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In Defense of Jill Zarin

A word of praise for a much-maligned Housewife

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Jill Zarin.(Flickr)

In the historic battle between the Jewish Mother and her various combatants, I have generally—sometimes even publicly—sided with the detractors. I didn’t need more fodder, but more has been provided by Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City, whose Jill Zarin—wife of Lower East Side fabric czar Bobby Zarin—has spent three seasons as a walking embodiment of the caricature: presenting oppressive enmeshment as familial warmth, costuming manipulation as concern, haughtily asserting herself as the benevolent, wisecracking, all-knowing Den Mother, before vengefully lashing out when others deigned to develop relationships that did not flow through her or make decisions without running them past her. In case she was being too subtle about the whole act (she wasn’t), Zarin published this two months ago.

Of all the characters on whom Zarin has bestowed the gift of her toxic love, she was perhaps most generous with Bethenny Frankel, the Housewife who, until this season, wasn’t a wife at all; as the only single member of the cast, Frankel essentially emerged as the Jewish daughter to Zarin’s Jewish mother: beautiful, primped and eternally presentable, yet alone—and thus clearly (clearly) in need of guidance. Zarin and Frankel luxuriated in the bathos of their mother-daughter dynamic for two seasons—until, that is, Frankel found a man and belatedly began doing what children do: separate, as in individuate (and not, as both Zarin and Frankel would later describe it, as in a husband-and-wife split).

Given the obscurantist editing of reality television, it’s unclear how exactly a few wrong moves snowballed into the slow hacking murder of a relationship, though the subject has been Talmudically parsed by viewers and critics alike. The vast majority of folks have been siding with Frankel—New York Magazine included in their weekly round-up a recurring feature outlining “why Jill Zarin is a disgusting person”—a group to which I belonged until last night. In the season finale, Zarin offered Frankel the most heartfelt apology that will ever grace one of these absurd shows, to which Frankel responded with the self-satisfied churlishness and unearned righteousness of a hormonal teenager (“You have a lot of changing to do,” she tells Zarin, at the close of the episode). But why? Frankel is at a wonderful moment in her life, in which—according to her—she finally has everything she has always wanted: a husband, a  career, an apartment “downtown” and a new baby. Isn’t this the time to be generous, to be forgiving? As I watched her maintain iciness, I couldn’t help but think: Jesus, Bethenny, basta already with the kishke-schlepping.

And then, all of a sudden, it occurred to me: The daughter is becoming the mother.

She still has some distance to go, though. As her former friend could teach her, there’s a time to kvetch and there’s a time kvell: When the camera panned to Zarin in her last encounter with Frankel, she looked both genuinely contrite and also happy for someone she loved—even though the brat was too spoiled to appreciate it. At that moment, Zarin was, in a word, a mother. A Jewish one? Maybe, maybe not. But certainly a good one.

The Champ Is Here!

Foreman-Cotto, Saturday night

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Miguel Cotto (L) and Yuri Foreman (R).(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Guys! It’s tomorrow night! A little before midnight—and well after sundown—at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, the Belarus-born Orthodox Jewish boxer Yuri Foreman will take on challenger Miguel Cotto in a junior middleweight (154 pounds) title bout. The fight will be broadcast live on HBO.

Who’s going to win? Well, Vegas says Cotto: The Puerto Rican sensation, last seen losing in a 12-round decision to pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquaio, is a 2-5 favorite, while Foreman is 2-1 underdog. Cotto is undoubtedly the more accomplished fighter; Foreman has going for him that he is a bit bigger than Cotto, who traditionally fights at welterweight.

Some pre-fight reading:

• Kevin Iole, one of the most influential boxing writers, profiles our man. [Yahoo! Sports]

• The Wall Street Journal profile. [WSJ]

• Remember the bar mitzvah conflict? [NYT]

• Foreman’s wife speaks. [Fanhouse]

• A goy explains that Foreman really could pull this one off. [Jewcy]

Tablet Magazine Celebrates One Year

These are a few of our favorite things, part 1

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Tuesday marks Tablet Magazine’s one-year anniversary, and in the run-up, we’re remembering our ten favorite articles from the past 12 months. Herewith, your second of four installments. In no particular order …

“City of Refuge” by Ze’ev Avrahami, April 22, 2010. Avrahami remembers his old town of Yamit, a ’70s-era Israeli settlement in the Sinai, which was handed back to Egypt following the 1979 peace deal.

