The Deli Goes Locavore

Of house-cured pastrami and farm-fresh cole slaw

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

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]

Two Happy Endings (PG Version)

The ‘Millionaire Matchmaker’ season finale

Zagros Bigvand (center) with Patti.(Bravo)

Every Wednesday, Senior Writer Allison Hoffman recaps the previous night’s episode of the glory that is Millionaire Matchmaker. For previous Matchmaker coverage, click here.

The time has come to meet the last two millionaires of the season, and, frankly, The Scroll is less than impressed. Matchmaker Patti seems a little distracted by her own upcoming nuptials and in a rush to get the whole thing over with—so much so that, instead of hosting her usual meat-market meet-up, she goes ahead and picks out two girls for each of this week’s bachelors. “Like a Fiddler on the Roof deal,” gushes Bachelor No. 1, Greg. She doesn’t call herself matchmaker for nothing!

Greg turns out to be Greg Knoll, a 47-year-old mortgage lender from Manhattan Beach, Calif. He is, we’re quite sure, the same Greg Knoll who advertises himself on YouTube (must-watch) as “the most interesting mortgage man in the world.” He skis and he surfs, and keeps properties in Mammoth and San Diego to prove it. And he’s ready to find a partner, despite the fact that he’s broken two previous engagements. “He’s the Runaway Groom,” Patti announces. There’s that Julia Roberts theme again.

Patti sets Greg up with Livia Milano, a cute occasional actress. Things don’t go well. The first thing he asks is whether Livia is a “spinner”—a Patti term for a petite girl who can, you know, spin in the bedroom. “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be flattered or offended,” Livia tells him. Greg decides to patch up the awkward silence with an off-color joke about rabbits having sex. Livia is no less impressed.

Greg decides he is instead going to go on a real date with Melissa Hunter, a blonde spokesmodel who is also a veteran of a dating event known as “Financially Hung”. She goes by the nickname Mojo and says she is a vegan during the week but eats steak on weekends. Idiosyncratic! (more…)

Announcing DAWN 2010

Tablet is co-sponsoring a Shavuot festival


Big news, guys: Tablet Magazine is co-sponsoring DAWN 2010, a cultural arts festival and celebration of Shavuot. It’s going down on the evening of Saturday, May 15, at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco—in beautiful Golden Gate Park, in fact. Featuring Sandra Bernhard, Gary Shteyngart, and more, we’re going to be putting a modern spin on the ancient tradition of studying through the night in honor of Shavuot. There will be some religion, in other words, but also some art, some music, and some dancing. Co-sponsored by Reboot.

And if you won’t be around the Bay Area next month? It just so happens that Tablet Magazine will fly you to Dawn! Sign up for the Tablet email list and be automatically entered to win.

Oh, and bonus: DAWN 2010 will see the world premiere of Where The Wild Things Are director Spike Jonze’s tribute to Maurice Sendak, Maurice at the World’s Fair

Tickets and contest sign-up here.

DAWN 2010

Today on Tablet

Hamas’s engager, the black Bellow, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith profiles Robert Malley, a controversial ex-Obama adviser who is a leading advocate for Israeli and U.S. engagement with Hamas. Harold Heft makes the case that Walter Mosley, one of America’s premier black novelists, is also one of its premier Jewish novelists. The Scroll will be around all day, just hanging out, no big deal.

The Great Orthodox Merengue Scandal

Major bike-lane player dances to a different tune

The damning photographic dancing evidence.(Facebook)

If the Williamsburg bike-lane battle represents the Platonic ideal of a New York (and New York) metro story, then Baruch Herzfeld—self-appointed liaison between the pro-lane hipsters and anti-lane Satmar Hasidim—is the irresistible character who truly stamps it “Only in New York.” The impish 38-year-old ex-Orthodox bike activist who is at home in both communities (or, if you prefer, oblivious to the fact that he is home in neither) shows up in almost every article on the subject. But Tablet Magazine has learned that bike lanes aren’t the only area in which Herzfeld pushes the Orthodox community’s buttons from within. Another one is merengue dancing. Wait, what?

Prior to his current incarnation as bike advocate, Herzfeld spent a year shuttling back and forth between the Dominican Republic, where he ran operations for a telecom company called SkyMax Dominicana, and Brooklyn, where SkyMax’s parent company is based. On paper, it was an absurdly good fit: Herzfeld reported to the company’s owner, a Williamsburg Satmar gentleman named Moses Greenfield, but he also got to indulge his penchant for Dominican culture, and particularly merengue. Naturally, he was bitten by the merengue bug while he was a bad student at Yeshiva University, which is conveniently located in the heavily Dominican Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights.

