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Play As a Holocaust Conductor

‘Train’ is not only a game

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Train.(Courtesy of Brenda Brathwaite/The Daily Beast)

With the Anti-Defamation League attacking Sonderkommando Revolt—a graphically primitive first-person shooter video game set in Auschwitz, in which you kill Nazis but the opening animation depicts bloody, dying Jews—The Daily Beast’s Ben Crair has an excellent and useful article on other games that involve the Holocaust. Specifically, there is Brenda Brathwaite’s fascinating, high-concept Train.

The game is played like this: On top of a piece of shattered glass, you take turns rolling a die and then choosing either to load your boxcar with yellow pawns or to advance your boxcar; various cards you can play can change the boxcar’s speed. When you arrive at the end, you draw a Terminus card, at which point the game’s theme, until now only implicit, becomes obvious: Various cards read “Dachau,” “Chelmno,” and “Bergen-Belsen.”

“Brathwaite’s goal, she says, was to make a game about complicity,” Crair reports, “and so the rules drop the player not in the shoes of a Holocaust victim but a train conductor who helped make the Nazi system run.”

And how do you know who wins? The game’s instructions read: “Train is over when it ends.”

May I suggest a pairing with ghetto Monopoly?

Brenda Brathwaite: Holocaust Game Designer [The Daily Beast]
The Concentration Camp Video Game [Kotaku]
Earlier: Monopoly in the Ghetto

Driving to a Better Place

High-Tech Holy Land

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(Morton Landowne/Len Small/Tablet Magazine)

“When Thomas Edison was finished inventing the electric light bulb, the price of oil went to zero and new uses had to be found for kerosene. What we are doing is trying to repeat Edison’s feat.” After spending a few hours visiting Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi’s electric vehicle (EV) start-up, Better Place, I wouldn’t bet against Agassi’s challenge to America’s greatest inventor.

Youthful, enthusiastic and well-spoken, Aggasi has raised over $750 million, which he claims makes Better Place “one of the best-financed pre-I.P.O.s in history.” His dream: To convert the world’s automobiles from gasoline to battery power. In 2009, Time named him one of the “100 People Who Most Affect Our World;” profiling him, it said he was “the closest we’ve seen to a Steve Jobs of clean tech.”

I got the chance to meet Agassi during a recent four-day “Israel Innovation Summit,” sponsored by Beit Issie Shapiro, an Israeli non-profit organization that provides innovative services for children with special needs. He spoke to us from his sparkling new demonstration center in Ramat HaSharon. It features test drives of EVs and working models of the battery-changing and -charging stations that are at the heart of the Better Place concept. In a nice symbolic touch, the center is inside a gigantic tank that used to be Israel’s major gasoline distribution hub. (more…)

Deutsche Juden

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David P. Goldman admits from the start of his epic essay today in Tablet Magazine that his parents wouldn’t have bought a German car. Yet he painstakingly shows that a great deal of what Jews value in their intellectual tradition, secular and religious, are the fruits of both German Jews and the intersection of non-German Jews with German culture.

Indeed, those latter categories—non-Germans who made religious contributions—inform one of Goldman’s more startling passages:

By no accident, the outstanding leaders of what would become the main currents of American Judaism all studied at the University of Berlin during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the sage of postwar Modern Orthodoxy, wrote a doctorate in philosophy and mathematics there in 1932. Abraham Joshua Heschel, the leading voice of Conservative Judaism, finished his doctorate (later published as The Prophets) a couple of years later. The Reform scholar Leo Baeck earned his doctorate under the Berlin philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey. The future Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, attended classes for two years in the early 1930s. Franz Rosenzweig, who belonged to no denomination but is read by all, had finished a dissertation (still in print) on Hegel and the state before abandoning academic life to lead a school for Jewish adult education.

Apart from Rosenzweig, none of them were German.

Faustian Bargains

Holbrooke, a Top U.S. Diplomat, Dies at 69

A one-of-a-kind character, yet consummately of his times

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Richard Holbrooke in November 2009.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the lifelong U.S. diplomat who was something of a Zelig to American foreign policy over the past half-century, died yesterday following a torn aorta, for which he was hospitalized and operated upon at the end of last week. He was stricken while meeting with his boss, Hillary Clinton—he had spent the past two years as the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, an extremely difficult and somewhat thankless job (there is a possibly apocryphal report that his last words were, “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan”). Had President Obama appointed anyone other than Clinton as secretary of state, it would likely have been Holbrooke. He was born to a German Jewish mother and Russian Jewish father and raised atheist/Quaker in Scarsdale, New York. His wife, the Hungarian-born journalist Kati Marton, is the daughter of Hungarian Jewish Holocaust survivors.

