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Yehuda Halevi: The Poetry Contest

Find your inner 11th-century poet and win an iPad

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Many consider Yehuda Halevi the poet laureate of the Jewish people. A poet, physician, and philosopher of the 11th century, Halevi’s work has become an integral part of the modern Jewish liturgy. His words are even echoed in Naomi Shemer’s famous song “Jerusalem of Gold.”

To celebrate National Poetry Month, every day for the rest of April we will be presenting a Halevi poem a day—or an excerpt of one—in their beautiful modern translations by Hillel Halkin, whose biography of Halevi was published by Nextbook Press earlier this year. For today, here is a pocket-sized version of two of Halevi’s most famous poems, “My Heart in the East” and “On Boarding Ship in Alexandria,” for you to print, fold, and share.

We’re hoping that not only will you love these poems, but that they’ll also inspire your own reimaginings of Halevi’s work. To that end, a contest: compose a song using Halevi’s lyrics, or create an illustration or video inspired by his writing; anything that applies your own creativity to interpret one of these poems. We’ll select the best entries and post them to Nextbook Press and Tablet; one winner will be chosen to win an Apple iPad! Publish your entry on your blog or website and send us a link, or share it in the comments section below. Deadline is April 26, and we’ll announce the winner on Poetry in Your Pocket Day, April 29.

Download complete contest rules here.

Daybreak: Pressure on Israel Drives Some Jews to Palin

Plus words over water, a politicized rite, and more in the news

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Sarah Palin at a Tea Party rally in Boston this week.(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

• President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are pushing for Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks. Again. [AP]

• Such pressure has led Binyamin Korn, a former executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, to form a group called Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin; Korn calls the former Alaska governor “the most articulate person in the public arena today in opposition to the Obama administration’s shift in policies against Israel.” [NY Sun]

• A potentially crucial Pan-Mediterranean strategy for water preservation was foiled by an argument between the Arab League and Israel over the use of the term “occupied territories.” [JPost]

• Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian gunman at the Gaza border. [Ynet]

• The South African Jewish Board of Deputies denounced the pressure from local groups that led judge Richard Goldstone to decide not to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah in Johannesburg next month, saying it “deeply regrets that a religious milestone has been politicized.” [JTA]

Sundown: Elijah Takes the Form of Iraq Vet

Plus no aliyah for the iPad, name games, and more

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• A former army medic got called into action to save a rabbi’s wife from choking on some kosher London broil at a Yankees game; the Reb called his impromptu hero a “kind of Elijah figure.” [NYDN]

• The New York Jewish Week finds harmony between Hillel Halkin and Yehuda Halevi, the subject of Halkin’s book for Nextbook Press: “Hebrew literature, Zionism, Israel, the diaspora and its discontents, Jewish thought, the very essence of Jewishness itself—they all come together, over a span of 1,000 years, in the poet/philosopher and in his biographer.” [NYJW]

• Israel’s Communication Ministry has banned the Apple iPad from entering the country, and it’s not just because the company opted against a catchier name—rather, the computer’s “broadcast WiFi power levels are not compatible with Israeli standards,” whatever that means. [Arutz Sheva]

• MyJewishLearning.com is holding a contest to name its new parenting site. The prize is $500! We would offer them some rejects from before Tablet’s launch, but we doubt they will want “Pickle,” “Brisket,” or “Matzah Ball.” (What do you want, we were hungry!) [MJL]

• Eerily banal mug shots of Nazis. [Daily Heller]

• Sign a petition urging the Rabbinical Council of America to put more stock in leadership roles for Orthodox women.

