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Lord, You Are My Sole Desire

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.” (more…)

Jones Apologizes for Controversial Humor

An old non-Jew tells a joke

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Did you hear the one about the non-Jewish top administration official who told a classic Jewish joke to a crowd containing lots of Jews? Yeah, not everyone found the punch line so funny.

General James Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, told a joke—video and transcription after the jump—that is easily recognizable as one of those jokes about Jews, making fun of stereotypical Jewish traits, that Jews tend to tell affectionately about each other. However, there’s an unwritten rule about these jokes that states that these aren’t really offensive … so long as it is a Jew telling them. Which is arguably fair, arguably unfair. But pretty clearly the reigning rule.

So anyway, Jones told the joke over the weekend last week at the 25th anniversary party for the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs. This is a generally pro-Israel think tank with many Jewish donors. And you can hear lots of laughter on the tape. (It’s a pretty funny joke!) But a think-tanker who was present said it “demonstrated a lack of sensitivity.” Then Abraham Foxman called it “inappropriate.” And, yup, Jones just apologized (“It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct”).

For what it’s worth, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg doesn’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t feel offended, either, though I certainly also don’t see the point, and it was clearly a dumb thing to do. And you?

(more…)

AJC May Merge With AJC

Headline writers rejoice

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(The American Jewish Congress)

The venerable American Jewish Congress, which is hurting from a funding shortfall, is in talks with the slightly more venerable American Jewish Committee over some sort of merger arrangement (via The Fundermentalist). Which would mean there will be no more confusion over just which AJC is being referred to the next time you read about it.

Oh, and yes, this is Madoff’s fault.

After Madoff, AJCongress Looks For Merger [JPost]

What They Have at the Fruit Store

An old Jew tells a joke

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Hoo boy.

Was Irène Némirovsky an Anti-Semite?

New bio defends ‘Suite Française’ author

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Némirovsky and cat.(New York Times)

Irène Némirovsky was shipped off to Auschwitz before she could complete her magnum opus, Suite Française. But the Ukrainian-French-Jewish novelist has remained in the news, thanks to the blockbuster reception that book received when it was first published in English a few years ago, and thanks also to controversy surrounding her attitudes toward her own people.

In a 2006 essay for Nextbook.org (Tablet Magazine’s precursor), novelist Paul La Farge marshaled the evidence that this woman who was murdered for being a Jew was perhaps something of an anti-Semite. During her life, her institutional supporters and personal admirers were invariably right-wing. A previous biography detailed her apparent distaste for poor, unassimilated Jewry. Suite Française is “curiously apolitical” for a novel about the occupation of France. And an early novel, David Golder,

abounds in caricatures that it would not be unfair to call anti-Semitic: Golder’s associate Simon has the “heavy, drowsy eyes of an Oriental” and teeth “paved with gold, [which] sparkled strangely in the shadows.” Simon’s wife has a “thin face with a large hard nose in the shape of a beak … her round bright eyes shone intensely beneath pale eyebrows, placed in a strange way, unevenly, very high up.” And so on.

But the French authors of a new biography flat-out reject the line that Némirovsky was an anti-Semite. Instead, reports the New York Times, they trace her apparent distaste for her co-religionists to her acute loathing of her (eminently loathe-able) mother.

That seems fair enough. Less fair is the Times‘s comparison of David Golder to another “book that also earned its author the label of a ‘self-hating Jew’”: Philip Roth’s 1959 Goodbye, Columbus. I haven’t read David Golder, but this seems tenuous: Roth’s lovely story collection has a Yiddish proverb as its epigraph and depicts postwar American Jews’ self-constructed shtetls with as much affection as unease; meanwhile, David Golder reportedly features “a greedy and crude Jewish banker with a long hooked nose and a grasping wife.”

For her part, Némirovsky denied being an anti-Semite. Describing David Golder in 1935—merely six years after it was published, but an epoch away—she said, “It is absolutely certain that had there been Hitler, I would have greatly softened David Golder, and I would not have written it in the same way. And yet,” she added, “I would have been wrong, it would have been a weakness unworthy of a real writer!”

Assessing Jewish Identity of Author Killed by Nazis [NYT]
Related: Behind the Legend [Nextbook.org]

Most Austrians Shun Right-Wing Candidate

Rosencranz defeated soundly

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Poster photographed in Vienna on Wednesday.(Marc Tracy)

Returning from vacation, I was greeted with the news that Barbara Rosenkranz, the presidential candidate for Austria’s right-wing, anti-immigrant Freedom Party—which many say is unduly sympathetic to neo-Nazis—won more than 15 percent of the vote yesterday. Meanwhile, Social Democrat incumbent Heinz Fischer secured an overwhelming majority.

In other words, while it would be ideal if Rosenkranz had gotten a vote total roughly 15 percentage points lower, this outcome was good news: It showed that most Austrians agree with whoever touched up this Rosenkranz poster that I saw in Vienna a few days ago.

