Talking With Abraham

Contribute to Liana Finck’s ‘Tell Mitzi’ column

(Liana Finck/Tablet Magazine)

Check out Liana Finck’s third installment of “Tell Mitzi” today. She responds to a funny nightmare!

Now it’s time for you to help her out again. This week, Liana wants to know: If you could have a conversation with any Biblical figure, who would it be and what would you talk about? Leave ‘em in the comments, and maybe she will respond to yours in next week’s “Tell Mitzi.”

Related: Wake Up! [Tablet Magazine]

Packers Versus Steelers

After Bears and Jets losses, the Super Bowl is set

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers yesterday.(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Chicago Bears and the New York Jets—the two teams that probably had the strongest cases for the Jews’ allegiance—both lost yesterday, setting up Super Bowl XLV, in two weeks in Cowboys Stadium, between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The lead of the AP story on the Bears’ 21-14 home loss alludes to the greatest Jewish football player of all time—“Sid Luckman was without a doubt the best quarterback the Bears ever had,” it reads—and reminds us of the suffering of many Chicago-area Jews yesterday (sorry, Jason). And nor can we forget the Tristate Area fans of the Jew York Jets—Ron Kaplan has a nice condolence note—who after yesterday’s defeat have seen their “same old Jets” go 0-4 in post-merger conference championships (their lone Super Bowl victory having come after winning the American Football League). (more…)

A Cuddly Kristallnacht

Today on Tablet


Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall documents her quandary today in Tablet Magazine: A new children’s book that tells the story of Kristallnacht through the eyes of a cat (Benno is his name) has been critically acclaimed, but, to Ingall, is “so distasteful I have trouble forming coherent sentences about it.” But this isn’t just feline talk: Ingall enters a broader debate about when to introduce children to the Holocaust, and how.

Good Kitty, Bad Kitty

Leak Shows Huge, Secret Jerusalem Concessions

Israel rejected big offer; news is bad P.R. for P.A.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (L) and President Mahmoud Abbas.(Khale Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday Al Jazeera and the Guardian published excerpts from “the Palestine Papers,” an unprecedentedly large trove of leaked confidential notes from Palestinian negotiators. Among other things, we learn that in 2008 the Palestinian Authority was offering Israel nearly all of Jerusalem—much more than the P.A. (which has called for a halt to Jewish building in East Jerusalem) has ever publicly proposed, and, as negotiator Saeb Erekat memorably calls it, “the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history.”

Resolution of the “right of return” issue for a merely token price was also on the table.

It seems safe to say the leak did not come in an official capacity from the P.A., since it will hurt the credibility of the West Bank’s governing authority: As the New York Times reports, the P.A. has (un-credibly) called the documents “a pack of lies,” while Hamas, the P.A.’s chief rival for allegiance in the territories, said the documents showed the P.A. was “attempting to liquidate the Palestinian cause.” And indeed, if your definition of the Palestinian cause includes at least some form of sovereignty over much of East Jerusalem (and it should), then it is actually difficult to dispute Hamas’s allegation. (more…)

Daybreak: Israeli Probe Clears IDF in Flotilla

Plus Iran talks fizzle, an end to U.S. engagement, and more in the news

The head of the probe, Yaakov Turkel.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

• The Israeli commission concluded that the navy acted legally when it halted the Gaza-bound flotilla in international waters last May. [WP]

• Two-day international talks over Iran’s nuclear program were essentially over before they began, with the Islamic Republic insisting on the right to enrich uranium from the outset. [LAT]

• Introducting “The Palestine Papers”: Secret documents from Palestinian negotiators that show them offering Israel a great deal. Much more at 10 am. [NYT]

• The new composition of President Obama’s top advisers means the administration is likely to no longer engage the Mideast peace process as much as it has, in part because it will no longer trust Prime Minister Netanyahu as a good-faith peace-maker. [Politico]

• As negotiations over Lebanon’s next government begin, Hezbollah’s leader pledged his group, which has the power to craft a parliamentary majority, would follow state rules and would seek a national unity cabinet. [NYT]

• Egypt’s interior minister pinned the New Year’s day church bombing that killed 21 Coptic Christians on a Gaza-based group linked to Al Qaeda. [WSJ]

Sundown: Mourning the Wife of a Dairy Farmer

Plus an uprising in Jordan, an argument in D.C., and more

President Shimon Peres at his wife’s funeral today.(Oded Balilty/AFP/Getty Images)

• Sonia Peres, the wife of Israeli President Shimon, had her funeral today. Oh, and here, pretty much, is Zionism explained: “When asked once why she chose to stay away from the public eye, Peres said: ‘I married a dairy farmer.’” [Haaretz]

