Just Win, Baby

How our teams fared yesterday

Redskins running back Ryan Torain scores.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In baseball’s 162-game season, close games leave one feeling ambiguously, no matter the result: You got lucky this time, but be careful next time; you got unlucky this time, but you’ll get ‘em next time. In football’s 16-game season, though, that is not the proper response: You must be happy with a win and sad about a loss, no matter how close each was. And you must draw broader lessons, because winning close games is something of its own skill—chiefly, it’s about minimizing your own mistakes and exploiting your opponents’ (and your opponent will always make mistakes). And winning close games just may be the most important skill in the NFL.

Which is why the Washington Redskins’ 27-24 loss last night, at home, to the Indianapolis Colts is more of a sucker punch than it should first appear. Sure, the loss was to the great Peyton Manning and his Colts, who are assuredly one of the best teams in the League—through Week 6, it seems clear that all the best teams are in the AFC—who already demolished NFC East rivals the New York Giants and will do the same to the Dallas Cowboys (surely) and the Philadelphia Eagles (likely). (more…)

What Did You Do in the Loyalty Oath War?

In defense of Mike Leigh and other boycotters

Mike Leigh.(Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

When famed British-Jewish filmmaker Mike Leigh canceled his visit to Israel this weekend in protest of the loyalty oath legislation and other “policies,” the consensus among the Jewish state’s cultural illuminati was that Leigh was punishing the wrong guys. “The students, teachers, artists and various professionals from these institutions who are waiting to hear you are not the elected government of Israel, nor are they responsible for its policies,” wrote the director of the Jerusalem film school where Leigh was supposed to speak. “By this boycott that you are effectively imposing in canceling the visit, you are creating an association between the cultural-artistic genre and the policies of the government and the military.”

As I’ll go on to explain, all that is debatable. But either way, Leigh is in fact sending exactly the right message to exactly the right audience. (more…)

Israeli Gymnasts on the World Stage

Tomorrow, a Nittany Lion goes for gold

Noam Shaham.(Courtesy the gymnast)

I first became aware of Israeli gymnasts when I received a subscription to International Gymnast as a bat mitzvah present. I had been involved in the sport for four years, and as I scanned down the competition results from the 1994 World Championships in Brisbane, Australia, I was surprised by the presence of one nationality shorthand: “ISR”. The gymnast’s name adjacent to it was Michal Shahaf. From then on, every time a new issue arrived, I’d look for that ISR, hoping that it wasn’t too far down the rankings. (For the record, Shahaf had some remarkable international results during her short career, including fifth place all-around and first place vault finishes at the 1993 Junior European Championships.)

Fast forward to 2009, when it wasn’t necessary to scan down to the bottom of the standings to find an ISR. Alexander Shatilov, 23, a native of Uzbekistan who immigrated to Israel in 2002, won third place in the World Championships floor exercise for the first Israeli Worlds medal in gymastics. In addition to the lanky Shatilov (he is six feet tall, defying both Jewish and gymnast height odds), who has been a mainstay in the floor exercises top eight since 2006, several Israeli gymnasts have competed for the upper echelon of NCAA gymnastics teams in the United States. One of those NCAA gymnasts is Noam Shaham, 25. (more…)

How To Lose Jews and Not Influence Them

Although it’s too late for Carl Paladino

New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.(Carl Paladino on Facebook)

Every New York City and state political candidate should (and probably will) read these five rules (via Ben Smith) for campaigning in ultra-Orthodox communities, and follow them, er, religiously. They are insightful, wry (“Boro Parkers are NOT amish. Everything you say WILL be recorded”), and dead-on. Paladino, the Tea Party-backed New York Republican gubernatorial candidate, saw an opportunity to win the votes of Brooklyn’s heavily observant Jews, who hold conservative views on social issues like abortion and gay marriage but are heavily backing Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo. This philosophy was shared by Rabbi Yehuda Levin, the small-time politically conservative pseudo-Hasid who served as Paladino’s ambassador to the community before summarily de-endorsing him last week for apologizing for saying mean things about gay people. (more…)

