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Biographer Followed in Subject’s Footsteps

Hillel Halkin tells Liel Liebovitz of his ‘Halevian’ decision

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Hillel Halkin, author of Nextbook Press biography of Yehuda Halevi, talked to Tablet’s own Liel Liebovitz for Alef, the new online magazine from Birthright NEXT. Halevi, says Halkin, along with being a poet, physician, and philosopher, was “the first Diaspora Jew to insist that life in Exile was so psychologically and morally intolerable that it had to be abandoned at all costs.”

Halkin describes his own decision to move to Israel from the U.S. in 1970 as “very much a Halevian one.” Although he wasn’t nearly as familiar with his future subject then, looking back he can’t help but relate: “For Halevi, living in the Land of Israel was a matter of inner necessity. It was something he had to do for his own integrity, and the failure to do it left him feeling incomplete and inconsistent. Judaism was for him above all a religion of action—and living in the Land of Israel was the ultimate act, the abstention from which undermined the meaning of all else.”

Interested in hearing more? Halkin’s book tour begins tomorrow. Check out the schedule here.

Jerusalem Bound [Alef]

‘This Is How Jews Interact’

The ‘Millionaire Matchmaker’ reunion

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As we’ve mentioned, the Matchmaking mamele is leaving sunny LA and bringing her Sophie Portnoy act to New York, where she faces an uphill battle against the city’s lopsided single female-to-male ratio. But on last night’s reunion episode, she revealed a potential strategy: imports. In a little exchange with Justin Shenkarow, the former child actor she dubbed the “angry Hobbit,” Stanger announced that she thought Shenkarow would be a hit in Manhattan. “It’s the land of the Jewish midget!” she exulted to Bravo’s ever-cheerful interlocutor, Andy Cohen. Shenkarow, beamed in via Skype, responded with a bit of Oedipal drama, calling Patti “a hairy troll.” Cohen warned him that insulting Patti might not make her more inclined to find him a date. “Oh, no,” Shenkarow replied, in a reassuring tone. “This is how Jews interact.”

So, really, that’s it until next season. But if you’re jonesing for a fix, check out this little red-carpet interview, in which Patti reveals her plans to go after the Arab-royalty market, where multiple wives mean multiple commissions.

Click here for previous coverage of this season’s Millionaire Matchmaker.

Israelis Freak Out Over iPad Ban

Local techies see the device as akin to food, shelter

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(David Gannon/AFP/Getty Images)

A lot of people are really pissed off by Israel’s iPad ban, although we ourselves are kind of excited that it occasioned this sentence, from Time: “Not since Adam and Eve has the appearance of an Apple in the Holy Land caused such uproar.” One El-Al stewardess who had her device confiscated may have been overstating the case when she said, “I feel as though I live in a fourth-world country,” as though being deprived of a computer that doesn’t even have a keyboard were akin to scrabbling for berries in the jungle.

Israel’s stated reason for the ban is that the iPad “does not conform to the European standards used in Israel.” A technology attorney put it well, calling the excuse “really annoying. It was a nonsense explanation.” Some have speculated that the real cause might be the protection of the monopoly of iDigital, “Apple’s sole official Israeli importer,” owned by President Shimon Peres’s son, or concern that the fancy computer might interfere with military frequencies.

One techie fears ominous implications: “Now it’s the iPad. What’s next?” The way we see it, Israel is just protecting its citizens from the early adopter curse, as defined by Rob Walker in the New York Times Magazine: “What these people are likely to get for their consumption daring is a chance to experience every single glitch or flaw that will be tweaked and patched in the months ahead. Also the guarantee that they’re paying full price.”

