Ghosts and Clowns

Today on Tablet


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

On the Bookshelf

Calling All Designers!

Apply for our spring internship

(Jean David/

Tablet Magazine is looking for a brilliant designer to work with our Art Department. The intern will get hands-on experience in a lively magazine environment, working with fast-paced daily content, in an office located in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. The intern will be paid a stipend.

He or she may be a junior or senior undergraduate student, mid-program graduate student, or recently graduated. A working knowledge of HTML, PHP, and Photoshop is desirable. Software fluency in Flash, InDesign, and Illustrator is encouraged. Interns will gain CMS experience (especially in WordPress), and should be fluent in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube).

Working closely with the art directors, the Web design intern will help design, program, and produce Web pages for Tablet Magazine and Nextbook Press. The intern will also attend editorial meetings and learn the various production systems used. The internship aims to introduce the intern to Website design and to build skills, as well as to cultivate their own creative interests.

The internship begins February 1. Web design applicants should submit a cover letter, résumé, and portfolio that includes layouts, typography, or working website URLs to Submission deadline is January 12th.

Which Book Can (Almost) Stop a Bullet?

Hint: HaShem may have something to do with it


Big books tend to be known as “door-stoppers.” But what about bullet-stoppers? A group of book-minded young folks affiliated with Electric Literature, including Jewcy editor (and Friend-of-The-Scroll) Jason Diamond, decided to find out which big 2010 novel is most adept at defending you from an assassination attempt; the results were filmed by Alex Markman, who is also, independently, a Friend-of-The-Scroll.

I won’t give away the winner before the jump. But I will tell you that after the jump, you will a special comment from the author of the book that did the best job at halting the metal harbinger of death.


Matzah Ball Soup for the Chinese Soul

The Jews and their excellentness

Sigmund Freud and cigar.()

The New Yorker reports (subscription-only) on the progress Freudianism has made in China.* And a fantastic Newsweek article (via Atlantic Wire) chronicles the plethora of Chinese books that, seeking to cash in on the widespread Chinese perception that Jews are good at making money (wonder where they got that idea?), cast the Talmud as something of a business Bible. “There’s even a Talmud hotel in Taiwan inspired by ‘the Talmud’s concept of success,’” we learn. “The guides are like the Chinese equivalents of books such as Sun Tzu and the Art of Business.”

The article clarifies several things. Like that this Chinese perception of the Jews is fundamentally different from the anti-Semitic perception of Jews as nefarious (and highly successful) worshippers of Mammon, and in fact has its roots in the history of Chinese business and culture. Also that the Talmud is in fact in no way whatsoever actually a book about how to make money.

But the Chinese really do dig the Jews! According to Google, the fourth-most-asked “why?” question in Mandarin in 2009 was “Why are Jews excellent?”. Which, of course, begs the question: Why are Jews excellent? To the comments with you!

Selling the Talmud as a Business Guide [Newsweek]
Meet Dr. Freud [The New Yorker]
Related: Kosher Chinese (more…)

T.V. Learning

Today on Tablet


Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall praises reality television today in Tablet Magazine for its pedagogical value. As an avid chronicler of Top Chef myself (as well as a native of Washington, D.C., where the chef in question makes her home), this example struck a chord:

She’s a great role model—she’s funny (she calls “hootie-hoo,” like an owl when she loses her husband in a grocery store), self-aware (she ruefully called her undercooked quinoa “un-duntay” instead of “al dente”), and sane in times of crisis. In the last episode, she accidentally cut off half her fingernail in a chopping-knife mishap, but unlike a certain other drama-queeny contestant who ran to the hospital with a lesser injury, she told the medic to bandage her up, then put on a rubber glove and kept cooking. … When other chefs derided her desire to make an African ground-nut soup for a challenge at the U.S. Open (saying it wasn’t “elevated” enough for a fine-dining experience), Hall politely stuck to her guns, and went on to win. Again: a great lesson for kids.

For Real

The New Track to Palestinian Statehood

Will anti-settlement sentiment prove a tipping point?

Palestinian President Abbas and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.(Jorge William/Globo via Getty Images)

“Fayyadism” is the strategy under which increased state-building in the West Bank would give the Palestinian Authority enough of the trappings of sovereignty that international legitimacy, particularly through the United Nations, would grow to the point that a unilateral declaration of independence may not seem ridiculous. Though it was disowned by its namesake (Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad), and though it is not apparent that state-building is particularly advanced, recent events and currents suggest that Fayyadism may merely have been hibernating during the latest unproductive round of peace talks. Cut to Palestinian President Abbas publicly hoping for a state in 2011.

