If you hadn’t heard, a man crashed a small plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas, earlier today, killing himself and injuring two people who were in the building. Police are investigating the incident as a crime … in part, no doubt, because of the note that the crasher, who was named Joseph A. Stack III, apparently left behind. (The original note, which he published online, has been taken down, “due to the sensitive nature of the events that transpired in Texas this morning and in compliance with a request from the FBI.”) It is basically a hodgepodge of paranoid, though coherent (at least at the sentence level) ramblings about taxes and America and justice and what-not; a software engineer, Stack reportedly had a history of tax issues. You could find evidence of his being on the extreme right and the extreme left, or just plain crazy.
However, note the final paragraph:
I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.
It’s impossible to say whether Stack knew the provenance of the phrase “pound of flesh”— it is the payment Shylock demands in The Merchant of Venice when a debtor cannot pay him back; and since then it has been associated with the stereotype of the greedy, money-grubbing Jew. It’s impossible, in other words, to know at this point whether Stack’s action or at least beliefs (which certainly had to do with money and the grubbing thereof) were at all motivated by anti-Semitism. Stack certainly wouldn’t be the first violent lunatic to harbor such beliefs, though.
Great medieval Hebrew poet Yehuda Halevi is golden this month, and not just because he lived during the Golden Age of Spain. First, Nextbook Press—Tablet Magazine’s close relation—published an acclaimed biography of Halevi by Hillel Halkin, who argues that his subject was, in addition to the poet laureate of the Jewish people, in many ways the first Zionist. After the release, there followed a string of dance parties from Amsterdam to Brooklyn based on The Kuzari, Halevi’s famous work of religious philosophy. Okay, that didn’t actually happen. But! There really is a Halevi poem set to music featured in an otherwise unremarkable play, Conviction, which is currently in previews off-Broadway. So there’s that! (Plus there’s Hillel Halkin’s book, which really is excellent and engaging.)
About halfway through Conviction, a melodrama about the Spanish Inquisition, a beautiful young crypto-Jewess sings a Halevi poem, “Shabbat, my love!”, to her lover, a priest:
Now ’tis dusk. With sudden light distilled
From one sweet face, the world is filled;
The turmoil of my heart is stilled—
For you have arrived, Shabbat, my love!
Check out the full text of the poem, and enjoy the rest of Andalusian History Month.
As I noted in yesterday’s Sundown, Israel’s innovative new P.R. campaign is designed to be not top-down but bottom-up: it consists of a new Website, advertising, pamphlets, and the rest, all designed to educate Israelis how to talk about their country in an honest but flattering light. People are more likely to be swayed by word of mouth than institutional propaganda, and in the Internet Age, the idea must be, it is feasible for a government to orchestrate positive buzz. “To counter the big money invested by Arab states in propaganda against Israel, we have to mobilize our human capital, meaning the residents of Israel,” explained the information minister. This is is smart, up-to-date thinking.
There is some controversy behind it: prominent commentator Shlomo Avineri, argued, “It is puerile. Some of the information is ridiculous, and behind it I find a Bolshevik mentality—to make every citizen an unpaid civil servant for the policy of the government. There is never any intimation that some of our problems have to do with actual policies.” The Times notes that Israeli policies and realities are frequently given a conservative gloss on the Website.
A separate question, though. The pamphlets, the advertising, and even the Website are all Hebrew-language, and Hebrew-language alone. Meanwhile, have you ever met more enthusiastic supporters of Israel than (English-speaking) American Jews? (Granted, the enthusiasm might derive in part from a less complicated and knowledgeable relationship with the Jewish state, but wouldn’t that be an asset to the Israeli government?) Why doesn’t Israel wish to enlist its English-speaking supporters around the world in its new promotional blitz? Or is the campaign, ostensibly meant to change the world’s mind, in fact intended to shore up domestic support for Israel’s current direction? I don’t know, but I would like to.
