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Today on Tablet

God’s favorites, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz are on the Vox Tablet podcast to discuss their new book, The Chosen Peoples, as well as the, well, chosen peoples, who are the Americans and the Jews. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall theorizes as to why kids seem to get Simchat Torah (which starts Thursday evening). Josh Lambert has his weekly preview of forthcoming Jewish books of note. The Scroll has one more short week to cram things into.

Soros Funding of J Street Revealed

Group had implied otherwise

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George Soros last month.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It’s an inside baseball story—but it’s in our league. For the year between July 2008 and July 2009, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization received roughly one-third of its revenue—some $245,000—from billionaire Jewish left-wing financier George Soros and family as part of a three-year, $750,000 gift. The news is relevant less because Soros, a prominent AIPAC critic, is controversial—he is controversial mainly to those who are not J Street fans anyway—and more because J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami had repeatedly implied that Soros was not a donor. As Ben Smith notes, “The apparent cover-up is perhaps worse than the crime.”

Having Soros as a donor isn’t ideal politically—whether it should or shouldn’t be, it isn’t—and J Street has been notable for wanting to be an effective political actor, not just an emotionally satisfying outlet. “Our No. 1 agenda item is to do whatever we can in Congress to act as the president’s blocking back,” Ben-Ami told the New York Times Magazine. Taking Soros’s money, by itself, is manageable politically; appearing as though it was trying to hide it is a larger problem. (For one thing, I suspect this blocking back is about to be benched until at least after the midterms.) The point is, this screw-up should upset no one as much as J Street’s supporters. (more…)

Daybreak: Freeze Ends, World Remains

Plus Obama and A’jad joust

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President Ahmadinejad at the U.N.(Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

• The settlement freeze expired … the Palestinians did not announce they were departing the direct talks … there likely won’t be major building … we all still seem to be here … . [NYT]

• President Obama gave over a large portion of his U.N. General Assembly speech to the peace process. [Laura Rozen]

• He also gave some of it over to chastising Iranian President Ahmadinejad for having said, “The majority of the American people, as well as most nations and politicians around the world, agree with this view,” “this view” being that some parts of the U.S. government had a hand in 9/11. [LAT]

• Yet Iran also seemed to encourage nuclear talks. [WSJ]

• Nine Jewish activists from America, Israel, Britain, and elsewhere departed Turkish-controlled Cyprus for Gaza in a flotilla reprise. [Reuters/NYT]

• Eddie Fisher, who got Elizabeth Taylor to convert, died at 82. [NYT]

Early Sundown: Sukkot Edition

Plus unrest in East J’lem, and more

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Examining an etrog in Jerusalem.(Sebastian Scheiner/AP/Lens)

Tablet Magazine and The Scroll will be dark through the end of the week in observance of Sukkot. This calls for an extra-long (and improperly named) Sundown.

• Elif Batuman examines what is to become of Franz Kafka’s papers? [NYT Magazine]

• A private Israeli security guard shot a Palestinian dead in a predominantly Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Clashes have since ensued. Gulp. [LAT]

• Russia is nixing the planned sale of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Iran in deference to the U.N. sanctions. [JPost]

• J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami calls on Prime Minister Netanyahu to extend the freeze (and J Street is running a whole bunch of print ads backing him up). [JTA]

• American Jews’ outsize political influence runs headlong into disproportionately un-Jewish Iowa’s outsize political influence. [Jewish Week]

• Yesterday, former President Clinton fingered not only settlements but also Russian immigrants in Israel as obstacles to peace. [Foreign Policy]

• Harold Bloom on Isaac Bashevis Singer. [NYRB]

• President Abdullah Gul talks Turkey … and Israel and Iran. [WP]

• Matt Duss compares what Helen Thomas and Martin Peretz said, and contrasts their fates. [Boston Globe]

• A profile of JDub Records artist Clare Burson, whose new album is Holocaust-inspired. [NYT]

• Barry Gewen situates the Park51 controversy in the broader American historical context. [Entanglements]

• Support the (Jewish) troops! While there are plenty of military rabbis, there is a severe shortage of Torahs. [Arutz Sheva/Vos Iz Neias?]

