How the Obama-ites Are Redefining Judaism

Much to learn from NYT’s ’20-Somethings’

The White House Seder.(NYT)

If you got to the end of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine feature on the “Obama 20-Somethings”—a fawning but, if you like this sort of thing, irresistible portrait of the social lives of the administration’s young staffers—you may have had your suspicions confirmed that, regarding the Jew-factor, this crew is somewhere between the Freedom Riders and Camp Ramah. To wit:

Eric Lesser looked out over the containers of Thai carryout, the bottles of wine and the Shabbat candles. ‘Should we do Shalom Aleichem?’ he asked, and the whole table began singing a warbled but hearty version of the song that welcomes Shabbat. In Lesser’s group house of Obama staff assistants, Friday-night Shabbat dinners have become something of a ritual, a chance to relax and spend a few hours with friends.


At the Doctor’s Office

An old Jew tells a joke


Today’s joke is short and sweet. Not unlike other things.

Obama’s Non-Campaign Against Bibi

Sometimes criticism is just criticism

Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday.(Lior Mizrahi/AFP/Getty Images)

The Bulletin, a Philadelphia-area newspaper, on Sunday gave the broadest airing I’ve yet seen of the theory (which I first saw floated by Jeffrey Goldberg) that the Obama Administration is actively, consciously seeking to undermine Prime Minister Netanyahu in order to have him lose his grip on power and be replaced with, presumably, a government more amenable to U.S. demands. Centers of this new strategy include former Clinton Administration Ambassador Martin Indyk and one-time negotiator Aaron David Miller (whom Lee Smith profiled last week).

Problem is, the tensions of March have since given way to the lovefest of April and May: steadfast praise and declared support for Israel from all quarters of the Administration; a rolling out of the red carpet for Defense Minister Ehud Barak last week; and a general aura of better times. A cynic would note that the Administration’s earlier condemnations only buttressed Netanyahu domestically, as Israelis rallied ‘round the flag. Still, the current era of good feeling is probably dispositive of the theory of a concerted Administration effort to topple Bibi. Only when Obama starts saying nice things about opposition leader Tzipi Livni will it have legs. That is what you should be on the lookout for—though I suspect you’ll probably end up disappointed.

Is Obama Moving To Topple Israel’s Prime Minister? [The Bulletin] (via Vos Iz Neias?)
Related: Religion of Yes [Tablet Magazine]

Rosenthal Lays Off Lithuania

Anti-Semitism envoy accused of obfuscating Holocaust obfuscation

Hannah Rosenthal, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.(U.S. State Dept.)

A report Saturday accused Hannah Rosenthal, the U.S. Anti-Semitism Envoy, of failing to admonish Lithuania’s official policy (which Dovid Katz examined today in Tablet Magazine) of equating the Nazi and Soviet occupations of the country.

According to Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “chief Nazi-hunter” (!!!), Rosenthal praised Lithuania during a visit to the capital city of Vilnius last week for having “taken very proactive steps in dealing with anti-Semitism.” However, she reportedly did not speak about rising neo-Nazism in the Baltic republic, nor the state’s all-but-official doctrine of viewing the two occupations of itself as morally equivalent while glossing over the experience of Lithuanian Jews.

“What better occasion than Rosenthal’s visit to Vilnius,” Zuroff asks,

to finally make clear that there should be no tolerance for false historical symmetries between Nazism and communism, and that the time had come for Vilnius to teach the truth and internalize its lessons.

Instead of donating funds to a government which is the chief culprit in a campaign of disinformation, the Americans should be demanding that pupils in Lithuanian schools finally be taught the whole truth about their history during World War II, as difficult and as painful as that may be.

