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Going to Amsterdam, and Not the Avenue

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Today in Tablet Magazine, contributing editor Rachel Shukert publishes part 1 of a three-part series on the Jewish history of Amsterdam (and her misadventures along the way).

Looking for Mokum

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

How our teams fared this weekend

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Tom Brady.(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

There was a moment in the first quarter of the New York Giants’ 21-3 rout of the Minnesota Vikings at Detroit’s Ford Field (the game had to be postponed and the locations changed after a blizzard collapsed the Metrodome roof) when Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson had to come out of the game, and so in, briefly, went back-up Joe Webb (who went two for five with eight total yards). Jackson was only in because the starter—a guy you may have heard of named Brett Favre—was inactive with a shoulder injury (thereby ending his record-by-a-whole-lot streak of 297 consecutive regular season starts). Meanwhile, Sage Rosenfels, the Jewish quarterback who had been Minnesota’s third-stringer until right before the beginning of this season, could only watch wistfully from the opposite sideline, where he was the Giants’ back-up, and wait for the game when Jints starter Eli Manning—whose current consecutive regular season game streak stands at an even 100, putting him sixth on the all-time quarterbacks list—needs to take a series off. Only then will Rosenfels get the snaps he was denied last year for Minnesota and this year, so far, for New York. (more…)

The Frenchman in the Jungle

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Today in Tablet Magazine, books critic Adam Kirsch looks back at the great anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and the movement he is associated with, structuralism, on the occasion of a new biography.

The Structuralist

Play As a Holocaust Conductor

‘Train’ is not only a game

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Train.(Courtesy of Brenda Brathwaite/The Daily Beast)

With the Anti-Defamation League attacking Sonderkommando Revolt—a graphically primitive first-person shooter video game set in Auschwitz, in which you kill Nazis but the opening animation depicts bloody, dying Jews—The Daily Beast’s Ben Crair has an excellent and useful article on other games that involve the Holocaust. Specifically, there is Brenda Brathwaite’s fascinating, high-concept Train.

The game is played like this: On top of a piece of shattered glass, you take turns rolling a die and then choosing either to load your boxcar with yellow pawns or to advance your boxcar; various cards you can play can change the boxcar’s speed. When you arrive at the end, you draw a Terminus card, at which point the game’s theme, until now only implicit, becomes obvious: Various cards read “Dachau,” “Chelmno,” and “Bergen-Belsen.”

“Brathwaite’s goal, she says, was to make a game about complicity,” Crair reports, “and so the rules drop the player not in the shoes of a Holocaust victim but a train conductor who helped make the Nazi system run.”

And how do you know who wins? The game’s instructions read: “Train is over when it ends.”

May I suggest a pairing with ghetto Monopoly?

Brenda Brathwaite: Holocaust Game Designer [The Daily Beast]
The Concentration Camp Video Game [Kotaku]
Earlier: Monopoly in the Ghetto

Driving to a Better Place

High-Tech Holy Land

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(Morton Landowne/Len Small/Tablet Magazine)

“When Thomas Edison was finished inventing the electric light bulb, the price of oil went to zero and new uses had to be found for kerosene. What we are doing is trying to repeat Edison’s feat.” After spending a few hours visiting Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi’s electric vehicle (EV) start-up, Better Place, I wouldn’t bet against Agassi’s challenge to America’s greatest inventor.

Youthful, enthusiastic and well-spoken, Aggasi has raised over $750 million, which he claims makes Better Place “one of the best-financed pre-I.P.O.s in history.” His dream: To convert the world’s automobiles from gasoline to battery power. In 2009, Time named him one of the “100 People Who Most Affect Our World;” profiling him, it said he was “the closest we’ve seen to a Steve Jobs of clean tech.”

I got the chance to meet Agassi during a recent four-day “Israel Innovation Summit,” sponsored by Beit Issie Shapiro, an Israeli non-profit organization that provides innovative services for children with special needs. He spoke to us from his sparkling new demonstration center in Ramat HaSharon. It features test drives of EVs and working models of the battery-changing and -charging stations that are at the heart of the Better Place concept. In a nice symbolic touch, the center is inside a gigantic tank that used to be Israel’s major gasoline distribution hub. (more…)

Deutsche Juden

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David P. Goldman admits from the start of his epic essay today in Tablet Magazine that his parents wouldn’t have bought a German car. Yet he painstakingly shows that a great deal of what Jews value in their intellectual tradition, secular and religious, are the fruits of both German Jews and the intersection of non-German Jews with German culture.

