‘Nobody Knew He Was an Agent for the Israelis’

Your Vox Tablet preview

(Eric Molinsky)

The story of the struggle to save Soviet Jewry is full of drama, with mass protests and celebrity appearances (including Jane Fonda) on the American side, and secret gatherings, long prison sentences, and attempted hijackings on the other side. In a new book, When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry, Gal Beckerman reviews all that history, and throws some other remarkable stories into the mix, including the essential, yet top-secret, role the Israeli government played in fomenting a movement stateside in the 1960s.

Sukkah of the Soul

What would you take inside?

(our local sukkah at night by Bill Rogers; some rights reserved.)

To celebrate Sukkot, Tablet Magazine asked several folks what “must-haves” they would take with them into a sukkah. Here are some of the replies.

Ruth Messinger, President of the American Jewish World Service.

I would bring as my guests a group of people whose conversations I would like to hear: A loan recipient from Haiti; a woman farmer without land title from Pakistan; a health organizer from Kenya; a Darfur refugee in Chad; a human rights activist from Uganda; and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to talk with all of them, learn from them, teach them, and help them in their efforts to change and heal the world.

Rob Kutner, comedy writer.
When I was asked to describe my “Soul Booth,” at first I thought it was a pitch for a new Wayans Brothers movie. But upon further reflection (not a lot, but further), I began to picture it: It’s a temporary structure for the soul, just like the one mine resides in now—right down to the weedy, increasingly thin cover on top. Dangling above me are the sweet goals I still reach for every day: Kindness, compassion, repair of my world, mindfulness, and gratitude. The walls are of man-made material and protect me from the winds of circumstance, but there’s always a doorway open to change and challenge. Decorating them are children’s drawings of my younger, purer self—the more passionate, idealistic spark I struggle to fit into my jaded old todayness. Last but not least is the ground tarp: Because let’s face it—my soul is one messy place.

Pavel Goberman Explains Himself

Jewish candidate has all the answers

Pavel Goberman.(Facebook)

After taking stock of Pavel Goberman, the fitness-obsessed and apparently party-less candidate to unseat (Jewish) Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), I noticed that the man himself quickly weighed in in the comments (something, by the way, that I encourage all of my subjects to do): “I do not see who is better than me could help this nation,” the Russian-born health guru wrote. “I’m a Candidate for US Repres. 1st Congressional District, Oregon.” (So, then, not for the Senate?) “I promise to create a few millions jobs, balance budget, save country a few billions dollars on the health care, improve traffics on hiways and cities and etc. [sic].”

I emailed Goberman through his Website asking him to clarify a few things (including whether he is Jewish). Below, his abridged response [sic again]: (more…)

‘Lonely Planet’ For the Settlements

Yep, there’s even an app for that


Ever find yourself moseying along and suddenly needing to know where the latest settlement construction in the West Bank has taken place? (Imagine moseying sometime before the past ten months, during which there has been a freeze on such construction.) Well, now, you can consult Americans for Peace Now’s handy Facts on the Ground iPhone application. It’s a clever title: For years, believers in Greater Israel evangelized for the settlements as a way of creating nearly-irrefutable “facts on the ground” in an effort to make the land they sat on official parts of Israel; now, a left-wing group like APN can turn the phrase on its head, and condemn such settlements as malevolent “facts on the ground” that impede peace (much like the similar flights sponsored by the similarly appended Peace Now). Although that, also, is just rhetoric: In the end, facts on the ground are just that.

Below: See how you can check and un-check various things to make your map look different! (more…)

Today on Tablet

On Broadway, Cairo Jews, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, books editor Adam Kirsch looks back on the history of American musical theater as not exclusively but nonethelesss indelibly Jewish. Sarah Mishkin reports that Cairo’s dwindling Jewish community faces obstacles to enforcing its property rights. The Scroll thinks of itself as a not exclusively but nonetheless indelibly Jewish phenomenon as well.

The Tailor David Grossman

Israeli novelist accepts his lot

David Grossman.(Wikipedia)

We learn in George Packer’s profile of David Grossman that the first novel to have a real impact on him was Sholom Aleichem’s Motl, Peysi the Cantor’s Son (actually, Grossman once cited it in an essay he published in Tablet Magazine’s predecessor, One sees Grossman as quite similar to the Motl we know from Fiddler on the Roof: Relatively simple, bordering on earnest; desirous of little beyond living a quiet family life; an actor in history only when history intrudes upon him.

