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Today on Tablet

Schmooozin’, Y-A Holocaust novels, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, on the weekly Vox Tablet podcast, editor, writer, and publisher Daniel Menaker, an amateur chatter of the highest order, discusses fine conversation with Joshua Halberstam, the author of Schmoozing. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall asks various writes to recall the young-adult Holocaust novels that traumatized (and morbidly fascinated) them as kids. Josh Lambert anticipates several books for grown-ups set to come out soon. And, to return to the theme of schmoozing, we hope to do the ancient art justice today on The Scroll.

Orthodox Syngagogues Grow in Brooklyn

Does an outer-borough trend have larger meaning?

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Over the weekend, in the course of a feature-y “journal” about a fledgling Conservative synagogue in Queens, the New York Times noticed an interesting trend regarding outer-borough Jewish houses of worship:

Conservative and Reform temples have been closing or merging across Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx for decades now as younger non-Orthodox Jews moved away. There are 35 Conservative and 3 Reform synagogues left in Queens, compared with the 43 Conservative and 8 Reform ones of two decades ago … Only Orthodox houses of worship seem to be on the upswing, with 115 synagogues that have attracted not just the adult children of booming pious communities like that in Kew Gardens Hills, but also new immigrants like those from Uzbekistan.

This tendency does not necessarily indicate a larger one across the country (it’s very unlikely, for example, that any other U.S. city experiences anywhere near the influx of foreign Orthodox Jews that New York does). Still, doesn’t the same pattern feel plausible nationally? Jews on the more intense end of the observance spectrum grow yet more observant, while Jews on the less intense end stop observing altogether?

An Old Synagogue Downsizes in a Desperate Bid to Keep Itself Alive [NYT]

Daybreak: An Uprising Will Not Arise

Plus Bush sold Arab states advanced weapons, and more in the news

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• Despite fears, most West Bank observers believe that an intifada-style uprising is highly unlikely in the near future. They point to a weak Palestinian leadership, tight Israeli control, and a burgeoning economy. [LAT]
• Obama administration officials have disclosed to Israel that the Bush administration sold advanced air and naval weapons systems to Egypt, Saudia Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The transactions were designed to counteract Iran. [Haaretz]
• Israel approved plans to construct a $1.5 billion security fence on its Egyptian border, to halt the inflow of illegal immigrants and terrorists. [Arutz Sheva]
• Iron Dome, the short-range rocket defense system that Israel successfully tested last week, will take years to implement, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced. He added that, one in place, it could significantly reduce hostilities. [AP/WP]
• Moises Saba, one of Mexico’s biggest businessmen—he owned a television network, a phone company, and two Acapulco hotels—died in a plane crash. He was 47. [JPost]

Sundown: Al Qaeda Think It’s Too Cool For Hamas

Plus post-Holocaust Picassos, Vampire Weekend’s Jewishness, and more

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• A new study argues that al Qaeda has spurned Hamas’s desire for closer cooperation. The global jihadist network is concerned that Hamas’s jihadist intentions are not quite global enough. [Ynet]
• Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Jordanian counterpart met today in Washington, D.C. They both hit the same note afterward: Israel and the Palestinians should settle border disputes, including East Jerusalem, to the point that they can sit down and talk again. [Haaretz]
• In the 1930s, a German Jew sold three Picassos out of fear that the Nazis would confiscate them. Almost 80 years later, his heirs have finally gotten them back. [CBC News via Vos Iz Neias?]
• Indie band Vampire Weekend’s lead singer and co-songwriter chastised critics who bemoan the band’s “whiteness,” saying, “The two main writers in the band are Jewish and Persian, which is a pretty broad definition of ‘whiteness.’” [Prefix]
• In case you were wondering why every nebbish Jewish guy who is able to attract women owes half their paycheck to Woody Allen, this 1965 Smirnoff ad is why. [Heeb]

A Peace Idea Just Crazy Enough To Work

Did a city councilor just figure out the East Jerusalem problem?

