Turning a Kosher Boy to the Dark Side

Message to the boy: Dump her


The first question-and-answer in New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton’s advice column, “Hey, Mr. Critic,” concerns a girlfriend who, “after two years of endless nagging,” got her kosher boyfriend to agree to eat treyf one night. After praising various pork and shellfish dishes at various New York City restaurants, for this particular instance Sifton suggests—what else?—Chinese food:

As my hero Arthur Schwartz, formerly the restaurant critic for The Daily News and author of “Jewish Home Cooking,” put it: “The Chinese cut their food into small pieces before it is cooked, disguising the nonkosher foods. This last aspect seems silly, but it is a serious point. My late cousin Daniel, who kept kosher, along with many other otherwise observant people I have known, happily ate roast pork fried rice and egg foo yung. ‘What I can’t see won’t hurt me,’ was Danny’s attitude.”

I wrote all about the “safe treyf” phenomenon last month in my article about Jewish Christmas.

But back to the question. “Helping you use food to persuade someone to abandon his religious principles cannot end well for me,” Sifton notes. “(Nor for him, if his mother finds out.)” I’d like to go a step further and adopt Dear Prudence mode and address the boyfriend: Um, dump her. What kind of girlfriend asks her boyfriend more than once—never mind nags him for two years—to abandon his commitment? What the hell is it to her? (I don’t mean that rhetorically: If I had Prudie’s acumen or a psychologist’s training, I’m sure I could come up with some very good answers.) “Take this boy to the Prime Grill for a kosher steak and tell him you love him,” Sifton advises. Good thinking. But I’m pretty sure she only loves herself.

Meals for a Mensch and the Discerning Sports Fan [NYT]
Related: Jewish Christmas [Tablet Magazine]

The Unwanted

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Ashley Makar reports from Tel Aviv on its large population of Sudanese refugees and how they are dealing with the current separatist turmoil in their homeland as well as the threat of deportation.


Behind the Lens

Your Vox Tablet preview

(Moisei Nappelbaum)

Anyone who’s taken a course in Soviet history or who spent time in the Soviet Union, when there was such a thing, probably came across the photograph, of V.I. Lenin, to the left. But while the image is canonical, the photographer is all but unknown in the West. His name was Moisei Nappelbaum, and he was one of a significant number of Soviet Jewish photographers whose work, and very existence, casts Soviet, and Jewish, 20th century history in a new light. At least that’s what David Shneer argues, in a new book titled Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust. He makes his case to Sara Ivry in Monday’s episode of “Vox Tablet.”

All the Single Ladies

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Dvora Meyers considers her Biblical namesake, Devorah, and what her story tells us about being a woman who doesn’t have, or need, a man.

An Unmarried Woman

So Appalled

Comment of the week

(Ravi Joshi/Tablet Magazine)

Winner gets a free Nextbook Press book that is thematically appropriate to his or her comment (provided he or she emails me with his or her mailing address).

This week’s winner is a the presumably sarcastic commenter “Fuming,” who wrote, on the subject of ever-controversial Mideast columnist Lee Smith’s offering: “I am so ENRAGED at this article I can barely think! It’s racist, offensive, bigoted, racist, and Zionist! My God, Tablet magazine infuriates me with its NEOCON PROPAGANDA OF LEE SMITH! I’m going to fire off an e-mail to Andrew Sullivan and Roger Cohen!”

Since “Fuming” is clearly a pugilist at heart, s/he gets a copy of Douglas Century’s biography of the great Jewish boxer Barney Ross.

Palin Likely Didn’t Know ‘Blood Libel’ Meaning

And other opinions on the latest brouhaha

Sarah Palin talks about the Tucson tragedy.(Vimeo/Politico)

The Obama administration has no comment on Sarah Palin’s invocation of the phrase “blood libel” to describe those who would link strident right-wing rhetoric to the tragic Tucson shooting. Fortunately, absolutely no one else has been so reticent.