Techie Mystery: Why Did Israel Ban the iPad? [Time]

Halevi Versus Maimonides

Two authors contrast the outlooks of their subjects

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Earlier this month, philosopher Moshe Halbertal and author Hillel Halkin engaged in a spirited tete-a-tete over Halkin’s new biography of Yehuda Halevi at the Moreshet Avraham Synagogue in Jerusalem. The two-hour exploration was wide-ranging, but one of the most intriguing tropes involved a comparison with another Nextbook Press series subject: Maimonides. In fact, Halbertal, a professor of Jewish thought and philosophy at the Hebrew University, and author of a recent book on Maimonides, noted that Halevi’s magnum opus, The Kuzari—which takes the form of a dialogue between the pagan king of the Khazars and a rabbi who was invited to instruct him in the tenets of Judaism—can actually be read as a riposte to Maimonides’ own best-known work. It is as if, he said, “the Kuzari was the response to Guide for the Perplexed, before it was even written.”

Maimonides, according to Halbertal, viewed Judaism as the religion of nature, while Halevi saw it as the religion of history. Halevi found inspiration in examples of the breaking of the chain of causality, like the parting of the Red Sea, while to Maimonides the natural world was the main medium of God’s message. As Halbertal put it: “Nature itself is the profoundest manifestation of the divine,” while, according to Halkin, Halevi’s Judaism was “above all, a religion of action; what a Jew thinks is secondary to how a Jew acts.” Maimonides, Halbertal asserted, would find Halevi’s Judaism to be “spectacle dependent,” while Maimonidean Judaism needs no drama. It holds that there is evidence of God in every aspect of the world: “not like the relationship of a carpenter to a table, but more like the sun and the light. The world is God’s shadow; the very existence of God sustains the world.”

From this point, Halbertal then brought up the aspect of Halevi’s philosophy that has turned him into a “darling of the Israeli settlement movement”: his belief in the intrinsic holiness of the land of Israel. In contrast, Halbertal argued, Maimonides would say that the land of Israel is no different in its essence from any other, and that “its significance comes from the events that have happened in it.”

Halkin countered that Halevi was not a racist—that he was talking about “souls, not bodies”—but agreed that, today, “the Israeli dispute about ‘the territories’ is a Maimonidean versus Halevian argument.” However, he added, “one has to understand where Halevi was coming from.” The Jewish circumstance in Halevi’s time was perhaps the lowest in its history: the first crusade had just taken place and there were massacres occurring in Spain and the Rhineland. For someone like Halevi, Halkin argued, these events were inexplicable: “What is going on here? Why are we losing adherents? Why are we under the sway of two ‘upstart’ religions?” To Halevi, Halkin said, no matter how low the Jews’ fortunes fell, they had to feel they were needed. Jews, he believed, were the link between God and humanity. In modern terms it might seem racist but he wasn’t arguing in terms of a master race, Halkin asserted, but was rather “desperately trying to salvage the fortunes of his people.”

Today on Tablet

Syria on the table, Hitler on the web, and more

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Lee Smith lays out the daunting situation facing Robert Ford, the new United States ambassador to Syria. Reflecting on Adolf Hitler’s birthday, Liel Leibovitz examines how in the heck the Nazi leader has become a prominent internet meme. And as always, The Scroll will offer up further head-scratchers throughout the day.

Daybreak: Iran to Strut Military Strength

Plus Hungary’s question, healing Israel-Kiwi relations, and more

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An Army Day parade in Tehran on Sunday.(Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

• Iran announced plans to hold military exercises for three days in the Strait of Hormuz starting tomorrow. A representative claimed that their aim is security and that “This war game is not a threat for any friendly countries.” [Reuters]

• How will Hungary’s government emerge from its current election, in which “campaigning has been overshadowed by barely restrained incitement against Gypsies and Jews”? [Haaretz]

• An Israeli Embassy opened in New Zealand on Monday. The previous one closed in 2002, and relations between the two nations have been strained since two alleged Mossad agents were caught with an illegal New Zealand passport in 2004. [JTA]

• 60 Holocaust survivors who attended the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen are now stuck in Germany because of the volcanic ash cloud. “We already started using black humor and telling jokes about Mengele coming to tell us who goes right and who goes left,” said one. [Ynet]