Indeed, those latter categories—non-Germans who made religious contributions—inform one of Goldman’s more startling passages:

By no accident, the outstanding leaders of what would become the main currents of American Judaism all studied at the University of Berlin during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the sage of postwar Modern Orthodoxy, wrote a doctorate in philosophy and mathematics there in 1932. Abraham Joshua Heschel, the leading voice of Conservative Judaism, finished his doctorate (later published as The Prophets) a couple of years later. The Reform scholar Leo Baeck earned his doctorate under the Berlin philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey. The future Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, attended classes for two years in the early 1930s. Franz Rosenzweig, who belonged to no denomination but is read by all, had finished a dissertation (still in print) on Hegel and the state before abandoning academic life to lead a school for Jewish adult education.

Apart from Rosenzweig, none of them were German.

Faustian Bargains

Holbrooke, a Top U.S. Diplomat, Dies at 69

A one-of-a-kind character, yet consummately of his times

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Richard Holbrooke in November 2009.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the lifelong U.S. diplomat who was something of a Zelig to American foreign policy over the past half-century, died yesterday following a torn aorta, for which he was hospitalized and operated upon at the end of last week. He was stricken while meeting with his boss, Hillary Clinton—he had spent the past two years as the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, an extremely difficult and somewhat thankless job (there is a possibly apocryphal report that his last words were, “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan”). Had President Obama appointed anyone other than Clinton as secretary of state, it would likely have been Holbrooke. He was born to a German Jewish mother and Russian Jewish father and raised atheist/Quaker in Scarsdale, New York. His wife, the Hungarian-born journalist Kati Marton, is the daughter of Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivors.

In addition to his beyond-formidable diplomatic C.V., Holbrooke was a talented investment banker and journalist, at one point the editor of Foreign Policy. In May 2008, he wrote a wise essay on the 50th 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding. He argued that President Truman bravely combated the “unspoken but real anti-Semitism” of his foreign policy advisers and recognized the nascent Jewish state, 11 minutes after its declaration, making his country the first to do so. Holbrooke concluded:

Israel was going to come into existence whether or not Washington recognized it. But without American support from the very beginning, Israel’s survival would have been at even greater risk. Even if European Jewry had not just emerged from the horrors of World War II, it would have been an unthinkable act of abandonment by the United States. Truman’s decision, although opposed by almost the entire foreign policy establishment, was the right one—and despite complicated consequences that continue to this day, it is a decision all Americans should recognize and admire.

(more…)

Daybreak: Abbas Bemoans Settlements

Plus the ADL still likes Hank, and more in the news

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President Abbas yesterday.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

• As the Palestinians circled their wagons, President Abbas accused the Israelis of preferring settlements to peace. [JPost]

• Richard Holbrooke, one of the United States’s most important diplomats, died at 69. [NYT]

• ADL condemns Kissinger’s remarks, says he’s alright anyway cause of Israel. [ADL]

• Reporting on the complex situation in Lebanon, Roger Cohen calls for U.S. engagement with Hezbollah. [NYT]

• Israel-Arab cooperation in the wake of the fire. [NYT]

• Israel had to cancel a ceremony to honor 10 Palestinian firefighters after three were not permitted to enter the country. Recall that they were all allowed in to, y’know, fight the fire. [Haaretz]

Sundown: Find Out What Your Leaders Are Paid

Plus A’jad-ology, Hitch on Hank, and more

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Sara Bloomfield, director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the highest-paid female Jewish communal leader.(Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)

• The annual list of Jewish communal leaders’ salaries reveals that women get paid more and get more raises than men. Wait, scratch that, reverse it. [Forward]

• Ahmadinejad sacked his foreign minister and replaced him with the head of Iran’s nuclear energy agency, in a sign that the president has successfully consolidated power. [Laura Rozen]

• Bernard Madoff is likely not eligible for a furlough to attend the funeral of his son, who killed himself over the weekend. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

• Vox Tablet contributor Hugh Levinson has a podcast about Safed, a northern Israeli town with a fascinating spiritual past. [BBC]

• Hitch on Kissinger. Always a good time. [Slate]

• Classic headline: “Suspected Israeli Neo-Nazi Arrested in Kyrgyzstan.” It’s like I always say, those crazy Kyrgyz! [Haaretz]

Somebody was listening in on that argument you were having with your uncle about Israel (h/t Goldblog).

