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Today on Tablet

King of the Jews, a Talmudic cult novel, and more

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Today on Tablet Magazine, Senior Writer Allison Hoffman profiles (must-read!) Alan Solow, the “King of the Jews” selected to lobby the administration on the basis of his close ties to Obama. Staff Writer Marissa Brostoff considers Milton Steinberg, whose As A Driven Leaf, set among the Talmudic sages, has become something of a cult artifact, and whose The Prophet’s Wife is being released posthumously this weekend. Etgar Keret reflects on love and admiration for his older brother. In his weekly haftorah column, Liel Leibovitz examines the phenomenon of the ba’al teshuva—the unobservant Jew who turns Orthodox. The Scroll undergoes multiple spiritual transformations each day.

‘Greenberg’ Gets Raves

With Ben Stiller as the shlemiel

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Stiller earlier this month.(Angela Weiss/Getty Images)

Greenberg, the new film from writer/director Noah Baumbach and starring Ben Stiller, comes out today. Considering it last week, Tablet Magazine’s Marissa Brostoff reported that while “there is little overt Jewishness” (except for the title!), Stiller’s protagonist fits squarely in the venerable tradition of the Jewish shlemiel. (Among other things, he writes letters to random famous people, a la Saul Bellow’s Herzog.)

Jewish or no, reviews pretty overwhelmingly suggest that it’s a recommended weekend activity.

• A.O. Scott of The New York Times calls it “the funniest and saddest movie Mr. Baumbach has made so far, and also the riskiest.”

• In the line that most makes me want to see it, the Village Voice’s J. Hoberman raves, “This is Stiller’s juiciest role since he cast himself as Zoolander, and here, he’s even more comically self-absorbed.”

• The Los Angeles Times’s Betsy Sharkey is one of the few unenthusiastic voices: “It’s sometimes difficult to figure out whether it’s [Stiller’s character] Roger or Baumbach who has lost his way.”

• “Greenberg pulls you in,” says Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers. “Even when you laugh, like in the climactic party scene, it hurts.”

• David Denby, of The New Yorker, concludes, “Honorably, the movie is not the usual rigid-arc fable of redemption. It insists that screwed-up people have a right to their oddities, but it also holds out the hope that they will learn a little bit about life and move on.”

Related: Look Out! [Tablet Magazine]

Daybreak: Bibi Wants More Building (of Trust!)

Plus Quartet backs state in two years, and more in the news

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• Prime Minister Netanyahu called Secretary of State Clinton to propose a series of “mutual confidence building” (“building”!) steps that Israel and the Palestinians could stage to “improve the atmosphere” and pave the way to talks. [NYT]

• U.S. envoy George Mitchell will head to the region after all, this Sunday. His trip last Tuesday had been cancelled as the United States awaited a satisfactory Israeli reply to its concerns. [LAT]

• The Mideast Quartet—made up of the U.S., the E.U., the U.N., and Russia—condemned settlements and, for the first time, endorsed a two-year timetable for a Palestinian state. [WSJ]

• The Israeli Air Force bombed six Gaza targets to retaliate for a rocket yesterday that killed a Thai worker in Israel. [WSJ]

• The Anti-Defamation League publicly criticized Gen. David Petraeus—a hugely popular figure—for linking (to whatever extent he did) the Palestinian conflict and the safety of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Haaretz]

• A new poll finds that the majority of Israelis actually think President Obama has been fair with Israel in the past week. [Haaretz/Forward]

Sundown: Obama and Bibi, Together At Last?

Plus Tzipi Livni, two nations turn their frustrated eyes to you, and more

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• President Obama further postponed a trip to Asia, meaning he’ll be in town early next week, when Prime Minister Netanyahu is as well. Will they break bread? [Laura Rozen]

• Visiting Moscow, Secretary of State Clinton asked Russia to delay finishing a nuclear plant it’s building for Iran. [Haaretz]

• Jeffrey Goldberg points out that if Kadima leader Tzipi Livni had agreed to join Netanyahu’s coalition, this would be a much more moderate government and last week’s mess probably wouldn’t have happened. [Jeffrey Goldberg]

• One writer points out that Netanyahu has no back-channel point man for dealing with the American administration—which may sound ordinary, but is in fact unprecedented for an Israeli prime minister. [Haaretz]

• An interview with Tablet Magazine contributing editor Judith Shulevitz on her new book, The Sabbath World. [The Jewish Star]

• “I just flew back from the Middle East, and boy are my arms tired!” is not the joke Vice President Biden made last night. Instead he said, “I just got back from five days in the Middle East. I love to travel, but it’s great to be back to a place where a boom in housing construction is actually a good thing.” [Haaretz]

Everything’s Coming Up Moses!