• Several Jewish groups have organized an anti-Obama protest to be held this Sunday at the Israeli consulate in New York City; one leader accuses the President of “scapegoating” Israel. [Arutz 7]

Sundown: Pop Goes the Agitprop

Plus Obama’s champions and apologists, and more

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• A blogger reports from Russia, where she just checked out the new film Pop, a government sponsored “bush-league morality play” featuring “blatant and antediluvian anti-Semitism.” [True/Slant]

• In other “pop” news, Gershon Kingsley, 87-year-old composer of the electronic classic “Popcorn,” tells of escaping Germany before the Holocaust and his abiding love for his home country: “If you make a friend in Germany then you have them for the rest of your life.” [NYT]

• A member of J Street’s advisory board beseeches American Jews to stick with President Obama, a “visionary” who “is listening to the American-Jewish community.” [JTA]

• Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen believes that when it comes to Israel, “What’s missing on Obama’s part is not necessarily good intentions but the perception of them. He ought to do what Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did in 1977 to assure Israelis of his sincerity. Go to Jerusalem.” [WPost]

• And at an Independence Day event, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman also echoed the accord with Egypt and affirmed of the city on everyone’s lips that “Jerusalem is our undivided, eternal capital.” [Ynet]

Ofra Does Her Laundry in My Tears

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.”

Twentieth-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. Today’s first short poem—actually a fragment—is, as Halkin puts it, a “bantering quatrain” about a woman we know nothing about: maybe an actual love interest, maybe just a literary construct. The second poem is also about longing—for southern Spain, written while Halevi was living in the north. He would return many times to theme of homesickness. 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!

Ofra does her laundry in my tears
And dries it in the sunshine she gives off
She doesn’t need to take it to the trough,
Or wait to hang it till the weather clears,

***

A dove weeps in the treetops
And her sobs make my heart sore,
For its pangs are as her pain is
And my fate is shared by her.
I cry for kin and country,
She for her old nesting grounds;
I for my lost dear ones,
She for her scattered friends;
I for days long vanished,
She for youth now fled.

2, 4, 6, 8, Who Do Orthos and Feminists All Hate?

Cheerleaders! Too bad, says Israel’s basketball league.

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Hapoel Jerusalem cheerleaders.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel has finally found an issue that unites the religious right and feminists, according to an AFP report: cheerleaders. Apparently, they’re required by law for each team in Israel’s national basketball league, but goodness knows the traditional role of cheerleaders—to undercut the homoeroticism of male team sports with titillating gyrations—just doesn’t fly in Jerusalem. Protests by ultra-Orthodox fans of Hapoel Jerusalem, the local team, have led to a change in league policy from fining teams that don’t have cheerleaders to offering cash to those that do. The league’s spokesman offered this pragmatic wisdom: “In life there are always things you don’t like. I don’t like it when the fans chant: ‘War, war, war,’ but what can you do?”

While feminists who find cheerleading chauvinistic have allied themselves with the ultra-Orthodox community, which objects to immodestly dressed women performing in public, they may unwittingly be taking a stand against a field that allows female athletes to shine. “They do lots of acrobatics and create energy, not through feminine movements, but more through strength,” said the cheerleading coach of Hapoel Jerusalem. While she made this remark in an attempt to distinguish her squad of relatively fully clad women from others, we find this distinction between femininity and strength troubling. We’re also bummed out by the conclusion to AFP’s report: “And so it seems Jerusalem’s cheerleaders, unloved, unwanted and definitely not sexy, are here to stay.” These women are not exactly nuns. Watch the video and judge their appeal for yourself.

No Sexiness, We’re Holy City Cheerleaders [AFP]

Dreaming of Web Design?

Become a summer intern for Tablet Magazine and Nextbook Inc.

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Tablet Magazine and its parent, Nextbook Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Jewish literature, culture, and ideas, seek a part-time Web design intern for eight weeks beginning June 1. The intern will get hands-on experience working with fast-paced daily content in a lively magazine environment in downtown Manhattan, and will receive a paid stipend.

