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A Little Desert Music

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Today in Tablet Magazine, band Sway Machinery returns from the annual Festival of the Desert in Mali where they performed and recorded their new album with the “queen of the desert.” They bring pictures. They bring songs. Prepare to hum for the rest of the day.

17th Century Polish Synagogue to Reopen

House of worship reborn as tourist destination

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They don’t make them like this anymore. Next week, a four hundred year old stone synagogue in Zamość, Poland will reopen after a half century of neglect to become a Jewish cultural center. Zamość, as you already know after a quick Wikipedia search, is the birthplace of I.L. Peretz and Rosa Luxemberg—which means the “Zamość Renaissance Synagogue” is either the synagogue they attended with their families, or the one where they wouldn’t step foot.

After World War II the synagogue served as a carpenter’s workshop and then a public library. Now it will house a Jewish museum and cultural center for the Chasidic Route, “a Jewish heritage tourist trail in southeastern Poland.” It will also be available for religious ceremonies, for those of us that swing that way.

I’m not sure you’d want too though. The building itself is lovely, but the Italian influence and the lack of any Jewish iconography is a little off-putting. The ark looks like a Roman temple to the point that a statue of the Virgin Mary—or mighty Zeus, or Abraham Lincoln—might be a better fit than a Torah. A minor quibble though, nothing that a quick stop at Ikea for some nice drapes won’t fix.

Love and Other Interests

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Today in Tablet Magazine, keep a tissue box close as Dvora Meyers wrestles with paying off her school loans using the money saved for her wedding.

Yoram Kaniuk Wins Sapir Prize For Literature

Billie Holiday kissed and hated the Tablet contributor

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Congratulations to Yoram Kaniuk, a contributor to Tablet’s predecessor Nextbook and the winner of the 2010 Sapir Prize for Literature for his book 1948, a memoir of his experiences as a young Israeli soldier during what I believe was a particularly uneventful year (and which he’s previously written about here).

Take the time to browse some of his work in our archives, because not only does Kaniuk write like last call on the night Moshiach shows up, but he has lived. After being wounded during the war of independence, he ended up in Greenwich Village where he knew everyone: He told Charlie Parker about the Rabbi of Ladi; Susan Sontag filmed Kaniuk for her Israel documentary Promised Lands (which Marc Tracy reviewed), and he schmoozed with Sontag at her 1977 wake (yes, she died in 2004); and, oh yeah, he made out with Billie Holiday.

… She’d take me walking and I talked and she listened or maybe she didn’t, and said she didn’t understand that crap. We kissed. She said she’d been kissed better. I was there and she wanted to kiss somebody and I was nearest and I talked like someone making a fool of himself. She was lost and looked like a bird that had been hit. They called her Lady Day because when she was a waitress she used to bend over to take the money and they saw her breasts and they’d say: Lady. She was a vanquished queen who demanded that her realm remain in the gutter. I met her years later at Tony Scott’s, the clarinet player. She sang “Mayn Yiddishe Mame” for me. Nobody has sung it like her.

Yoram Kaniuk’s War of Independence Memoir Wins Prize [JPost]
Related: Wise We Were Not
Lullaby of Birdland
On Cinematography
The Farewell Party

Daybreak: Disunity

Plus, Man Booker International finalists are announced, and more in the news

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• Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said at the Conservative movement’s annual convention that the Israeli conversion bill would “destroy the unity of the Jewish people”. The bill has been shelved until this summer. [JPost]

• Hector Timerman, the Jewish-Argentinean foreign minister accused of offering to Iran to drop the investigation of the 1994 AMIA Jewish community center bombing, is being defended by the AMIA’s current president as well as the chief prosecutor of the case—who promises that “nobody will stop me” from bringing the perpetrators to justice. [JTA]

• Philip Roth and Australian David Malouf are finalists for the Man Booker International Prize. [Man Booker]

• Over 40 Palestinians from Awarta were arrested in the wake of the murder of the Fogel family. [Haaretz]

• Jewish communities in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt have resisted offers to help them flee their respective countries. [JPost]

• Irving Shulman, founder of the Daffy’s clothing store chain, is dead. He was 96. [NYT]

Sundown: Maryland Rules!