Extreme Right Wins 15.6% in Austria [JPost]

Today on Tablet

Getting ‘Wisenheimer,’ a primer on lice, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, writer Mark Oppenheimer speaks on the Vox Tablet podcast series about growing up argumentative, and writing about it in his new memoir. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall offers a valuable charticle on lousy lice. Josh Lambert provides his weekly rundown of forthcoming books of interest, including columnist Joshua Cohen’s Witz. And after a phenomenal week-and-a-half of temporary receivership, The Scroll is back under old management.

New Schalit Video Aims for the Gut

Hamas’s ploy to re-start talks

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The chatter in Israel this morning was no doubt the brief new video released by Hamas in what the Jerusalem Post characterized as “a cynical attempt by Hamas to jump-start the negotiations with Israel over a prisoner swap.” It depicts, in some sort of 3D computer graphics, Noam Schalit trying to get his son back.

While the clip’s most viscerally impactful moment is no doubt its final one, the Post notes that what may resonate most is its accurate depiction of the Israeli government’s repeated promises to get Gilad back. “This movie is a reminder of that promise,” it reports. Is it enough of one, and powerful enough of one to re-start the conversation and to allow the prisoner swap to go through?

Analysis: Hamas’s Schalit Film—Cynical and Smart [JPost]

Daybreak: Proximity Talks Are in Proximity

Plus Highway 443 revisited, and more in the news

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U.S. envoy George Mitchell and Palestinian President Abbas.(Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images)

• People in the know say proximity talks will begin next month. President Obama admitted to Palestinian President Abbas that while he didn’t secure a total settlement freeze, Israel will commit no “significant” actions during negotiations. (Also, Abbas was invited to D.C.) [Haaretz]

• As it happens, however, President Abbas disclosed that he had actually asked the Americans to “impose” a peace solution. [WP]

• And meanwhile, rumors abound that—though he denies it—Prime Minister Netanyahu has ordered a de facto freeze in East Jerusalem. [Haaretz]

• An ultra-right-wing march through the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wade Hilwe set the region ever more on edge yesterday. [NYT]

• “If the Israelis and Palestinians can’t agree over how to share nine miles of pavement,” asks an article about the West Bank’s Highway 443, “how will they ever resolve the far more complex issues that divide them?” [WP]

Sundown: Orthodox “Rabba” Not Universally Beloved

Plus a new music school, a ‘Housewives’ spat, and more

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Sara Hurwitz(WSJ.com)

• Sara Hurwitz, the first female Orthodox rabbi—or “rabba”—has become the center of a growing schism over women’s roles in the movement. [WSJ]

• Move over Mamma Mia! A school for religious musicians will open in Israel and is already considering a “rock opera based on the life story of Rabbi Nachman from Breslev.” [Ynet]

• The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has announced that Richard Goldstone will be attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah after all, and “requests…that all parties immediately desist all public activities on this matter.” We certainly hope to. [SA Times]

• A reminder that Iran doesn’t have a monopoly on all the wingnuts when it comes to explaining natural phenomena: Back in 2008, an Israeli politician blamed gays for recent quakes. [Haaretz]

• Is NYC really not big enough for the Bravo’s two biggest Jewish drama queens? [AOL]

Driven by Longing

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.”

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. In today’s poem, Halevi speaks of the traumatic suddenness of his departure from Spain when he set out for Jerusalem: “I had no time to kiss my friends or family a last farewell.” 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!

Driven by longing
for the living God
to hasten to where
His anointed ones dwelt,
I had no time
to kiss my friends
or family
a last farewell;
no time to weep
for the garden I grew,
the trees watered and watched
as they branched and did well;
no time to think
of the blossoms they bore,
of Yehuda
and Azarel,
or of Yitzhak,
so like a son,
my sun-blessed crop,
the years’ rich yield.

Forgotten are my synagogue,
the peace that was
its study hall,
my Sabbaths
and their sweet delights,
the splendor of
my festivals:
I’ve left them all.
Let others have
the idol’s honors
and be hailed—
I’ve swapped my bedroom
for dry brush,
its safety
for chaparral,
the scents
and subtle fragrances
that cloyed my soul
for thistles’ smells,
and put away
the mincing gait
of landlubbers
to hoist my sail
and cross the sea
until I reach
the land that is
the Lord’s footstool.

