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Today on Tablet

The latest Woody Allens, a very taurine haftorah, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Staff Writer Marissa Brostoff discerns in a new novel and a new film the latest evolutionary stage of the schlemiel. For his weekly haftorah column, Liel Leibovitz graciously lent his space to a bull, and it pretty much goes from there. Maybe The Scroll needs more of a farm-animal presence?

Another Year, Another List of Rich People

Ellison, Bloomberg top Jews on ‘Forbes’ list

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Larry Ellison, really into yachting last month.(Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

The big news from Forbes’s annual list of the world’s billionaires is that Planet Earth has a new richest man: Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecommunications magnate who now owns a substantial minority share of The New York Times. He weighs in at $53.5 billion. Muchas felicitationes!

But you want to know where the Jews—say, those in the top 50—are. The short answer is: They’re down.

• The richest Jew, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, fell from fourth to sixth, and from $22.5 billion to … well, to $28 billion, but obviously you’d rather have the higher ranking than the extra $5.5 billion.

• New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped further, from 17th to 23rd, and from $16 billion to $18 billion (no way you could trade me six slots for $2 billion). (more…)

Daybreak: Talks Remain Proximate

Plus come back Sunday for the West Bank, and more in the news

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Gates yesterday.(Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

• Despite everything, Israel expects the proximity talks will in fact launch, and soon. [JPost]

• The IDF indicted two soldiers in military court for allegedly getting a Palestinian boy to open a suspected booby-trapped package during last year’s Gaza conflict. [LAT]

• To head off buzzed-about rioting, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered a 48-hour full closure of the West Bank. [Ynet]

• In Saudia Arabia, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Gulf countries will pressure China to support anti-Iran sanctions. [Reuters/Haaretz]

• Egypt continues to clamp down on Hamas after sealing its Gaza border. [Haaretz]

• West Bank Palestinians commemorated the 32nd anniversary of the deadliest terror attack in Israeli history. [NYT]

Sundown: Israeli Diplomat Claims All Jerusalem

Plus Hillary to AIPAC, should Bar ditch Leo?, and more

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Bar and Leo, last month.(Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

• Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon argued that, whether or not the East Jerusalem announcement’s timing was unfortunate, Israeli development there is legitimate: “Jerusalem has always been out of the question.” Ladies and gentlemen, your second-ranking Israeli diplomat! [Haaretz]

• One day after endorsing the Goldstone Report, the E.U. parliament demanded that Hamas immediately release Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier who also holds French citizenship. [JTA]

• Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will speak at the annual AIPAC Conference later this month. Should be interesting, given recent events. [Ben Smith]

• An Israeli book called The Confessions of Noa Weber won the award for Best Translated Novel of 2010. [Jewcy]

• Scholar Martin Kramer, who has come under fire for proposing the end of Gaza pro-natal subsidies, argues his case in a “Q&A” with various Hamas interlocutors. [Sandbox]

• Lehavi, an Israeli group that works to get Jews to break up with non-Jewish significant others, has called on Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli to ditch Leonardo DiCaprio. [Gawker]

Why Do Jews Argue So Much?

Inquiring Tablet commenters want to know!

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Liel Leibovitz’s dispatch from Antigua—where he arrived visa-less, and was soon suspected of being Mossad—has provoked a number of comments on the site. Not all of them friendly! And some of the vitriol over a relatively light-hearted article prompted “Victoria” to wonder the following:

I am a very recent (like a week ago) convert to Judaism, and as such I am still learning about the culture, customs, people, society, etc. So, it is in the spirit of learning that I ask this question:

Why are the people who responded to this story so angry with it and the author? I read the comments and I understand the commentors think the author is obnoxious and arrogant, but it seems there is another underlying reason for the hostility. Why?

Oh, “Victoria”: consider this your welcome to the club!

Related: Paradise Lost [Tablet Magazine]

As Biden Departs, ‘Proximity Talks’ Still On

But how much longer can Israel pull off its game?

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Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Biden, leaving for Jordan.(David Furst/AFP/Getty Images)

Raise your hand if you’ve heard the old saw—sometimes attributed to Abba Eban—that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity? (I’ll raise my hand. I once heard it from Danny Ayalon, then Israel’s ambassador to the United States, from the bimah at my Washington, D.C., synagogue during Yom Kippur.) In the wake of the Israeli Interior Ministry’s announcement of plans to build 1600 new homes in East Jerusalem just as Vice President Biden had arrived to pave the way for “proximity talks,” an unnamed conservative American Jew wrote to blogger Ben Smith, “Israelis have now reached a level where that old cliché of ‘never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity’ can now apply to them at least as much as the Pals.”