Blackwell and his wife in 2006, after he lost the Ohio gubernatorial race.(Mark Lyons/Getty Images)
Every week, it seems, someone compares something pretty minor, or not black-and-white, to the Holocaust, and we groan and roll our eyes and take umbrage and get sleepy and take a nap so that we’re ready to do it all over again the following week. This week, however, Ken Blackwell, a prominent Ohio Republican and fellow at the conservative Family Research Council, found a wholly new way to be offensive in this vein: compare something that is, at best, a slight injustice (and that’s quite debatable) to a pogrom. For him, that’s what the nomination of liberal Dawn Johnsen to a prominent Department of Justice post portends:
What we are witnessing right now is an anti-Christian programmatic pogrom. What is a “pogrom” it’s the word [sic] that describes anti-Jewish raids by Cossacks and others in czarist Russia, but a programmatic pogrom best describes what is happening right now.
So, actually, I misrepresented Blackwell earlier. Technically, what the Obama administration is committing is not a pogrom; it’s worse than a pogrom, because it’s a “programmatic pogrom” (a pogrommatic perhaps?).
The other nominee whom Blackwell protests is Obama’s choice to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Chai Feldblum. Feldblum is Jewish (in case you couldn’t tell), and his father was a Holocaust survivor; but Feldblum looks kindly on gay rights, and so is also part of the pogrom-y programme.
To any Cossacks who might be reading this: the shoe’s on the other foot now, eh?
Today in Tablet Magazine, David P. Goldman talks to George Friedman, whose defense consulting company Stratfor—a “private CIA”—predicts the rise of Poland as well as a Japanese-Turkish axis against America. Digging through old Yiddish newspapers, Eddy Portnoy finds that the pre-World War II Warsaw Beit Din frequently resembled less a staid rabbinical court and more Judge Judy (plus you can read some actual contemporaneous news reports of bitter divorce battles in front of it). In honor of this weekend’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, New York Times editor Ethan Friedman designed a puzzle especially for Tablet Magazine. Here’s an extra clue: “The blog you should read today” (nine letters).
Puello on February 8th, before he fled.(The AP [AP])
More details have emerged in the case of Jorge Puello, the self-proclaimed leader of the Dominican Republic’s Sephardic community.
Last week, Salvadoran police accused Puello, who served as legal adviser to 10 Americans jailed in Haiti on suspicion of trying to traffic women and girls out of the earthquake-ravaged country (eight of them were released yesterday), of himself leading a Central American human trafficking ring. When the accusation first surfaced, Puello, a 32-year-old who was born in Yonkers, New York, had already fled to an undisclosed location but insisted that the Salvadoran charge was a simple case of mistaken identity.
That was last week. On Monday, he admitted that he, Jorge Puello, and the man whom El Salvador has an Interpol arrest warrant out on, also named Jorge Puello, are, in fact—yup—the same Jorge Puello. On Tuesday, he further acknowledged that, yes, he is also the Jorge Puello who was indicted in Vermont in 2003 on charges related to (yup again) an alleged immigrant smuggling ring (he managed to get out of Dodge, to Canada, in time to beat the heat).
Oh, plus it turns out he’s not the leader of the Dominican Republic’s Sephardic community, at all. Now, he says he fled the Dominican Republic to Panama; his own mother doesn’t believe that.
Here is where I say that he is innocent until proved guilty. And he does say he is innocent: a misunderstood Good Samaritan, in fact, one who, it seems, did live in Santo Domingo as an Orthodox Jew while trying to play a leadership role within the small group of Jews there. Of course, he was doing all of this under a slightly different name. But nobody’s perfect.
