Vishniac Inspires High Fashion

For once, pre-Holocaust photographer conjures appropriate nostalgia

Rebecca Thomson’s prize-winning, Vishniac-inspired collection.(British Vogue)

Here’s one pairing I never thought I’d encounter: Roman Vishniac and Pierrot proportions.

Last night, Rebecca Thomson, a 22-year-old graduate of the Manchester School of Art, took home top prize in London’s 2010 Graduate Fashion Week Gala for a collection that, she said, was inspired by Vishniac’s iconic pictures of Jews in prewar Eastern Europe.


Thomson is not the first designer to plumb Jewish life for sartorial inspiration. But, with only a few exceptions—including Alexandre Herchcovitch, whose work I profiled a few years ago—most fashion minds have used Jewish culture as a crutch, passing off a fetishization of insularity and faux-quaintness as a replacement for genuine art. (A moment of silence, please, for Monsieur Gaultier’s fantastic 1993 mishap.)

Given this history, it is almost strange that no designer had been inspired by Vishniac before. He was, after all, one of the main people responsible for the two-dimensional caricature of pre-Holocaust Jewish life, a shtetl nostalgia that has nearly colonized pop culture’s ideas about that time and place. His images—or rather, the ones we knew of until recently—seem almost, well, tailor-made for Gaultier-ian exploitation. I can see the runway set already: “Shtetl Chic: Resort 2012.”

I am pleased to report this isn’t the case: Thomson’s collection is beautiful and sumptuous, and telegraphs none of the threadbare desolation I feared. The clothing is indeed driven by nostalgia, but not the nostalgia for some dangerously insipid idea of the Jewish “shtetl.” Rather, it is the nostalgia for the artisanal, the hand-tailored, the romantically local—qualities that are, in fact, remarkably modern. That she found that freshness and modernity in Vishniac’s pictures—and not even the newly discovered ones!—is a wonder, and a delight.

Also, check out that bow. Who doesn’t love bows?

Britain’s Got New Talent [British Vogue]
Related: Out of Focus [Tablet Magazine]
A Closer Reading of Roman Vishniac [NYT Magazine]
Schmatte Chic [Slate]

Studies Show Intermarriages Fail More

Your grandmother may be right after all


An article in last Sunday’s Washington Post laid out some data on interfaith marriages, and it was not pretty. Such unions “fail at higher rates than same-faith marriages. But couples don’t want to hear that, and no one really wants to tell them.” The article continues:

In some ways, more interfaith marriage is good for civic life. Such unions bring extended families from diverse backgrounds into close contact. There is nothing like marriage between different groups to make society more integrated and more tolerant. …

But the effects on the marriages themselves can be tragic—it is an open secret among academics that tsk-tsking grandmothers may be right. According to calculations based on the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, people who had been in mixed-religion marriages were three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-religion marriages.

(Tsk-tsking grandmothers? I should be so lucky.)

And trends suggest that such marriages will only rise, as younger generations seem less and less concerned about entering into them; indeed, many millennials actively seek them out, “as if,” the author writes, “our society’s institutional rules about nondiscrimination in hiring an employee or admitting someone to college have morphed into rules for screening romantic partners.” While only 15 percent of U.S. households were mixed-faith in 1988, 25 percent were in 2006, a number that is expected only to increase. Less than one-fourth of 18-to-23-year-olds polled felt marrying within their faith was important.

And, except for U.S. Buddhists, who had an outlier-esque 39 percent intermarriage rate, American Jews had the highest intermarriage rate in 2001: 27 percent.

Here is where I gently request that you keep it civil in the comments.

Intermarriage Rates Are Rising Fast, But They’re Failing Fast Too

Write a Letter To Your Favorite Character

Bloomsday celebrant Ben Greenman coaxes your inner Herzog


Next Wednesday, novelist, New Yorker editor, and Tablet Magazine contributing editor Ben Greenman will be joining us to celebrate James Joyce’s Ulysses.

To see what he has in store, well, you’ll just have to come to Solas, in Manhattan’s East Village, next week. Meantime, here’s a thought. Greenman’s new story collection, What He’s Poised To Do, from Harper Perennial, drops next Tuesday. (You can read the title story here.) Because the stories are intimately involved with letters and letter-writing, Greenman has set up a super-cool Website, Letters With Character, which encourages readers to submit letters they would write to their favorite literary characters.

