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Bad-Sex Fiction Finalists Announced

Philip Roth and Amos Oz make list of year’s worst literary sex scenes

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If Philip Roth’s The Humbling fails to earn him a National Book Award nomination next year, he can at least console himself with the news that he’s made the shortlist of contenders for a British award honoring bad sex in fiction. Bestowed by the London magazine Literary Review, the awards “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel,” Auberon Waugh, who helped establish the contest, told the Guardian. In Roth’s case, his narrator’s declaration that a scene with a now infamous green dildo “was not soft porn” is defensive, according to the Review’s Jonathan Beckman, and his description of the female love interest as “a magical composite of shaman, acrobat, and animal” is, said Beckman, “an attempt to convince us that Roth’s leering is actually giving some vital anthropological insight.” Read excerpts from all the finalists for yourself.

Roth is in good company—Israel’s Amos Oz is also a finalist for his book Rhyming Life and Death, as is the musician Nick Cave, whose second novel, The Death of Bunny Monroe, came out earlier this year. There’s one woman, Sanjida O’Connell, among the 10, a disparity which begets the question of whether women authors write sex scenes less often than men or simply less poorly.

Bad Sex Award Shortlist Pits Philip Roth Against Stiff Competition [Guardian]

Holocaust Victim a Hit on Facebook

Polish historian uses the site to reconstruct the life of murdered boy

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Henio in 1939.(DW-World.de)

Piotr Buzek, a 22-year-old employee of the Brama Grodzka Cultural Center in Lublin, Poland, uses Facebook not to make friends for himself, but for Henio Zytomirski, a young boy who was killed in the Holocaust. Buzek has taken on Zytomirski as an alter ego, and he updates the boy’s Facebook page with devastating posts detailing what the boy might have experienced leading up to his death.

A recent entry reads: “Grandpa says that the war will soon be over. He says that soldiers also have families. How is that possible? They have a family, but they kill families.” Zytomirski’s 1,700-plus friends, most of whom are Polish, use the site to respond with a touching sincerity to a tragedy most of them were not alive to see: “I can’t imagine such beastliness,” wrote one. “They have no heart,” wrote another. Explains Buzek: “People write things on Henio’s page that we don’t speak about every day.”

While many young Holocaust victims have been declared “the next Anne Frank,” and young adult Holocaust literature remains a flourishing genre, Buzek’s use of Web 2.0 to illuminate Zytomirski’s story has touched a new chord. “Maybe I’m naïve, but I have a good feeling that Henio’s entries can make the world a slightly better place. They are making a contribution to ensure that something like the Holocaust never happens again.”

Young Holocaust Victim Has Over 1,700 Friends on Facebook [Deutsche Welle]

Today on Tablet

Music and mayhem

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Tablet Magazine’s music columnist Alexander Gelfand revels in a new box set of Yiddish classics that represents a small sample of an extraordinary new Jewish music collection. Eddy Portnoy continues his excavation of the 19th century Yiddish press with a tale of vicious retribution over a broken engagement. And as ever, The Scroll will provide pithy updates all day.

Daybreak: Is Abbas Necessary for Peace?

Crisis mounts, a smaller White House Hanukkah, and more in the news

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• Since Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas announced he would not run for reelection and may step down before his term ends, the peace process has become a crisis situation, prompting Israeli, American, and European leaders to scramble to try to keep him in office long enough to restart negotiations. [NYT]
• Abbas isn’t having it: “If [Israeli and U.S.] intentions are sincere, then I am still here and have been here for years—they could have reached a deal with me already…If Israel is prepared to advance peace on the basis of prior agreements and in accordance with the outline laid out in the road map, then it can do so with any Palestinian leader that succeeds me.” [Haaretz]
• The White House has cut the guest list for this year’s Hanukkah party in half from last year due to financial factors; although there will still be 400 invitees, some see this as a snub that comes harder as the situation in Israel has many Jews wary of the President. [JPost]
• Since earlier this week Iran even more officially announced that it will not abide by the latest plan to delay its development of nuclear capabilities, six world leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss punitive measures against the nation. [Ynet]