Torah’s Story Up for Debate

No, not the one written inside

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The Central Synagogue no longer thought to be rescued from Aushwitz.(NYTimes.com)

While every Torah may be a sacred document, when it comes to provenance, a scroll that survived the Holocaust is the holy grail, so to speak. The Central Synagogue in Manhattan has been home to one such doubly anointed artifact since 2008—or so it thinks. The New York Times has traced the origins of the Torah, said to have been rescued from Auschwitz by a priest and found 60 years later by an industrious rabbi with a metal detector. After investigation, David M. Rubenstein, the billionaire who donated it, said that “we cannot fully and unquestionably establish that the Torah is what I had been led to believe.” By those standards, one might argue that no holy book has a perfect pedigree. In the meantime, the folks at the prestigious NYC shul can rest easy—Rubenstein has donated another Holocaust Torah the origins of which are not in question.

Two Torahs, Two Holocaust Stories and One Big Question [NYT]

The Schmaltz Technique

An old Jew tells a joke

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A reminder why chicken fat will never be as sexy as olive oil.

An Evening at Traif

Brooklyn’s new pork-and-shellfish restaurant really means it

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Traif's crispy pork belly with braised artichokes and muscat grapes; marinated yellowtail with asparagus, meyer lemon, and shiitake.(Kim Davidson)

The last time I was in Williamsburg was for shlugging kaparot, a ritual chicken sacrifice before Yom Kippur. Tuesday night was a little bit different. It was opening night for the restaurant Traif, which is dedicated to serving almost exclusively non-kosher cuisine. Traif (meaning “unkosher” in Yiddish) practically begs to stick in the craw of the nearby Hasidic community with its celebration of pork and shellfish served alongside Jewish staples like potato latkes. (Coulda been worse: The restaurant initially considered opening in a space that once housed a Jewish morgue.) I showed up Tuesday evening, friends and dietary restrictions—I don’t eat non-kosher meat—in tow, with a mission: to see if a kosher meal at Traif could rival a trayf one. My partners in crime: another Modern Orthodox Jew along for the adventure (“Adventurous Jew”); a knowledgeable foodie with a penchant for shellfish (“Fish Lover”); and one who was simply prepared to inhale the food (“Bottomless Pit”).

We started the night with a round of drinks from Traif’s imaginative cocktail list. This allowed me to order my only item with the word “bacon” in it: Henry Bacon’s Bathwater, a refreshing medley of Meyer-lemon-infused vodka, cucumber, and St. Germaine. My friends were also pleased with their cocktails and wines.
Round 1: Tie.

We first ordered a hearts of palm appetizer that we all could enjoy, but it proved unimpressive. Bottomless Pit became distracted by the crisp pork-belly appetizer with her name on it. Soon, my favorite dish of the night arrived: marinated yellowtail, asparagus, Meyer lemon, shitake. Very agreeable spicy tuna tartare on tempura eggplant with kecap manis followed.
Round 2: Kosher person.

Thus ended the possibilities of dishes I could eat. Fish Lover ordered herself “sea scallops, snap and English pea risotto, caper-brown butter,” and Bottomless Pit surveyed the hangar steak with potato latkes. The scallops were well received, but the hangar steak was overcooked.
Round 3: Non-kosher people.

As the night wore on, I noticed that the Adventurous Jew (who doesn’t eat at non-kosher restaurants) kept sampling food. At first it was the raw fish, then the cheese, then the risotto around the scallops. Eventually, he dove into the scallops. Adventurous Jew ate trayf for the first time at Traif. “Tastes like fish,” he said.

To test the restaurant’s flexibility toward people with dietary boundaries, I asked if there were meat or shellfish dishes I could order sans meat or shellfish. The staff graciously obliged, but what remained of the pancetta and pork-belly appetizers minus pancetta and pork belly wasn’t very tasty.

The rest of my party ordered the bacon-wrapped blue-cheese-stuffed dates with spinach a la catalana, and the braised BBQ short rib slides, smoked gouda, and sweet potato fries. The former was unremarkable, but latter turned out to be the hit of the night. Bottomless Pit loved it. Adventurous Jew—more adventurous than we’d bargained for—looked like he was in heaven.
Round 4: I am losing.

