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Today on Tablet

A real live novel on Tablet begins, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, we begin serializing Steve Stern’s new novel, The Frozen Rabbi. Check out the first installment. This week’s Vox Tablet podcast is … why, an interview with Steve Stern on his decision to serialize his new novel (that would be The Frozen Rabbi!) in these very digital pages. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall goes to the source—Lila, 7; Josie, 8; and Noemi, 4 (very much going on 5)—for answers to questions about God and the Meaning of Life and all that. Josh Lambert provides his weekly look at forthcoming books of interest. And The Scroll unfurls for the new week.

Gov. or No, Ravitch Gains Power

All about New York’s second-in-command

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Lieutenant Gov. Ravitch.(New York Times)

As the scandal surrounding New York Gov. David Paterson’s alleged intervention in a longtime aide’s assault case continues to mushroom, the New York Times—the same paper that broke the scandal—takes a good long look at Lieutenant Gov. Richard Ravitch. If Paterson resigns, Ravitch would become the first Jewish governor of America’s most Jewish state in … almost two years. Which is a while, when you think about it! Almost half the time between now and the next Winter Olympics!

Even if Paterson doesn’t resign, though, his weakened position—among other things, he’s a lame duck, having announced he won’t run for re-election—only makes Ravitch more powerful. “He is widely seen as the only adult left in Albany,” the Times reports. Many Democrats, for example, are urging Paterson to make Ravitch the one in-charge of crucial, and unfailingly contentious, budget negotiations.

We learn a bit about Ravitch’s life: he’s a classic New York City éminence grise, ensconced in the especially Gotham power centers of real estate, politics, sports, and, yes, Jewish philanthropy.

Another of Ravitch’s prime assets is that nobody sees him as a threat because he has zero further political aspirations: as he says, “My disability is my strength. I’m not a candidate for anything.” The one time he was a candidate for something—the 1989 Democratic mayoral primary—he came in third. “Aides remembered him as a horrendous candidate,” we’re told, “always saying something impolitic when he wasn’t grossing people out by picking his ears.”

Which just goes to prove that old saying: those who can’t run for governor, become lieutenant governor; and those who can’t govern, become governor.

The Accidental Lieutenant [NYT]

Related: Question of Influence in Abuse Case of Paterson Aide [NYT]

Earlier: NYT Story Opens Door For Ravitch
Paterson Won’t Run; Is Ravitch Next?

Daybreak: Converting China

Plus Dubai cause-of-death, Snooki’s glassy Purim, and more in the news

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Don’t worry guys, Snooki is okay.(Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

• An Israeli delegation showed Chinese officials extensive intelligence on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. China is the final veto-possessing holdout when it comes to further Security Council sanctions. [Haaretz]

• Israel’s plans to landmark two Biblical sites in the West Bank led to further skirmishes, as well as the Israeli police entering al-Aqsa mosque in the Temple Mount. [WSJ]

• Dubai police officials disclosed that Hamas weapons man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was killed January 19th (by, most believe, the Mossad), died after being injected with a powerful muscle relaxant and asphyxiated. We’ll have much more on the Dubai Murder Mystery later today. [NYT]

• A rift between Hamas’s Syria-based leadership and its Gaza branch has been exacerbated by disagreements over the negotiations for Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier. [Haaretz]

• David Bankier, a Holocaust scholar at Yad Vashem, died. The 63-year-old had pioneered the study of ordinary Europeans’ cooperation with the Nazis. [NYT]

• A glass ceiling at a Manhattan hotel collapsed during a Purim party, injuring 10 guests. “Omg roof just collapsed at the purim event!” Tweeted Jersey Shore star Snooki. “We thought the dj was beatin the beat hardcore but nope, the roof couldn’t handle snooki and vin.” Welcome back from the weekend, folks! [NY Post/Vos Iz Neias?]

Sundown: Happy Purim!

