The Unbearable Dumbness of Dreidel

How does this game possibly make any sense?

The Spinagogue. Two dreidels enter; one dreidel leaves. Or something.(Modern Tribe)

Hanukkah starts tonight, and Major League Dreidel is offering something called a Spinagogue, which is sort of a stadium for dreidel-spinning. The Spinagogue encourages you to aim to make your dreidel move impressively or in specific directions, or simply to make it spin for a really long time. Setting aside the obviously-made-by-and-for-people-who-are-high video (after the jump), there is actually something ingenious about it, in that it divorces the dreidel itself—the ceremonial Hanukkah spinning top—from the game that is basically synonymous with it. (Yeshiva U. also did this, yesterday setting a new Guinness World Record by simultaneously spinning 618 dreidels.)

Because—and here’s my point—has anyone actually ever successfully played the game? You know the rules. You put your gelt in the center and take turns spinning. Get a gimel, you get the pot. Get a nun, nothing happens. get a hei, you get half the pot. Get a shin, you put back in the pot (depending on various rules I’ve played) one of your gelts, half your gelt, or all your gelt. (more…)

Starting Five

Today on Tablet


I and the rest of us at Tablet Magazine were extremely honored to work with FreeDarko (seriously, buy their book, it’s great) to give you the chance to choose your all-time Jewish-American basketball team today in Tablet Magazine. And I felt even more absurdly honored to be able to interview Dolph Schayes, the greatest Jewish basketball player who ever lived, as an accompaniment.

I strongly recommend you take some time and play around with the game. There are some fun results that only a small proportion of combinations gets you.

Oh, and my all-time team? Brown, Grunfeld, Heyman, Schayes, Walk, and Holzman.

We Got Game
The Greatest

The First Lady’s First Mate

Susan Sher talks Jews and politics in D.C.

Jodi Kantor (L) and Susan Sher (R).(The author)

Last night, in the resplendent sanctuary of the historic Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington, D.C., Tablet Magazine sponsored a talk with Susan Sher, the outgoing chief-of-staff to the First Lady and official administration liason to the Jewish community. She was interviewed by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, author of a must-read feature on the Obamas’ marriage and a forthcoming book about—what else?—the Obamas. Much like Sher’s job, the hour-long discussion split pretty evenly between two topics: The First Lady and the administration’s relationship to its Jewish constituents.

“People tend to see a fantasy version of themselves in her,” Sher remarked of Obama, recounting the many letters she receives from children around the country. (Obama needs the children as much as they need her: When the First Lady has a particularly grueling day, Sher said, her staff will deliberately schedule an event with children and physical activity, because those two things give her the most energy.) Sher spoke about her boss’s main legislative initiative, a reauthorization and modernization of the school breakfast and lunch program. They are down to the wire, and Obama may have done all she can: “It now has to do with things that have nothing to do with childhood nutrition,” Sher remarked, a hint of frustration peeking out of her staid, tasteful-power-suit exterior. Next up on the First Lady’s policy docket? More stuff with military families. Sher, who will head home to Chicago at the end of the year, will not be around for that. (more…)

Daybreak: Iranian Missiles Aren’t All That

Plus Howard Jacobson’s must-read on Hanukkah, and more in the news

Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen with a differnt type of long-range missile.(Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

• The long-range North Korean missiles that Iran obtained (according to WikiLeaks) may not be operational or all that effective. One could almost certainly not hit Western Europe from Tehran. [WP]

• Man Booker winner Howard Jacobson has written a mini-masterpiece on Hanukkah’s fundamental inferiority. [NYT]

• Egypt’s head of intelligence alleged that Iran tried to smuggle arms into Gaza via Bedouins and asked the United States to attack Iran, according to WikiLeaks. [Ynet, Arutz Sheva]

• The United States accompanied the announcement of new talks with Iran with new sanctions against Iran’s shipping lines. [LAT]

• Following the Obama administration’s condemnation, the Palestinian Authority removed from its Website an assertion that the Western Wall is not connected to Judaism. [AP/Haaretz]

• A leader of Egypt’s Jewish community had her sentence regarding an allegedly fraudulent land sale cancelled. Tablet Magazine told her story a couple months ago. [JPost]

Sundown: U.S. Slams Western Wall Slur

Plus START supporters hone in on AIPAC, and more

A random act of Jewish pseudo-symmetry.(DCist)

• The top State Department spokesperson condemned and disputed a Palestinian Authority official’s assertion that the Western Wall has no connection to Judaism. [JTA]

• Jewish Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Carl Levin petitioned AIPAC to support the Obama administration’s START missile defense treaty, on the grounds that it would strengthen ties with Russia and thereby help deal with Iran. [Ben Smith]

• Palestinian Authority President Abbas called for the release of Gilad Schalit. It is part of the rising tensions between him and Hamas due to the WikiLeaks revelation that the P.A. was consulted before Operation Cast Lead. [JPost]

• So the Tehran airport has a gigantic Star of David carved into the outside of its roof. Seriously. [Atlantic Wire]

• Natalie Portman compares learning to dance ballet (for Darren Aronofsky’s new film) to putting on tefillin. [NYT]

• Prominent Bay Area Jewish philanthropist Richard Goldman died at 90. [JTA]

Because you asked for it (or even if you didn’t): Matisyahu does Hanukkah.