In the spring of 2007, after Herzfeld clashed with his colleagues one too many times, Greenfield fired him. An ugly dispute followed over how much money Herzfeld was owed. As per their contract, the parties took their conflict to the beth din, or rabbinical court. (more…)

Daybreak: Obama Ties Mideast To U.S. Interests

Plus Scuds across the border, street-name showdown, and more in the news

President Obama at a press conference in Washington, D.C., yesterday.(Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

• President Obama appeared to echo Gen. Petraeus’s view that the Mideast conflict “ends up costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.” [NYT]

• Backed by U.S. officials, President Shimon Peres accused Syria of giving Scud missiles to Hezbollah (Syria denies it). These weapons could easily reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from Lebanon. [WSJ]

• Remember how U.S. officials said yesterday that China had come around on economic sanctions against Iran? Chinese officials say that’s not so much true. [LAT]

• More than three-fourths of both the U.S. House and Senate signed bipartisan letters arguing for strong U.S.-Israeli ties. AIPAC applauded the signers. [JPost]

• Israel issued an unprecedented travel warning urging citizens to leave Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula immediately due to specific plans for a kidnapping. [WP]

• They’re fighting over the names of streets. [NYT]

Note regarding the first item: The relevant section is buried in an unrelated News Analysis, but it struck me—as well as Laura Rozen—as very important.

Sundown: When It Comes to Nuclear War, No News Is Good News

Plus, kosher beef and disappearing books


• The international conference on nuclear security that Barack Obama convened this afternoon has not led to confrontations between Israel and Muslim states, reported the Israeli minister in attendance. “I regret to disappoint those who expected clashes against Israel in the summit,” he said (then went on to almost-but-not-quite name Iran as the world’s “greatest threat to peace.”) [Ynet]

• The Iowa meatpacking plant once owned by kosher slaughter behemoth Agriprocessors, which shut down after a 2008 immigration raid, is producing (kosher) beef again for the first time, its new owner says. [Vos Iz Neias]

• An Israeli bookstore chain stopped selling a book called The National Left, a political manifesto denouncing settlers and calling for a revival of the Israeli left wing, after receiving “many complaints that the book hurts the feelings of some of our customers.” [NYT]

The Nation reexamines the life and legacy of the late Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg. [The Nation]

• Self-congratulations are due: the Webby Awards have named Tablet Magazine an honoree in the category of “Religion and Spirituality” on the Web! [Webby Awards]

Venezuela’s Sanctioned Street Art

Graffiti is okay, except when it’s not; then, you’re a Jew

Carlos Zerpa with his work.(New York Times)

The New York Times reported yesterday that Hugo Chávez’s regime encourages street artists to paint graffiti that jibes with official ideology—specifically, anti-Americanism. One mural in the capital city of Caracas depicts a warrior holding the severed head of Secretary of State Clinton; another shows President Obama, in Santa Claus suit, handing out “Afghanistan” and “Iraq” missiles.

Scratch the surface of Venezuela’s left-wing authoritarian government, and not infrequently you will find anti-Semitism. Though by no means the dominant strand of “Chavismo,” the government has repeatedly found that blaming various ills on the Jews (including members of Venezuela’s 12,000-strong but dwindling Jewish community) serves its purposes. Certainly it’s not too large a leap to make (and the Times makes it) between officially sanctioned anti-American graffiti and the swastikas that vandals spray-painted onto a prominent Sephardic synagogue in Caracas last year.

The article profiles Saúl Guerrero, one of the most prominent street artists who isn’t endorsed by the regime: most of his work consists of sad portraits of destitute people, perhaps a subtle form of protest. “I wanted to get away from the European-looking faces that dominate advertising in Venezuela,” he told the Times, “in an attempt to trigger people into thinking about the reality of the place we live.”

He goes by the name “Ergo”; when his name appeared in a magazine, he was denounced for being, yup, Jewish. Which he isn’t. Except, perhaps, in spirit.

Artists Embellish Walls With Political Vision [NYT]
Earlier: Hugo Chávez’s Uses for Anti-Semitism
Un Problema en Venezuela

The Divorce

An old Jew tells a joke


Twisted, only partly understandable, yet in the end hilarious: it must be Old Jews Telling Jokes!

Service Employees Union Head Stepping Down

Andy Stern was most prominent Jewish labor leader

Andy Stern.(S.E.I.U.)

Andy Stern’s retirement marks an end of an era: not just for the Service Employees International Union, which he separated from the historically dominant AFL-CIO and built into a political powerhouse, but for the Jews and the U.S. labor movement.

Several unions, most notably those of garment workers, have long been dominated by Jews even as the number of actual Jewish, say, garment workers has dwindled. (The main garment union is now an S.E.I.U. affiliate.) Last year, the Forward reported on the hasty marriage and then divorce of that major garment union (itself headed by a Jew) and a hotel employees’ union. The paper reported: “The tradition of those old Jewish unions—bringing in immigrants and helping them step up to the middle class—seems to be the legacy that union activists watching the battle are most concerned about as the fights drag on.”

Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson penned an excellent essay last year on the decline of Irish-Americans in the leadership of America’s labor movement. He noted that Jews have experienced a similar decline. The piece is worth a re-read today.

Stern, Head of S.E.I.U., Plans to Retire [NYT]
Historic Union Torn Apart in Messy Divorce [Forward]
The Age of the Irish [WP]

Commenters Debate Pro-Palestinian YA Novel

‘Shepherd’s Granddaughter’ prompts back-and-forth


Besides teaching us that one does indeed call a person from Ontario an “Ontarian,” Marjorie Ingall’s reported, perceptive look at a controversial Canadian young-adult novel called The Shepherd’s Granddaughter explored how to educate children about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to what extent censorship is acceptable. The novel is about a young girl living in the West Bank whose family land is under occupation; her family and other Palestinians are frequently victims at the hands of Israeli soldiers and settlers.