• Because six of the 11 suspects in the Dubai assassination of Hamas’s top weapons procurer carried forged British passports with real Israelis’ names, Israeli attention turned to the prospect that Mossad was indeed involved. (We’ll have more on this later today.) [WP]
• The assassination has become the top tabloid story in Israel, with many citizens bemoaning and criticizing the mission and work of Mossad, which is usually treated reverently. [NYT]
• And in London, Israel’s ambassador was called in for a discussion about the fake British passports. [NYT]
• A top U.S. diplomat met with Syrian leader Bashar Assad in Damascus as part of the thawing that will soon produce a new U.S. ambassador. [WSJ]
• Several prominent American, German, and Australian Catholic scholars privately asked Pope Benedict XVI to delay the sainthood of Pope Pius XII—the Holocaust Pope—for the sake of Catholic-Jewish relations. [JTA]
• The five U.S. congressmen in J Street’s Mideast delegation were “puzzled” by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s refusal to meet with them, and his labeling J Street as not “pro-Israeli”. (But why would they expect a diplomat to have good people skills?) [Haaretz]
• The Israeli government launched a new P.R. campaign designed to empower Israel’s fans around the world to win converts to the country’s cause. The campaign’s (Hebrew-language) Website generally puts a conservative gloss on political issues. [NYT]
• Ruth R. Wisse—author of Nextbook Press’s Jews and Power–celebrates the English language’s debt to Yiddish and worries about Yiddish’s future in the academy. [Minding the Campus]
• Martin Grossman, the convicted murderer whose death sentence was protested by many ultra-Orthodox groups around the world, was put to death yesterday in Florida. [Arutz Sheva]
• A former AIPAC official argues that, contra what some on the right say, President Obama has actually been more of an AIPAC president than a J Street one; and this is so, the official adds, because of domestic politics. [Foreign Policy]
• How they remember the six million in Texas. Or how The Onion imagines they do, anyway. [The Onion]
Perelman in 2008.(Brad Barket/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
Billionaire financier Ronald Perelman gives new meaning to the word “entourage”: reportedly, whenever he travels—usually to East Hampton or the French Riviera; Ibiza is so 2004, y’know?—he always packs nine Jewish men. Yes, they travel with him so that he is never without a minyan. (For some Jews, apparently including Perelman, Jewish women such as Perelman’s ex-wife, the actress Ellen Barkin, don’t count.)
Not only that: Perelman—who is thought to be a major Chabad funder—has built a tiny synagogue adjacent to his East 62nd Street townhouse. It is one-room and one-member; on Friday nights, he puts nine Hasidic men from Crown Heights up at a nearby hotel so that he can fulfill the Jewish law requiring that prayers be conducted with at least ten Jewish men. Good to see him get into the spirit of the thing.
After Israel and the United States, France has the third-most Jews of any country. Now, The Economistreports, French Jew Dominique Strauss-Kahn is his country’s most popular politician, and could become the first Jewish president of France (which of course excludes, say, 1930s Prime Minister Léon Blum). Strauss-Kahn (you can call him DSK) tried but failed to be the Socialist nominee for president in the last election—a vote eventually won by Nicolas Sarkozy, who has some Jewish blood but is a Catholic. Sarkozy attempted to co-opt DSK by appointing him head of the International Monetary Fund, but the strategy may have backfired, as DSK, a former French finance minister, has used the platform to enhance his reputation and is now poised to be a very formidable threat to Sarkozy come 2012. There are complications: DSK’s IMF stint isn’t set to run out till four months after the vote; there have been sexual harassment allegations (of which an independent probe acquitted him); he has a pretty plum job as it is, which he may understandably be unwilling to relinquish. On the other hand, in France, if it was good to be the king, then being the president must be at least alright, oui?
Jason Davis, a.k.a. The Douchebag, last spring.(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Last night on Bravo’s The Millionaire Matchmaker (which I will be rounding up every week), Patti Stanger gave a woman from Greenville, South Carolina, a dose of home truth from the yenta files: “A good BJ goes a long way.” Bonus tip: “You can actually watch television and do it at the same time.”
Then Patti’s tireless aide-de-camp Destin presented us with the night’s two bachelors, a pair of classic L.A. specimens: Prince Valiant and the Douchebag.