Such is the understandable despair setting in. In fact, as Biden leaves the country (he heads for Jordan), the proximity talks will apparently still happen (over the Arab League’s reported protestations). Although, the New York Times reports, disagreements remain even on those: the Palestinians see them as focusing on borders and the like—on the substance of what peace would look like—while the Israelis see their ideal end result as merely putting the two sides in the same room together. The Israelis, in other words, appear more content to take things slowly than the Palestinians do.

Which begs the question: is time on Israel’s side? Demographically, of course not: every day that passes, the Palestinians attain a higher percentage of people between the river and the sea. And politically? Israel’s main supporter, the United States, seems (justifiably) as close to wit’s end as ever. The Jerusalem Post puts it best: Biden’s speech in Tel Aviv today (transcript here), while overwhelmingly about the importance of maintaining America’s and Israel’s close ties, was also “a get-your-act-together lecture from a frustrated parent to a beloved but occasionally errant child.” In private, Biden was apparently much more direct: “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden, long known as a top American friend of Israel’s, told Prime Minister Netanyahu (my bold). “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have an unfortunate tendency to miss opportunities for peace. But it seems increasingly clear that the Israelis, more than the Palestinians, have fewer of those left.

Analysis: Biden’s Get-Your-Act-Together Lecture [JPost]

Was Einstein a Zionist?

The Relativity papers, on exhibit in Jerusalem

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Einstein.(Wikimedia Commons)

The papers that show Albert Einstein’s development of the General Theory of Relativity are not on display in Germany, where he was born, or in the United States, where he lived the last part of his life, but in Israel. As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities is exhibiting the papers for a few weeks in Jerusalem—they’re there because Einstein’s wife, Elsa, donated them, with her husband’s endorsement, to Hebrew University upon its 1925 opening.

The exhibit’s location opens onto the broader question of how Einstein—very possibly the most famous and influential Jew of the 20th century—felt about Israel, both before and after its inception. “Einstein’s relationship to Israel was complex,” the Times’s Ethan Bronner writes. “A self-described universalist, he became a Zionist when he witnessed anti-Semitism in Europe. Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president, was a key influence on him. Walter Isaacson, who wrote a 2007 biography of Einstein, said by telephone that Einstein wanted Jews to move here but did not back a separate Jewish nation-state until after it was declared in 1948.”

Last year, Tablet Magazine book critic Adam Kirsch pushed back against a book, Einstein on Israel and Zionism, that argued that the great physicist was lukewarm toward the Zionist project at best. Einstein “was an unwavering supporter of the Yishuv, and he spent a great deal of effort making speeches and raising money for Jewish institutions in Palestine,” Kirsch writes. “But he was also a principled cosmopolitan and anti-nationalist, and he was chagrined by the growing antagonism between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East.”

Rewrite of Physics by Einstein on Display [NYT]
Related: Relatively Speaking, A Zionist

British Teacher Terrorizes Students

Worst. Holocaust. Lesson. Ever.

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Um, don’t really know what else to do with this, so am just going to quote liberally from the Daily Mail article (h/t: Ynet):

A group of stunned primary schoolchildren began crying when their teacher told them during a bizarre Holocaust game that they were to be taken away from their families.

The pupils, aged 11, became upset after a number of them were segregated and told they were being sent away or might end up in an orphanage.

The ordeal was meant to give the youngsters at the Lanarkshire school an insight into the horrors faced by Jewish children during World War II. …

One girl said her classmates began crying when Mrs. McGlynn told them she had a letter from the Scottish Executive saying nine children had to be separated from their classmates.

She told the shocked youngsters those who were born in January, February and March had lower IQs than other children, ‘due to lack of sunlight in their mother’s womb’, and that they had to put yellow hats on and be sent to the library.

The mother added: “When I asked why on earth they thought it was appropriate to deliver a role play situation to the children in this way, Mrs Stewart informed me that they didn’t inform the children beforehand.

“This was because they wanted the children to experience an “accurate emotional response” to this scenario in order for it to be reflected in their story writing.

Jeeze.

Primary Schoolchildren in Tears After They Are Told They Will Be Removed From Families as Part of Holocaust ‘Game’ [Daily Mail]

Today on Tablet

Frank Lloyd Wright’s shul, a Jewish Indian goddess, and more

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Frank Lloyd Wright.(Wikimedia Commons)

Today in Tablet Magazine, Michelle Goldberg traces how a French Sephardic woman named Mirra Alfassa became the “de facto goddess” of the southern Indian town of Pondicherry. Ian Volner considers the Beth Sholom synagogue in Philadelphia’s suburbs, for which, 50 years ago, Frank Lloyd Wright sought to design “a properly Jewish-American architecture, in a postwar world where America was more and more the center of Judaism.” The newest installment of Steve Stern’s The Frozen Rabbi is here, as it is every day. And speaking of things that are here every day: don’t forget The Scroll.