Come see Tablet’s Passover musical

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Come one, come all—or at least as many as can fit into the Laurie Beechman Theatre—next Thursday, March 25th, for the debut performance of Everything’s Coming Up Moses. The (mostly) original musical, presented by Tablet Magazine, comes from the truly unique brain of contributing editor Rachel Shukert. There’s no possible way I could improve upon the description the Beechman gives:

Lift the staff! Part the sea! We got nothing to do but be free! Everything’s Coming Up Moses is a musical retelling of the Exodus as seen through the larger-than-life journey of Moses, the original pushy stage mother. Through an irresistible blend of Broadway razzle-dazzle, old-fashioned show biz moxie and soon-to-be musical classics like Some Hebrews, Mose’s Turn and of course, the title number, Moses tirelessly shepherds the Children of Israel to the Promised Land—whether they like it or not.

With Broadway stars Seth Rudetsky as Moses, Matt Cavenaugh as Pharaoh, and special guest (and contributing editor) David Rakoff as God!

It’s going down at the Beechman, on 42nd St. and 9th Avenue in Manhattan. There is a $15 cover, plus a $15 food/beverage minimum (what, you should starve?). For reservations, call 212.695.6909.

Comment on Israel Is Free

Which is maybe why there’s so much of it!

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Netanyahu earlier this week.(Jim Hollander - Pool/Getty Images)

Opinions! Everyone seems to have one. Can you believe, for example, that some people actually prefer vanilla to chocolate? And other people actually liked Avatar? And then there’s that whole whatever-you-want-to-call-it between Israel and the United States right now. People have opinions on that too! Here are some notable ones:

• Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith thinks (as he wrote on The Scroll) that President Obama’s lashing out at the Israelis only makes him look weak. [Slate]

• Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg sees in the Israeli government’s incoherence—first announcing the settlements, then apologizing for doing so—evidence that Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost control of his weak coalition. Previously, Goldberg reported that Obama is trying to shake that coalition up further so that moderate Tzipi Livni can become prime minister. And we should listen to him: he is, after all, quite close to his fellow Tablet Magazine contributing editor Barack Obama. [Atlantic]

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy praises the Obama administration’s “tough love” for Israel. [Haaretz]

• Prominent Palestinian official and intellectual Mustafa Barghouti sees America as a “hostage” to “the last colonial system in modern history.” [LAT]

• Aluf Benn predicts that both Obama’s and Netanyahu’s reputations will take hits by the end of all this. [Haaretz]

• Fred Kaplan sees Obama’s harsh stance as ultimately more supportive of Israel than the most ardent pro-Israel cheerleading could ever be. [Slate]

• Oh, and Netanyahu’s brother-in-law thinks Obama is an anti-Semite. A Kenya-born one, no doubt. [Laura Rozen]

Tablet Wins Digital ASME For Best Podcast

You like us, you really like us!

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Excuse the excitement and bragging, but we just got a text from our editors attending the Digital American Society of Magazine Editors awards ceremony, and: our Vox Tablet podcast series has won the National Magazine Award for Best Podcast! This is our first ASME win. A special congratulations to Senior Editor Sara Ivry and Audio Executive Producer Julie Subrin.

We will now be good sports and digitally shake the hands of the other excellent nominees: Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Harvard Business Review, and IEEE Spectrum.

And feel free to give a listen to those podcasts we submitted to the nominating committee. In case you haven’t heard, they’re award-winning!

“Remembrance Day”: Gregory Warner reports from Rwanda on commemorating the country’s 1994 genocide, with Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day as a template.

“The Queens of Bollywood”: Eric Molinsky discusses the early days of India’s Bollywood movie factories, when most of the leading ladies—from Rose Ezra to Ruby Myers—were Baghdadi Jews.

“Blessed Bluegrass”: Jon Kalish profiles Orthodox bluegrass musician Jerry Wicentowski, whose observance prevents him from weekend gigs, but not from virtuosic guitar work.

Earlier: Tablet is a National Magazine Award Finalist!

