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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]

Today on Tablet

The value of converts, the wisdom of lepers, and more

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Allan Nadler explains how the current ultra-Orthodox monopoly on conversions to Judaism is at odds with a long history of influential converts. Liel Leibovitz discusses the heroism of the lepers in this weeks haftorah. And The Scroll will keep the news and culture updates coming all day.

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.

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