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On Tablet Today

Tastes and TV from Israel, the meaning of mikvahs, and more

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Ze’ev Avrahami recalls his and his neighbors’ evacuation from the Israeli settlement Yamit in the Sinai in 1982. Joan Nathan leads a food tour through Israel—including swank spots for sweetbreads, a Bedouin cooking school, and the outdoor market Mahane Yehudah—and shares some recipes. Allison Kaplan Sommer reports on Hatufim (Prisoners), a controversial Israeli television show about returning POWs. Ruth Ellen Gruber explores a new exhibition on mikvahs (Jewish ritual baths) in Austria, which marks the reopening of the country’s oldest mikvah. And of course, we promise to keep you entertained here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Mideast Conflict a Boon to Iran?

Plus rockets, rejection, and more in the news

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Gen. James Jones, the national security adviser, at the White House last month.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

• President Obama’s security adviser called attention to an ulterior motive/critical impetus for resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians—it’s strengthening a nuclear Iran. [Haaretz]

• Bernard Simon, who served as public relations director for B’nai B’rith International for 20 years and was held hostage when the organization was seized by radical Muslim group in 1977, died this week at 89; his son, David Simon, is the creator of HBO’s The Wire and Treme. [WPost]

• A rocket apparently aimed at Eilat in southern Israel exploded in Jordan; officials are examining possible origins. [Ynet]

• This may sound familiar, but Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has “officially rejected” Obama’s demand to suspend construction in east Jerusalem, just in time for the latest visit from U.S. envoy George Mitchell. [AP]

Sundown: Unkosher Jews and a Kosher Christian

Plus one gate opens and another closes in Jerusalem

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(iStockphoto)

• In the Los Angeles version of the NYC eatery Traif, a Jewish chef and his partner have opened a new restaurant called Animal in Fairfax, a heavily Orthodox neighborhood, where “they manage to incorporate pork into pretty much everything.” [New Yorker (subscription only)]

• Also in confusing news from L.A., the Jewish Journal interviews mega-pastor Joel Osteen (who doesn’t eat pork!). [JJ]

• The Jaffa Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City has been reopened after two months of renovation as part of a $4 billion project, which, shockingly, has caused tension between Israel and the Palestinians. [AP]

• Elswehere in that city, despite a Jewish tradition that it’s good luck to give money to the needy at the Western Wall, security forces have resorted to posting pictures of known panhandlers for exclusion from the area, where they have been gathering in increasing numbers. “[W]e already know them by heart. Some people even dream about them from time to time,” said one guard. [Ynet]

• Gay Israelis struggle with ways to start a family, with increasing numbers turning to U.S. women as surrogate mothers. [MinnPost]

Zion! Do You Wonder

Your daily poetry fix

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In 11th century Spain, where the great Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi composed many of his masterworks, poetry was, for the educated classes, the language of everyday life. In his biography of Halevi, published this year by Nextbook Press, Hillel Halkin describes the young Halevi improvising poetry (about the pleasures of wine, of course) in a busy tavern—which, Halkin explains, would not have been an unusual way to spend an evening. “If calling an age ‘poetic’ refers, not to some supposed collective sublimity or imaginativeness of mind, but, more mundanely, to the widespread use of poetry in ordinary life as a medium of communication and social exchange, the young man was born in one of the most historically poetic of ages,” Halkin writes. “Poems were an everyday vehicle for the expression of emotion; for the sending of messages and requests; for the carrying of news from one encampment to another; for the recording and remembering of unusual events; for the wooing of the opposite sex; for the enhancement of celebrations; for the flattering of authority; for the vaunting of one’s exploits; for the praising of one’s friends and the derogation of one’s enemies, and the like.”

20th century America is a little bit different. For most of us, poetry is something outside of the everyday—but to celebrate National Poetry Month, Tablet is trying to be a bit more like medieval Spain by including a Halevi poem, in Halkin’s new translation, on the Scroll each afternoon. Today’s poem is an ode to Jerusalem that, Halkin points out, several centuries later was a favorite of the Jewish-born German Romantic poet Heinrich Heine. Enjoy your daily drink of Andalusian wine below—or download and print out a pocket-sized version here. Plus, check out a bonus poetry feature from our archives, and don’t forget to enter Nextbook Press and Tablet Magazine’s Yehuda Halevi poetry contest!