“I write to offer my condolences,” Jaime Fuller addresses The Scarlet Letter’s Hester Prynne, “because your life truly sucks. However, I can’t feel too sorry for you, because you have made some poor life decisions. The A on your chest does not condemn you for being an ‘Adulterer,’ but instead for the fact you are ‘Attracted to Assholes.’” Heh.

Perhaps Leopold or Molly Bloom, or Stephen Dedalus—or, hell, the Man in the Macintosh—await your missives? Send ‘em to

What He’s Poised To Do [Amazon]
Letters With Character
Earlier: Celebrate ‘Ulysses’ with Tablet Magazine

Cult Leader (Maybe) Affiliated With Yeshiva

Baltimore is a strange, strange place


Recently, there was a 911 call for a domestic assault in a bizarre house in Pikesville, Maryland, a town right outside Baltimore with a significant Orthodox Jewih popluation. Then, there was an explosion, and police, who had surrounded the house, began to fear for their safety when it seemed as though there were snipers inside and that the house itself was associated with a cult called Sist (or maybe SIST).

This cult’s leader, and the house’s owner, is apparently one Dr. Avraham Cohen, a.k.a. R.C. Samanta Roy, a.k.a. “Rama Behera,” who a few years ago was said to have pledged half a million dollars to Baltimore’s Yeshivat Rambam. Dr. Cohen—who may or may not be a doctor (“neurosurgeon,” in fact), and may or may not be a Cohen—allegedly grew up in a Jewish community in India.

Oh, right, and there is video of much of the incident courtesy of Cantor Manny Perlman, who lives across the street.

Was there anything else? Ah, yes: Apparently the Sist/SIST cult tried to pay someone to kill all 60 residents of the town of Shawano, Wisconsin.

Perlman, his wife, and the rest of the neighbors had suspected weird goings-on at the house ever since “Dr. Cohen” moved in ten years ago. “Once the house was turned over to the gentleman who purchased it for his organization, the behavior has always been very unusual,” says nearby resident Patti Friedman.

Assault & Search May Have Link to Cult
[WJZ 13]

Tony Judt on The Flotilla, J Street, and ‘Linkage’

Intellectual expands on essay to Tablet Magazine


Tony Judt penned an op-ed in this morning’s New York Times calling for an end to the U.S.-Israeli special relationship. This morning, by email, Judt (author of the new Ill Fares The Land) answered my questions about the flotilla, the future of Israel and the Israel Lobby, Peter Beinart’s recent essay, and more.

You mention the flotilla at the outset, but don’t address it further. What are your opinions of the activists and of the Israeli government’s reaction?
Those onboard were the usual mix: Idealists, genuine NGO types, angry pro-Palestinian activists, and so on. But the Israelis knew that. Their reaction was almost unimaginably pig-headed: It doesn’t show much, other than that the country is increasingly cut off from world opinion. How do they think people will react to what is effectively piracy? They were doomed to be the bad guys—trapped in the logic of their own pointless blockade.

Was there anything else that prompted you to publish this op-ed now?
Not really—the situation has not changed. But this does seem an opportunity to point out that if Israel is a normal state then it just can’t behave this way and be our favorite ally. I think that the present moment may be propitious because the fact that it was Turkey—once Israel’s closest friend in the region, a NATO partner, a Western-oriented Islamic state which is also democratic and one with huge and growing influence in the region—that was affected, offended, and insulted meant that even the White House could not ignore what happened.

You write that Israel “should not” go away. Do you still stand by your apparent endorsement, several years ago, of a single, bi-national state?
I never said Israel should “go away” or anything else. I just wrote that the two-state solution was dying and everyone knew it but pretended otherwise; that it was on the way to becoming “Greater Israel”: A single state with a Jewish minority and therefore no democracy. Under those circumstances, why not rearrange things and create two federal entities within a single state? Nothing to do with “abolishing Israel.” But yes, implicitly the end of an exclusively “Jewish” state. But then four years later [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert pretty much said the same thing, the facts have borne out my prediction, so what did I do wrong? (more…)

Today on Tablet

A love of herring, Sheikh Jarrah, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, we have an article whose opening quote is, “I would only date women who loved herring”—do you dare not read on? Rachel Shabi reports that weekly protests in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood against continued Israeli building in East Jerusalem have done the additional work of catalyzing the Israeli left. Poetry critic David Kaufmann discusses Michael Heller and his poetry inspired by early-20th-century German painters. The Scroll has an insane story about a cult coming your way.

