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The Ping-Pong Wizard

Howard Jacobson is the underdog but our favorite

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(Jewish Chronicle)

The Man Booker Prize will be awarded to one of six books tomorrow, and the tea leaves suggest that Tom McCarthy’s C will win. Tablet Magazine’s official nominee, however, remains Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question. This is the British Jewish novelist’s first appearance on the shortlist (he has made several longlists), and if he pulls off an upset tomorrow, pleaes tell your friends that the place to go for all things Jacobson is the daily magazine of Jewish life and culture you hold in your virtual hands.

Today, we have an interview with Jacobson, in which he talks about his new novel, his old novel, his country, his people’s country, and his first love—which happens to be ping-pong.

Speaking of! We’re also extremely pleased to publish, for the first time in the United States, Jacobson’s 1999 profile of American table tennis champion Marty Reisman.

As for The Finkler Question itself: Books critic Adam Kirsch sung its merits last week.

Haven’t had your fill? Listen below to hear Jacobson discuss Israel and intone its name many, many times.

Related: The Plot Against England [Tablet Magazine]
Smash [Tablet Magazine]
Mirror Images [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier:Jacobson’s ‘Finkler’ Makes Man Booker Shortlist

Daybreak: Cabinet Passes Loyalty Oath

Plus Iran admits to being spied on, and more in the news

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The cabinet meets yesterday.(Gali Tibbon-Pool/Getty Images)

• The Israeli cabinet overwhelmingly approved a controversial bill that would require non-Jewish aspirational citizens to declare allegiance to the “Jewish and democratic state.” It will be up for a Knesset vote. [NYT]

• The Arab League has given the United States one month to coax Israel into re-freezing West Bank construction before it endorses shutting down peace talks. [LAT]

• Turns out that some of the problems Iran has been having with its nuclear program are related to Western sabotage after all. [LAT]

• Completely unrelatedly, Iran said it is ready to return to the negotiating table. [Laura Rozen]

• The talk of Israel has been just-declassified behind-the-scenes transcripts of discussions among Israeli leadership in the early, dark days ofr 1973’s Yom Kippur War. [NYT]

• Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni called on Prime Minister Netanyahu to reinstitute the freeze. [Haaretz]

Sundown: Abbas Wins Backing for Talks Halt

Plus Palestinian studies at Columbia, and more

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Columbia University.(Wikipedia)

• The Arab League backed President Abbas’s suspension of peace talks pending a freeze extension. [Haaretz]

• The IDF killed two senior Hamas operatives in Hebron, in the West Bank, drawing (eminently not-Hamas) Prime Minister Fayyad’s condemnation. [NYT]

• Our very own Liel Leibovitz chats about his new book, The Chosen Peoples. [The Jewish Star]

• Hezbollah continues to train in Syria. [Haaretz]

• Columbia University initiated a first-of-its-kind Center for Palestine Studies, co-directed by Professor Rashid Khalidi. There is little if any controversy surrounding it, although the David Project has yet to make a documentary about it. [Forward]

• If you’re in the mood for some off-color but orthodox Freudian sex advice, Bambi Shlomovich is your new girl (on) Friday. [Jewcy]

Shalom Rubashkin was convicted of massive financial fraud. So naturally he is worthy of a “We Are The World”-style tribute.

A Revised Take on Palestinian Refugees

Essay enhances indictment of post-’48 Arab governments

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A fascinating scholarly essay crossed my transom, and I’d like to recommend it as a weekend read. It concerns the famous quotation, “Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.” As the right-of-return continues to be a central Palestinian demand, the issue remains resonant. The line is commonly attributed to one Ralph Galloway, a British U.N. official who tried to tackle the post-1948 Palestinian refugee crisis.

Except there was no Ralph Galloway. As authors Alexander H. Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky show, the statement was made by Lt. General Sir Alexander Galloway, a Scotsman who spent significant time in pre-Israel Palestine and, what’s more, had extensive experience dealing in refugee issues in post-World War II central Europe—where he served as nothing less than the commander-in-chief of British forces in Austria, where there were an estimated 138,000 refugees. In 1952, he was removed from his post at the U.N. Relief and Works Agency at Jordan’s request because he had so vocally agitated for Arab governments to assume a level of responsibility for Palestinian refugees commensurate with postwar European governments and displaced Germans, including Jews.

