Today in Tablet

Choosing chosenness, gaming Israel, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz explain how they came to write a book, The Chosen Peoples, that embraces divine election as, if nothing else, a useful notion. Mideast columnist Lee Smith discusses regional negotiations with Nobel Prize-winning Israeli game theorist Robert Aumann, who argues the Gaza withdrawal sent the wrong message and thereby delayed peace. Gal Beckerman talks Soviet Jewry on a Vox Tablet podcast. The Scroll advises you to watch out for flying lulavs.

Should Esther Be On ‘ANTM’?

OU’s Diament says no; I say yes

Esther Petrack.(Starcasm)

My post about the modern Orthodox contestant on America’s Next Top Model has generated a large number of comments, many critical of Esther Petrack’s decision to defer Sabbath observance in favor of participating in the show. Even Nathan Diament, Director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (the nation’s largest Orthodox umbrella organization), got in on the action, sending out several tweets of his own criticizing Tyra Banks for not accommodating Petrack’s religious schedule and Petrack for pledging to forgo “honoring the Sabbath” mere days before Yom Kippur. (In fairness to Petrack, it was probably filmed at least a few months ago; she may have renounced her observance a couple days before Tisha B’Av.)

In an email exchange, Diament expanded his opinion beyond 140 characters. Asked whether the television network The CW should have rearranged its shooting schedule so that Petrack would not be forced to violate the Sabbath, he cited legal protections that may or may not apply. “Federal and state law require employers to attempt to accommodate an employee’s religious needs,” he said, though he acknowledged that reality show contestants may not be considered employees, so “that might make this more of a ‘spirit of the law’ point.” It’s unclear what effort, if any, had been made to accommodate the Jewish calendar during the shoot. (One commenter who claimed a relationship with Petrack noted that she kept kosher throughout. If that’s true, then at least kosher food was provided.) Diament, admitting that he is unfamiliar with ANTM’s schedule, wondered “whether it requires every model to be available to shoot 24/7—or whether there are shifts that could be used to accommodate Ms. Petrack.” I agree, but that’s just because I don’t think modeling is essential enough to require the same kind of hours worked by, say, doctors. (more…)

Daybreak: Building and Talking?

Plus a murky West Bank killing, and more in the news

Presidents Peres and Abbas in New York.(Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images)

• Resumed West Bank building may not end peace talks after all, President Abbas told dinner guests in New York last night. [Haaretz]

• In the midst of his usual grandiose rhetoric, President Ahmadinejad, also in New York (it’s U.N. General Assembly week), predicted that talks over Iran’s nuclear program would soon resume. [LAT]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu pledged to put any Palestinian peace deal up to a referendum. [WSJ]

• The assassination of a West Bank Hamas operative has raised questions about the extent of Palestinian Authority cooperation with Israel. [WP]

• In New York, Secretary of State Clinton tried to coax Arab nations to offer more financial support to the P.A. and more general support to the talks (even as her husband gave the talks an optimistic 50 percent chance). [WP]

• Some excellent reporting on how American Jews are actively helping to sponsor Israeli settlements, including those not right near the Green Line—in this case, L.A. Jews and the town of Ariel. [Jewish Journal]

Sundown: Ayalon and Fayyad Don’t Play Nice

Plus Peres and Barak paint the town red, and more

Israeli President Shimon Peres yesterday.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

• Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad fought in New York, ended their meeting abruptly, and canceled a joint press conference afterward. [Haaretz]

• Community board approval of the Ground Zero Islamic center in May was followed (caveat: Correlation does not prove causation!) by a significant uptick in local U.S. governments’ alleged discrimination against Muslims trying to build mosques. [Ben Smith]

• Holocaust denier David Irving was denied permission to conduct a tour on the Auschwitz grounds. [DPA/Haaretz]

• Remnants of a 1500-year-old Samaritan synagogue were uncovered in the Jordan Valley. [JTA]

• The New Israel Fund has modified donation guidelines so as to try to avoid supporting groups not seen as sufficiently Zionist. [JTA]

• Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, unleashed on midtown Manhattan. Look out, ladies! [Page Six]

Mayor Bloomberg announced the winner of the Sukkah City competition. Jewcy was there.

Harvard Cancels Peretz Speech

‘TNR’ editor under fire for remarks about Muslims

Martin Peretz.(Wikipedia)

This is the post I’ve been avoiding. Writing about Martin Peretz, the editor-in-chief and part-owner of The New Republic, and his recent comment, “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims,” seemed useless and dispiriting for any number of reasons. For one thing, plenty of others had their say (see here, here, and most prominently here). Additionally, some have defended Peretz (see here and here) on the grounds that, for all his faults, he has been an extremely valuable political and journalistic participant for four decades due to his patronage of the fantastic New Republic. Most importantly, there is not much to say: Unlike when most writers write something objectionable, and you can ask, “Why the hell is that Website publishing that writer?,” well, in this case we already knew the answer: Peretz is the boss, and as anyone with a boss knows—and nearly everybody has a boss—you do what your boss wants.

News, however, that Harvard’s Social Studies Department dropped him as a speaker at its upcoming 50th anniversary celebration forces the issue. (more…)

‘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…)

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