Today on Tablet

Our Kurdish brothers, making ‘It Gets Better’ better, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, James Kirchick observes the parallels between the Jews and the Kurds, which have been reinforced by Israel’s recent enmity with Turkey. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall argues that anti-bullying projects such as the “It Gets Better” campaign, aimed at queer youth, are ineffective, and the real strategy needs focus on bullying prevention. On the Vox Tablet podcast, Rodger Kamenetz kibbitzes, in his inimitable way, about his new Nextbook Press work Burnt Books. Josh Lambert offers his usual round-up of forthcoming books of interest. The Scroll is honorarily Kurdish today.

Talking Turkey

Inside the West’s once-ally

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan earlier this month.(David Gannon/AFP/Getty Images)

In fewer than two years, Turkey has gone from America’s favorite example of a tolerant Muslim democracy and Israel’s closest Muslim ally to criminalizing dissent, arresting its domestic political opponents, and cozying up to Iran. The government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a mockery of the country’s judicial system while continuing to fight a brutal war against the indigenous Kurdish population and denying the Armenian genocide. In this last crime, many of the most prominent groups representing American Jewry have been complicit. This week, Tablet Magazine explores the fate of minority groups inside Turkey, in the hope of illuminating a country that policymakers in both the United States and Israel—and American Jews—appear to have badly misunderstood.

Outside its territory, Turkey has given aid and cover to Iran’s nuclear ambitions while trying to assert its leadership over some of the most radical forces in the Middle East. Turkey launched a series of salvos at Israel, beginning with Erdogan’s furious verbal assault on Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos and culminating in the Gaza flotilla martyrdom mission of the Mavi Marmara, which was planned and staffed by the IHH, a Turkish fundamentalist organization with close ties to Erdogan’s government. Meanwhile, the question of who “lost Turkey” has become a political football between the United States and Europe—with Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently blaming the E.U.—and has disrupted President Barack Obama’s hopes of constructing a pro-American security architecture to follow the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. (more…)

Daybreak: Schalit Issue Broached Again

Plus ‘Free Pollard’ movement gains official steam, and more in the news

From a pro-Schalit rally in June.(Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

• Israel has re-engaged the German mediator on the topic of freeing Gilad Schalit. [NYT]

• Talks have also initiated, at least among high-level Israelis, over how to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard from the United States. [JPost]

• The Leviathan prospect, thought to be a major natural gas field off Israel’s northern coast, is about to be drilled. [WSJ]

• As it struggles for traction against the ruling, Islamist AKP, Turkey’s staunchly secularist opposition party revamped its platform, including calling for closer ties with Israel. [WSJ]

• Secretary of State Kissinger felt limited by Vietnam in how much support he could offer Israel during the Yom Kippur War, new documents show. [Haaretz]

• Novelist Belva Plain, famous for multigenerational epics about Jewish-Americans, died at 95. [NYT]

Sundown: U.S. Tsk-Tsks East J’lem Building

There were limited clashes in East Jerusalem today.(Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

• The United States has formally expressed disappointment at Israeli approval for new building in Jerusalem, on the grounds that it “hinders the efforts to resume” direct talks. [Laura Rozen]

• Nextbook Press author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein raves over Nicole Krauss’s new novel Great House. [NYT Book Review]

• Another Nextbook Press author (and Tablet Magazine contributor) Ilan Stavans thinks you should go see Nora’s Will, a new film centering around a Mexican Jewish Seder. [Forward]

• Another Tablet Magazine contributor, Michelle Goldberg, upbraids the Anti-Defamation League for unfairly painting legitimate critics of Israel with the anti-Israel brush. [The Daily Beast]

• Famed and pioneering Columbia Law School Professor Louis Henkin died at 92. [CLS]

• Great pitcher Rube Marquard was not a Jew. But he was buried in a Jewish cemetery with his Jewish wife. [Kaplan’s Korner] Which is my way of reminding you to watch the Philadelphia Phillies’ Roy Halladay take on the San Francisco Giants’ Tim Lincecum tomorrow night in the National League Championship Series.