For dessert, we ordered “bacon doughtnuts, dulche de leche, coffee ice cream” and “candy bar: dark chocolate, p.b., raspberry, pistachio ice cream.” I could only eat the latter (“p.b.,” luckily, meant “peanut butter,” not “pork belly”), but the former seemed to be the real star. Adventurous Jew bit into the bacon doughnut, closed his eyes, and said, “This is the best sufganiya I’ve ever had.”
Round 5: Game over.

I lost in a landslide. But I’ll be dreaming about that yellowtail for the rest of my life.

Goldstone Bows Out From Grandson’s Bar Mitzvah

Pressure from S. African community will keep the judge from joining the hora

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Goldstone at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva last September.(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Let’s face it, if we were to ban everyone from bar mitzvahs who might cause a scene, there’d be a lot of disinvited wacky uncles, racist grandmas, and sexually precocious classmates. But what if your relative is the unofficial poster child for Zionist betrayal, and it’s not he who threatens the peace of the ceremony but protesters prepared to storm the synagogue? Richard Goldstone’s family faced just such a dilemma. According to numerous sources, the judge and author of the U.N. report accusing Israel of war crimes has been convinced by pressure from the South African Zionist Federation not to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah in Johannesburg next month.

While excommunication has traditionally been reserved for the intermarried offspring of the ultra-Orthodox or Baruch Spinoza, apparently in this touchy age of political celebrities, a controversial figure’s notoriety is enough to keep him from the kiddush table. In a practically WASP-ish sentiment, the head of the South African Beth Din (Jewish ritual court) calls the decision—ostensibly Goldstone’s own—”quite a sensible thing to avert all this unpleasantness.” In our experience, that’s just not how Jews roll.

Breaking News: Judge Richard Goldstone Banned From Attending His Grandson’s Bar Mitzvah [Writing Rights]

Party Tonight for the Next (or Last?) Great Jewish Novel

By Tablet columnist Joshua Cohen

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(Observer.com)

If you’re in New York City, novelist—and Tablet Magazine literary critic—Joshua Cohen will be at BookCourt in Brooklyn tonight, celebrating the release of Witz, his 817-page comic novel about The Last Jew on Earth, at a party hosted by Tablet Magazine editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse. To get a sense of what we’re dealing with here, check out this recent profile of Cohen in the New York Observer. “For all its gags,” the Observer says, “[Witz] was conceived with a singular aesthetic mission: to put an end to the novel of Jewish kitsch, Holocausts with happy endings. ‘The targets might be Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer, Shalom Auslander,’ Mr. Cohen told me. ‘When I started this book, I wanted to sleep with their wives. By the time I finished, I wanted to sleep with their mothers.’ ”

A Nice Jewish Boy’s Naughty Big Novel
[NY Observer]

The Kotel’s Not Kosher in Israeli Tourism Ad, Says UK Agency

Wailing over the Wall

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(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

To many prospective visitors to Israel it may seem like a technicality that the Western Wall is located in the disputed territory of East Jerusalem. Not so to the British Advertising Standard Agency, which has banned the holy site from an Israeli tourism ad in the UK, calling it “misleading.” And while the Brits are certainly correct to note that “the status of the occupied territory of the West Bank [is] the subject of much international dispute,” the accusation of false advertising strikes many as a nit-picking attempt to undermine Israel’s reputation and significance to Jews.

In response, the Israeli Tourism Ministry referred to a 1995 agreement with the Palestinian Authority placing “the upkeep of holy sites and the determination of tourist visiting-hours under Israeli jurisdiction.” But more to the point, the Tourism Minister as well as the Board of Deputies of British Jews called the prohibition “absurd.” We’re inclined to agree, if only because the Kotel is such a potent Jewish symbol that, advertised or not, it will likely remain a major draw for tourists to the nation, not to mention the fact that, as the Board’s chief exec pointed out, “thousands of tourists and pilgrims pass through Israel every year to areas where their very presence helps the Palestinian economy, and like the flawed argument for boycotts, this objection seems to be being advanced by those who care more about gestures and less about the livelihoods of ordinary people in the region.”