Sundown: A Tricky Question

Namecalling in Ukraine, a cokehead rabbi, and more

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• Sergey Ratushniak, mayor of the Ukrainian town of Uzhgorod, has been approved to run for president of the nation despite referring to his (non-Jewish) opponent as “Impudent Jew Yatsenyuk,” and saying things like “If I don’t like Jews and Israel, does that make me an anti-Semite?” [JPost]
• Hundreds of protesters, including members of the Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Health Care, attended a prayer vigil outside the Connecticut home of Senator Joe Lieberman, who has said he would join a Republican filibuster to derail a health care bill that includes a public option. [Connecticut Post]
• Sy Syms, a major philanthropist, has died at 83. He was also the founder of Syms discount men’s clothing store, where an educated consumer was their best customer. [JTA]
• The lawyer for a British rabbi charged with dealing cocaine claims his extraordinarily large stash was all for personal use, saying that “when he buys cigarettes, he does not buy one or two packets but 20 at a time.” [Times (London)]

Today in the Tyranny of the Ultra-Orthodox

Intel to hire shabbos goyim; a woman arrested at the Western Wall

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Women standing on chairs to view the Wall from a behind a barrier, 2007.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Just days after Intel faced a throng of rioters who objected to the operation of a factory in Jerusalem on the Sabbath, the giant computer chip maker has offered an appeasement proposal: According to news reports, Intel says it’s in the process of training non-Jewish workers to man the machinery on the day of rest and plans to replace all its Jewish workers with non-Jewish ones for the three shifts it runs on the Sabbath.

Elsewhere in the holy city, police detained a woman who wore a tallit at the Western Wall. Nofrat Frenkel was taking part in a prayer service organized by Women of the Wall, a group that gathers at the start of each Hebrew month for communal prayers at the Kotel. Last week, group members faced the ire of the Sephardic spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who called them “stupid.” Frenkel was detained for violating dress codes, according to the BBC, though we like to think those codes were put in place to stop bikini-clad ladies from sidling up to the wall’s crevices where they might stick in notes asking for the means to properly clothe themselves.

Intel to Employ Only Non-Jews at Jerusalem Plant on Shabbat [Haaretz]
Jewish Woman Arrested Over Shawl [BBC]
Earlier: Orthodox Rioters Take on Intel [Tablet]

Jewish-Studies Money With Strings Attached

Foundation wants secular Jews studied; some schools refuse

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Jewish studies departments at universities around the country are split on whether to accept money from the Posen Foundation, a fund that offers them substantial grants—but only for courses on secular Jewry. British energy magnate Felix Posen started the fund six years ago because, he told the Jewish Week, he believes that academic departments give secular Jewish history and culture (that is, the lives and work of a subset of Jews over roughly the past 400 years) short shrift. But is it proper for universities to accept money with such strings attached? Jewish studies heads at schools including Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and New York University say it is not, and are declining to apply for Posen grants, which offer up to $50,000 a year. “They’re not interested in just studying a certain field, they’re advocating one,” Yale’s department chair told the paper. But other prominent universities including Brandeis and the New School joined Harvard, Brown, and other institutions this year in accepting Posen money. The foundation does have an independent academic advisory board that approves the grants, supporters at these schools say. But, more awkwardly, schools also have to take what they can get in this economic climate, said some academics who’d accepted a grant. As a professor at Brandeis put it, a debate over the Posen fund that had been going on for several years among his colleagues was effectively resolved by practical concerns: “It would be naïve to think that the economic motive was not central.”

Jewish Studies Sans Religion? [Jewish Week]

900 New Homes Approved for East Jerusalem

Israelis united in support; Obama not pleased

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Jerusalem municipal officials added fire to the already-broiling settlement controversy when they announced a plan yesterday to build 900 new homes in the East Jerusalem suburb of Gilo, a neighborhood with more 40,000 Israelis. The plan prompted an expected chorus of international criticism, and it drew an unusually sharp response from the United States. While White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the administration was “dismayed” by the housing project, President Barack Obama told Fox News in an interview that new settlement construction undermines Israel’s safety and embitters Palestinians in a way that could be “very dangerous.” Reports suggest that the Obama administration feels especially betrayed because its envoy to the region, George Mitchell, asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block new construction in Gilo as recently as Monday.