• Israeli know-how + Chinese manufacturing = a lot of money for one Israeli private-equity fund (maybe). [WSJ]

• Fascinating first-person essay from a Jewish U.S. Marine. Reminded me of “Defender of the Faith”. [Commentary]

A Serious Man lead Michael Stuhlbarg plays Arnold Rothstein in HBO’s new Boardwalk Empire. [Jewish Journal]

Sukkah of the Soul

What would you take inside?

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(our local sukkah at night by Bill Rogers; some rights reserved.)

To celebrate Sukkot, Tablet Magazine asked several folks what “must-haves” they would take with them into a sukkah. Here are some of the replies.

Fureigh, guitarist in The Shondes.

1. My guitar—a few days is a long time to go without practicing!

2. My journal and a pen.

3. A copy of The Urban Homestead, to aid in thinking more about ways to bridge the gap between this holiday and my regular life.

4. The sleeping bag I use on tour.

5. Earplugs—I’m still in Brooklyn, after all.

Laurel Snyder, author of several books, including Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.

What matters most to me on Sukkot is that I want it to feel like a real harvest. So what I need to have in my sukkah is whatever I feel I’ve been harvesting that year. In Iowa, when I knew lots of musicians and poets, I remember having jazz in the sukkah, and writer-friends, and that was a harvest. Last year, I drove 12 hours with my toddler-sons so they could build their first sukkah with their grandfather, and that was a harvest. This year, I’m doing a sukkah with members of my new (and first) havurah, and that feels like a harvest, too. I guess my sukkah is generally a good peek into what I’m prioritizing in my life.

You Better Recognize the Jewish State

But who is a Jew? A morning with Danny Ayalon

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Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.(Daniel Bar-On/AFP/Getty Images)

Last night, something fairly unprecedented happened in New York: The Palestinian Authority’s nominal top two figures, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, attended two separate dinner events organized by prominent American Jewish figures to discuss how eager they are to strike a final peace agreement with the Israelis. Unfortunately, the dinners followed an episode that was, well, entirely with precedent: A meeting for international donors to the P.A., held on the sidelines of this week’s United Nations General Assembly, ended abruptly because of a dispute between Fayyad and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. What was the problem? Words, of course—specifically, Fayyad’s refusal to accept Ayalon’s demand that the group’s press release declare support for “two states for two peoples.”

This morning, Ayalon, speaking before yet a third group of American Jewish leaders (as well as reporters, including this one), excused himself by saying the episode revealed a “cultural” gulf between the Israelis and the Palestinians that transcends the more obvious, and immediate, stumbling block to the fledgling peace negotiations—namely, this Sunday’s expiration of the ten-month-long moratorium on new construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. “I didn’t say ‘two states for two peoples, Jews and Palestinians,’” Ayalon explained. “But if they don’t have the decency to talk about two states for two peoples, then there is a major problem here.” (more…)

Today in Tablet

Choosing chosenness, gaming Israel, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz explain how they came to write a book, The Chosen Peoples, that embraces divine election as, if nothing else, a useful notion. Mideast columnist Lee Smith discusses regional negotiations with Nobel Prize-winning Israeli game theorist Robert Aumann, who argues the Gaza withdrawal sent the wrong message and thereby delayed peace. Gal Beckerman talks Soviet Jewry on a Vox Tablet podcast. The Scroll advises you to watch out for flying lulavs.

Should Esther Be On ‘ANTM’?

