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Park51 Owners File Permits for Demolition

Future plans for the controversial Lower Manhattan site not yet known

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Exterior of Park51.(Inhabit)

Park51, the Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan termed the “Ground Zero Mosque,” may soon be demolished. Soho Properties, the real estate firm that owns the building, filed an application for demolition with New York City’s Department of Buildings this week, the New York Observer reports. (more…)

Mah-Jongg Madness Takes Over Las Vegas

More than 300 players face off in the annual high-stakes competition

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(Shutterstock)

Forget March Madness. A different kind of high-stakes competition took over Las Vegas this past weekend: Mah Jongg Madness. Hundreds of mah-jongg fanatics from across the country have convened to go big or go home in the mah-jongg tournament of the century, CBS News reports.

“This is the most wonderful game in everdom!” said Gladys Grad, host of the tournament and renowned ‘Grand Master’ of the sport.

“There’s something about it that just, I don’t know—sexy,” one participant told CBS reporter Bill Geist. (more…)

In Praise of Slivovitz

I used to think plum brandy tasted like paint thinner—but then I saw the light

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(Slivovitz.us)

The first time I tried slivovitz, I nearly spat it right back out.

It was at the conclusion of a particularly soporific, long-winded Passover dinner: My father-in-law brought out a squat bottle with a battered label and proudly poured everyone a thimbleful of the clear liquid—eau-de-vie distilled from plums.

It had a pleasingly fruity aroma, but it burned like paint thinner going down. I sputtered a few swear words and declared I’d never, ever touch that firewater again. (more…)

Payard Patisserie Pursues Passover Perfection

Top French pastry chef expands his roster of unleavened desserts

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(François Payard)

One of the world’s most decorated pastry chefs is set to unveil his latest Passover creation, but for the time being he’s preserving a bit of mystery. François Payard would reveal only that it will be filled with caramel and based on matzah meal.

“We are working on something very special,” Payard divulged. “The idea is that people not get tired of you. It’s about trying to create something new for the market.”

Payard, a third-generation pâtissier who calls himself “Mr. Macaron” and claims to have ganache coursing through his veins, has received many awards, including the prestigious “Pastry Chef of the Year” from the James Beard Foundation in 1995. But the title he never expected was “Pastry Chef to the Jews.” (more…)

Exploring Biblical Conflict Through Dance

Sasha Soreff’s ‘Hineni’ is inspired by struggle both ancient and contemporary

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Image from 'Hineni'(Lexi Namer)

Everyone manages moments of adversity differently. For Jewish choreographer Sasha Soreff, a community dance project is the ideal approach. Premiering on Wednesday night in New York City, Soreff’s interpretive dance performance Hineni—Hebrew for ‘here I am’—combines biblical stories with modern examples of struggle. Each performance will be followed by an audience discussion led by various faith leaders, rendering the Jewish-inspired artwork accessible for the community at large.

Inspired by a tattoo of the word hineni she once saw on a dancer’s ankle, Soreff set out to create a dance that would be deeply rooted in Jewish tradition yet meaningful to a wider audience. (more…)

It’s the Last Day to Apply for Tent: Journalism

Tablet’s week-long, expenses-paid immersive workshop on Jewish journalism

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If you’re reading this, you like us, or, at the very least you revel, as we do, in the glorious past and the boundless future of Jewish journalism. If that’s the case, have we got a summer for you: This June, as part of the Tent: Encounters with Jewish Culture, we’re thrilled to present Tent: Journalism, a week-long, immersive series of workshops that will introduce you to some of the finest practitioners of the craft, cover the storied history of Jewish newspapers from Eastern Europe to New York, and give you plenty of opportunity to explore, report, and write with the guidance of our editors, all with generous stipends covering room, board, and a few terrific treats. (more…)

Alan Gross Begins Hunger Strike in Cuba Jail

The American contractor imprisoned in 2011 demands Obama help free him

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Supporters hold signs to call on bringing home of U.S. citizen Alan Gross who is currently being held in a Cuban prison, during a rally outside the White House December 3, 2013 in Washington, DC.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Alan Gross, the American contractor imprisoned in Cuba for four years, has announced a hunger strike. Gross, who was arrested and accused of spying for the U.S. in 2009, is undertaking the attention-getting measure to demand that President Obama prioritize his case and Cuba release him, New York Times reports.

“I am fasting to object to mistruths, deceptions, and inaction by both governments, not only regarding their shared responsibility for my arbitrary detention, but also because of the lack of any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal,” Mr. Gross said in a statement released on Tuesday morning.

(more…)

Manischewitz Bought by Bain Private Equity

The classic Jewish brand hopes to break out of the kosher aisle

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Hot matzos from the oven travel a serpentine cooling belt in the matzo production line at the Manischewitz manufacturing facility on February 4, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

You don’t have to be Jewish to eat Manischewitz matzo balls and macaroons, apparently. The company famous for their kosher matzo, gefilte fish, and wine has been acquired by a branch of the private equity giant Bain Capital, the New York Times reports.

With its sale, Manischewitz, which estimates that roughly 60 percent of its products are currently sold only in the kosher aisles of supermarkets, is hoping to expand into the mainstream market. The company is also jumping on the health food bandwagon, and plans to promote its “kosher” status as an indicator of quality control, not just rabbi-surveillance. (more…)

BuzzTorah Wants to Make Judaism Go Viral

New website modeled after BuzzFeed offers quirky Jewish-themed listicles

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(BuzzTorah)

You know that sense of happy identification you feel when you find a BuzzFeed listicle that seems to be tailor-made for you? Like the 50 reasons your alma mater is the best, or the 36 greatest things about your city? Yeshiva University sophomore Tzvi Levitin is hoping to elicit that same feeling—about Torah.

