Green Can Still Look Cool

And new Israeli solar panels prove it

Z-10 Concentrated Solar-Power System by Ezri Tarazi and Ori Levin, Tarazi Studio.(ZenithSolar)

The trends in visual design (not to be confused with fashion design or interior design) often follow industry and commerce. So it seems surprising at first that the Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial, which opens this Friday in New York, has set its beams on environmentalism and sustainability. Even though every business will claim various shades of ‘green’ these days, it seems that the mode has shifted against Al Gore and inconvenient truths to haplessly Twittering our economic collapse, forgoing the luxury of the upsell eco-container for cost-efficient styrofoam.

The Design Triennial, however, stakes a claim in sustainability, and this is reflected quite literally in the work of Professor Ezri Tarazi and Ori Levin, who together as Tarazi Studios are hoping to build a better solar panel. The Z-20 Concentrated Solar Power System, created by ZenithSolar, features prominently in the exhibition, with its expansive, stunning mirrored surface standing out like sublime disco-ball paneling. This system has been developed in Israel; prototypes are currently in use on Kibbutz Yavne. Part of the Z-20′s success comes from using relatively inexpensive materials, such as replacing silicone paneling with simple mirrors. These dishes also make a stunning visual impression: After all, we designers don’t want to ditch fashion completely.

Opening Up to the Disabled

How the Orthodox community can do more


Rabbi Avi Weiss is no stranger to pushing boundaries: Recently, and controversially, he gave Sara Hurwitz the term “rabba,” making her the highest-profile female cleric in the Orthodox community. But at a lecture series held last week at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the rabbinical school Rabbi Weiss founded in 1999, a different sort of inclusion was up for discussion.

The lectures—which were sponsored by friends of mine, Ruvan and Shelley Cohen—focused on the Orthodox community’s failure to embrace children with developmental and learning disabilities. The Cohens endowed the series in memory of their son, Nathaniel. Nathaniel died three years ago, at age 21, of complications from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which had left him wheelchair-bound at an early age.

“We in the Jewish community are very good at acknowledging the importance of inclusiveness on a theoretical level, but fall woefully short on inclusiveness in practice,” said Rabbi Dov Linzer, dean of YCT. “Ten percent of our community is being regularly ignored and pushed away.”

At one session, students heard from a panel of parents and siblings of disabled children, including the New York City-based mother of a two-year-old born with Down syndrome. She recounted how difficult it was to place her child in a Jewish school. “In New York,” she explained, “it’s hard enough to get your typical two-year-old into a school, much less one with Down syndrome.” She still has been unable to find a Jewish day school willing to accept her child, even after offering to pay for a “shadow teacher” to accompany her daughter throughout the school day. “Isn’t it the community’s responsibility,” she asked, “to provide my child with access to a Jewish education?”

A rabbi who is also the mother of a severely autistic child offered further insight. “Unwittingly,” she said, “my synagogue excommunicates children with disabilities.” Both parents urged congregations to sponsor “Disability Shabbats,” to focus attention on the problems facing special needs children and their families, and to bring in speakers and circulate articles that will raise awareness of the need for inclusion.

Rabbi Saul Berman, a leading Orthodox thinker and teacher, delivered a paper addressing how Jewish tradition views inclusiveness. He stressed the need to be aware of the emotional lives of the disabled, and their vulnerability. “You must be sensitized,” he said, “to their relation to organizations like synagogues and schools; the role of friendship; the sense of disillusionment; and, in general, their level of spiritual vulnerability.” I couldn’t help but think of the old adage that history judges civilizations by their treatment of their most vulnerable members—a sobering thought, given the challenges these activists still face.

Today on Tablet

Big ball of string, a very dairy Shavuot, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Joshua J. Friedman profiles Ben Schachter, whose art is mainly inspried by eruv, the string that marks the permissible walking boundaries on Shabbat. Shavuot is coming up, and Shavuot means dairy. Liel Leibovitz explains the milk connection, while Katie Robbins comes up with the cheese in her quest for the perfect blintz (recipe included!). This week’s haftorah has all to do with numbers, and Liel Leibovitz responds by recounting his life—pun intended—in number form. The Scroll always felt that Numbers was the dark horse book of the Torah.

