Cheftestant Cooks His Mother’s Borscht

Meet the Jews of ‘Top Chef’

Top Chef cheftestant Amanda Baumgarten.(Cookstr)

Know we’re a day late, but the new season of Top Chef premiered Wednesday night (in Washington, D.C.!!!), and I can confirm, via official Bravo spokesperson, that the two contestants who seem like they would be Jewish—Alex Reznik (born in Russia, moved to Brooklyn) and Amanda Baumgarten—are, in fact, the two Jews.

Both survived the first episode handily. And in fact, Reznik received special props from the judges for his Elimination Challenge dish: A deconstructed version of, yes, his mom’s borscht.

Top Chef [Bravo]

Daybreak: Medvedev Against U.S. Move

Plus more on yesterday’s protest, and more in the news

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today.(Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

• Russian President Medvedev sharply criticized the new U.S. and EU sanctions, saying he prefers when all countries act together, as with the just-passed U.N. ones. [Ynet]

• The Obama administration praised Israel’s easing of the Gaza land blockade. [Haaretz]

• I linked yesterday, but the big news of the day remains the thousands of Israeli ultra-Orthodox who protested a Supreme Court decision integrating religious schools, opening them to Sephardim from Arab and North African countries. [NYT]

• A Forward writer reminds Times readers that, through their emigration battle, Jews were in the front guard in the movement to change the Soviet regime. [NYT]

• Congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers, who defeated the Boston Celtics to repeat as NBA champions. Special shout-outs to back-up guard Jordan Farmar, who is Jewish, and starting forward Ron Artest, who thanked his shrink afterward. [WSJ]

Sundown: Ultra-Orthodox Protest Integration

Plus politicizing genocide, and more

Protesters in Jerusalem today.(AP/NYT)

• Ultra-Orthodox protesters were out en masse in Jerusalem in response to a Supreme Court decision forcing a religious girls’ school to let Sephardim study alongside Ashkenazim. [AP/NYT]

• The European Union joined the United States in imposing its own, especially tough sanctions on Iran, particularly targeting its energy sector. [Ynet]

• The former head of the main Syrian synagogue in Deal, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to federal money-laundering charges. [APP]

• James Besser speaks out against the practice of tethering affirmation or denial of the Armenian genocide to Turkey’s behavior. [Political Insider]

This has been my favorite goal of the World Cup Finals so far: Brazil’s first against North Korea yesterday (Brazil won 2-1).

Debating Israel From Afar

Jeffrey Goldberg and Jeremy Ben-Ami lock shofars

Jeffrey Goldberg.(

At one point last night Jeffrey Goldberg opined on the unparalleled, shaky status of the state of Israel. “Bolivians,” he joked, “never wake up and ask ‘will Bolivia be here tomorrow?’” His comment captured the mixture of lightness and gravity in the evening’s conversation. Goldberg, the venerable Atlantic correspondent (and Tablet Magazine contributing editor), joined J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami for the herculean task of unraveling the evolving relationship between American Jews and Israel. Before a crowd of roughly 400 packed into the New York Society for Ethical Culture, the pair handled their task well, refusing to shy away from difficult questions that linger over the issue. (J Street has posted video of the entire conversation here.)

As Marissa Brostoff predicted yesterday, Goldberg both sat and positioned himself to Ben-Ami’s right. It was Ben-Ami’s home court: his “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group organized the event under the rhetorical title, “Who speaks for me?” But Goldberg was the agitating gadfly, prodding his interlocutor with questions on a broad range of topics, from J Street’s overall role to the sanctity of the Temple Mount. Ben-Ami revealed his experience as a communications pro, crafting his responses clearly and carefully.

The two departed significantly on the tactics and pragmatism of America’s Middle East policy, which Goldberg promptly put down in his blog this morning. But I found another point of contention in their dialogue far more interesting. Early in the discussion, Ben-Ami voiced his adamant concern that Israel was increasingly becoming “illiberal,” a shift he saw as a fundamental affront to “Jewish values.” Goldberg countered with a sharp critique that, essentially, called into question much of J Street’s work. “What if you, as an American Jew,” he asked, “don’t have a stake in Israel?” The reality, Goldberg asserted, is that critics here, thousands of miles away, would not directly “suffer the policy consequences” of certain proposals as viscerally as Israelis would. “I’m still not sure,” Goldberg said, “that it is the right of American Jews to lecture Israel.” (more…)

Israeli ‘Nigerian Scammers’ Have an Offer for You

Get them out of jail, make $$$!


