Daybreak: In The Distance, A Summit Appears

Plus whither Iraq’s Jewish archive? and more in the news


• The new timetable will reportedly see President Obama calling a massive summit, which could involve an imposed solution, if proximity talks are going nowhere by autumn. [Haaretz]

• In a speech to the American Jewish Committee, Secretary of State Clinton strongly condemned Syria’s allegedly giving long-range weapons to Hezbollah. [Haaretz]

• Iraq wants the documents and various artifacts that constitute its Jewish archive returned. These were originally seized by Iraq’s secret police, and recovered by U.S. soldiers in 2003. They currently sit in a Washington, D.C., suburb. [WP]

• Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) wants to deny Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a visa. The Iranian President has asked to visit New York City next week for a non-proliferation meeting. [Fox News/Vos Iz Neias?]

• The Florida Senate race, already shaken up by Gov. Charlie Crist’s announcement that he is running as an independent, just got crazier: Eccentric (and Jewish) billionaire Jeff Greene said he is seeking the Democratic nomination. [Ben Smith]

• Fatah and Hamas have reconciled in one area: For the first time in three years, the Palestinian Football Association includes Gazan teams. [LAT]

Sundown: Likud’s One-State Solution?

Plus Huckabee hearts Israel, Bullock’s bris, and more

Hey, be careful with that thing!(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for PCA)

• Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, a prominent Likudnik, told Greece’s ambassador that he would rather absorb the West Bank and its Arab residents into Israel than sign a peace deal with Mahmoud Abbas. Apparently no comment on Gaza, however. [Haaretz]

• Potential GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has been paying serious money to a Jerusalem-based consultant to help him beef up his pro-Israel bona fides. [Politico]

• A dispatch from the Gaza bodybuilding championship reports that many of the participants are former Fatah security guards who relish the opportunity to flout Hamas’s strict modesty rules by taking off their shirts and showing off their bulk. No pictures, (un?)fortunately. [AP/Haaretz]

• Sandra Bullock apparently gave her adopted child a bris (that is, the child was not merely circumcised; there was ritual and everything). This is ironic because (apparently again) her husband who cheated on her likes Nazis. Or something. [JTA]

• This is how Albert Einstein apparently got women to sleep with him. His method involved physics, of a sort. [Negev Rock City]

• Save the date! On Tuesday, May 18, our office-mate Jewcy is hosting the inaugural Yiderati reading series at New York City’s Strand bookstore. It will feature, among others, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Rachel Shukert. [Jewcy]

Instead of our usual Sundown video, here is your caricature of the day, from this Forward article on Jews who support Sarah Palin:

Korn himself has an unusual background. Up until the mid-1980s, he was a self-proclaimed “left-wing organizer” who taught pan-African studies, was a Central America solidarity activist and worked at a jazz radio station in Philadelphia with Mumia Abu-Jamal. He even voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980. He then had a radical transformation, switched to Orthodox from Reform Judaism and became a strident pro-Israel activist, an opponent of, as he put it, the “series of concessions that are called the peace process.” Eventually Korn, now 54, even headed the Zionist Organization of America.

Doesn’t sound that “unusual” to us!

Obama’s Iran Sanctions Ploy

U.S. law as carrot to coax global action


The Iran sanctions do-si-do continues. In response to Iranian intransigence on the nuclear issue, everyone says that they want U.S.-imposed economic sanctions on businesses that do business with Iran, particularly those that sell it gasoline (Iran has plenty of petroleum, but lacks sufficient refining capability). AIPAC does. The House and the Senate have both passed bills that would impose them. Even J Street supports them. And the Obama administration does, too.

But the Obama folks see the threat of sanctions as more valuable than actual sanctions. What they’d really prefer are international sanctions—which is to say, from the U.N. Security Council. They think, correctly, that these would be more effective

Which is why it’s unsurprising to learn that the administration is looking to relax the sanctions bill currently in a joint House-Senate committee so as to exempt some Russian and Chinese firms, and those of other “cooperating countries.” The idea is less to reward them for cooperating and more to entice them to cooperate. (The executive branch would have the authority to designate these countries.)

