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Midday: Former Pres. Convicted of Rape

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

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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

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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!

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(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

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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.”

Remembered

Midday: Workfare, Not Studyfare!

Plus hot mommies, and more in the news

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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’

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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

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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

Midday: Bibi Won’t Apologize to Turkey

Plus Natalie getting married, and more in the news

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Portman and Millepied in September.(Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that while Israel may agree to express regret for the loss of life during the Memorial Day flotilla incident, it will not apologize. [JTA]

• WikiLeaks keeps on giving: Today we learn that the United States declined a United Arab Emirates request to check three credit card numbers allegedly used by Mossad operatives in connection with the January assassination of Hamas weapons man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. [Haaretz]

• Gal Beckerman, whom I talked to when Kissinger’s “gas chambers” remark first became public, does the damn thing on Kissinger’s apologia. Must-read. [WP]

• Jewish heartthrob Natalie Portman is engaged to and pregnant with Benjamin Millepied, the perfectly named French (not Jewish) choreographer on her latest movie, Black Swan. [ABC] (more…)

Peretz Agonistes

The ‘TNR’ editor heads for the Holy Land

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Martin Peretz during earlier, awesomer times.(New York)

The most surprising thing you learn in New York’s generally fantastic profile of longtime New Republic owner, editor, and all-around maven Martin Peretz—assuming you know something of Peretz’s politics and recent controversies (and chances are, if you have already read the profile, you do)—is that he has been known to attend the protests in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, “in solidarity with Palestinians threatened with eviction.” This is astonishing, given that these protests have become something between a rite of passage and a shibboleth for the Israeli left (Todd Gitlin gave his first-hand account of the ritual earlier this month in Tablet Magazine) and that, on the question of Israel, Peretz is, shall we say, no dove.

But the profile depicts someone much more complex than the caricature of Peretz, furthered by his enemies but buttressed by his own blogposts, as a ranting, right-wing, and—there’s really no denying it—occasionally racist pundit. Partly, this more balanced view of Peretz is the result of a peace process so stagnant that someone on the right cannot help but seem like a moderate (Palestinian President Salam Fayyad is “a very modernizing person, but I would doubt that he commands loyalty,” Peretz says, and one can easily imagine someone with opposite views nodding in agreement). And partly, this more balanced view of Peretz may also be the result of the fact that Peretz—despite being, as the article’s title has it, “in Exile” from most of the things that have defined his seven decades (the United States, Harvard, his now-ex-wife, The New Republic)—cooperated with the profile and so presumably had some ability to craft the narrative it tells. This is not pure supposition on my part: Earlier this fall, a reporter on assignment for Tablet Magazine tried to interview Peretz about his participation in an English-language teaching program in Jaffa (which the profile opens with), only to be told Peretz wanted nothing written about his trip. (more…)

The Other New Year

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Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall notes today in Tablet Magazine that we are about to start a new year—according to the “other” calendar, anyway—and has a few thoughts on the subject of resolutions, as a parent and as a person. “Try to say yes” is a nice one.

Also today in Tablet Magazine, on the Vox Tablet podcast, Daniel Estrin has the skinny on Berlin’s new, controversial Memorial to the Homosexual Victims of the Nazi Regime.


Looking Ahead

Monumental Embrace

Midday: Gaza Tensions Subsiding

Plus Peretz in winter, and more in the news

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Martin Peretz.(New York)

In case this wasn’t clear, The Scroll and Tablet Magazine are publishing on a light schedule this week. Which means: Mega-midday-roundup!