Judt Argues for End to ‘Special Relationship’

Prominent intellectual calls Israel ‘strategic liability’

Tony Judt.(Charlie Rose)

The historian and public intellectual Tony Judt published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for the elimination of the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship.” He would replace it with an alliance like those the United States enjoys with many diplomatic allies.

Judt has been one of the most prominent advocates of a so-called “one-state solution”—the establishment of a single, binational state in Israel and the Palestinian territories—since writing an attention-grabbing essay in the New York Review of Books in 2003. Which is why this op-ed will get more attention, from both right and left, than had Joe Anonymous penned it. (Shmuel Rosner, for example, has already responded.)

Judt bases his central contention around the thesis that the United States’s super-closeness to Israel, combined with ill will stemming from the continued irresolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, actually hinders the United States from achieving several important regional goals, such as managing Iraq and Afghanistan and reining in Iran. For example, for all those things it helps to have Turkey on one’s side:

Along with the oil sheikdoms, Israel is now America’s greatest strategic liability in the Middle East and Central Asia. Thanks to Israel, we are in serious danger of “losing” Turkey: a Muslim democracy, offended at its treatment by the European Union, that is the pivotal actor in Near-Eastern and Central Asian affairs. Without Turkey, the United States will achieve few of its regional objectives … .

In other places, this line of argument has been referred to (usually not in a friendly manner) as “linkage” thesis.

In his article, Judt makes six additional points, in the form of debunked “clichés”: (more…)

Daybreak: Obama Presses on Blockade, Talks

Plus remembering Tyrone Johns, and more

Presidents Abbas and Obama yesterday.(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

• Meeting with Palestinian President Abbas, President Obama announced additional U.S. aid to Gaza and called on Israel to loosen its blockade. [NYT]

• Obama also urged Abbas to move from the current “proximity talks” to direct talks with Israel. [Politico]

• Israel actually did loosen the blockade somewhat, but not in majorly substantive ways (not that apple juice and coriander aren’t tasty). [LAT]

• Jackson Diehl argues that yesterday’s U.N. sanctions arguably redound to Iran’s benefit, because they strengthen the leadership and are largely toothless, not touching, for example, its energy sector. [PostPartisan]

• A profile of the Turkish organization behind the flotilla finds a symptom of the rise of Turkey’s non-secular middle class—as well as, some say, an al Qaeda connection. [WP]

• Finally, today is the one-year anniversary of the murder of Tyrone Johns, the special police officer at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Washington, D.C., museum will open a half-hour late for a private service, and its flags will fly at half-mast. [U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum]

Sundown: U.N. Sanctions Passed

Plus the undeniable grossness of manna, and more

This is manna. It comes from bugs.(NYT)

• The U.N. Security Council passed new sanctions. They are great at demonstrating U.S. power, but will be less successful at actually hindering Iran’s nuclear program. [Reuters]

• Press critic Jack Shafer indicts Peter Beinart for using fuzzy numbers; he relies in part on Tablet Magazine’s dissection of the relevant poll data. [Slate]

• Former Florida attorney Scott Rothstein was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme he allegedly ran. [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

Tuchus? Tuchis? Tushie? Tush? Contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg gets to the … bottom of it. [Jeffrey Goldberg]

• Um … someone has come up with a flotilla computer game. It is pretty offensive, if you ask me, and it objectively misrepresents what happened. [Flotilla Raid]

• Manna is real! And seemingly materializes out of nowhere! And it is tasty! And it is made by … bugs? What a bugskill. [NYT]

When God gave us manna in the wilderness: That was a miracle.

Tablet Magazine Talks to Vice PM Shalom

How Turkey looks from Israel

Shalom (L) huddles with Prime Minister Netanyahu last year.(David Silverman/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a trip to Washington, D.C., amid the aftermath of the Free Gaza flotilla raid. But other members of the Israeli cabinet, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been in the United States this week. Over the weekend, Tablet Magazine met with Silvan Shalom—a sometime Likud Party rival to Netanyahu who is currently Israel’s vice prime minister and minister for regional development, as well as its former foreign minister—to talk about the flotilla, and about Israel’s relations with American Jews.