Sandra Bernhard Discusses Shavuot

Getting ready for Dawn 2010


Sandra Bernhard, the comedian and author, will be the featured guest at Dawn 2010, the Tablet-sponsored late-night cultural arts festival going down in honor of Shavuot tomorrow evening in San Francisco.

Bernhard took the time to talk Shavuot with Senior Editor Sara Ivry about her engagement with Shavuot. She’s a longtime fan!

Here she reminisces on her favorite Shavuot ever: In Tel Aviv.

And here she explains how Shavuot is somewhat misunderstood in the United States.

Daybreak: Obama OKs Extra $205M in Aid

Plus Cass in bright lights, and more in the news

Cass Sunstein, Samantha Power, and their boss.(NYT)

• President Obama allocated an additional $205 million in military aid for the completion of Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system. [JTA]

• Obama and President Medevedev kibitzed over Iran and the Mideast during an hour-and-a-half phone call. [JPost]

• The U.N. Human Rights Council welcomed 14 new members. Among them: Libya, Qatar, Uganda, Thailand, Angola, and Malaysia. Oh, and Poland! [VOA]

• After going an entire issue without a major feature shedding light on a new corner of the Obama administration, the Times Magazine profiles lawyer, author, and top federal regulator Cass Sunstein. [NYT]

• An historic Shanghai synagogue, built by the first wave of immigrants from Baghdad in the 1920s, was given permission to hold limited services in connection with the upcoming World Expo. [eJP]

Law & Order looks to be on its way out. Somehow, this feels like Jewish news. [NYT]

Sundown: J Street Takes on Solow

Plus a newly uncovered rejection letter, and more in the news


• J Street’s head accuses super-powerful American Jewish leader Alan Solow of distorting Yitzhak Rabin’s views on Jerusalem, and inquires whether the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations favors a two-state solution. [HuffPo]

• Toward a definition of JCall, which is (somewhat misleadingly) fashioned as the European J Street. [Foreign Policy]

• A former Israeli diplomat and consul general makes the case for a U.S.-imposed peace plan instead of proximity talks. [Politico]

• In Britain, Leeds University’s student paper was pulled from racks after publishing an interview in which a Palestinian journalist said of news outlets, “They are certainly pro-Israeli. I think you have to ask yourself who controls the media.” [Leeds Student]

• Model Naomi Campbell is having secret meetings (except apparently not-so-secret) with Madonna’s Kaballah mentor. [Page Six]

• “Unfortunately, we receive so many Holocaust teenage diaries composed in European attics that it is impossible to accept each one.” [McSweeney’s]

Mazel tov to Tablet Magazine columnist Josh Lambert, newly the father of Asher:

Toward a New Kosher?

When eating pork is a Jewish act


At beliefnet, Rabbi Brad Hirschfeld noticed that New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton’s latest review, of the innovative Williamsburg barbecue joint Fatty ‘Cue, repeatedly describes emphatically un-kosher dishes in religious dietary terms. A mix of different types of fat, including pork fat, is “schmaltz for the deeply Reform”; a dish of clams with bacon is “in keeping with the restaurant’s interpretation of kashrut.”

Here’s what Hirschfeld says:

Far from mocking Jewish tradition, Sifton taps into the Jewish language which is clearly a part of his life to describe both the ways in which Kashrut uses eating to heighten a sense of one’s identity and how it expresses a commitment to something larger than the food on the plate. By proclaiming the treyf-ness (treyfiocoity?) of the food he was eating, and using traditional language to do so, Sifton placed the meal squarely within those traditions. In effect, treyf became a new kind of kashrut.

Hirschfeld goes on to suppose that we could be witnessing the birth of “a new kind of kosher”—literally. (As in, the religious definition could change.)

What I take away from his keen observation is a little different. The relevant thing about Sifton’s take on Fatty ‘Cue is that he is breaking the laws of kashrut, but is still understanding his eating experience, even jokingly, in terms of those laws. For him, eating pork is more than just eating pork; and eating pork fat mixed with chicken fat—which is to say, with schmaltz, the indelible Jewish edible—is thrillingly subversive. Put another way: It used to be that Jews couldn’t eat clams and bacon. Now, Jews can eat them, and have more important experiences doing so than Gentiles can. (Moreover, guess how I learned about Hirschfeld’s post?)