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The East Jerusalem issue is perhaps the most contentious divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians as they try to establish the groundwork for peace negotiations. But I’m wondering if we have not just seen the inkling of a too-clever, legalistic, but nonetheless workable breakthrough. Jerusalem Councilor Yakir Segev, whose specific purview is East Jerusalem, asserted yesterday that certain Palestinian neighborhoods that are in East Jerusalem (that is, east of the Green Line) but on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier are “no longer part of the city” (my bold). He added:

The Jerusalem municipality has no hand in managing these neighborhoods, and doesn’t have the power to address the difficult situation facing the 55,000 people who live there. … The State of Israel has given up. [The neighborhoods] are outside the jurisdiction of the state, and certainly the municipality. For all practical purposes, they are Ramallah.

(To be sure, Segev, who is on the right, also defended Jerusalem’s practice of approving Jewish construction in other parts of East Jerusalem.)

Here is the situation: Israel wants Jerusalem to be the undivided capital of the Jewish state; the Palestinians want East Jerusalem—all of the city east of the Green Line (as opposed to the security barrier)—to be within (and likely the capital of) a future Palestinian state. In fact, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has vociferously insisted that East Jerusalem be on the table in any peace talks, and has demanded a construction freeze there before any talks commence.

And here, just maybe, is the solution: Israel defines certain areas of East Jerusalem as no longer Jerusalem. Israel can tell itself that Jerusalem remains its undivided capital. Meanwhile, the Palestinians gain sovereignty over at least some of what has historically been, and could plausibly continue to be considered, the City of Gold.

This would not completely solve the problem. After all, even if Segev’s remarks became official Israeli policy, most of East Jerusalem would remain in Israeli hands. It’s hard to conceive of a final settlement in which those sections of the city are not at least under international control. But might this step—which, whatever you may think of its paltriness, is a concession—be enough to get Abbas to the negotiating table? Salesman’s gotta dream ….

Jerusalem Official: Areas East of Security Boundary Not Part of the City [Haaretz/Forward]
Earlier: Abbas Insists on East Jerusalem
The Road Map to Real Negotiations

A Blog You Should Be Reading (Besides The Scroll)

#FollowFriday: FailedMessiah

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Today, the New York Times profiles one of Tablet Magazine’s favorite bloggers: Shmarya Rosenberg, proprietor of FailedMessiah. Born Scott Rosenberg to a Conservative Jewish family, Rosenberg was attracted to the Chabad Lubavitcher sect in his teens (whence the name change), before, several years later, falling out with it over what he considered their inappropriate messianic street (whence the name of his blog), as well as their failure to fervently stand up for Ethiopian Jews wishing to emigrate to Israel.

Since 2004, Rosenberg has document-dumped and muckraked, in the process uncovering various scandals in the Orthodox community:

Operating thousands of miles from the centers of ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Brooklyn and Jerusalem, waking at 3:30 A.M. and working a dozen hours at a stretch in an apartment cluttered with books, Mr. Rosenberg has had his scoops cited by The Wall Street Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, PR Week and Gawker. The national Jewish newspaper The Forward listed him among the 50 most influential American Jews, and the hip, cheeky magazine Heeb put him in its top 100.

So put FailedMessiah on your RSS. It’s on ours.

A Jewish Blogger Finds a Following By Digging in The Dirt [NYT]

Related: FailedMessiah

Why Israel’s Airport Security Will Remain Only Israel’s

One thing that won’t be coming to America

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Even as the United States consults Israel over airport security in the wake of the attempted Christmas Day bombing, it is becoming increasingly clear that, as several folks have already noted, Israel’s extremely strict and extremely successful screening process is simply not transferable to the States.

And it’s not just the almost incomprehensibly massive difference in scale (Israel has only one international airport, and it’s approximately the same size as that of San Juan, Puerto Rico; Chicago’s O’Hare, alone, handles eight times as many passengers). As much, it’s a cultural disparity: Israelis are vastly more willing to put up with inconvenience and racial profiling. The Forward’s Nathan Guttman writes:

Most Israeli-run security consulting companies have since downsized or left the field of airport security due to the difficulty in overcoming cultural gaps that prevented implementing Israeli methods in American airports. “People simply won’t agree to spend all that time and money,” he said. “You can’t change the way people think.” Bezherano added another factor: “Americans find it hard to swallow a security policy that employs different standards to different groups.”