OU’s Diament says no; I say yes

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Esther Petrack.(Starcasm)

My post about the modern Orthodox contestant on America’s Next Top Model has generated a large number of comments, many critical of Esther Petrack’s decision to defer Sabbath observance in favor of participating in the show. Even Nathan Diament, Director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (the nation’s largest Orthodox umbrella organization), got in on the action, sending out several tweets of his own criticizing Tyra Banks for not accommodating Petrack’s religious schedule and Petrack for pledging to forgo “honoring the Sabbath” mere days before Yom Kippur. (In fairness to Petrack, it was probably filmed at least a few months ago; she may have renounced her observance a couple days before Tisha B’Av.)

In an email exchange, Diament expanded his opinion beyond 140 characters. Asked whether the television network The CW should have rearranged its shooting schedule so that Petrack would not be forced to violate the Sabbath, he cited legal protections that may or may not apply. “Federal and state law require employers to attempt to accommodate an employee’s religious needs,” he said, though he acknowledged that reality show contestants may not be considered employees, so “that might make this more of a ‘spirit of the law’ point.” It’s unclear what effort, if any, had been made to accommodate the Jewish calendar during the shoot. (One commenter who claimed a relationship with Petrack noted that she kept kosher throughout. If that’s true, then at least kosher food was provided.) Diament, admitting that he is unfamiliar with ANTM’s schedule, wondered “whether it requires every model to be available to shoot 24/7—or whether there are shifts that could be used to accommodate Ms. Petrack.” I agree, but that’s just because I don’t think modeling is essential enough to require the same kind of hours worked by, say, doctors. (more…)

Daybreak: Building and Talking?

Plus a murky West Bank killing, and more in the news

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Presidents Peres and Abbas in New York.(Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images)

• Resumed West Bank building may not end peace talks after all, President Abbas told dinner guests in New York last night. [Haaretz]

• In the midst of his usual grandiose rhetoric, President Ahmadinejad, also in New York (it’s U.N. General Assembly week), predicted that talks over Iran’s nuclear program would soon resume. [LAT]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu pledged to put any Palestinian peace deal up to a referendum. [WSJ]

• The assassination of a West Bank Hamas operative has raised questions about the extent of Palestinian Authority cooperation with Israel. [WP]

• In New York, Secretary of State Clinton tried to coax Arab nations to offer more financial support to the P.A. and more general support to the talks (even as her husband gave the talks an optimistic 50 percent chance). [WP]

• Some excellent reporting on how American Jews are actively helping to sponsor Israeli settlements, including those not right near the Green Line—in this case, L.A. Jews and the town of Ariel. [Jewish Journal]

Sundown: Ayalon and Fayyad Don’t Play Nice

Plus Peres and Barak paint the town red, and more

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Israeli President Shimon Peres yesterday.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

• Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad fought in New York, ended their meeting abruptly, and canceled a joint press conference afterward. [Haaretz]

• Community board approval of the Ground Zero Islamic center in May was followed (caveat: Correlation does not prove causation!) by a significant uptick in local U.S. governments’ alleged discrimination against Muslims trying to build mosques. [Ben Smith]

• Holocaust denier David Irving was denied permission to conduct a tour on the Auschwitz grounds. [DPA/Haaretz]

• Remnants of a 1500-year-old Samaritan synagogue were uncovered in the Jordan Valley. [JTA]

• The New Israel Fund has modified donation guidelines so as to try to avoid supporting groups not seen as sufficiently Zionist. [JTA]

• Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, unleashed on midtown Manhattan. Look out, ladies! [Page Six]

Mayor Bloomberg announced the winner of the Sukkah City competition. Jewcy was there.

Harvard Cancels Peretz Speech

‘TNR’ editor under fire for remarks about Muslims

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Martin Peretz.(Wikipedia)

This is the post I’ve been avoiding. Writing about Martin Peretz, the editor-in-chief and part-owner of The New Republic, and his recent comment, “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims,” seemed useless and dispiriting for any number of reasons. For one thing, plenty of others had their say (see here, here, and most prominently here). Additionally, some have defended Peretz (see here and here) on the grounds that, for all his faults, he has been an extremely valuable political and journalistic participant for four decades due to his patronage of the fantastic New Republic. Most importantly, there is not much to say: Unlike when most writers write something objectionable, and you can ask, “Why the hell is that Website publishing that writer?,” well, in this case we already knew the answer: Peretz is the boss, and as anyone with a boss knows—and nearly everybody has a boss—you do what your boss wants.

