Today on Tablet

A heist tale, what’s in Cordoba’s name, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Jon Kalish reports, on our Vox Tablet podcast, on Skipp Porteous, a former neo-Nazi hunter and converted Jew who has in years since tried to solve the only unsolved airplane hijacking. Staff writer Marc Tracy examines why the Cordoba Initiative is called that, and how different Jewish historians have used versions of medieval Spain to advance their own agendas. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall praises a new children’s book that kills two birds with one stone: It uses (and teaches) science to reassure short kids that all will be well. Josh Lambert has his weekly round-up of forthcoming books of note, starting with contributing editor Gal Beckerman’s look at the fight to rescue Soviet Jewry. The Scroll will try to get you through another of these August weeks.

Obama Backs Islamic Center, Sort Of

Clear on developers’ rights, less on wisdom

President Obama speaking Friday night.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

As you probably heard, on Friday night, while hosting a traditional Muslim Iftar dinner, President Obama expressed his support for Park51, the Cordoba Initiative Islamic center to be built a couple blocks north of Ground Zero.

Of course—perhaps because that side of the issue polls atrociously, both nationwide and even in New York City—it didn’t take 24 hours before the walk-back began: An Obama spokesperson said the president was merely passing judgment on religious freedom in the abstract, and then Obama himself added, “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have.” Not sure if that is anything we can believe in. (Though a former Bush speechwriter finds plenty.)

Republicans, meanwhile, pounced, both responsibly (“This is not about freedom of religion,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, “but I do think it’s unwise to build a mosque at the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of a terrorist attack”) and irresponsibly (ahem), even as some wonder how Obama’s predecessor—a Republican, but one who made great strides to show tolerance toward Islam—would have handled this.

Meanwhile, someone makes the right-wing case for respecting property rights. At the most, Obama probably pushed the conventional wisdom in that direction. But beyond the civil libertarian angle—the only angle, incidentally, that in my humble opinion falls within, say, the Anti-Defamation League’s purview—is it right that the center be built there? Both the left and the right have their answers.

Obama Backs Manhattan Mosque [Ben Smith]
Republicans Slam Obama Over Ground Zero Muslim Center Remarks [Haaretz]

Daybreak: Direct Talks Coming, No Really

Plus Obama threatens Turkey, and more in the news

U.S. envoy George Mitchel and President Abbas last week.(Omar Rashidi/PPO via Getty Images)

• Not that we haven’t heard this before, but President Abbas is expected to agree to direct talks, and direct talks to resume, sometime this week. [LAT]

• George Will again emphasizes that Prime Minister Netanyahu sees a nuclear Iran as simply unacceptable, period. [WP]

• President Obama reportedly warned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that his newfound pro-Palestinian activism could jeopardize U.S. weapons sales. [Ynet]

• Israel began removing a barrier shielding a Jewish neighborhood (on the other side of the Green Line) of Jerusalem, in recognition of the quiet that had overtaken the particular area. [NYT]

• The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is urging member states to walk out of the United Nations during the annual General Assembly meeting, which starts September 14, if Iranian President Ahmadinjead speaks. [JTA]

Sundown: Is Park51 A Teachable Moment?

Plus Hezbollah says it’s got the goods on Israel, and more

President Obama earlier this week.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

• During tonight’s Iftar ceremony, there is a good chance President Obama will broach the Cordoba Initiative controversy. (A reminder: The pro-center side polls horribly nationwide, and even in New York City.) [Ben Smith]

• Tablet Magazine columnist Lee Smith breaks down the contemporary Middle East, where Arab nations like Saudi Arabia are joining with the United States and, yes, Israel against Iran. [Newsweek]

• Josh Marshall gets to the heart of opposition to the Islamic center. [TPM]

• The Los Angeles Times backs the center, too. [LAT]

• Hezbollah will turn over evidence that it claims implicates Israel in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. [Haaretz]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary of State Clinton talked peace process last night. [Ynet]

Lea Michele, of Glee, says she is proud of her Jewish nose—although in her case, it’s actually an Italian nose. For my money, the best thing she has ever been involved with is not Glee, but Spring Awakening:

‘Where Did, Where Did, Where Did You Go?’

Your Vox Tablet preview

(Eric Molinsky)

On the next episode of Vox Tablet, coming to you Monday, we meet Skipp Porteous, a private investigator who thinks he’s found the answer to this question:

For those of you who don’t recall, D.B. Cooper is the alias for the man who, in 1971, pulled off the only unsolved aircraft hijacking in U.S. history. No, he wasn’t Jewish. And neither was Porteous, until he quit his ministry in the 1980s, moved East, and converted. It’s a damn good story, so don’t miss it.