No Tolerance for False History [JPost]
The Crime of Surviving
[Tablet Magazine]

Today on Tablet

Holocaust non-denial denial, the Jew behind the Apollo, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Dovid Katz examines the phenomenon of “Holocaust obfuscation” in Baltic former Soviet republics like Lithuania: An increasingly popular, pernicious theory under which the Nazi and Soviet occupations are understood as equal legacies, with the Holocaust being in some sense a response, or byproduct, of resisting the Russians. On this week’s Vox Tablet, Eric Molinsky reports on the man behind Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater—who was named Frank Schiffman. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall issues a call to keep summer camp cell phone- and Internet-free. Josh Lambert has his weekly round-up of forthcoming books of note. The Frozen Rabbi enters its tenth week. And The Scroll keeps on truckin’.

Happy Jewish Heritage Month!

April showers bring May celebration

Obama at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, Saturday night.(Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

President Obama kicked things off Saturday (which was another holiday as well) with a proclamation declaring that the United States will “celebrate this proud history and honor the invaluable contributions Jewish Americans have made to our nation” in the fine month of May. “Our Nation,” he wrote, “has always been both a haven and a home for Jewish Americans.”

There will be dozens of events around the country. To see if any are in your area, check the month’s official Website.

Obama: Jews Strengthen Our Nation [Ynet]

Daybreak: Nuke Summit Comes to NYC

Plus proximity talks to begin this week, and more in the news

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year.(Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

• A month-long nonproliferation summit in New York City kicks off today. Expect Iran to take center stage—but, behind the scenes, the U.S. has long been working to ensure that an Iranian bomb doesn’t set off a proliferation chain reaction in the region. [NYT]

• U.S. envoy George Mitchell arrives in the Mideast today, and proximity talks will likely begin later this week, now that the Arab League has endorsed them (again). [NYT]

• America reportedly leveraged a major threat in order to bring Israel to the table: It pledged to abstain from—which is to say, allow—a hypothetical U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli building in East Jerusalem. [WSJ]

• Even as most American Jewish institutions feel President Obama has been too harsh on Israel, continued support among the overall American Jewish population has lent him political wiggle room. [LAT]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mubarak met today to discuss the peace process. [JTA]

• Neteurei Karta Rabbi Moshe Hirsch, who infamously worked in Yasser Arafat’s government, died at 86. [JPost]

Sundown: Europe’s J Street

Plus, the ‘new Afrikaners,’ a murder trial, and a foot robbery


• A group called JCall will launch next week as the self-proclaimed European answer to J Street. Organizers include a member of the EU Parliament and the ubiquitous Bernard-Henri Levy. (BHL, The Scroll would like to an extend a temporary freeze on our policy of mocking you.) Interesting to note: In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, a JCall official used the word “colonization” to describe Israeli policy—which we’re fairly sure is a word verboten in the J Street lexicon. [J'lem Post]

Israel Lobby co-author John Mearsheimer postulated in a speech today that Israel and the Palestinians are off the two-state solution track and that instead full-fledged apartheid will be followed by a bi-national state. Extending the apartheid analogy further than it usually goes, he classified a number of prominent American Zionists, from Abe Foxman of the ADL to Marty Peretz of the New Republic, as “new Afrikaners.” [Jerusalem Fund]

• The New Yorker proffers a real-life courtroom drama by Janet Malcolm about the 2009 trial of a woman who hired her cousin to murder her estranged husband at a playground—all set within the Bukharan Jewish community in Queens. Subscription unfortunately required. [New Yorker]

• Police apprehended a young man outside a Dallas Jewish cemetery who had removed and stolen a foot from a body in one of the graves. He told the cops that he “took it from a Jew girl just because I wanted a foot.” [Vos Iz Neias]

Reality TV, 65-and-Over Version

Who wants to watch some Jews in Arizona?

The cast.(NYT)

WE TV’s Wednesday night premiere of Sunset Daze, the new reality show set among older folks (several of them Jewish) in the quintessentially Sun Belt town of Surprise, Arizona, introduced me to my new BFFs. Somehow I related to these senior citizens more than my contemporary buddies on The Hills and Gossip Girl.

