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The Road to the New Jerusalem, Part 2

If Israel and the Holocaust are most Jews’ points of identification, which holidays are really the High Holidays?

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Annual Israel Day Parade in New York City on June 01, 2014. (lev radin / Shutterstock.com)

Earlier this summer, my brother-and-sister-in-law made aliyah. To say the timing was poor would be a dramatic understatement. Objectively, the timing was terrible.

Granted, there’s never a very good time to move to Israel, or go there, even: The same way an observant Jew might mark time by the holidays (he was born around Purim, she was married by Hanukkah-time), a visitor to the Holy Land generally recalls his stay by the conflict that was raging then (I was on Birthright during the Gaza pullout; on our last visit they were drilling for possible gas attacks from Syria). (more…)

Listen to Jews, Not Just Ted Cruz, on Middle East Christians

Controversy over the senator’s remarks has distracted from the real issue

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Iraqi Christians who fled the violence in the village of Qaraqush, about 30 kilometres east of the northern province of Nineveh, rest upon their arrival at the Saint-Joseph church in the Kurdish city of Arbil, in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, on August 7, 2014.(SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz walked off the stage at a dinner supporting Middle Eastern Christians, after the pro-Israel portion of his remarks drew heckling from some in the audience. “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews,” he declared, “then I will not stand with you.” The incident has sparked a heated but thoughtful debate among conservatives about the moral complexities of supporting both the Jewish state and persecuted Middle East Christians, given that the latter are not always favorably disposed towards the former. While this conversation is important, and Christians, Jews, conservatives and liberals alike could benefit from reading some of the sharper takes on the subject (Tablet columnist Lee Smith’s response can be found here), the firestorm over Cruz’s walkout has had several less salutary consequences.

First, it subordinated the dire plight of the Middle East’s Christians–who are being brutally cleansed from the region–to a partisan squabble. And second, it has turned Israel into a litmus test over whether those Christians deserve outside support, when in fact Jews and the Jewish state have been actively working to bolster that support, without making any such demands. Whether one agrees with Cruz’s actions or not, then, it is important to refocus our attention on those in desperate need, and to emphasize the many Jewish efforts to assist them. (more…)

A Halva-Inspired Recipe for Rosh Hashanah

Ringing in the Jewish New Year with an artisanal tahini and honey spread

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Kale-pomegranate salad with almond halva dressing. (Photo by the author)

Shahar Shamir as a child loved eating halva, the dense sesame confection he found at markets in his native Israel. But as an adult living in New York City, he began to crave a less sweet version of his beloved treat. A fair amount of kitchen tinkering birthed Brooklyn Sesame a deconstructed halva spread made from rich tahini stirred with honey. Today, Shamir makes six different versions of his spread: sesame seed, almond, pistachio, black caraway seed, toasted coconut, and cocoa and sea salt.

Like so many other artisanal food producers, Shamir works to honor a traditional food—in this case the Middle Eastern dessert, halva—while finding ways to bring it into a contemporary context. (more…)

Italy Now Has a Hotline to Report Anti-Semitism

‘Anti-Semitism Antenna’ will be accessible by phone and online

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(Shutterstock)

The leader of Italy’s Jewish community announced a new measure to deal with a recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents: a hotline. The Anti-Semitism Antenna will be accessible by phone and online, explained Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, and is intended for use both by Jewish victims of anti-Semitic acts as well as Italian witnesses or bystanders, Haaretz reports.

“The goal of the initiative is to nullify any threat of hatred and discrimination. It is a concrete effort for the benefit of the entire community especially now that old biases are back even in the most advanced and democratic societies,” Gattegna said in a statement. (more…)

App Lets You Atone From Your Smartphone

Inspired by Leviticus, eScapegoat lets users offload sins onto a virtual goat

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Image from eScapegoat app. (G-dcast)

As you prepare for Yom Kippur this year, you don’t have to look much farther than your iPhone for an opportunity to atone for your sins.

