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.

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, novelist and author of Nextbook Press’s Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity.

“Sukkah of the spirit” suggests unlimited freedom of imagination, so I’ll break a metaphysical boundary and allow myself to imagine myself sitting in a sukkah with my father, who died in 1980, and my sister, who died in 2001. They are singing together. My father, Bezalel Newberger, was a cantor and my sister, Mynda, had inherited his perfect pitch and a miraculous voice. The two of them used to love to harmonize together. If I have to stay within the bounds of the metaphysically possible, I’d settle for a recording of them. Sadly, none exists, since it was on the Sabbath and holidays that they would sing together around the table. I can’t think of an item that could give me more pleasure than a recording of their living voices. (more…)

A Whole Lot of Crap

How our teams fared yesterday

Rosenfels and Manning (looking clueless in the back).(The author)

Though only two of Tablet Magazine’s three NFL teams lost yesterday, the glass is not even one-third full: The victory was as troubling as a victory can be, and both losses were so putrid you can literally smell them, a day later.

First, the not-very-good news: The New England Patriots won a divisional game against the Buffalo Bills, bringing them to a 2-1 record in what is sure to be a very cutthroat division (after the New York Jets beat the Miami Dolphins last night, those three teams are all 2-1). They won 38-30, at home, against arguably the worst team in the NFL, who literally just cut the person who had been their starting quarterback two weeks ago. (Their new starter will apparently be Ryan Fitzpatrick, notable for being a Harvard man.) You can’t exactly fault an offense for putting up 38 points, although really, with the number of weapons they have—and the fact that they had an uncharacteristically good day running the ball, and they were playing at home—they probably should have. But giving up 30 (including a 95-yard kick return, which shows poor special teams acumen, generally an indicator of a lack of discipline), at home, is simply unacceptable if this team wants to compete. More to the point, it appears that the pass defense—specifically the inexperienced secondary—is the main liability, perhaps fatal. (more…)

In the Arms of an Angel

This week on ‘America’s Next Top Model’

Esther Petrack.(The CW)

This week was the makeover episode of America’s Next Top Model, when the contestants are given new looks, whether they like them or not. (And a few really didn’t like their new hairdos.) For one, this meant a trip to the optometrist; for another, an appointment with the dentist. For Modern Orthodox contestant Esther Petrack and most of the other women, it meant not much at all: Several hours in a stylist’s chair as dye was applied, extensions were glued in, and layers were cut.

But before we get to the salon at Fred Segal (I always thought it was a clothing store—how little I learned after two years in L.A.), we begin at the models’ Venice Beach house. Ann, last week’s photo winner, buoyed by her triumph, has wrapped her head like a settler’s wife for the cutaway interview (maybe Esther gave her pointers). As Ann’s smile fades, the screaming commences because Tyra Banks herself has arrived to give them inspiration and to let them know about their impending makeovers. She tells the girls that the competition is getting “realer and realer every day,” which I suppose is one of those modelisms that people under 5’10” with advanced degrees in literature cannot possibly understand. And then she shows the girls how to kick it old school—or walk a runway circa 1995—all sass and ‘tude. (more…)

Younger Miliband Defeats Elder to Lead Labour

Paging Jeb Bush!

Ed Miliband yesterday.(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images))

Yesterday Ed Miliband beat four other candidates, including his older and heretofore more prominent brother David (the former foreign secretary), to win the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party and thereby assume the shadow prime ministership. Sons of the famous British Marxist Ralph, the Milibands are of Jewish descent, though both identify as non-religious. The Nation—at which Ed interned two decades ago—called on whoever won to reclaim the party’s left-wing legacy, which got smudged when Tony Blair reinvigorated it as “New Labour” in the 1990s. Britain has had only one Jewish prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who was the subject of Adam Kirsch’s Nextbook Press biography.

That’s not all! Oona King, the daughter of a black father and a Jewish mother, was defeated last week in her bid to be Labour’s nominee for mayor of London. The victor, Ken Livingstone, a former mayor, is not a big fan of Israel! He will face incumbent Boris Johnson, a Tory, who previously unseated him.

And! Susan Kramer, who is running to be president of the Liberal Democrats, is a Jew (the party’s Nick Clegg serves as the deputy prime minister in the coalition government led by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron). A former MP, Kramer lost her London seat earlier this year to Conservative Zac Goldsmith, who, yes.

British politicians: Some of them are Jewish!

New Labour Leader Looks to ‘Middle England’ [NYT]
Ken Livingstone Beats Oona King to Labour Nomination for London Mayor [Guardian]
Related: Labour’s Fraternal Struggle [The Nation]
Benjamin Disraeli [Nextbook Press]
Yes, Minister [Tablet Magazine]

Today on Tablet

God’s favorites, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz are on the Vox Tablet podcast to discuss their new book, The Chosen Peoples, as well as the, well, chosen peoples, who are the Americans and the Jews. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall theorizes as to why kids seem to get Simchat Torah (which starts Thursday evening). Josh Lambert has his weekly preview of forthcoming Jewish books of note. The Scroll has one more short week to cram things into.

Soros Funding of J Street Revealed

Group had implied otherwise

George Soros last month.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It’s an inside baseball story—but it’s in our league. For the year between July 2008 and July 2009, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization received roughly one-third of its revenue—some $245,000—from billionaire Jewish left-wing financier George Soros and family as part of a three-year, $750,000 gift. The news is relevant less because Soros, a prominent AIPAC critic, is controversial—he is controversial mainly to those who are not J Street fans anyway—and more because J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami had repeatedly implied that Soros was not a donor. As Ben Smith notes, “The apparent cover-up is perhaps worse than the crime.”