Ingrid Pitt’s Helluva Life

Holocaust survivor turned horror queen dies at 73

Ingrid Pitt with Clint Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare.(IMDB)

Ingrid Pitt’s obituary ran a few days ago, over Thanksgiving break, but it is too incredible not to get its own post. The “Queen of Scream,” as she was known in England, was “the first lady of British horror cinema,” utilizing her shapely body and uncanny Mitteleuropa accent to scare and tittilate viewers of vampire movies (she also hammed it up off-camera, biting the necks of interviewers).

The catch, of course, is that the accent was real: She was born in Poland to a German father and Jewish mother; survived the Stutthof concentration camp, where she witnessed unspeakable horrors; lost her father shortly after the war; and was almost lost several years later to the East German police, when, as a young actress, she was a vocal critic of the Soviet-backed regime—while performing in a production of a Bertolt Brecht play directed by Brecht’s wife, she jumped into the Berlin’s River Spree, in costume, where she was rescued by an American soldier whom she soon married (and then divorced).

And she just happened to have a not-insignificant role in one of my all-time favorite movies: In Where Eagles Dare, she fittingly plays a German waitress who is really working for the good guys.

Ingrid Pitt, Horror Star Who Survived Nazis, Dies at 73 [NYT]

The King of Killings

Today on Tablet


Today in Tablet Magazine, books critic Adam Kirsch reviews Timothy Snyder’s new study, Bloodlands, which innovatively defines the Soviet and Nazi mass killings geographically and chronologically rather than ethnically—many, many millions, and not only Jews, were slaughtered between Germany and western Russia between 1933 and 1945—and thereby puts the Holocaust into a better context for us to understand it.


The Hasidim at the Computer

Rodger Kamenetz interprets your dreams

(Ravi Joshi/Tablet Magazine)

Rodger Kamenetz, author of Nextbook Press’s Burnt Books: Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka, is also a dream therapist. This week, between the two Torah portions in which Joseph interprets dreams, Kamenetz responds to questions about dreams submitted by Tablet Magazine readers.

First, let me say that I am not Jewish. I had heard the word “Shekhinah” [meaning the presence of God] before, in a Christian Bible study.

I dreamt that a couple brought me upstairs into an apartment. I had never been there before. There was a little bit of a hallway. (more…)

Cut Off the Head of the Snake!

The Saudi king’s awesome phrase for Iran

Saudi King Abdullah.(Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Largely lost amid the weekend’s WikiLeaks revelations was the sheer drama behind some of them. For example: Saudi King Abdullah did not merely repeatedly tell the United States that it should militarily attack Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities. No: He said the United States “should cut off the head of the snake.” (“The King was particularly adamant on this point.”)

Cut off the head of the snake. Oh hell yeah.

Over various email chains—I am told that Tablet Magazine contributor Judith Miller first seized upon the phrase—”cut off the head of the snake” became Cut Off The Head of the Snake (what a band name!) became COTHS and became, in my hands, #COTHS.

And so, to ask the same question we asked on Twitter (you don’t follow us on Twitter? for shame): What would you #COTHS?

U.S. Embassy Cables: Saudi King Urges U.S. Strike on Iran [Guardian]
Earlier: For Bibi and Israel, Vindication

Brooklyn’s Globetrotting Solarz Dies

N.Y. congressman was Schumer’s mentor-turned-foe

Solarz with Jimmy Carter.(NYT)

Stephen Solarz, a Jewish former nine-term Democratic congressman from New York, died yesterday at 70. He notably fought a Carter administration sale of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia; criticized Reagan administration policy in Lebanon; and demonstrated that Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos was misusing foreign aid. His obituary quotes Paul Wolfowitz praising his understanding “that idealism and realism actually go together.”

In Capital, Steve Kornacki tells the fascinating story of how Solarz is somewhat responsible for one of the most powerful American Jewish politicans today, his protégé-turned-adversary Chuck Schumer (now New York’s senior senator and the third-ranking member of the Senate). In Solarz, whose Brooklyn district bordered his own, Schumer saw one path—gain a high inside-the-Beltway profile through prestigious globetrotting and pontificating—and himself chose the other—work quietly on constituent-friendly policies and steadily rise through the party leadership.

