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Introducing ‘Sacred Trash’

Nextbook Press’s latest drops today

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Solomon Schechter studies the contents of the Geniza.(Nextbook Press)

Nextbook Press’s Sacred Trash, by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, manages both to explore the contents the Cairo Geniza and to tell the gripping tale of the discovery of that long-lost trove of invaluable documents of Middle Ages Mediterranean Jewry—cleverly (and aptly) dubbed “The Living Sea Scrolls.” So it is kind of like Indiana Jones, only you get to learn more about what he’s found. And he’s Jewish. Indy is Jewish.

At your local bookmonger or online retailer, today!

Sacred Trash [Nextbook Press]

The House Always Wins

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Steve Friess profiles Oscar Goodman, the hugely popular, irrepressible, retiring three-term mayor of Las Vegas, who is trying to figure out what to do next in his life without overly embarrassing his wife, who is running to replace him.

Double Down

Death of an Actor

Remembering the heroic life of Juliano Mer-Khamis

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Mer-Khamis at the Freedom Theatre in 2007.(Saif Dahlah/AFP/Getty Images)

You should drop everything and read Liel Leibovitz’s thoughtful, sad appreciation of Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was gunned down yesterday in Jenin, in the West Bank. Half-Israeli, half-Palestinian, he devoted his life to trying to bridge the two communities of which he was members. And now he is dead, and the twins with which his wife is pregnant will never know their father.

Tablet Magazine contributor Avi Issacharoff reports that Palestinian police have arrested a man who was in the al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades and previously spent time in Israeli prison. Mer-Khamis will be buried at a kibbutz in northern Israel.

Praise for the man and his life (and his talent) has poured in, including from prominent Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai and from columnist Gideon Levy.

As for Mer-Khamis’s theater company? Well, the show must go on.

Foretold [Tablet Magazine]
Palestinians Arrest Suspect in Murder of Israeli Actor Juliano Mer-Khamis [Haaretz]

Promising Land

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Today in Tablet Magazine, books critic Adam Kirsch takes on David Bezmozgis’s acclaimed debut novel about the Soviet Jewish immigration experience, The Free World.

La Dolce Vita

Active Cultures

Atomic catastrophes conjure the timeless struggle of individuals versus systems

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Margarita Korol

Active Cultures, 18×24, acrylic on canvas, 2011
Margarita Korol

Twenty-five years ago in the Soviet Union, an unprecedented disaster required a political body to choose between its own survival and that of its citizens. Electing the route of obfuscation rather than transparency, the weeks-long denial of the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl, Ukraine, demonstrated loyalty to a deteriorating regime instead of workers who were being half-lifed. That very week, all citizens were required to participate in outdoor radioactive parades throughout the Union to show their solidarity on May Day.

America is not the U.S.S.R. Here, individuals may rock the boat without being shipped off to Siberia. We celebrate such modern feats as black presidencies and Egyptian revolutions for this reason. Yet America is the land of also NIMBY, where the responsibility to actively defend healthy democracy is voluntary (much like voting). After Katrina, outsiders with means helped thousands of displaced persons find foster homes; a few weeks ago, relief money poured into Japan from private donors to aid tsunami victims. In the case of Soviet Jews, fresh in our minds from Gal Beckerman’s account, many Americans, acting as private citizens, played a key role in empowering refuseniks.

Active movements in favor of transparency and free-flowing information only aid this environment of, for lack of a better word, tzedakah. The efforts of Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger; Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page; Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg; and even WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange have facilitated research and discourse by reducing the barriers between individual and primary source. And there’s nothing that checks a politician like a few informed constituents.

Margarita Korol’s exhibit commemorating the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, The Transparency Projects: Empowering Minorities and Majorities, opens at KGB Bar on Thursday, April 28 with readings by several authors including Gal Beckerman. She was born the week of Chernobyl in Ukraine and moved with her refusenik family to Chicago as a child.

In this piece of urban pop art propaganda from the series, Active Cultures, Assange is nourished by a booming brand of kefir that had its start among empowered Soviet immigrants in Skokie, Illinois in 1986.

History, Braised

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Today in Tablet Magazine, come for the headline and stay for Marjorie Ingall’s look at a century of Jewish life in America as traced through cookbooks.

I Am Charlotte’s Tsimmes

Semi-Homemade, Totally Jewish

Turns out Sandra Lee converted a decade ago

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Sandra Lee last month.(Andrew H. Walker/Getty Image)

Did you know that Sandra Lee, New York’s unofficial First Lady and queen bee of the Semi-Homemade housekeeping empire, is Jewish? If not, don’t feel bad: We didn’t, either, and neither, apparently, did the city’s other daily online magazine of Jewish life and culture, which has written about Lee’s Christmas gifts to the daughters of her boyfriend, Governor Andrew Cuomo, but not about her conversion to Judaism a decade ago, before she married homebuilding mogul Bruce Karatz—himself the former president of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, one of the largest Reform congregations in Los Angeles.