The authors conclude:

Misunderstanding the identity of Galloway blunts the importance of his 1952 statement. Galloway was no mere international civil servant or bureaucrat. His experience as a leader of complex organizations and administrator in highly political situations was second to none. Galloway was familiar with refugee crises far larger and more dire than the Palestinians, as well as related exigencies of conventional warfare and insurgencies. He had also contended with complex politics in colonies, occupied territories and between superpowers. What he had not encountered was a situation where nominally supportive states maintained refugees in that condition and where refugees themselves demanded to remain homeless pending an ever-receding chance for repatriation. …

The European experience Galloway brought to UNRWA, which must have seemed so fitting in prospect, developed in a wholly different context. When seen from the perspective of a British administrator like Galloway, who had helped facilitate the repatriation and resettlement of hundreds of thousands of refugees [in] the context of escalating political tensions, the Arab states’ response to the Palestinians and UNRWA was simply intolerable.

A Tale of Two Galloways [Middle Eastern Studies]

‘In A Small Café in a Big City’

Your Vox Tablet preview

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(Eric Molinsky)

There’s much to say about Monday’s Vox Tablet podcast, in which host Sara Ivry interviews singer-songwriter Clare Burson about her new album, Silver and Ash. The hauntingly beautiful song cycle culls the memories and memory lapses of Burson’s maternal grandmother, who departed Leipzig, Germany, on the morning of November 9, 1938, a few hours before the terror of Kristallnacht.

Memphis, Tennessee-born Burson is a classically trained violinist who has made detours into folk and bluegrass. You can learn more about her in the podcast, but for now, we’ll just leave you with a taste of her music:

Unsolved Murder in Dubai

Mossad’s expertise, utility has stymied probe

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A Dubai camera captures two assassins following al-Mabhouh to his room.(WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating investigative report into why, more than eight months and 30 suspects later, we still don’t know much about who or what cinematically assassinated Hamas weapons operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. “A string of apparent dead ends has frustrated international investigators,” it reports, “lengthening the odds that anyone will be caught or that definitive proof of Mossad involvement will emerge.” (As a reminder, most of the signs point to the Mossad, though there also seems a likely chance that the Israeli spy agency received aid and comfort from some Arab governments or figures.)

Part of the problem? “Despite an initial burst of tough talk from various governments, some international investigators are concerned that politics may be hampering cooperation from some governments that support Israel. … Two senior American officials acknowledge the case is unusually sensitive because of Washington’s close ties with Israel.” (more…)

Yeshiva Chic

Fall fashion may make observers of us all

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Sweater by Reiss.(This Fall, Fashion Channels Yeshiva School Girls [The Man Repellent])

When I learned that the halachic justification for only wearing skirts was flimsy at best (suffice to say that the Biblical injunction against wearing men’s clothing has less weight in an era when pants are made for women), I continued to wear them at or below my knee, but I internally conceded that pants were infinitely more comfortable and easier to walk in. (I had been experimenting in private. Instead of trying drugs in college, I tried jeans. And sometimes, short-sleeve shirts.) Why? Because I wanted to be easily identified as an Orthodox Jewish woman. For me, this is no longer the case. But for others, fashion trends may (temporarily, anyway) blot out this basis for identification.

It is easy to spot an Orthodox man, modern or otherwise, by his yarmulke. But unmarried women don’t have one thing that clearly conveys themselves to others as religious. Instead, they must think holistically about their outfits: Long sleeves won’t do the trick if they’re paired with shorts or jeans; a long skirt with spaghetti straps means you could be just another hippie chick.