All of South America except for Colombia and Peru have either recognized or plans to recognize a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders. Abbas was in Brasilia last month for a groundbreaking ceremony—complete with flying doves!—for what will be the Palestinian embassy. Meanwhile, the P.A. is drafting a Security Council resolution that would condemn settlements, which the United States has pledged to veto.

The resolution—which will not call for Palestinian statehood or even sanctions against Israel—is a microcosm of the larger trends: Lacking much in the way of teeth and unlikely to produce any concrete changes in the near future, it nonetheless threatens to prove the groundwork for an eventual climate wherein Palestinian statehood comes to seem inexorable. The point is less the eventual climate than the threat, to Israel and the U.S., that it is in their interests to get onboard. (more…)

Daybreak: Tensions Up After West Bank Deaths

Plus Alan Grayson goes unquietly, and more in the news

Alan Grayson.(NYT)

• A Palestinian woman, 36, died from Israeli-fired tear gas during an anti-separation barrier protest in the West Bank town of Bilin, a hotbed of such protests. She was the sister of a prominent activist who died during a protest in 2009. [NYT]

• A Palestinian man holding a glass bottle was killed yesterday by Israeli soldiers as he approached a West Bank checkpoint. The IDF says he was not following standard protocol for crossings. [NYT]

• According to a Kuwaiti newspaper, there have been secret U.S.-Syrian talks over a possible peace deal with Israel, including “unprecedented Syrian cooperation.” [Haaretz]

• Former Rep. Alan Grayson, Democrat of Florida, departs the House after one term as an alternately beloved and reviled Jewish liberal lion-cub. [NYT]

• According to a WikiLeaks-leaked cable, the IDF was estimating in 2009 that Israel would have 12 minutes, tops, to prepare for a rocket launched from Iran. [Haaretz]

• A former Iranian deputy defense minister died in an Israeli jail. Except maybe he was never in Israel at all. And maybe he is still alive. [Laura Rozen]

New Ambassador To Return to Old Country

Eisen, son of Czech Jew, is appointed

Norman Eisen.(National Journal)

Yesterday, the White House announced a flurry of end-of-year recess appointments for nominees whose confirmations had been held up by the Senate—they will not require confirmation but their terms will expire after Congress’s next session, probably in December 2011. Most controversially, President Obama named Robert Ford to be the United States’s first ambassador to Syria since 2005, when the last one was recalled following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Another recess-appointed diplomat was Norman Eisen, the administration’s ethics and government reform czar (nickname: Dr. No). He was named ambassador to the Czech Republic.

This particular appointment represents a bit of poetic justice: As Eisen explained during his confirmation hearings last summer, his mother, Frieda, was born in Czechoslovakia, but deported to Auschwitz. She survived, and eventually found her way stateside, along with Eisen’s Polish-born father, who died when Eisen was 14. “Neither had a formal education, but our home in Los Angeles was rich in conversation, culture, and memory,” Eisen, now 50, testified. He became the first in his family to graduate from high school, and went on to Brown; after a stint working for the Anti-Defamation League in L.A., he attended Harvard Law, where he became friendly with a classmate who went on to run both the law review and, later, the United States.

President Obama Announces Recess Appointments to Key Administration Posts []
Obama Makes Recess Appointments, Taps Robert Ford As Ambassador to Syria [WP]

Midday: Former Pres. Convicted of Rape

Plus the Leviathan field is just that, and more in the news

Former President Moshe Katsav leaves the court today.(Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

• Moshe Katsav, the Israeli president before his 2007 resignation, was convicted of raping a Tourism Ministry employee while he was in-charge of it in the late ‘90s. [NYT]

• An official estimate of the Leviathan natural gas field off Israel’s northern coast proves it to be worthy of its name: Its roughly 16 trillion cubic feet of the potential fuel could make Israel a net energy exporter. [JTA]

• Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch (whose father was Jewish) who has come to symbolize both the privatization of the Yeltsin era and the authoritarian crackdown of the Putin era, was sentenced to an additional six years in prison. [NYT]

• A minister acknowledged that Israel now believes Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been delayed, such that it is likely at least three years away from a bomb. Stuxnet: The best Christmas present of all! [AP/NYT] (more…)

Yet Another Russian-Immigrant Novel

Today on Tablet


At the outset of her review today in Tablet Magazine of Nadia Kalman’s debut novel, The Cosmopolitans, Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry acknowledges that Kalman is not exactly the first Jewish American from the FSU—the former Soviet Union—to write a humorous, whimsical novel about the alternate charms and dangers of dis- and relocation.