“The Crime of Surviving” by Dovid Katz, May 3, 2010.. Katz sheds light on the bizarre and troubling “Holocaust obfuscation” of Lithuania and the other Baltic states, which equates Jewish suffering under the Nazis with Lithuanian suffering under the Soviets.

Do you have other favorites? List ‘em in the comments …

Before Holzman, There Was Holman

A first-person testimony of the Jewish basketball genius

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Coach Nat Holman.(CCNY)

In my article yesterday on the legendary New York Knicks coach Red Holzman, I mentioned that the coach’s coach—the man who coached Holzman back when he was a player for City College—was famous himself. Under Nat Holman, CCNY won both the NCAA and NIT championships in 1950, and generally was a dominant program (this, recall, was back when many of the great basketball players were Jews). Holman retired after 37 seasons with a 421-190 record and a reputation as one of the game’s most important early innovators.

But there’s more! Earlier today, I spoke with someone who directly benefited from Coach Holman’s basketball expertise. Col. Ellis Robinson (Ret.) is a loyal reader of The Scroll and, in this writer’s opinion, the world’s best grandfather. He reports that Holman would come down to Plainfield, New Jersey, once a week to offer pointers to the local YMHA squad.

Specifically: Holman taught the Jews of Plainfield how to play dirty.

“When you’re jumping against a man that’s much taller than you,” the colonel recalls Holman having taught him, “you step on his toe as you’re jumping, and of course he can’t get off his feet. And [Holman] taught us that if you’re up against a man, you put your hand on the bottom of his pants and hold his shorts down, and then he can’t jump.”

“There was a league in New Jersey,” the colonel continues. “The largest cities had YMHAs, and there was a league amongst those teams: Elizabeth, Perth Amboy, Trenton, Jersey City.” (Yes, this is basically something out of a 1990s Philip Roth novel.)

And then there is the hip-check: “When we both went for the ball off the backboard, I would give the other team’s center a hip, right after I jumped, and he would land on his ass.” Oh, grandpa.

Magic Number [Tablet Magazine]

Unholy Roller

Real-life Orthodox drug kingpin arrested

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Justin Bartha (L) and Jesse Eisenberg (R) in Holy Rollers.(Holy Rollers)

Jewish drug peddlers are having their moment. In Holy Rollers, Jesse Eisenberg portrays a young Hasidic ecstasy smuggler who transitions, a little awkwardly, from hapless amateur to seasoned pro. Jonathan Braun, it seems, was a natural pusher. The New York resident was recently arrested by federal authorities for heading a major marijuana trafficking operation. His ties to organized crime allegedly span the country and extend into Canada. When cash was stolen from an organization’s house in California, Braun reportedly whipped a worker with a belt and threatened his family. “He’s the real deal,” a law enforcement source the Daily News. “He’s huge.”

He’s also 27. And he lives with his parents, Orthodox Jews, in Staten Island.

Braun’s squad allegedly shuffled in 110 tons of marijuana from Canada since 2007, channeling the drugs through the Akwesasne Native American reservations upstate. According to the Staten Island Advance, authorities seized $30,000 in cash and “drug ledgers for ‘hundreds’ of marijuana shipments” from Braun’s home. They also nabbed 16 cell phones from the young entrepreneur, who once owned a cell phone store in the borough.

Nearly 60 members of Braun’s operation have been arrested by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. But he was the big get. After an earlier raid of a stash house in Staten Island, Braun apparently fled to Israel. Even there, he still ran the show. And his dealing operation was reinforced by partnerships with crime syndicates in Canada and California, including the Hells Angels.

Yesterday, Braun was denied bail. If tried and convicted, he could be sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.

Either way, the tale of the local drug kingpin should, no doubt, hit a theater near you soon.

Marijuana Kingpin Jonathan Braun Ran Major Drug Ring from Staten Island Home: Feds [NY Daily News]
Earlier: ‘Holy Rollers’ Sacrifices Intrigue and Precision

Tablet Magazine Celebrates One Year

These are a few of our favorite things, part 1

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Tuesday marks Tablet Magazine’s one-year anniversary, and in the run-up, we’re remembering our ten favorite articles from the past 12 months. Consider this your first of four installments. In no particular order …

“A Zionist Supreme” by Adam Kirsch, September 29, 2009. Kirsch, our books critic, credited Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish U.S. Supreme Court justice, with “la[ying] out the terms of the compact that still governs American Jews’ relations with Israel: they would offer money and moral support, but not sacrifice their Americanness.”

