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The Schmaltz Technique

An old Jew tells a joke

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A reminder why chicken fat will never be as sexy as olive oil.

An Evening at Traif

Brooklyn’s new pork-and-shellfish restaurant really means it

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Traif's crispy pork belly with braised artichokes and muscat grapes; marinated yellowtail with asparagus, meyer lemon, and shiitake.(Kim Davidson)

The last time I was in Williamsburg was for shlugging kaparot, a ritual chicken sacrifice before Yom Kippur. Tuesday night was a little bit different. It was opening night for the restaurant Traif, which is dedicated to serving almost exclusively non-kosher cuisine. Traif (meaning “unkosher” in Yiddish) practically begs to stick in the craw of the nearby Hasidic community with its celebration of pork and shellfish served alongside Jewish staples like potato latkes. (Coulda been worse: The restaurant initially considered opening in a space that once housed a Jewish morgue.) I showed up Tuesday evening, friends and dietary restrictions—I don’t eat non-kosher meat—in tow, with a mission: to see if a kosher meal at Traif could rival a trayf one. My partners in crime: another Modern Orthodox Jew along for the adventure (“Adventurous Jew”); a knowledgeable foodie with a penchant for shellfish (“Fish Lover”); and one who was simply prepared to inhale the food (“Bottomless Pit”).

We started the night with a round of drinks from Traif’s imaginative cocktail list. This allowed me to order my only item with the word “bacon” in it: Henry Bacon’s Bathwater, a refreshing medley of Meyer-lemon-infused vodka, cucumber, and St. Germaine. My friends were also pleased with their cocktails and wines.
Round 1: Tie.

We first ordered a hearts of palm appetizer that we all could enjoy, but it proved unimpressive. Bottomless Pit became distracted by the crisp pork-belly appetizer with her name on it. Soon, my favorite dish of the night arrived: marinated yellowtail, asparagus, Meyer lemon, shitake. Very agreeable spicy tuna tartare on tempura eggplant with kecap manis followed.
Round 2: Kosher person.

Thus ended the possibilities of dishes I could eat. Fish Lover ordered herself “sea scallops, snap and English pea risotto, caper-brown butter,” and Bottomless Pit surveyed the hangar steak with potato latkes. The scallops were well received, but the hangar steak was overcooked.
Round 3: Non-kosher people.

As the night wore on, I noticed that the Adventurous Jew (who doesn’t eat at non-kosher restaurants) kept sampling food. At first it was the raw fish, then the cheese, then the risotto around the scallops. Eventually, he dove into the scallops. Adventurous Jew ate trayf for the first time at Traif. “Tastes like fish,” he said.

To test the restaurant’s flexibility toward people with dietary boundaries, I asked if there were meat or shellfish dishes I could order sans meat or shellfish. The staff graciously obliged, but what remained of the pancetta and pork-belly appetizers minus pancetta and pork belly wasn’t very tasty.

The rest of my party ordered the bacon-wrapped blue-cheese-stuffed dates with spinach a la catalana, and the braised BBQ short rib slides, smoked gouda, and sweet potato fries. The former was unremarkable, but latter turned out to be the hit of the night. Bottomless Pit loved it. Adventurous Jew—more adventurous than we’d bargained for—looked like he was in heaven.
Round 4: I am losing.

For dessert, we ordered “bacon doughtnuts, dulche de leche, coffee ice cream” and “candy bar: dark chocolate, p.b., raspberry, pistachio ice cream.” I could only eat the latter (“p.b.,” luckily, meant “peanut butter,” not “pork belly”), but the former seemed to be the real star. Adventurous Jew bit into the bacon doughnut, closed his eyes, and said, “This is the best sufganiya I’ve ever had.”
Round 5: Game over.

I lost in a landslide. But I’ll be dreaming about that yellowtail for the rest of my life.