Levitin, who launched the website BuzzTorah last week, said he wanted to “strike a balance between Jewish popular culture and actual Torah content.” The site’s listicles span topics from 17 Signs Pesach is Around the Corner to 9 Greatest Things to Become Kosher in the 21st Century, plus more serious pieces such as Makom Kavua—More Than Just a Seat. (more…)

Germany Reaches Deal on Nazi-Looted Art Trove

Experts to determine original owners of Chagall and Picasso masterpieces

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(Photograph of the painting "Sitting Woman," by Henri Matisse)

The German government has announced a new agreement with Cornelius Gurlitt, whose father amassed more than $1 billion worth of Nazi-looted art during World War Two, that will begin the process of returning the collection to the heirs of the original owners. The so-called Munich Art Trove, the New York Times reports, includes pieces by Picasso, Chagall, and Gauguin, and was discovered in Gurlitt’s Munich apartment during an unrelated investigation. (more…)

Quebec Voters Say Non to Anti-Religious Charter

Monday’s election delivered a resounding defeat to the Parti Québécois

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Parti Liberal Québécois supporters celebrate their party victory at the plaza theatre in Montreal April 6, 2014. (François Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)

In an astoundingly quick and catastrophic fashion, the Parti Québécois was ousted from power Monday night in Quebec’s provincial elections. The Liberal Party of Quebec secured a four-year mandate after winning 70 of 125 provincial ridings, with several media outlets reporting a majority victory less than two hours after the polls closed at 8 p.m. The PQ won just 30 ridings and a meager 25 percent of the popular vote; it was the party’s worst showing since its first election 44 years ago. Pauline Marois, whose premiership expired ignobly after a mere 18 months, failed to win re-election in her own riding and resigned immediately as party leader.

The defeat brings closure to a rancorous six-week campaign in which the party of French Canadian sovereignty pinned its strategy for victory on divisive legislation, dubbed the “Charter of Values,” that would have banned government workers from wearing “overt” religious garb like kippot and hijabs—a clear sign to many of Quebec’s roughly 90,000 Jews that their security in the province was at risk. (more…)

Martha Stewart’s Recipe for Matzo S’mores

The queen of Christmas crafting tries out a haimish Passover snack

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Matzoh S'mores. (Martha Stewart)

Martha Stewart, the doyenne of decoupage (bow down), has truly outdone herself with this one, a recipe for something so simple and ingenious I’m a little mad I didn’t think of it myself. Move over, matzo pizza, you crunchy passable Passover snack, this year we’re making Martha’s matzo s’mores. Equally dry and crunchy, but at least there’s chocolate.

The fireside treat comes courtesy of the April 2009 edition of Martha Stewart Living, most likely alongside tips for how to make the perfect Easter brunch. (more…)

Was Eva Braun Jewish?

A new documentary says Hitler’s wife may have had Jewish ancestry

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:Undated and unlocated picture of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler with his mistress Eva Braun. (AFP/Getty Images)

The ultimate irony, as far as Hitler and Jews go, would probably be if his longtime companion Eva Braun was in fact Jewish. According to the season finale of a British documentary series, though, Braun—who met Hitler at 17 and married him when she was 33, just hours before the two killed themselves in a bunker in Berlin in 1945—might actually be.

Dead Famous DNA, which airs on Britain’s Channel 4, has apparently attempted to investigate everyone from Elvis Presley to John F. Kennedy and Napoleon, though it’s unclear how successful they are in these pursuits. They’re going all out with Wednesday’s finale episode, which they tease thusly: “The DNA of Adolf Hitler’s long-term mistress reveals an incredible secret…” (more…)

Why Hungary’s Jobbik Party Won While it Lost

This weekend’s elections cemented the neo-fascist movement’s political role

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Chairman of the far-right parliamentary JOBBIK party Gabor Vona reacts to the result of the parliamentary election with his party members in Budapest on April 6, 2014. (PETER KOHALMI/AFP/Getty Images)

On Sunday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party won a resounding victory in nationwide parliamentary elections. Due to Hungary’s complex voting system, Fidesz’s 44.5 percent tally will garner it some 133 seats in the 199-seat parliament—the size of which was cut in half since the country’s last election—while the Socialist-led opposition alliance will wind up with about 38 seats, even though it won 26 percent of the vote.

But the real news out of Hungary is the continued rise of Jobbik, a neo-fascist movement that gained 21 percent at the polls. By means of comparison, consider that Fidesz earned 630,000 fewer votes this election than it did four years ago, while Jobbik picked up 130,000. (more…)

The Problem With ‘Social Orthodoxy’

If Jews are trading theology for community, it’s time for Orthodoxy to evolve

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(Shutterstock)

Last week, Jay Lefkowitz wrote an essay in Commentary defining what he terms “Social Orthodoxy,” a new phenomenon that finds many modern Orthodox Jews basing their religious life less in theological belief and more in the religious practices of the community. For Lefkowitz, these Jews “behave as Jews so we can belong as Jews.” He justifies this dogma-free adherence to Jewish law by arguing that Judaism is a people, not a religion—which he defines as a club that demands a long list of religious activities of its members.

There is some truth and worth to Lefkowitz’s depiction, not least of which is his stated goal, to observe the commandments in order to remain connected to Jews across continents and centuries. But Lefkowitz’s innovation, which normalizes the club-like mentality of social Orthodoxy, actually puts the very continuity of that great tradition at risk. (more…)

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