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Driven by Longing

Your daily poetry fix

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In 11th century Spain, where the great Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi composed many of his masterworks, poetry was, for the educated classes, the language of everyday life. In his biography of Halevi, published this year by Nextbook Press, Hillel Halkin describes the young Halevi improvising poetry (about the pleasures of wine, of course) in a busy tavern—which, Halkin explains, would not have been an unusual way to spend an evening. “If calling an age ‘poetic’ refers, not to some supposed collective sublimity or imaginativeness of mind, but, more mundanely, to the widespread use of poetry in ordinary life as a medium of communication and social exchange, the young man was born in one of the most historically poetic of ages,” Halkin writes. “Poems were an everyday vehicle for the expression of emotion; for the sending of messages and requests; for the carrying of news from one encampment to another; for the recording and remembering of unusual events; for the wooing of the opposite sex; for the enhancement of celebrations; for the flattering of authority; for the vaunting of one’s exploits; for the praising of one’s friends and the derogation of one’s enemies, and the like.”

21st century America is a little bit different. For most of us, poetry is something outside of the everyday—but to celebrate National Poetry Month, Tablet is trying to be a bit more like medieval Spain by including a Halevi poem, in Halkin’s new translation, on the Scroll each afternoon. In today’s poem, Halevi speaks of the traumatic suddenness of his departure from Spain when he set out for Jerusalem: “I had no time to kiss my friends or family a last farewell.” Enjoy your daily drink of Andalusian wine below—or download and print out a pocket-sized version here. Plus, check out a bonus poetry feature from our archives, and don’t forget to enter Nextbook Press and Tablet Magazine’s Yehuda Halevi poetry contest!

Driven by longing
for the living God
to hasten to where
His anointed ones dwelt,
I had no time
to kiss my friends
or family
a last farewell;
no time to weep
for the garden I grew,
the trees watered and watched
as they branched and did well;
no time to think
of the blossoms they bore,
of Yehuda
and Azarel,
or of Yitzhak,
so like a son,
my sun-blessed crop,
the years’ rich yield.

Forgotten are my synagogue,
the peace that was
its study hall,
my Sabbaths
and their sweet delights,
the splendor of
my festivals:
I’ve left them all.
Let others have
the idol’s honors
and be hailed—
I’ve swapped my bedroom
for dry brush,
its safety
for chaparral,
the scents
and subtle fragrances
that cloyed my soul
for thistles’ smells,
and put away
the mincing gait
of landlubbers
to hoist my sail
and cross the sea
until I reach
the land that is
the Lord’s footstool.

Orthodox or Not, All Jews Are Fellows

Alana Newhouse’s Roman Vishniac article inspires a rabbi’s timely sentiment

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Of all of the responses I’ve received to my recent article on Roman Vishniac, none will stay with me longer than the one that came over the transom this morning. In a beautifully written installment of his weekly column, Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel of America perceived what was, at least for me, the heart of the story:

Many Jews who define themselves as non-Orthodox or unaffiliated tend to view those who consider their Jewishness paramount as relics, either amusing or threatening, depending on the day and circumstance. And all too many Orthodox Jews, especially those of us in the more insular haredi world, can be oblivious to the large mass of our distant relatives beyond the physical and conceptual ghettos we inhabit. And when we do think of them, we often see them essentially as objects of “outreach.” A laudable goal, to be sure, born of the desire to share something precious, but qualitatively removed from the deeper recognition that they are worthy of our concern and love as fellow Jews even if they never choose to live like us.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Elephant and the Jewish Community [Matzav]

Can a Holocaust Mentality Excuse Tax Evasion?

