Today on Tablet

Fyvush!, building in Brooklyn, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, you’ll want to spend some time listening to Fyvush Finkel (you’ll know him when you see/hear him) on the Vox Tablet podcast. Mark Bergen reports on the controversial plan to build publicly subsidized housing for ultra-Orthodox families in Boro Park, Brooklyn. Josh Lambert’s weekly rundown of forthcoming books of interest is Holocaust-themed. The Scroll was going to make a pun on truth-bombs, but how about not.

Where Have All The Secular Israelis Gone?

The other demographic crisis

Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews protesting against Iran earlier this month.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

When you hear about the Israeli demographic crisis, your first thought is liable to go to the truism that, barring a major immigration or emigration to or from one side or the other, birth rates have predestined that at some point in the not-too-distant future there will be more Arabs than Jews living between the river and the sea, at which point Israel will cease to be both Jewish and democratic, etcetera etcetera. But have you heard of the other Israeli demographic crisis? Two articles appeared over the weekend approaching the fact that, among the Jews, the ultra-Orthodox will grow in population—their birth rate puts that of their more secular co-religionists to shame—and gain power in Israel, enacting policies (like the Rotem Bill) and shaping a culture that will be less desirable to more secular Israelis and lead them to emigrate (let’s face it, probably to Brooklyn). Here’s your data point: According to present trends, by 2040, 78 percent of Israeli elementary-schoolers will be either ultra-Orthodox or Arab. (more…)

Daybreak: Bombs Meant for Planes, not Shuls

Plus Bibi and Biden to meet, and more in the news

We are more careful about unloading cargo today.(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

• The Al Qaeda bombs addressed to two Chicago synagogues were probably designed to blow up in flight, rather than at their destinations. [WP]

• The Jews of Chicago are being careful now! [NYT]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu and Vice President Biden will meet in New Orleans next weekend during the Jewish Federations General Assembly. [JTA]

• President Ahmadinejad deeply cut the popular food and fuel subsidies his citizens receive. [LAT]

• Netanyahu struck back against a U.N. body that declared that Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs, which is in Bethlehem, is Palestinian and not the site of Israeli claims. [JTA]

Sundown: Bomb Plot Against Chicago Synagogues

Plus the crazy Russian Nets owner is Jewish after all (sorta), and more


• Packages in the cargo of a flight from Yemen, which were bound for two “Jewish places of worship” in Chicago, were found to have explosives, President Obama announced. [Bloomberg]

• Iran agreed to nuclear talks, which will probably commence next month. They will be the first in over one year. [LAT]

• “In my opinion, there’s only one Judaism. There are no three Judaisms.” –Knesset Member Rotem. [Haaretz]

• BREAKING: The maternal grandmother of Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire Russian oligarch owner of the New Jersey Nets, was—of course—Jewish. Which means … [NYT Mag]

• The funeral of Judge Burton Roberts (the basis for the judge in Bonfire of the Vanities) turned into a celebration of the Bronx. [NYT]

• Best-selling Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany protested the translation of one of his books into Hebrew, because he does not agree with Arab countries having diplomatic ties with Israel. [Arts Beat]

• “Mantle looked back at me and said ‘How in the [****] are you supposed to hit that [****]?’” Sandy Koufax had that effect on people. [Kaplan’s Korner]

Happy Halloween! If your date warns you that “he’s not like other guys,” best take him at his word.

The Dream Doctor Is In

Ever wonder what your dreams are trying to tell you?

(Ravi Joshi/Tablet Magazine)

Jews have been in the dream business ever since Genesis.

When Nextbook Press author Rodger Kamenetz isn’t writing books, he works as a dream therapist. And in writing Burnt Books, his newly published dual biography of Franz Kafka and Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, he found two Jewish figures who were also fascinated by dreams. As anyone who has read The Metamorphosis or The Trial could tell, Kafka frequently immersed himself in “dreamlike states” when he wrote. Rabbi Nachman also based several of his teachings on dreams. Both drew on the Jewish tradition of dreaming and dream interpretation, rooted in what Kamenetz calls, in The History of Last Night’s Dream, “the primordial dream book in the West, the book of Genesis.”

Now it is time to bring that tradition to the present. Send in your dreams, and Kamenetz will respond with his interpretation. (more…)

Fyvush Finkel Has No Use for Trayf

Your Vox Tablet preview

(Eric Molinsky)

If you saw a picture of Fyvush Finkel, you’d probably recognize him. The 88-year-old has appeared in films directed by Sidney Lumet, Oliver Stone, and, most recently, the Coen brothers. He also played attorney Douglas Wambaugh for four years on the television show Picket Fences, for which he won an Emmy.