Do you think Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, intentionally deceived Israel about the nature of the Free Gaza flotilla, as part of a regional power play?
Unfortunately, the Turks, in some way it looks like they’re trying to revive the Ottoman Empire that ruled the Middle East for 500 years until 1917. Before the English arrived they were ruling the whole territory. So unfortunately it doesn’t go in the right direction, but I don’t think we have to give up. Maybe there is still an option to make it better with the Turks, but it takes two to tango as you know.

I met the president Abdullah Gul, who was my colleague as foreign minister, many, many times, and we are still sharing good relations, personal relations.

Have you talked to him this week?

No, I didn’t. I let the Foreign Ministry and the prime minister [Netanyahu] and his minister of defense [Ehud Barak] deal with that but it might be that if I would be asked, I would do it. Because he is, I think, a good guy, and he was very positive during our meetings. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize the State of Israel after the resolution that was taken in the UN, and since then we are having strategic relations, economically and militarily. So it’s very important for both countries.

I can’t tell you that they see that. There is a debate now within Turkey about the future of Turkey. They are facing an election in the near future and only after that will we be able to understand which direction Turkey’s moving.

Do you think the Obama administration was caught off-guard by Turkey’s actions on the flotilla?
I really don’t know. You have to ask them. What we know is that Turkey was close to the United States, as well as to Israel, for many, many years. And unfortunately it doesn’t look the same these days. I believe, personally, that it is still not a loss. I still would like to believe that there is still, let’s say, a glimmer of hope. But if not, we’ll have to face the new reality and get prepared for the future.

Do you think Turkey is trying to ally with Tehran, or trying to one-up them? (more…)

The Big Jewish Novel

Why Leopold Bloom has to be a Jew


Columbia Professor Bruce Robbins once taught a seminar called “The Big Ambitious Novel in Contemporary America.” So, in the run-up to Tablet Magazine’s celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses next Wednesday (a week from today!), I called him up and discussed the Big Ambitious Novel—from Ulysses to Witz, the new book from Tablet Magazine contributing editor (and Bloomsday celebrant) Joshua Cohen—and its Jewish roots.

Is there something intrinsically Jewish about the Big Ambitious Novel project?
It’s the internationalism. Joyce did that by making Bloom the universal figure. A figure of exile, in the sense of how Edward Said called himself the last Jewish intellectual, because his notion of what it was to be an intellectual is to be an exile. There’s something in the charge of rootless cosmopolitanism. Which continues to sound to me like it’s in our interest, maybe not all the time, to embrace. And that really does take you back to Bloom.

What prompted you to teach this course?
Well part of it was a desire just to teach really good things to students. It was also a bit out of a desire to argue with James Wood, who as far as I’m concerned is the origin of the phrase ‘big ambitious novel,’ in that Zadie Smith review. I think he believes, along with the rest of us, that the purpose of fiction is, as E.M. Forster said, “Only connect.” But authors of these novels have realized that the scale has become much larger, the project more difficult, because we live on an interplanetary scale now, and this is how you do that.

Where did your syllabus begin?
I started it with Gravity’s Rainbow. The novel at a certain point does what Pynchon does. You’re going to have to make a certain kind of connection.

How does Ulysses fit into all of this?
Ulysses is a kind of sacred book for me. Having a sacred book is a kind of odd thing. It’s the book that just turned my head around when I was 16 years old. As far as I know, I’ve never actually written about it.

I’m one of those who thinks it’s maybe the greatest novel ever written, and a great temptation for people to try to follow. I think of Colum McCann, or David Mitchell. [Mitchell’s] Cloud Atlas seems to me clearly inspired by Joyce—you do a different voice per chapter.

What do you remember about the first time you read Ulysses?
It’s such a wonderful trick that’s played on budding intellectuals. You think Stephen is the man. And you all of a sudden discover that he’s only Telemachus, and the Ulysses figure is this advertising canvasser. And I’ll say, as a Jewish kid at 16, discovering that the modern Ulysses was Bloom, and not the one I was supposed to identify with, was quite a moment.