A Florida man attempts to find out

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We know that even having learned about the Holocaust as a kid can alter one’s conception of reality, a factor compounded all the more for children of survivors. What we didn’t know is that such lingering trauma might help you get off for tax evasion. Jack Barouh, 65, the former proprietor of a watch company, is due to be sentenced today in Miami federal court for failing to report offshore bank accounts and the income he received from his UBS accounts. His lawyer, citing a memorandum from a doctor, is pleading for Barouh, whose parents escaped the Holocaust in Europe and raised him in Colombia, where they also experienced harassment and discrimination, to be sentenced to home detention rather than jail. His excuse? Barouh was “motivated by fears of possible persecution and sudden loss and by a ‘hide and hoard’ behavior adopted by Holocaust survivors and their children.” The memorandum asserts that “These beliefs cause a person to compulsively and almost obsessively, want to establish a secret nest egg.”

Actually, we completely buy that. Even in a lower-stakes report to the government, the census, the Holocaust looms large for some survivors’ kids. The Nation reports that one such woman who considers being Jewish a racial identity couldn’t bring herself to write it in on the census: “she acknowledged a deep ambivalence about putting that on any official form. She’s the child of Holocaust survivors, and although she said she doesn’t distrust the US government or think that this form—used to patrol against discrimination—bears any resemblance to a yellow star, she admitted that she remains hesitant and torn.”

UBS Tax Evader Cites Holocaust “Survival Behavior” [Reuters]
Not-Black by Default [The Nation]

Does Schumer’s Name Give him More Authority?

When it comes to criticizing Obama on Israel, he says yes

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Sen. Charles Schumer addressing the AIPAC policy conference last month.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday, as a guest on a conservative Jewish radio program called the Nachum Segal Show, Senator Chuck Schumer, whom Politico calls “a hawkish ally of Israel” became the “highest-ranking Democrat” to boldly speak out against President Obama’s Israel policy of late, saying: “This has to stop.” Schumer made it clear that he opposes the tactic of pressuring Israel to cooperate. “You have to show Israel that it’s not going to be forced to do things it doesn’t want to do and can’t do,” he told Segal. “At the same time you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a state of Israel.”

Meanwhile, though, as New York Magazine‘s blog points out, Schumer stepped into some Palin- and George W. Bush-esque territory by asserting divine provenance to his rule: “My name as you know comes from a Hebrew word. It comes from the word shomer, which means guardian,” he said. “My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov and I believe Hashem, actually, gave me the name as one of my roles that is very important in the United States Senate, to be a shomer for Israel, and I will continue to be that with every bone in my body.” Of course, this tidbit of superstition may have been his way of pandering to his host, who clearly took the proclamation lightly, asking Schumer to be “a shomer against the value-add tax” as well. But if Schumer’s going to assume that God chooses his shepherds via their names, he would do well to remember that “Barack” means “blessing,” and “Emanuel” means “God is with us.”

Is Chuck Schumer on a Mission From God to Protect Israel? [Daily Intel]

Atlantic City to Build Holocaust Museum

Hopefully won’t inspire binge drinking, excessive gambling

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The Atlantic City boardwalk, conspicuously lacking a Holocaust museum.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Have you ever found yourself in Atlantic City, a bagful of saltwater taffy in hand, wishing there was someplace more somber to visit than Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum? If so, then this one’s for you: a group of locals are busy planning a Holocaust museum to be placed right smack on the main boardwalk. The committee’s VP puts their reasoning this way: “Why not?” Indeed! Local politicians have already donated the site, and architects Daniel Libeskind and Richard Meier have agreed to judge a design competition for the building, with guidelines including that the museum should “not be stark” and “blend in with the motif of the boardwalk.”

One visitor who happened upon a Holocaust Remembrance Day event recently held on the future site approved of the plan. “As to whether a memorial fits in with the scene overlooking the Atlantic,” says the Jerusalem Post, he replied “Where did the Holocaust fit in with life?” Mayor Lorenzo T. Langford sees the location more pragmatically: “The boardwalk is the most densely traveled pedestrian thoroughfare in the nation. If you’re going to have a memorial, there’s no better place to have it.” If nothing else, down on their luck gamblers will have a reminder that it could always be worse.