The Jerusalem Post notes that it’s unusual for the United States to condemn construction in Gilo, which is geographically contiguous with neighborhoods that were part of Israel prior to 1967. The White House has traditionally maintained that Gilo is not a settlement, a fact made clear today when, after initially titling its response to the construction as “on the approval of settlement expansion in Jerusalem,” the headline was later revised to read simply “on Jerusalem.”

Meanwhile, Israeli officials from across the political spectrum united to dismiss the global outcry. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat called the demand to cease construction for Jews “illegal,” while Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin noted that “the right to build in all of unified Jerusalem is not questioned in Israel.” Perhaps most significantly, in a rare agreement with Netanyahu, opposition leader Tzipi Livni told French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that there is an “Israeli consensus” that Gilo belongs to Israel, an understanding which “must be considered when determining future borders.”

Housing Plan for Jerusalem Neighborhood Spurs Criticism [WP]
Gov’t Sources: Israel Won’t Accept Restrictions in Jerusalem [JPost]
Livni: Israelis Agree That Gilo Is Theirs [JTA]

ADL Catalogues U.S. ‘Rage’

And blames Glenn Beck for stoking it

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Rep. Barney Frank is confronted by a Obama-as-Hitler poster at a town hall meeting this summer.(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

The Anti-Defamation League released a report this week detailing what it calls the rise of rage in the United States. Who’s to blame for all this rage? That’s the fun part of the study: Abe Foxman & Co. finger Fox News host Glenn Beck, the “fearmonger-in-chief” and the “most important mainstream media figure … helping stoke the fires.” Beck is more dangerous than other right-wing hosts like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, the ADL says, because they attack the government on partisan grounds while Beck also engages and indulges conspiracy theories. A few of the conspiracy theories Beck entertains are Obama’s alleged creation of a civilian national security force and the preparation of FEMA-sponsored concentration camps for dissidents. But throughout the report, it is unclear what the ADL finds most troubling—the growth of this “rage” in the United States, or references Beck makes comparing President Barack Obama to Hitler. This being an ADL report, of course it finds plenty of those.

Rage Grows in America [ADL.org]

GOP Touts Jewish Party Switch in N.J.

The end of Jewish-Dem alliance? Not so fast, notes JTA.

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(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The single best predictor of how a person will vote is how their parents voted, according to Poli-Sci 101. Sure, there’s some give at the margins—and sometimes quite a lot of give, which can produce a permanent realignment—but, for the most part, people stick to the allegiances they learned early on. So we’re a little confused about why, at every election, there’s inevitably a story about whether lots and lots of Jewish voters will switch parties. As we reported earlier this month, the vast majority of Jewish voters in New Jersey’s politically conservative Syrian community did vote for the victorious Republican gubernatorial candidate, Chris Christie, despite his involvement in launching a criminal investigation into money-laundering among Syrian rabbis. Now, the Republican Jewish Coalition is touting a poll claiming that only 62 percent of Jewish voters supported the Democratic incumbent, Jon Corzine—significant, if true, because it would suggest that a big chunk of the 78 percent of Jewish voters who supported Obama last year might have changed their minds about the president and his party. But as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Eric Fingerhut notes, the poll was (a) commissioned by the Republican National Committee; (b) conducted the night of the election and the next day, after people had found out who won; and (c) only had a sample size of 72 Jews, giving it an error margin of plus or minus 11.5 percent. Which means that there is almost nothing to be read in those tea leaves, except that the Republican Jewish Coalition thinks it’s good business to soften up habitual Jewish Democratic voters by suggesting that other Jews are open to switching sides, however many or few of them actually are.

How Did Christie Do Among Jews? Still Not Totally Sure [JTA]
Earlier: N.J.’s Christie Wins in Deal, Too [Tablet]

Hitler’s War on Christmas Revealed

Exhibit reveals Nazi plans to de-Christ Christmas

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If, in keeping with the trends of the time, Bill O’Reilly decides to use Nazi imagery to express his rage at the “war on Christmas” this year—well, he may actually have a leg to stand on. Turns out Hitler & Co. did have beef with the holiday, and, as demonstrated in a new exhibition in Cologne, Germany, actually made an effort to take the Christ out of Christmas and merge it into “Julfest,” a solstice celebration with Pagan roots dedicated to remembering “Germanic ancestors and soldiers,” as the Times of London is reporting.