Working closely with the art directors, the web design intern will help design, program, and produce web pages for Tabletmag.com and Nextbookpress.com. The intern will also attend editorial meetings and learn the various production systems used. Interns will gain CMS experience (especially in WordPress), and should be fluent in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube). A working knowledge of HTML, PHP, and Photoshop is desirable. Software fluency in Flash, InDesign, and Illustrator is encouraged. Graduate students and undergraduate juniors and seniors are welcome to apply.

Web design applicants should submit a cover letter, resume, and portfolio that includes layouts, typography, or working website URLs, by April 30. All application material should be sent to design.intern@tabletmag.com.

Emanuel Wants to Be Chicago Mayor

Rahm admits he’s got his eye on Daley’s seat

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Rahm Emanuel looks on at a Blair House diplomatic meeting earlier this month.(Olivier Douliery—Pool/Getty Images)

It’s official: Rahm Emanuel wants to take the helm of the Windy City. “I hope Mayor Daley seeks reelection. I will work and support him if he seeks reelection,” Emanuel told PBS’s Charlie Rose yesterday. “But if Mayor Daley doesn’t, one day I would like to run for mayor of the city of Chicago.”

NBC blogger Edward McClellan seems to support the possibility, asking readers, “Are you ready for a mayor who can speak in complete sentences, even if those sentences can’t always be aired on television?” McClellan points out that Richard M. Daley, 68, will have already beat his father’s record as longest-serving mayor of the city, and that he and Emanuel have a history of mutual support. “While Daley is a character out of Chicago’s past—an inarticulate Irishman from Bridgeport, raised in a political dynasty—Emanuel represents the modern Chicago that Daley built,” he writes. “Emanuel doesn’t eat Polish sausage at a White Sox game. He races triathlons and roots for the Cubs…The best thing about Emanuel is that inside that professional-looking package is a man as profane and greedy as any of Chicago’s old-time mayors.”

Emanuel once aspired to be Speaker of the House, and has been denying his interest in the mayoral position since January. He is committed to remain President Obama’s chief of staff until the end of the year, but could be running for office as soon as the next mayoral election in February, 2011. Your move, Daley!

Rahm Emanuel Wants to Run for Chicago Mayor [HuffPo]
Rahm Emanuel Is Daley 2.0 [NBC]

‘Hipsters and Hasids’ Finds Parallels Between Two Worlds

Exhibit by Brooklyn artist on display now

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"2 a.m. Hassid Farbrengen," by Elke Reva Sudin(ElkeRevaSudin.com)

Last night’s weekly Monday night chevruta learners at the Aish center in New York City were greeted with new paintings adorning the walls of the lobby and lecture room. Elke Reva Sudin’s colorful series “Hipsters and Hassids” illustrates the parallels lives of the two overlapping Williamsburg, Brooklyn communities; the 22 paintings will be on display for the next month.

Although the differences and grievances, rather than the similarities, between the two groups are hot topics these days, Sudin uses side-by-side pieces to highlight the parallels between the adjacent worlds. “Rocker” and “Hassid Dancing” each show an individual spiritedly engaged with music, while “Gottleib’s Deli” and “Kellog’s Diner” portray the two cornerstone eateries. Sudin’s two favorite works, “2am Hipster Party (Where’s Waldo)” and “2am Hassidic Fabregen” are meant to evoke “the same party, the same enthusiasm,” explained Sudin. She also brings a sense of humor to her work: her “Hipster Bible” bears the word “Irony” in biblical script, and in a depiction of Williamsburg’s controversial bike lane, she makes the composition of Bedford Avenue look like a game of Frogger.

