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Despite Victory, Islamic Center Still Opposed

Cordoba Initiative faulted for poor P.R. planning

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45-47 Park Place, which Park51 is planning to occupy.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The New York Times reports that the fierce opposition to Park51, the Islamic center to be built two blocks from Ground Zero, can be pinned on a “combination of arguable naïveté, public-relations missteps and a national political climate in which perhaps no preparation could have headed off controversy.” The organizers, it adds, “did little to engage with likely opponents. More strikingly, they did not seek the advice of established Muslim organizations experienced in volatile post-9/11 passions and politics.”

Given the context, the pitch of opposition is a bit bizarre. The imam behind the Initiative first tried to buy a space for his mosque on 23rd Street in 1999; he had been preaching sermons of “sweet spirituality” at a Sufi mosque 12 blocks north of Ground Zero until last year; he graduated from Columbia (go Lions!); he broached his plans at a Ramadan break-fast at Gracie Mansion last year.

Yet the controversy does not just come from political movements who find their strongest bases outside the five boroughs. A new Marist poll of registered New York City voters found that 34 percent approve of the building while the majority—53 percent—oppose it (the remainder are “unsure”). In fact, only 38 percent of Democrats support it, and only 49 percent of liberals do: Love them, love them, love them, they are liberals.

The other numbers you want? Out of the pool of registered New York City voters, only 20 percent of Jews approve of the center, while 71 percent oppose it.

Still, check the scoreboard. Park51 has the support of the city’s mayor, the borough’s president, and the local community board. Assuming it raises the funds it needs (which is something of an if), the center will be built.

For Mosque Sponsors, Early Missteps Fueled Storm [NYT]
Earlier: How To Build a $100 Million Islamic Center

Disraeli: The Musical!

The prime minister with a song in his heart

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Benjamin Disraeli.(Wikipedia)

In Jonathan Tolins’s new play Secrets of the Trade, which opened last night off-Broadway, an ambitious Jewish teenager from Long Island tries to break into theater by convincing an acclaimed playwright/director to become his personal mentor. It’s a flawed but earnest look at suburban Jewish families (a well-worn stage subject) and gay men’s tradition of mentoring younger gay men (a far more novel subject). Tolins’s script is frequently funny and sometimes insightful, and the cast is sharp as knives—particularly teenage lead Noah Robbins, who holds his own opposite the always compelling Tony-winner John Glover.

But most intriguing to The Scroll is a reference that comes early in the play. The young protagonist (Robbins) is writing a letter to his hero, the theater legend (Glover), hoping to secure a meeting:

“I read in the paper that you’re going to mount your musical Disraeli this summer in London … I did the show at my high school. I played Ben (in the original keys) and designed the sets … I was also the one who persuaded Mrs. Leach to do it when everyone else wanted to do Bye Bye Birdie.”

We don’t know of any actual musical about Benjamin Disraeli; nor do we know if the Disraeli of the maybe-nonexistent musical or the Disraeli of real life answered to “Ben.” But anyone interested in musicalizing the life of England’s first Jewish prime minister might want to check out the Nextbook Press biography by Tablet Magazine books critic Adam Kirsch.

Related: Benjamin Disraeli [Nextbook Press]
The Old ‘Coming Out’ Story Gets Twisted [Capital]

Bennet, Blumenthal Take Home Wins

Jewish Senate candidates look to November

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Sen. Michael Bennet.(Bennet for Senate (which rhymes!))

Last night saw several primaries in the run-up to November’s midterm elections, including the resolution of the most heated Jew-vs.-Jew race this side of the Illinois Ninth’s Schakowsky-vs.-Pollak: In Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet fought off primary challenger Andrew Romanoff, who had received former President Clinton’s support. Bennet will face conservative Republican Ken Buck in the general.