So for a couple of years after I stopped believing that I had to wear long skirts, I continued to do so. As a result, I enjoyed the knowing looks from other similarly clad women on the subway; being approached on the street to be asked where the nearest kosher restaurant was; and being greeted with a hearty “chag sameach.” These little nods, gestures, and words make you feel a little less anonymous in the largeness of New York. (more…)

Today on Tablet

We talk to Livni and talk about puppies, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni talks politics, Israeli-Diaspora relations, and more (but not Stuxnet) with contributing editor David Samuels. Theodore Ross relates that it took him writing a book, where his family moved when he was small, to turn his mom into a full-fledged Jewish mother. Lisa Traiger profiles Liz Lerman and her politically conscious choreography. In his weekly Torah column, Liel Leibovitz is confronted with the story of the Ark and recalls the “Noah Conundrum”: When he had one animal to save (a rescue puppy to adopt), he chose the cutest. The Scroll thinks all puppies are cute.

‘After the Holidays’

Your weekly dose of Israelispeak

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(Len Small/Tablet Magazine)

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

Now that shofar blasts are no longer reverberating in the air and sukkahs no longer sit on the balconies of the Holy Land, the long-awaited period of aharei hahagim (literally, “after the holidays”), when the nation’s month-long excuse for getting nothing done—other than shopping for chicken and pomegranates, of course—finally reaches its expiration date. This year, no less than others, aharei hahagim is a time for action. (more…)

Daybreak: Will They Stay or Will They Go?

Plus Russia grows a backbone on Iran, and more in the news

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President Abbas earlier this week.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

• The Arab League meeting today may produce angry rhetoric, but not, U.S. officials believe, an official endorsement for the Palestinian Authority to depart the peace talks. [NYT]

• Israeli officials, however, say they do expect Arab League backing for President Abbas’s decision. [JPost]

• Settlers seemed pleased, anyway. [JPost]

• Russia is refunding Iran’s down-payment for a sophisticated anti-aircraft system—further proof, says the U.S., that Russia is welcomely toughening up in its dealings with the Islamic Republic. [Laura Rozen]

• Guess who hasn’t been discovered? Really any of the over 30 suspected killers of Hamas weapons man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh [WSJ]

• A top Israeli energy tycoon discusses his rate battle with the Israeli government. [LAT]

Sundown: She’s Got the Power

Plus Hitler’s signature in the flesh, and more

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Irene Rosenfeld.(Forbes)

• A Jewish woman—Irene Rosenfeld, the CEO of Kraft Foods—was named Forbes’s second-most powerful woman in the world. Higher than Hillary! [Forbes]

• Big feature from former restaurant critic Frank Bruni on a kosher restaurant in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, that caters both to Hasidim and yuppies alike. You’re going to end up reading it this weekend, so may as well read it tonight. [NYT Magazine]

• Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon will visit China next week to convey that Iran sanctions are working and to emphasize the need to keep them up. [JPost]

• For the next week or so, the Nuremberg Laws will be on rare viewing at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. [AP/NYT]

• David Mamet, author of Nextbook Press’s The Wicked Son, on self-segregation. [Jewish Journal]

• Madoff is old news; the real target now is J. Ezra Merkin. [Forward]

While visiting my friend (who is doing fine) this morning at a New York City hospital with a Hebrew name, I saw this sign:

Haifa Comes to Newark

Exhibition game leads to blowout but respect

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Jordan Farmar guarding a Haifa player.(Ron Kaplan/NJJN)

Ron Kaplan, proprietor of one of my favorite blogs, also has a real job wherein he edits and writes for the New Jersey Jewish News (which, no, isn’t that paper). This week, he combines his two vocations and files a dispatch from Sunday night’s exhibition contest in downtown Newark between the New Jersey Nets and Maccabi Haifa, whose owner, Jeffrey Rosen, lives in West Orange (and whom Kaplan, naturally, has profiled).

Here’s my favorite part:

Proud mom Stacy Harvey said more than 75 family and friends had come from New City, NY, and beyond to cheer on her son, Brett, one of the newest members of the Haifa team. Harvey, a point guard from Loyola University Maryland, was signed by Haifa out of a July tryout camp in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

It just so happens I was at the game too, which among other things meant I got to meet Ron, which was great. As for Haifa, they played how you would expect: Small, fast, scrappily, and much less well. Nets Coach Avery Johnson admitted at a press conference after the game that Haifa—whose starting center is 6’6”—gave the Nets (who, rusty, nonetheless won by 40 points) the most trouble when they went small, specifically at the power forward position. And he expressed admiration for their ability to run the court—something the Nets (including new Jewish point guard, Jordan Farmar) will have to do if they want to exit the NBA’s cellar.