• Is Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution about to spread to Jordan? [JPost]

• BREAKING: Some people argued over what it means to be pro-Israel. [Ben Smith]

• Hussein Agha and Robert Malley argue that the status quo is going to remain, well, the status quo. [NY Books]

• Sacha Baron Cohen will be playing Saddam Hussein in a forthcoming movie. Sure, why not? [Animal NY]

• Is Urban Outfitters drawing fashion inspiration from the ultra-Orthodox? [Jewcy]

“Some of you so called boycotters are just assholes,” declared Macy Gray, announcing she and her band would indeed play an upcoming gig in Tel Aviv. Here is that one Macy Gray song I know!

Various Goldbergs

Your Vox Tablet preview

(Eric Molinsky)

In 2007, pianist Simone Dinnerstein burst onto the classical music scene with her critically acclaimed interpretation of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” Now she’s returned to Bach, on her just-released Bach: A Strange Beauty.

On Monday’s Vox Tablet, she talks to host Sara Ivry about how she’s arrived at her very distinctive take on this music, and also about the challenges of playing the music her way when, at the same time, there’s this whole orchestra trying to follow along … .

Upstate Jew

Today on Tablet


Today in Tablet Magazine, Abigail Pogrebin publishes her diary of the three days of Limmud NY, the Jewish learning festival and conference in the Catskills.


Lebanese Power Broker Supports Hezbollah

Druze leader Jumblatt sides with ‘the resistance’ against PM

Walid Jumblatt announces his decision today.(Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images)

Well it’s happened: Walid Jumblatt, the de facto leader of the Druze population of Lebanon and the country’s kingmaker, has sided with Hezbollah, the Shiite Iran proxy, which last week disbanded the coalition government by yanking all its ministers in anticipation of U.N. indictments for the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister. “The party will stand firm in support of Syria and the resistance,” he said. The result will be that Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his America-backed March 14 coalition likely will not be the next group in-charge of Lebanon.

It’s worth remembering that it was not six years ago that Jumblatt’s support lay with Hariri and March 14 and against Hezbollah; and it’s also worth remembering that today’s announcement was predictable (indeed, predicted), as Hariri Jumblatt, as columnist Lee Smith reported last year, threw his support to Hezbollah some time ago. Why? One word: Iran. Your weekend reading assignment is this 2009 New Republic dispatch, in which contributing editor David Samuels argued, “In the new Middle East, Tehran—armed with the strategic insulation that nuclear weapons confer—will be able to destabilize any government it doesn’t like without fear of military reprisal. As nearby regimes weigh the pros and cons of life inside the nuclear cage with the Iranian tiger, Lebanon offers a preview of what the future might be like.” That, in a nutshell, is what has changed between 2005, when Jumblatt could feel comfortable on the pro-America side of the fence, and today, when he can’t.

In Blow to Hariri, Jumblatt Pledges Support for Hezbollah [JPost]
Related: The Next Lebanon War [Tablet Magazine]
The Year of the Elephant [TNR]
Earlier: U.N. Files Sealed Indictment in Lebanese Killing
Hezbollah Departs Lebanese Government

Kill the Pig!

Today on Tablet


Today in Tablet Magazine, columnist Etgar Keret goes deep into his Angry Birds addiction.

Bird’s Eye

The Bronx Is Up

Comment of the week

(Ravi Joshi/Tablet Magazine)

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

This week’s winner is “Delores Sloan,” who wrote, in response to contributing editor Rachel Shukert’s appreciation of Bess Myerson, the Jewish 1945 Miss America,

Bess Meyerson lived in the “The Amalgamated,” which is how we in the Bronx referred to the first cooperative housing development for workers, about three miles from where I lived, built by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union for their members. Most of the children in my elementary school lived in The Amalgamated. They were the children of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. They were good students and strong believers, with me (the only child in our class with American-born parents), of the American dream. When Bess won Miss America, I was a teenager, bemoaning how my wild, curly brown hair (in an era without gels and mousses) and curvy body was so unlike the blonde, long-legged glamourous movie stars and fashion models. Her victory (with dark hair like mine!), certainly helped me boost my self image and the pride in our neighborhood reminded me of the joy, years before, when Joe Louis beat Max Schmeling. You go, Bess!

“Delores Sloan” will receive a copy of Douglas Century’s biography of Barney Ross, who like Schmeling was a great boxer but who unlike Schmeling actually was Jewish (Schmeling wore a Star of David and was a Righteous Gentile, but he also flew in the Luftwaffe).