“It’s incredible the administration is asking for exemptions, under the table and winking and nodding, before the legislation is signed into law,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) told the Washington Times.

She’s right on the facts: “Under the table and winking and nodding” is a completely fair definition. Thing is, though, that may be okay. Argued Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “If the administration can use this ‘cooperating-countries’ waiver to get cooperation from a country like China on enforcing the U.N. sanctions and on suspending investment in Iran’s oil and gas industry, then this bill will be a great success.” Regardless of whether its sanctions actually end up sanctioning much of anything.

White House Seeks To Soften Iran Sanctions [Washington Times]
Earlier: Senate Approves Iran Sanctions

We Have a Poetry Contest Winner!

Read Susan Comninos’ poem


It’s the penultimate day of National Poetry Month, which means today is Poem in Your Pocket Day in New York City! Many are celebrating by carrying a favorite poem in … well, you can probably guess where.

Earlier this month, we asked our readers to get in touch with their inner 11th century poet and reimagine so-called “poet laureate of the Jewish people” Yehuda Halevi‘s words. And today, we’re proud to announce the winner: Susan Comninos, whose poem you can enjoy below. And then later, maybe put it in your pocket?

Congratulations, Susan!

“Can I do what I’ve vowed to and must?”
- Yehuda Halevi


Thou shalt not
bear the winds higher
than they would blow. Thou shalt never

prick halls of glass
with a bow and arrow. Thou shalt fail
to sway the sky

with the ceiling, stone
through the floor, leaves
with feeling – the dense weight

of a dank heart. Thou
shalt entertain no note
without instruments, sloth

without toil – sweat from strong languor.
Thou shalt not stroke
wood of others’

baseboards, nor
bewail banisters
to a barren house. Thou

shalt bring in bees
from the hive, swear
allegiance to their stings – sing alone

of a scant
incandescence: of a lion’s
fraught den, and no honeyed signs.

-Susan Comninos

Court’s Cross Decision Draws Criticism

Liberals, ADL concerned about symbol on public land


A U.S. Supreme Court decision yesterday regarding a cross on public land is quite technical and not immediately destined to have far-reaching impact. However, court liberals and the Anti-Defamation League said the plurality opinion, agreed to by the court’s conservative majority, is wrongly lax about the Constitutional clause mandating the separation of church and state.

The facts are these: The Veterans of Foreign Wars erected the cross as part of a World War I memorial in California’s federally-controlled Mojave National Preserve. In order to let the cross remain while also not violating the First Amendment’s ban on government endorsement of religion, the Interior Department traded the acre the cross stood on for five privately-owned acres nearby. The court ruled, 5-4 ruling, that the Department of Interior acted constitutionally—and cleverly!—in resolving its dilemma in this fashion.

Problem? Maybe. In a dissent, retiring liberal Justice John Paul Stevens made the case that the “affirmative act” of the land-transfer itself constituted a religion endorsement.

And the Anti-Defamation League also expressed concern. While observing that “the unique facts and the splintered, technical nature of the decision” makes it “not a case destined to have much impact on religious freedom,” Director Abraham Foxman pointed to a small part of the controlling decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, which appears to argue that the cross contains extra-religious meaning, which in turn may insulate the federal government from First Amendment issues. “This claim”—that the cross is not (or not only) a religious symbol—”should be equally as offensive to Christians and non-Christians,” the ADL said.

Supreme Court Sides With Interior on Mojave Desert Cross [Greenwire/NYT]
Supreme Court Decision on Religious Monument ‘Disappointing’ [ADL]

The Talking Dog

An old Jew tells a joke


This one’s funny. Just remember to install an “r” round where this Bostonian leave ‘em out.

Amid Dying Languages, Yiddish Lives On

Reports of its death are greatly exaggerated

He speaks Yiddish.(CBC)

There are, the New York Times reported yesterday, a “remarkable trove of endangered tongues that have taken root in New York—languages born in every corner of the globe and now more commonly heard in various corners of New York than anywhere else.” The City University of New York is sponsoring an endangered-languages program, and a group has sprung up to record these languages before they go extinct. And among this “Babel in reverse” are several languages of Jewish interest: The Semitic tongues of Aramaic, Chaldic, and Mandaic; Bukhari, a specifically Jewish Persian dialect, which originated in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, but today “has more speakers in Queens”; and, of course, Yiddish.

