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Daybreak: Dubai Murder Mystery

Plus new U.S. Syria envoy also killed Jesse James, and more

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• 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]

Sundown: Final Hour for Florida Killer

Plus Firth plays Stern, Ayalon goes after J Street, and more

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• Numerous ultra-Orthodox rabbis have asked Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to stay the execution of convicted murderer (and religious Jew) Martin Grossman on the grounds that he is mentally challenged and has been a model, remorseful prisoner. As of this publication, however, Grossman is scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection in roughly an hour. [Gainesville Sun]

• The Israeli IRS wants supermodel Bar Refaeli, who is incorporated in Singapore and keeps most of her wealth in offshore banks, to pay alleged back taxes. [NY Post]

• British actor Colin Firth has signed on to play Avraham Stern, the leader of the Zionist Stern Gang of Mandatory Palestine, in a Michael Winterbottom film. [Haaretz]

• Even as Ambassador Michael Oren has played nicer with J Street after prior rancor, Israel’s combative Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon went after the dovish American group: “They should not call themselves pro-Israeli,” he said. [Ben Smithl]

• An interesting interview with the head of a new Fatah-affiliated private equity fund that plans to invest in Palestinian businesses. [LAT]

• Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Putin traded pledges: a Holocaust memorial in Moscow, a monument to the Red Army’s World War II exploits in Israel. [JPost]

Dwek as in Wreck?

Prosecutors may be getting less than bargained for from informant

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Rendering of Dwek testifying against Beldini.(AP PHOTO)

After the former deputy mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey, was convicted on some corruption charges broken in part by informant Solomon Dwek but exonerated on several other, more serious charges, some are raising questions about prosecutors’ reliance upon Dwek, the Syrian-Jewish scion who turned on many in his community by cooperating with the FBI.

A jury acquitted the former deputy mayor, Leona Beldini, of charges that derived from Dwek’s testimony, even while finding her guilty of other charges that seem to derive, also, from that testimony. It’s a bit of a puzzling development, which at least one other defense attorney attributed to the jury’s reluctance to fully trust Dwek: “[Beldini] got convicted on the same counts she got acquitted on,” said the lawyer, who represents another public official implicated in the corruption scandal (and so, admittedly, has that axe to grind). “The main thing I would take away is that the government is on tenuous ground by the way they conducted this investigation and by putting all their eggs in one basket.”

Beldini’s defense strategy was in part to question Dwek’s integrity as a witness, based, among other things, on his plea bargain related to an alleged $50 million bank fraud. Guessed another attorney representing yet another New Jersey public official who awaits a Dwek-related trial: “I think they’re going to lose one of these high-profile cases, and they’re going to lose it because of Dwek and because of the way the investigation was done.”

Dwek, the son of a prominent Deal, New Jersey, rabbi (who has since disowned him), helped net indictments of 44 individuals, including the Syrian Jewish community’s chief rabbi and numerous north Jersey elected officials.

Split Verdict in Dwek Corruption Trial Has Both Sides Claiming a Measure of Victory [AP/Vos Iz Neias?]

Earlier: Did Dwek Get a Good Deal?

Tropper Agrees to Leave Monsey

Disgraced rabbi may have avoided formal condemnation

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Rabbi Leib Tropper, the ultra-Orthodox conversion guru who has been accused of soliciting sex from prospective converts, has resigned from the yeshiva he previously led, this time for real (unlike last time he resigned, when he didn’t really). It took the threat of a significant proclamation from a group of rabbis to get him to do it, 5 Towns Jewish Times reports (via Failed Messiah). Tropper additionally will leave Haredi enclave Monsey, New York, in the next few months.

“Leib Tropper Scandal Finally Put To Rest,” reads the 5TJT headline. While that remains to be seen, barring further revelations what this arrangement may have accomplished is to forestall a Beit Din—a formal rabbinic court that would have investigated and, presumably, condemned Tropper.

To read Tablet Magazine’s four-part series on Tropper, go here.

Leib Tropper Scandal Finally Put To Rest [5TJT]

Earlier: Tropper Didn’t Actually Resign

The iGrogger

Obviously, there’s an app for that

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Purim approaches: it falls this year on Sunday, February 28th. And in case you find yourself grogger-less when it comes time to drown out the name of the Purim story’s villain, you can get the job done for only 99 cents: Grogger Factory lets you download a traditional Jewish noisemaker to your iPhone (complete with 3D spinning action!),  complete with several different sounds to choose from. We recommend the loudest, to make sure that absolutely no one can hear the name Ha————

Grogger Factory

Casspi Just Does It

Israeli baller stars in Nike ad

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A crucial step on the road to NBA superstardom is getting your own shoe commercial (it comes a bit before getting your own shoe). Like clockwork, here is Omri Casspi starring in a new, moving Nike ad that puts Casspi’s status as the first Israeli player in the NBA front and center.