• Over the weekend, Hamas reconfirmed its commitment to a cease-fire in an effort to head off tensions in Gaza during the two-year anniversary of Cast Lead. [NYT]

• In another instance of WikiLeaks telling us for certain what we knew was almost certainly true, a newly released 2008 cable authored by then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice confirms that Israel bombed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007. [JTA]

• Columnist Avi Shafran points out that President Obama has done pretty much every basic thing that typical pro-Israel American Jews have asked of him. [Jewish Standard]

• Henry Kissinger puts his 1973 remark, “If they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern,” “in context.” [WP]

• A must-read profile of longtime New Republic maven, owner, and editor-in-chief (soon to be editor at large) Marty Peretz reports that his controversial blog, The Spine, will soon be discontinued. [NYMag] (more…)

Duck au Juif

‘Traditional Jewish Christmas’ at Mile End

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The view outside Mile End on Christmas night.(All photos by Amy Asheroff)

For those readers who intuited a degree of projection in my article about Mile End, the Brooklyn deli that served Chinese food on Christmas and thereby allowed certain young urban Jews to make “an elective assertion of their culture,” well, I plead guilty: 4 pm on Christmas Day found me there. Co-owning couple Noah Bermanoff and Rae Cohen knew who I was, and we chatted amiably—which is to say, if you want a critically honest, untainted account of the meal (or a critically professional one), you should read elsewhere. But for my money—or, rather, for my employer’s—Mile End’s meal was charming, and the food, with almost the exact right balance between whimsy and craftsmanship, was delicious, alternately Chinese-inspired and just, simply, Chinese.

The small crowd included two babies and three older couples—one of whom, sitting at the counter, were pretty clearly sous chef Aaron Israel’s folks. Along with the day’s menu, the chalkboard above the deli’s open kitchen noted that loaves of challah are for sale every Friday for $6. “We should get some and start celebrating Shabbat,” I overheard one diner say to another. “We have candles. Dunno if we have candlesticks.” There were three cooks (including Bermanoff and Israel), two servers (including Cohen), and one prep-chef in the back. That’s it. (more…)

Sundown: Happy Birthday, Bro

Plus, good will to all men, and more

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(Flickr: 24gotham)

Tablet Magazine won’t be posting tomorrow and content will be light next week. Also, Marc Tracy will be back! Whether you’re eating Chinese food or sugar plums, watching Christmas pageants or True Grit—have a happy holidays.

• David Brooks and Gail Collins have a super funny conversation on why keeping Christmas religious is good for the Jews. I do not believe he really dated a girl named Holly Jolly. [NYT]

• This account of Jewish witches torturing inmates at Guantanamo is kind of funny, until you realize that between the lines they’re also describing an entire prison going insane. [Gawker]

• Hall of Famer Larry Brown has resigned from coaching the Charlotte Bobcats. Did I say Hall of Famer? I meant best coach in the history of the sport. [Kaplan Korner]

• Speaking of which, Phil Jackson (the son of two ministers, and whose “unbeatable” Lakers were defeated by Brown’s Pistons for the championship in 2003-04) went on a tirade against the NBA for ‘forcing’ teams to play on Christmas. Ron Kaplan takes issue. [Kaplan Korner]

• Nancy Lieberman, pioneer of the sport, is possibly the first woman coach in the NBA. [NYT]

• President Shimon Peres wishes everyone a merry Christmas, also clearly terrifies children. [Haaretz]

Safe travels!

Oh No! I Haven’t Bought Presents Yet!

In unrelated news, apparently everyone loves Nextbook Press

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Apparently some people give gifts on December 25th. We wouldn’t dare suggest that Nextbook Press books would make an excellent stocking stuffer. Yet it would be negligent for us not to point out that all three Nextbook Press titles released in 2010 were named to “best of 2010″ lists!

Yehuda Halevi by Hillel Halkin was named one of the best non-fiction books of the year by Jewish Ideas Daily.

Burnt Books by Rodger Kamenetz was one of the year’s (we think century, but whatever) best religion books says the Huffington Post.

Hillel: If Not Now, When? by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin got the gracious nod from Publishers Weekly.

A Monumental Kiss

Your Vox Tablet preview

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(Eric Molinsky)

In 2008, a monument was erected in Berlin to commemorate gay victims of the Nazi regime. Architecturally, it borrows from the Holocaust memorial directly across the street, but it’s much smaller, and contains a continuously looping video showing two men kissing.

The video sparked a heated controversy that continues to this day, though not involving the parties you might expect. Vox Tablet brings us the story on Monday.

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