Yiddish is like many of these languages in that it is spoken more in New York City than in its historic areas—central and eastern Europe, and Russia. But unlike, say, the Istro-Romanian language of Vlashki, or Chamorro of the Mariana Islands (who knew they existed?), Yiddish is actually thriving in New York City, and elsewhere—among ultra-Orthodox communities. CUNY Professor David Kaufman, prominently featured in the article, told me yesterday, “I mentioned Yiddish as an example of a language spoken more in New York than in its places of origin—that’s all I meant by putting Yiddish in there.” He added, “It used to be a language of literature, but now it’s being kept alive by the Hasidic community—which views literature as competition to Torah.” In other words, fear not: Yiddish is nowhere near extinction. For the record, he said, his Endangered Language Alliance has not worked with Yiddish yet.

Hebrew Union College Professor Sarah Bunin Benor agreed that, whatever the status of some of the languages mentioned in the article, Yiddish, while certainly diminished from its heyday, is not going to disappear any time soon. “I think there is a sense that it’s diminishing because a lot of the speakers were killed in the Holocaust, and others moved to America and Israel and assimilated to the local languages,” she explained. But, directing me to the Modern Language Association’s interactive language map—warning, it has massive time-suck potential—she pointed out that “Yiddish is alive and well.” In fact, she added, “It’s changing. It’s becoming Americanized. It’s picking up words and grammatical structures.” Which is kind of cool, especially when you consider that American English has adopted certain aspects of Yiddish.

What, I should have to give an example?

Listening to (and Saving) the World’s Languages [NYT]

Today on Tablet

Sarah Silverman pees like a Jew, and more

Sarah Silverman.(Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Today in Tablet Magazine, Eryn Loeb writes that comedienne Sarah Silverman’s new memoir, The Bedwetter, is fantastic, and best “when she’s dropping some version of the word ‘Jewish’ into an otherwise unrelated conversation.” Poetry critic David Kaufmann tackles the work of America’s two premier Russian-Jewish poets. In his third and final dispatch from Goa, India, Matthew Schwarzfeld visits Israeli-owned Woodstock Village, which is exactly what it sounds like. The Scroll is gonna get back to the land, set its soul free.

What to See at the PEN Festival

Events to pencil in

Ariel Dorfman.( Wikipedia)

The PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature hit New York City a few days ago, but it doesn’t really heat up until today, and it goes strong through Sunday. The event we’re most psyched for is, naturally, the Sunday afternoon talk

• Eshkol Nevo, one of Israel’s hottest young novelists, sits for an interview with journalist Michael Orthofer, this evening.

• A distinguished panel will discuss the work of the classic Austrian-Jewish Modernist novelist Stefan Zweig, Friday evening.

• Three authors who have adapted The Diary of Anne Frank in various ways, including novelist Francine Prose, discuss it, Saturday afternoon. (Bonus! Check out our Vox Tablet with Prose.)

• As part of a “Translation Slam,” one side of the transliterary “duel” will be reading the work of Alex Epstein in Hebrew, Friday evening.

• A panel, including authors Paul Berman and Alina Bronsky, will discuss the intersection of free art in Europe and Islamist censorship, Sunday afternoon.

Daybreak: Gates is Grave on Hezbollah

Plus can’t anyone here impose these sanctions? and more in the news

Gates and Barak, yesterday.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

• “Hezbollah has far more rockets and missiles than most governments,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday before meeting with Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak at the Pentagon. [JPost]

• Arguments took place over former Agriprocessors head Sholom Rubashkin’s sentencing for bank fraud charges. Federal prosecutors’ request for life have struck many legal experts as excessive. [NYT]

• A leaked State Department memo found that officials in Damascus have no idea how actually to impose the United States’s economic sanctions on Syria. [WP]

• Egypt convicted 26 alleged Hezbollah operatives for planning to commit terrorism against tourists passing through the Suez Canal and to smuggle weapons into Gaza. [WSJ]

• Speaking of which, Egypt gassed four smugglers then in tunnels under the Gaza border to death. It is not clear if it was poison gas or crowd-dispersal gas, which caused them to suffocate. [AP/Yahoo!]