“Mother May I?” by Eryn Loeb, June 11, 2009. Loeb, a contributing editor, revisits A Treasure for My Daughter, which contains everything a young Jewish woman is supposed to know … in 1950.

“King Without a Crown” by Allison Hoffman, May 10, 2010. Hoffman, our senior writer, epically profiled Malcolm Hoenlein, one of the most politically influential American Jews.

Do you have other favorites? List ‘em in the comments …

Today on Tablet

The movements try to get along, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, staff writer Marissa Brostoff reports that a new bequest’s interdenominational nature has thrown the three main movements’ waning power into relief. Mark Schechner remembers the great Seymour Krim—not just the writer, but the man. Liel Leibovitz finds himself unable to write a column about this week’s haftorah, because the flotilla fiasco weighs too heavily on his mind. It sure has weighed on The Scroll this past week.

Jews, Italians Share Genetic Links

It’s both business and personal, Sonny

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James Caan as Sonny Corleone.(Wikipedia)

There is now a scientific basis for the time-honored principle that Jews can play Italians and Italians can play Jews. The largest-ever genetic analysis of the Jewish people revealed that Jews in disparate parts of the world have genetic commonalities, and also close DNA similarities to the Bedouin, the Druze, the Palestinians … and the Italians.

Notably, ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews have a genetic bond.

As for ugly Mexican bandits? Still no word.

Jews Worldwide Share Genetic Ties [Nature News]

Daybreak: New Ship Approaches

Plus the blockade reconsidered, and more

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• The Rachel Corrie—the Irish-owned, flotilla-affiliated ship that was headed for Gaza—could reach the exclusion zone, where Israel is enforcing the blockade, by this afternoon. Prime Minister Netanyahu vows it will not reach land. [AP/NYT]

• There had been rumors it was turning around due, allegedly, to Israeli “sabotage” to the two ships that were accompanying it. (“See? It’s not hard to do this right.”) [Haaretz]

• Though Israel maintains the blockade’s necessity, it is also considering alternatives that would increase the amount of civilian goods able to reach Gaza. [NYT]

• … Which seems to be all the United States is hoping it does. [JPost]

• … Which seems to be what David Ignatius is hoping the United States does. [WP]

• Yesterday was a day of mourning for thousands of Turkish people; their government continues to talk of a lost friendship. [NYT]

• New York Republicans selected a Nassau County lawyer named Bruce Blakeman, who appears to be Jewish, to run against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in the fall. [NYT]

Sundown: Obama Won’t Waste the Crisis

Plus more on Malek, Mametian porn, and more

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Fred Malek.(WP)

• President Obama told Larry King that he hopes the flotilla incident will be used as an opportunity to advance peace. [Haaretz/Reuters]

• New revelations about Fred Malek’s role as President Nixon’s Jew-counter have come to light. [WP]

• Provocative essay on who the Israeli right’s supporters in America are. [The National]

• What it’s like in Gaza. [WP]

• Drake, the half-Jewish rising hip-hop star, sits for an interview. [Heeb]

• Scroll (scroll!) halfway down for some choice photos of various Tablet Magazine personages, including Seth Lipsy and Jonathan Rosen. Socialites! [New York Social Diary]

Nextbook Press author David Mamet brings us a lost masterpiece of pornography:

Celebrate ‘Ulysses’ with Tablet Magazine

June 16, everyone. Save the date!

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On June 16, 1904, a cuckolded advertising salesman named Leopold Bloom wandered the streets of Dublin, unwittingly acting out Odysseus’s journey home. Nowadays, on June 16—Bloomsday—lovers of literature and Irish culture celebrate Bloom and the great epic novel in which he appears, James Joyce’s Ulysses.

All well and good: Literature is splendid, and we all enjoy a pint of Guinness every now and again. But the traditional, Gaelic way of honoring Bloom denies a crucial aspect of his identity. For Joyce’s best-known creation, and one of the most memorable characters in all of literature, is a Jew.

This year, Tablet Magazine will not let people forget that. On Wednesday, June 16, at 7 PM, at the bar Solas in Manhattan’s East Village, we will be ringing in Bloomsday with readings and music:

• Novelists Joshua Cohen and Ben Greenman will read selected excerpts.

• Alicia Jo Rabins, of Girls in Trouble, will sing an original, specially commissioned song about Bloom’s wife, Molly.

• Actors from the New Yiddish Repertory Theater will enact one scene from the novel that has been translated into the language of Bloom’s ancestors.