Plus carping over gefilte fish, and more bad puns

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(Flickr)

• A look at Purim as the holiday that “includes all others” and distills the fundamental choice all Jews face: whether to wait for God to act or to take matters into your own hands. [BeliefNet]

• Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a favorite of centrists on the Israeli side, vows that Palestinians will not be provoked to violence by “the terrorism of the settlers, and the terrorism of the settlement project.” [Haaretz]

• In Finland, authorities are trying to bar anyone but doctors from performing circumcisions by prosecuting a Jewish couple whose baby experienced complications after a mohel performed his bris. [Jewish Chronicle]

• A library at Oxford University has a fascinating, and revealing, exhibit of late-medieval manuscripts, with a special focus on Jewish ones. [Times of London]

Jewish Week columnist Abe Novick bemoans the dissipation of trust and true connectedness in our supposedly globalized world. [Jewish Week]

• Apparently there’s a big Illinois plant that makes gefilte fish. And there’s a trade dispute preventing the gefilte fish from being shipped to Israel. So, yeah, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally pledged to resolve the problem in time for Passover. Me? I prefer my gefilte fish caught in the wild. [JPost]

One Ugly Divorce

Couple feuding over daughter’s religion

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The Reyes couple, during happier days.(ABC News)

This story has it all. Joseph and Rebecca Reyes were married in a traditional Jewish ceremony, and Joseph, who was born Catholic, converted to Rebecca’s Judaism. They had a daughter, Ela, now 3. And then, one day, the bottom fell out: financial troubles, suspicions of infidelity, etc. They divorced. Rebecca got Ela (and the house).

It was at this point that Joseph found God and Jesus besides, and had Ela baptized, telling Rebecca about it only after the fact. Rebecca went to court and got a judge to bar Joseph from taking Ela to church. Joseph proceeded to, well, take Ela to church, with a camera crew in tow—you just get closer to God when strangers are taping you, you know? Next week, Joseph faces up to six months in prison for being criminally in contempt of the court order.

The video’s below. Two thoughts:

• I don’t think this is about religion—particularly for Joseph, who lost basically all credibility when he notified that camera crew. It’s even less about the First Amendment, a banner Joseph has been plenty happy to wave. This is about two people going through a nasty break-up and wanting to get back at each other, and using their kid as a pawn in that game. Joseph clearly started it, and based on the limited information in the report, he seems more culpable; but it takes two to tango (Joseph alleges Rebecca went straight to court, for example, without first trying to reason with him).

• Yes, we have a comments section, and yes, if you feel like it, you can go there now and tell the world that this never would have happened if Rebecca had married a Jewish man (although it’s worth pointing out that Joseph converted). Just please try to be civil. Thanks!

Exclusive: Mother Talks About Whether Estranged Dad Should Go to Jail For Taking Daughter to Church [ABC News]

How To Spend 19 Hours in Kiev’s Airport

You get pretty upset, is how

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It’s hard to know whom to feel worse for: the 17 Jewish passengers flying Ukraine’s Aerosvit Airlines who were stranded 19 hours in Kiev’s airport after their connecting flight to New York (from Tel Aviv, originally) was canceled; or the Aerosvit employees, who said passengers bum-rushed when they just couldn’t take it anymore.

Most amusing tidbit from the report: “Aerosvit’s representative in Israel, Shimon Mostovoy, was out of the office all day and failed to respond to reporters’ questions.” Two words: undisclosed location.

Frustrated Jewish Passengers Storm Security at Kiev Airport [JPost/Vos Iz Neias?]

Paterson Won’t Run; Is Ravitch Next?

Resignation, suddenly more likely, means Jewish governor

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Ravitch (left) chilling with buddies Ed Koch and Michael Bloomberg.(Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Bryan Cave LL)

We’re one step closer to having a Jewish governor of America’s Jewiest state—New York’s first Jewish chief executive in (deep breath) almost two years.

Gov. David Paterson, embroiled in scandal involving his alleged intervention in a longtime aide’s assault case, will announce this afternoon that he will not seek re-election this fall (this after formally announcing his candidacy only a few days ago).

