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Burning Corpse Found in Synagogue Parking Lot

Corpse, unrelated to Long Island shul, discovered Friday night

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At 7 P.M. Friday night—one hour before the beginning of Shabbat services—an abandoned car with a still-burning male corpse was found in the parking lot of Long Island’s B’nai Israel Temple by a synagogue caretaker. However, yesterday police identified the body and all but concluded that its location had nothing to do with the congregation. “Whoever dropped him there took a very big chance, because it was right before services,” Marilyn Gales, B’nai Israel’s president, told Tablet Magazine today. “I would’ve been there in ten minutes.”

Cops ID Body Found in Burning Car Behind Freeport Temple [Newsday]
Torched Body Found Near B’nai Israel Temple in Freeport, Long Island [Daily News]

How To Explain Joe Lieberman: He’s Just Kinda Dumb!

Not all Jews can do math well, notes (Jewish) writer

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Writer Jonathan Chait of The New Republic has a Semitically inflected theory of what explains Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and his seeming compulsion to throw a wrench into the Democratic policy agenda whenever he can—most recently, in the case of health-care reform. (Last night, Lieberman told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he would not, as expected, support the current bill.) Many folks on the left, Chait notes, are positively dumbfounded by Lieberman’s refusal to support what Democrats consider to be sensible reform, especially given that he is typically thought of as moderate-to-liberal when it comes to domestic matters. So, grasping at straws, liberals accuse Lieberman of letting his personal grudge toward Democrats (many of whom supported Democratic nominee Ned Lamont rather than Lieberman during the 2006 Senate race) to influence his actual vote. But Chait offers this elegant and concise alternative explanation for Lieberman’s moves: “Lieberman isn’t actually all that smart.” And why is this fact difficult for liberals to acknowledge? “I suspect that Lieberman is the beneficiary, or possibly the victim, of a cultural stereotype that Jews are smart and good with numbers,” Chait hypothesizes. “Trust me, it’s not true.” (Probably worth noting that Chait himself is Jewish.) “If Senator Smith from Idaho was angering Democrats by spewing uninformed platitudes, most liberals would deride him as an idiot. With Lieberman, we all suspect it’s part of a plan.” Why Are Jews Liberals? Maybe only the smart ones are.

Understanding Joe Lieberman [The Plank]

Related: Why Are Jews Liberals? A Symposium [Tablet]
Joe Lieberman Says No to Medicare Buy-In [Politico]

Puerto Rican Activist Blames Jews for Unwanted Facility

Says monkey-breeding facility is Israeli (actually, it’s Mauritian)

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The Anti-Defamation League has accused a Puerto Rican activist named Robert Brito of penning articles that blame “Jewish economic interests” for trying to impose a monkey-breeding facility on the island, which Brito opposes. Brito alleged that an “Israeli company” is behind the facility (the company in question is listed as being based in Mauritius) for purposes of “ethnic discrimination” and “genocide.” He furthermore called for a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses and synagogues in the U.S. island commonwealth. One of the best articles on the controversy actually appears in Puerto Rico’s English-language Daily Sun—one of the papers in which Brito’s original article appeared. “We call upon the authorities and different sectors of the society to repudiate these false and anti-Semitic accusations,” a spokesperson for the Jewish Community of Puerto Rico told the Daily Sun. “It is of the utmost importance to understand that, independent of the side of the debate one takes, it is totally inexcusable to use the Jewish community or any of its members as a scapegoat.”

ADL: Anti-Semitism Injected into Puerto Rico Dispute [Ynet]
Jewish Community Blasts Anti-Semitic Statements in Bioculture Controversy [Daily Sun]

Today in Tablet

A very Ladino Hanukkah, a very Latvian Hanukkah, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, listen in on several Sephardim in Washington, D.C., the subjects of this week’s Vox Tablet podcast, as they enjoy their annual Hanukkah gathering while speaking the nearly extinct Judeo-Spanish tongue of Ladino. Josh Lambert reports on forthcoming books of interest (a lot of Holocaust tomes this week). In her family column, Marjorie Ingall reveals some provocative American Hanukkah numbers. From the archives, David Bezmozgis recalls Hanukkah on the down-low in Soviet Latvia. And you can tell everyone to check The Scroll throughout the day.

Economist Paul Samuelson Dead at 94

“Smart, Jewish Keynesian” somehow succeeded

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It is a bit ironic that yesterday, when the New York Times posted its obituary of the M.I.T. economist Paul A. Samuelson on its home page, the story immediately to the left reported the latest economic proclamation by Larry Summers, the former Harvard president who is now President Obama’s chief economic adviser, and who was also Samuelson’s nephew. Samuelson, who died yesterday at 94, was among a generation of Nobel Prize-winning economists who catapulted from education-obsessed Jewish immigrant households into the stratosphere of American academia on the strength of their own genius, upsetting the genteel order of the Ivy League. As a young tyro at Harvard, Samuelson provoked his department chairman, Harold Hitchings Burbank, by both publishing an enormously successful dissertation on using a mathematical approach to economics and by arguing that economists should spend more time thinking about why there were bread lines outside their windows—that is, about real people, rather than abstract factors. Burbank denied Samuelson a professorship. (His Jewish colleague Robert Solow later noted, “You could be disqualified for a job if you were either smart or Jewish or Keynesian. So what chance did this smart, Jewish Keynesian have?”) Samuelson defected to M.I.T., where he spent the rest of his professional life; the enormously successful publication of his dissertation, Samuelson said, was “sweet revenge” against Burbank. We can only surmise that when Summers— another smart, Jewish Keynesian—became one of the youngest professors ever to win tenure at Harvard a half-century later, it was even sweeter for his uncle.