Dear Sir or Madam,
We are seven Israelis being held in Jerusalem but about to be sent to the United States after an Israeli court approved our extradition yesterday. The alleged crime is defrauding American retirees of tens of millions of dollars through phone scams. Specifically, our “Nigerian scam,” as these sorts of things are called, involved calling elderly pensioners, telling them they had won the lottery, and that they could receive their winnings if they sent us several thousand dollars for transfer fees.

We currently have no access to our money but actually have US$50,000,000 in Swiss bank accounts, which we can access once these charges are dropped. If you send us money for us to pay our lawyers to get us free, we will pay you back twice what you have sent us. Please consider this a smart, quick, and foolproof business investment for you and your family.

Innocent Scammers

Court: Israelis Suspected in ‘Nigerian Scam’ Can Be Transferred to U.S. [Haaretz]

‘Ot, Reb Bloom, Vos Makht Ir?’

‘Ulysses’ in Yiddish


[Note: If you're viewing this in The Scroll, click on the headline to get the full post, with video.] In case you were wondering, last night’s celebration of Bloomsday went swimmingly. We will try to put more up later.

For now: Here is David Mandelbaum, of the New Yiddish Repertory Theater, and Alyssa Quint, who teaches Yiddish at Columbia, performing, first in English and then in Yiddish (translated by Caraid O’Brien), a scene between Leopold Bloom and an ex-girlfriend of his, Mrs. Breen.

Tune in Tomorrow To See Jewish Soccer

Why America’s Feilhaber may get the call

Midfielder Benny Feilhaber.(Interview)

In last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with England, the United States—Tablet Magazine’s official soccer team—did not play any of its three Jewish members (maybe that’s why it was only a draw!). However, the dynamics of the American side’s match-up with Slovenia, which it plays tomorrow at 9:30 am E.S.T., makes it likely that we will see one of the Jewish players hit the pitch.

Slovenia plays a defense-minded 4-4-2, you see, whose strategy is almost identical to the United States’s: Pack it in on defense, requiring the opponent to bring more men toward the box; defend well; and use this imbalance to your advantage on quick counterattacks.

Against an offensively-minded England, it made sense to start defense-oriented Ricardo Clark opposite Michael Bradley at midfield. Against Slovenia, however, more of a two-way midfielder is preferable, which is why I have heard and read many (for example, Sports Illustrated’s Steve Davis, here) suggest that Clark be replaced by … Benny Feilhaber, whose grandparents fled from the Nazis to Brazil, and who plays midfield for a good squad in the Dutch league.

Which is bad news for the Slovenians. And better news for the ladies: Feilhaber is not particularly difficult on the eyes.

World Cup Soccer [Interview]
Earlier: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Today on Tablet

Jumping off Warsaw buildings, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, contributing editor Eddy Portnoy goes back to Warsaw in the 1920s and finds a Yiddish press that loved a good suicide. And The Scroll is tired from last night’s Ulysses celebration—thanks to all who came out!

Top Turk Breaks Bread With Chabad

Mercan tells us he likes the Jews

Murat Mercan.(Turkish Journal)

Last night, at the Living Legacy gala thrown by Chabad’s Washington arm, American Friends of Lubavitch, at the Mellon Auditorium in D.C., the countries represented read a little like the World Cup qualifier lineup: England, Denmark, South Korea, Australia, New Jersey (Tim Howard, represent!). The roster also included non-qualifiers like Ireland, Belgium, Cyprus—and, perhaps a little surprisingly, Turkey, which has, of course, been at odds with the Jewish state since Israeli commandos raided the Turkish-backed Gaza flotilla more than two weeks ago.

The delegation from Ankara included Murat Mercan, the head of the Turkish parliament’s foreign relations committee and a senior figure in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP Party. As it happens, he also took part in the Gaza-bound Viva Palestina aid convoy earlier this year; since the Memorial Day flotilla raid, he’s been sharply critical of Israel and its blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

But last night, he said his problems with Israel had nothing to do with his feelings toward Jews. “Criticizing what the current government is doing does not mean criticizing the Jews,” Mercan told Tablet Magazine. “Jews are an essential part of the Turkish community, and relations between Turkey and the Jews will not be hampered in any way by the actions of the Israeli government.”