The new restaurant Traif, located all of a few blocks from Fatty ‘Cue, is similar. It is not kosher, but deliberately: It goes out of its way to serve shellfish and (especially) pork. It understands itself in terms of its relation to kashrut. It is less likely to lead to a new definition of kosher than to reinforce the current definition, since it depends on the old laws for its very identity.

This is not the freedom of no rules, but the freedom of breaking the rules, which is the much more meaningful sort of freedom. Sifton’s reviews and Traif do not anticipate a new kind of kosher. But they just might anticipate a new kind of Jewishness.

Is Treyf The New Kosher? [beliefnet]
Earlier: An Evening at Traif

Dawn 2010: The Mixtape

Courtesy Josh Kun, of the Idelsohn Society


Josh Kun, of the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, made a special mix tape for Dawn 2010, the Tablet-sponsored late-night cultural arts festival going down in honor of Shavuot on the evening of Saturday, May 15 in San Francisco.

And, um, we’ve got it. Have a listen:

Tracklist below the jump. (more…)

Hezbollah, Israel Prepare For War

Report: Conflict is question of when, not if


According to a new article in Time, the next conflict between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah will be even more destructive than the last one, in 2006.

One reason why is that Israel had pledged to treat the state of Lebanon as the enemy next time around, even if it is technically Hezbollah that is doing the fighting. Another reason is that Hezbollah has significantly upgraded its weaponry (in violation, I’m fairly certain, of a United Nations resolution), to the point that Tel Aviv may not be safe:

Reports over the past year suggest that Hizballah has received advanced Russian shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, and some fighters have been trained in Syria on larger truck-mounted missile systems. U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources say Hizballah has also augmented its arsenal with larger, longer-range rockets with guidance capabilities. Many analysts believe that in the event of another war, Hizballah plans to strike strategic targets deep inside Israel.

Although last month’s Israeli claims that Syria transferred Scud ballistic missiles to Hizballah remain unsubstantiated — and some military analysts are skeptical, given the rocket’s size and cumbersome logistical requirements — the group is believed to have acquired Syrian-manufactured M-600 guided rockets. The M-600, a copy of an Iranian rocket, can carry a 1,100-lb. (500 kg) warhead a distance of 155 miles (250 km), and its guidance system allows Hizballah to target Israel’s Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv from hidden bases in the northern Bekaa Valley.

The bellwether to watch, Time adds, isn’t Israeli-Lebanese relations, or really Israel’s relations with anyone. The thing that will have the greatest bearing on whether and when Israel and Hezbollah duke it out again are the tensions between Iran and the United States.

Hezbollah Prepares for the Next War [Time]

Davy Rothbart Tells Some Stories

Getting ready for Dawn 2010


Davy Rothbart, the editor and publisher of Found, will be among the presenters at Dawn 2010, the Tablet-sponsored late-night cultural arts festival going down in honor of Shavuot on the evening of Saturday, May 15 in San Francisco.

Rothbart said he’s going to be doing a reading that combines elements of Found (which features found documents) and the sorts of personal essays he has done for This American Life.

“We split up some of the commandments,” he said of himself and his fellow presenters. “The ones that were assigned to me were, Don’t commit adultery and Don’t steal. Some of the Found notes relate to those. Specifically about adultery, or complicated relationships.

“In one, a woman in SF got to her office, and found these three mysterious faxes that had been sent in the middle of the night. Handwritten. Accusing of infidelities. Except the third fax says, ‘Sorry, wrong number.’”

The Evolution of the Jewish Asshole

Morris Dickstein on ‘Greenberg’

Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg.(often-elided)

National Write-About-Greenberg-Two-Months-After-It-Came-Out Week continues with a Dissent piece by cultural critic Morris Dickstein. Despite its tardiness, it makes an interesting point that builds on what I had to say about the film (two months ago).

“Roger Greenberg’s only rival at saying gauche or obnoxious things to anyone in almost any situation is the character played by Larry David in the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Dickstein, the great literary critic, writes of Ben Stiller’s title character. “But while Curb Your Enthusiasm’s once refreshing dose of bile and misanthropy has now degenerated into predictable formula, Greenberg, on the other hand, is guaranteed to set one’s teeth on edge.” It’s important to understand the evolution that resulted in Roger Greenberg.