Paul A. Samuelson, Economist, Dies at 94 [NYT]
Remembering Paul Samuelson [WSJ]

Related: Something Old, Something New

Daybreak: Three Days After Arson, West Bank Still On Edge

Plus Iran’s unpopular proposal, Lieberman nixes health care, and more in the news

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• Ever since settlers’ arson last Friday of a West Bank mosque, fears that the Palestinian cause could now take on a more religious tinge and that the conflict could suddenly turn more violent have abounded. [NYT]
• Having demanded most of it all at once, Western negotiators scoffed at Iran’s proposal to trade little bits of its uranium over a longer period of time. [WSJ]
• The latest version of health-care reform to hit the U.S. Senate floor hit a major setback last night when Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) decided he would not support it. [Politico]
• Syrian President Bashir Assad’s little brother died “after a long struggle with a severe illness,” according to reports from the country. [Haaretz]
• President Shimon Peres will represent Israel at the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen; last week, Netanyahu cancelled his trip, fingering the cost to the taxpayers for his extensive security detail. [JTA]

Sundown: Happy Hanukkah from Barack and Michelle

Plus likely Iran sanctions and the Western Wall on Twitter

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• Barack and Michelle Obama released a Hanukkah message in English and Hebrew, saying in part, “May Hanukkah’s lessons inspire us all to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, to find light in times of darkness, and to work together for a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow.” [CBSNews]
• On a trip to Iraq, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates predicted the United States would pass tougher sanctions on Iran regarding that country’s nuclear program. He is likely the most senior U.S. official to assert such a move is likely. [NYT]
• Meanwhile, Iran and Syria inked a new defense cooperation pact in Damascus. [Haaretz]
Text/Context: Fresh Encounters With Jewish Tradition, a monthly literary supplement published jointly by New York Jewish Week and Nextbook (Tablet Magazine’s parent), debuted this week. [New York Jewish Week]
• Tweet your prayer into the Western Wall. [The Kotel Guy]

Diamond Does Sandler

Neil’s cover of ‘The Chanukah Song’

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Neil Diamond recently released a Christmas album—his third Christmas album, in fact. But a closer look at A Cherry Cherry Christmas’s track list reveals that after 13 holiday standards (“White Christmas,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” etc.), Diamond closes the album with … “The Chanukah Song”. That’s right, folks: one of the great Jewish-American songwriters (and, as Nextbook Press’s A Fine Romance shows, that is quite the list) has adopted Adam Sandler’s classic early-‘90s recitation of “people who are Jewish—just like you and me.” Adopted it, that is, and turned it into something of an ‘80s power ballad. Put on your yarmulkes, and enjoy!

Related: A Fine Romance [Nextbook Press]

Agudath Israel Sends the White House Hanukkah Cheer

Orthodox group’s head meets with, praises adviser Axelrod

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Axelrod at the White Houst last month.(Joshua Roberts-Pool/Getty Image)

We have absolutely no idea whether Rabbi Yehiel M. Kalish, the Chicago-based director of government affairs for the Orthodox advocacy group Agudath Israel, was among the 500 or so people to score a coveted invitation to next week’s White House Hanukkah party. However, he did apparently get to spend 45 “quality minutes” in the West Wing with David Axelrod, President Obama’s senior adviser. According to an email update Kalish circulated earlier today (not online), he called on Axelrod to talk about school vouchers and federal funding for parochial schools—a key issue for the Agudath, whose members primarily send their children to yeshivot—but also digressed into other issues, like Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s security. According to Kalish, Axelrod responded by recounting his childhood fundraising efforts on behalf of the Jewish National Fund, which involved carrying “blue and white pushkas” around the Lower East Side. Kalish explains that’s all he needed to hear: “We feel strongly that Mr. Axelrod takes this issue as seriously as we do,” he wrote. Mr. Axelrod: consider that Agudath Israel’s Hanukkah present to you.

Hatch: Jewish Senators Liked Song

We’re just glad to have them as Tablet Magazine readers

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Jeffrey Goldberg, who originally persuaded Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to write a Hanukkah song for Tablet Magazine, reports that (according to Hatch himself) Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin), and Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) all the loved the song. Frankly, though, Jewish senators’ reactions are not that surprising. What would be intriguing to know is how the senior chamber’s other Mormons feel about it, and whether they agree with their colleague from Utah, that: “Anything I can do for the Jewish people, I will do.” Sens. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), Harry Reid (D-Nevada), and Gordon Smith (R-Oregon): please get in touch. There are things in the world besides health-care reform, you know.