Sudin got the gig by responding to a posting by Aish looking for Jewish art. “It occurred to us that we have all these walls,” explained Adam Jacobs, Managing Director of the Aish Center, who saw an opportunity to meet new groups of people and “let them know about what we do.” Jacobs said the organization is looking for artwork “consistent in our messaging: innovative, true to tradition but artistic and modern.” He aims to start collating Jewish artists on Aish’s website and let them sell their artwork from there. Sudin, originally from the greater Springfield, MA, community, based this series, which has also shown at the Workman’s Circle Building in Murray Hill, on one of her graduating theses from the Pratt Institute. “I see myself as standing in between. I feel connected to both sides, but I’m neither and I can sympathize with both sides,” she said, her hair completely covered in a vibrant yellow scarf, but nose ring showing. “I started college right when hipsterdom started to take off…I lost some friends because of the hipster community.”

Hipsters and Hasids

British Jewish Vote ‘Alive and Well’

Despite what anyone said in the 1970s, declares columnist

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A rally in Trafalgar Square, January 2009.(Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

Guardian columnist Geoffrey Alderman recalls researching a textbook on the British electoral system in the 1970s and being stonewalled by “an organisation calling itself the Board of Deputies of British Jews”: “I was ordered—repeat ordered—to cease forthwith my investigation of Jewish voting habits. Jews, I was told, voted just like everyone else. … There was, therefore, no ‘Jewish dimension’ to an election, and to suggest otherwise was to place the entirety of British Jewry in some (ill-defined) jeopardy.” Never mind that the BOD of British Jews has been an influential body since its founding in 1760 and may have been skeptical of a researcher unfamiliar with their community, or the fact that this encounter took place nearly 40 years ago. Alderman is sticking with at least one of the conclusions he drew from it: “Within British Jewry, image is everything.”

Whether or not this generalization holds any merit (for a more nuanced perspective on British Jews, check out today’s Tablet article by Margaret Drabble), it certainly seems to be the case, as Alderman states, that Jewish voters have been “pivotal” in the careers of many politicians in his nation’s history. He cites “the epic struggle of Lionel de Rothschild”; MP Samuel Montagu, “a Yiddish speaking banker”; Britain’s last Communist MP Phil Piratin; and Maurice Orbach, “a self-proclaimed Labour Zionist who had conspicuously failed to support Israel during the Suez crisis.” However, Alderman’s disdain for complexity is evident in his willingness to define the Jewish vote as akin to the Zionist vote in discussing the current run of MP Andrew Dismore as well as his smug conclusion that “Whatever the present Anglo-Jewish leadership may wish, the Jewish vote, in other words, is very much alive and well.” Although we’re inclined to agree on that point, we’re not sure why the author of The Communal Gadfly: Jews, British Jews and the Jewish State—who, one imagines, has had some further dealings with the BOD since 1970—seems stubbornly determined to make his case with few statistics and no sources.


The Jewish Vote Really Does Count
[Guardian]

Today on Tablet

Non-Jewish writers take on the big topics

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Novelist Margaret Drabble holds forth on the roles of Jews—and anti-Semitism—in British culture, from Shakespeare to Howard Jacobson to the BBC. Adam Kirsch reviews Crossing Mandelbaum Gate, a new memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and historian Kai Bird about growing up all over the Middle East with a diplomat father, and finds it more historical than personal. And here on The Scroll, we’ll have updates of all sorts.

Daybreak: Mixed Messages on Israel’s Independence Day

Promises, moodiness, and pressure

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Fireworks over Jerusalem's Old City last night.(Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

• President Obama issued a statement marking Israel’s Independence Day, promising that the two nations’ ties “”will only be strengthened in the months and years to come” and wisely avoiding the word “borders” altogether. [JTA]

• Regardless, the New York Times reports that as Israel marks the holiday, “there is something about the mood this year that feels darker than usual.” [NYT]

• And meanwhile, Egypt is beseeching the UN to pressure Israel to join in “an internationally and effectively verifiable treaty for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.” [Reuters]

• A Neo-Nazi rally in Los Angeles, counterprotestors threw “rocks, bottles, eggs and other items,” injuring two white supremacists; five assailants (of various races) were arrested. [L.A. Independent]

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