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…)

Daybreak: The Iran-Lebanon Merger

Plus A’jad praises, meets with Hezbollah, and more in the news

Ahmadinejad speaking yesterday; next to him is a Hezbollah representative.(Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu accused Lebanon of becoming “an extension of the ayatollah regime in Iran.” [Haaretz]

• This after President Ahmadinejad stood a few miles from the Israeli border and loudly praised Hezbollah. [NYT]

• He also reportedly met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut. [Jewish Journal/Haaretz]

• The Arab League warned that continued West Bank construction could lead it to ask the U.N. to recognize an independent Palestine. [JPost]

• President Abbas punted on the question of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, saying how Israel defines itself is up to Israel. [JPost]

Sundown: Boom Market

Plus the lampshade made of skin, and more

The lampshade.(Forward)

• Israel has arguably the fastest-rising property market in the world. [AP]

• All the major world powers, including the United States and China, have proposed nuclear talks with Iran for next month. [Laura Rozen]

• Prominent Palestinian intellectual Mustafa Barghouti proposes a unilateral declaration of independence “on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem.” (And Gaza?) [IHT]

• Tablet Magazine contributor Jon Kalish reviews Mark Jacobson’s The Lampshade. [Forward]

• Iranian President Ahmadinejad has formed an “independent and neutral team” to investigate U.S. complicity in 9/11. [NY Daily News/Vos Iz Neias?]

• New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis has promise, even if the Mets don’t. [Kaplan’s Korner]

Rabbi Levin on the teevee last night.

The Jewish Media

If everyone else were like Tablet Magazine


Presumably apropos l’affaire Sanchez, CollegeHumor has a few examples of what certain mainstream news outlets would look like if Jews really did run the media. It’s pretty funny, although, predictably, the New York Times gag falls too close to reality to be effective satire.

If Jews REALLY Ran the Media [CollegeHumor]
Earlier: Sanchez Says Jews Run Media, Is Fired

Yehuda Levin’s Vaudeville Act

Message: I’m Jewish

Rabbi Yehuda Levin.(AP/Gawker)

It was hard to read Rabbi Yehuda Levin’s rant—the sentence could end right there, of course—without noticing how ostentatiously Jewish he was being, how he seemed to be going out of his way to remind you of his religious and cultural authenticity.

“The speech that you gave in Brooklyn to the Orthodox Jewish community.”

“I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich.”

“Mazel tov!”

“I almost choked on the kosher salami.”

Let’s repeat that one, just for fun: “I almost choked on the kosher salami.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic blogger, has an illuminating take. “A lot of what this Rabbi is doing strikes me as what a lot of my folk would call ‘cooning’ if this dude were black,” he writes. I was unfamiliar with the term (and probably wouldn’t use it myself, given its etymology): According to Urban Dictionary,

Modern day coons are blacks who play stereotypical roles and black entertainers that promote ignorance. Cooning is someone is acting like a ‘coon’.

(a is singing and dancing in public with white people watching)

b: Will you come on and stop cooning!

Sounds about right.

Paladino’s Rabbit Cont. [Ta-Nehisi Coates]
Earlier: Carl Paladino’s Betrayal of Reason

Bloomberg for President?

Unaffiliated group may have affiliated backing

Mayor Michael Bloomberg earlier this month.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

When, in the summer of 2007, I dropped in on one of the weekly get-togethers of the New York City chapter of something called the Committee to Draft Michael Bloomberg at Manhattan’s Old Town Bar, the only draft was the beer. But are things different this time? The Wall Street Journal reports that the current incarnation of the Committee has received the tacit backing of Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s former deputy mayor and top adviser.

On the other hand, Hizzoner said in August. “I will rule out a run for president. I have the best job I could possibly have.” Maybe Rahm Emanuel will have to be our first Jewish president after all.