Having Soros as a donor isn’t ideal politically—whether it should or shouldn’t be, it isn’t—and J Street has been notable for wanting to be an effective political actor, not just an emotionally satisfying outlet. “Our No. 1 agenda item is to do whatever we can in Congress to act as the president’s blocking back,” Ben-Ami told the New York Times Magazine. Taking Soros’s money, by itself, is manageable politically; appearing as though it was trying to hide it is a larger problem. (For one thing, I suspect this blocking back is about to be benched until at least after the midterms.) The point is, this screw-up should upset no one as much as J Street’s supporters. (more…)

Daybreak: Freeze Ends, World Remains

Plus Obama and A’jad joust

President Ahmadinejad at the U.N.(Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

• The settlement freeze expired … the Palestinians did not announce they were departing the direct talks … there likely won’t be major building … we all still seem to be here … . [NYT]

• President Obama gave over a large portion of his U.N. General Assembly speech to the peace process. [Laura Rozen]

• He also gave some of it over to chastising Iranian President Ahmadinejad for having said, “The majority of the American people, as well as most nations and politicians around the world, agree with this view,” “this view” being that some parts of the U.S. government had a hand in 9/11. [LAT]

• Yet Iran also seemed to encourage nuclear talks. [WSJ]

• Nine Jewish activists from America, Israel, Britain, and elsewhere departed Turkish-controlled Cyprus for Gaza in a flotilla reprise. [Reuters/NYT]

• Eddie Fisher, who got Elizabeth Taylor to convert, died at 82. [NYT]

Early Sundown: Sukkot Edition

Plus unrest in East J’lem, and more

Examining an etrog in Jerusalem.(Sebastian Scheiner/AP/Lens)

Tablet Magazine and The Scroll will be dark through the end of the week in observance of Sukkot. This calls for an extra-long (and improperly named) Sundown.

• Elif Batuman examines what is to become of Franz Kafka’s papers? [NYT Magazine]

• A private Israeli security guard shot a Palestinian dead in a predominantly Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Clashes have since ensued. Gulp. [LAT]

• Russia is nixing the planned sale of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Iran in deference to the U.N. sanctions. [JPost]

• J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami calls on Prime Minister Netanyahu to extend the freeze (and J Street is running a whole bunch of print ads backing him up). [JTA]

• American Jews’ outsize political influence runs headlong into disproportionately un-Jewish Iowa’s outsize political influence. [Jewish Week]

• Yesterday, former President Clinton fingered not only settlements but also Russian immigrants in Israel as obstacles to peace. [Foreign Policy]

• Harold Bloom on Isaac Bashevis Singer. [NYRB]

• President Abdullah Gul talks Turkey … and Israel and Iran. [WP]

• Matt Duss compares what Helen Thomas and Martin Peretz said, and contrasts their fates. [Boston Globe]

• A profile of JDub Records artist Clare Burson, whose new album is Holocaust-inspired. [NYT]

• Barry Gewen situates the Park51 controversy in the broader American historical context. [Entanglements]

• Support the (Jewish) troops! While there are plenty of military rabbis, there is a severe shortage of Torahs. [Arutz Sheva/Vos Iz Neias?]

• Israeli know-how + Chinese manufacturing = a lot of money for one Israeli private-equity fund (maybe). [WSJ]

• Fascinating first-person essay from a Jewish U.S. Marine. Reminded me of “Defender of the Faith”. [Commentary]

A Serious Man lead Michael Stuhlbarg plays Arnold Rothstein in HBO’s new Boardwalk Empire. [Jewish Journal]

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.

Fureigh, guitarist in The Shondes.

1. My guitar—a few days is a long time to go without practicing!

2. My journal and a pen.

3. A copy of The Urban Homestead, to aid in thinking more about ways to bridge the gap between this holiday and my regular life.

4. The sleeping bag I use on tour.

5. Earplugs—I’m still in Brooklyn, after all.

Laurel Snyder, author of several books, including Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher.

What matters most to me on Sukkot is that I want it to feel like a real harvest. So what I need to have in my sukkah is whatever I feel I’ve been harvesting that year. In Iowa, when I knew lots of musicians and poets, I remember having jazz in the sukkah, and writer-friends, and that was a harvest. Last year, I drove 12 hours with my toddler-sons so they could build their first sukkah with their grandfather, and that was a harvest. This year, I’m doing a sukkah with members of my new (and first) havurah, and that feels like a harvest, too. I guess my sukkah is generally a good peek into what I’m prioritizing in my life.

You Better Recognize the Jewish State

But who is a Jew? A morning with Danny Ayalon

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.(Daniel Bar-On/AFP/Getty Images)

Last night, something fairly unprecedented happened in New York: The Palestinian Authority’s nominal top two figures, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, attended two separate dinner events organized by prominent American Jewish figures to discuss how eager they are to strike a final peace agreement with the Israelis. Unfortunately, the dinners followed an episode that was, well, entirely with precedent: A meeting for international donors to the P.A., held on the sidelines of this week’s United Nations General Assembly, ended abruptly because of a dispute between Fayyad and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. What was the problem? Words, of course—specifically, Fayyad’s refusal to accept Ayalon’s demand that the group’s press release declare support for “two states for two peoples.”

This morning, Ayalon, speaking before yet a third group of American Jewish leaders (as well as reporters, including this one), excused himself by saying the episode revealed a “cultural” gulf between the Israelis and the Palestinians that transcends the more obvious, and immediate, stumbling block to the fledgling peace negotiations—namely, this Sunday’s expiration of the ten-month-long moratorium on new construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. “I didn’t say ‘two states for two peoples, Jews and Palestinians,’” Ayalon explained. “But if they don’t have the decency to talk about two states for two peoples, then there is a major problem here.” (more…)

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…)

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