Zion! Do you wonder how and where your captives
Are now, and if they think of you, the far-flocked
remnants?
From north and south, east, west, and all directions,
Near and far, they send their greetings
As I send mine, captured by my longings
To weep like Hermon’s dew upon your mountains.
Mourning your lowliness, I am the wail of jackals;
Dreaming your sons’ return, the song of lute strings.
My heart stirs for Peniel, and for Bethel, and all those
places
With their pure traces of God’s presence, where your
gates,
Facing the portals of the highest heavens,
Stand opened by your Maker. You He illumines
Not with the sun, or moon, or stars, but with the rays
Of His own glory. Gladly I would choose
To pour my soul out where your chosen ones
Stood in a downpour of God’s effluence.
You are the throne of the Lord, His royal house –
How then are slaves enthroned in your lords’ houses?
If only I could wander past the way points
Where God appeared to your appointed and your
seers,
And, flying to you with a bird’s wings,
Shake woeful head, remembering the throes
Of your dismemberment, my face
Pressed to your earth, cherishing its soil and stones –
Yes, even so, the graves of patriarchs.
Wondrous in Hebron at your choicest tombs,
I would cross Gilead, and Carmel’s woods,
And stop to marvel at your lofty peaks
Across the Jordan, on which, illustrious,
Lie buried the two greatest of your teachers.
Your very air’s alive with souls;
Your earth breathes incense and your rivers
Run with balm. I would rejoice
To walk with my bare feet, in tatters,
Upon the ruins of your Sanctuaries,
In which, before it was removed from us,
The Holy Ark stood guarded by its Cherubs
Posted at the innermost of chambers –
And then, all worldly pomp cast off, I’d curse
The fate that did defile your peerless pilgrims.
How could I eat or drink, seeing the dogs
Make off with the remains of your proud lions?
How find the daylight sweet when my two eyes
Were forced to witness crows feast on your eagles?

Enough, desist from me, O cup of sorrows,
Drained to the dregs of all its bitterness!
Zion! God’s love, combined with Beauty’s grace,
Has bound to you the souls of all Your friends,
So that they joy when you’re at peace
And weep when you’re all wounds and wilderness.
Imprisoned, they yearn for you, each from his place
Turning to bow in prayer to your gates –
Your many flocks, dispersed to distant hills
Yet ever mindful of their vows
To re-ascend to you and reach your heights,
As the palm tree, rising above all else,
Is scaled by the bold climber. Who compares
To you? Not ancient Babylon, nor Greece:
What are all their empty oracles
Beside your Prophets and the breastplates of your priests?
The heathen kingdoms lapse, collapse, and pass,
But you remain forever, crowned for the ages.
God makes His home in you: Blesséd are those
Who dwell with Him, residing in your courts.
Blesséd is he who comes, and waits, and sees
The rising sun illuminate your dawns,
In which your steadfast share the happiness
Of your lost Youth, restored as it once was.

Did Mike Bloomberg Declare Hitler’s Birthday Jewish Heritage Day?

Nope, despite confused media alert

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(Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Yesterday’s square on the calendar of Jewish symbolism was fully booked. It was Hitler’s birthday, a date many of us might prefer not to be aware of but which has sunk into our collective consciousness as a dark, smoky holiday of sorts. This year, it also happened to be Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day.

So why would New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg decide to also proclaim the date Jewish American Heritage Day, as a media alert from organizers of Jewish American Heritage Month announced?

Turns out, he didn’t.

A spokesman for the mayor, after initially confirming the proclamation, finally and definitively stated that no such announcement was made. “The only proclamation we have is about May being Jewish American Heritage Month,” said Evelyn Erskine in the mayor’s press office.

“It was just a miscommunication,” Abby Schwartz, the national coordinator of Jewish American Heritage Month, said when contacted by Tablet Magazine. She’d also announced the apparently nonexistent proclamation at a press event yesterday at a Manhattan synagogue. “We were having the event that day and somewhere along the line it got miscommunicated about Jewish American Heritage Day,” Schwartz told Tablet. “That is not accurate and I recant it.”

Biographer Followed in Subject’s Footsteps

Hillel Halkin tells Liel Liebovitz of his ‘Halevian’ decision

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Hillel Halkin, author of Nextbook Press biography of Yehuda Halevi, talked to Tablet’s own Liel Liebovitz for Alef, the new online magazine from Birthright NEXT. Halevi, says Halkin, along with being a poet, physician, and philosopher, was “the first Diaspora Jew to insist that life in Exile was so psychologically and morally intolerable that it had to be abandoned at all costs.”

