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Sundown: What’s the Deal With Jews?

Plus minutes, stats, and zippers

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• Writer and historian Tony Judt asks the big post-Holocaust Jewish Question: “Jews in America are more successful, integrated, respected, and influential than at any place or time in the history of the community. Why then is contemporary Jewish identity in the US so obsessively attached to the recollection—and anticipation—of its own disappearance?” [NYRB]

• Josh Nathan-Kazis responds to a letter written by 13 Jewish organizations trying to secure protection for American college students faced with anti-Semitism with an even bigger, older Jewish question: “Are Jews an ethnic or a religious group?” [Haaretz]

• The minutes from the first meeting of Israel’s provisional government on May 16, 1948, have just been made public. The gathered focused on what to call the officials now known as “ministers”; also in the running was “governor,” about which future Prime Minister Moshe Sharrett said: “This word may have the connotation of bragging, but it is a nice Hebrew word with a pleasant sound to it.” [Ynet]

• On the eve of its 62nd birthday, Israel’s population is 7,587,000—137,000 more than last year—made up of 75 percent Jews. [Ynet]

• The New York Times profiles Eddie Feibusch, a zipper merchant who “overcame not just the Nazis but also Velcro” (hyuk!) and once filled an order for Bernard Madoff in prison. [NYT]

Sincerely Saul Bellow

A thrilling cache of the late writer’s letters

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Bellow at the Miami Book Fair in 1990.(Wikipedia.org)

This week, the New Yorker treats us to a selection of colorful letters from Saul Bellow to his fellow writers, including Bernard Malamud, Alfred Kazin, and John Cheever. A sample of choice moments:

To William Faulkner, responding to a defense of Ezra Pound: “What staggers me is that you and Mr. Steinbeck, who have dealt for so many years in words, should fail to understand the import of Ezra Pound’s plain and brutal statements about the ‘kikes’ leading the ‘goys’ to slaughter. Is this—from the ‘Pisan Cantos’—the stuff of poetry? It is a call to murder.”

To Philip Roth, in apology for some perceived slight from a People magazine interview: “If I had been interviewed by an angel for the Seraphim and Cherubim Weekly I’d have said, as I actually did say to the crooked little slut, that you were one of our very best and most interesting writers.”

And to Cynthia Ozick, a high compliment: “[A]lthough we have never discussed the Jewish question (or any other), and we would be bound to disagree (as Jewish discussants invariably do), it is certain that we would, at any rate, find each other Jewish enough.”

We also highly recommend the accompanying podcast, featuring Nextbook alum Blake Eskin interviewing Bellow’s wife Janis, who is responsible for having saved the letters—her husband, she says, would just as soon have “used them to make paper airplanes with.” Janis offers some insight into the mindset that led Saul to correspond extensively with those who found fault with his work: “He was never under the misapprehension that anything he wrote was finished.”

Among Writers (subscription only)
The Great Dictator [New Yorker]

Wiesel Sparks Feud Between Living and Dead

With newspaper ad espousing reverance for Jerusalem

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This past weekend, newspaper readers were met with an ad by Elie Wiesel entitled “For Jerusalem.” The Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times all featured the message from the Nobel Laureate beseeching politicians and activists to handle the issue of Jerusalem (“the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul”) with time and sense:

What is the solution? Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be, there will be. Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem prematurely? Why not first take steps which will allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atmosphere of security. Why not leave the most difficult, the most sensitive issue, for such a time?

The ad appeared the same week as the article “The Living and the Dead” by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who extolled the virtues of examining history and the dead before making decisions in the present day (the International Herald Tribune ran them the same day). He provocatively categorized the dead as the “majority” and the living a “minority.”

