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Tears of a Clown

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Liel Leibovitz pens a touching eulogy today in Tablet Magazine for Yosef Shiloach, the great Israeli comic actor who died of cancer Monday at 69. A native of Kurdistan, Shiloach’s typical role found him playing a mizrachi Jew, sending up relations between that group, on the one hand, and the imperious (and in-charge) Ashkenazim on the other. (He also at one point voiced Ernie on Israeli Sesame Street). “Like all good satire,” Liebovitz writes of Shiloach’s films,

they were also extraordinarily nimble vehicles with which to explore complicated subjects like race, class, gender, and religion. Laughing with Shiloach’s clowns, Israelis had a chance—to use the parlance of psychotherapy—to work through the childhood traumas that plagued the young nation and learn to blunt their fears, drives, and divides.

In his later years, Shiloach was a vocal opponent of the Israeli occupation.

Reel Deal

We Have Met Israeli Security, and It Is Not Ours

Napolitano nixes Israel-style procedures for U.S.

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Napolitano and Israeli President Shimon Peres Monday.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

After the heavy Thanksgiving travel season, when all the talk was of the United States’s inefficient, intrusive, big-government, terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad airport security, some noted that the Good Alternative was Israel, which more effectively and more confidently protects an ostensibly more threatened populace. At the same time, others noted the difference in scale—Israel has one international airport, the United States has 450—and cost—Israel spends $56.75 per passenger, the United States spends $6.93. Moreover, it was not clear whether Americans, even ones miffed at the touching of junk, would tolerate the level of profiling that is Israeli security’s standard operating procedure (and indeed, as this helpful Slate Explainer makes clear, its key to success).

Visiting Israel yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed the naysayers, insisting, “There are many differences in the United States system versus Israel. Part of that is driven by sheer size.” She did say she was impressed after receiving a security-focused tour of Ben Gurion Airport—a good reminder that security expertise is likely to be an increasing Israeli export over the coming years. Just don’t expect the whole system.

Napolitano: Israeli-Style Airport Security Won’t Work for U.S. [Fox News]
Related: What’s So Great About Israeli Security? [Slate]
Earlier: Israeli Airport Security All the Rage

Daybreak: Prelude to a Second Cast Lead?

Plus A’jad may have played ball, and more in the news

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A smuggling tunnel damaged by air strikes is inspected this morning.(Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

• Tensions remained high at the Gaza border: Palestinian rockets struck Israeli greenhouses; Israeli planes struck a Hamas training camp in response. [Arutz Sheva]

• The death-by-tear-gas of a 36-year-old Palestinian protestor has become increasingly hot-button, with the IDF alleging that she almost certainly had a pre-existing condition that helped lead to her death. [NYT]

• In late 2009, according to a new WikiLeaks cable, President Ahmadinejad was willing to play ball on a nuclear fuel swap deal with the West, but top Iranians more hardline than he nixed it. [Arutz Sheva]

• The 112th U.S. Congress begins tonight with four fewer Jews but the highest-ranking Jew—soon-to-be Majority Leader Eric Cantor—in history. [JPost]

• After the recent blizzard, New York City snowplows toppled several tombstones at a gigantic Jewish cemetery in Brooklyn. [City Room]

• Energy companies, mostly Israeli and American, are pissed at the higher tax rates proposed on gas following the gigantic offshore find. [LAT]

Sundown: Steve Cohen

Plus Disneyland in the Holy Land, and more

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Mickey Mouse.(Time)

• Read this now. Bravo. [NYT]

• “Disneyland, you’ve just won the Super Bowl. What are you going to do next?” “I’m going to Haifa!” [JTA]

• Israelis and Palestinians, coming together by trying to beat the crap out of each other. (It’s called boxing.) [WP]

• People are upset because the Chicago Marathon is scheduled for the day after Yom Kippur. [JTA]

• How will the “start-up nation” enter its next phase? [The Economist]

• Miss Massachusetts, a.k.a. Loren Geller Rabinowitz, could become only the second Jewish Miss America when the pageant happens January 15. [Sisterhood]

And if you look above you’ll see the vultures swooping in!

Phish – Vultures – Walnut Creek ’97 – Hidden Track Exclusive from Hidden Track on Vimeo.

The Vulture Was A Spy

And we have the proof!

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A griffon vulture.(Wikipedia)

“Vulture in Saudi Custody Suspected as Mossad Agent” -Arutz Sheva

Tablet Magazine has been given an exclusive look at the last known transmission between a vulture, identification code R65, captured in Saudi Arabia and his handlers, who are bird ecologists at Tel Aviv University. Or so they want you to think.

MOSSAD: “Vulture R65, are you there? Come in, Vulture R65!”

VULTURE R65: “Brawck!”

MOSSAD: “Roger that. Have you entered Saudi airspace?”

VULTURE R65: “Brawck!”

