 7, 2014.(SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz walked off the stage at a dinner supporting Middle Eastern Christians, after the pro-Israel portion of his remarks drew heckling from some in the audience. “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews,” he declared, “then I will not stand with you.” The incident has sparked a heated but thoughtful debate among conservatives about the moral complexities of supporting both the Jewish state and persecuted Middle East Christians, given that the latter are not always favorably disposed towards the former. While this conversation is important, and Christians, Jews, conservatives and liberals alike could benefit from reading some of the sharper takes on the subject (Tablet columnist Lee Smith’s response can be found here), the firestorm over Cruz’s walkout has had several less salutary consequences.

First, it subordinated the dire plight of the Middle East’s Christians–who are being brutally cleansed from the region–to a partisan squabble. And second, it has turned Israel into a litmus test over whether those Christians deserve outside support, when in fact Jews and the Jewish state have been actively working to bolster that support, without making any such demands. Whether one agrees with Cruz’s actions or not, then, it is important to refocus our attention on those in desperate need, and to emphasize the many Jewish efforts to assist them. (more…)

A Halva-Inspired Recipe for Rosh Hashanah

Ringing in the Jewish New Year with an artisanal tahini and honey spread

Kale-pomegranate salad with almond halva dressing. (Photo by the author)

Shahar Shamir as a child loved eating halva, the dense sesame confection he found at markets in his native Israel. But as an adult living in New York City, he began to crave a less sweet version of his beloved treat. A fair amount of kitchen tinkering birthed Brooklyn Sesame a deconstructed halva spread made from rich tahini stirred with honey. Today, Shamir makes six different versions of his spread: sesame seed, almond, pistachio, black caraway seed, toasted coconut, and cocoa and sea salt.

Like so many other artisanal food producers, Shamir works to honor a traditional food—in this case the Middle Eastern dessert, halva—while finding ways to bring it into a contemporary context. (more…)

Italy Now Has a Hotline to Report Anti-Semitism

‘Anti-Semitism Antenna’ will be accessible by phone and online


The leader of Italy’s Jewish community announced a new measure to deal with a recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents: a hotline. The Anti-Semitism Antenna will be accessible by phone and online, explained Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, and is intended for use both by Jewish victims of anti-Semitic acts as well as Italian witnesses or bystanders, Haaretz reports.

“The goal of the initiative is to nullify any threat of hatred and discrimination. It is a concrete effort for the benefit of the entire community especially now that old biases are back even in the most advanced and democratic societies,” Gattegna said in a statement. (more…)

App Lets You Atone From Your Smartphone

Inspired by Leviticus, eScapegoat lets users offload sins onto a virtual goat

Image from eScapegoat app. (G-dcast)

As you prepare for Yom Kippur this year, you don’t have to look much farther than your iPhone for an opportunity to atone for your sins.

The eScapegoat app, created by Jewish media production company G-dcast in 2013, allows users to unload their sins onto a virtual, animated goat. While the app is certainly a modern invention, it’s based on a Biblical text. It’s modeled after the Yom Kippur ritual described in Leviticus, in which the community’s sins were figuratively placed onto a goat that was then sent off into the desert. (more…)

U.K. Store Security Guard Tells Boys ‘No Jews’

The 11-year-olds were wearing uniforms of local Jewish secondary school

Sports Direct. (© Copyright Betty Longbottom and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons. )

A British security guard is the subject of a police investigation thanks to his attempt to bar two 11-year-old Jewish boys from shopping at Sports Direct, a U.K. sporting goods retailer.