Night of Firsts As Haifa Takes on the Nets [NJJN]
Related: Members of the Team [NJJN]

Wrestling, But Not With the Lord

This week on ‘America’s Next Top Model’

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Esther last night.(The CW)

What do you do if you’re in the middle of a catfight between modeltestants Lexie and Kacey, who’ve been feuding since the first episode of the season? If you’re Liz, who had just informed us that she had been living in a homeless shelter when she was pregnant with her daughter, you get all up in Kacey’s grill, forcing The CW’s bleeper to work overtime. And if you’re Esther Petrack, the modern Orthodox modeltestant, you sit on the bed and patiently raise your hand until you’re called on. Which you’re not.

Oh Esther, you’re not in Maimonides anymore.

In last week’s recap, I wrote that I admired Esther for staying out of petty model wannabe fights, and this hand-raising incident endeared her to me even more. She seems younger than her cohorts, though they all fall into the same 18-21 age range. She laughs easily and goofily at the things she says and does, which includes a stumble during this week’s runway task, yet she quickly recovers and gives a sheepish smile.

The others don’t find the catwalk challenge any easier, since this week, the runway is moving. They are clad in Hervé Leroux dresses and incredibly high heels and sent down a conveyor belt. Each model is followed by a male counterpart, who gets to wear flat, rubber-soled shoes. Unlike the “Fallen Angel” shoot where the guys’ presence made sense—they had a part in the narrative and the girls interacted with them—their participation in this runway show seems to serve no purpose other than to demonstrate that it is easier to walk on a conveyor belt in sneakers than it is in heels. Ah, so that’s why I never see women jogging in their Christian Louboutin heels at the gym! (more…)

They’re Young, and They Don’t Make It Up

And several of them write for us

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Excuse the auto-horn-tooting: In response to the New Yorker’s ’20 Under 40’ fiction writers list the New Haven Review has noted 20 nonfiction writers under 40 (well, mostly) who are worth watching—and several have Tablet Magazine connections!

• Contributing editor Joshua Cohen, author of the novel Witz, writes a column on translated works; see ‘em all here.

Keith Gessen was a Vox Tablet guest (and is an FOTM to boot).

• Contributing editor Gideon Lewis-Kraus has penned several essays, including a profile of Wilhelm Reich titled, “Master of the Orgasm.”

• Contributing editor Mark Oppenheimer is also an editor at the New Haven Review. He has written extensively on Holocaust revisionism for us.

• If forced, to pick my favorite piece by contributing editor David Samuels, it would be this.

Samantha M. Shapiro profiled Miriam Lowenbraun, of the Association for Jewish Outreach Professionals.

List-members without Tablet Magazine connections: Please get in touch! (Jason Fagone, I’m looking at you.)

20 Non-fiction Writers Under 40 [New Haven Review]
Earlier: Five Jews Land on ‘New Yorker’ Authors List

How Many Shofars Does It Take …

… to make the walls come tumbling down?

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Jean Fouquet’s The Taking of Jericho.(Wikipedia)

Could the walls of Jericho have been destroyed by the force of seven shofars blowing (along with thousands of people shouting), as the Book of Joshua has it? This absurdly entertaining podcast takes that question as literally as possible, discussing Bronze Age walls; how many decibels toppling them would require (at least 177); what 10 talented shofar-blowers playing together sound like (this is the advantage of the podcast form!); how many shofar-blowers could create 177 decibels (407,380, at a minimum); at what decibel-level air essentially turns to plasma (160) … look, it can’t be done.

And then the expert explaining all of this, David Lubman, manages to come up with an insanely plausible explanation for how the story came about (which I refuse to spoil), thereby reminding us that engineers are the cleverest folks around. And the most realistic: “But of course,” Lubman adds, “if it was a miracle, all bets were off.”

The Walls of Jericho [Radiolab]

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