Grossman was born an Israeli because his grandmother presciently fled to Palestine from Poland in the ‘30s; grew up a fairly uncritical Zionist, becoming left-wing only after meeting and falling in love with the woman who became his wife, Michal; and turned increasingly sharp in his critiques of “the situation”—the post-1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories—through first-hand experience, first as a soldier in Lebanon in the early ‘80s, then as a reporter. The family man’s family was disrupted by history during the Lebanon war of 2006, when his middle son, Uri, a soldier, was killed fewer than two days before the cease-fire. (more…)

Daybreak: Beating the Iranian Drum

Plus this politicized flight tonight, and more in the news

A West Bank settlement, from above.(Rina Castelnuovo/NYT)

• In Washington, Defense Minister Barak continued to sound warnings and threats concerning Iran, even as U.S. officials countered with continued talk of sanctions and engagement. [Haaretz]

• U.S. diplomats worry that the direct peace talks will disband over the construction freeze controversy. [Haaretz]

• Most of the 300,000 Jewish settlers would like the freeze to end so that their towns can continue to grow. [WSJ]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu had nice things to say about so many different folk. [Laura Rozen]

• An intelligence expert concludes in a new study that renewed conflict with Lebanon will cover much larger ground, perhaps expand into Syria, and maybe draw Iran explicitly in. [Haaretz]

• Left-wing Israeli group Peace Now took politicians and journalists—including, apparently, one from the Times—on a plane ride over the West Bank to show them settlement growth. [NYT]

Sundown: Freeze-for-Pollard Swap

Plus killing in the name of land, and more

Jonathan Pollard.(Wikipedia)

• Might Prime Minister Netanyahu agree to a partial extension of the construction freeze in exchange for the U.S. release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard? [Laura Rozen]

• A Palestinian Authority court confirmed that it is criminal for Palestinians to sell land to Jews or Jewish companies. Oh, yeah, and the penalty is death. Wait, what? [Haaretz]

• Rahm will (probably) run. [Politico]

• Ray Takeyh argues that President Ahmadinejad is in fact delusional, and the only real solution to the Iranian problem is the eventual takeover by the forces behind the Green Movement. [WP]

• Gentiles love mezuzahs! Can’t get enough of ‘em. [NYT]

• So Jewish pitcher Jason Marquis decided to pitch on Yom Kippur. The result? He was yanked after getting only one out in the first inning, having given up six earned runs. As a Nationals fan: Thanks a lot, Jason. [Kaplan’s Korner]

Perhaps you recognize the particular Old Jew who is Telling this Joke?

My Kingdom for a Purse

Handbags and milestones

Purse from the author’s bat mitzvah.(Beverly Newhouse)

Last week, Lucette Lagnado—Wall Street Journal reporter and, as I’ve said before, brilliant memoirist—filed a terrific report on famed designer Judith Leiber’s plans to buy back her own handbags for a museum she’s building in the Hamptons. In true Lagnado style, the piece was one part news and two parts zeitgeist-y illumination—in this case, a window into the surprisingly meaningful implications of a fashion item beloved by women of a certain age, socioeconomic class, and maybe even ethnicity:

Lori Shabtai, a New York commercial real estate executive, says she bought her first Leiber as a bride-to-be 29 years ago, and since then, her ritual is purchasing at least one Judith Leiber a year. She associates each with a special occasion: her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, where she carried a beige snakeskin; a black clutch with large crystals was for a big date.

“Judith Leiber has been through all of that with us,” says Ms. Shabtai.

To highlight the generational gap, Lagnado also quoted a 26-year-old fashion writer named Jessica Misener musing snarkily about the silliness of Leiber’s trademark bags, which have manifested as peacocks, tomatoes, Fabergé eggs, Socks the White House cat, and more. But Leiber also offered other, less organically-inspired creations—simple animal-skin bags, in muted colors, topped with delicately jeweled clasps and spare chains. (more…)

The Sukkos Mob Does Its Thing

What thing, you ask?

Scene from The Sukkos Mob’s 2009 show, Awesome is Over.(Laura Ayers)

If it’s Sukkot, then it’s time for The Sukkos Mob, a radical performance/artistic company. This year, Tablet Magazine is co-sponsoring their production, Don’t Let The Sheep Get In Your Eyes, “an intimate science fiction story knit together with authentic sheepswool and music,” directed by Jenny Romaine. Among the spectacle artists is our very own assistant art director Abigail Miller. This promises to be an experience. What kind of experience? That’s for you to find out.

Showtimes and locations after the jump. (more…)

Three Up, Three Down

How our teams fared yesterday

Here is where you should have put in Sage.(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Tablet Magazine’s three NFL teams went undefeated in Week 1 and, yesterday, winless in Week 2. Yet not all wins are created equal, and yesterday’s defeats of the New England Patriots, the New York Giants, and the Washington Redskins actually told us three different things about each squad. (Oh, and a quick plug: Watch tonight to see rookie Jewish safety Taylor Mays and his San Francisco 49ers take on the defending champion New Orleans Saints.)

