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

Today on Tablet


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…)

A Hugely Successful Stint

Today on Tablet


Top Haaretz spy correspondent Yossi Melman appreciates departing Mossad chief Meir Dagan. During his eight-year tenure, the Israeli foreign intelligence agency’s covert operations grew in both number and success, according to Melman. He reports that Mossad activities have helped slow Iran’s nuclear program, including by killing three important physicists (you can believe Dagan’s 2015 estimate); it killed several terrorists (even the diplomatic damage from the successful Dubai assassination, Melman reports, has been salved); and, most importantly, it prevented Syria from going nuclear.

For seven years no one—not Syrian ally Iran, not the CIA, neither French nor Israeli intelligence—had a clue about the North Korean-built reactor until April 2007, when Mossad agents discovered that Syria was within months of becoming a nuclear power. Dagan wasted little time. In September of that year, eight Israeli Air Force fighter planes and bombers destroyed the reactor. Dagan’s people—who never took responsibility for the attack—then gave photos of the destroyed nuclear site to the CIA, which presented the intelligence to Congress, cannily creating the impression that the CIA was somehow involved in the operation.


Debbie Friedman in Full

Controversy sprouts over late singer’s sexuality

Debbie Friedman.(Jewish Journal)

At the beginning of this week, the blog Jewschool published a post by David Levy about the late singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman. It referred to the “open secret” that Friedman was a lesbian and adjudged her “life in the closet” a “tragedy”: “How sad,” Levy wrote, “that Debbie could not live her life with wholeness, and how sad that so many queer kids were deprived such an important role model.” Levy reported that he—who is active at Keshet, a nonprofit that seeks to open Judaism up to its GLBT adherents—had heard not only that Friedman was a lesbian but had a life-partner, and also that Friedman had long expressed a desire to come out; he closed by hoping that “whoever becomes the guardian of her legacy will follow through on this wish of Debbie’s, so that her life can be a blessing to future generations of GLBT Jews, and to all Jews.”

The post was greeted with extreme anger by Debra Nussbaum Cohen at the Forward’s The Sisterhood blog. “I am disgusted by what someone who goes by “DLevy” has written,” she began (one click reveals that Levy was not, as Cohen implies, hiding behind anonymity). “The privacy and dignity with which [Friedman] lived her life—all aspects of her life—should be respected, not tossed aside to satisfy someone else’s prurient curiosity or politics.” The implication that Levy was driven by “prurient curiosity” is a bit much; the implication that revealing this aspect of Friedman’s life violated her life’s “dignity” is so astounding and at-odds with the rest of Cohen’s post that it seems fair to chalk it up to careless writing. So we’re left with Friedman’s “privacy” and Levy’s “politics.” Was Levy wrong about Friedman’s privacy? Is Cohen wrong on the politics? And, as long as I’m throwing myself into this: Was Friedman wrong about both? (more…)

Daybreak: ‘Gabby Opened Her Eyes’

Plus confidence on Iran, flailing on Lebanon, and more in the news

President and Mrs. Obama last night in Tucson, Arizona.(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

• Last night, President Obama deftly used the Giffords attack to call for a heightened, more civil political discourse. He also reported that Rep. Giffords opened her eyes for the first time; indeed, doctors fully expect her to survive. [NYT]

• The administration’s on-and-off engagement with Lebanon left it with few options when the Hezbollah ministers walked out of the government yesterday. [NYT]

• New Israeli intelligence showing Iran’s halting nuclear development—it may not even try to build a bomb in the near future—has eased Israeli and American political pressure for military options. There are talks the week after next. [Reuters]

• Speaking in Qatar, Secretary of State Clinton called on Arab states to fight their own corruption and lack of democratic practices, blaming these for helping feed extremists. [WSJ]

• The German mediator quietly completed two days in Gaza trying to negotiate the freedom of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit. [Haaretz]

• A nine-year-old Gaza girl paralyzed in a 2006 Israeli airstrike as well as her father and brother were granted temporary-resident status so that she can continue to receive medical care. [AP/NYT]

Sundown: Jared Loughner—Not a Jew

Plus Israel picks a side on Sudan, and more

Courtroom sketch of Jared Lee Loughner.(Bill Robles/AFP/Getty Images)

• You know that report about how Jared Lee Loughner’s mother was Jewish? Yeah, not so much with being true. [Capital J]

• Auschwitz drew a record 1.38 million voluntary visitors in 2010. [Haaretz]

• Secretary of State Clinton forcefully accused those threatening to topple Lebanon’s government of trying to subvert the U.N. tribunal investigating the former prime minister’s assassination. [Laura Rozen]

• Israel is quietly but actively supporting Sudan’s Christian south in its efforts to secede, while essentially the entire Arab world backs the unionist regime in Khartoum. One reason for Israel’s support for independence? Trade opportunities. [World Tribune]

• Pro-Israel groups are finding it is most effective to be cruel only to be kind. [JTA]

• Newly released documents purport to show that West Germany knew of Adolph Eichmann’s whereabouts eight years before Israeli agents tracked him down and captured him in Argentina. [Der Spiegel]

I think I’ll try Alaska.

Israeli Brothers to Face Federal Music

Israel extradited the Abergil gangsters to L.A. today


Maybe even as I type, Itzhak and Meir Abergil, two of the most prominent members of Israeli organized crime (allegedly), are on a plane bound for Los Angeles, where, following Israeli extradition, they will face federal charges that they paid for murder and conspired with the Vineland Boyz, a Latino Gang based in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, to distribute nearly one million ecstasy pills in California.

Contributing editor Douglas Century briefed us on their case in 2009: (more…)

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