I’ll briefly say that I’ve been persuaded that Palin may well have been unaware of the phrase’s origins—I have been surprised to hear how many people, Jews included, did not know its provenance as the myth that the Jews kill Gentile babies and use their blood to make Passover matzah. Palin was most likely responding to the phrase’s presence in right-wing circles to describe other things. However, and as contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg predicted at the outset of the controversy, everybody has since learned all about it: This was definitely, as they say, a teaching moment. (The Times even ran a handy primer.) Palin can plausibly claim that she was unaware of the hurt she was causing when she made her video before Wednesday morning; she cannot claim, however, that she is not cognizant of it now. It would be totally consistent for her, therefore, to regret her choice of phrase. I’m not holding my breath. Anyway, here is what everyone else has to say: (more…)

Watch the Throne

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Contributing editor Rachel Shukert prepares us today in Tablet Magazine to root for Miss Massachusetts, a.k.a. Loren Galler Rabinowitz, who this weekend will become the first Jew to compete in the Miss America pageant since Bess Myerson won it in 1945. While not overselling it, Shukert sees Rabinowitz’s candidacy as potentially a return to form for American Jewish women:

Bess Myerson could have (and perhaps should have) ushered in a worshipful golden age of Jewish femininity. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. As Jewish men began to shape American pop culture of the postwar years, they often asserted their independence from the painful (or embarrassing) history through less-than-flattering portrayals of their mothers and sisters and cousins, robbing Jewish women of their femininity and sexual power in the public imagination for generations. … male “Jewish” traits—intellectual sophistication, sensitivity, even neurosis—were portrayed as endearing and even sexually combustible to the right (Gentile) woman; Jewish women (as I scarcely have to tell you) were portrayed as loud, pushy, materialistic, emasculating, crass, and seemingly devoid of any complicated inner life. If they were at all attractive, it was in spite of their Jewishness, not because of it, or the attractiveness had come at great (often surgical) expense.

The pageant is Saturday.

There She Is

After Shabbat

All good things must come to an end

(Len Small/Tablet Magazine)

Israelispeak is the way Israelis and the Israeli media use Hebrew. Behind the literal meaning, there’s an additional web of suggestion, doublespeak, and cultural innuendo that too often gets lost in translation. Every Friday, we reveal what is really being said. To view all the entries in this series, click here.

In the States, if you’re planning to go to shul and then eat some cholent on the last day of the week, that’s the day you most likely call “Shabbos” or “Shabbat”; and if you’re not Jewish or a traditional Shabbat just isn’t your scene, chances are you’ll be referring to that day as “Saturday.”

But Hebrew has no word for “Saturday,” other than Shabbat. The universality of the word is reflected in a Hebrew axiom that has its roots in the military: “Every Shabbat has a motzei Shabbat,” or post-Shabbat. This means that all good things must come to an end, with the added implication that after the day of rest, you must get back to your real life. Soldiers often get leave for Shabbat, but have to head back to their bases early on Sunday mornings, when the buses and trains are dominated by the olive of their uniforms. (more…)

Daybreak: Hezbollah Plays With Fire

Plus China and Russia stand up to Iran, and more in the news

Hezbollah sympathizers march in southern Beirut.(Anwar AmroAFP/Getty Images)

• Hezbollah, having bowed out of and effectively toppled Lebanon’s current government, is trying to maneuver to be in a position to select the prime minister of the next one. [WP]

• But by destabilizing Lebanon, its base, Hezbollah’s gambit was not without its risks. [NYT]

• How ‘bout China and Russia! China flat-out refused Iran’s offer for a tour of its nuclear facilities, seen as fuzzy at best since the United States was not invited; and Russia such a tour would not be a replacement for negotiations and U.N. inspects. [AP/NYT]

• The man said to be in charge of laundering money to Hamas from sources such as Iran—previously the assassinated Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s job—was arrested in (where else?) Dubai. [Ynet]

• Yossi Alpher notes that the recent moves toward Palestinian statehood do not touch issues like the right of return and so actually could, judo-like, be used by Israel to move toward a final deal on rather favorable terms. [JPost]

• Israel and Greece, which have drawn closer as Israel and Turkey have bickered, formed a regional force for dealing with natural disasters. [JTA]

Sundown: Searching for a Peace Process Jolt

Plus the Jews are thriving in Baltimore, and more

Maurice Levy, a Jewish Baltimore lawyer in The Wire(Wikipedia)

• “There’s no pretense of progress,” but the administration is scrambling to come up with some new ideas on the stagnant Mideast peace process in time for the State of the Union address. [Politico]

• Probably isn’t helping that two of the administration’s point-men, George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, can’t stand each other. [Forward]

• Charm City experienced a sharp rise in Jews and an even sharper rise in Jewish households over the last decade. [JTA]

• In the largest-yet settlement stemming from the Bernard Madoff affair, a bankruptcy judge approved $7.2 billion to go to the firm’s customers. [LAT]

• Ben Harris takes stock of the Debbie Friedman controversy, noting that the New York Times obituary mentioned that she was gay, although it buried near the end. [JTA]

• A volunteer at the world’s largest private Holocaust archives—which is in San Antonio, Texas—was arrested for allegedly stealing documents, including a handwritten letter from Heinrich Himmler, and selling them online. [JTA]

The author of Hereville presents: “21 Drawings of a Young Zero Mostel.” We present: Zero Mostel doing Tevye.