The prince, we are expected to assume, is David Sheltraw, a 51-year-old fitness fanatic and former actor who splits his time between L.A. and South Beach. His Bravo tagline tells us he’s a financier; Google tells us he played Eros in the 1995 Ally Sheedy thriller One Night Stand and, apparently, spent some time working as a mortgage broker for Countrywide. Never mind! He looks like Michael Douglas. What could be the matter?
Actually, as Patti knows, a good-looking single man signals danger: “There’s something really wrong with him,” she announces. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t be here.” Well, what’s wrong with him is that he says he wants to find true love, but in actuality is looking for a young, uncomplicated chickadee to have his child. “He’s looking for the bells and whistles and the violins and the Red Sea parting,” Patti says. (Yes! More Moses references!) It’s possible he just wanted to be on TV again, but sadly David’s other problem is that he’s boring, even though he has a motorcycle, and in the end he winds up behaving like a douche to the perfectly normal-seeming ex-model and mother-of-three he takes to Neptune’s Net in Malibu for beer and fried fish.
So that leaves the aforementioned douchebag to play the part of the prince. And, my, what a douche! As Page Six informed us yesterday morning, the second “millionaire” was Jason Davis, the 25-year-old grandson of the late tycoon Marvin Davis, who at various points owned 20th Century Fox and the Beverly Hills Hotel. The current Davis is a Perez Hilton lookalike who is regularly ridiculed in the gossip blogs as “Gummy Bear,” because he is fat, while his brother Brandon—who was responsible for starting the whole Lindsay Lohan “firecrotch” thing (if you don’t know, maintain your blissful ignorance)—is known as “Greasy Bear.”
Well, we get a gauzy montage of Jason as a young pudgy boy, hugging his grandpa at his bar mitzvah (for which the elder Davises converted their estate into a faux-casino), and then we get the real thing: a lardy guy in a gold late-Elvis tracksuit and sunglasses. All the time with the sunglasses!
But the Davis heirs’ finances are a little murky, plus Jason may or may not have been evicted from his apartment for failing to pay his $3,600 monthly rent, so it’s a little sad to hear him reminiscing about his childhood escapades on private planes. (He also brags about painting Tori Spelling, another dispossessed child of Hollywood royalty, on a Malibu beach when they were kids.) And slowly, and against all odds, Jason turns out to be kind of winning! He calls out one bimbo at the mixer for being totally boring. He also has a mommy thing going for Patti, which is actually endearing (and classic: “Wow, I kind of want to sleep with her!” he announces right after she reams him out for having dirty fingernails).
Patti treats Jason to a manicure and spray-tan at the Four Seasons, and finds him a not-too-ditzy blonde named Stephanie whose sole task is to puncture Jason’s attitude and prove that he can be honest without getting hurt. He picks Stephanie up in a limo and takes her to his house, where there is a violinist and a pet monkey, and they talk companionably about farting. Then they make out wrapped in a blanket. So far, so good!
By the time Jason shows up at Patti’s office for his debrief, she’s replaced Gummy Bear with Huggy Bear. Is the frog secretly a prince? We’ll never know. Sadly, it seems that Stephanie actually just wanted to get on TV (maybe you sense a pattern?), because she tells Jason she can’t see him again due to an “it’s complicated” situation with some other guy. And just like that, Patti turns all Mama Bear. She calls Stephanie to interrogate her about the date. Stephanie denies the make-out session. “You did not suck face?” Patti yells into her BlackBerry. “Tongues did not touch?” She gives the phone to Jason so he can deliver the final blow; he hangs up on the girl.
“I’m really sad Jason opened up and Stephanie lied to him,” Patti says afterward. But it’s okay! Jason found at least one woman he can trust: his hectoring Jewish mama-figure. And he still has his monkey to play with.
Next week: some guy says he’s looking for a Christian woman, but hesitates when asked how committed he is, exactly, to abstinence.