Halkin describes his own decision to move to Israel from the U.S. in 1970 as “very much a Halevian one.” Although he wasn’t nearly as familiar with his future subject then, looking back he can’t help but relate: “For Halevi, living in the Land of Israel was a matter of inner necessity. It was something he had to do for his own integrity, and the failure to do it left him feeling incomplete and inconsistent. Judaism was for him above all a religion of action—and living in the Land of Israel was the ultimate act, the abstention from which undermined the meaning of all else.”

Interested in hearing more? Halkin’s book tour begins tomorrow. Check out the schedule here.

Jerusalem Bound [Alef]

‘This Is How Jews Interact’

The ‘Millionaire Matchmaker’ reunion

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As we’ve mentioned, the Matchmaking mamele is leaving sunny LA and bringing her Sophie Portnoy act to New York, where she faces an uphill battle against the city’s lopsided single female-to-male ratio. But on last night’s reunion episode, she revealed a potential strategy: imports. In a little exchange with Justin Shenkarow, the former child actor she dubbed the “angry Hobbit,” Stanger announced that she thought Shenkarow would be a hit in Manhattan. “It’s the land of the Jewish midget!” she exulted to Bravo’s ever-cheerful interlocutor, Andy Cohen. Shenkarow, beamed in via Skype, responded with a bit of Oedipal drama, calling Patti “a hairy troll.” Cohen warned him that insulting Patti might not make her more inclined to find him a date. “Oh, no,” Shenkarow replied, in a reassuring tone. “This is how Jews interact.”

So, really, that’s it until next season. But if you’re jonesing for a fix, check out this little red-carpet interview, in which Patti reveals her plans to go after the Arab-royalty market, where multiple wives mean multiple commissions.

Click here for previous coverage of this season’s Millionaire Matchmaker.

Israelis Freak Out Over iPad Ban

Local techies see the device as akin to food, shelter

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(David Gannon/AFP/Getty Images)

A lot of people are really pissed off by Israel’s iPad ban, although we ourselves are kind of excited that it occasioned this sentence, from Time: “Not since Adam and Eve has the appearance of an Apple in the Holy Land caused such uproar.” One El-Al stewardess who had her device confiscated may have been overstating the case when she said, “I feel as though I live in a fourth-world country,” as though being deprived of a computer that doesn’t even have a keyboard were akin to scrabbling for berries in the jungle.

Israel’s stated reason for the ban is that the iPad “does not conform to the European standards used in Israel.” A technology attorney put it well, calling the excuse “really annoying. It was a nonsense explanation.” Some have speculated that the real cause might be the protection of the monopoly of iDigital, “Apple’s sole official Israeli importer,” owned by President Shimon Peres’s son, or concern that the fancy computer might interfere with military frequencies.

One techie fears ominous implications: “Now it’s the iPad. What’s next?” The way we see it, Israel is just protecting its citizens from the early adopter curse, as defined by Rob Walker in the New York Times Magazine: “What these people are likely to get for their consumption daring is a chance to experience every single glitch or flaw that will be tweaked and patched in the months ahead. Also the guarantee that they’re paying full price.”

Techie Mystery: Why Did Israel Ban the iPad? [Time]

Halevi Versus Maimonides

Two authors contrast the outlooks of their subjects

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Earlier this month, philosopher Moshe Halbertal and author Hillel Halkin engaged in a spirited tete-a-tete over Halkin’s new biography of Yehuda Halevi at the Moreshet Avraham Synagogue in Jerusalem. The two-hour exploration was wide-ranging, but one of the most intriguing tropes involved a comparison with another Nextbook Press series subject: Maimonides. In fact, Halbertal, a professor of Jewish thought and philosophy at the Hebrew University, and author of a recent book on Maimonides, noted that Halevi’s magnum opus, The Kuzari—which takes the form of a dialogue between the pagan king of the Khazars and a rabbi who was invited to instruct him in the tenets of Judaism—can actually be read as a riposte to Maimonides’ own best-known work. It is as if, he said, “the Kuzari was the response to Guide for the Perplexed, before it was even written.”

Maimonides, according to Halbertal, viewed Judaism as the religion of nature, while Halevi saw it as the religion of history. Halevi found inspiration in examples of the breaking of the chain of causality, like the parting of the Red Sea, while to Maimonides the natural world was the main medium of God’s message. As Halbertal put it: “Nature itself is the profoundest manifestation of the divine,” while, according to Halkin, Halevi’s Judaism was “above all, a religion of action; what a Jew thinks is secondary to how a Jew acts.” Maimonides, Halbertal asserted, would find Halevi’s Judaism to be “spectacle dependent,” while Maimonidean Judaism needs no drama. It holds that there is evidence of God in every aspect of the world: “not like the relationship of a carpenter to a table, but more like the sun and the light. The world is God’s shadow; the very existence of God sustains the world.”