In his Talking Points Memo, Bernard Avishai featured a response crafted by his wife, Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, blasting both authors. Where Ezrahi had expected Wiesel to take a stand against the oppression Israelis are inflicting on displaced Palestinians, instead, she noted with derision, he rooted for the dead over the living by lauding history while glossing over present day issues, fulfilling Cohen’s statement that the dead are the chosen ones:

Not only do the settlers here and all over the West Bank undermine the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence (if Jews have a right to land owned across the Green Line before the War of Independence, then surely so do those thousands of Palestinians who were displaced from West Jerusalem—including, presumably, the very house from which I write these words), but they consign all of us, sooner rather than later, to join the phalanx of the dead who died because people like Wiesel prefer mythical references to History and Eschatology over the real people who want to live together in peace.

Elie Wiesel’s Jerusalem [TPM]
Elie Wiesel: Jerusalem is Above Politics [Arutz 7]
The Living and the Dead [NYT]

Tablet Magazine’s New Internship Program

Come work with us

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Tablet Magazine is looking for interns.

Next month, Tablet Magazine is inaugurating a paid internship program. If you have experience in journalism and are familiar with the landscape of American Jewish life, we’d love to hear from you. We’ll be hiring three times a year—spring, summer, and fall—for two- and three-day-a-week internships at our office in New York City. Interns will assist the editorial staff with research and administrative tasks, as well as contributing blog posts and, potentially, full features. If you’re interested in applying for the upcoming summer term, which starts May 15, please send a résumé and three writing clips to our internship coordinator, Marissa Brostoff (mbrostoff@tabletmag.com), by Monday, May 3. We look forward to hearing from you.

Clinton’s Word Choice Raises Questions

Her controversial Independence Day message for Israel

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In a video greeting marking Israel’s Independence Day, Hillary Clinton promised that the U.S. stands “in solidarity” with the nation. Using a classic trope, she expressed her awe at watching “the desert bloom,” and offered a (slightly martyrish) vow to Israel that she and President Obama will continue “sharing your risks and helping shoulder your burdens.” She also stated that “pursuing peace and recognized borders for Israel is one of our top priorities.”

A history lesson from the website American Thinker highlights a potential problem with Clinton’s message: “U .N. Security Council Resolution 242, adopted after the 1967 Six-Day War called on Israel to withdraw from some—but not all—captured territories in exchange for ‘secure and recognized’ borders for the Jewish state. Ever since, UN Res. 242 has been the international template for a permanent peace agreement.” So by using only the word “recognized” in her speech, was Clinton suggesting that Israel should be “settling” for less than secure borders, as suggested by American Thinker, Politico‘s Laura Rozen, and others? Maybe her word choice reflects a shift in perspective, or maybe she thought she had it covered when she said “Our nation will not waver in protecting Israel’s security.” As Clinton mentions, “In 1948 it took President Truman only 11 minutes to recognize your new nation.” If only we could parse her message as quickly.

Hillary Clinton Drops ‘Secure’ Borders For Israel From Independence Day Message To Jewish State [AT]

Why, My Darling, Have You Barred All News

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. In today’s poem, a young Halevi accuses a former lover of becoming his “murderess” by abandoning him: “That you have shed my blood, I have two witnesses—/Your lips and cheeks. Don’t say their crimson lies!” 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!

Why, my darling, have you barred all news
From one who aches for you inside the bars of his own ribs?
Surely you know a lover’s thoughts
Care only for the sound of your hellos!
At least, if parting was the fate reserved for us,
You might have lingered till my gaze had left your face.
God knows if there’s a heart caged in these ribs
Or it has fled to join you in your journeys.

O swear by Love that you remember days of embraces
As I remember nights crammed with your kisses,
And that, as through my dreams your likeness passes,
So does mine through yours!
Between us lies a sea of tears I cannot cross.
Yet should you but approach its moaning waves,
They’d part beneath your steps,
And if, though dead, I heard the golden bells
Make music on your skirt, or your voice asking how I was,
I’d send my love to you from the grave’s depths.