Baron Cohen for Chief Rabbi!

You can bet on it (literally)

English actor Sacha Baron Cohen (playing Kazakh documentarian Borat Sagdiyev).(IMDB)

An Irish betting house will take your action if you think you know who will replace Jonathan Sacks as Great Britain’s chief rabbi when Sacks retires in 2013 after what has already been a two-decade-long tenure.

Paddy’s Power, the bookie, has fairly tight odds on nine rabbis—the favorite, Harvey Belovski, is pegged at 6:4. But if you want to go beyond the men who are likely to actually receive the job, there are a couple interesting longshots. David Miliband, the former foreign secretary and brother of the current Labour Party leader, is at 500:1. So is the one woman on the list, television personality Vanessa Feltz. And if you bet $1 on Sacha Baron Cohen, and he is selected, you win $500. I mean, it seems silly not to.

Next Chief Rabbi [Paddy’s Power]
Britain’s Next Top Rabbi [Forward]

A Rose in Any Other Language …

Today on Tablet


Today in Tablet Magazine, Eric A. Goldman reviews Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish, which premieres this week at the New York Jewish Film Festival, and situates it amid the recent resurgence of Yiddish-language movies.


John Gross, 75, Dies

Critic hailed from London’s Jewish East End

John Gross.(Wikipedia)

The Jewish Republic of Letters lost a prominent and valued citizen earlier this week with the death of John Gross, 75. He edited London’s Times Literary Supplement in the 1970s before moving stateside and working as an editor and critic at the other Times; he also contributed frequently (and frequently on Jewish topics) to the New York Review of Books. He wrote one book about James Joyce, one about Shylock, and one about “Growing Up English and Jewish in London.”

“Gross relishes,” wrote Nextbook Press author Jonathan Wilson in a review of the last, “and has an eye for, detail that tells a story of lost Jewish London (‘a disused wooden gate just beginning to rot, with the legend “Evans and Son-Cowkeepers” painted on it in both English and Yiddish characters’), but this is also a memoir, entirely unsentimental, of a boy plotting escape from a Jewish world that he frequently found ‘narrow, provincial and materialistic.’” (more…)

What Is Hezbollah Thinking?

Sitting pretty, Party of God nonetheless has much to fear

Hezbollah flags fly in Beirut last night.(Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Hezbollah’s toppling of Lebanon’s government yesterday left the United States, whose attention had been elsewhere (ahem), with few options; effectively ousted current prime minister Saad Hariri; and prompted Israel to put its troops at the northern border on high alert amid fears that the instability could lead to the 2006 war follow-up everyone knows is coming some day. Why exactly did Hezbollah, whose participation in the government, where it controlled a “blocking third” of the cabinet, was if anything increasing its power and prestige, blow the government up?

Thanassis Cambanis, author of a recent book on Hezbollah, argues today that the Party of God’s gambit is driven entirely by its fear of the United Nations tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri (the current prime minister’s father). The tribunal is expected to implicate Hezbollah’s ally, Syria, as well as Hezbollah itself, when it hands down its indictments, probably imminently. (more…)

Your Jewish Children’s Book Drinking Game


From the cover of Hereville.(Abrams)

Earlier this week, the Association of Jewish Libraries announced the Sydney Taylor Book Awards for the best Jewish children’s books of 2010. Many of the winners made appearances in my best-books roundups for younger and older kids.

Some fabulous books, to be sure … but as ever, certain literary settings and themes do emerge repeatedly. As Laurel Snyder (a Sydney Taylor Notable Book author!) observed in Tablet Magazine, it can be challenging to get non-didactic, newfangled Jewish books published. (Her much-praised Baxter, the Pig who Wanted to be Kosher was rejected by a Jewish publisher, who didn’t want Baxter to be … a pig.) Snyder wrote that while there are certainly wonderful Jewish children’s books (and while I agree—this year offered a bumper crop; Hereville in particular is about as original a graphic novel as I’ve ever seen), most feature “edutainment that relies on old models. Illustrations that could have been painted for a ketubah. Stories set in shtetls.” She added: “We need more kinds of books for our kids, books that are fresh and funny, that speak our kids’ language, whatever that is, or becomes.” Amen, Laurel. But until we get books that don’t use the same tried and true tropes over and over again, clearly it’s time for a Jewish children’s book drinking game! (more…)

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