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]

Meet Your New Jew Hall of Famers

A wrestler, a judo fighter, and, yeah, some coaches

Bill Goldberg.(Wikimedia Commons)

The Scroll already noted one of these, but it’s worth saying mazel tov to the seven newest inductees to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame:

Bill Goldberg, the popular professional wrestler (yes, that’s the fake stuff, but it requires very real athleticism!). Fact I didn’t know: He was originally drafted into the NFL as a defensive lineman. Fact I did know: He is a prominent animal welfare activist, who has testified in Congress about the issue.

Jason Lezak, an Olympics and Maccabiah Games Gold Medal-winning swimmer.

Seth Greenberg, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach. He is stellar: Many, including this ACC fan, believed the Hokies were cheated out of an NCAA Tournament berth this year.

Rusty Kanokogi, a women’s judo champion (!).

Russ Rose, Penn St.’s women’s volleyball coach.

Dick Traum, the founder of the Achilles Track Club, which helps people with disabilities to participate in mainstream athletic competitions.

• And, of course, Alan Veingrad, the former offensive lineman turned motivational Jew.

Goldberg, the professional wrestler (who is rumored to be planning a comeback!), apparently gave the speech of the night at the ceremony in Commack, New York. “What better way to help Jewish youth in dealing with adversity,” he asked, “than to parade around the ring on national television in my underwear, demolishing every single person in my path?” Ah, the redemptive power of sport.

Lezak, Goldberg Among Inductees to Jewish Hall of Fame [JTA]
Earlier: Ex-Footballer Now Motivational Jew

Today on Tablet

The peace-processors sour, golden Goa, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith notes that Aaron David Miller has all but disowned the peace process—whose very foundation he helped lay—and examines what happens when cynicism enters “the least cynical enterprise ever launched by the most optimistic country in world history.” Matthew Schwarzfeld brings part two (here’s part one) of his dispatch from the Indian territory of Goa, home to many a hippie IDF vet. The Scroll thinks it would like Goa, althought it would worry about the potential sunburn.

British Election Is Actually Kind Of Thrilling

And Israel is an issue

Liberal Democrat candidate Nick Clegg campaigning yesterday.(Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)

The sudden rise of the usually moribund Liberal Democrats under charismatic leader Nick Clegg has captured European and especially British attention and column inches. Election’s on May 6, folks. It all really is pretty exciting!


• Under Tony Blair and then current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Labour Party has been in power since 1997.

• Brown, whom it is unlawful to discuss without describing as “dour,” is massively unpopular, and so it was thought that the Conservative Party, led by David Cameron, had an easy victory.

• Stunningly, however, the perpetual also-ran Liberal Democrats have leaped into a neck-and-neck race with the Tories (Labour is in third) ever since Clegg gave an exceptional performance in the first televised debate, two weeks ago.

• So now there is talk of a hung Parliament and of the Lib Dems likely to be brought into a coalition government with one or the other of the two major parties.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Israel has been a political football—or what we would call a political soccer ball!—for all of the parties. One Labour MP accused Israel’s “long tentacles” of controlling the Conservative Party, while another Labour MP (this one Jewish) described the opposition as partly controlled by right-wing Jewish millionaires. Meanwhile, Lib Dem flyers in predominantly Bangladeshi neighborhoods of London demand, “Stop Arming Israel!” Meanwhile, Cameron, the Tory leader, has spoken of “occupied East Jerusalem.” (Stephen Pollard, editor of Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, is voting Tory for the first time.)

Both a previous Labour Secretary of State, Jack Straw, and the current one, David Miliband, are Members of the Tribe (as is Miliband’s brother, the Secretary of Energy). Then again, the Tories are the party of Britain’s most famous Jew, Benjamin Disraeli. And did we mention that Disraeli is the subject of a Nextbook Press biography by our books critic, Adam Kirsch?

Unchartered Waters [JPost]

Daybreak: Please Don’t Sell Iran Your Uranium

Plus find out what The Skunk is, and more in the news

The Skunk.(LAT)

• Iran is reportedly running out of uranium and looking to replenish its stockpile by importing abroad from places like Zimbabwe and Kazakhstan. [Time]

• Lawyers for Haaretz reporter Uri Blau will hand over the confidential documents allegedly given him by accused traitor Anat Kamm. [Haaretz]

• The IDF’s new device of choice for breaking up West Bank protests is a truck, nicknamed “The Skunk,” that shoots out horribly bad-smelling liquid. [LAT]

• Reports have it that the meeting in Paris two weeks ago between Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Shimon Peres was quite tense, with Sarkozy repeatedly criticizing Prime Minister Netanyahu. [Haaretz]

• Google made its first-ever purchase of an Israeli company, buying tech start-up Labpixies, which is involved in the search-engine business, for $25 million. [JPost]

• Prominent Jewish Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) told a politically conservative, Jewish-themed TV show that he told President Obama that the administration’s hard line on Israel “has to stop.” [Ynet]

Sundown: Watching Human Rights Watch

Plus Israel’s gas king, and more

Energy tycoon Isaac Tshuva.(Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

• A long exposé reveals the civil war within Human Rights Watch over the group’s treatment of Israel, and concludes that the side which is less sympathetic to Israel have won. [TNR]

• An entertaining profile of Israeli natural gas magnate Isaac Tshuva. [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]

• An interesting, reported essay argues that while the wisdom of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is arguable, it is clearly preferable for such a strike to be undertaken by America than by Israel. [TNR]

• The U.S. Holocaust Museum has endowed a fund in memory of the security guard who was shot and killed in last year’s attack. [JTA]

• Tablet Magazine Deputy Editor Gabe Sanders is interviewing Chilean-American novelist, intellectual, and activist Ariel Dorfman this coming Sunday in New York City as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. [PEN]

Alef magazine wants your b’nai mitzvot pictures! Send at your own risk. [Alef]

“Bombs Over Tehran” would make a nice sequel. As a song, anyway.

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