Goldstone Bows Out From Grandson’s Bar Mitzvah

Pressure from S. African community will keep the judge from joining the hora

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Goldstone at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva last September.(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Let’s face it, if we were to ban everyone from bar mitzvahs who might cause a scene, there’d be a lot of disinvited wacky uncles, racist grandmas, and sexually precocious classmates. But what if your relative is the unofficial poster child for Zionist betrayal, and it’s not he who threatens the peace of the ceremony but protesters prepared to storm the synagogue? Richard Goldstone’s family faced just such a dilemma. According to numerous sources, the judge and author of the U.N. report accusing Israel of war crimes has been convinced by pressure from the South African Zionist Federation not to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah in Johannesburg next month.

While excommunication has traditionally been reserved for the intermarried offspring of the ultra-Orthodox or Baruch Spinoza, apparently in this touchy age of political celebrities, a controversial figure’s notoriety is enough to keep him from the kiddush table. In a practically WASP-ish sentiment, the head of the South African Beth Din (Jewish ritual court) calls the decision—ostensibly Goldstone’s own—”quite a sensible thing to avert all this unpleasantness.” In our experience, that’s just not how Jews roll.

Breaking News: Judge Richard Goldstone Banned From Attending His Grandson’s Bar Mitzvah [Writing Rights]

Party Tonight for the Next (or Last?) Great Jewish Novel

By Tablet columnist Joshua Cohen

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(Observer.com)

If you’re in New York City, novelist—and Tablet Magazine literary critic—Joshua Cohen will be at BookCourt in Brooklyn tonight, celebrating the release of Witz, his 817-page comic novel about The Last Jew on Earth, at a party hosted by Tablet Magazine editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse. To get a sense of what we’re dealing with here, check out this recent profile of Cohen in the New York Observer. “For all its gags,” the Observer says, “[Witz] was conceived with a singular aesthetic mission: to put an end to the novel of Jewish kitsch, Holocausts with happy endings. ‘The targets might be Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer, Shalom Auslander,’ Mr. Cohen told me. ‘When I started this book, I wanted to sleep with their wives. By the time I finished, I wanted to sleep with their mothers.’ ”

A Nice Jewish Boy’s Naughty Big Novel
[NY Observer]

The Kotel’s Not Kosher in Israeli Tourism Ad, Says UK Agency

Wailing over the Wall

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(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

To many prospective visitors to Israel it may seem like a technicality that the Western Wall is located in the disputed territory of East Jerusalem. Not so to the British Advertising Standard Agency, which has banned the holy site from an Israeli tourism ad in the UK, calling it “misleading.” And while the Brits are certainly correct to note that “the status of the occupied territory of the West Bank [is] the subject of much international dispute,” the accusation of false advertising strikes many as a nit-picking attempt to undermine Israel’s reputation and significance to Jews.

In response, the Israeli Tourism Ministry referred to a 1995 agreement with the Palestinian Authority placing “the upkeep of holy sites and the determination of tourist visiting-hours under Israeli jurisdiction.” But more to the point, the Tourism Minister as well as the Board of Deputies of British Jews called the prohibition “absurd.” We’re inclined to agree, if only because the Kotel is such a potent Jewish symbol that, advertised or not, it will likely remain a major draw for tourists to the nation, not to mention the fact that, as the Board’s chief exec pointed out, “thousands of tourists and pilgrims pass through Israel every year to areas where their very presence helps the Palestinian economy, and like the flawed argument for boycotts, this objection seems to be being advanced by those who care more about gestures and less about the livelihoods of ordinary people in the region.”

In other words, fighting symbols with symbols is, well, absurd. But it’s not likely to cease anytime soon. The Kotel’s inherent significance “is not as obvious to the world as it is to us,” said one peace advocate. “Only an agreed upon political solution regarding the future of the city, and for that matter the wider conflict, will prevent embarrassing developments like this.”