Did Anne Frank Tell Stories at the Camp?

Controversy over new memoir

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(AnneFrank.org)

A new memoir by a Bergen-Belsen survivor reports that her fellow prisoner distracted young children at the German concentration camp by regaling them with fairy tales. Berthe Meijer’s Life After Anne Frank casts Frank’s actions as of a piece with her remarkable (and remarkably precocious) story-telling abilities.

But now Hannah Pick-Goslar, a childhood friend of Frank’s who also survived Bergen-Belsen, has come forward to dispute the memoir’s account. “In that condition, you almost died,” she told a reporter. “You had no strength to tell stories.”

I guess I’d like to know whether this is true or not. But please let’s not lose sight of the Diary, which really does justify its considerable hype. I’m constantly amazed by how many people have never actually read it. If you’re one of them, then have I got a book recommendation for you!

Below: Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel plays his song, “Holland, 1945.”

Memoir’s Glimpse of Anne Frank Draws Skepticism [AP/NYT]
Anne Frank Told Fables To Children [AP/HuffPo]

What Petraeus Actually Said

General thinks Israel is merely one factor in region

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Gen. Petraeus testifying yesterday.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

According to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Vice President Biden did not, as some had alleged, tell Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israeli settlements endangered U.S. troops. But what about the venerable General David Petraeus, who heads the U.S. military’s Central Command (which is responsible for Central Asia and most of the Middle East)? He reportedly requested that the Palestinian territories be added to CENTCOM’s purview, on the grounds that events there were intimately linked to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We don’t need to guess what exactly Petraeus thinks, because he was quite candid yesterday before a Senate committee. He disclosed that adding the territories to CENTCOM has been discussed but never formally requested. And he argued:

The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the [area of responsibility]. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hezbullah and Hamas.

In other words: Everything is connected, but Petraeus does not perceive the Palestinian conflict as having an overwhelming effect on other conflicts.

Military journalist and historian Max Boot confirms that Petraeus never made this request. Speaking to a military source, Boot reports that Petraeus really does believe what he told the committee and that he does not think the settlement question creates the U.S. military’s biggest challenges over there. “In other words,” Boot concludes, “the current crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations cannot be laid at the American military’s door.”

Is General Petraeus Behind Obama’s Dressing Down of Israel? [Contentions]
The Petraeus Briefing: Biden’s Embarassment Is Not the Whole Story [Foreign Policy]
Petraeus Throws Support to Mitchell Peace Efforts [Laura Rozen]
Earlier: Did Biden Link Israel to the Troops’ Safety?

Today on Tablet

Islamic Zionism, davening in Barbados, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Sheik Abdul Hadi Palazzi, the head of a prominent Italian Muslim organization, shows that the Quran establishes Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land—that, yes, “Allah is a Zionist.” You’re darn right there is a Barbados Jewish community: Alexander Gelfand reports. Eddy Portnoy remembers 1920s Yiddish poet Shmuel Nadler, who turned Communist, was publicly denounced by his brother, and was eventually captured and killed in Vichy. On the subject of Vichy, The Scroll would recommend The Sorrow and the Pity, but it’s currently not in the mood to see a four-hour documentary about Nazis.

Go, Vols!

Root for Bruce Pearl’s Tennesee in March Madness

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Coach Bruce Pearl of Tennessee. Awesome, right?(Baltimore Sun)

The NCAA Tournament begins today. And Tablet Magazine’s official team* is playing in the final game of the day. At 9:45 p.m., the sixth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers will face the 11th-seeded San Diego State Aztecs in Providence, Rhode Island.

The Vols are our official team because they are coached by Bruce Pearl, the highest-profile Jewish college basketball coach working today. Pearl, soon to complete his fifth season in Knoxville (though hopefully not too soon!), also coached the U.S. team at the 2009 Maccabiah Games in Israel. Despite a spate of injuries, Tennessee finished the season ranked 15th in the country and third in the Southeastern Conference.

Tennessee was put in the toughest region: If they win all their games and the favorites win theirs, they’ll next play three-seed Georgetown, two-seed Ohio State (which many consider a championship contender), and tournament favorite Kansas. March Madness, people, March Madness! Go, Vols!

* A motion for Tablet Magazine’s official team to be “whoever’s playing Duke” was, sad to say, struck down at a staff meeting. But for the record: Mike Krzyzewski (“Coach K”) is not a Jew.