I met Sandy, a 68-year-old widow who is open to dating but still has a “battery-operated boyfriend just in case I need to fill some needs.” Then there was Gail, who confessed: “I’m a little nuts.” And finally, Ann, a 61-year-old former nun whose goal in life is “about trying anything” and “feeling no restrictions.” Emphasis on former, I guess. (more…)

Remembering Herzl

Happy 150th, Theodor!


Sunday marks the 150th birthday of Theodor Herzl. Jewish Ideas Daily has put together a great list of brief essays that you may want to spend your weekend perusing in celebration of the founder of Zionism. Also directs our attention to this brief documentary, made in 1960, the centennial of his birth, and barely a decade after his dream was made reality.

The Impresario of Zionism [Jewish Ideas Daily]

Homepage image from Wikipedia.

Yuri Does ‘Kimmel’

Boxer hits the talk shows to promote June fight


Yuri Foreman stopped by ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live last night to promote his fight against Miguel Cotto on June 5 at Yankee Stadium. I love how he starts shadow-boxing when he comes out: a real throwback to the days when boxers were major cultural stars.

Related: In Training [Tablet Magazine]

The Deceptively Controversial P.M.

Salam Fayyad tries to build a state

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.(Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images)

It was December when Tablet Magazine’s Michael Weiss wondered if Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is “the Palestinian Ben-Gurion.” That meme gained a great deal of steam in February, when none other than Israeli President Shimon Peres—the closest living link to the “Israeli Ben-Gurion” i.e., Ben-Gurion—similarly anointed him thus. But the past several days have shown that if folks in the West, especially on the more left side of the spectrum, are increasingly inclined to see Fayyad in this saintly light, others, especially in the West Bank, may not share this rosy view. And by others, I mean Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior members of Fatah—of which, it’s worth bearing in mind, Fayyad is not himself a member.

Fayyadism is a project of statehood semi-disguised as a product of nation-building. It is about constructing the necessary preconditions of a sovereign country—right down to physical infrastructure, though it’s also about building a culture of independence—so that, two years down the road (Fayyad has specified 2011), the West Bank Palestinians can, if talks fail, even perhaps declare independence. Which would be a pretty big deal indeed. (more…)

Today on Tablet

Etgar Keret airborne, singing Yiddish, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, columnist Etgar Keret reports, from a transcontinental flight, about how he feels about flying so darn much. Music columnist Alexander Gelfand weighs the merits of a Yiddish-language choir and a Hebrew-language one. This week’s haftorah prompts Liel Leibovitz to honor those who take history into their own hands rather than wait for it to happen to them. The Scroll writes history’s first draft, and that should count for something, too, right?

Father of Iconic Blue Coffee Cup Dies

Leslie Buck, who designed the Anthora, was 87

The Anthora.(Wikipedia)

If you live in New York City—if you’ve ever lived in New York City—then chances are you’re familiar with the Anthora. In fact, you’ve probably paid $1 to a street vendor at 8:52 in the morning and been given an Anthora filled with hot, overly sweet coffee. The blue cardboard coffee cup with the vaguely (and clearly inauthentically) Grecian design is ubiquitous in New York; it appears in countless movies and TV shows (Law & Order alone must have gone through a hundred); I’ve even seen great ceramic mugs made to look like the cups at a Williamsburg coffeeshop. We learn today the story behind the Anthora, and the story behind the man behind the Anthora, because that man died. Better learning too late than never.

Leslie Buck, who designed the Anthora in 1963 while working at the Sherri Cup Company was, as you’ve probably guessed, not Greek. He was born Laszlo Büch in modern-day Ukraine. He survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald; his parents didn’t.

Buck designed the cup to look Greek—he had precisely zero formal art training—because he knew who owned many of the city’s delis. He used Classical-esque lettering, and drew a group of lines that look like something from an ancient marble column. And he also put a picture of an amphora, a classical Greek vase, on the cup’s side. “ ‘Anthora’ comes from ‘amphora,’ as filtered through Mr. Buck’s Eastern European accent,” the article reports. That’s the kind of detail that makes my job easier.

Leslie Buck, Designer of Authentic Coffee Cup, Dies at 87 [NYT]

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]

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