UK Bans Kotel from Israeli Tourism Ad [JPost]

Tablet Today

War in theory, Sabbath in practice, and more

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We at Tablet Magazine, like the rest of the world, have Iran on the brain. Yossi Melman posits that Israel is all bark and (probably) no bite when it comes to a preemptive strike against Iran, while Yoav Fromer considers the possibility that the length of a war between those two nations would be measured in years, not weeks. In addition, Alexander Gelfand reports on a swingin’ tribute to Dave Tarras, a musician who helped make klezmer the vibrant musical genre it is today. Plus, Eddy Portnoy looks back on the “Sabbath Enforcers” who made it their business to keep everyone in line when it came to the holy day of rest. And don’t forget to follow along with The Scroll!

Daybreak: High-Profile Pols Fingered in Israeli Bribery Scandal

Plus prayer-on-prayer violence, the Iran question, and more in the news

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Olmert arriving in a Jerusalem court for a hearing on different graft charges last year.(Yossi Zamir/AFP/Getty Images)

• Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been confirmed as the long-suspected “senior personality” in a massive real estate bribery scandal that took place during his term as mayor of Jerusalem; another former mayor, Uri Lupolianski, has been arrested for his involvement. [Ynet]

• Palestinians are blaming Jews for vandalizing a mosque in the West Bank—a likely guess, as the graffiti found there includes the Hebrew prayer “Praise be onto him for not making me a gentile.” [Haaretz]

• Turkey’s complicated relationship with its neighbor may make it a “wild card” when it comes to sanctions against a nuclear Iran. [JTA]

• Meanwhile, Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, issued an open letter reminding President Obama to focus on the Iran threat and stop picking on Israel. [JPost]

Another Day, Another Ponzi Scheme

Plus, a questionable study and a Real Housewive’s tale

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• Steven Byers, who scored $225 million in a real estate investment Ponzi scheme targeting Orthodox Jews, was convicted of fraud yesterday by the same federal judge who convicted Bernie Madoff. [NY Daily News]

• In a case of people-unclear-on-the-concept, 90-year-old alleged Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk—extradited by Germany from the U.S. last year—called his trial, currently proceeding in Munich, “torture.” [JTA]

• A report on global anti-Semitism released by Tel Aviv University last week claims that incidents doubled last year—because, leftist journalist Max Blumenthal says, it includes such dubiously qualifying events as the release of the Goldstone Report (written, of course, by a self-identifying Zionist Jew). [Huffington Post]

• The Israeli government has denied conductor and political provocateur Daniel Barenboim permission to perform with his youth orchestra in Gaza, on the grounds that no concert shall be held while Gilad Shalit remains imprisoned there. No word on whether Hamas wants to trade Shalit for a 15-year-old second violist. [Coteret]

• Tomorrow you can buy Real Housewife of New York City Jill Zarin’s new book, Secrets of a Jewish Mother, in which “you’ll learn how to make her methods your very own.” Then you too can go on Good Morning New York and apologize for acting like a crazy person on reality television.
[My Fox New York]

Youngest NBA Scoring King, a Jew, Unseated

Durant to take top spot from 1948’s Zaslofsky

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Durant, in February.(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

If you notice an uncharacteristic lack of sports-related posts for the rest of this week and all of next, it is because I will be on vacation, and The Scroll will be in the hands of people who spend their time in more productive ways than watching pituitary cases hurling balls at or near each other. But before I go …

When the NBA regular season concludes tonight, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder will be 21 years, 197 days old, and will become the youngest scoring champion in NBA history. (The Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James will take second.)

And who, you ask, is the current youngest scoring champion? That would be Max Zaslofsky, who won the 1948 scoring title at the tender age of 22 years, 105 days. Zaslofsky, who would go on to play for the New York Knicks, was one of two Jewish players (the other was Dolph Schayes) who was named one of the 25 best of the NBA’s first 25 years.

Records are made only to be broken. Mazel tov, Mr. Durant.

Kevin Durant Closes In On Scoring Title [News OK]
Tight NBA Scoring Race Comes Down to James and Durant [NYT]
Zaslofksy, Max [Jews In Sports]

The Deli Goes Locavore

Of house-cured pastrami and farm-fresh cole slaw

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Neal’s Deli in North Carolina serves pastrami alongside local vegetables.(NYT)

File under “inevitable”: The New York Times has discovered that various delis in places like Brooklyn and Berkeley and Ann Arbor and Portland (or what I like to call the Bobo Archipelago) are “moving toward delicious handmade food with good ingredients served with respect for past and present.” Of course.