Daybreak: The Crisis That Isn’t

Plus death by Gaza rocket and more in the news

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• While describing the East Jerusalem construction announcement as “not helpful,” President Obama denied that U.S.-Israel relations are in crisis. [JPost]

• Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren makes a similar description and the same denial in this op-ed. But he also stands by Israeli building in East Jerusalem. [NYT]

• Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas now says he won’t engage in proximity talks without a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem. [LAT]

• A Thai farm worker in Israel was killed by a Gaza rocket, the first such death since the January 2009 Gaza conflict. [LAT]

• Forty-nine percent of Americans believe Israel must stop building settlements; 22 percent think they should be allowed to continue. [Laura Rozen]

• The situation has U.S. officials mulling the prospect of their proposing the specific contours of direct peace negotiations, likely after several months of proximity talks. [NYT]

Sundown: Busting Bunkers?

Plus Bibi’s boy, to live and die in East Jerusalem, and more

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King Abdullah II (with Joe Biden).(Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)

• The U.S. military transported hundreds of “bunker-buster” bombs, which can burrow underground and destroy (for example) secret Iranian nuclear-weapon facilities, to its Indian Ocean airbase. [Haaretz]

• The Israeli leadership is taking steps to resolve its tensions with America. [NYT]

• Jordanian King Abdullah II accused Israel of trying to cleanse Jerusalem of Arabs. [Haaretz]

• Mazel tov to Avner Netanyahu, the 15-year-old son of Israel’s prime minister: After winning the Jerusalem competition last month, he won the Israel-wide Bible Quiz. He will compete in the world championships, in Jerusalem, in several weeks. [Arutz Sheva]

• The New York Times’s two Pulitzer Prize-winning op-ed columnists, Thomas L. Friedman and Maureen Dowd, both wrote about Israel today (and generally took the administration’s side). [NYT/NYT]

• Do you actually want to live in one of those planned East Jerusalem homes? Here’s how. [Slate]

Jam band Phish, two of whose four members are Jewish, announced its summer tour yesterday. They’ll be hitting many cities; here they are covering Talking Heads’s “Cities”.

Run, Steve Levy, Run!

The last best hope for a Jewish N.Y. governor

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.(Suffolk County)

With Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson still clinging to power despite a pretty damning scandal involving his alleged intervention in an aide’s assault case, Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch likely won’t get the chance to cure the two-year-long drought in New York—the republic’s most Jewish state!—of not having a Jewish chief executive.

But on the Republican side, there’s now a chance. Some Republicans who are dissatisfied with the current prohibitive favorite for their nomination—that would be Rep. Rick Lazio, best remembered as Hillary Clinton’s original Senate opponent in 2000—have inquired as to whether Lazio’s fellow Long Islander Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive, is interested in running for the GOP nod.

Levy is—how shall I put this?—a Democrat. But this is the same state whose main city has elected a lifelong Democrat who turned Republican, and then turned independent, as mayor. Three times. Besides, for us, Levy will be of neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, but rather of the Tribe. (OK, so his mother’s Italian. We’re trying here.)

GOP Sounds Out a Democrat as Governor [NYT]
Earlier: NYT Story Opens Door for Ravitch [NYT]
Paterson Won’t Run; Is Ravitch Next? [NYT]

Israel, Stateside

How the controversy has played in America

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Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) last month.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Last week’s construction announcement in Israel has rippled through a political system halfway across the world. While most Republicans and many Democrats have criticized the administration, some have backed it and turned their criticism toward Israel. Anyway, the Obama Administration has its uses for that criticism, too: It may just help buttress its credibility in the Mideast as a genuinely honest broker. Below, several ways the controversy over Israel has played out in America:

• The most prominent elected U.S. official to criticize the Obama administration was Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia). He is the House Minority Whip, a GOP rising star, and the son of an Israeli. [JPost]

• In private, many pro-Israel Jewish politicians have expressed sympathy with Obama and frustration with Israel; at the same time, many have been reluctant to espouse these views all that publicly. [Laura Rozen]

• AIPAC asked its supporters to spread the word that the Obama administration went too far in its criticism of “our partner Israel.” The group’s annual conference begins Sunday in Washington, D.C. [Ben Smith]

• Sarah Palin, who has studied this issue long and hard from her perch on the Council of Foreign Relations, called for a “reset” of U.S.-Israel relations. [Ben Smith] (more…)

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