That you have shed my blood, I have two witnesses –
Your lips and cheeks. Don’t say their crimson lies!
What makes you want to be my murderess
When I would only add years to your years?
You steal the slumber from my eyes,
Which, would it increase your sleep, I’d give you gratis.
My vaporous sighs are stoked by passion’s flames,
And I am battered by your icy floes,
And thus it is that I am caught, alas,
Between fire and the flood, hot coals and cold deluges.
My heart, half sweetness and half bitterness,
Honeyed kisses mixed with hemlock of adieus,
Has been shredded by you into pieces,
And each piece twisted into curlicues.

Yet picturing your fairness —
The pearl-and-coral of your teeth and lips;
The sunlight in your face, on which night falls in cloudy tresses;
Your beauty’s veil, which clothes your eyes
As you are clothed by silks and embroideries
(Though none’s the needlework that vies with Nature’s splendor, Nature’s grace) –
Yes, when I think of all the youths and maidens
Who, though freeborn, would rather be your slaves,
And know that even stars and constellations
Are of your sisters and your brothers envious –
Then all I ask of Time’s vast hoard is this:
Your girdled waist, the red thread of those lips
That were my honeycomb, and your two breasts,
In which are hidden myrrh and all good scents.

O would that you wore me as a seal upon your arms
As I wear you on mine! May both my hands
Forget their cunning if I forget the days,
My dearest, of our love’s first bliss!
Hard for the heart made vagrant are the memories
Of your ambrosia on my lips – but could I mix
My exhalations with their perfumed essence,
I would have a way to kiss you always.
Are women praised for their perfections?
Perfection in you is praised for being yours.
The fields of love have many harvesters —
And your harvest is bowed down to by their sheaves.
God grant that I may live to drain the lees,
Once more, of your limbs’ sweet elixirs!
Although I cannot hear your voice,
I listen, deep within me, for your footsteps.
O on the day that you revive Love’s fallen legions
Slain by your sword, think of this corpse
Abandoned by its spirit for your travels!
If life, my love, will let you have your wishes,
Tell it you wish to send a friend regards.
May it bring you to your destinations,
And God return you to your native grounds!

Ex-Footballer Now Motivational Jew

Alan Veingrad inducted into National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame

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Reporter John Kalish says “professional Jewish athletes are eagerly embraced” by the Jewish media, “because they refute the stereotype of the Jew as weakling or nerd.” (Of course, we bloggers might argue that we embrace them because they are our way into talking about sports, a welcome break from political conflict.) Whatever the deeper motivation, football player-turned-Orthodox Jew-turned-motivational speaker Alan “Shlomo” Veingrad was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame over the weekend. Kalish, a Vox Tablet contributor, reported on Veingrad’s second career for National Public Radio’s show Only a Game.

Maybe because Veingrad had long left any connection to his religion behind—as he says in one of his engagements, his bar mitzvah was his “exit out of Judaism”—he wasn’t creeped out when a stranger named Lou Weinstein called him out of the blue while he was playing for the Green Bay Packers in the 1980s. Rather, he went with the guy to High Holiday services and, says Kalish, Weinstein “instilled in him an obligation Jews have to reach out to their fellow Jews.” By the time he got transferred to the Dallas Cowboys in 1991, Veingrad went eagerly, hoping there he would “have a better chance at finding a Jewish wife.”

“If he wasn’t 6’5″ and dressed in a conservative business suit,” says Kalish of Veingrad, “he might be mistaken for a member of ZZ Top because his beard is that long.” More interesting to us is the fact that, as Kalish reports, Veingrad’s mother “altered his football resume” to give him a better time on the 50 yard dash and help him get onto the team at East Texas State. What Kalish calls “this ‘by any means necessary’ spirit,” reminds us of the good old days when the family would gather to “help” with someone’s school assignment or college application. We can only hope Veingrad inspires his fellow Jews to keep up the tradition.