News, however, that Harvard’s Social Studies Department dropped him as a speaker at its upcoming 50th anniversary celebration forces the issue. (more…)

‘Nobody Knew He Was an Agent for the Israelis’

Your Vox Tablet preview

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(Eric Molinsky)

The story of the struggle to save Soviet Jewry is full of drama, with mass protests and celebrity appearances (including Jane Fonda) on the American side, and secret gatherings, long prison sentences, and attempted hijackings on the other side. In a new book, When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry, Gal Beckerman reviews all that history, and throws some other remarkable stories into the mix, including the essential, yet top-secret, role the Israeli government played in fomenting a movement stateside in the 1960s.

Sukkah of the Soul

What would you take inside?

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(our local sukkah at night by Bill Rogers; some rights reserved.)

To celebrate Sukkot, Tablet Magazine asked several folks what “must-haves” they would take with them into a sukkah. Here are some of the replies.

Ruth Messinger, President of the American Jewish World Service.

I would bring as my guests a group of people whose conversations I would like to hear: A loan recipient from Haiti; a woman farmer without land title from Pakistan; a health organizer from Kenya; a Darfur refugee in Chad; a human rights activist from Uganda; and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to talk with all of them, learn from them, teach them, and help them in their efforts to change and heal the world.

Rob Kutner, comedy writer.
When I was asked to describe my “Soul Booth,” at first I thought it was a pitch for a new Wayans Brothers movie. But upon further reflection (not a lot, but further), I began to picture it: It’s a temporary structure for the soul, just like the one mine resides in now—right down to the weedy, increasingly thin cover on top. Dangling above me are the sweet goals I still reach for every day: Kindness, compassion, repair of my world, mindfulness, and gratitude. The walls are of man-made material and protect me from the winds of circumstance, but there’s always a doorway open to change and challenge. Decorating them are children’s drawings of my younger, purer self—the more passionate, idealistic spark I struggle to fit into my jaded old todayness. Last but not least is the ground tarp: Because let’s face it—my soul is one messy place.

Pavel Goberman Explains Himself

Jewish candidate has all the answers

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Pavel Goberman.(Facebook)

After taking stock of Pavel Goberman, the fitness-obsessed and apparently party-less candidate to unseat (Jewish) Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), I noticed that the man himself quickly weighed in in the comments (something, by the way, that I encourage all of my subjects to do): “I do not see who is better than me could help this nation,” the Russian-born health guru wrote. “I’m a Candidate for US Repres. 1st Congressional District, Oregon.” (So, then, not for the Senate?) “I promise to create a few millions jobs, balance budget, save country a few billions dollars on the health care, improve traffics on hiways and cities and etc. [sic].”

I emailed Goberman through his Website asking him to clarify a few things (including whether he is Jewish). Below, his abridged response [sic again]: (more…)

‘Lonely Planet’ For the Settlements

Yep, there’s even an app for that

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Ever find yourself moseying along and suddenly needing to know where the latest settlement construction in the West Bank has taken place? (Imagine moseying sometime before the past ten months, during which there has been a freeze on such construction.) Well, now, you can consult Americans for Peace Now’s handy Facts on the Ground iPhone application. It’s a clever title: For years, believers in Greater Israel evangelized for the settlements as a way of creating nearly-irrefutable “facts on the ground” in an effort to make the land they sat on official parts of Israel; now, a left-wing group like APN can turn the phrase on its head, and condemn such settlements as malevolent “facts on the ground” that impede peace (much like the similar flights sponsored by the similarly appended Peace Now). Although that, also, is just rhetoric: In the end, facts on the ground are just that.

Below: See how you can check and un-check various things to make your map look different! (more…)

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