In other words, fighting symbols with symbols is, well, absurd. But it’s not likely to cease anytime soon. The Kotel’s inherent significance “is not as obvious to the world as it is to us,” said one peace advocate. “Only an agreed upon political solution regarding the future of the city, and for that matter the wider conflict, will prevent embarrassing developments like this.”

UK Bans Kotel from Israeli Tourism Ad [JPost]

Tablet Today

War in theory, Sabbath in practice, and more

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We at Tablet Magazine, like the rest of the world, have Iran on the brain. Yossi Melman posits that Israel is all bark and (probably) no bite when it comes to a preemptive strike against Iran, while Yoav Fromer considers the possibility that the length of a war between those two nations would be measured in years, not weeks. In addition, Alexander Gelfand reports on a swingin’ tribute to Dave Tarras, a musician who helped make klezmer the vibrant musical genre it is today. Plus, Eddy Portnoy looks back on the “Sabbath Enforcers” who made it their business to keep everyone in line when it came to the holy day of rest. And don’t forget to follow along with The Scroll!

Daybreak: High-Profile Pols Fingered in Israeli Bribery Scandal

Plus prayer-on-prayer violence, the Iran question, and more in the news

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Olmert arriving in a Jerusalem court for a hearing on different graft charges last year.(Yossi Zamir/AFP/Getty Images)

• Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been confirmed as the long-suspected “senior personality” in a massive real estate bribery scandal that took place during his term as mayor of Jerusalem; another former mayor, Uri Lupolianski, has been arrested for his involvement. [Ynet]

• Palestinians are blaming Jews for vandalizing a mosque in the West Bank—a likely guess, as the graffiti found there includes the Hebrew prayer “Praise be onto him for not making me a gentile.” [Haaretz]

• Turkey’s complicated relationship with its neighbor may make it a “wild card” when it comes to sanctions against a nuclear Iran. [JTA]

• Meanwhile, Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, issued an open letter reminding President Obama to focus on the Iran threat and stop picking on Israel. [JPost]

Another Day, Another Ponzi Scheme

Plus, a questionable study and a Real Housewive’s tale

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• Steven Byers, who scored $225 million in a real estate investment Ponzi scheme targeting Orthodox Jews, was convicted of fraud yesterday by the same federal judge who convicted Bernie Madoff. [NY Daily News]

• In a case of people-unclear-on-the-concept, 90-year-old alleged Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk—extradited by Germany from the U.S. last year—called his trial, currently proceeding in Munich, “torture.” [JTA]

• A report on global anti-Semitism released by Tel Aviv University last week claims that incidents doubled last year—because, leftist journalist Max Blumenthal says, it includes such dubiously qualifying events as the release of the Goldstone Report (written, of course, by a self-identifying Zionist Jew). [Huffington Post]

• The Israeli government has denied conductor and political provocateur Daniel Barenboim permission to perform with his youth orchestra in Gaza, on the grounds that no concert shall be held while Gilad Shalit remains imprisoned there. No word on whether Hamas wants to trade Shalit for a 15-year-old second violist. [Coteret]

• Tomorrow you can buy Real Housewife of New York City Jill Zarin’s new book, Secrets of a Jewish Mother, in which “you’ll learn how to make her methods your very own.” Then you too can go on Good Morning New York and apologize for acting like a crazy person on reality television.
[My Fox New York]

Youngest NBA Scoring King, a Jew, Unseated

Durant to take top spot from 1948’s Zaslofsky

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Durant, in February.(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

If you notice an uncharacteristic lack of sports-related posts for the rest of this week and all of next, it is because I will be on vacation, and The Scroll will be in the hands of people who spend their time in more productive ways than watching pituitary cases hurling balls at or near each other. But before I go …

When the NBA regular season concludes tonight, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder will be 21 years, 197 days old, and will become the youngest scoring champion in NBA history. (The Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James will take second.)