The only other Jew involved in a notable primary yesterday was longtime Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Running unopposed (and weathering minor scandal), he secured the Democratic nomination to succeed Sen. Chris Dodd; he will be opposed by Linda McMahon, the wife of professional wrestling impresario Vince McMahon.

If all Jewish candidates lose, there will be a paltry 11 Jewish senators, and Jews will be overrepresented in the upper legislative chamber by a staggeringly low 915 percent. If all Jewish candidates win, however, there will be lucky-number 18 Jewish senators. Despite the general political zeitgeist, which is blowing toward the GOP, three weeks ago Nate Silver had Colorado leaning for Bennet and Connecticut safe for Blumenthal.

Liberal Favorites Fall as Ga. Waits [Politico]
Earlier: Jew Versus Jew
Sherrod Turns Pawn in All-Jewish Race
Meet the Likely Next Jewish Senator
Midterm Jews

Today on Tablet

The sad state of Lebanon, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith bemoans the tragedy of Lebanon, which has come back under Syrian-Iranian hegemony after brief, hopeful flickers of self-sovereignty. A.J. Goldmann interviews the Israeli filmmaker behind A Film Unfinished, which cuts between ambiguous Nazi footage of the Warsaw Ghetto and contemporary interviews with survivors. The Scroll will strive for a minimum of further tragedy today.

‘Atlantic’ Reports Likelihood of Israeli Attack

Goldberg examines Iranian nuclear issue

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month.(Iranian President's Office via Getty Images)

In the September Atlantic’s cover story, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg reports, “A consensus has emerged that there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July.” Specifically, Prime Minister Netanyahu, who “does not place great faith in sanctions,” is allowing the West’s efforts at non-military curtailment of Iran’s program to last through December, under the assumption that Iran could achieve capability as early as March 2011.

Goldberg writes,

The Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission.

There are several truckloads of reporting in the piece, and you should read the whole thing. (My favorite nugget: “[President George W.] Bush would sometimes mock those aides and commentators who advocated an attack on Iran, even referring to the conservative columnists Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol as ‘the bomber boys,’ according to two people I spoke with who overheard this.”) Goldberg explains that the consequences of an Israeli strike could be catastrophic for Israel, for the United States, and for the all-important U.S.-Israeli relationship. Netanyahu is aware of this, of course; if he goes ahead and launches the strike anyway, according to Goldberg, it will be because his father, Ben-Zion Netanyahu (profiled in Tablet Magazine by Jason Epstein), imbued his son with, in Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s words, “a deep sense of his role in Jewish history.” (more…)

Daybreak: Fog of Flotilla

Plus NYT to Abbas: Come to the table, and more

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President Abbas a few days ago.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

• The conflicting testimony so far given to Israel’s Turkel Commission has made it difficult to assess blame for the flotilla fiasco. [WP]

• Iran pledged to make up the funding shortfall caused by U.S. congresspersons’ hold on $100 million in Lebanese military aid. Hey, it’s your money. [LAT]

• The New York Times editorializes in favor of direct talks, specifically prodding Palestinian President Abbas. [NYT]

• The IDF chief-of-staff insisted to Turkel et al that the commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara and killed nine aboard used “proportionate and correct” force. [Haaretz]

• The U.S. State Department modified its earlier Israeli travel warning after Israel complained of unfair treatment. [AP/Ynet]

• The IDF is reexamining its rules of engagement vis-à-vis the Lebanese Armed Forces in light of last week’s skirmish; previously, the LAF had been seen as generally neutral. [JPost]

Sundown: Jihard

Plus Mathis requests God’s forgiveness, and more

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Johnny Mathis.(last.fm)

• Name Fox News’ imaginary Ground Zero Muslim gay bar! Oh and here is the winner. [The Daily Dish]

• Former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) dies in a plane crash; AIPAC mourns him and his “steadfast commitment to America’s alliance with the Jewish state year after year.” [JTA]