Foreman last November.(Joe Kohen/Getty Imagesfor Jewish Nation Fund)
The original plan was to have Yuri Foreman—the Belarusian-born middleweight champion of the world, who in his spare time studies to be an Orthodox rabbi—fight Puerto Rican sensation Miguel Cotto in a dramatic June 5th bout to take place at none other than Yankee Stadium. “I’m very excited to defend my title in New York, which is the Jewish capital of the Diaspora,” Foreman said. A friend of his hyped it further: “It may be the biggest Jewish sporting event of all time, certainly since David fought Goliath.”
But Foreman, Cotto, and boxing promotion company Top Rank—led by legendary promoter Bob Arum, himself no stranger to, well, being Jewish—have run into quite the ironic snag: as it stands now, certain Yankee Stadium lounges have been rented out on the night in question … to a bar mitzvah party. Even more problematically, part of that deal involves use of the center field Jumbotron (to display baby pictures and other bar mitvah-y stuff).
If the bar mitzvah conflict can’t be resolved, the fight will likely move to Madison Square Garden on the night of June 12th. That, however, is also the night before Puerto Rican Day, which we fear would lend Cotto an advantage in adrenaline and crowd support. Other than that, it looks to be a good fight: Cotto is likely one of the world’s top pound-for-pound fighters but is also a little less heavy than Foreman, who has more experience fighting at the 154-pound class also favored by great Jewish boxer Barney Ross.
Either way, though, boxing aficionados should plan for a late night: the main event will not be scheduled to begin before 11:30 P.M., so that Foreman is fully able to observe Shabbat.
Today in Tablet Magazine, Mideast columnist Lee Smith follows up last week’s profile of two prominent American lobbyists for Iran with another of Trita Parsi, an activist allied with the reformist wing of the Iranian regime who has tried to create the Iranian-American equivalent of AIPAC. ARTNews executive editor Robin Cembalest prepares us for a fascinating new show at New York’s Museum of Biblical Art; the show’s subject is Jewish artifacts (like Haggadoth) from late medieval Spain. The Scroll wishes all of our Christian readers a happy Ash Wednesday, and reminds them that they have some schmutz on their foreheads.
Hanukkah is the best holiday, if you’re a kid. Tu B’Shevat is the best holiday, if you’re a tree-hugger. Yom Kippur is the best holiday, if you’re a masochist.
For everyone else, Purim—when you are basically religiously obligated to party—tops ‘em all. And if you’re looking for a place to observe the holiday with all the rigor your faith demands—oh, and if you live in or near New York City—may we humbly suggest Jdub Records’s Hamanbashin get-down, co-sponsored by Tablet Magazine? It promises to be a night of great music, wacky costumes, and fun times. Under strict religious auspices, of course.
Time: Saturday, February 27th, 9 P.M.-1 A.M.
Place: CSV Cultural Center, down in New York’s Lower East Side.
Tickets: Get ‘em here: $10 advance, $15 at the door.
• The plot thickens: several of the Dubai police’s suspects in the murder of Hamas’s main weapons procurer are Israelis who appear to have been framed, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not. [LAT]
• President Obama formally named the first U.S. Ambassador to Syria in five years; Robert Ford, a career diplomat currently posted to Baghdad, faces Senate confirmation now. [Ynet]
• Meanwhile, four of the most prominent U.S. diplomats (including Secretary of State Clinton) are going on various Middle East grand tours (think recent college grads, only important) to drum up a united front against Iran. [NYT]
• The Palestinian Authority agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to the widow of an Al Aqsa Brigades attack in Israel in 2002 who was suing. It’s an unusual sort of settlement, though U.S. diplomats hope it’s the beginning of a new policy. [Politico]
• The old Muslim cemetary on which the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s planned Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem is, controversially, to be built, was intended in 1945 by Palestinian leaders as the site of a shopping mall. [JPost]