In addition to his beyond-formidable diplomatic C.V., Holbrooke was a talented investment banker and journalist, at one point the editor of Foreign Policy. In May 2008, he wrote a wise essay on the 50th 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding. He argued that President Truman bravely combated the “unspoken but real anti-Semitism” of his foreign policy advisers and recognized the nascent Jewish state, 11 minutes after its declaration, making his country the first to do so. Holbrooke concluded:

Israel was going to come into existence whether or not Washington recognized it. But without American support from the very beginning, Israel’s survival would have been at even greater risk. Even if European Jewry had not just emerged from the horrors of World War II, it would have been an unthinkable act of abandonment by the United States. Truman’s decision, although opposed by almost the entire foreign policy establishment, was the right one—and despite complicated consequences that continue to this day, it is a decision all Americans should recognize and admire.

(more…)

Daybreak: Abbas Bemoans Settlements

Plus the ADL still likes Hank, and more in the news

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President Abbas yesterday.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

• As the Palestinians circled their wagons, President Abbas accused the Israelis of preferring settlements to peace. [JPost]

• Richard Holbrooke, one of the United States’s most important diplomats, died at 69. [NYT]

• ADL condemns Kissinger’s remarks, says he’s alright anyway cause of Israel. [ADL]

• Reporting on the complex situation in Lebanon, Roger Cohen calls for U.S. engagement with Hezbollah. [NYT]

• Israel-Arab cooperation in the wake of the fire. [NYT]

• Israel had to cancel a ceremony to honor 10 Palestinian firefighters after three were not permitted to enter the country. Recall that they were all allowed in to, y’know, fight the fire. [Haaretz]

Sundown: Find Out What Your Leaders Are Paid

Plus A’jad-ology, Hitch on Hank, and more

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Sara Bloomfield, director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the highest-paid female Jewish communal leader.(Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)

• The annual list of Jewish communal leaders’ salaries reveals that women get paid more and get more raises than men. Wait, scratch that, reverse it. [Forward]

• Ahmadinejad sacked his foreign minister and replaced him with the head of Iran’s nuclear energy agency, in a sign that the president has successfully consolidated power. [Laura Rozen]

• Bernard Madoff is likely not eligible for a furlough to attend the funeral of his son, who killed himself over the weekend. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

• Vox Tablet contributor Hugh Levinson has a podcast about Safed, a northern Israeli town with a fascinating spiritual past. [BBC]

• Hitch on Kissinger. Always a good time. [Slate]

• Classic headline: “Suspected Israeli Neo-Nazi Arrested in Kyrgyzstan.” It’s like I always say, those crazy Kyrgyz! [Haaretz]

Somebody was listening in on that argument you were having with your uncle about Israel (h/t Goldblog).

Moral Direction

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

On the Bookshelf

C.I.A. Protected Ukrainian Nazi Collaborator

New report also reveals Nazi-grand mufti deal

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An alleged Ukrainian war criminal was recruited, protected, and remained until his death in 1998 “one of the [C.I.A.’s] oldest contacts,” reveals a report on newly declassified C.I.A. files released Thursday.

Mykola Lebed led an Ukranian nationalist group that took part in the killing of Jews and Poles in Western Ukraine during World War II. After the war, according to the report, Lebed was recruited by U.S. intelligence to run guerrilla operations against the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the C.I.A. not only repeatedly protected him from other intelligence agencies hoping to prosecute him, but also relocated him to New York City in 1949. (more…)

On His Own

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Today in Tablet Magazine, the Vox Tablet podcast follows Luzer Twersky, 24, for the year after he left behind the Satmar Hasidic community he grew up in for the world of modernity.

Breaking Away

Scandal Passing, Pearl’s Vols Enjoy Success

Our favorite coach apologizes for, makes light of situation

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Pearl helps his injured son, Steven, from the court last month.(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The University of Pittsburgh’s powerhouse basketball team, ranked third in the nation, was dealt its first home-loss by a nonconference opponent in nearly six years on Saturday, 83-76. The Panthers’ conqueror was the No. 11 and undefeated Tennessee Volunteers, whom readers will recall is Tablet Magazine’s official college basketball team thanks to Coach Bruce Pearl. Pearl is one of the Volunteer State’s most prominent Jews, the most recent coach of the Maccabi USA men’s team, and a general all-around mensch—to say nothing of a fantastic coach.

Readers will also recall that Pearl’s menschiness was called into question in the past several months when news broke that he lied to NCAA investigators about violating guidelines by making excessive calls to recruits. Pearl, who is already being docked $1.5 million in pay over five years and barred from off-campus recruiting for a year, was thought to be in jeopardy as Tennessee’s coach; instead, he has been barred from coaching the Vols’ first eight in-conference games (which begin in January), which on the one hand is something of a slap on the wrist and yet on the other hand is pretty much unprecedented. The NCAA is trying to make an example of Pearl—in part because he has long served as an example of how to be a successful and all-around good head coach. (more…)

Woven History

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Today in Tablet Magazine, parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall appreciates a new exhibit of Jewish textiles and quilts at Hebrew Union.

Raving Stitches

Does Bibi Have the Upper Hand?