This does not itself pave the way for a Jewish governor; if anything, it paves the way for state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who has to see this as his moment. Still now that this scandal has proved that it has teeth, the question is no longer whether it will hurt Paterson, but how much. As Ben Smith notes, he will still face calls to resign. And should he heed those calls, the job will be thrown to his lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch, who would restore a Semitic sheen to New York’s highest office. Because the last Jewish governor, Eliot Spitzer, worked out so well.

Paterson to Drop Out of Race For Governor [City Room]
Question of Influence in Abuse Case of Paterson Aide [NYT]
Paterson Campaign Ends [Ben Smith]
Earlier: NYT Story Opens Door for Ravitch

Harry Potter and the Copyright Lawsuit

Jewish author’s estate sues J.K. Rowling

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(Photobucket)

The estate of a British-Jewish children’s author is claiming that the plot of a 1987 children’s book is almost the exact same as that of another book, about a certain other boy wizard, written many years later. The author, Adrian Jacobs, died over a decade ago, but now his lawyers, led by flamboyant Australian publicist Max Markson, are suing J.K. Rowling for allegedly pilfering the story in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book of the septology. Markson, the flamboyant publicist, is—yup, you guessed it—Jewish, too.

Rowling says the allegations are “unfounded” and “absurd.” Really? She expects us to believe she didn’t read a single one of the 5,000 copies of The Adventures of Willy the Wizard: No. 1 Livid Land that were printed in 1987?

This to-do does give me a good excuse to highlight a fantastic article in the new Jewish Review of Books: Professor Michael Weingrad’s exploration of why there are almost no fantasy novels written by Jews. You ought to read the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

most Jews have been deeply and passionately invested in modernity, and that history, rather than otherworldliness, has been the very ground of the radical and transformative projects of the modern Jewish experience. This goes some way towards explaining the Jewish enthusiasm for science fiction over fantasy (from Asimov to Silverberg to Weinbaum there is no dearth of Jewish science fiction writers). George MacDonald’s Phantastes, thought by some to be the first fantasy novel ever written, begins with a long epigraph from Novalis in which he celebrates the redemptive counter-logic of the fairytale: “A fairytale [Märchen] is like a vision without rational connections, a harmonious whole . . . opposed throughout to the world of rational truth.” Contrast Herzl’s dictum that “If you will it, it is no Märchen.” The impulse in the latter is that of science fiction—the proposal of what might be—and indeed Herzl’s one novel Old-New Land was a utopian fiction about the future State of Israel.

Jewish Author’s Estate Accuses Rowling of Plagiarism [Jewish Chronicle]

Related: Why There Is No Jewish Narnia [Jewish Review of Books]

Today on Tablet

Hamen-tasting, Vashti the feminist, and more on Purim

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Today in Tablet Magazine, in preparation for Purim (which starts Saturday at sundown), Jenny Merkin organized a hamentashen taste test featuring treats from around the country. Natually, the winner is one subway stop away from our offices. Liel Leibovitz posits that Purim has supplanted Passover as the holiday Jews use to assert their Jewishness to the rest of the world. Novelist Elisa Albert remembers how playing spurned Queen Vashti in middle school awakened her inner feminist. In his weekly haftorah column, Leibovitz describes the paranoia that suffused the Jews’ struggle against their eternal villain, Amalek. Ah, yes, The Scroll editor knows this week’s slighly loony haftorah well: it was the one he read at his bar mitzvah.

Andrew Koenig, of ‘Growing Pains,’ Found Dead

Jewish actor was son of Walter, of ‘Star Trek’

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Andrew Koenig, an actor most famous for playing Richard ‘Boner’ Stabone on the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains, was found dead in Vancouver yesterday after a couple days of being missing. The 41-year-old had been suffering from depression.

Koenig’s father, Walter, played Chekov on the original Star Trek series. Chekov, the youngest member of the U.S.S. Enterprise, is of course Russian; Walter was born to Lithuanian Jews.