Atlantic City Boardwalk to Get a Holocaust Memorial [JPost]

India’s Strategic Relationship with Israel and U.S.

A boon to all three, a threat to Islamist terrorism

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Waving the Indian flag.(Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

Writing in The American Interest, Walter Russell Mead calls attention to a much overlooked alliance that is dramatically affecting the political landscape. “Americans often talk about Israel as if we were the Jewish state’s only real friend,” writes Mead. In actuality, a 2009 survey demonstrated that in India—which has the “third-largest number of Muslims in the world”—58 percent of the population supports Israel, compared to 56 percent of Americans. “The deepening relations between the United States, India, and Israel are changing the geopolitical geometry of the modern world in ways that will make the lives of fanatical terrorists even more dismal and depressing (not to mention shorter) than they already are.”

Mead’s optimism is at its wildest in his vision of Iran as “a natural long-term ally for both India and Israel once it moves beyond the delusional and dead-end geopolitical agenda of its current government,” but it’s also founded on hard facts: “Israel is India’s largest supplier of arms,” Mead points out. “As two of the leading IT countries in the world, India and Israel also collaborate on a variety of high tech projects, some with military implications.” In addition, in the face of extremism in the Middle East and China’s growing influence, “the United States increasingly favors the emergence of India as a world and regional power,” and therefore supports its unity with Israel.

While Mead dismisses the idea found in terrorist documents from Pakistan that a “‘Zionist Hindu Crusader‘ alliance” between Israel, India, and the United States seeks to wage “war on Islam,” he makes the case that the friendly relations between the three powerful nations does have dire implications for Islamist radicals: “The radicals have imagined a world in which the west and especially America is in decline, Israel faces a deep crisis, and a resurgent Islamic world is emerging as a new world-historical power,” Mead writes. “Suppose none of that is happening. Suppose instead that both the United States and Israel are going to prosper and grow, based in part on their economic relationship with India.”

The “Zionist Hindu Crusader” Alliance Marches On
[American Interest]

Adam Kirsch Wins New Criticism Award

Tablet columnist follows in the foosteps of illustrious Proust scholar

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Congratulations to Tablet contributor Adam Kirsch, winner of the 2010 Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism, a new award named for a celebrated Proust scholar and founding member of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. In his books column, Kirsch has been providing our readers with brilliant and probing coverage of volumes on topics as wide-ranging as Jewish comedy, Palestinian poetry, and Zionist theology. If you haven’t been keeping up with his kaleidoscopic literary investigations, catch up here.

Kirsch shares the prize with Marcela Valdes, a writer and editor who specializes in Latin American arts and culture. In her acceptance speech, she shared this insight on her craft: “I believe that all good criticism must begin with a serious attempt at understanding… We can all understand a book and loathe it. But without that first step, criticism slides into egoism—and that is the most vulgar corruption of our art.” We hope to hear a lot more from both talented winners.

Adam Kirsch And Marcela Valdes Win The Center For Fiction’s First Roger Shattuck Prizes For Criticism [booktrade]

Today on Tablet

Subtle messages from fiction, and from God

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David L. Ulin delves into the short stories of Deborah Eisenberg, a “commentator on modern manners, a writer with a laser-sharp and ruthless eye”; he speaks to the author about the fact that she is “less interested in Jewishness as a category than as an attitude.” Liel Liebovitz examines this week’s haftorah and concludes that, when it comes to faith, “it’s not blind adherence to the rules that is paramount, but rather some elusive spirit.” And there’s much more to come, all day on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Will Mitchell’s Israel Trip Mean Progress?