America, The Befuddled Matchmaker

Well we do the best we can!

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Patti Stanger, another befuddled matchmaker.(GLAAD)

Where does Israel’s announcement of 1,600 new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem leave the United States? Where does it leave American Jews? America put immense pressure on both sides to agree to “proximity talks”—which center around its envoy, George Mitchell—even though neither side’s preconditions had been met; and soon after the U.S. vice president arrives in the area, Israel flaunts the fact that the Palestinians’ most coveted precondition—a temporary freeze on construction in East Jerusalem—remained unfulfilled.

Israel’s interior minister says the announcement’s timing was unfortunate and not intended to offend. Even if that last part is true, it made the Palestinians look stupid for agreeing to the talks (it also made them look like the victims of Israeli bullying); it made it seem that Israel was passive-aggressively expressing unseriousness about the talks; and it made the Americans appear, simply, foolish.

Even so, Biden’s condemnation was notable. One expert put it well to Haaretz: “If Netanyahu is at all serious about talks with the Palestinian Authority, this will be just the beginning of his coalition woes. Meanwhile, the Israeli bilateral relationship with the United States has just become much more difficult. It is hard to remember a time when a senior U.S. official used the word ‘condemn’ to describe the actions of any ally.”

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Americans for Peace Now of course sided with Biden. J Street, with typical savvy—J Street’s savvy being the one thing its admirers and detractors seem able to agree about—let Biden do the talking: “J Street joins Vice President Biden in condemning … As Vice President Biden said … We echo Vice President Biden’s call.” The “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group seems to be betting that when it actively evangelizes for its positions, it does more alienating than persuading. Instead, it is positioning itself to be there, waiting, when (it believes) the facts on the ground usher Americans, and particularly American Jews, into its camp.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman told Haaretz that the announcement’s timing was poor but that Biden lacked tact: “The condemnation should have been issued by the State Department in Washington. … Biden undermined the central purpose of his trip to Israel—strengthening the friendship and cooperation between Israel and the U.S.” Meanwhile, no mention of the announcement appears on AIPAC’s Website. The silence is conspicuous, but is it wise? Joe Biden is known as a talker, and American Jews can surely hear him, even across a couple continents.

How Did U.S. Groups React to Biden’s Condemnation of Israel? [Haaretz]

Earlier: Biden Bashes Settlement Announcement

Daybreak: Honesty Between Friends

Plus the talks must go on, Iranian dissenters, and more in the news

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Biden giving his speech at Tel Aviv University today.(Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

• Vice President Joe Biden gave his big speech in Israel, after tweaking it in response to the East Jerusalem construction announcement. The speech was mostly warm, with Biden explaining, “Only a friend can deliver the hardest truth.” [JPost]

• Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to stick to the proximity talks, even after the construction announcement. [NYT]

• The Arab League secretary-general said Abbas wouldn’t start the talks now, due to the construction announcement. Hrmm. [JPost]

• The E.U. parliament formally supported the Goldstone Report’s findings, to strong Israeli criticism. [Haaretz]

• Consensus among high-level Israelis is shifting away from military action against Iran and toward supporting the Islamic Republic’s homegrown opposition. [WSJ]

• Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived in Saudi Arabia to drum up support for harsh sanctions against Iran. [NYT]

Sundown: Arab League Questioning Support for Talks

Plus R.I.P. Corey Haim, lox is kosher after all, and more

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Mmm, kosher.(Flickr)

• The Arab League called an emergency meeting to reconsider its backing of “proximity talks” in light of the East Jerusalem construction announcement. [Ynet]

• There’s a massive battle of the Israeli media titans right now, involving, among others, Sheldon Adelson. [LAT]

• 1980s teenage star Corey Haim, who was born to a Toronto Jewish family, died at 38. [ArtsBeat]

• As to those rumors that the ultra-Orthodox of Monsey, New York, had declared lox un-kosher? “Go ahead, eat lox,” says a report author. “It’s kosher—I just had some.” [The Journal News/Vos Iz Neias?]

• The hidden history of [ ] Jews. In this case, [ ] is Jamaican. [WSJ]

• In honor of his 47th birthday, producer Rick Rubin’s top ten tracks/albums. [Jewcy]

Below: Johnny Cash’s classic, Rubin-produced cover of Nine Inch Nails’s “Hurt.”