From this point, Halbertal then brought up the aspect of Halevi’s philosophy that has turned him into a “darling of the Israeli settlement movement”: his belief in the intrinsic holiness of the land of Israel. In contrast, Halbertal argued, Maimonides would say that the land of Israel is no different in its essence from any other, and that “its significance comes from the events that have happened in it.”

Halkin countered that Halevi was not a racist—that he was talking about “souls, not bodies”—but agreed that, today, “the Israeli dispute about ‘the territories’ is a Maimonidean versus Halevian argument.” However, he added, “one has to understand where Halevi was coming from.” The Jewish circumstance in Halevi’s time was perhaps the lowest in its history: the first crusade had just taken place and there were massacres occurring in Spain and the Rhineland. For someone like Halevi, Halkin argued, these events were inexplicable: “What is going on here? Why are we losing adherents? Why are we under the sway of two ‘upstart’ religions?” To Halevi, Halkin said, no matter how low the Jews’ fortunes fell, they had to feel they were needed. Jews, he believed, were the link between God and humanity. In modern terms it might seem racist but he wasn’t arguing in terms of a master race, Halkin asserted, but was rather “desperately trying to salvage the fortunes of his people.”

Today on Tablet

Syria on the table, Hitler on the web, and more

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Lee Smith lays out the daunting situation facing Robert Ford, the new United States ambassador to Syria. Reflecting on Adolf Hitler’s birthday, Liel Leibovitz examines how in the heck the Nazi leader has become a prominent internet meme. And as always, The Scroll will offer up further head-scratchers throughout the day.

Daybreak: Iran to Strut Military Strength

Plus Hungary’s question, healing Israel-Kiwi relations, and more

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An Army Day parade in Tehran on Sunday.(Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

• Iran announced plans to hold military exercises for three days in the Strait of Hormuz starting tomorrow. A representative claimed that their aim is security and that “This war game is not a threat for any friendly countries.” [Reuters]

• How will Hungary’s government emerge from its current election, in which “campaigning has been overshadowed by barely restrained incitement against Gypsies and Jews”? [Haaretz]

• An Israeli Embassy opened in New Zealand on Monday. The previous one closed in 2002, and relations between the two nations have been strained since two alleged Mossad agents were caught with an illegal New Zealand passport in 2004. [JTA]

• 60 Holocaust survivors who attended the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen are now stuck in Germany because of the volcanic ash cloud. “We already started using black humor and telling jokes about Mengele coming to tell us who goes right and who goes left,” said one. [Ynet]

• Several Jewish groups have organized an anti-Obama protest to be held this Sunday at the Israeli consulate in New York City; one leader accuses the President of “scapegoating” Israel. [Arutz 7]

Sundown: Pop Goes the Agitprop

Plus Obama’s champions and apologists, and more

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• A blogger reports from Russia, where she just checked out the new film Pop, a government sponsored “bush-league morality play” featuring “blatant and antediluvian anti-Semitism.” [True/Slant]

• In other “pop” news, Gershon Kingsley, 87-year-old composer of the electronic classic “Popcorn,” tells of escaping Germany before the Holocaust and his abiding love for his home country: “If you make a friend in Germany then you have them for the rest of your life.” [NYT]

• A member of J Street’s advisory board beseeches American Jews to stick with President Obama, a “visionary” who “is listening to the American-Jewish community.” [JTA]

• Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen believes that when it comes to Israel, “What’s missing on Obama’s part is not necessarily good intentions but the perception of them. He ought to do what Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did in 1977 to assure Israelis of his sincerity. Go to Jerusalem.” [WPost]

• And at an Independence Day event, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman also echoed the accord with Egypt and affirmed of the city on everyone’s lips that “Jerusalem is our undivided, eternal capital.” [Ynet]

Ofra Does Her Laundry in My Tears

Your daily poetry fix

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In 11th-century Spain, where the great Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi composed many of his masterworks, poetry was, for the educated classes, the language of everyday life. In his biography of Halevi, published this year by Nextbook Press, Hillel Halkin describes the young Halevi improvising poetry (about the pleasures of wine, of course) in a busy tavern—which, Halkin explains, would not have been an unusual way to spend an evening. “If calling an age ‘poetic’ refers, not to some supposed collective sublimity or imaginativeness of mind, but, more mundanely, to the widespread use of poetry in ordinary life as a medium of communication and social exchange, the young man was born in one of the most historically poetic of ages,” Halkin writes. “Poems were an everyday vehicle for the expression of emotion; for the sending of messages and requests; for the carrying of news from one encampment to another; for the recording and remembering of unusual events; for the wooing of the opposite sex; for the enhancement of celebrations; for the flattering of authority; for the vaunting of one’s exploits; for the praising of one’s friends and the derogation of one’s enemies, and the like.”