In other words, while there are certainly ways in which America can go to school on Israel’s airport-security putt, it will never have remotely as comprehensive national airport security—and, consequently, is unlikely to have quite the same stellar success at Israel when it comes to preventing problems.

Israel’s Airport Security, Object of Envy, Is Hard To Emulate Here [Forward]

Earlier: U.S. Asks Israel For Security Advice
How To Prevent Plane Bombings? Ask Israel

Make Dip, Not War

Israel battles Lebanon for hummus supremacy

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One of the chefs mashes some chickpeas, January 4th.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

This is the type of Israeli-Lebanese conflict that we can get behind: only a few months after a bunch of Lebanese chefs set the Guinness World Record for making the most hummus, 50 chefs in the Arab Israeli village of Abu Gosh one-upped them, making a single vat of hummus *weighing almost 4.5 tons!* The fight over hummus between these two countries goes deeper than world records: Lebanon recently tried, and failed, to get the European Union to certify the dip, thought to be one of the oldest prepared foods in the world, as a Lebanese specialty.

“I’ve heard Lebanon is already planning to strike back,” the Guinness adjudicator said. As long as their ammunition is chickpeas and olive oil, then we wish them the best of luck.

Abu Gosh Stirs Up Hummus War with Record Bid [Ynet]

Today on Tablet

Dancers with Russian names, Denise Steen, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Staff Writer Marissa Brostoff explores the world of competitive ballroom-dancing—which has recently come to be dominated by Russian-Jewish émigrés. Ellen Umansky profiles Denise Steen, a novelist of the Jewish community who enjoys the marketing benefits of the family-owned billboard business. Liel Leibovitz finds in this week’s haftorah resonances with the current situation in Judea and Samaria, whose implications do not reflect well on those areas’ Jewish inhabitants. And The Scroll promises to ease you into the weekend.

A Jew Among The Heavyweights

Roman Greenberg prepares for next month’s fight

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Greenberg after a 2003 victory.(John Gichigi/Getty Images)

Roman Greenberg, the Moldovan-born, Israeli-based heavyweight prizefighter, will enter the ring next month in Ukraine for the first time since his only defeat, in August 2008. He is training with his old coach outside Haifa, and plans to spar with the Klitschko brothers, the world’s two top heavyweights (who, unfortunately for violence addicts, refuse to fight each other). Can’t get enough about Jewish boxers? Douglas Century published a biography of triple-division champion Barney Ross for Nextbook Press. And check The Scroll for updates as the details of Greenberg’s bout solidify.

Greenberg Looks to the Klitschkos for Inspiration [The Jewish Chronicle]
Related: Barney Ross [Nextbook Press]

Daybreak: U.S. Wants Talks; Will Even Do The Talking

Plus prime Yiddish Department threatened, and more in the news

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• We hypothesized as much yesterday, and now new reporting reveals that the United States is indeed making an extra hard push for formal Middle East peace negotiations by Feburary or March. [WSJ]
• One option is “proximity talks,” in which Special Envoy George Mitchell would shuttle between the two parties presenting each one’s side. The prime area of deadlock continues to be extending the construction freeze to East Jerusalem. [Haaretz]
• A nuclear Iran could be “very, very destabilizing,” warned the top U.S. general. He emphasized diplomacy. [Ynet]
• Israel successfully tested “Iron Dome,” a defense system designed to shoot down weapons launched from Gaza. [JTA]
• The University of Maryland’s Yiddish Department, which remains the best in the region, faces elimination at the end of this school year. [WP]
• Israel will compensate the United Nations to the tune of over $10 million for destruction of property and a U.N. driver’s life during last year’s “Cast Lead” operation in Gaza. [WSJ]

