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…)

An Afternoon With Avi Steinberg

The secular Jew who actually misses religion

Avi Steinberg.(Random House)

“Mordechai was definitely her pimp,” Avi Steinberg tells me of Esther. “The pimp is what makes it happen. People in the know know that Mordechai is making things move in that story.” Steinberg, 31, knows a lot about pimps. Or at least more than you’d expect an Orthodox-reared Harvard grad to know about them. But after spending two years working in Boston as a prison librarian, he is, if not an authority on the world’s oldest profession, an informed voice on the subject.

Yet what brought our conversation around to the Purim story was not the characters he met while working the checkout desk and then profiled in his memoir. Running the Books is about the two years he spent working at a Boston prison, an experience that helped him do what Harvard could not help him do: Grow up. In addition to recommending titles to inmates, Steinberg taught them creative writing, collected their “kites” (the notes they left for each other on the shelves and in the books), and became more entangled in their lives than an agent of the state probably should. But we had been talking about the other famous Esther—Petrack, of America’s Next Top Model. (more…)

Anti-Bullying Provisions Extended to Jews

The Civil Rights Act now applies

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.(T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

With bullying in the news due to the rash of gay suicides and the responding “It Gets Better” project, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan decided to apply part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that bars discrimination on campuses based on “race, color or national origin” to Jews. Said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California), who pushed for a bill that would have changed the Act in this respect, “The policy is now clear: Colleges and universities will no longer be permitted to turn a blind eye when Jewish students face severe and persistent anti-Semitic hostility on their campuses. The schools will now be compelled to respond.”

The Anti-Defamation League has also recently prominently adopted bullying as a cause.

Anti-Bullying Guidelines Add Protection for Jewish Students [JTA/Forward]
Earlier: ADL Suggests Anti-Bullying Measures

I Wish They All Could Be Jewish Derby Girls

Like Ruth Hater Ginsburg and Mazel Tov Cocktail

The Wall St. traitors put the hurt on someone.(Gotham Girls Roller Derby)

If the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear sounds too milquetoast for you, perhaps you’d be better off attending Saturday’s Gotham Girls Roller Derby championship bout, featuring the Bronx Gridlock against the Queens of Pain.

Pondering the end of the season made me start thinking about the joys of derby names. The perfect derby name (see dozens of ‘em here) displays both aggression and humor; reveals something about the skater (she’s literary, she’s a mom, she’s vegan, she enjoys alcoholic beverages); and if the name’s a bit obscure, so much the better. As a fan of children’s books, I enjoy names derived from kid lit: Lemony Kickit, Eva Lasting Broadstopper, Laura Ingalls Piledriver, Veruca Assault, Pippi Headstomping. I also appreciate names that put a violent spin on pop culture: Beyonslay, Stevie Kicks (“I took your love, I took you down”), Splat Benetar, Soylent Mean, Dame Judi Wench. And who says the younger generation doesn’t follow politics? Witness: Sarah Impalin, Shockin Audrey, Tripper Gore, and a referee who goes by Stimulus Package (refs can be men).

Sadly, however, there are very few openly Jewish derby names. (Gee, I wonder why?) Looking at the current rosters, I found Gefilte Fists; Slammy Davis, Jr.; Anne Frankenstein; Ruth Hater Ginsburg; Uzi Quatro; Mazel Tov Cocktail; Nancy Jew; and refs Jew’d Law and Manny Schevitz. My favorite Jew-y derby name? Meshuggah Walls, who skates for the Emerald City Rollergirls in Oregon. (If you don’t get the reference, click here.)

Tablet Magazine readers: What would your Jewish derby name be? Be bold, be butch. Look to history, literature, and popular culture. And leave them in the comments.

As for me? I’d be Golda Slayir, Henrietta Schooled, Sharona Slaychem, Vashti’d Off, Isha Zona, Marjorie Mourningspar, or, if I want to go lowbrow, Torah Spelling. My ref name would definitely be Morris Ayin. (Some of these jokes are for Jewish Day School students only.)

The New Loyalty Oath

Bill would ban East J’lem Arabs from leading tours

The Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem.(Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

“Loyalty” is the mot juste in Israel these days: After the controversial bill requiring non-Jewish immigrants (and then all immigrants) to declare loyalty to a Jewish and democratic state was approved by the cabinet earlier this month, a new bill was brought before the Knesset last week that would require that all tourist guides leading tours of Jerusalem be themselves Israeli citizens who have “institutional loyalty” to Israel.

The proposal, initiated by Gideon Ezra of Kadima and supported by a multipartisan slate of legislators, does not mince words. “Some of the residents of Israel, like those in East Jerusalem, often have ‘dual loyalty,’ since they vote in elections of the Palestinian Authority,” it declares. “These residents often present anti-Israeli positions to groups of tourists that they guide. To ensure foreign tourists are exposed to the national Israeli viewpoint, we suggest ruling that travel agencies, and any organization providing tours for foreign tourists, ensure that the groups are accompanied by a tour guide who is an Israeli citizen and has institutional loyalty to the State of Israel.” There’s that word, loyalty.

Apart from the obvious, gaping problems—what, for example, is “the national Israeli viewpoint,” and how does one measure “institutional loyalty” to the state?—Ezra’s proposal will have the concrete effect of causing more than 300 Israeli Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem to losen their jobs as licensed tour guides.

Other countries that require state-appointed, ideologically approved travel guides include North Korea.

MKs Seek Ban on East Jerusalem Arabs Guiding in the City [Haaretz]
Related: Under Oath [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: Bibi Moderates on Loyalty Oath Bill
Bibi Floats Oath Quid for Freeze Quo

Today on Tablet

All about J Street, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, senior writer Allison Hoffman has a must-read on J Street: How it rose, how it stumbled, and how important it is to the American Jewish left. Contributing editor Joan Nathan has the skinny on French-Jewish cooking, though skinniness is perhaps the last thing reading it will lead to. Susie Linfield considers the utility and even ethics of viewing Holocaust-era photographs. Music columnist Alexander Gelfand profiles Avner Yonai, who was inspired by Everything Is Illuminated (the movie) to resurrect a Polish-Jewish mandolin orchestra. The Scroll wants to be read today, but only after you read the J Street piece.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.