Andrew Koenig’s Body Believed to Have Been Found
[People.com via Jewish Journal]

Daybreak: Bibi Tells World To Chill

Plus the one-state solution?, the doctor is in, and more in the news

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What would Dr. Freud say about Israel?(Talking in Circles)

• Prime Minister Netanyahu said the decision to landmark Abraham’s and Rachel’s burial sites in Israel-controlled West Bank was being blown way out of proportion: it isn’t meant to change those sites’ status quo. (But isn’t the concern that it will make that status quo permanent?) [JPost]

• Meanwhile, on the ground, there were skirmishes between young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers over the move, though larger protests didn’t materialize. [NYT]

• Longtime Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has suggested, it was revealed, that the Palestinians drop claims for autonomy and instead try to get a single binational state established. [Haaretz]

• The passport photos of the suspected assassins of Hamas’s chief weapons man were doctored slightly, so that now, the suspects couldn’t be identified as easily. Maybe Mossad didn’t bungle this as much as we think? More later in the day. [Haaretz]

• U.S. diplomats told Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem they expect new Security Council sanctions on Iran in March or April. [Haaretz]

• A psychologist diagnoses the Israelis and the Palestinians with “collective trauma,” for which the cure is “diplomatic therapy.” Presumably not at $225/hour. [NYT]

Sundown: This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Bagels

Plus A’jad in Damascus, Madoff by any other name, and more

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• The New York Daily News editorializes against Brooklyn’s Mile End and its preference for Montreal bagels: “this is a crime against the culture of your city. One punishable by flogging with hard salamis.” Maybe this will be a central plank of News publisher Mort Zuckerman’s Senate campaign! [Daily News]

• Syria symbolically reaffirmed its membership in Iran’s bloc by hosting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; the Iranian president said he hoped for a Middle East “without Zionists and without colonialists.” [JPost]

• Bernard Madoff’s daughter-in-law is changing her and her children’s last name to “Morgan,” due to the name’s association with “defrauding numerous investors in his companies.” [HuffPo]

• A profile of a Polish neo-Nazi turned ultra-Orthodox Jew describes a broader trend that has seen many Catholic Poles, particularly those who learn of different pre-World War II roots, convert to Judaism. [NYT]

• Another arrest was made in connection with Bernard Madoff Investment Securities. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

• A visual adaptation of our Vox Tablet podcast with Fugs frontman Tuli Kupferberg. [Vimeo]

Tuli Kupferberg Jon Kalish Fuggin’ Around from Thelma Blitz on Vimeo.

Foreman Lands Top-Notch Trainer

Will be amply prepared for June fight

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Steward in 2001.(Jamie McDonald/Allsport)

Further proof that Yuri Foreman, the Israeli middleweight who’s also studying to be an Orthodox rabbi, isn’t messing around when it comes toppling his favored opponent, Miguel Cotto, when they meet on June 5th in Yankee Stadium: he’s going to be training under Emanuel Steward, one of the most famous and best in the business. In the past, he has worked with such legendary fighters as Kermit Cintron, Lennox Lewis, and Oscar De La Hoya; more recently, he has helped to train heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Boxing fans also probably know him for his color commentary on many HBO bouts.

Trainer issues were a major problem and distraction for Cotto in the run-up to his previous fight, a loss to pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquaio. So the leg up here, now that the bar mitzvah issue has been resolved, definitely goes to Foreman.

Yuri Foreman Gets Top Boxing Trainer Steward [Jewish Chronicle]

Earlier: Yuri Foreman Battles a Bar Mitzvah

Related: In Training [Tablet Magazine]

Out of the Frying Pan, Into Iran

Today in the Dubai Murder Mystery

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Sales are way, way up.(Vos Iz Neias?)

The Dubai Murder Mystery—figuring out who killed Hamas weapons man Mahmoud al-Mahbouh in Dubai last month (hint: probably Mossad), and how—took a turn for the yet crazier today, with the revelation that two of the 26 suspects, both of whom carried fake Australian passports, escaped to Iran following the January 19th assassination. This suggests either that it wasn’t Mossad, or (more likely) that Mossad is yet more badass than previously thought.