The Bogeyman of Iran

‘The New Yorker’ visits Tehran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month.(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

In the lull of August, major media outlets are turning a watchful eye on Iran. Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy piece offered a view from perches in Washington and Jerusalem. Meanwhile, The New Yorker dispatched its globetrotting reporter, Jon Lee Anderson, to Tehran, where he secured a very rare sit-down with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Anderson’s report reveals a leadership stubbornly dismissive of external pressure, and outrageously blind to internal disputes.

It also shows a short, fiercely despised man trying hard to be press-savvy. As the interview begins, a press aide suggests Anderson avoid talk of war, whispering other topic ideas, like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill: Ahmadinejad apparently offered his help. But Anderson pushes at the pressing issue, questioning Ahmadinejad on his repeated calls for the destruction of Israel. “The Iranian nuclear-energy program and the issue of Palestine,” the president tells Anderson, “are two separate issues.” (more…)


Stallone’s Barney Ross versus our Barney Ross


Sylvester Stallone’s new movie, The Expendables, opens today. Under other circumstances, Tablet Magazine would have happily let this unremarkable display of aging meat puppets (we have heard it called “Valentine’s Day for dudes”) go by unnoticed. But Stallone challenged us, naming his character—the movie’s lead, naturally—Barney Ross. You know, like the famous Jewish boxer and subject of Douglas Century’s great Nextbook Press biography. So who would win the Battle of the Barneys? Let’s compare and contrast.

Barney Ross

Professional boxer, gun runner, champion of the Jewish people

Wartime Experience:
Displayed unusual bravery under fire in Guadalcanal, awarded the Silver Star

Memorable quote:
“A champ’s got the right to choose the way he goes out.”

Barney Ross

Professional mercenary, gun runner, champion of Dolph Lundgren’s career

Wartime Experience:
Displayed unusual bravery under fire in fighting Eric Roberts.

Memorable quote:
“We are the shadow, the smoke in your eyes, the ghosts that hide in the night.”

$200M Scam Involves $6M in Judaica

Must be some pretty expensive candleholders

(Gallery Judaica)

Prosecutors in New Jersey have charged a 35-year-old Orthodox man, Eliyahu Weinstein, with targeting fellow Jews as far afield as California and Israel in a $200 million real-estate investment scam. Weinstein’s lawyers claim the charges are just sour grapes from disgruntled former partners, but the New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that Weinstein may have had dealings with Solomon Dwek, the son of a prominent Syrian-Jewish family who last year turned state’s witness after pleading guilty to his own scam and informed on the Syrian community’s chief rabbi and more than two dozen elected officials in New Jersey.

But, whatever: Ponzi scheme, schmonzi scheme. The thing that caught our attention was this detail, from the U.S. Attorney’s office press release: “Weinstein used some of his victims’ investments to amass a substantial collection of art, jewelry and Judaica.” How substantial, you ask? Well, the IRS and FBI agents who swept into Weinstein’s peach two-story house in Lakewood, a heavily Orthodox suburb, seized $6.2 million worth of manuscripts and antique Judaica. Let’s see: That’s, like, enough for 38,750 of these Nambe hannukiahs, or 4,538 of these sterling silver washing cups (with tax). But perhaps Weinstein’s taste ran to loftier items, like this German gilt hanukkiah, cast in 1750, which Sotheby’s sold last year for $542,000, or these bound discourses on the Jewish religion, circa 1867, priced at a very reasonable $20-30,000.

Also seized? $7.2 million worth of clocks. Go figure.

Lakewood NJ Real Estate Developer Eliyahu Weinstein Arrested [Asbury Park Press]
Real Estate Scam Targeted Orthodox Jews, According to Prosecutors [WSJ]
Related: Crisis of Faith [Tablet Magazine]

Today on Tablet

The Jewish Dutchman, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Mica Wertheim, a Dutch comedian about to do English-language stand-up, explains why he’s here and what makes Jews funny. Liel Leibovitz thinks our educational system would be better if there were a little more haftorah mentality in it. The Scroll is very appreciative of your reading it on an August Friday, and will duly reward you.