“I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis,” says one deliée. Sounds about right.

“They are mashing local potatoes to make peppery hand-wrapped knishes; holding tastings to determine the most savory fat for chopped liver … and even brewing zippy homemade celery tonic—to reduce the carbon footprint, to save on the shipping from Brooklyn and because it simply tastes more like tradition.” Yeah, we should have seen this coming. (Actually, we sort of did when we reviewed the Montreal-style Brooklyn deli Mile End, which is prominently featured in the article.)

While everything food-related is getting a sustainable/locavore/green/etc. makeover these days, it makes particular sense for the deli, which in its old-fashioned incarnation is unhealthy, expensive, and wasteful even by the standards of things that were popular in the ‘50s. (It probably doesn’t hurt that, as anyone who lives on one of the isles of the Bobo Archipelago knows, many of the folks at the forefront of sustainable food movements just so happen to be Jews.)

To learn more about the Jewish deli today, check out the Vox Tablet podcast with David Sax, author of Save the Deli.

Can the Jewish Deli Be Reformed? [NYT]
Related: Meat Up [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: A Montreal Jewish Deli Grows in Brooklyn

NYT Critic Tears Into Martel

Kakutani gives Vox Tablet subject the works

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Yann Martel.(Wikimedia Commons)

Michiko Kakutani, the lead New York Times book critic, yesterday took out her infamous hatchet and exercised her swinging arm on Yann Martel’s new Holocaust-themed novel, Beatrice and Virgil—which just so happened to be the subject of this week’s Vox Tablet podcast.

Martel’s “misconceived and offensive” book, Kakutani writes,

has the effect of trivializing the Holocaust, using it as a metaphor to evoke “the extermination of animal life” and the suffering of “doomed creatures” who “could not speak for themselves.”

The reader is encouraged to see the stuffed animals Beatrice and Virgil—who have endured torture, starvation and humiliation—as stand-ins for the Jews, and to equate the terrible things they’ve witnessed—referred to as “the Horrors”—to the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

She concludes by calling the novel “disappointing and often perverse.” Yikes.

It’s worth noting that many reviews were positive: a “masterpiece about the Holocaust”; “complex and nuanced”; etc.

Our podcast is not a review, but rather an interview with the author. We’ll let him have the last word on The Scroll: “The Holocaust was so unbelievable, such an assault on innocent civilians,” he tells Senior Editor Sara Ivry.

I think its unbelievability will increase with time. Now, that the knowledge is still historically fresh … because we know it was true, can in a sense still smell it in the air of Europe, we believe it, and it’s believable. But in 50 years, when you read Elie Wiesel, when you read Primo Levi, it will be unbelievable. … I’m afraid people will not disbelieve it, but just not connect with it, and what will help connect is if we use the tools of art. Because great art is timeless.

Of course, the real last word is the book itself.

From ‘Life of Pi’ Author, Stuffed-Animal Allegory About the Holocaust [NYT]
Animal Planet [Tablet Magazine]

Two Happy Endings (PG Version)

The ‘Millionaire Matchmaker’ season finale

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Zagros Bigvand (center) with Patti.(Bravo)

Every Wednesday, Senior Writer Allison Hoffman recaps the previous night’s episode of the glory that is Millionaire Matchmaker. For previous Matchmaker coverage, click here.

The time has come to meet the last two millionaires of the season, and, frankly, The Scroll is less than impressed. Matchmaker Patti seems a little distracted by her own upcoming nuptials and in a rush to get the whole thing over with—so much so that, instead of hosting her usual meat-market meet-up, she goes ahead and picks out two girls for each of this week’s bachelors. “Like a Fiddler on the Roof deal,” gushes Bachelor No. 1, Greg. She doesn’t call herself matchmaker for nothing!