Earlier: Celebrate ‘Ulysses’ with Tablet Magazine

Gaga Goes Jewish

Videos that’ll make you want to crawl under your kippah


It has been a big week for Lady Gaga. First she was crowned Outstanding Music Artist at the GLAAD Media Awards, then she had her little sister’s high school graduation, and finally she released the much-anticipated, ode to Madonna “Alejandro” video.

We thought it might be a good time to do a round-up of some of the finest Jewish parodies of the songstress. Think Schlock Rock, but way schlockier.

You know you want to sing along:

There is even one for Yiddishists: (more…)

Even in California, The Establishment Wins

Taitz, Winograd, and Kaus all defeated in primaries

Ex-Senate candidate Mickey Kaus, who did, in fact, quit his day job.(Bildungblog)

The Lakers won last night! But point guard Derek Fisher’s game-clinching shot occurred in Boston. What happened in yesterday’s home games? The California primary ballot was, recall, loaded with drama, much of it involving Jews, Israel, or some delightful combination of the two.

Let’s start with the big news: The Soviet Jewish “Birther Queen” Orly Taitz will not be the Golden State’s Secretary of State. She lost decisively to former NFL player Damon Dunn despite the fact that he refused to dignify his opponent with an actual campaign. Of course, as the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel pointed out, the news may be that 368,316 people voted for a woman with fewer than two dozen donors who claims that Barack Obama’s presidency is procedurally illegitimate. Thank you, California.

Now, the Senate races. On the Democratic side, incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer cruised to an easy victory over Slate blogger and descendant-of-Jewish-Gold-Rushers Mickey Kaus; he picked up just five percent of the vote share, although he does now have the right to say that 93,599 voters really, really like him. (Thank you, California.) Among the Republicans, Carly Fiorina, who made Israel an issue early in the race, earned a decisive win, polling 56 percent over moderate Tom Campbell (22 percent) and Tea Party conservative Chuck DeVore (19 percent). Was Israel the deciding factor, in the end? Almost certainly not: The venerable Field Poll indicated that Republican voters were angling not so much for their favorite choice as for the best setup for a slam-dunk win over Boxer in the fall. So, stay tuned!

Meantime, we learned exactly how much Israel is worth in the Los Angeles congressional district represented by Jane Harman, the Blue Dog Democrat who has been a longtime AIPAC supporter. Harman’s opponent, peace activist Marcy Winograd, tried to make the Gaza flotilla raid into a wedge issue in the last week of the race, and managed to net 41 percent against Harman’s 59 percent. That’s not bad for an underfunded upstart against a wealthy longtime incumbent, but when you note that she was starting from a base of 38 percent in the 2006 primary, well, it looks like Israel is worth approximately 3.7 points in said district.

See you in November!

Earlier: Israel Hits the West Coast
Related: In Doubt’s Shadow [Tablet Magazine]

Today on Tablet

A Kafkaesque oil leak, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Rodger Kamenetz, author of a forthcoming Nextbook Press book about Franz Kafka as well as a longtime New Orleanian, considers what Kafka would have thought of the current catastrophe in the Bayou. Mideast columnist Lee Smith profiles Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, who insists that Israel has been so good and loyal an ally to the United States that little can seriously threaten that relationship. And The Scroll is ready for another good year.

The Lion in Winter

Bernard Madoff in jail

Bernard Madoff.(Wikipedia)

Following: The top five quotes from convicts in New York‘s profile of Bernard Madoff in prison.

5. “Food is a very big thing in prison.” -John Conza, convicted counterfeiter.

4. “Bernie adjusted better than I did. He didn’t seem like he had any worry or stressed too much or had nerve or panic attacks, like I did. Going from an $8 million house to an eight-by-ten cell, I would feel smothered. Bernie never complained that I heard.” -Shannon Hay, convicted drug dealer.

3. “You couldn’t get an ice-cream cone off him.” -John Bowler, convicted drug trafficker on Madoff.

2. “You are going to pay with God.” -Jonathan Pollard, convicted Israeli spy, to Madoff.

1. “Fuck my victims. I carried them for twenty years, and now I’m doing 150 years.” -Bernard Madoff, convicted Ponzi schemer.

Bernie Madoff, Free At Last [NYmag]

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