Nazis replaced the star atop the Christmas tree with a sun, in part to “break the emotional power of the Church,” but also to ensure there was no resemblance to Jewish or Bolshevik symbols. They also rewrote Christmas carols, changing references to baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary into snowy fields and the like. It’s a good thing we already pretty much boycott the Nazis, because otherwise the American Family Association would be all over this; instead they’ll have to stick with protesting The Gap for daring to use the word “Christmas” in the same breath as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in ads.

How the Nazis tried to take Christ out of Christmas [Times (London)]

On Tablet Today

Jewish speech and clandestine literature

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Marissa Brostoff examines the results of the Survey of American Jewish Language and Identity and discovers what the use of Yiddish can tell about a person. Joshua Cohen explores the difference between official and underground Soviet literature via a new anthology. And stay tuned to The Scroll for more throughout the day.

Daybreak: Ransom and Bounty

Shalit’s release could be imminent, plus Palin’s wisdom, scholarly dissent, and more in the news

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• American Arabic-language news network Alhurra reported that “credible sources” say that kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will be released by Hamas next Friday in exchange for “hundreds of prisoners.” [Ynet]
• Meanwhile, a Hamas-supporting charity organization in Gaza is offering a bounty of $1.4 million for the capture of any Israeli soldier. [AP]
• Sarah Palin to Barbara Walters: “I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.” [ABC]
• A group of academics resigned from the board of the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, claiming the organization is too restrictive in limiting access to its archive. [AP]
• The Associated Press presents an annotated list of the former Nazis who have faced prosecution in Germany since 2001. [AP]

Sundown: Talmud OKs Obama’s Bow

Plus against ‘going Muslim,’ Israel’s defenders, and more

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• A blogger compares the kerfuffle over President Barack Obama’s bow to Japanese Emperor Akihito with the tale from the Book of Esther in which valiant Mordechai refuses to bow to evil Haman, which Talmudic rabbis felt was “a needlessly obstinate decision to make a point in public” and had to justify it by explaining that the Persian minister wore an idol around his neck. [Beliefnet]
• A writer for Religion Dispatches takes issue with a recent Forbes commentary on the Fort Hood shooting titled “Going Muslim,” a play on the phrase “going postal”: “If a fanatic fundamentalist Christian kills an abortion doctor, is he ‘going Christian,’ or should an Israeli soldier who loses it be considered as ‘going Jewish’?” [RD]
• White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that Israel’s plan to construct 900 new housing units in Jerusalem will make peace efforts “more difficult,” which is hard to imagine. [AP]
• U.S. Orthodox groups are miffed at the State Department’s latest International Religious Freedom Report, which declares that Israel “discriminates” against non-Jews and non-Orthodox Jews, and “appears harsher” than past years’ assessments. [JTA]

Britain Has a Powerful Israel Lobby, Too!

According to British TV investigation

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Last night, Britain’s equivalent of Frontline—a Channel 4 news show called Dispatches—aired an investigation into Britain’s Israel lobby, which host Peter Oborne argued is as powerful in Westminster as the American equivalent is in Washington, but much less well known. The bulk of the program appears to have focused on one group in particular, the partisan Conservative Friends of Israel, which is described as “beyond doubt the most well-connected and probably the best-funded of all Westminster lobbying groups,” and which presumably matters more than its opposite in the Labour Friends of Israel because everyone thinks the Conservatives are going to win next year’s general election. (But it’s worth noting that Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown is, nonetheless, having this year’s official Hanukkah party at Downing Street, an upgrade from the Foreign Office, because he wants to make nice with the Jews after all the fuss over the Goldstone Report.)

Oborne, writing a companion piece in the Guardian, was careful to say that he wasn’t alleging any kind of conspiracy, nor even anything resembling a conspiracy. But London’s Jewish Chronicle reports that Jewish groups are nonetheless arguing that charges in the program about the lobbying groups’ influence veers too close to the controversial assessment put forward a couple of years ago by academics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, who argued that Congress has been duped into promoting Israeli policy goals at America’s expense. The head of the Conservative Friends of Israel called the show’s specific allegations about donations and influence “fictitious,” while the Community Security Trust, which is a little bit like the Anti-Defamation League, accused Oborne of “shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted,” arguing on its blog that the show would inevitably stoke anti-Semitism.

Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby [Channel 4]

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