Mercan was in town for a few days on a diplomatic mission to address any negative impact on Turkish-American relations arising from the flotilla; his itinerary, he said, included meetings with White House officials, the State Department, and Rep. Howard Berman (D-California), one of the authors of pending economic sanctions legislation against Iran. His appearance at the Chabad dinner, he said, came at the invitation of a Lubavitch rabbi he met in Turkey a few years back. In other words, Mercan quipped, “It was God’s will that I be here!”

With that, Mercan hustled out the porticoed doors and into the muggy night. A pair of Chabad rabbis, curious, asked what he had said, and seemed pleased with the result. “So he listens to what we tell him,” one remarked, and then turned back into the colonnaded ballroom to see what was for dessert.

Daybreak: Land Blockade Eased

Plus U.S. congressmen take on Turkey, and more


• Israel announced it will “liberalize” its land blockade of Gaza, significantly easing the importation of many things. Its naval blockade will stay. [NYT]

• The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted several new organizations related to Iran’s energy sector, Revolutionary Guard Corps, and more, to complement the new sanctions passed last week. [LAT]

• Yet about those just-passed energy sanctions: They would be easily circumvented (should President Obama sign them) via the black market, a report says. [WSJ]

• And speaking of energy, that super-massive natural gas field off the coast of northern Israel keeps looking bigger. But it could provide for conflict with Lebanon, which may claim part of it. [UPI/Vos Iz Neias?]

• Several bipartisan congresspersons lambasted Turkey yesterday at a press conference, blaming it for the nine deaths in the flotilla incident. [JPost]

• Want to visit a permanent Hezbollah museum? They’ve got you covered. [WSJ]

Sundown: Go South, Young Jews!

Plus the power of hummus, and more in the news


• Southern towns want more Jews. Hey, who doesn’t? [Atlantic]

• Hummus is now the leading “refrigerated flavor spread” in America, which doesn’t sound like much until you hear about the $325 million in annual retail sales. [NYT]

• The leading popularizer of biblical archaeology just turned 80 and published his autobiography. [NYT]

The Jewish Week’s annual 36 under 36 list drops. [Jewish Week]

• A new Berlin memorial, called Topography of Terror, focuses on those who were responsible for the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. [WSJ]

• According to a new study, the Holocaust is responsible for worse economies today in areas where it was carried out six decades ago. [The Moscow Times]

The inevitable irreverent puppet musical Avenue Jew.

Boycotting Hits the Mainstream

‘Forward’ and J Street folks debate tactics with lefties


Last night, around 200 people packed into an un-air-conditioned room in Manhattan and did something possibly unprecedented within the organized American Jewish community: Had a serious, civil, public debate about the prospect of applying BDS—or boycott, divestment, and sanctions—tactics against Israel. There was an unpolished, church-basement feel to the event (partly because it was literally held in a church basement) that I haven’t often encountered within the community. Thing is, according to the event’s organizers, every synagogue and Jewish community center they approached turned them down.

No one on the panel—including the anti-BDSers, former Forward newspaper editor J.J. Goldberg and Kathleen Peratis, a J Street board member and onetime New Israel Fund vice president—felt uncomfortable asserting that after decades of administering an occupation, Israel has basically gone rogue. But this underlying assumption is treated in much of the Jewish world as an apostasy, which is why Goldberg and Peratis were by far the more mesmerizing side of the debate to watch. J Street, in particular, has been answering to critics from the right since its birth; in fact, that’s why it was born at all. (This evening, in a lovely bit of symmetry, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami will be debating a different Goldberg—that would be Atlantic writer and Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey—who will, presumably, be sitting to Ben-Ami’s right.) But there are plenty of Jews, and Jewish organizations, to the left of J Street as well, albeit ones who are usually left out, and sometimes explicitly blacklisted, from talking to anyone in the community beyond themselves. Watching Goldberg and Peratis reorient themselves to define their positions when challenged from that, other side was fascinating and a bit vertiginous.

Goldberg and Peratis differentiated sharply between Israel-the-occupier, which they condemned—Peratis said she even supported boycotting products made in the settlements—and Israel-the-Jewish-state, even if this latter thing, which they support, is corroded, they said, by the former.

Their pro-BDS opponents—led by Hannah Mermelstein, a member of the pro-BDS group Adalah New York, and Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli-air-force-pilot-turned-left-wing-activist (and, from a show of hands, representing more than half the audience)—convincingly laid out the problem and, perhaps, illusion of the distinction between Israel-the-occupier and Israel-the-Jewish-state. (more…)

A Very Jewish Bloomsday

Everything you need to know for today


We are very, very excited about our Bloomsday celebration tonight (COME!), and everyone else is excited about Bloomsday, too.