Bloomberg Supporters Plot Draft [WSJ]
Related: These Ten People Want To Make Bloomberg President

Just Desserts

Knowing your kichel from your babka

Blackberry rugelach. Mmmmm.(Wikipedia)

Today is National Dessert Day, which, unlike Valentine’s Day, is not a sham of a Hallmark holiday. It’s the real deal, at least for me. (I bake cookies when I’m stressed.) In honor of this hallowed occasion, I’ve compiled a by no means exhaustive list of classic Jewish desserts. Leave your favorites in the comments!

Kichel: This dessert biscuit is made from egg and sugar often shaped into circles or bowties. It was served after services nearly every Shabbos in the basement of my shul, the Young Israel of Redwood. However if I wanted to get my hands on one I had to get past the old men who crowded around the table of food, mostly to spear pickled herring with toothpicks. (The kichel often proved too hard for their dentures.) These were the kind of men who yelled, “Kiddush! Kiddush!” every time a wedding, birth, bar mitzvah, graduation, or even a bat mitzvah was announced. (more…)

In Lebanon, Ahmadinejad Gets Mixed Reviews

Shiites applaud, others suspect

Lebanese well-wishers await President Ahmadinejad yesterday.(Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)

A U.S. diplomatic spokesperson’s understatement yesterday was so pronounced, he was almost being wry. On the occasion of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first-ever state visit to Lebanon, where he was thronged by thousands of supporters in a predominately Shiite southern suburb of Beirut, the spokesperson said the United States has “strong suspicions about the motives of Iran and its—you know, the groups that it supports who do not have Lebanon’s long-term interest at heart.” Of course, part of the problem, as Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith has argued, is that these “groups”—chiefly the Shiite militia Hezbollah—are arguably already in Lebanon’s driver’s seat. (more…)

Today on Tablet

Aliyah B intrigue, Chagall de-Jewified, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, acclaimed spy novelist Alan Furst “reviews” an out-of-print book about Aliyah B, which was the wave of illegal Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine, and calls for its republication. Judith Matloff reports that Belarus is very proud of Marc Chagall, but to them he is pure Belarusian; a certain other aspect of his identity goes unmentioned. Paula Sadok describes how being a Syrian Jew, and therefore a Mizrahi, has made her feel like the Other even among Jews. The Scroll sometimes feels like the Other of the blogosphere, though not usually.

Carl Paladino’s Betrayal Of Reason

And a sensational, near-fatal kosher sandwich!

Rabbi Yehuda Levin yesterday.(AP/NYT)

Not only did the right-wing, attention-grabbing, sketchy-ass Rabbi Yehuda Levin abandon Carl Paladino after the New York Republican gubernatorial candidate apologized for warning that children were being “brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option.” Yesterday, he revealed the hazardous circumstances under which he learned of Paladino’s perfidious turnabout to the politically expedient position that homosexuality maybe isn’t bad for kids:

“I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich. While I was eating it, they come running and they say, ‘Paladino became gay!’ I said, ‘What?’ And then they showed me the statement. I almost choked on the kosher salami.”

(Let’s pause and note that Levin was eating a pastrami and salami sandwich. I don’t care how kosher it was, he’s about to be dead.)

As for Paladino’s having cited the concerns of his gay nephew? “He discovered now he has a gay nephew?” Levin replied. “Mazel tov! We’ll make a coming-out party!” Sources say he was being sarcastic.

Rabbi Breaks With Paladino Over Apology [NYT]
Earlier: Rabbinic Svengali Quits Paladino

Daybreak: You Better Recognize

Plus the Bibi-Lieberman bickering, and more in the news

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman.(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

• Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren blames Palestinian resistance to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state as an important insult and the immediate obstacle to peace talks. [NYT]

• U.S. diplomats are seizing on a PLO official’s willingness to recognize Israel this way at the pre-1967 borders as a welcome place to start negotiating. [JPost]

• The rift between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman is growing, and Bibi’s biggest fear is moving so far to the center that Lieberman and his nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu come to define the right. [NYT]

• After Israeli security razed illegal outposts in the northern West Bank, settlers and Palestinians clashed. [JTA]

• Ahmadinejad says: Nuclear power plants for everyone! [Haaretz]

• This article. More at 10. [NYT]

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