Orrin Hatch, Moving on to Purim [Atlantic.com]
A Senator’s Gift to the Jews, Non-Returnable [NYT]

Related: Watch the Video [Tablet]

West Bank Mosque Desecration Prompts Violence

IDF confirms incident; skirmishes mild so far

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Palestinians inspect the damage to the Yasuf mosque today(Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty Images)

This vandalism and arson of a West Bank mosque, which we led our morning round-up with, definitely bears  continued watching. As of Friday afternoon in Israel, after initial allegations from Palestinian authorities, Israeli Defense officials confirmed that West Bank settlers desecrated and set fire to a mosque in the Palestinian village of Yasuf, south of Nablus. Since then, the predictable response has begun: stone-throwing at IDF forces, injuring one soldier; a tear-gas and, allegedly, live-fire response. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, as did prominent Palestinian politician and intellectual Mustafa Barghouti; so, too, did Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. (We also received a press release from the U.S. Orthodox Union, making this valuable point: “Jewish synagogues and holy sites, in Israel and across the globe, have been similarly vandalized and desecrated over the course of history and, thus, Jews should know very well that such actions are beyond the pale.”) Let’s hope that the perpetrators of this act are brought to justice, and that any violence that stems from the incident has already taken place.

Settlers Allegedly Vandalize and Set Fire To West Bank Mosque [Jpost]
Clashes Break Out After Mosque Arson [Ynet]

Israeli Ambassador Scolds and Praises J Street

Chastises on Gaza, agrees on Iran

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Oren speaks in Washington, D.C. last month(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel’s American-born ambassador to Washington, D.C., Michael Oren, finally broke his silence this week about his views on the fledgling lobbying group J Street, which takes a progressive stance on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to the Forward, Oren told delegates to the Conservative movement’s biennial convention at a breakfast last Monday that he thinks J Street is “significantly out of the mainstream” and poses “a unique problem” insofar as it is willing to espouse policy views at odds with those of the Israeli government—specifically, with regard to last winter’s war in Gaza and the United Nations-backed Goldstone report on alleged war crimes committed during that conflict. Oren didn’t say anything radically different from the view the Israeli embassy articulated in October, when it issued a statement saying that its staff would be “privately communicating its concerns over certain policies of the organization that may impair the interests of Israel.”

Now, according to JTA’s Eric Fingerhut, Oren appears willing to concede that his government and J Street share at least some common ground—namely, Iran. Oren, Fingerhut reported, said in a short telephone interview that he appreciated that J Street had “made a statement and supported these efforts” to push sanctions measures in Congress. Which is reassuring, because it shows that peace, at least between these two parties, is still possible.

Oren: U.S. and Israel Tight on Iran, Appreciates J Street Support of Sanctions [JTA]
In Shift, Oren Calls J Street ‘A Unique Problem’ [Forward]

Today on Tablet

A Hanukkah memoir, an important professor dies, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, in honor of Hanukkah (which begins at sundown tonight), Vanessa Davis offers a graphic memoir of her long battle against Hanukkah materialism. Staff Writer Marissa Brostoff eulogizes Professor Yosef Yerushalmi, “an unusually erudite and wide-ranging thinker who made the concerns of Jewish history universally interesting.” Hadara Graubart pounds the pavement to find out what Manhattanites know (and don’t know) about the Jewish Festival of Lights. Liel Leibovitz presents his column on this week’s Hanukkah-appropriate haftorah as a poem. And while we can’t promise more poetry, you never know quite what will appear on The Scroll—so check in throughout the day to find out.

Israeli Orthodox Schools to Start Sex Ed

In all its ‘dullness’

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Modern Orthodox high schools in Israel are going to begin teaching sex education to students. Science will be taught alongside religion, and topics to be covered include anatomy, desire, and even homosexuality—contraception is optional (to be taught, that is). We can’t help but see this as a step in the right direction, but just as students’ teachers should talk about the things the students are thinking about anyway, if might help if they also thought about those things the way the students do. We’re looking at you, educational director Rabbi Yehuda Felix. “Young people today must know about this dull period that starts at 12 and goes on, according to some opinions, until 35 or 40,” Felix said. Felix should know better: that “dull” period frequently extends at least until you’re 45. Then things get exciting.

It’s Sex Education, Orthodox-Style [Jewish Chronicle]

Daybreak: Settlers Burn West Bank Mosque

Plus White House party controversy, Madoff gets some respect, and more in the news

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• West Bank settlers vandalized and then set fire to a mosque in a Palestinian village south of Nablus. [JPost]
• The White House Hanukkah party, scheduled for December 16, has been the subject of controversy over its guest list, its self-declared status of “holiday party,” and other issues, much to the consternation of administration officials. [NYT]
• In his North Carolina prison, Bernard Madoff has made friends—with whom he plays chess, checkers, and bocce—and even earned respect. “To every con artist, he is the godfather, the don,” a fellow resident says. [WSJ]
• At the Conservative movement’s annual convention, a new move for internal reform began to stir in earnest. [Haaretz]
• Columnist David Brooks digs into Hanukkah’s history for a lesson about the complex moral issues raised by legitimate self-defense. [NYT]

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