And who, you ask, is the current youngest scoring champion? That would be Max Zaslofsky, who won the 1948 scoring title at the tender age of 22 years, 105 days. Zaslofsky, who would go on to play for the New York Knicks, was one of two Jewish players (the other was Dolph Schayes) who was named one of the 25 best of the NBA’s first 25 years.

Records are made only to be broken. Mazel tov, Mr. Durant.

Kevin Durant Closes In On Scoring Title [News OK]
Tight NBA Scoring Race Comes Down to James and Durant [NYT]
Zaslofksy, Max [Jews In Sports]

The Deli Goes Locavore

Of house-cured pastrami and farm-fresh cole slaw

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Neal’s Deli in North Carolina serves pastrami alongside local vegetables.(NYT)

File under “inevitable”: The New York Times has discovered that various delis in places like Brooklyn and Berkeley and Ann Arbor and Portland (or what I like to call the Bobo Archipelago) are “moving toward delicious handmade food with good ingredients served with respect for past and present.” Of course.

“I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis,” says one deliée. Sounds about right.

“They are mashing local potatoes to make peppery hand-wrapped knishes; holding tastings to determine the most savory fat for chopped liver … and even brewing zippy homemade celery tonic—to reduce the carbon footprint, to save on the shipping from Brooklyn and because it simply tastes more like tradition.” Yeah, we should have seen this coming. (Actually, we sort of did when we reviewed the Montreal-style Brooklyn deli Mile End, which is prominently featured in the article.)

While everything food-related is getting a sustainable/locavore/green/etc. makeover these days, it makes particular sense for the deli, which in its old-fashioned incarnation is unhealthy, expensive, and wasteful even by the standards of things that were popular in the ‘50s. (It probably doesn’t hurt that, as anyone who lives on one of the isles of the Bobo Archipelago knows, many of the folks at the forefront of sustainable food movements just so happen to be Jews.)

To learn more about the Jewish deli today, check out the Vox Tablet podcast with David Sax, author of Save the Deli.

Can the Jewish Deli Be Reformed? [NYT]
Related: Meat Up [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: A Montreal Jewish Deli Grows in Brooklyn

NYT Critic Tears Into Martel

Kakutani gives Vox Tablet subject the works

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Yann Martel.(Wikimedia Commons)

Michiko Kakutani, the lead New York Times book critic, yesterday took out her infamous hatchet and exercised her swinging arm on Yann Martel’s new Holocaust-themed novel, Beatrice and Virgil—which just so happened to be the subject of this week’s Vox Tablet podcast.

Martel’s “misconceived and offensive” book, Kakutani writes,

has the effect of trivializing the Holocaust, using it as a metaphor to evoke “the extermination of animal life” and the suffering of “doomed creatures” who “could not speak for themselves.”

The reader is encouraged to see the stuffed animals Beatrice and Virgil—who have endured torture, starvation and humiliation—as stand-ins for the Jews, and to equate the terrible things they’ve witnessed—referred to as “the Horrors”—to the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

She concludes by calling the novel “disappointing and often perverse.” Yikes.

It’s worth noting that many reviews were positive: a “masterpiece about the Holocaust”; “complex and nuanced”; etc.

Our podcast is not a review, but rather an interview with the author. We’ll let him have the last word on The Scroll: “The Holocaust was so unbelievable, such an assault on innocent civilians,” he tells Senior Editor Sara Ivry.

I think its unbelievability will increase with time. Now, that the knowledge is still historically fresh … because we know it was true, can in a sense still smell it in the air of Europe, we believe it, and it’s believable. But in 50 years, when you read Elie Wiesel, when you read Primo Levi, it will be unbelievable. … I’m afraid people will not disbelieve it, but just not connect with it, and what will help connect is if we use the tools of art. Because great art is timeless.

Of course, the real last word is the book itself.

From ‘Life of Pi’ Author, Stuffed-Animal Allegory About the Holocaust [NYT]
Animal Planet [Tablet Magazine]

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