Plus cruise control, building battle, and more in the news

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George Mitchell at a meeting with Shimon Peres in Jerusalem today.(Jim Hollander-Pool/Getty Images)

• U.S. envoy George Mitchell has arrived in Israel and met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and is also set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. “We don’t go to meet just to meet,” says a U.S. rep. “We go there because we have some indication that both sides are willing to engage seriously on the issues.” [Reuters]

• Netanyahu, for his part, has indicated that he is open to an interim agreement establishing a Palestinian state with temporarily assigned borders. [Haaretz]

• Club Med has canceled a planned stop in Lebanon on its Mediterranean cruise after the Simon Wiesenthal Center protested the fact that passengers with Israeli stamps in their passports would not be allowed to participate. [WJC]

• The president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain has protested the demolition of a historic Jewish community-owned former hospital in Tangiers, Morocco, despite the fact that the locals had consented to the razing. [JTA]

Sundown: Goldstein Versus Goldstone

Plus kids in government, Nimoy’s exit, and more

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• Richard Goldstone responds to an article in which South Africa’s chief rabbi Warren Goldstein wrote that he believes the judge should be able to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah despite the fact that “he has done so much wrong in the world,” saying: “I was dismayed that the chief rabbi would so brazenly politicise the occasion.” [Business Day]

• The legendary Leonard Nimoy, 79, announced his retirement from show business. [Before It's News]

• The Christian Broadcasting Network features an interview with photojournalist David Rubinger, who has documented much of Israel’s history and describes the face of the first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion as “Like granite.” [CBN]

• Israel’s national museum unveiled a restored Renaissance-era Hebrew manuscript documenting Jewish law and adorned with gold and gems. [AP]

• Los Angeles’s South Robertson Neighborhood Council has elected Orthodox 15-year-old Rachel Lester, the youngest elected public representative in the city. [JTA]

• Virginia has recalled a license plate reading “14CV88,” allegedly a coded reference to Hitler. That may sound paranoid, but check out the photo of the truck that boasted it. [AP via VIN]

Has a New Flood Drowned the Land

Your daily poetry fix

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In 11th century Spain, where the great Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi composed many of his masterworks, poetry was, for the educated classes, the language of everyday life. In his biography of Halevi, published this year by Nextbook Press, Hillel Halkin describes the young Halevi improvising poetry (about the pleasures of wine, of course) in a busy tavern—which, Halkin explains, would not have been an unusual way to spend an evening. “If calling an age ‘poetic’ refers, not to some supposed collective sublimity or imaginativeness of mind, but, more mundanely, to the widespread use of poetry in ordinary life as a medium of communication and social exchange, the young man was born in one of the most historically poetic of ages,” Halkin writes. “Poems were an everyday vehicle for the expression of emotion; for the sending of messages and requests; for the carrying of news from one encampment to another; for the recording and remembering of unusual events; for the wooing of the opposite sex; for the enhancement of celebrations; for the flattering of authority; for the vaunting of one’s exploits; for the praising of one’s friends and the derogation of one’s enemies, and the like.”

21st century America is a little bit different. For most of us, poetry is something outside of the everyday—but to celebrate National Poetry Month, Tablet is trying to be a bit more like medieval Spain by including a Halevi poem, in Halkin’s new translation, on the Scroll each afternoon. In today’s poem, Halevi speaks of the traumatic suddenness of his departure from Spain when he set out for Jerusalem: “I had no time to kiss my friends or family a last farewell.” Enjoy your daily drink of Andalusian wine below—or download and print out a pocket-sized version here. Plus, check out a bonus poetry feature from our archives, and don’t forget to enter Nextbook Press and Tablet Magazine’s Yehuda Halevi poetry contest!

Has a new Flood drowned the alnd
And left no patch of dry ground,
Neither bird, beast, nor man?
Has nothing remained?
A strip of bare sand
Would be balm for the mind;
The dreariest plain,
A pleasure to scan.
But all that is seen
Is a ship and the span
Of the sea and the sky, and Leviathan
As he churns up the brine,
Which grips the ship as the hand
Of a thief grips his find.
Let it foam! My heart bounds
As I near the Lord’s shrine.

Indian Princess

An old Jew tells a joke

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A step up from “pull my finger.”