The eScapegoat app, created by Jewish media production company G-dcast in 2013, allows users to unload their sins onto a virtual, animated goat. While the app is certainly a modern invention, it’s based on a Biblical text. It’s modeled after the Yom Kippur ritual described in Leviticus, in which the community’s sins were figuratively placed onto a goat that was then sent off into the desert. (more…)

U.K. Store Security Guard Tells Boys ‘No Jews’

The 11-year-olds were wearing uniforms of local Jewish secondary school

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Sports Direct. (© Copyright Betty Longbottom and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons. )

A British security guard is the subject of a police investigation thanks to his attempt to bar two 11-year-old Jewish boys from shopping at Sports Direct, a U.K. sporting goods retailer.

“No Jews, no Jews,” the guard allegedly told the boys, students of Yavneh College, a Jewish secondary school in Hertforshire, when they tried to enter a local branch of the store. The boys, who had come to Sports Direct to shop for sneakers, were wearing their school uniforms. (more…)

On Martha’s Vineyard, the Jews are WASPs too

An excerpt from Lucinda Franks’ Timeless: Love, Morgenthau, and Me 

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Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse in Marthas Vineyard. (Shutterstock)

In Timeless: Love, Morgenthau and Me, journalist Lucinda Franks tells the story of her unlikely yet intensely durable marriage to longtime Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau—a man 27 years her senior. When they met in the early 1970s, she was a young radical who had cut her journalistic teeth—and won a Pulitzer Prize—writing about a member of the Weathermen who accidentally killed herself while assembling a bomb. Morgenthau—already the scion of one of America’s leading political dynasties—was about to begin his history-making 35-year tenure as District Attorney for New York County. Franks makes much of how he was synonymous with the establishment, with bourgeois respectability, and how she was an outsider, an iconoclast. Yet, at the same time, the book’s underlying current suggests that for all their surface differences, they are kindred spirits, whose union, after 35 years of marriage, is as strong as ever.

Wellesley, Massachusetts, had long ago closed its portal to Jews, and in my pure-blood secondary school I had been too intense, too emotional, and too spontaneous to adopt the required air of Waspy indifference. Once in college, I discovered a kinship with my Jewish friends. Mostly born of Eastern European stock, they were intellectual, voluble, clever, antic. I began to think of myself as a Jewish soul in a Gentile body. (more…)

In Israel, September is Nobel Season

Predicting which Israelis will win the esteemed award is a national pastime

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Statue of Alfred Nobel at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm(JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

September is perhaps the most underrated month of the entire year. It can be easy to forget that most of September courses through summer—and by “summer,” I refer not to the sweaty, cloying humidity that gives the season a bad name but, rather, to the pleasant sunshine and balmy breezes. If one is Jewish, even if not an affiliated member of the tribe, September is the month to begin gearing up for the High Holidays. Perhaps even to start hoping for a favorable New Year. And if you’re Israeli, September is when your adrenaline likely begins to surge in anticipation of the year’s biggest news: the Nobel Prize selections.

Indeed, just as Cleveland residents followed LeBron James’ decision-making in June, Israelis track the six Nobel Prize selection committees’ process each year. It, too, is a form of sport. In fact, it could be called our national pastime. Here in Israel, Nobel season has begun. (more…)

Streisand on Israel: The World Envies Success

The singer also attributes past bad press to anti-Semitic and anti-female bias

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Barbara Streisand performs during the 90th birthday celebrations of Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on June 18, 2013. (JIM HOLLANDER/AFP/Getty Images)

The New York Times Style section caught up with Barbra Streisand at Donna Karan’s East Hampton, N.Y. home, where the gazillion-times platinum artist was promoting her new album of duets, Partners, as well as making some not-so-subtle landscaping changes to her friend’s summer home (“You have to be bold with it,” she says of some juniper).

Streisand, reporter Jacob Bernstein tells us, looks great. “She was dressed all in black, including a pair of stretchy pants and a cardigan-like jacket that she was proud to announce cost almost nothing: ‘$59.95 at an outlet store,’ she said. ‘It’s my favorite.’” (more…)

Ongoing Controversy Around ‘The Most Important Story on Earth’

Responding to critics of my essay about Israel media coverage

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Israeli armored personnel carrier seen moving along the border with Gaza on July 10, 2014 on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

My essay “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth” touched a nerve far beyond my expectations—I didn’t think that in our times a 4,000-word essay would be shared 750 times on Facebook, let alone 75,000. A second essay will appear here soon.