It’s perfectly understandable that Lee—raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist and, later, a Jehovah’s Witness—doesn’t talk about it much. She and Karatz were in the midst of their divorce when she and Cuomo met, in 2005, and Karatz subsequently married Lilly Tartikoff, the widow of former NBC president Brandon Tartikoff. And while Lee’s unfortunate Kwanzaa cake is the one people love to hate, she also has an angel-food Hanukkah cake that brought forth a torrent of ire from food bloggers.

Thankfully, New York’s Benjamin Wells is on the case. In his profile—which you really ought to read, from beginning to end—he casts the conversion as part of Lee’s dramatic jump up the class ladder, from oldest sister maximizing her family’s food-stamp allowance to Real Housewife of Bel Air, driving around in a Mercedes SL600 and hanging out with Arianna Huffington while launching her TV show and a line of companion books from her garage. “She has changed names and religions and coasts,” Wells writes. “She has scaled steep socioeconomic heights and done so by eking wealth from her woes.”

The Ravenous and Resourceful Sandra Lee [NY Mag]

Got To Get Themselves Back to the Garden

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Bethlehem Shoals takes stock today in Tablet Magazine of the current Knicks basketball team. For the first time in seven years, New York City’s basketball team—”without question the most Jewish franchise in American professional sports”— has made the playoffs, but if they truly want to be contenders, Shoals suggests, they and their superstars need to look back to their gorgeous, and indelibly Jewish, roots as a squad that plays the sort of crisp, team-oriented ball that Jewish players perfected in the first half of the 20th century.

City Game

Humorous? Yes. Tragic? Definitely.

An evening with Howard Jacobson

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Howard Jacobson (L) and Paul Holdengräber (R).(LivefromtheNYPL/Flickr)

Paul Holdengräber, who has the enviable job of interviewing extremely interesting people for the New York Public Library’s discussion series, wore a fedora and no tie Friday night, while his interlocutor, Howard Jacobson, who became the first Jewish man to win the Man Booker Prize last year (though, as he noted, Jewish women have taken home Britain’s most prestigious literary award), wore a dark suit and red tie. The clothes belied the men. Holdengräber, whose mitteleuropean accent and boyish earnestness make it almost okay for him to say things like “I was perusing my library and happened upon Cicero,” was curious, inquisitive, and arid, while Jacobson—like the characters in his novels—was boisterous, funny, and outrageous. He was also very, very obviously Jewish, in contrast to Holdengräber, about whom it was a genuine shock to hear that he, too, was a Member of the Tribe.

Yet in many ways they represented the two archetypes of the Jewish intellectual (Ashkenazic, anyway). For what is Jacobson if not the ribald and morbid Jew from the Pale—that goofy mane of hair, those capital-b Bushy eyebrows, and that gigantic nose!—the fragility of whose life has led him to fear harm and to raise humor as a shield. And Holdengräber reminded you of the staid German Jew, even-keeled, cerebral, always a step removed from the messiness and flesh and thingness of day-to-day life. Here was Holdengräber citing Verlaine, Rimbaud, and Baudelaire, ostentatiously articulating the names in impeccable French, the way Alex Trebek does; and there was Jacobson mocking this continental finnickiness. It was not ten minutes into the 90-minute conversation before Holdengräber had quoted Freud, that prototypical German Jew: “Happiness is a belated fulfillment of a prehistoric wish.” But for Jacobson, all gratification is immediate. (more…)

Daybreak: U.S. Slams Building

Plus anti-Syria lobbying, and more in the news

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Israelis in the Jewish Gilo section of East Jerusalem.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

• The State Department criticized newly announced building in East Jerusalem as President Shimon Peres makes the rounds in Washington, D.C. [Haaretz]

• A group of prominent, mainstream centrist Israelis will present a peace plan—with all the standard basic parameters—that it hopes will catch on and push both leaderships toward a deal. [NYT]

• Juliano Mer-Khamis, the Israeli-Arab director and actor who tried to promote interfaith tolerance (he also appeared in Miral), was killed yesterday in Jenin by Palestinian terrorists. [NYT]

• The Palestinian village next to the settlement of Itamar has been the subject of a massive, intrusive probe in order to find the Fogel family killers. [NYT]

• Both human rights activists and some Capitol Hill leaders have called on the administration to take a tougher line on the Assad regime’s crackdown on Syrian protests. [WSJ]

• The Goldstones are going to Israel! [AP/WP]