MOSSAD: “Okay, good. We knew we could count on you. Now we are going to tell you your exact mission.” (more…)

The Last Jews of Tajikstan

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Today in Tablet Magazine, James Kirchick reports from Dushanbe, Tajikstan, where only about 500 Jews remain in a country that once boasted a Jewish population of 30,000.

Home Stand

The Deaf Music-Lover

Isabelle Scott’s helluva life

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Isabelle Scott (left).(family photo/WP)

The story of Isabelle Scott, the Washington, D.C., heiress who died last November at 70, is cinematic in scope. Love affairs, divorces; a life of fortune, a life of philanthropy (an estimated $25 million in anonymous donations); abuse and triumph. The woman born Fredrica Linda Lehrman—and who, due to her three husbands, was at one point named Fredrica Lehrman Rosenberg Saunders Carmichael—was the granddaughter of Samuel Lehrman, who founded Giant Food (if you have ever lived in the D.C area, you have shopped at a Giant). Though she did not die Jewish (she became an Episcopalian), her relatives sat shiva for her. Did I mention the part about how she was deaf but nobody knew it until she was in second grade, and how as an adult she successfully hid it by styling her hair to cover her ears and their hearing aids? And how she donated several million dollars to various musical endeavors?

Anyway, Hollywood: Please get on this. I’m especially looking forward to the dramatization of the scene where Barry Rosenberg, then her boyfriend and later her first husband, saw through her house’s door that she was swollen and bruised the day after they had gone on a date, and Rosenberg—a 6’7”, 280-pound active-duty soldier—told her father, who physically and sexually abused her, never to touch her again. Oh and the part where she cheats on her second husband with her shrink; she divorces and then marries the shrink; and then the shrink cheats on her, prompting her to sue, successfully, for both divorce and malpractice.

A Local Life: Isabelle Scott, 70; Heiress Assumed Many Identites, Assumed Hardship in a Life of Giving [WP]

Pollard’s Release Formally Requested

First time it’s been asked for

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Prime Minister Netanyahu.(Ronen Zvulun/AFP/Getty Images)

As promised, Prime Minister Netanyahu has sent a letter to President Obama formally requesting the release of Jonathan Pollard, the American (and honorary Israeli citizen) convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to life imprisonment. This marks the first time Israel has ever officially asked for this. The U.S. isn’t commenting.

In November in Tablet Magazine, Gil Troy argued for releasing Pollard on the grounds that the time he has already served more than fits his crime. A few dozen Democratic congressmen, former U.S. diplomats, and others have agitated for Pollard’s release in the past several months.

Netanyahu Makes Official Request for U.S. to Free Convicted Spy Jonathan Pollard [Haaretz]
Related: National Insecurity [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: Bibi to Formally Ask for Pollard’s Freedom

Getting a Divorce vs. Getting a Get

Civil and religious lines cross for one couple

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A ketubah, or Jewish marriage certificate.(Hanson Switzky/Flickr)

Tablet Magazine contributing editor Mark Oppenheimer has a column today sure to climb near the top of the New York Times Most E-Mailed list. It is about the dissolution of the marriage of Aharon Friedman, a prominent Republican tax-policy specialist on Capitol Hill, and Tamar Epstein. Both Orthodox Jews, though they are civilly divorced, Friedman refuses to grant Epstein a get, which would free either one to remarry under Jewish law.

The catalyst for Friedman’s untypical refusal is that a Baltimore beit din, or rabbinic court, was still deliberating when a civil custody ruling granted Friedman visitation with their three-year-old daughter only three times per month, with two of these times being outside Philadelphia (where Epstein now lives) from Friday evening to Sunday—which, given that Friedman is Orthodox and lives in Washington, D.C., effectively means on Sunday only. Friedman is reportedly angry with this ruling.

Brooklyn-based Rabbi Yisroel Belsky is persuasive when he argues, “The court decided in a bullheaded way not to respect the Shabbos.”

And Rabbi Jonathan Reiss was also persuasive when he argued, without reference to this particular case, “Even if one party acts wrongly to the other, it is never correct either for the husband to withhold a get or for the wife to refuse a get when a marriage is clearly over.”

Religious Divorce Dispute Leads to Secular Protest [NYT]

Who Brodsky Was

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Books critic Adam Kirsch considers the 20th-century Russian-Jewish poet Joseph Brodsky today in Tablet Magazine, noting that, like most great Russian-language poets up to and including Alexander Pushkin—the country’s Shakespeare—the full beauty and ingenuity of Brodsky’s verse gets somewhat lost in translation.

What remains more intelligible to us is Brodsky’s status as the quintessential modern universalist Jew (“rootless cosmopolitans” Stalin once called the type, though he, y’know, didn’t mean it in a good way).

He seems to belong to the noble tradition of Jewish writers who, emancipated or severed from Jewishness, became universal humanists. One thinks of Marx, or Freud, or especially, in this case, Osip Mandelstam, whom Brodsky described in a superb essay as “a little Jewish boy with a heart full of Russian iambic pentameters.” The phrase is obviously autobiographical as well, and when Brodsky calls Mandelstam “the child of civilization,” he could be describing himself.