What You Said About Intermarriage

Our readers on the new Reform proposals

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A post from yesterday on the Reform Movement’s decision to move from discouraging intermarriage to encouraging the intermarried to cultivate Jewish homes—as commenter Carl Rosen put it on Facebook, the movement is “accepting the intermarried more than intermarriage”—drew a whole bunch of responses, both on Facebook and, especially, on The Scroll itself.

Those who applauded the Central Conference of American Rabbis task force, which among other things suggested establishing special blessings for interfaith weddings, clearly outnumbered those who condemned it. “Ketzirah” wrote: “As a Jewish woman in an interfaith marriage, I think it’s about damn time. I’ve become more religious since I met my husband and it’s because of his encouragement that I’ve deepened my own faith and practice.” “Laura Baum” agreed: “As a rabbi ordained by the Reform movement, I am thrilled that the movement is now focusing on blessing interfaith relationships. … It is time to stop thinking of intermarriage as only a challenge—it is also a reality and an opportunity.” And Jeremiah says,

It’s about time. How many Jews have been “lost” because they were discouraged from marrying the person they loved, not to mention their children? Every non-Jew is a potential Jew, and non-Jewish spouses who don’t convert are often more involved in synagogue and Jewish life than their Jewish partners. They should have been welcomed long ago.

(more…)

East Jerusalem Neighborhood Encapsulates Conflict

Sheikh Jarrah shows that right-of-return goes both ways

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Biden and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, earlier today.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

The small neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah has become the focal point for questions concerning the future of East Jerusalem and of the so-called right-of-return—both the right of Palestinians to return to their ancestral homes in Israel proper, and the right of Jews to do the same in places on the far side of the Green Line. So the New York Times reports (and it has an excellent, complementary video).

The history of Sheikh Jarrah, and specifically of a certain compound in it, is pretty complicated. I’ll let Liel Leibovitz, who wrote about it a few weeks ago, summarize:

in the late 19th century, a small Jewish community settled in the neighborhood, believing, as some Jews do, that the 4.5-acre compound they had purchased was the burial place of Shimon Hatsadik, a great high priest of the Second Temple. Arab violence in the 1920s and 1930s forced the Jews to disperse, and by 1948 none remained in the neighborhood. In 1956, the Jordanians, then East Jerusalem’s sovereigns, settled 28 Palestinian families in the compound. When Israel took over in 1967, these families were sued by the original Jewish owners; in 1982, the Israeli court ruled that the Palestinians were “protected tenants,” but that, as they didn’t own the property, they were required to pay rent to their Jewish landlords. The Palestinians, on their end, refused to accept this premise …

A settler organization named Nahlat Shimon bought the land from its original Jewish owners and renewed the legal campaign to clear the compound of Palestinians. Incredibly, in the summer of 2009, the Supreme Court ruled in Nahlat Shimon’s favor, arguing that since the property was once owned by Jews, the original owners still held the rights to the homes they were forced to abandon decades ago.

The Palestinians were evicted, and a group of Israeli religious nationalists immediately moved in. It is now the subject of weekly, sometimes daily, protests that draw not just the Israeli left but even moderates like novelist David Grossman and intellectual Moshe Halbertal. (There may be a hint of radical chic to these protests, too: “Accessibility is another draw,” the Times notes. “Unlike the relatively remote Palestinian villages where young Israeli leftists and anarchists join local residents and foreigners in protests against Israel’s West Bank barrier, Sheikh Jarrah is a few minutes’ drive from downtown Jerusalem.”)
(more…)

Venezuela Called on Anti-Semitism

International body is preparing anti-racism convention

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Hugo Chávez last month.(Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

While incidents of anti-Semitism have cropped up in Venezuela, and while some have argued that President Hugo Chávez deliberately cultivates an anti-Semitic atmosphere, B’nai B’rith International draws our attention to a new report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which, drawing on B’nai B’rith testimony, represents the most prominent formal acknowledgment of (and concern for) Venezuelan anti-Semitism.

Among other things, the group noted that Venezuela did not cooperate with the report, which was published under the aegis of the Organization of American States.

The next step for the OAS is the drafting of an Inter-American Convention concerning racism. B’nai B’rith says it is working to get an explicit mention of anti-Semitism in the document.

New OAS Report Finds Anti-Semitism in Venezuela; B’nai B’rith Submits Testimony [B’nai B’rith]
Earlier: Hugo Chávez’s Uses for Anti-Semitism
Related: United by Hate [Boston Review]

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