• One of the last living prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials, a Navy officer named Whitney Harris, died at 97. [NYT]

Sundown: Guess Who’s Coming to New York

Plus Shmuley meets Benedict, J Street meets Europe, and more


• Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has applied for a U.S. visa. He wants to attend a non-proliferation meeting next Monday in New York City. [Laura Rozen]

• An author speculates that the Obama administration’s recent charm offensive toward Israel was in part prompted by polls showing that the strong Jewish support the president enjoyed when he was elected is under threat. [Ynet]

• A list of the ten richest Israelis (they’re all billionaires). Number one, Sir Sammy Ofer, is worth $4 billion. [Israeli 21c]

• Rabbi Shmuley Boteach describes his meeting with the Pope today. He was joined by much of his family, as well as AIPAC Chairman David Victor. [ Iz Neias?]

• JCall, a new European group modeled after the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” J Street, is circulating a petition that criticizes Israel’s policies and defends its right to exist. [JTA]

• Tony Judt has a superb mini-essay, affecting and, yes, provocative, on why he considers himself a Jew. [NYRB]

At Such a Time, My Eyes Can’t Hold

Your daily poetry fix


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.”

21st 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. Halevi, writing from the ship that will take him to Palestine, addresses today’s poem to his friend Aharon el-Ammani, expressing his desire to visit him once more. 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!

At such a time, my eyes can’t hold
The tears back any more.
They pour like hailstones,
Hot from a storm-lit heart.
To part from Yitzhak was the easy part,
Even though the shock of it was rude.
But now that Shlomo is gone, too,
I’m left in solitude
With no hope of seeing anyone again.
And that’s the last of all my friends from Spain!

Walk Through the Anne Frank Annex

From your office chair

Anne Frank as a 12-year-old.( Wikipedia)

The Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam now has a virtual tour of the secret annex, and, um, wow. Among other things (excellent narration, 360° views, the ability to see the rooms furnished as they were when inhabited), it gives you a good sense of just how friggin’ small was this space, where eight people lived in complete seclusion for years.

So check it out. Start at the movable bookcase.

Anne Frank House Offering Virtual Tour [JTA]


An old Jew tells a joke


/shakes head

America, The Better Bomber

Abrams, TNR prefer a U.S. strike on Iran to an Israeli one


It’s not surprising to find hawkish Bush administration Mideast expert Elliott Abrams, whom Tablet Magazine’s Lee Smith profiled last month, advocating an air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But, at a seminar in Baltimore a few days ago, he argued in favor of a crucial nuance: That it would actually be better if America, and not Israel, was the one doing the bombing. “If the world does not act,” he observed, “I believe Israel will act, and I hope the U.S. will.” Steve Rosen, a onetime top AIPAC adviser, agreed: “The U.S. would be more efficient than Israel at suppressing Iran.”

The emerging U.S.-is-the-better-bomber meme is given wider airing in an excellent New Republic article. Unlike Abrams and Rosen, author Michael Crowley is agnostic-to-skeptical on the wisdom of bombing Iran (“Let’s pause here to reiterate the obvious fact that a U.S. attack on Iran might well be an epic disaster”). However, he is emphatic that “if someone is going to bomb Iran, it shouldn’t be Israel. It should be America.” The main reason? Detailed analyses and extensive war games suggest that an American air attack would have a far higher likelihood of actually doing real damage to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Plus, Crowley adds, even an Israeli strike would probably draw America deeply into the subsequent conflict with Iran—in other words, there would be little additional fallout if it was actually us doing the bombing (which is kind of perverse, but whaddya gonna do?). So, the thinking goes, if it’s something our government decides it supports, it might as well sign its name to it. For now, of course, that remains a hefty if.

Abrams: U.S. Must Address Iran’s Threat to Israel [JTA]
The Bomb Squad [TNR]
Related: The Shadow Viceroy [Tablet Magazine]

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