Orthodox or Not, All Jews Are Fellows

Alana Newhouse’s Roman Vishniac article inspires a rabbi’s timely sentiment

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Of all of the responses I’ve received to my recent article on Roman Vishniac, none will stay with me longer than the one that came over the transom this morning. In a beautifully written installment of his weekly column, Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel of America perceived what was, at least for me, the heart of the story:

Many Jews who define themselves as non-Orthodox or unaffiliated tend to view those who consider their Jewishness paramount as relics, either amusing or threatening, depending on the day and circumstance. And all too many Orthodox Jews, especially those of us in the more insular haredi world, can be oblivious to the large mass of our distant relatives beyond the physical and conceptual ghettos we inhabit. And when we do think of them, we often see them essentially as objects of “outreach.” A laudable goal, to be sure, born of the desire to share something precious, but qualitatively removed from the deeper recognition that they are worthy of our concern and love as fellow Jews even if they never choose to live like us.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Elephant and the Jewish Community [Matzav]

Can a Holocaust Mentality Excuse Tax Evasion?

A Florida man attempts to find out

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We know that even having learned about the Holocaust as a kid can alter one’s conception of reality, a factor compounded all the more for children of survivors. What we didn’t know is that such lingering trauma might help you get off for tax evasion. Jack Barouh, 65, the former proprietor of a watch company, is due to be sentenced today in Miami federal court for failing to report offshore bank accounts and the income he received from his UBS accounts. His lawyer, citing a memorandum from a doctor, is pleading for Barouh, whose parents escaped the Holocaust in Europe and raised him in Colombia, where they also experienced harassment and discrimination, to be sentenced to home detention rather than jail. His excuse? Barouh was “motivated by fears of possible persecution and sudden loss and by a ‘hide and hoard’ behavior adopted by Holocaust survivors and their children.” The memorandum asserts that “These beliefs cause a person to compulsively and almost obsessively, want to establish a secret nest egg.”

Actually, we completely buy that. Even in a lower-stakes report to the government, the census, the Holocaust looms large for some survivors’ kids. The Nation reports that one such woman who considers being Jewish a racial identity couldn’t bring herself to write it in on the census: “she acknowledged a deep ambivalence about putting that on any official form. She’s the child of Holocaust survivors, and although she said she doesn’t distrust the US government or think that this form—used to patrol against discrimination—bears any resemblance to a yellow star, she admitted that she remains hesitant and torn.”

UBS Tax Evader Cites Holocaust “Survival Behavior” [Reuters]
Not-Black by Default [The Nation]

Does Schumer’s Name Give him More Authority?

When it comes to criticizing Obama on Israel, he says yes

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Sen. Charles Schumer addressing the AIPAC policy conference last month.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday, as a guest on a conservative Jewish radio program called the Nachum Segal Show, Senator Chuck Schumer, whom Politico calls “a hawkish ally of Israel” became the “highest-ranking Democrat” to boldly speak out against President Obama’s Israel policy of late, saying: “This has to stop.” Schumer made it clear that he opposes the tactic of pressuring Israel to cooperate. “You have to show Israel that it’s not going to be forced to do things it doesn’t want to do and can’t do,” he told Segal. “At the same time you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a state of Israel.”

Meanwhile, though, as New York Magazine‘s blog points out, Schumer stepped into some Palin- and George W. Bush-esque territory by asserting divine provenance to his rule: “My name as you know comes from a Hebrew word. It comes from the word shomer, which means guardian,” he said. “My ancestors were guardians of the ghetto wall in Chortkov and I believe Hashem, actually, gave me the name as one of my roles that is very important in the United States Senate, to be a shomer for Israel, and I will continue to be that with every bone in my body.” Of course, this tidbit of superstition may have been his way of pandering to his host, who clearly took the proclamation lightly, asking Schumer to be “a shomer against the value-add tax” as well. But if Schumer’s going to assume that God chooses his shepherds via their names, he would do well to remember that “Barack” means “blessing,” and “Emanuel” means “God is with us.”

Is Chuck Schumer on a Mission From God to Protect Israel? [Daily Intel]

Atlantic City to Build Holocaust Museum

Hopefully won’t inspire binge drinking, excessive gambling

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The Atlantic City boardwalk, conspicuously lacking a Holocaust museum.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Have you ever found yourself in Atlantic City, a bagful of saltwater taffy in hand, wishing there was someplace more somber to visit than Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum? If so, then this one’s for you: a group of locals are busy planning a Holocaust museum to be placed right smack on the main boardwalk. The committee’s VP puts their reasoning this way: “Why not?” Indeed! Local politicians have already donated the site, and architects Daniel Libeskind and Richard Meier have agreed to judge a design competition for the building, with guidelines including that the museum should “not be stark” and “blend in with the motif of the boardwalk.”

One visitor who happened upon a Holocaust Remembrance Day event recently held on the future site approved of the plan. “As to whether a memorial fits in with the scene overlooking the Atlantic,” says the Jerusalem Post, he replied “Where did the Holocaust fit in with life?” Mayor Lorenzo T. Langford sees the location more pragmatically: “The boardwalk is the most densely traveled pedestrian thoroughfare in the nation. If you’re going to have a memorial, there’s no better place to have it.” If nothing else, down on their luck gamblers will have a reminder that it could always be worse.

Atlantic City Boardwalk to Get a Holocaust Memorial [JPost]

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