Spy correspondent Yossi Melman holds out the possibility that some of this information—nearly all of which originates with the Dubai police force—could be tenuous or deliberately (or accidentally) false:

It is hard to believe that, if the Mossad intelligence agency carried out the operation, the planners were so irresponsible as to dispatch nearly 30 agents and to expose an entire select operational unit on one assassination operation. … Either the new revelations are another salvo in Dubai’s psychological warfare or the police investigators are groping in the dark.

Another intelligence expert agreed: “Mossad believes if two people can do something instead of three people, then send two.”

We’re learning more and more about the folks whose names were used on those fake passports: much of it is amusing, until you imagine that it was your name, at which point it seems less enjoyable. These folks’ names are now in the public domain as associated with the killing, after all, although these names are matched to the pictures of the actual suspects. Adam Korman visited the United Arab Emirates three times in the past year … except Korman, an Australian-Israeli dual national, has never been to Dubai; someone who had a forgery of his Australian passport was the frequent flyer (“I have been frightened and shocked since receiving the news,” says Korman.) Then again, Philip Carr, an Israeli citizen whose British passport was faked, is taking the incident more in stride: “It’s a bit of a shock,” he said, “it’s surprising, but it’s more interesting than annoying.” He added: “That picture is certainly not me. He’s wearing glasses. I’ve got 20-20 vision.” (Also, for the record, France believes that all three of the French passports used by suspects were forged.)

The effect the incident could have on Israeli diplomatic relations and intelligence-gathering is starting to look minimal. A senior Israeli intelligence official tells the Washington Times, “There is a lot of hyperventilating about this in the public arena,” but “the countries that coordinate the war on terror with allies like Israel and the United States and Europe are not as exercised about this.”

Al-Mabhouh was a disguise expert, who routinely wore colored contact lenses and dyed his hair, and possessed multiple identities; he even underwent cosmetic surgery. Yet most reports have it that al-Mabhouh traveled as himself, undisguised, and without bodyguards. Something remains fishy, in other words.

Finally, while it’s reasonable to believe that Israel benefits from al-Mabhouh’s death—he was a prime weapons smuggler for Hamas, after all—the entity that most unequivocally comes out ahead in all this is the company that sells kitschy pro-Mossad t-shirts: sales are reportedly up ten-fold.

Inquiry Grows in Dubai Assassination [NYT]
Was Mossad on a Fantastic Adventure in Dubai? [Haaretz]
Israeli Official: Mossad Hit Didn’t Upset Intel Ties [Washington Times]

Meet the New Jews

Not quite the same as the Old Jews

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Generally, articles about Asian-Americans as “the New Jews”—the ethnic group that works hard, is academically successful, and generation-by-generation is realizing the American Dream—are written by Jews (see here and here, for example). So it’s cool to see Jeff Yang, writer of the San Francisco Gate’s Asian Pop column, discuss the connection from the Asian-American perspective.

Yang’s piece is about education:

nowhere is the shared arc of the Asian and Jewish American journey so clear as in the area of education, that paramount priority of both communities. The story of parents toiling to create academic opportunity for their offspring (and using guilt, bribery and punishment to ensure that those kids take advantage of it) is the same whether its narrator is named Josh Li or Joshua Leibowitz.

He bemoans informal quotas at top universities, of the type that targeted Jews a half-century ago, and notes that admissions policies that favor legacies inherently work against Asian-American advancement, instead instilling “demographic inertia” (great phrase).

Yang is equally keen on the differences between New Jews (Asian-Americans) and Old Jews (Jews). It’s not just that Jews, having had more time, are now less the ethnic group being kept out of the mainstream and more in the mainstream (as many as 30 percent of all Ivy League students are Jewish). The stereotypes of the two groups are also different:

The caricature of the one-dimensional, passive, hard-working but personality-free Asian American is indeed hard to reconcile with Jewish stereotypes; as one Jewish friend commented, “Even the most anti-Semitic depictions of Jews never make us seem boring.”

So best of luck to the New Jews. (And to the Old Jews too, of course.)

The Asian-Jewish Connection: Is It Really Kosher To Call Asians ‘The New Jews’? [SF Gate]

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