Plus Shabbat locks that don’t require enough work, and more

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(The Postcard Collector)

• Maryland’s legislature is forcing a French train company to release its World War Two-era records—ahem, a French train company during World War Two—if it wants its American subsidiary to be able to bid to run two lines of the Maryland Area Regional Commuter, or MARC, train. Maryland is the best state in the union. [JTA]

• A company is being sued for allegedly manufacturing electric, kosher-for-Shabbat locks that can be opened with a magnet. [NYT]

• At the Conservative confab in Las Vegas, Sue Fishkoff finds concern for institutions’ futures. [JTA]

• Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon argues that violent Palestinian anti-Semitism does not find its roots in the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. [WSJ]

• Politics & Prose—The Scroll’s favorite bookstore—has been sold, though not to the group that included contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg. [WP]

• A heartfelt dispatch from the front lines of the New York City high school admissions process. [Gotham Schools]

Waterloo Sunset!

Historic Nosh

Your Vox Tablet preview

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(Eric Molinsky)

Tomorrow, Vox Tablet brings us a dispatch from Greenville, Mississippi, where a congregation struggles to uphold a nearly 130-year old tradition, despite a rapidly aging and shrinking membership. It’s the annual “Deli Luncheon,” a Temple Sisterhood fundraiser with a rich and delectable history, as Leanne Silverblatt can attest:

Snooki Cuts Down the Nets

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Today in Tablet Magazine, parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall gets into the spirit of March Madness and devises a bracket of “minor parental nightmares.” Upset city, baby!

Kosher Firearms

Meet the southern, Orthodox face of gun rights

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Bill Bernstein.(Eric England/Nashville Scene)

At first glance, Bill Bernstein—an Ivy League-educated, ultra-Orthodox, conservative gun dealer—seems like a perfect fit for a profile in the Nashville Scene, a local weekly magazine with a penchant for covering its town’s more peculiar citizens. The article shows Bernstein in a host of gosh-darn-wouldn’t-you-believe-it situations: Shooting an AR-15 in the woods with a German buddy, reading the megillah on Purim, taking a stab at Holocaust humor, referring to the popular German handgun Heckler and Koch as “Hitler’s Cock”—all against the backdrop of a corner of Tennessee the writer describes as the “Bible Belt’s buckle.” It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story, if fish had peyes and semi-automatic firearms.

But the “quirky local color” aspect crumbles as soon as Bernstein is given the opportunity to speak on the record. Far from a charming kook, he is one of the more eloquent spokesmen for gun rights that I—myself a strong advocate of same—have heard in a long time. (more…)

People of the Book

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Today in Tablet Magazine, deputy editor Matthew Fishbane continues his dispatch from the Abayudaya, the small Jewish community outside Mbale, Uganda, with an exploration of how history (including the legacy of the ruthless dictator Idi Amin) has refined their spirituality.

Election Part Two

Facebook Pulls Down ‘Third Intifada’ Page

Group calling for May uprising had recieved more than 300,000 ‘likes’

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The page.(Ynet)

Facebook appears to have pulled down a site calling for a “Third Palestinian Intifada” after the Israeli government, Anti-Defamation League, and others protested. I saw the page last night (and moronically neglected to take a screengrab), and, while it was written mostly in Arabic, it contained the date May 15, 2011, the rough date of Israeli independence which Palestinians call Nakba Day. By the time I clicked on the page, late last evening, well over 300,000 people had “liked” it. According to Ynet, the group behind the page was calling for simultaneous protests in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, and attacks on Israel from Gaza and the West Bank, on May 15.

I also recall reading on the page the threat that, should Facebook take the page down, all Arabs would boycott Facebook. We’ll see!

Facebook Page Supporting Palestinian Intifada Pulled Down [CNN]
Related: Israel Tells Facebook: Remove Intifada Page [Ynet]

Mr. and Mrs. Rosenberg

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Ronald Radosh explores the Rosenberg case in light of new evidence and also wonders why, 60 years later, it still manages to grab our attention.