Alan Veingrad [Only a Game]

Tablet Today

Books on Israelis and Palestinians for young and old alike, Némirovsky’s world, and more

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After the brouhaha over The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, Tablet parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall compiles a list of recommended books about the Israeli Palestinian conflict for young adults. A new one for adults, Almost Dead, was written by Assaf Gavron with “humor and empathy”; our podcast Vox Tablet features host Sara Ivry’s interview with the novelist and translator. Books columnist Joshua Lambert checks out volumes on Irène Némirovsky and the Paris she inhabited, the latest from Robert Alter, and more. Plus, much more to come, here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Memorial Day Finds Tourists, Uncharacteristic Frankness in Israel

Plus Blair stranded, books in Italy, and more in the news

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• European tourists stranded in Israel by the volcanic ash cloud had “an opportunity to witness the most Israeli day of the year—Memorial Day.” [Ynet]

• For former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, however, being stuck in Jerusalem is a disruption to his schedule of campaigning for his successor Gordon Brown. [AFP]

• Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak took the national holiday as an occasion for frankness, saying that Israelis “shouldn’t delude ourselves”: “The growing alienation between us and the United States is not good for the state of Israel…The world isn’t willing to accept—and we won’t change that in 2010—the expectation that Israel will rule another people for decades more.” [AP]

• On Saturday night, the first Jewish book fair in Italy opened in Ferrara, the city that will host the future Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah. [JTA]

• A nuclear conference in Iran concluded with a statement demanding that “the Zionist regime” join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. [AP]

Sundown: Bishop Nailed for Holocaust Denial

Plus: smell is not a matter of taste, a senior roadster, and more

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• British Bishop Richard Williamson has been convicted and fined for denying the Holocaust in a 2008 interview on Swedish television. [AP]

• Mel Brooks will get his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame later this month. [On the Red Carpet]

• Philip Barak, a 75-year-old race-car driver, said he didn’t start winning until he painted his car blue and white. [Jewish Chronicle]

• Scientists at Israel’s Weizmann Institute have proven that the “pleasantness” of odors is determined by molecular structure, which doesn’t help explain why some people salivate over a whiff of gefilte fish, while others run from the room. [WI]

National Geographic recommends the Jewish Mob walking tour at NYC’s new Museum of the American Gangster. We suggest you check out Tablet’s history of the Israeli mafia. [NG]

Berkeley Brouhaha

Philosopher Judith Butler Redefines ‘Zionist’

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Yesterday morning, student senate at the University of California, Berkeley, voted to uphold a veto on a bill that would have urged the school’s student association to divest from two companies—General Electric and United Technologies—that, according to critics, profit from Israeli occupation. Berkeley been the site of an intense wave of activism, both pro- and anti-divestment, since the original bill passed, by a margin of 16-4, in March (the senate president vetoed it a week later). Student senators have received thousands of emails from around the world, hundreds showed up on campus Wednesday evening for a nine-hour deliberation that led up to the vote that upheld the veto, and public intellectuals including Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz have thrown their weight on one side or the other (you can guess which was which).

One of the more interesting statements to come out of the morass was a speech by Berkeley professor and social theorist Judith Butler, delivered Wednesday night in support of divestment. “If you want to say that the historical understanding of Israel’s genesis gives it exceptional standing in the world,” she writes, “then you disagree with those early Zionist thinkers, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes among them, who thought that Israel must not only live in equality with other nations, but must also exemplify principles of equality and social justice in its actions and policies.” By rehabilitating, in leftist university discourse, the word “Zionist,” Butler has once again changed—or tried to change—a conversation.

You Will Not Be Alone [The Nation]

Today in Jewish History

Mass suicide and fart jokes

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Lest you forget that we Jews have long been embroiled in battles on various fronts, here are three momentous events that took place on this date in history:

According to the website New Europe, “In 73 AD, in crushing a Jewish revolt, the Roman army break into the mountaintop fortress of Masada, only to find its 960 defenders had chosen death over defeat,” launching Jews into a tradition of martyrdom that continues to this day.

In 1947, multimillionaire presidential adviser Bernard Baruch coined the term “Cold War” to describe the shenanigans then going on between the United States and the U.S.S.R., saying of the icy enemies: “Our unrest is the heart of their success.”