What happens after the step backward from direct peace talks

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Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday at his weekly cabinet meeting.(Bernat Armangue - Pool/Getty Images)

And we’re back to proximity talks*! A few days after the United States announced it was giving up on trying to secure a 90-day freeze extension—which itself was something of a step back from the heady late-summer days of biweekly direct talks and a one-year timeframe for peace—Secretary of State Clinton proclaimed that the U.S. would switch back to trying to facilitate an agreement via indirect negotiations, with envoy George Mitchell once again serving as the prime shuttle between Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government and President Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.

Clinton’s most (and only?) telling line was: “The Palestinian leaders must be able to show their people that the occupation will be over.” This signaled American awareness of Abbas’s precarious position—the P.A. has no control in Gaza and arguable popularity and democratic legitimacy in the West Bank—while it also arguably placed the onus on Israel to take steps to buttress Abbas.

Yet most accounts have Israel as the winner and the P.A. as the loser in the two-sided negotiating battle. “The Israeli reaction to the American decision was relief,” reported Ethan Bronner, the Times Jerusalem bureau chief, last week. He added, “The Palestinians are unhappy with this turn of events.” (more…)

Why Kissinger Dismissed the Soviet Jews

Gal Beckerman explains newly revealed ‘gas chambers’ remark

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President Nixon and then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, September 1973.(AFP/Getty Images)

The big news from the latest release from the Nixon White House tapes—a.k.a. the gift that keeps on giving—does not come from the man himself (he rants against Jews, blacks, and Italians, surprise surprise), but from his most notorious adviser, at least among the un-indicted ones. On March 1, 1973, President Nixon met with Golda Meir. The Israeli prime minister urged Nixon to pressure the Soviets into letting at least some of her people go. But afterward, Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, expressed that the administration should not heed Meir’s request.

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” he said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

Responded Nixon: “I know. We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

After getting over the initial shock at a German-born Jew saying such things, I called Gal Beckerman, a Forward reporter and author of the new When They Come For Us, We’ll Be Gone, a history of the movement to save Soviet Jewry that both The New Yorker and the Washington Post just named among the best books of the year. (Tablet Magazine critic Adam Kirsch liked it, too; I’d further highly recommend Yossi Klein Halevi’s much more personal take in The New Republic.)

Beckerman shared my shock at Kissinger’s choice of imagery, but was unsurprised at the content behind the quip. “In my darkest imaginings, that’s what I thought he was thinking, but I never assumed he was actually articulating it quite that way, or would use the Holocaust language,” he said. “This is not outside of Kissinger’s political philosophy. In fact, it’s almost the perfect distilled example of his realpolitik, except it’s this extreme realpolitik, where basically we have blinders on except for things that concern us geo-strategically, and if it’s a moral issue—a question of what a country is doing to its own citizens—that’s just outside the realm of our consideration as a country.” (more…)

Identity Crisis

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Pejman Yousefzadeh has a moving cri de coeur today in Tablet Magazine on the contradictions one must grapple with when you are (as he is) an American-born Iranian Jew. Later in the essay, he has some important and provocative things to say about the Iranian-Israeli crisis, and he condemns the Obama administration’s failure to take a stronger rhetorical stand on the side of those who protest the ayatollahs’ regime.

But to me, the most memorable parts of the piece are the portraits of the writer as a young radical. “The images from Iran made me intensely political in 1978, at the tender age of 6,” Yousefzadeh relates. And there is this story:

From the very beginnings of the revolution, it was made clear to me that our family could not possibly visit Iran until a fundamental governmental change took place. In a phone call as a child, I once told my grandmother, who’d remained in Iran, that I probably would not be able to see her until there was a counterrevolution; an indiscretion that prompted my parents to quickly take the phone out of my hands, for fear the line was eavesdropped and I might get my family in trouble.

Personal Revolution

Mark Madoff, 46, Kills Himself

Elder son’s fate is not entirely unlike his father’s

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Mark Madoff with wife and son Nicholas.(Facebook/NY Daily News)

In December 2008, after Bernard Madoff finally informed his oblivious sons that the legendary family investment fund was nothing more than a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, all kinds of people were quick to call it a tragedy—even, grandly, “a tragedy of epic proportions.” Lots of people, including some old and feeble individuals and some important and well-known charities, were bankrupted, which was upsetting, and at least two high-profile investors took their own lives in the immediate aftermath. But, fundamentally it was really just a sad morality tale about people’s blind faith in the face of lots of cash.

That changed on Saturday, when Madoff’s elder son, 46-year-old Mark, was found hanging by a dog leash from a ceiling pipe in his SoHo loft, on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest and in the shadow of new lawsuits filed against the extended Madoff clan. The death, which the medical examiners quickly ruled a suicide, propelled the scandal into the realm of Greek tragedy—because it has now visited misfortune on one of the only members of the family to be definitively innocent in the mess: Mark Madoff’s two-year-old son, Nick, was peacefully asleep in the apartment where his father killed himself. (more…)

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