Nowhere Man

Damascus Gate

Who told honcho Malcolm Hoenlein to go to Syria?

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Malcolm Hoenlein, a man some refer to not entirely jokingly as “King of the Jews,” quietly visited Damascus over the holidays, Israel’s Channel 10 reported yesterday, to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—the man who, not incidentally, may hold the key to striking an Israeli-Arab peace. (Though Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith is skeptical of U.S.-Syrian outreach.)

It’s no secret that the administration is making overtures to the Syrians—last week, President Obama named the first U.S. ambassador to the country since 2005—and, over the weekend, a report surfaced in the Kuwaiti press that the Syrians have told Obama adviser Dennis Ross (who is heading to the region now) that they’re ready to play footsie back, in the form of opening dialogue with the Israelis. (The story was subsequently refuted by Syria’s state-run news agency.) What’s less clear is how Prime Minister Netanyahu feels about all this. Which is why the big news of the Channel 10 story was the claim that Hoenlein, whom I profiled last May, went to Damascus to courier a message to Assad from Bibi.

Hoenlein has vociferously denied this aspect of the report. “I was invited in a personal capacity and was not sent by Netanyahu,” he wrote me yesterday. He told Politico’s Laura Rozen that he went to discuss “humanitarian issues” (perhaps Gilad Schalit, Rozen mused on Twitter), but refused to elaborate, on the grounds that his credibility depends on his ability to keep his mouth shut about private conversations. (more…)

Daybreak: Iran Won’t Invite Everyone to its Party

Plus an Upper West Side bomb threat, and more in the news

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• Iran offered to show its nuclear facilities to several nations, including Russia and a few E.U. countries, and ostentatiously not the United States. Even the invited guests seem to be rejecting the invitation. [WSJ]

• The Palins are going to Israel! No but it’s really happening. Likely this spring. [Page Six]

• American Jewish community leader Malcolm Hoenlein met with Syrian leadership in Damascus. Much more at 10. [Haaretz]

• Israel will likely nearly double its oil and gas taxes following its major off-shore energy finds. [WSJ]

• An Upper West Side synagogue received a bomb threat pledging New Year’s Eve devastation (so, phew). [JPost]

• The bombing of an Egyptian Coptic Church that killed 21 drew the Anti-Defamation League’s condemnation. [JPost]

Sundown: Bieber Backs Center, Draws Ire

Plus Medvedev, Twitter, and more search-engine bait

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Bieber Bieber!(Wikipedia)

Shema-spouting star Justin Bieber is being boycotted after he appeared to say something in support of the Ground Zero Islamic center. So 2011 is going to be weird after all? [Salon]

• Malcolm Hoenlein, the “unofficial King of the Jews,” attended secret meetings in Damascus on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Check out Allison Hoffman’s profile of Hoenlein from last May. [Haaretz]

• Obama administration adviser Dennis Ross heads to Jerusalem to try to accomplish … something. [Laura Rozen]

• Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev had to cancel a visit to Israel due to a strike by the Israeli Foreign Ministry workers’ union. [Ynet]

• A 24-year-old Jewish woman is the current mayor of the Temple Mount on Foursquare, the social network. I give this a few days before it becomes an international incident. [Observer]

• Speaking of social networking: Thank you, whoever you are, for making Tablet Magazine’s Twitter feed, @tabletmag, the 26th most influential Jewish feed. So if you don’t follow us already, you really really should! [JTA]

The Coen Brothers’ True Grit is good. The original is better.

Two Down, the Pats To Go All the Way?

How our teams fared yesterday

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Julian Edelman, tearing it up.(Elsa/Getty Images)

What else is there to say about Tablet Magazine’s New England Patriots? Playing arguably the toughest schedule, they went a League-best 14-2, securing homefield advantage until February. They extended their home regular season win streak to a record 27. They committed ten turnovers during the entire season, a record. Quarterback Tom Brady had, maybe, a career year: 36 touchdowns versus four interceptions, a genuinely absurd ratio of 9.0 that absolutely smashed the previous record of 6.25 (held by himself). As of now, he has thrown 335 consecutive passes without an interception, which will probably remain the record many years from now.

Yesterday the Pats sat several key starters and, as a result, were only barely able to escape with a win over the 7-9 Miami Dolphins, 38-7 (yes I was joking). Not-Jewish-but-Jewish-sounding back-up receiver Julian Edelman had a career day, catching three passes for 72 yards, and throwing in a 94-yard punt return for six points. It would almost be an understatement to call the Pats the prohibitive favorite to win the Super Bowl. The last time a team was so favored, it was 2007, and the Pats had just gone 16-0; in many ways, this regular season was more impressive. Of course, in early 2008, the Pats were upset in the Super Bowl by the New York Giants. They won’t have to worry about the Giants this year, though. And it is pretty clear who Tablet Magazine’s playoff team is. (more…)

Ghosts and Clowns

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

On the Bookshelf

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