Sundown: Palestinian Engineer Charged

Plus, the man in the white Charvet shirts, and more

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Bernard-Henri Lévy.(Marc Roussel/NYT)

• The Hamas engineer allegedly captured by Israel in Ukraine was charged, in Israel, with developing rockets for Hamas. [WP]

• In the civil suit brought by Rachel Corrie’s family, an IDF major testified that the tragically killed pro-Palestinian activist ignored warnings to get out of the way of army bulldozers. [AP/WP]

• BHL gets the Times treatment on the occasion of his outsize role in bringing Western intervention to Libya. [NYT]

• Israel needs American-style education reform, and by and large hasn’t adopted it. [TNR]

• I will never get tired of Tim Noah’s continued explorations of ways in which prominent Republican operative Fred Malek aided and abetted President Nixon’s crusade to rid the Bureau of Labor Statistics of its Jews. [Slate]

• A report on Shabbat flowers in Crown Heights, from the other daily magazine of Jewish life and culture. [NYT]

An astute Ben Smith reader spots the requisite Jewish symbol in the Obama re-election campaign’s inaugural video. Can you find it? (Click to Ben’s post if you can’t.) This is like a Semitic Where’s Waldo?!

The Oz Wizard

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Josh Lambert offers his weekly round-up of forthcoming books of note, including a newly translated volume from Amos Oz.

On the Bookshelf

Bibi the Traitor

In which the PM is an innocent bystander to the criminalization of dissent

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Prime Minister Netanyahu.(Sebastian Scheiner - Pool/Getty Images)

Last week, the Knesset passed a law, sponsored by Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, that would allow courts to revoke the citizenship of Israelis convicted of treason. “Any normal state would have legislated this bill years ago,” said MK David Rotem (whose name is associated with the notorious bill concerning conversions), shortly after it passed. “There is no citizenship without loyalty.” I propose the courts apply the new law immediately against an obvious offender: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The new law’s fine print defines treason according to sections of the Israeli criminal code that, as Haaretz’s Zvi Barel quickly noticed, include not only treason and espionage, but also far wider, and vaguer, actions: One section, for example, defines as treason “If a person commits an act liable to remove any area from the sovereignty of the State … then he is liable to the death penalty or to life imprisonment.” Section 97, alas, does not make any allowances for areas removed from Israeli sovereignty under the auspices of diplomatic negotiations—which means that Netanyahu, who ceded territory during his first term as prime minister, might want to instruct his lawyers to come up with a criminal defense for much more than the extreme corruption of which he is now accused.

In fact, there are ways around prosecution for the prime minister. But such a cloudy legal situation should worry even those who consider the new law to be commonsensical. Like other bits of political grandstanding recently orchestrated by the Israeli right—the Rotem bill, the loyalty oath, the Nakba bill, etc.—this one, too, imperils Israeli democracy by opening enormous holes without contributing anything of substance to safeguard the lives and well-being of Israelis. With a law already on the books condemning traitors to death or life imprisonment, revoking their citizenship is a laughably mild measure—unless it is seen as a future political tool against Israeli Arabs, leftists, and other undesirables.

Knesset Passes Law Revoking Citizenship for Treason [JPost]

The Immigrant

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Today in Tablet Magazine, David Bezmozgis sits in on the weekly Vox Tablet podcast, discussing his own immigration experience on the occasion of his debut novel about same, The Free World.

Regrets, He Had a Few

What Eichmann wished he had done differently

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Adolf Eichmann, awaiting trial.(Getty Images/Der Spiegel)

In honor of the anniversary of Israel’s historic trial of Adolf Eichmann (which began fifty years ago next Monday), Der Spiegel is, in the best tradition of contemporary Germany, taking a hard look at the final years of the architect of the Final Solution, including its government’s own continued complicity in his freedom (German intelligence knew he was in Argentina as early as 1952, and the CIA knew a few years later).

The series is ongoing, and much of it is a tick-tock of the years leading up to his capture, containing previously known facts that are also described in Nextbook Press’s brand-new tome by Deborah Lipstadt, The Eichmann Trial.

However, Der Spiegel, which gained access to “formerly confidential, secret and top-secret documents” in a host of archives, did break some “news” over the weekend. Specifically, Eichmann did regret one thing about his actions during the Holocaust: That he didn’t finish the job. “We didn’t do our work correctly,” he told confidantes in a recorded conversation. “There was more that could have been done.” Was he just following orders? Er, no: “I was no ordinary recipient of orders,” he told them. “If I had been one, I would have been a fool. Instead, I was part of the thought process. I was an idealist.”

A Triumph of Justice [Der Spiegel]
Related: The Eichmann Trial [Nextbook Press]

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