Cold Case

Syrian Jewish Leader Pleads Guilty

Rabbi Kassin cops to money-laundering charge from N.J. sting

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Rabbi Saul Kassin, the 89-year-old religious leader of the 75,000-strong Syrian Jewish community of New York and New Jersey, is now a felon: Yesterday afternoon, more than 20 months after his arrest in a wide-ranging FBI sting that netted everyone from elderly rabbis to New Jersey pols, he pleaded guilty to a single count of money laundering in a federal courtroom in Trenton, New Jersey.

From the start, the rabbi, who appears everywhere in a large-brimmed black hat, his white beard flowing, insisted on his innocence. He was, after all, no Madoff; what he did, according to government affidavits, was take checks from congregants and other rabbis, no questions asked, and then return the funds from his own charitable accounts, minus 10 percent. The rabbi’s cut helped finance the vast network of schools and social services that keep the Syrian community together—a mitzvah, of sorts.

But the outcome of the case was all but determined from the start. Even with the best representation—and Kassin’s lawyer, Gerald Shargel, is widely regarded as one of the best criminal-defense men in New York—fighting the government’s case, built with help from Solomon Dwek, the man who turned on his cohorts, would have been an uphill battle, and taken its toll on a man Kassin’s age.

So, now what? Kassin agreed to forfeit $367,500 seized by federal authorities after his arrest. Prosecutors have said that, as part of Kassin’s plea, they will not seek a prison term, though the supervising judge could impose a sentence of up to five years. Kassin also faces up to an additional $250,000 in fines. But, as far as the criminal justice system is concerned, that will be that. “Few financial crimes offend our sensibilities like those that hide illegal activities behind the curtain of charity,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement.

Rabbi Pleads Guilt in Connection with Brooklyn Money-Laundering [NY Post]
Related: Crisis of Faith [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: Insider Led Agents to Rabbis, Pols
Dwek, Center of N.J. Fraud Case, Pleads Guilty to Bank Fraud

‘That Missing Psalm’

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Books critic Adam Kirsch finds, today in Tablet Magazine, the poet who comes closest to “an honest expression of contemporary American Jewish sensibility.” This is Jacqueline Osherow and in her new collection, Whitethorn, she finds in a forest, a medieval Spanish synagogue, and the dissolution of her marriage the same thing: “disappointment … spiritually fraught.” Jewishness, in other words.

Rooted

A Sderot Bomb Shelter, as Art

A screaming comes across Washington Square Park

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One side of the Bomb Shelter.(All photos by the author)

Yesterday, around lunchtime, I walked to Washington Square Park to get a look at The Bomb Shelter, a multimedia art installation sponsored by Artists 4 Israel and Birthright Israel. Located in the center-west of the Greenwich Village park (near the dog run), it was a wooden replica, built to exact specifications, of the sort of bomb shelter that dots Sderot and other towns near Gaza. But the first thing you’d notice were scraggly guys in baggy jeans and hooded sweatshirts spraypainting the walls of the replica, covering over ugly, anti-Israeli logos and slogans; and then the next thing you’d notice was what they’d painted there: Gorgeous, vibrant, vaguely political but really mostly Dada (in the best sense of most graffiti) images that captured the eye and held it close. (More pictures below.)

And, periodically, there were rocket drills. An artist named Seth Hamlin—who looked not like the graffiti artists but like a Jewish summer camp counselor (which, he confirmed to me, he at one point was)—gathered the couple dozen onlookers, ushered them several feet away, and mimicked the daily reality of life for children and others in Sderot: At the sound of the Tzeva Adom alarm, you have 15 seconds to run into the small hut, no more than nine by nine feet if I had to guess, to protect yourself from incoming. While I did not participate in the “drill,” I did step inside, where a television, powered by a generator that hummed several feet away outside the shelter, displayed images of the aftermath of rocket attacks in Israel. Standing inside, cramped and pitch-black except for the sickly light of the monitor, you saw the shelter for what it most resembled: A demented sukkah. It was really depressing, in exactly the way it was intended. (more…)

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