And in 1987, the Federal Communications Commission decided to “correct an altogether too narrow interpretation of decency,” cracking down primarily on shock jockey Howard Stern and making him the next in a timeless tradition of Jewish advocates for vulgarity.

16 April – Today in History [New Europe]
Bernard Baruch coins term ‘Cold War,’ April 16, 1947 [Politico]
FCC Launches Crackdown on Radio Show Obscenity [LAT]

Sex, Jews, and South Park

An educational retreat may raise more questions than it answers

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We may have heard that it’s a “double mitzvah” to have sex on the Sabbath, or that Orthodox couples refrain from the deed while the woman is menstruating, but otherwise it’s doubtful that Jewish learning and sex ed have had much of a connection for most of us. A retreat this weekend—in Texas, of all places—aims to change that, at least for one lucky group of teens. Run by the organization There’s Only 1U (still trying to figure out the Jewish reference in that name—a play on the first commandment, perhaps?), the retreat promises to teach the basics and explain “why all of this is Jewish.” Based on our experience at Jewish camp, we guess that the overnight, co-ed retreat will certainly be an educational experience, but perhaps not in the way it was intended.

Although the program “focuses on five Jewish values: truth (emet), not embarrassing (lo levayesh), courage of the heart (ometz lev), taking care of your body (shmirat haguf), and honoring one another (ohev zeh et zeh),” it uses an unconventional method to introduce the topic: clips from the “Sex Ed episode of South Park.” Well, we suppose if the kids’ parents are as clueless as Stan’s, they could certainly use some help. On the other hand, they might also get some decidedly unkosher ideas.

Texas: Believe It or Not, Program Instills Jewish Values in Sex Education [The Body]

Artie the Hitman

An old Jew tells a joke

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Hey, a bargain’s a bargain!

Nerdy Girls are Sweeping the Airwaves, Says Writer

But, especially in the case of Jews, we say they’re not really nerds

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Glee's Lea Michelle.(Fox.com)

An article this week on The American Prospect‘s website hails the “Rise of the Female Nerds,” citing, among other examples, Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on 30 Rock and Glee‘s Rachel Berry, played by Broadway vet Lea Michele. “Female nerds have traditionally had few options when seeking characters onscreen to relate to,” writes Amanda Marcotte. “But over the past few years, there’s been a quiet feminist revolution on television. The female nerd has arrived, and she’s not interested in a makeover.” As the article itself later acknowledges, that’s because she doesn’t need one.

If female nerds have had a tough time of it, what a double-whammy female Jewish nerds are faced with. Let’s face it, some of pop culture’s most affable male nerds have been Jews. And they’re real nerds. Think of Neal Schweiber from Freaks and Geeks and Paul Pfeiffer from The Wonder Years. On the other hand, Marcotte herself grants that “portrayals of female nerds are undercut by the smoking-hot-actress problem”; in the case of the Jewish nerdess, even the characters are considered attractive—as Jeremy Dauber pointed out in his essay on Glee for Tablet Magazine, Rachel is a “self-proclaimed hot Jew.” Where Marcotte asserts that “Rachel’s costuming has her stuck in elementary school, with knee socks and childish dresses,” we would argue that her wardrobe has her stuck in a decidedly more prurient place. And when it comes to identification with female characters, especially given the general body-image issues facing young women, hotness negates nerdiness. (Case in point: The absurd valorization of Natalie Portman, particularly in her role in the film Garden State, as the poster child of unabashed female Jewish nerdiness.) In fact, the only true example we can think of of a female Jewish nerd onscreen is the tragic Dawn Weiner in the bleak indie-cult classic Welcome to the Dollhouse. And something tells me she wouldn’t exactly feel empowered by the rise of the sexy, talented, torn-between-two-lovers Rachel Berry.

Rise of the Female Nerds [The American Prospect]
Related: The Outsiders [Tablet]

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