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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.

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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…)

The Shondes Defend Pro-BDS Stance

Talking to lead singer Louisa Solomon about the band’s canceled DC JCC gig

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Louisa Solomon. (The Shondes)

The Shondes thought they had their 2014 headlines all wrapped up. They had spent the early part of the year as the opening act for punk rock’s hottest ticket, Against Me!, and were going back to headlining smaller venues as they prepped for their next album. But then the Washington DC Jewish Community Center decided to pull the group from the lineup for its Jewish music festival this June—because of lead singer Louisa Solomon’s support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

First and foremost, that means the Festival is losing one hell of a voice. Solomon’s holler is distinctive, celebratory, and demands the listener’s complete attention. The Shondes’ latest album, The Garden, is a many-splendored thing, with song on subjects varying from self-reliance to Alan Moore’s comic masterpiece Watchmen. The band formed in 2004 during the midst of both a Eastern European music revival and the Republican National Convention in New York City and chose the Yiddish word for scandal as their name, so perhaps it was inevitable they’d be stirring up trouble. (more…)

St. Leonard, Live

A look at Leonard Cohen’s top five concert appearances

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Leonard Cohen in 2008.(Wikimedia)

This week, I was privileged to sit down and talk to Vox Tablet about how Leonard Cohen, my rabbi and the subject of my new book, came to develop his sound, going from bleak to transcendent and finding the perfect voice with which to deliver his prophetic lyrics. But there’s no better way to relish in the wisdom of St. Leonard than to listen to him yourself.

Here, then, are my top five live performances by Leonard Cohen. (more…)

Poetry From Israel, Lodz, India, and Beyond

Celebrate National Poetry Month with Tablet’s stories about poets and poems

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(Original images Shutterstock and Amherst College)

“April is the cruellest month, breeding,” sang T.S. Eliot. “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,” launched Chaucer. Sayeth Tablet, “Yea, April is National Poetry Month.” Our archives are proudly brimming with material about poetry and poets: interviews with Poet Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners, literary criticism of new work, appreciations, commemorations, obituaries, celebrations, readings, profiles, and new original verse.

Each week this month we’ll be bringing you highlights from Tablet’s archive. Please join us in helping the American Academy of Poets carry the flame. (more…)

Avigdor Lieberman Speaks Russian in Brooklyn

The Israeli foreign minister met with fellow Soviet Jewish émigrés last night

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Avigdor Lieberman. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

The decrepitude and old-world shabbiness of the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach made it a curious choice to host Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s meeting with South Brooklyn’s numerous Soviet émigrés last night. The only beautiful thing about the interior of the musty synagogue were the blue stained glass windows, which filtered light over the faded red cloth seats and scuzzy dark red carpet. Large chunks of paint peeled from the ceiling. “What, they couldn’t find a nicer synagogue?” a community grandee complained to me.

But it was a comfortable place to the older, mostly secular crowd of Jews from across the Soviet Union’s 15 republics who streamed into the hall accompanied by their successful looking grandchildren and a smattering of yeshiva students. The crowd’s median age was about 65. Had these Jews immigrated to Haifa instead of Brooklyn, most would been have been natural partisans of Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, and there was a perceptible frisson of excitement in the air as they waited for him to arrive. (more…)

SermonSlam Tries to Make D’var Torah Cool

A new Jewish initiative to update old models of observance takes the stage

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Participant in a previous SermonSlam. (Open Quorum)

“I’m wondering if I’m going to feel nourished at the end of this or emotionally ransacked,” Debbie Nehmad said as she surveyed the crowd gathered Thursday night at a Jewish community center in Washington Heights for a sermon competition known as SermonSlam.

Modeled after poetry slams, the SermonSlam aims to give Jews an outlet to explore Jewish thought and ideas through spoken word poetry—or as Joshua Schwartz, the evening’s host, described it, “trying to create spaces where creativity is seen as a natural outgrowth of Torah.”

The event in Washington Heights was the second SermonSlam in New York, after one last winter in Brooklyn, and featured 16 performers from a range of ages, careers, and religious backgrounds. (more…)

Protest Near Prison Housing Palestinian Inmates

Tensions escalate over delayed prisoner release and stalled peace talks

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A masked Palestinian throws a stone towards Israeli police close to the Israeli Ofer military prison in West Bank town of Betunia on April 4, 2014, during clashes after Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas rejected appeals from US Secretary of State John Kerry to halt applications to join international treaties to salvage peace talks with Israel. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

A demonstration near Ofer Prison in the West Bank village of Beitunia today was dispersed by Israeli forces, leaving several Palestinian protestors injured. The Israeli prison, which according to the Times of Israel houses up to 800 Palestinian prisoners at a time, is the site of a previous prisoner release—a particularly acute issue right now, during the latest impasse in peace talks.

As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier today in Morocco, it’s time for a “reality check” on the negotiations, in which both sides have been “unhelpful.” This latest protest is a sign of increasing impatience not only at the diplomatic level—Kerry’s frustration was fueled by Israel’s recent refusal to release more Palestinian prisoners, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ subsequent declaration that he would be applying for Palestinian membership in 15 international bodies—but simmering anger on the ground as well. (more…)

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