But Finkel is an even bigger star in the world of Yiddish theater. He is currently back on that stage for a three-week run of Fyvush Finkel, Live, a musical revue, which was the perfect excuse for Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to pay him a visit. The interview got off to a rocky start, however:

Soon, though, he and Sara became fast friends. Come back and give a listen Monday. It’s probably the most charming conversation you’ll hear during election week.

Schumer Has Inside Track to Leadership

Could be first Jewish Senate Majority Leader

From left: Sens. Schumer, Reid, and Durbin.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

If the Democrats hang on to the Senate—and it looks more likely than not that they will, albeit by a very slim margin—then frenemies Sen. Dick Durbin (Illinois) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (New York), who are currently the second- and third-ranking Democrats, respectively, are expected to duke it out for the leadership. And, reports Politico today, Schumer is seen to have the upper hand because he has improved his abrasive reputation and spread his wealth around, and because Durbin is unusually close to the White House (come on! feel the Illinoise!)—which, after what happens this Election Day, will likely not be seen as an asset. (This is all dependent on the current Majority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid (Nevada), losing his race, as expected).

Before you get too excited, with visions of fourth-in-line-to-the-presidency dancing in your head, recall that it is not the Senate Majority Leader who ranks right after the Speaker of the House in terms of presidential succession, but rather the President Pro Tempore, which is to say, the most senior senator of the majority party. Our understanding is that Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) is not of the Tribe.

Schumer Rising for Majority Leader? [Politico]

Video Killed the Modern Orthodox Star

Esther Petrack departs ‘America’s Next Top Model’

Two Jews: Esther Petrack and Zac Posen.(The CW)

After last week’s Esther-rific episode, we get the ball rolling again with our favorite Model/ern Orthodox contestant, who discusses her foray into the bottom two last week and the advice she received from Tyra about bringing her personality more to the fore. “I need to be more pssh,” she says, making the sound I frequently hear in a Jewish learning setting when someone says something that is particularly shtark, which is a yeshivish term for something that appears particularly religious or pious. I wonder if less Jewishly learned viewers understand the true meaning of Esther’s bizarre sound effect.

From the beis midrash to the model home. The girls are in pajamas when they are visited by fashion designer and Member of the Tribe Zac Posen, who tells them that they will be walking in a runway show wearing the clothing from his new line. This all seems a little too straightforward for a program that sent the girls down a catwalk four stories up during their first challenge. What’s the catch, producers? (more…)

The Stories Jews Tell

A multicultural ‘Moth’ at the New York Public Library

Peter Hyman.(

If you were an alien visiting the human race last week and wanted to get a general idea of the concerns of American monotheists in the year 2010, you could have done worse than attended OMG: Stories of the Sacred, a reading put on by the storytelling series The Moth and the New York Public Library. The event (which you can watch here) featured six performers from the three great monotheistic faiths telling personal stories: Tablet Magazine contributor Peter Hyman, Rev. Wayne Reece, Andrew Solomon, Imam Khalid Latif, Judy Gold, and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Of course it would be a bit dangerous for alien researchers to make broad assumptions from hearing two stories per faith, but you might make some claims nonetheless. Imam Latif, a chaplain for NYU and the NYPD, and the New York Times‘s Andrew Solomon each told secular stories about Muslims dealing with the repercussions of 9/11. Latif spoke about the pressures and resistance to pass after the attacks; Solomon bore witness to the resurrection of art, poetry, and music in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban—but concluded with a cautionary note about how fragile that moment of hope has become. (more…)

Pamela Pushes Israeli Fur Ban

Bikinis apparently still okay

Pamela Anderson, speaking for the animals.(PETA)

One of Israel’s most hotly contested pieces of legislation just got a lot hotter: Pamela Anderson, who as a judge and guest dancer on the forthcoming season of the Israeli version of Dancing With The Stars is a prominent figure (indeed!) over there, wrote a personal letter to Minister of Religious Affairs Ya’akov Margi, asking him to support a new bill that would ban the import of fur. (The former Baywatch star and Tommy Lee spouse is a prominent PETA spokesperson.)

It’s a sensitive topic. Margi is a member of the Shas party, whose constituency is mainly Sephardic, but he has spoken out for the right of “our Ashkenazi brothers” to enjoy the fur hats and coats many ultra-Orthodox sects traditionally wear. As a result, Margi is holding up the proposed bill, which otherwise enjoyed wide support in the Knesset.

Margi himself appeared on Israeli radio yesterday and said that he hadn’t yet read Anderson’s letter, but will take it into consideration as he “solidified his understanding of the subject matter” (my translation). If Anderson’s performance in Barb Wire is any indication, Margi should solidify his understanding before Pam gets angry.