Sheila Broflovski, the most ostentatiously Jewish character on South Park, has a confession to make: She’s from New Jersey.

Your ‘Burnt Books’ Offering

A mail art exposition


Rodger Kamenetz’s Burnt Books drops next Tuesday, and in the lead-up, Nextbook Press is asking you to mail us your art on the “Burnt Books” theme (who says we don’t need the Postal Service?). Many of the books burnt in Kamenetz’s book are, of course, literally ignited (like the work of Franz Kafka). But our theme is a bit more figurative: The book may be burning (literally made of light not paper, online, eBooks etc.. ) yet it is not consumed by the flame; it is transformed, reincarnated, rejuvenated.

So, take your best shot! Send us your work, and we will exhibit it online and, possibly, physically, in New York City. Details here.

‘Standard’ Rabbi Revealed

Explains opposition to same-sex marriage, announcements

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin.(Rabbinical Council of America)

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, a north Jersey-based vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, was the one who informed the New Jersey Jewish Standard that it might be best, from the perspective of its Orthodox readership (and advertisers?), for the paper to cease publishing same-sex engagement announcements. He quite scrupulously details the Orthodox community’s internal contradictions. “We believe in respect for all individuals regardless of their sexual orientation and stand adamantly against any physical, mental or social violence committed against them,” he says. “At the same time we have a deep commitment to the integrity of Torah law, which clearly proscribes same-sex relationships.”

His explanation for apparently leaning on the Standard (he denies there were any explicit or implicit threats, but it is difficult to think that he didn’t realize that the prospect of diminished circulation and/or advertising wouldn’t occur to the Standard brass whom he telephoned), however, doesn’t add up as well. “Sometimes people feel that they have the right to make their choices and then to obligate others to celebrate their choices,” he explains of his decision to ask the Standard not to run the announcements. “We believe that we cannot celebrate these choices.” Um, then just don’t?

What Do We Do When We Disagree? [New Jersey Jewish Standard]
Orthodox Unsure How To React to Anti-Gay Violence, Discrimination [JTA via JustASC]
Earlier: ‘Standard’ Publisher Clarifies Same-Sex Stance

The Ghosts of Prague

Your Vox Tablet preview

(Eric Molinsky)

Rodger Kamenetz (of The Jew in the Lotus fame) has written a book for Nextbook Press about the intersecting passions and existential worries of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and Franz Kafka. Nachman was one of Hasidism’s great spiritual leaders and Kafka, though he lived a secular life a century after Nachman, in his last years was very much taken by Jewish mysticism. In fact, as Kamenetz sees it, Kafka was a latter-day Nachman, and Nachman anticipated and even answered many of the questions Kafka raised in his fiction. Sound kind of supernatural-kooky? Not to Kamenetz. Then again, we’re talking about a man who begins a story like this:

For more, you’ll have to listen to Monday’s edition of Vox Tablet, in which Kamenetz finishes this tale, and tells others, to host Sara Ivry.

Walkin’ Down The Street

This week on ‘America’s Next Top Model’

Esther Petrack modelin on Rodeo Drive.(The CW)

Although this is the season of “high fashion,” the model wannabes begin this lackluster episode at Walmart. Their assignment is to sell Cover Girl’s newest product, a smoky eye kit, which actually doesn’t make their task any more high end: In the hierarchy of drugstore makeup brands, Cover Girl is one step above Wet n’ Wild. Since only nine modeltestants remain, they are divided into teams of three in order to devise the best possible way to demonstrate to onlookers how to apply the makeup. The purpose of this task—aside from shilling for Cover Girl—is to demonstrate how charming and authentic they are to the public. Modern Orthodox contestant Esther Petrack ends up with Kacey and Kayla. Kacey takes over the presentation from her teammates and turns out to be a skilled salesperson, perhaps hinting at what her post-ANTM professional life might look like. She propels her team to the win. Their prize? They get to raid the Cover Girl aisle for all the makeup they can stuff into a bag.