Moral Direction

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Josh Lambert offers his weekly round-up of forthcoming Jewish books of note.

On the Bookshelf

C.I.A. Protected Ukrainian Nazi Collaborator

New report also reveals Nazi-grand mufti deal

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An alleged Ukrainian war criminal was recruited, protected, and remained until his death in 1998 “one of the [C.I.A.’s] oldest contacts,” reveals a report on newly declassified C.I.A. files released Thursday.

Mykola Lebed led an Ukranian nationalist group that took part in the killing of Jews and Poles in Western Ukraine during World War II. After the war, according to the report, Lebed was recruited by U.S. intelligence to run guerrilla operations against the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the C.I.A. not only repeatedly protected him from other intelligence agencies hoping to prosecute him, but also relocated him to New York City in 1949. (more…)

On His Own

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Today in Tablet Magazine, the Vox Tablet podcast follows Luzer Twersky, 24, for the year after he left behind the Satmar Hasidic community he grew up in for the world of modernity.

Breaking Away

Scandal Passing, Pearl’s Vols Enjoy Success

Our favorite coach apologizes for, makes light of situation

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Pearl helps his injured son, Steven, from the court last month.(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The University of Pittsburgh’s powerhouse basketball team, ranked third in the nation, was dealt its first home-loss by a nonconference opponent in nearly six years on Saturday, 83-76. The Panthers’ conqueror was the No. 11 and undefeated Tennessee Volunteers, whom readers will recall is Tablet Magazine’s official college basketball team thanks to Coach Bruce Pearl. Pearl is one of the Volunteer State’s most prominent Jews, the most recent coach of the Maccabi USA men’s team, and a general all-around mensch—to say nothing of a fantastic coach.

Readers will also recall that Pearl’s menschiness was called into question in the past several months when news broke that he lied to NCAA investigators about violating guidelines by making excessive calls to recruits. Pearl, who is already being docked $1.5 million in pay over five years and barred from off-campus recruiting for a year, was thought to be in jeopardy as Tennessee’s coach; instead, he has been barred from coaching the Vols’ first eight in-conference games (which begin in January), which on the one hand is something of a slap on the wrist and yet on the other hand is pretty much unprecedented. The NCAA is trying to make an example of Pearl—in part because he has long served as an example of how to be a successful and all-around good head coach. (more…)

Woven History

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Today in Tablet Magazine, parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall appreciates a new exhibit of Jewish textiles and quilts at Hebrew Union.

Raving Stitches

Does Bibi Have the Upper Hand?

What happens after the step backward from direct peace talks

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Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday at his weekly cabinet meeting.(Bernat Armangue - Pool/Getty Images)

And we’re back to proximity talks*! A few days after the United States announced it was giving up on trying to secure a 90-day freeze extension—which itself was something of a step back from the heady late-summer days of biweekly direct talks and a one-year timeframe for peace—Secretary of State Clinton proclaimed that the U.S. would switch back to trying to facilitate an agreement via indirect negotiations, with envoy George Mitchell once again serving as the prime shuttle between Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government and President Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.

Clinton’s most (and only?) telling line was: “The Palestinian leaders must be able to show their people that the occupation will be over.” This signaled American awareness of Abbas’s precarious position—the P.A. has no control in Gaza and arguable popularity and democratic legitimacy in the West Bank—while it also arguably placed the onus on Israel to take steps to buttress Abbas.

Yet most accounts have Israel as the winner and the P.A. as the loser in the two-sided negotiating battle. “The Israeli reaction to the American decision was relief,” reported Ethan Bronner, the Times Jerusalem bureau chief, last week. He added, “The Palestinians are unhappy with this turn of events.” (more…)

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