Today on Tablet

Interview with the ambassador, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, contributing editor David Samuels interviews Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestinian ambassador to the United States, discussing the Jews’ historical presence in modern-day Israel; the refugee issue; prospects for peace; internecine rivalry between his group, Fatah, and Hamas; and much more. In his weekly parsha column, Liel Leibovitz compares how Abraham found his wife to how we find our mates in the Internet age. The Scroll would wish you a happy Halloween, but Halloween is for pagans, and so its wishes will have to wait for Purim (but have a happy Halloween).


Your weekly dose of Israelispeak

(Len Small/Tablet Magazine)

Israelispeak is the way Israelis and the Israeli media use Hebrew. Behind the literal meaning, there’s an additional web of suggestion, doublespeak, and cultural innuendo that too often gets lost in translation. Every Friday, we reveal what is really being said.

I was at the playground with my two daughters this week, near our home outside Tel Aviv, when I heard another mother make a comment that would not have been out of place in a war zone.

“I think we left behind some captives in the field!” she said casually in Hebrew. A moment later she held up the “captive”: A doll with yellow pigtails that had been briefly forgotten in the plastic tunnel that leads to the slide.

But while captives, or shvuyim, are an everyday point of reference for Israelis, that’s not the word they typically use to describe Gilad Shalit, probably Israel’s best-known soldier in captivity. Shalit, who was seized on June 25, 2006, by Hamas-allied militants who infiltrated southern Israel by crawling under a tunnel from the Gaza Strip, has been making headlines in Israel again recently, because Hamas and Israel have announced the resumption of negotiations for his release.

The international media often refer to Shalit as having been taken captive. But the Israeli media, along with the many Israelis campaigning for his release, tend to describe him as hahayal hehatuf, the kidnapped or abducted soldier. The word for abductee was further cemented into the cultural consciousness by a TV show called Hatufim, about two reservists’ reintegration into Israeli society after spending 17 years in captivity, which won best drama in Israel’s equivalent of the 2010 Golden Globes. (more…)

Daybreak: No Freeze, Not With This Gov’t

Plus Yitzhak Rabin’s (non-?)legacy, and more in the news

The cabinent meets last Sunday.(Sebastian Scheiner/AFP/Getty Images))

• A freeze extension is simply not going to pass the Israeli cabinet as currently constituted, a study of the voting breakdown reveals. [JPost]

• Yet, Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted yesterday, current settlement construction will have no impact on any final peace resolution; he called on negotiations to continue. [Haaretz]

• Roger Cohen suggests that President Obama get behind other countries’ implied, tacit support for a U.N. resolution declaring Palestinian statehood in order to pressure Netanyahu into a serious talk about final borders. [NYT]

• Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat argues there can be no peace, or discussion of peace, while settlements are being built. [WP]

• 15 years after his assassination, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s legacy is murky, and fading. [NYT]

• Judd Apatow puts together a star-studded ad for the American Jewish World Service. Gilbert Gottfired, predictably, has the best line. [Jewcy]

Sundown: U.S. Ambassador Takes on Syria

Plus go hug an Armenian! and more

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.(Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

• U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on the rhetorical offensive against Syria, accusing it of meddling in Lebanese affairs and continuing to arm Hezbollah. [Reuters/Haaretz]

• Jerusalem:Ankara::Tel Aviv:Istanbul. That is the only hope for salvaging the Turkish-Israeli alliance, writes Aluf Benn. [Haaretz]

• For four miles, the Washington, D.C., Beltway also serves as an eruv. [Historian for Hire]

• A J Street poll shows that attacks on Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), who is favored to defeat challenger Joel Pollak, have backfired among her own Jewish constituents. [J Street]

• Apropos Peter Balakian’s essay last week, today is Hug an Armenian Day. So, you know, get on that. [Facebook]

• Spook fans will love Tablet Magazine contributor Yossi Melman’s (very) inside look at how Israeli intelligence works. [Haaretz]

Don’t make Abe Foxman angry. You wouldn’t like Abe Foxman when he’s angry.

Abraham Foxman from Blue Pilgrimage on Vimeo.

In an Election Month, Everyone’s a Hack

Of course J Street and ECI are partisan—who cares?


Political journalism would be a lot easier if people remembered how politics works. Today’s topic: Are J Street and the Emergency Committee for Israel primarily dedicated to supporting politicians who adhere to certain positions on the Mideast? Or are they fundamentally partisan groups dedicated to supporting, respectively, Democratic and Republican politicians who represent opportunistic proxies for advancing those positions, picking fights over them, and ultimately enacting them? Much political discourse treats this as an either/or question, as evidenced by this Washington Jewish Week profile of ECI and The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait’s response to it. But actually, the answer is: Both. They are concerned with the positions, but they know that the only way to put that concern to practical action is to be partisan. (more…)

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