Sundown: How To Get Yourself Kicked Off a Plane

Plus C-Span’s and Cyprus’s Jewish problems, and more

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• While his plane sat on a Miami runway, an Arab-American man shouted, “I want to kill all the Jews!” When the plane took off, he was no longer aboard. [Arutz Sheva]
• Netanyahu’s office formally complained to the White House over the Palestinian government’s alleged glorification of terrorism. [Haaretz]
• C-Span call-in shows tend to attract questioners who spout anti-Semitic tropes on the air. C-Span’s hosts, moreover, tend not to correct the record. [Jeffrey Goldberg]
• Israeli troops reportedly came across Hezbollah bombs buried in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah must be unarmed in that area under a U.N. resolution. [JTA]
•Arsonists damaged the only synagogue on the island of Cyprus. [JTA]
• Orthodox European rabbis condemned calls for full-body scans at airports following the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight. The measure would violate the modesty code of observant Jewish women, they said. [Haaretz]

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Yemeni Jews

But didn’t know to ask

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Yemen: a nation turns its worried eyes to you. And where there is some random country we previously did not care about, there are also, as we know, a fledgling group of final remaining Jews. The Forward does yeoman’s work summing up their story:

the Jews in Yemen brush off the hatred of those sermons with nonchalance and an air of aloof exemption, as though the hatred applies only to foreign Jews, not to Yemenis. Most Muslim Yemenis have never met a Jew, and so they are excited and amazed to learn that indigenous Jews still live in Yemen, speaking the same dialect as Muslims.

Having been kicked out of their villages by Shiite radicals, most Yemeni Jews reside in Sana’a, the capital, under the surprisingly benevolent protection of the government—and have no plans to leave. “If we leave the country,” one Yemeni Jew told Yediot Ahronoth, “we will not be allowed to take our possessions—everything will be confiscated. I don’t know how we will survive. I have relatives in Israel and in the U.S., and they always ask me to join them, but for now we are getting by. We have a steady income and a house.” The final remaining Jews of Yemen will remain the final remaining Jews of Yemen.

Caught in Strife, Yemen’s Jews Cling Fiercely to Their Ancient Heritage [Forward]
Yemen’s Jews Fear for their Lives, Yet Refuse To Make Aliyah [Ynet]

Related: Jewspotting [Slate]

Moldovan Menorah-Destroyers Avoid Prosecution

Blatantly anti-Semitic incident did not incite religious hatred

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The prosecutor in Moldova’s capital city of Chisinau has decided not to file any charges related to an allegedly anti-Semitic incident there last month. Then, a group of Orthodox Christians stormed a Hanukkah menorah set up near the town center, tore it down, and replaced it with a cross, while the priest leading the group declared: “We are an Orthodox country. Stephan the Great defended our country from all kinds of Zjids, and now they come and put their menorah here. This is anarchy.” Incitement to racial or religious hatred is outlawed in the tiny Eastern European country.

The non-prosecution should surprise no one, since the whole mess was the Jews’ fault in the first place.

No Charges Filed Against Moldovan Anti-Semites [JTA]
Earlier: Moldovan Church Blames Jews for Anti-Semitic Attack

Portman Doesn’t Like Playing Jewish Characters

But she’d be so good at it!

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Portman in New York last November.(Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for IFP)

Natalie Portman is Jewish: in fact, she was born Natalie Hershlag in Jerusalem. She also just played a Jewish woman in one section of the film New York, I Love You. Yet, apparently, she is not keen on future Jewish roles. “I’ve always tried to stay away from playing Jews,” she reportedly told British Elle. “I get like 20 Holocaust scripts a month, but I hate the genre.”

We have two things to say to Portman. First, to quote actor Andy Garcia: “Typecast? I certainly hope so. I spent seven years without working.”

Second, however many Holocaust scripts you get each month, we get at least as many Holocaust books. We feel you.

The Three Kinds of Movies Natalie Portman Won’t Do [iVillage Entertainment]

Earlier: New York, You Deserve Better

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