The Show Must Go On

A night with Tom Stoppard and the Belarus Free Theatre

Tom Stoppard at Le Poisson Rouge Wednesday night.(Photo by the author)

One wants to live in history, but one does not want to be a disaster tourist—especially when the disaster can be witnessed a mile away from your house. Wednesday night, at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village, at a benefit for The Belarus Free Theatre, Natalia Koliada, the group’s co-founder, reported at the outset that, earlier in the day, one of the actresses—a woman backstage, preparing to perform for the 200 or so patrons in the club’s darkly lit basement space on Bleecker Street—had received a one-word text message from her husband, back in Minsk: “Arrest.” Yesterday was the one-month anniversary of a violent crackdown following a fraudulent election in Europe’s last true dictatorship, and her husband, protesting, was taken into custody by President Alexander Lukashenko’s secret police, which—in a symbol of the regime’s brutality, heritage, and almost self-parodic oppressiveness—is still called the KGB. “I didn’t plan to tell you some bad news,” said Koliada. She was dressed in a denim jacket and a hoodie with fashionable short hair—someone whom you would assume was just another neighborhood resident if you saw her walking down East Seventh Street one afternoon. She had hoped for a “cheerful” evening, but unfortunately, History had taken place. I immediately realized that It had, and that this was therefore a rare and valuable experience for me, one that, in a paradoxical but unembarassing way, I would cherish. Then again, it dawned on me that my rare experience was another man’s prison sentence.

The lump in my throat only grew once I felt yet less estranged from the repression in Belarus—and not only because of the (not untrue) insistence, made by the PEN major domo, that the squashing of a writer in one place means the squashing of all writers in all places. After the troupe produced an excerpt from a play, Numbers, two screens flashed the names of various famous personages of Belarusian origin. Many of these—and nearly all the famous names—were Jews, including Kirk Douglas (whose son Michael had written a letter of solidarity that was read at the event); Chaim Weizmann; Shimon Peres; Isaac Asimov; Larry King; Irving Berlin; Ralph Lauren; and Marc Chagall. So it would be especially silly for me to think of these people as fundamentally different than myself. We would be bonded enough if we merely shared our humanity, but this extra connection brought our kinship home for me. (more…)

Ehud and Me

Today on Tablet


Liel Leibovitz pens an open letter today in Tablet Magazine to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who this week departed the historic Labor Party. After dispensing with the pleasantries—”Momentous as your political failure is, it is not much of a factor in the profound and bubbling contempt I feel for you, a visceral enmity that few of your colleagues have inspired in my otherwise tranquil political imagination”—Liel gets down to brass tacks: Look to Moses, in this week’s parasha, who willingly gave up power when it was clear that his leadership was faltering. Or not: “They might soon be in the streets in Tel Aviv, too,” Liel warns, conjuring the image of the popular Tunisian revolution, “tired of the corruption and opportunism and perfidiousness of their rotting political class. When that happens, don’t bother turning to this week’s parasha for inspiration. It would be too late.

Ehud Agonistes

Breaking Free

Let’s call this a party

(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.

“Declaration of Independence,” reads the headline of a column in an Israeli paper about Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent decision to break from the Labor Party. “The new faction that calls itself Atzmaut”—Independence—“is essentially on its way toward losing its political independence, since in the absence of political power, it will have to support the government without any real objections,” former Israeli politician Uzi Baram opines.

“Independence” is one of those words that you can throw around in a sentence for an easy double entendre—as malleable as the party itself. When Barak announced his defection from Labor, his speech included the words, “We are going forth today toward independence.” And also, we are meant to presume, Independence. (more…)

Daybreak: Lebanon Grows More Dangerous

Plus new Iran talks start, and more in the news

Prime Minister Hariri affirms his candidacy for prime minister.(Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

• As regional actors abandoned plans to strike a temporary deal, Saad Hariri insisted defiantly that he wanted to remain Lebanon’s prime minister, while Hezbollah said it doesn’t want him. This is what we call a powderkeg. [NYT]

• Two-day Iranian nuclear talks in Turkey begin today, with optimism in the air and expectations firmly tugged low. [LAT]

• The Terkel Commission, which is Israel’s probe of the flotilla incident, is expected to clear the IDF when it issues the first part of its report Sunday. [Arutz Sheva]

• This Fayyad fellow: What is he really up to? [LAT]

• Top administration Mideast adviser Dennis Ross is in Israel, trying to hammer down each side’s security requirements. [JTA]

• Hamas has accused Israel the Palestinian Authority of halting important medical shipments into Gaza. [Haaretz]

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