Photographer Nigel Barker decides that Esther did the best job applying the free cosmetics to her face, and awards her a gift card. In previous recaps, I’ve blamed our girl’s lack of nastiness for her lack of a substantial presence, because reality shows are really about conflict. But during this episode, others get to confess about their insecurities, so being mean is clearly not a prerequisite for a direct address. So why is there so little Esther? Did someone clue The CW in on the true meaning of her name? Perhaps she should change it to something more showboat-y or scandalous, like Jezebel or Lilith? Or what if I’ve got this all backwards: Maybe she is not sweet and goofy at all? Maybe Esther curses like a sailor and forces The CW to eliminate her confessionals altogether? The world may never know. (more…)

J Street Jiu-Jitsu

How the group navigated the Soros scandal

(J Street)

The right will still have J Street to kick around—and, in a sense, it has itself to blame.

The “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization looked on the ropes last month. It had, at best, obfuscated about having received roughly one-third of its revenue—some $245,000—for the period between July 2008 and July 2009 from controversial left-wing donor George Soros. It further turned out that Mort Halperin, a Soros confidante and senior adviser to Soros’s Open Society Institute, had been one of J Street’s unrevealed officers and directors—which critics seized on as the smoking-gun evidence that Soros wished to substantially influence the group.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the woodshed. J Street honcho Jeremy Ben-Ami apologized to the group’s board, and the board decided to stick with him. Ben-Ami apologized to supporters. It’s not a month later, and despite—because of?—calls from the right for candidates like Joe Sestak and Robin Carnahan to return J Street funds, J Street is back to raising money for its preferred candidates: Earlier this week for two New York Democrats; now for Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois), who is facing a tough challenge from Republican Joel Pollak. In fact, Schakowsky is using calls for her to return J Street’s money—calls predicated on the Soros revelations—as fundraising leverage: “I reject calls by my GOP opponent to return campaign contributions from JStreetPAC,” she said, “and his cynical attempt to turn Israel into a partisan wedge issue at this delicate and potentially historic moment.” (more…)

Today on Tablet

Grossman revised, lizards galore, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, contributing editor Daphne Merkin argues that critics are going too far in connecting Israeli novelist David Grossman’s personal tragedy with that described in his new novel. Columnist Etgar Keret talks about lizards, and you know what? He makes it work. Contributing editor David Kaufmann reviews philosopher Stanley Cavell’s memoir. Liel Leibovitz highlights an Israeli program for handicapped youth that was founded by a teenager. The Scroll will get around to founding something one of these days.

‘Declaration of Loyalty’

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.

In the winter of 2009, Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party campaigned under the slogan, “Bli ne’emanut ein ezrahut”: No loyalty, no citizenship.

This week, the Israeli cabinet voted in favor of a bill that, unless the Knesset shoots it down, would require new non-Jewish citizens to pledge allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic state.” There are a few Hebrew terms for this oath: Hatzharat ne’emanut, or “declaration of loyalty,” which includes a word that, as Lieberman has discovered, has the advantage of sort of rhyming with the Hebrew word for “citizenship”; hatzharat emunim, or “declaration of allegiance”; and shvu’at emunim, which means “oath of allegiance” and is also the Hebrew title for the 2003 movie Pledge of Allegiance.

These terms have in common the Hebrew root that also appears in the word emunah, meaning belief, faith, trust, or confidence, often in a religious context. The same root is also used in a term that frequently comes up on Israel’s version of C-SPAN: Hatza’at ee-eemun, or no-confidence motion. (more…)

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