• Contributing editor Ben Greenman, who will be joining us to celebrate, has made this an all-Ulysses day on his Letters With Character Website. (Also, congrats to Ben on being named a Big Jewcy.) [Letters With Character]

• Contributing editor Josh Cohen, who will also be joining us to celebrate, points out that every country has its own Ulysses. [Daily Beast]

• Our goal tonight is to reclaim Leopold Bloom for the Jews. But what about his wife, Molly, who was born Irish Catholic? An interesting, provocative post makes the case for Molly’s figurative—and maybe, even, literal?—Jewishness. [Sisterhood]

• After tonight’s event, turn up the dial for Radio Bloomsday, featuring Jerry Stiller, Alec Baldwin, and Caraid O’Brien (who translated the Yiddish section that will be featured tonight). [Radio Bloomsday]

• Bloom Tweets! [@LeopoldBloom]

• Bloom in Tweets! []

• A nice round-up of various Bloomsday goings-on in New York (including, er, ours). [Paper Cuts]

• How Bloomsday is celebrated around the world. [HuffPo]

• And please revisit my interview with Professor Bruce Robbins on the essential Jewishness of Ulysses. [The Scroll]

See y’all tonight!

Dershowitz Endorses First Ever Republican

Is Joel Pollak from a new mold?

Joel Pollak.(Facebook)

Alan Dershowitz, the star Harvard Law Professor and de facto Jewish American leader, is endorsing apparently his first-ever Republican politician, backing former student Joel Pollak against Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) in this year’s House race. His cited reason is Schakowsky’s alleged refusal to “speak out” against the Obama administration’s (alleged) deaf ear to American Jewish concerns about Israel and Iran. (Both candidates are Jewish.)

The endorsement is an interesting sign of how the need for a tough line on Israel could trump other concerns for Jewish American liberals. After all, Pollak, who espouses the sort of rigidly strong support for Israel that you’d expect, is on other issues clearly to the right of center, and even more to the right of most Jewish voters, who in 2008 went for President Obama over Sen. McCain by a nearly four-to-one margin. According to his Website, Pollak supports the repeal of Obama’s health bill and a discretionary spending freeze, and opposes cap-and-trade laws aimed at greenhouse gases—all positions of staunch conservative orthodoxy.

And yet, and yet! Pollak thinks decisions about abortion and gay marriage should be left up to the states (which is a moderate position), and even opposes torture (unlike his endorser, Dershowitz).

So Pollak is no Tea Partier. He is also attractive and married, and has Chicago roots. For what it’s worth, he is not expected, according to Ben Smith, to give Schakowsky much of a fight (almost no challengers of House incumbents are). On the other hand, the Dershowitz endorsement was enough to provoke a retaliatory volley from J Street. I’m almost wondering if Pollak is a new sort of candidate, almost jerry-rigged to draw strongly pro-Israel Democrats over to the Republican fold.

Dershowitz Backs Schakowsky Challenger [Ben Smith]

Israelis Corner the Vuvuzela Market

Yes, those horrific soccer horns

Man blowing a vuvuzela.(Flickr)

I do not believe that if one of Israel’s policies is angering the rest of the world, that is reason in and of itself for Israel to halt that policy. The Gaza blockade, for example: The effect it has on the world’s view of Israel is not unimportant, and ought to be factored in to any decision over whether or not to keep it; but ultimately, it is at least arguable that Israeli policymakers could legitimately determine that the pros outweigh the cons and that the blockade should stay.

But today I’m making an exception. Apparently several Israeli Internet entrepreneurs figured out last year that they could make a lot of money acting as middlemen for the buying and selling of vuvuzelas—those horrible, noxious, bzzzzzzz-sounding cheap plastic horns that South African “fans”* have been playing incessantly during World Cup matches—and, so yeah, (please don’t) is Israeli-owned.

This may not be why some hate Israel. But it sure ain’t helping.

Israeli Company Leads Charge To Supply World with Vuvuzelas [Haaretz]

*Any notion that the horns have anything to do with rooting for one team, or rooting for good play, is B.S., because the noise doesn’t change no matter what is happening on the pitch, or no matter which team is doing what. I don’t even see how you can pay attention to what’s happening on the pitch if you spend the whole game blowing on your damn horn. It’s not like football, where the home crowd makes more noise when the other team has the ball to try to force a false start. It’s just horrible and stupid and wrong and it’s probably partly responsible for how few goals there have been and FIFA is going to regret not having banned them. End rant.

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