The article drew a series of interesting responses. Richard Miron, a veteran of both the BBC and the United Nations, published a reflection on his own similar experiences. In Jerusalem the Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg, from the left side of the local political spectrum, called it a “must-read, must think about,” and Rick Santorum endorsed it on Twitter from Pennsylvania. Some accused me of being an apologist for the Israeli right, and worse. A few former colleagues thought practicing journalism on journalists was a kind of betrayal; others were discreetly thrilled. I have made friends and enemies I’m not sure I need. (more…)

A Fashion Week Bat Mitzvah Video Shoot

Stylish Westchester preteens steal the show from Marc Jacobs

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A model presents a creation by the Marc Jacobs Spring/Summer 2015 collection during New York Fashion Week September 11, 2014 in New York. (Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

New York magazine’s The Cut set out to uncover the identities of the pint-size preteens who captured the attention of the crowd outside the Marc Jacobs show Friday during Fashion Week while being filmed by a videographer. It turns out the gaggle of tweens were from Westchester, and were filming a video for pal Chloe Cornell’s bat mitzvah. Her mom picked everyone up after school and brought them to Manhattan for the shoot.

Clad in shirts bearing the Chanel logo—in this case repurposed to stand for ‘Chloe Cornell’—with similarly adorned hats and black sunglasses, the fashion-forward group is the latest entry in the canon of high production bat mitzvah videos, a trend which has some asking whether bat mitzvahs have become too glitzy. (more…)

Death Row Prisoner Sues State for Kosher Food

Convicted murderer and rapist also seeks $15,000 in punitive damages

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(Shutterstock)

In the latest behind-bars battle over kashrut, a death row prisoner in Connecticut is suing the state over what he says is their failure to provide kosher food for him, which he has been requesting since May 2013. JTA reports that convicted murdered and rapist Steven Hayes filed a lawsuit arguing that the state of Connecticut is violating his First Amendment rights as an Orthodox Jew.

In his lawsuit, Hayes said that the prison’s kitchen is not certified to provide strictly kosher food. The kitchen staff told him the food served at the prison is “kosher-like.”

“Kosher-like is not kosher,” his lawsuit reportedly claims. (more…)

Stop Kvetching: Yiddish Isn’t Dying

YIVO director of education says the language is still very much alive

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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine)

Enough already with the Yiddish death knell. Yiddish isn’t dead. It’s not even dying, according to Jennifer Young, director of education at YIVO. She writes that the trend stories that get published every now and then proclaiming the death of Yiddish are actually misguided attempts to categorize a changing language that remains very much alive, at least in the United States. While those stories may get clicks and pageviews, Young says they’re obscuring the reality of Yiddish today.

The latest offender in the Yiddish trend piece cycle, to which Young seems to be responding directly, is an article published in the Atlantic last week titled, “Oy Vey: Yiddish Has a Problem.” (more…)

Nazi Guard Charged With 300,000 Counts of Accessory to Murder

Oskar Groening, 93, was tried in Germany for helping operate Auschwitz

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Entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Although it’s become clear that 21st century anti-Semitism in Europe is not as unusual a phenomenon as we may have hoped, something strange, if not extraordinary happened in Germany this week: a former Nazi guard at Auschwitz was charged with accessory to 300,000 murders during his time at the concentration camp.

According to the Associated Press, the man in question, 93-year old Oskar Groening, is suspected to have helped operate the camp when almost half a million Hungarian Jews were imprisoned there. Most of them were sent to gas chambers shortly after their arrival. (more…)

On ‘Boardwalk,’ Meyer Lansky Looms Large

The ruthless Jewish gangster is all business on the Prohibition-era HBO show

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Anatol Yusef as Meyer Lansky on 'Boardwalk Empire.'(HBO)

On Sunday’s episode of Boardwalk Empire, we heard Steve Buscemi’s character Nucky Thompson imply that a “little kike” was behind his assassination attempt. He is, of course, referring to the 5’0” gangland kingpin Meyer Lansky, played by British actor Anatol Yusef.

Maier Suchowljansky, born in 1902, came to The United States in 1911. Like many Polish Jews, his family settled in New York’s Lower East Side. Lansky, (who unlike most of his fellow mobsters managed to die of natural causes at the ripe age of 81) started out as a cat burglar and low-level gambler, and eventually became a successful bootlegger, loanshark, and gambler. (more…)

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