“No Jews, no Jews,” the guard allegedly told the boys, students of Yavneh College, a Jewish secondary school in Hertforshire, when they tried to enter a local branch of the store. The boys, who had come to Sports Direct to shop for sneakers, were wearing their school uniforms. (more…)

On Martha’s Vineyard, the Jews are WASPs too

An excerpt from Lucinda Franks’ Timeless: Love, Morgenthau, and Me 

Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse in Marthas Vineyard. (Shutterstock)

In Timeless: Love, Morgenthau and Me, journalist Lucinda Franks tells the story of her unlikely yet intensely durable marriage to longtime Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau—a man 27 years her senior. When they met in the early 1970s, she was a young radical who had cut her journalistic teeth—and won a Pulitzer Prize—writing about a member of the Weathermen who accidentally killed herself while assembling a bomb. Morgenthau—already the scion of one of America’s leading political dynasties—was about to begin his history-making 35-year tenure as District Attorney for New York County. Franks makes much of how he was synonymous with the establishment, with bourgeois respectability, and how she was an outsider, an iconoclast. Yet, at the same time, the book’s underlying current suggests that for all their surface differences, they are kindred spirits, whose union, after 35 years of marriage, is as strong as ever.

Wellesley, Massachusetts, had long ago closed its portal to Jews, and in my pure-blood secondary school I had been too intense, too emotional, and too spontaneous to adopt the required air of Waspy indifference. Once in college, I discovered a kinship with my Jewish friends. Mostly born of Eastern European stock, they were intellectual, voluble, clever, antic. I began to think of myself as a Jewish soul in a Gentile body. (more…)

In Israel, September is Nobel Season

Predicting which Israelis will win the esteemed award is a national pastime

Statue of Alfred Nobel at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm(JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

September is perhaps the most underrated month of the entire year. It can be easy to forget that most of September courses through summer—and by “summer,” I refer not to the sweaty, cloying humidity that gives the season a bad name but, rather, to the pleasant sunshine and balmy breezes. If one is Jewish, even if not an affiliated member of the tribe, September is the month to begin gearing up for the High Holidays. Perhaps even to start hoping for a favorable New Year. And if you’re Israeli, September is when your adrenaline likely begins to surge in anticipation of the year’s biggest news: the Nobel Prize selections.

Indeed, just as Cleveland residents followed LeBron James’ decision-making in June, Israelis track the six Nobel Prize selection committees’ process each year. It, too, is a form of sport. In fact, it could be called our national pastime. Here in Israel, Nobel season has begun. (more…)

Streisand on Israel: The World Envies Success

The singer also attributes past bad press to anti-Semitic and anti-female bias

Barbara Streisand performs during the 90th birthday celebrations of Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on June 18, 2013. (JIM HOLLANDER/AFP/Getty Images)

The New York Times Style section caught up with Barbra Streisand at Donna Karan’s East Hampton, N.Y. home, where the gazillion-times platinum artist was promoting her new album of duets, Partners, as well as making some not-so-subtle landscaping changes to her friend’s summer home (“You have to be bold with it,” she says of some juniper).

Streisand, reporter Jacob Bernstein tells us, looks great. “She was dressed all in black, including a pair of stretchy pants and a cardigan-like jacket that she was proud to announce cost almost nothing: ‘$59.95 at an outlet store,’ she said. ‘It’s my favorite.’” (more…)

Ongoing Controversy Around ‘The Most Important Story on Earth’

Responding to critics of my essay about Israel media coverage

Israeli armored personnel carrier seen moving along the border with Gaza on July 10, 2014 on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

My essay “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth” touched a nerve far beyond my expectations—I didn’t think that in our times a 4,000-word essay would be shared 750 times on Facebook, let alone 75,000. A second essay will appear here soon.

The article drew a series of interesting responses. Richard Miron, a veteran of both the BBC and the United Nations, published a reflection on his own similar experiences. In Jerusalem the Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg, from the left side of the local political spectrum, called it a “must-read, must think about,” and Rick Santorum endorsed it on Twitter from Pennsylvania. Some accused me of being an apologist for the Israeli right, and worse. A few former colleagues thought practicing journalism on journalists was a kind of betrayal; others were discreetly thrilled. I have made friends and enemies I’m not sure I need. (more…)

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