Twentieth-century America is a little bit different. For most of us, poetry is something outside of the everyday—but to celebrate National Poetry Month, Tablet is trying to be a bit more like medieval Spain by including a Halevi poem, in Halkin’s new translation, on the Scroll each afternoon. Today’s first short poem—actually a fragment—is, as Halkin puts it, a “bantering quatrain” about a woman we know nothing about: maybe an actual love interest, maybe just a literary construct. The second poem is also about longing—for southern Spain, written while Halevi was living in the north. He would return many times to theme of homesickness. Enjoy your daily drink of Andalusian wine below—or download and print out a pocket-sized version here. Plus, check out a bonus poetry feature from our archives, and don’t forget to enter Nextbook Press and Tablet Magazine’s Yehuda Halevi poetry contest!

Ofra does her laundry in my tears
And dries it in the sunshine she gives off
She doesn’t need to take it to the trough,
Or wait to hang it till the weather clears,

***

A dove weeps in the treetops
And her sobs make my heart sore,
For its pangs are as her pain is
And my fate is shared by her.
I cry for kin and country,
She for her old nesting grounds;
I for my lost dear ones,
She for her scattered friends;
I for days long vanished,
She for youth now fled.

2, 4, 6, 8, Who Do Orthos and Feminists All Hate?

Cheerleaders! Too bad, says Israel’s basketball league.

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Hapoel Jerusalem cheerleaders.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel has finally found an issue that unites the religious right and feminists, according to an AFP report: cheerleaders. Apparently, they’re required by law for each team in Israel’s national basketball league, but goodness knows the traditional role of cheerleaders—to undercut the homoeroticism of male team sports with titillating gyrations—just doesn’t fly in Jerusalem. Protests by ultra-Orthodox fans of Hapoel Jerusalem, the local team, have led to a change in league policy from fining teams that don’t have cheerleaders to offering cash to those that do. The league’s spokesman offered this pragmatic wisdom: “In life there are always things you don’t like. I don’t like it when the fans chant: ‘War, war, war,’ but what can you do?”

While feminists who find cheerleading chauvinistic have allied themselves with the ultra-Orthodox community, which objects to immodestly dressed women performing in public, they may unwittingly be taking a stand against a field that allows female athletes to shine. “They do lots of acrobatics and create energy, not through feminine movements, but more through strength,” said the cheerleading coach of Hapoel Jerusalem. While she made this remark in an attempt to distinguish her squad of relatively fully clad women from others, we find this distinction between femininity and strength troubling. We’re also bummed out by the conclusion to AFP’s report: “And so it seems Jerusalem’s cheerleaders, unloved, unwanted and definitely not sexy, are here to stay.” These women are not exactly nuns. Watch the video and judge their appeal for yourself.

No Sexiness, We’re Holy City Cheerleaders [AFP]

Dreaming of Web Design?

Become a summer intern for Tablet Magazine and Nextbook Inc.

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Tablet Magazine and its parent, Nextbook Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Jewish literature, culture, and ideas, seek a part-time Web design intern for eight weeks beginning June 1. The intern will get hands-on experience working with fast-paced daily content in a lively magazine environment in downtown Manhattan, and will receive a paid stipend.

Working closely with the art directors, the web design intern will help design, program, and produce web pages for Tabletmag.com and Nextbookpress.com. The intern will also attend editorial meetings and learn the various production systems used. Interns will gain CMS experience (especially in WordPress), and should be fluent in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube). A working knowledge of HTML, PHP, and Photoshop is desirable. Software fluency in Flash, InDesign, and Illustrator is encouraged. Graduate students and undergraduate juniors and seniors are welcome to apply.

Web design applicants should submit a cover letter, resume, and portfolio that includes layouts, typography, or working website URLs, by April 30. All application material should be sent to design.intern@tabletmag.com.

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