Bob Kraft’s Pats told us, in a 28-14 loss to the New York Jets at the New Meadowlands, that, despite a few exemplary plays—Randy Moss’s truly awesome one-handed touchdown catch comes to mind—a combination of old veterans and young up-and-comers does not equal some happy medium, but rather kind of a mess. The offense basically shut down after the first half; quarterback Tom Brady threw two interceptions, which might be de rigeur for non-2009 Brett Favre, but is a lot for him. Much more importantly, though, the Pats’ hodgepodge defense was unable to stop what should be a pretty mediocre Jets offense from scoring four touchdowns, three from Mark Sanchez—which is two to three more touchdown passes any decent defense should allow Sanchez to have. Many people thought the AFC East would be a stacked division; more likely, the Pats, the Jets, and (also significant Jewish squad) the Miami Dolphins will all be hovered around 10-6 at season’s close, and may not even be able to find a wild card berth, as they typically do. (more…)

N.Y. Dems Highlight GOPer’s Comments

Candidate made Hitler analogy

The scene outside City Hall this morning.(The author)

Last week, Carl Paladino, a wealthy Buffalo real estate developer, rode the Tea Party wave to become New York’s Republican gubernatorial candidate against Democrat Andrew Cuomo, son of former governor Mario. This morning, a handful of local Jewish Democrats joined rabbis from Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox community on the steps of City Hall to denounce comments Paladino had made about Sheldon Silver. “If I could ever describe a person who would fit the bill of an anti-Christ or a Hitler,” said Paladino of the Orthodox Jewish New York Assembly Speaker, who still lives on the Lower East Side, “this guy is it.” At a public forum in Niagara Falls, Paladino added that Silver is “probably the most corrupt and incompetent human being to ever serve in state government in the state of New York.”

What’s the catch? Paladino made these statements in October of 2009. They resurfaced in August, toward the end of his primary race against Rick Lazio. All of which makes this morning’s press conference look, well, a little hysterical. In fact, the event perfectly encapsulated the current schizophrenia of the ultra-Orthodox electorate, which famously tends Republican in national elections over concerns about Israel and swings Democratic in local elections to protect public benefits and perks, which, in New York at least, are the purview of Silver, Hikind, and a handful of other powerful Democrats, who would have more sway with a Cuomo administration as serious budget cuts get underway next year. In other words: You might hate Obama, but if you abandon your local Democrats, you can kiss your food stamps and zoning exemptions goodbye. (more…)

Too Good To Be True?

Salam Fayyad, the West’s favorite Palestinian

Secretary of State Clinton and Prime Minister Fayyad, last week.(Alex Brandon/AFP/Getty Images)

In all the praise for Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad—from Thomas Friedman to Roger Cohen to even Israeli President Shimon Peres, who famously called him “the Palestinian Ben Gurion” (in a more measured take, contributing editor Michael Weiss was there first)—I had yet to see a single anecdote that fully captured how so many various Western bien pensant political observers had anointed Fayyad, the head of the West Bank cabinet who has emphasized state-building for its own sake and as a means of putting pressure on Israel to make peace, as their favorite Palestinian; as, really, their Palestinian best friend.

That is, not until I had read Tablet Magazine contributing editor Nathan Thrall’s indispensable new dispatch, in which we learn that when Fayyad, who holds an economics Ph.D. from the University of Texas, first met President George W. Bush in 2003 (he was then Yasser Arafat’s finance minister), the former Texas governor “greeted him with index and pinky fingers extended to display UT Austin’s ‘Hook ‘em Horns’ sign.”

Thrall’s article is most valuable, though, because its combination of first-person reporting and exhaustive collation makes the most persuasive case yet that, as an earlier study had hinted, Fayyad’s state-building, while not without its successes, is ultimately more of a chimera than its champions like to admit; is unsustainably dependent on authoritarianism; and is unpopular among a likely majority of West Bank Palestinians. (more…)

Today on Tablet

The Kremlin fights Jew-hating, Sukkot, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Alexander Zaitchik reports on World Without Nazism, which is sort of like a Russian (and Kremlin-approved) Anti-Defamation League; it could serve a real purpose, but has yet to take bold stands. On the Vox Tablet podcast, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin discusses Rabbi Hillel, the subject of his new Nextbook Press biography. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall explains why Sukkot (which begins at sundown on Wednesday) is a mother’s nightmare. Josh Lambert’s weekly round-up of forthcoming books of interest is back-to-school-themed. The Scroll is what’s-going-on-today-themed.

Guess Who’s Coming to Shul

A Monday morning blind item

Rhinebeck, New York, this summer.(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

WHICH unconverted former First Daughter was spotted at morning Yom Kippur services with her new Jewish husband at New York University’s Bronfman Center? They stayed through the sermon at the Reform service.

Thank You!

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