A Yidisher Pop

Bristol Palin, Paula Abdul, and a lesson in Yiddish


This week’s installment is about modal verbs and model behavior, saying your name and keeping your word. Let’s get right to it:

A Yidisher Pop

עס האָט זיך אויסגעלאָזט אַז קאַראָלייַן זשוּליאַני האָט זיך ניט אויסגעלערנט איר טאַטנס “תורה”

Transliteration: Es hot zikh oysegelozt az Karolayn Djuliani hot zikh nit oysgelernt ir tatns “toyre”

Meaning: It turns out that the daughter hasn’t really internalized the father’s “Torah”


Daybreak: Hint That Direct Talks Are Nigh

Plus Bloomberg’s strong, personal stand, and more in the news

Michael Bloomberg before speaking last Friday.(Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

• A leaked letter from the European Union’s chief diplomat hints that Palestinian President Abbas may agree to direct talks next week. [Reuters/Haaretz]

• The U.N. flotilla probe, which answers to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, kicked off yesterday. [JPost]

• Uri Brodsky, the only man so far arrested in connection with the assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, will appear in German court, to which he was extradited from Poland. [AP/JPost]

• Why is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg taking so strong and vocal a stance in favor of the Ground Zero Islamic center? The reasons sure aren’t political: It polls terribly, even in New York. [NYT]

• BREAKING: August Fridays are really slow hard-news days.

Sundown: Kosher Pot

Plus more on the Lebanon aid question, and more


• A rabbi and his wife want to set up the first legal medical-marijuana dispensary in Washington, D.C. He believes in pot in part for religious reasons. [Washington City Paper]

• President Obama is facing a tough decision: Accede to the withdrawal of military aid from Lebanon, or don’t? (Tablet Magazine’s Lee Smith asked much the same question yesterday.) [WP]

• Does Obama have to worry more about Jews on the right abandoning him over Israel … or Jews on the left abandoning him over his political compromises? [Political Insider]

• Turns out David Yerushalmi, an Orthodox Jew who wants to criminalize being Muslim in the United States, also hates … Jews. Sounds like quite a character! [Talk to Action]

• How heart-warming: Young Israelis and Palestinians laboring side-by-side as yet more annoying Washington, D.C., summer interns. [WP]

• Israel is stocking up on gasoline for 2011. Hmm. [Negev Rock City]

Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran?

Others react to Goldberg’s report


Since contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg’s blockbuster Atlantic report on the prospect of Israel (or, to a lesser degree of likelihood, America) bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities dropped yesterday morning, people have had opinions on it. Lots of them! Let’s look at some.

• The central if somewhat implicit logic of the piece may be that a. Israel will likely bomb Iran; b. it would be better if the United States bombed Iran; therefore c. the United States should bomb Iran. [Ben Smith]

• Matt Duss says an Israeli strike won’t really accomplish all that much (and is therefore unlikely to be undertaken). [Wonk Room]

• Steve Clemons thinks Israel is primarily intent on making the world think it will likely strike Iran rather than actually doing it. [The Washington Note] (more…)

Alleged Israeli Serial Killer Arrested in Atlanta

‘Flint Slasher’ was headed for Tel Aviv

Sketch of the killer.(Ma'ariv)

These last few years have been good to Israelis trying to make it in the States, from the first Israeli player in the NBA to the first Israeli model on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Today, we can most likely add another to this list of firsts: The first Israeli serial killer to do his deeds stateside.

Today, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents arrested Abd el Azam, an Arab Israeli citizen, as he was boarding a Tel-Aviv-bound Delta flight in Atlanta. He was later handed over to the FBI. El Azam is suspected of stabbing twenty victims in four states, killing at least five people and earning the moniker the Flint Slasher after the Michigan town where he reportedly began his violent spree.

Local authorities connected with the case suspect that the motive for the crimes was good ol’ fashioned racism—all of his victims were black or Hispanic. “I believe [the killer’s] motivation was pure hatred,” said Joseph Price, chief of police in Leesburg, Virginia.

Lapsed Orthodox Singer Plays One In Her Show

Coming to the Fringe Festival

Stephanie Ehrlich.(NY Daily News)

Tomorrow, the New York International Fringe Festival launches its annual two-week multi-arts extravaganza, with more than 200 theater and dance companies from all over the world. As usual, there are plenty of Jewish-related highlights, including a Yiddish-language theatrical adaptation of I.L. Peretz’s A Gilgl Fun a Nigun, a musical comedy/tragedy about children’s television in Gaza, and a play about a friendship between two girls, one black, the other Jewish, in post-apartheid South Africa, written by the granddaughter of Mandela’s great defense attorney, Israel Maisels.

One offering that caught our eye (or, rather, ear) is Feed the Monster, Stephanie Ehrlich’s one-woman musical about an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn who, in the 1960s, launches a career as a rock star with this funky hit:

Ehrlich is also a formerly Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, though, according to her, the similarities stop there. We tracked her down to find out more about the play. (more…)

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