• There will be a presentation, “Ulysses in Five Minutes,” for those who haven’t yet tackled the novel’s 800 or so pages.

Plus! Starting next week, The Scroll will be blogging up a storm about Cohen’s new novel, Witz, a great big wonderful Joycean novel about the last Jew on Earth. And Bloomsday attendees can expect a special midrash from Josh on this ever-so-Jewish genre.

So save the date: We’ll all be there. Let’s claim Bloom for his people!

Sweet poster, designed by our very own Len Small, after the jump. (more…)

Wieseltier Joins the Fray

Cameron condemns, Abbas has a prize, and more flotilla reax

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The New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier, painted by Avigdor Arikha.(National Galleries of Scotland)

• Leon Wieseltier’s opening quip says it all: “Operation Make the World Hate Us, it might have been called.” [TNR]

• David Cameron, the new Tory British prime minister, calls for an end to the Gaza blockade. [JPost]

• Elliott Abrams accuses the Obama administration of abandoning Israel to the United Nations “lynch mob.” [Weekly Standard]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu’s full defense of the raid. [Ben Smith]

• Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “state terrorism”; renamed the upcoming Palestine Investment Conference the “Conference of Freedom” (remember, it was the “Freedom Flotilla”); and gave all the flotilla activists Palestinian citizenship. [JPost]

• An essay bemoans the raid but reasserts support for the blockade. [NYT]

• Columnist Nick Kristof urges President Obama to speak out against the blockade, for the sake of both Israeli and American interests. [NYT]

• While ceding the stupidity of the raid, Michael Rubin argues that Israel’s relationship with one-time ally Turkey had already frayed, and that this was the deliberate doing of Prime Minister Erdogan. [Forward]

• I have a feeling Gideon Levy’s comparison of Netanyahu to Ben-Gurion is a wee bit sarcastic. [Haaretz]

• Former President Jimmy Carter defends the Gaza blockade and the raid. Not! [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

Church Bell Sex

An old Jew tells a joke

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Oh, man.

Five Jews Land on ‘New Yorker’ Authors List

Including one The Scroll stupidly left out!

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David Bezmozgis, the writer I forgot.(Courtesy David Bezmozgis)

When The New Yorker announced last month that it would publish a list of 20 promising fiction writers under 40, I stepped in with a lists of my own: The 20 most likely Jewish entrants, and the five I was most strongly predicting.

Well, the actual list has been released, and it turns out there are exactly five Jews … but only four of the ones I predicted, and, even worse, the fifth was not even on my list of 20! David Bezmozgis, I am so, so sorry! I will find a way to atone for this. I promise.

Nope, wait, it gets worse: He contributed two pieces to Nextbook.org, Tablet Magazine’s predecessor. Check ‘em out.

The other four, incidentally, who made the New Yorker list and were on both of mine, are: Jonathan Safran Foer; Rivka Galchen; Nicole Krauss; and Tablet Magazine contributing editor Gary Shteyngart.

Finally, 15 not Jewish writers who are also probably worth reading are on the list. (Needless to say, my Guaranteed Lock, Wells Tower, made the cut.)

The New Yorker’s ‘20 Under 40’ [Arts Beat]
Earlier: All the Jewish Young Literary Men (and Women)

The American Connection to the Raid

U.S. citizen killed; another loses eye in protest

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Emily Henochowicz’s name in Hebrew script.(Henochowicz’s blog)

Of the activists aboard the Freedom Flotilla who were killed, one was an American citizen. It has been confirmed that he is of Turkish ethnicity; a Turkey news agency reports it was Furkan Dogan, 19.

Meanwhile, a young American woman who had been living in Ramallah, in the West Bank, lost her eye when a tear gas canister hit her during a protest against the flotilla raid. Emily Henochowicz is a 21-year-old student at Cooper Union, in New York City, with, shall we say, very left-wing views on the situation (her blog is here). She grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is where I am from; her high school is five minutes from my parents’ house; we have friends of friends in common. (I can also confirm that she is Jewish.)

I disagree with those who say I am not allowed to feel a certain solidarity for Israel, going beyond the political, due to my strongly identified Jewish identity. But that also means I’m allowed to feel an even stronger solidarity with another Jewish kid from the D.C. suburbs. Well, damn it all.

U.S. Citizen Among Those Killed in Flotilla Raid [WP]
American Hit in Anti-Israeli Protest Loses Eye [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

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