• After initially refusing it, New York City buses will bear an anti-Cordoba House ad juxtaposing a plane flying toward the burning Twin Towers with the proposed Islamic Center. [Ynet]

• Richard Cohen takes noted hipster periodical The Economist to task for eliding Sayyid Qutb’s rampant anti-Semitism. [WP]

• Thomas Friedman chastises Nicholas Kristof in public, in secret. [Jeffrey Goldberg]

• From here on out, The Scroll will refer to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as “the bouncer from Kishinev.” [Foreign Policy]

Johnny Mathis will receive an award from the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation in commemoration of his 1959 recording of “Kol Nidre.” Here it is:

LeBron Consults Shady Kabbalist Rabbi

In related news, I hate LeBron

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LeBron and Rabbi Pinto, holding hands.(TMZ)

Capping off a summer of brilliant PR moves, LeBron James has hired Rabbi Yishayahu Yosef Pinto, a Hebrew-only-speaking, 37-year-old rabbi-to-the-minor-stars who also may be a sketchy businessman who may also have been somewhat involved in the suspicious death of a wealthy Bobover Hasid real-estate maven. Apparently James paid Pinto six figures for “spiritual guidance” during a merchandising meeting. This is sort of like the whole Amar’e Stoudemire thing, except without the charm and good intentions. Nice Yankees shirt, by the way.

King James Goes Old Testament, LeBron Hires Rabbi [TMZ]
Related: Charismatic Moroccan Kabbalish Draws Crowds and Questions [Forward]
Earlier: Celebrity Rabbi Maybe Related to Death

Klezmer Is Popular Again!

Hentoff sends collection skyrocketing

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(Amazon.com)

Never doubt the power of the printed word. On Saturday, the legendary Nat Hentoff raved over a 3-CD set of classic Yiddish tracks called Cantors, Klezmorim and Crooners 1905-1953 in the Wall Street Journal. (“A typical lyric: ‘What an improvement in our lives. No more problems, never harried. We are happily unmarried. I am a boarder at my wife’s.’ ”) Two days later, on Monday morning, the set had leaped to number 4 overall on Amazon.com (in between James Taylor and Cheryl Crow, for your information).

With due respect to Mr. Hentoff and Amazon’s hive mind, though, Tablet Magazine has long been on the case. In November, music columnist Alexander Gelfand reviewed the set. “It’s enough,” he wrote, “to give you some sense of the tremendous diversity of Jewish cultural expression during the 78 era, which stretched from the late 19th century—a full 25 years before the advent of radio—to the early 1950s, a span that saw the efflorescence of Yiddish theater, the rise of ‘hebe’ dialect humor, and the eager engagement of a rapidly assimilating immigrant community with American culture at large.”

And last month, Marissa Brostoff noted that one of the singers featured on the set, Moishe Oysher, is having a moment of his own.

Listen to an excerpt from “Chasidic in America” from the collection. Yes, the dude is singing, “Oy vey!”

Klezmer Comp Makes Amazon’s Top 5 [Variety]
Time-Travelers From a Golden Age [WSJ]
Related: Treasure Trove [Tablet Magazine]
Singing Sensation [Tablet Magazine]

The Rabbi Is In

Ask Joseph Telushkin your questions

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(Random House)

In a moral quandary? Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Nextbook Press’s forthcoming Hillel: If Not Now, When?, will help you find the answers just in time for the High Holidays. Send your questions to asktherabbi@tabletmag.com by August 28, and the rabbi will answer the most compelling submissions in Tablet Magazine before Yom Kippur.

Hillel: If Not Now, When? [Nextbook Press]

Israeli Minister Mocks To-Be-Deported Kids

Shas chairman refers to ‘field trip’

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Interior Minister Yishai last month.(David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images)

Last Friday, Liel Leibovitz reported in Tablet Magazine on the Israeli government’s plans to expel approximately 400 children of illegal foreign workers. “It is hard to exaggerate the wickedness of this decision, and its fundamental negation of both the spirit and the letter of Judaism,” Liel argued. He made a convincing case—not only for the policy’s cruelty, but for its impracticality, and finally for its betrayal of what Zionism should be.