Hitler at Fault for More of Our Problems

Book blames Nazis for Islamic anti-Semitism

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Hitler at the opening ceremonies for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.(Getty Images)

Although, as Liel Liebovitz wrote in his article on Hitler as internet meme (a phenomenon that may be a thing of the past, as the production company behind Downfall, the much-spoofed film that sparked the trend, has filed copyright claims and removed most videos from YouTube), “we know—we feel!—that there could never really be another Hitler to terrify and enrage us so purely as the original once had,” more evidence continues to stoke our furies against the one true Führer.

In his recent book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, Jeffrey Herf claims that “The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would have been over long ago were it not for the uncompromising, religiously inspired hatred of the Jews that was articulated and given assistance by Nazi propagandists and continued after the war by Islamists of various sorts.” One example comes from a 1942 message broadcast to the Middle East in which Hitler announced: “Your only hope for rescue is the destruction of the Jews before they destroy you!” The transcript for this and 6,000 other broadcasts were held as classified by Washington until 1977, and two years ago Herf became the first scholar to examine them.

Roots of Islamic Fundamentalism Lie in Nazi Propaganda for Arab World, Book Claims [Telegraph]

Tablet Now Available on Kindle

Read us everywhere you go!

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(Photoillustration by Tablet Magazine; photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)

If you’re anything like us, you want to read Tablet all the time: on the subway, in the bathtub, everywhere you happen to be. And now—hallelujah!—you can: Tablet is now available on Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader. For a small monthly fee, you can subscribe to our RSS feed, and get all of our articles and features delivered straight to your hands, looking as sharp and beautiful as ever. Even better, the feed will update any time we post new content to the site, so you’ll never miss anything. Technology, we tell you, is a wonder. Click here to make it happen.

Brainstorming the Future of British Jewish Life

Help the homeless, save the planet, and note history of fish and chips

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Fish and chips, which apparently Jews introduced to the United Kingdom.(iStockphoto)

The British Jewish Chronicle asked some locals for suggestions on improving the community. A few of the ideas fit right in with the trends of the moment—one rabbi suggests a comprehensive online community, another proposes the Sabbath as an example of green living. One writer made us groan with his suggestion that we put more emphasis on our food and embrace a “Jews did it first!” attitude: “Fishmongers should remind us that it was Jews who first brought fish and chips to the UK.” But a few voices brought up some intriguing innovations.

Journalist Keren David wants to see synagogue membership fees replaced by a “communal income tax” to support social services, education, cemeteries, and other needs. She cites Amsterdam as an example, where, she says, Jews who opt in “are charged a proportion of their annual income to join—three per cent for the richest members, less for lower incomes.” Jonathan Boyd, executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, sees a sukkah/homeless shelter/soup kitchen in London’s Trafalgar Square: “Could we take a symbol of our own homelessness, and turn it into a shelter for those who need no symbolic reminders of what it means to have no home?” Keith Kahn-Harris, another research expert, envisions taking the trend toward multi-denominational Judaism a step further and incorporating members of other religions: “Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and others should collaborate to build a space that can serve for worship and community activities. This would allow different groups to pool resources, and improve the often strained relations between religions.” While this is a cool idea, and not entirely without precedent, his acknowledgment that “There would, of course, be difficulties in making this kind of community” may be understating the case.

But to us, the most striking idea comes from Neil Bradman of The Centre for Genetic Anthropology, and it’s more of a plea than a suggestion. Bradman laments the disparity between rabbinical dictates and the actual lives of Jews. We are all too familiar with the tendency of religiously inclined folks to say one thing and do another behind closed doors, and even growing up in a rabbinical family, we vividly remember “parking around the corner” at synagogue to avoid the appearance of breaking the Sabbath. “Let us strike a blow for honesty. If this is the way we wish to live, let us appoint rabbis who say it is acceptable to do so,” writes Bradman. “It is a game of ‘we pretend to respect you and you pretend to be respected’. It is unhealthy and it breeds hypocrisy.” Here, here.

We Need to Transform the Community. This is How. [JC]

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