Several groups, including Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, have called for the book not to be placed on a special reading list formulated each year by the Ontario Library Association. Ingall disagrees:

Might young people have better critical faculties than we give them credit for? … being disingenuous and hyperbolically alarmist about the threats posed by novels—as opposed to the threats caused by shutting down all discussion—means we don’t get the chance to elucidate and debate. If The Shepherd’s Granddaughter can teach us anything, it’s that even educated people with a glorious literary tradition sometimes feel justified in banning books. And we’re all poorer for it.

(Very vaguely relatedly, today Tablet Magazine published a report on anti-Zionism at Canadian universities.)

Ingall’s article prompted a robust discussion in the comments section. Many agreed with Ingall. “I oppose censorship—and with books, it is too much like book burning,” argued fred lapides. As an alternative, he suggested, “Swamp the papers with letters suggesting the book is very biased and does not tell readers how youngsters are taught to hate and kill Israelis and how grandfather probably wants Israel destroyed.”

But some argued that, while perhaps the book should not be banned outright, the problem is that it is currently being actively promoted. Foremost among the commenters who made this argument was Brian Henry, a Jewish Tribune writer (and Toronto parent) who wrote an impassioned open letter asking that the book not appear on the reading list. In his comment, Henry says, “Our schools shouldn’t promote anyone’s political agenda, but with this book that’s precisely what they’re doing. The article also understates the book’s offensiveness: it portrays Israelis as child-murderers, commanded by the Jewish God to steal and kill.”

Henry advocates that, in the future, the reading list include “alternate material about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for kids of this age.” Ingall herself, weighing in in the comments, has vowed to take up that particular challenge:

Next week’s column will offer suggestions of different young adult novels about the “matzav,” as the Israel-Palestinian conflict is called in Israel — it means The Situation (which sounds to me like a great name for a band). It will offer more ideas, short of calling for a book ban, about what to do when you’re horrified by a children’s or young adult book. Right now, I’m frantically reading.

In other words: stay tuned!

Banned in Canada [Tablet Magazine]

Today on Tablet

Pro-Jewish populism, the Biblical American canon, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Tevi Troy, who served as President George W. Bush’s liason to the Jewish community, argues that a rise in American populism could actually buttress Jews’ and Israel’s position among the people. Books critic Adam Kirsch reviews a new book by Robert Alte that traces the King James Bible’s influence on American literature. McGill University Professor Gil Troy examines the seemingly anomalous phenomenon of Canadian campus anti-Zionism. Ethan Friedman provides a special, Counting-of-the-Omer-themed crossword puzzle. The Scroll doesn’t think there is any relation between the two Troys featured today, but doesn’t know for sure.

UPDATE: Guess what? They are brothers!

Across A Border

On the road with Girls in Trouble—with video!


Any tour worth its salt includes these three things: major landmarks, occasional navigational difficulties, and lots of laughter in the van. If you’re really lucky, they happen all at once.

There’s also the pleasure of making friends with new bands, like Judgment Day (from the Bay Area), a kick-ass (and unusual) heavy metal trio with whom we played in Chicago:

And then there are the things that are hard to even put into words. Our bass player has toured through Detroit before and made it a point to bring us all to the Heidelberg Project, an absolutely incredible installation by a local visionary who has been making art out of abandoned homes for years:

In Hamtramck, Michigan, we played at a lovely cafe, where the audience energy was absolutely amazing. We stayed that night in a parsonage (!), thanks to our friend Faith, a pastor of the C.M.E. church. And then we headed to the Canadian border.

They almost didn’t let us in the country (shades of the Red Sea), but in the end we made it in and did two press performances (one mainstream, one college radio), and then drove to the club in Toronto. There, our new friend Lainie filmed us playing “Snow/Scorpions & Spiders.”

Daybreak: China Says It Backs Sanctions

Plus Israel insists on ‘homegrown’ peace, and more in the news

Sarkozy arriving in America Sunday.(Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

• Meeting face-to-face, President Hu Jintao told President Barack Obama that China could support economic sanctions against Iran. [LAT]

• The Israeli government warned that it would oppose a peace plan that the United States writes and then imposes on the parties. A solution to the conflict, it said, must be “homegrown.” [WSJ]

• French President Nicolas Sarkozy cautioned that a failure of the international community to act on Iran would result in a “disastrous” Israeli strike. [Ynet]

• Israeli troops shot and killed an Islamic Jihad militant who was trying to plant explosives on the Gaza border. [NYT]

• Yom HaShoah celebrations in New York City over the weekend emphasized the passing of stories and memories on to the youngest generation. [NYT]

• Late Polish President Lech Kaczynski continues to be remembered as an unprecedented friend to the Jews and Israel—the first Polish leader to attend a Polish synagogue, for example. Prime Minister Donald Tusk (who was not on the plane) is also considered friendly to Israel. [JTA]

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