But in this particular instance, Ivry does find something, if not completely, at least a little bit different. “It is that kind of whimsical choice, a tonal shift, which sets her apart,” Ivry argues of Kalman. “Brezhnev-like dybbuks and talking hankies suggest that Kalman, with her penchant for the charmingly absurd, owes a debt more to the contemporary likes of Etgar Keret in stories like “Fatso,” for instance, than to S. An-sky, so often credited with introducing dybbuks into literature, or even than to the other writers in her ethnic peer group.”

Western Promises

You Questioned Our 100 Greatest Jewish Songs

And we have something to say back!

(Tablet Magazine)

Last week, Jody Rosen, one of the two musicologists behind our list of the 100 greatest Jewish songs ever, answered some questions about the list. The ensuing conversation was so good that Ari Y. Kelman, the Rodgers to Rosen’s Hammerstein, decided to throw in his two cents. His response follows.

First off, as anyone who has ever loved or hated or heard a song knows: The argument about the song is part of the fun. Whether we’re talking about riots after the debut of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” or riots during screenings of Blackboard Jungle (the opening credits rolled to Bill Haley and the Comets), the riots are the fun part. The list, as all lists are, is just pretext.

Omissions, Egregious and Otherwise
Yes, there are omissions. Jonathan Richman? Philip Glass? Louis Lewandowski? Aaron Copland? Safam (whom I always found to be too didactic)? Reb Shlomo? And, yes, we tended to focus on songs by Jews that evinces something of their Jewishness—yet it would have been brilliant to include Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” (frankly, I can’t believe we misssed that one). The truth is: There’s lots of stuff that is both good and weird enough to make the list, and maybe some of that stuff should have made the list. Let’s argue about that, too. (more…)

The Way We Were

Today on Tablet


On the occasion of the release of one new one, Daniella Cheslow looks at the vibrant tradition of Palestinian memoirs today in Tablet Magazine. Perhaps her most poignant insight? “That same hallowed sense of loss,” pervasive throughout these memoirs, “is in Israeli work as well.”


Midday: Workfare, Not Studyfare!

Plus hot mommies, and more in the news

The hottest Jewish mommy.(Raising Kvell)

• There is some backlash in Israel over the paying of benefits to ultra-Orthodox who spend their days studying rather than working. [NYT]

• It doesn’t help that three haredi non-profits are accused of embezzling millions from the state in phony stipends for yeshiva students. [Ynet]

• WikiLeaks revealeth: The U.A.E. considered keeping the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh quiet. Which would explain why al-Mabhouh’s death was originally reported as having been caused by cancer. [Arutz Sheva]

• The IDF killed a Hamas militant near the Gaza border fence, where tensions still simmer. [AP/NYT]

• Jewish-American liberals are beginning to have trouble stomaching Israeli occupation and Palestinian disenfranchisement! Wait, what’s the news hook? [NY Jewish Week]

• List! The 20 most stylish Jewish mommies in history. Tablet Magazine contributor Mayim Bialik comes in at five! [Raising Kvell]

• Avi Cohen, among the greatest Israeli soccer players ever, died at 54 after a car accident. [Haaretz/Forward]

Modern girls and modern rock and roll:

The Doctor Is In

Ben Shenkman is Feinberg in ‘Blue Valentine’

Ben Shenkman.(Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company)

If you’re looking to end 2010 on a romantically bitter note, you couldn’t find a better picture than Blue Valentine, which opens today. The movie collapses the birth and death of a love affair into two exceptionally draining hours, transposing its charmed beginnings with its terrible devolution—a breakdown that feels all the more tragic and harrowing because the reasons for it are so believably banal. Anyone who’s ever been tangled up in a sticky relationship will recognize the emotional exhaustion that inevitably accompanies the struggle to break free, and both New York’s David Edelstein and The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane rightly credit this sledgehammer effect to the powerful performances turned of its stars, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

But Blue Valentine also marks the return of a Hollywood archetype we haven’t seen much of lately: The wimpy Jewish doctor. (more…)

The Storm Called Progress

Today on Tablet


Contributing editor and poetry columnist David Kaufmann finds himself slightly farther afield today in Tablet Magazine: His subject is the great, unclassifialbe Weimar-era German-Jewish writer Walter Benjamin. The myriad interpretations and uses for Benjamin are partly due to Benjamin’s own cryptic, esoteric style, Kaufmann appreciates: “He reminds people of what they might think.”

Gathering Storm

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