To Solarz, Schumer would become an insufficiently grateful upstart—the kid who’d grown too big for his britches. To Schumer, Solarz would come to serve as an object lesson in all of the wrong choices a politician can make. When the rivalry came to an abrupt and stunning end back in 1992, it was Schumer who got the last laugh—and Solarz, then barely into his 50s, who was frozen out of the game for the rest of his life.

Stephen J. Solarz, Former N.Y. Congressman, Dies at 70 [NYT]
Steve Solarz (1940-2010) and the Making of Senator Schumer [Capital]

Guerrilla Decorations

Today on Tablet

(Jason Larkin)

Jake Wallis Simons’s report on Holy Land graffiti today in Tablet Magazine is can’t-miss. Among other things, he scrupulously compares the street art in Israel proper, in an Israeli settlement, and in a Palestinian city.

It’s also can’t-miss for the incredible photo gallery at the bottom with images by Jason Larkin. This one is my favorite—yes, it’s from an Arab city (Bethlehem); and yes, it’s by Banksy.


Israeli Airport Security, All the Rage

And why it doesn’t completely translate

The day before Thanksgiving at LaGuardia Airport.(Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Though it has since died down, in the weeks before Thanksgiving few stories were bigger than the Transportation Security Administration’s alleged new, overly intrusive airport inspections (media columnist David Carr explained yesterday why the meme resonated so much). If the United States was the Bad Guy—bulky, unnecessary, and despicable, embodied in the viral video by the security agent who aggressively patted down the three-year-old—then the Good Guy was Israeli airport security, which famously protects an ostensibly far more endangered populace, and does so with a certain flair (remember how after 9/11 you heard that the only airline that still served their meals with metal utensils was El Al?).

Dutifully, the Washington Post consulted an Israeli security expert, who dutifully informed us that using intelligence-like security techniques such as profiling and targeted inspections and questioning is faster, less intrusive (for most), and more effective than the American way. We also learned that Israel self-consciously sees security expertise as one of its most promising exports. The problem, arguably, as Post columnist Dana Milbank reported, is that Israel’s way is far more expensive: Israel spends $56.75 per passenger, the United States spends $6.93 per passenger—figures that probably reflect the geometrically larger scale the U.S. operates with, but only in part. Which doesn’t mean Israel has no wisdom to offer, but that their methods are only applicable to a certain extent.

Which doesn’t mean they’re not going to make fun of us!

Israeli Air Security Experts Insist Their Methods Better Than U.S. [WP]
Israeli Firms See a Global Market for their Anti-Terrorism Know-How [LAT]
Why The Israeli Security Model Can’t Work for the U.S. [WP]
Earlier: Why Israel’s Airport Security Will Remain Only Israel’s

Daybreak: Leaks Show Bibi Supports Swaps

Plus A’jad admits sabotage, blames U.S., and more in the news

Secretary of State Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this month.(Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

• In early 2009, a WikiLeaks cable revealed, Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wants land swaps and does not want to govern the West Bank in a final resolution. [Haaretz]

• Of course, that and all other leaked documents are in fact deliberate artifacts of American psychological warfare, if you ask President Ahmadinejad. [NYT]

• A’jad did finally acknowledge that computer code did “limited” harm to Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts. [Reuters/Haaretz]

• Iran will hold talks next week in Geneva with diplomats from the so-called P5+1 group, including the United States. Diplomacy lives! [Laura Rozen]

• More information on yesterday’s bombing of two Iranian nuclear scientists, which killed one: They both participated in a U.N.-backed, Jordan-based particle physics project that Israel is also a member of. So was the Iranian scientist killed earlier this year. [LAT]

• According to the leaks, Americans were upset not only with Turkish-Israeli animosity but with how Turkish foreign policy went against its own. [LAT]

Sundown: Israel’s Ailes

Plus deli’s Old Country, and more

Sheldon Adelson last summer.(Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

The Wikileaks stuff pushed our NFL coverage until tomorrow. In the meantime, felicitations to Coach Marc Trestman and his Montreal Alouettes, who won their second straight Grey Cup yesterday.

• How American billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has created Israel’s Fox News. [Politico]

• Deli expert David Sax travels to Eastern Europe, his subject’s ancestral homeland. [Saveur]

• So does this mean Arab leaders are neocons? Shattered paradigms are hard to cope with! [Jeffrey Goldberg]

• The HinJew trend becomes real as Israel and India ink a free-trade deal. [Ynet]

• Director Irvin Kershner, whose films included The Empire Strikes Back, died at 87. Like Han to Boba Fett, he was worth the most to us alive. [Arts Beat]

• “No Need To Kvetch, Yiddish Lives on in Catskills.” Some of these headlines are unimprovable. [NYT]

Frank Black of the Pixies wrote the score to the silent film The Golem. Below: My favorite Pixies song, “Debaser.”

We Lie

Today on Tablet


Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith argues that the WikiLeaks revelations show that American officials publicly discuss regional geopolitics in ways contrary to what they say in private.

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