Dickstein goes on to place the film within the genres of screwball comedy (for the antagonistic romance at its center) and Woody Allen’s brand of “neurotic Jewish comedy.” Those elements are clearly there, but the comparison with Curb Your Enthusiasm is sharpest, and points to a key difference between Woody Allen’s and Larry David’s often-elided comic personas. (more…)

Today on Tablet

Jerusalem, forever anything? and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz mourns the Jerusalem that once was, since supplanted by an increasingly religious, intolerant city. Copy editor Siân Gibby explains why Shavuot has special meaning to her, a recent convert. Joan Nathan decides that Israeli cheesecake would go just perfect with Shavuot. The Scroll could go for some cheesecake right about now, too.

Kagan Had Synagogue’s First Bat Mitzvah

High Court nominee was at modern Orthodox shul

Kagan today on Capitol Hill.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Couldn’t make it up. As a 13-year-old girl, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan demanded and received the first bat mitzvah at her Upper West Side modern Orthodox synagogue.

The notion of gender equality had been making great strides in most denominations by the time the early ‘70s rolled around, the New York Times notes. Though modern Orthodox and led by a modern Orthodox rabbi, Kagan’s shul—Lincoln Square Synagogue, still active on Amsterdam Avenue at around 69th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—had been started by Conservative Jews.

On May 18, 1973—a Friday night—Kagan read from the Book of Ruth (and gave a little midrash on it, too). So not a traditional bat mitzvah, but still the first one of its kind there.

The Jewish Theological Seminary’s Shuly Rubin Schwartz puts the whole thing in context:

In terms of timing, this was the period when young women coming of age, who had those kinds of expectations for equality and taking leadership positions in the secular world, began to question: Why can’t I do this in the Jewish world? What is unusual is that she asked it in an Orthodox institution where that was an unheard-of question at that point.

Growing Up, Kagan Tested Boundaries of Faith [NYT]

Daybreak: Boy Inspires Mine Campaign

Plus Alan ♥ Salam, and more in the news

Daniel Yuval, 11, who lost his leg to a mine.(NYT)

• The story of an 11-year-old Israeli boy whose leg was blown off in the Golan has Israel considering clearing many of its hundreds of thousands of land mines. [NYT]

• Russian and Syrian leaders hinted at nuclear cooperation, alarming the United States and Israel. [Haaretz]

• Israeli business is about to experience a shake-up: Because the country was reclassified from “emerging market” to “developed market”—an honor, really—many businesses need to find new investors. [WSJ]

• Prime Minister Salam Fayyad continues to be most people’s favorite Palestinian: After a meeting in Ramallah, Alan Dershowitz called him “probably the best [peace partner] that Israel has ever had.” [JPost]

• Like Zeppo Marx, Shavuot isn’t flashy, but it’s more or less as important and brilliant as its better-known siblings. [Forward]

• A program designed to encourage Haredi men to enlist in the Israeli military is expected to net 1000 volunteers this year, as opposed to 40 just three years ago. [Arutz Sheva]

Sundown: Goldstone Responds

Plus leave Chomsky alone! and more

Taking a break.(The Onion)

• Richard Goldstone says being an apartheid-era judge was “a difficult moral decision,” and argues, “I do not understand why my actions as a judge in those years precludes me … from judging war crimes whether committed in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, or the Middle East.” [Jewish Chronicle/Vos Iz Neias?]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to the hundreds of “Jerusalem” (or “Zion”) mentions in the Bible. [Reuters/Vos Iz Neias?]

• “Masbia” are four restaurants in Brooklyn and Queens that serve kosher meals for free to impoverished Jews. [Brooklyn Rail]

• How to tell a schlemiel from a schlimazel from a schmendrik from a plain old jerk. [Forward]

• Noam Chomsky is taking a pass today. [The Onion]

• Rebecca Lepkoff, 94, speaks at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum tonight about her book of photographs (now out in paperback) of Lower East Side life many decades ago. [City Room]

A slideshow of Lepkoff’s photos is here. One is below.

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