Liel persuaded me. But there are probably reasonable people who could differ with him.

There is reasonable, though, and then there is Eli Yishai. The chairman of the ultra-religious Shas Party, as interior minister Yishai is actually in charge of effecting these kids’ deportations. So what is his response? “The children need to be told that their field trip has ended,” he said yesterday. “Is one of them going to stand up and cry?”

Presumably Yishai is cranky—or, if you will, being an asshole—because the 400 deportations actually represent a compromise: He had wanted an additional 800 kids to be forced out.

Yishai: The Field Trip Is Over for Foreign Workers’ Kids [JPost]
Related: Strangers in a Strange Land [Tablet Magazine]

Today on Tablet

The origins of Islam, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Patricia Crone reviews a new book that argues that, at its outset, Islam was a religion unusually tolerant of other faiths. Books critic Adam Kirsch takes on the famed Herman the Jew. It’s a new (Jewish) month, so Ethan Friedman has a new (Jewish) crossword. The Scroll always strives for limited ecumenicism.

The Top 10 Jewish-American Athletes

Why now? Why not now?

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Sandy Koufax holding one ball for each of his no-hitters.(Jewish Journal)

Honorable Mention: Amar’e Stoudemire

10. Kerri Strug
9. Al Rosen
8. Sarah Hughes
7. Barney Ross
6. Benny Leonard
5. Dolph Schayes
4. Sid Luckman
3. Mark Spitz
2. Hank Greenberg
1. Sandy Koufax

Daybreak: Aid to Lebanon Threatened

Plus Barak and Bibi compete with commissions, and more in the news

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• Powerful U.S. lawmakers appear serious about halting further military aid to Lebanon in the wake of last week’s border skirmish. [WSJ]

• U.S. envoy George Mitchell is in the region to push talks. For a day. [JPost]

• Lebanon is preparing to accuse 150 people of spying for Israel and to present its case to the U.N. Security Council. [JPost]

• Israeli worries nixed the U.S. sale of a long-range missile system and certain other military toys to Saudi Arabia, though F-15 fighter planes will still change hands. [Ynet]

• In his testimony before the Turkel Commission, Defense Minister Ehud Barak demonstrated a heroic level of knowledge of the details of the military’s flotilla operation. [Haaretz]

• After U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon raised the possibility of involving the IDF in the brokered flotilla probe, Prime Minister Netanyahu threatened to back Israel out. [Arutz Sheva]

Sundown: Bibi on The Flotilla Fiasco

Plus Ashton visits Abraham, and more

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Netanyahu testifying today.(Ronen Zvulun - Pool/Getty Images)

• Before Israel’s internal Turkel Commission, Prime Minister Netanyahu testified that top Turkish officials were uninterested in cooperating to stop the Gaza Flotilla. [NYT]

• Ashton Kutcher traveled to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, drawing the ire of the left-wing blogosphere. He was in the area as a guest of the Kabbalah Center of Tel Aviv, drawing the ire of everyone else. [Promised Land]

• Britain’s chief rabbi said he was “dismayed” by Prime Minister David Cameron’s comparison of Gaza to “a prison camp” in front of a group of Turkish businessmen. [JPost]

• Thomas Friedman encourages “constructive criticism” of Israel that does not shirk from holding it accountable while recognizing the realities of its regional context. [NYT]

• An important rabbi in the Religious Zionist movement banned overdrawing from bank accounts, something to do with not collecting interest. Plus you know they always get you with those fine-print fees. [Ynet]

• Vox Tablet interlocutor Francine Prose calls Hans Keilson a “genius” and his two reissued novels “masterpieces.” (Adam Kirsch reviewed them last week.) [NYT Book Review]

Today is the 15th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death.

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