Greg turns out to be Greg Knoll, a 47-year-old mortgage lender from Manhattan Beach, Calif. He is, we’re quite sure, the same Greg Knoll who advertises himself on YouTube (must-watch) as “the most interesting mortgage man in the world.” He skis and he surfs, and keeps properties in Mammoth and San Diego to prove it. And he’s ready to find a partner, despite the fact that he’s broken two previous engagements. “He’s the Runaway Groom,” Patti announces. There’s that Julia Roberts theme again.

Patti sets Greg up with Livia Milano, a cute occasional actress. Things don’t go well. The first thing he asks is whether Livia is a “spinner”—a Patti term for a petite girl who can, you know, spin in the bedroom. “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be flattered or offended,” Livia tells him. Greg decides to patch up the awkward silence with an off-color joke about rabbits having sex. Livia is no less impressed.

Greg decides he is instead going to go on a real date with Melissa Hunter, a blonde spokesmodel who is also a veteran of a dating event known as “Financially Hung”. She goes by the nickname Mojo and says she is a vegan during the week but eats steak on weekends. Idiosyncratic! (more…)

Announcing DAWN 2010

Tablet is co-sponsoring a Shavuot festival

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Big news, guys: Tablet Magazine is co-sponsoring DAWN 2010, a cultural arts festival and celebration of Shavuot. It’s going down on the evening of Saturday, May 15, at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco—in beautiful Golden Gate Park, in fact. Featuring Sandra Bernhard, Gary Shteyngart, and more, we’re going to be putting a modern spin on the ancient tradition of studying through the night in honor of Shavuot. There will be some religion, in other words, but also some art, some music, and some dancing. Co-sponsored by Reboot.

And if you won’t be around the Bay Area next month? It just so happens that Tablet Magazine will fly you to Dawn! Sign up for the Tablet email list and be automatically entered to win.

Oh, and bonus: DAWN 2010 will see the world premiere of Where The Wild Things Are director Spike Jonze’s tribute to Maurice Sendak, Maurice at the World’s Fair

Tickets and contest sign-up here.

DAWN 2010

Today on Tablet

Hamas’s engager, the black Bellow, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith profiles Robert Malley, a controversial ex-Obama adviser who is a leading advocate for Israeli and U.S. engagement with Hamas. Harold Heft makes the case that Walter Mosley, one of America’s premier black novelists, is also one of its premier Jewish novelists. The Scroll will be around all day, just hanging out, no big deal.

The Great Orthodox Merengue Scandal

Major bike-lane player dances to a different tune

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The damning photographic dancing evidence.(Facebook)

If the Williamsburg bike-lane battle represents the Platonic ideal of a New York (and New York) metro story, then Baruch Herzfeld—self-appointed liaison between the pro-lane hipsters and anti-lane Satmar Hasidim—is the irresistible character who truly stamps it “Only in New York.” The impish 38-year-old ex-Orthodox bike activist who is at home in both communities (or, if you prefer, oblivious to the fact that he is home in neither) shows up in almost every article on the subject. But Tablet Magazine has learned that bike lanes aren’t the only area in which Herzfeld pushes the Orthodox community’s buttons from within. Another one is merengue dancing. Wait, what?

Prior to his current incarnation as bike advocate, Herzfeld spent a year shuttling back and forth between the Dominican Republic, where he ran operations for a telecom company called SkyMax Dominicana, and Brooklyn, where SkyMax’s parent company is based. On paper, it was an absurdly good fit: Herzfeld reported to the company’s owner, a Williamsburg Satmar gentleman named Moses Greenfield, but he also got to indulge his penchant for Dominican culture, and particularly merengue. Naturally, he was bitten by the merengue bug while he was a bad student at Yeshiva University, which is conveniently located in the heavily Dominican Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights.

In the spring of 2007, after Herzfeld clashed with his colleagues one too many times, Greenfield fired him. An ugly dispute followed over how much money Herzfeld was owed. As per their contract, the parties took their conflict to the beth din, or rabbinical court. (more…)

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