Oh, and check out his dunk on the New York Knicks’s Danilo Gallinari from a few days ago in the Rookie Challenge.

Earlier: Omri Casspi Steps Out

Related: Omri Casspi Is Ready For Primetime [Tablet Magazine]

‘My Sharona’ Singer Dies

Sharona is real, and is Jewish

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Yes, that is actually Sharona.(Canada, eh?)

Do you remember the song “My Sharona”? Of course you do. Don’t be bashful: it was the number one song of 1979 (and, as the New York Times’s Dave Itzkoff shows, it’s been ubiquitous ever since). So, a moment of silence for Doug Fieger—the rhythm guitarist and lead singer of the Knack, and co-writer of his band’s gigantic hit—who died Sunday at 57. And then a moment to remember that Sharona was Sharona Alperin, Fieger’s 17-year-old girlfriend, who—incredibly!—really is the one who graces the single’s cover, and who (like every member of the Knack) is Jewish.

Alperin now works at Sotheby’s, “helping entertainment professionals find their dream homes.” You get exactly one chance to guess her Website’s address.

Doug Fieger Dies at 57, Singer of ‘My Sharona [NYT]
Doug Fieger, Penned ‘My Sharona,’ Dies at 57 [JTA]

Related: Our ‘Sharona’ [ArtsBeat]

Today on Tablet

Mardi Gras Jieuxs Krewes, Nazis courting Muslims, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, we celebrate Mardi Gras with Justin Vogt’s look at the Krewe du Jieux and the Krewe du Mishigas, both designed to humorously rectify longstanding official Jewish exclusion from the New Orleans festivities. (A slideshow confirms the craziness.) Book critic Adam Kirsch discusses how the Nazis put an anti-Zionist twist on their anti-Semitic ideology (while downplaying its more explicitly biological elements) in the hopes of making converts, or at least allies, in the Muslim world. This week’s Email of Zion—the missive your uncle just sent you, or is about to—features Pilar Rahola, a non-Jewish Spanish leftist who stands up for Israel. The Scroll is neither leftist nor Spanish nor non-Jewish: discuss.

Freud-Owned Hitler Painting For Sale

One Jew who may have helped the Führer out

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Freud, whose cigar in this instance is just a cigar.(FiledBy)

Mullock’s Specialist Auctioneers have an interesting specimen for sale: a watercolor painting of a pastoral church, with two intriguing names on it.

On the back, implying the one-time owner: “Sigmund Freud, Vienna.”

Signed on the front, implying the painter: “A. Hitler, 1910.”

Both were in the Austro-Hungarian capital at the same time, which means they may have known each other.

The artifact will start at 10,000 British pounds. But still: a painting by Hitler owned by Freud? In several senses of the word, that’s priceless.

Hitler Painting That May Have Belonged to Freud Put Up For Auction [Haaretz]

Daybreak: Bibi and Dmitry

Plus skirmish over Lebanon, Palestinian sex scandal, and more in the news

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• Prime Minister Netanyahu met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow to push for further Iran sanctions. [WP]
• Netanyahu also asked Medvedev to tell Hamas that his previous offer for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit—a deal Hamas did not accept, leaving talks at an impasse—would not be improved upon. [Haaretz]
• Lebanese soldiers fired anti-aircraft guns at Israeli Air Force planes flying over central Lebanon. There were no casualties, but the incident exacerbated already high tensions on that border. [AP/Ynet]
• While calling for further sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Iran’s religious rulers were in danger of being replaced by a Guard-led “military dictatorship.” [LAT]
• A strange case gets stranger: the 11 suspects in the Dubai killing of Hamas’s chief weapons procurer held various European passports, and were likely not acting under Israeli orders (or at least direct Israeli orders), according to the police chief there. [WSJ]
• On Valentine’s Day, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended his chief-of-staff; the aide was caught on video allegedly accepting sex for political favors. [NYT]

Sundown: Senator Mort Zuckerman?

Plus Palestinian Na’vi, the archaeological is political, and more

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• Billionaire media and real estate mogul Mortimer Zuckerman is considering a run for Kirsten Gillibrand’s U.S. Senate seat from New York. Though a Democrat, he would probably run as a Republican or independent. The owner of the New York Daily News, Zuckerman is a major pro-Israel activist; he used to chair the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. [NYT]

• How a right-wing settlers group has used an archaeological dispute to solidify Jewish presence in an area of East Jerusalem. [Time]

• Check out this excerpt from Farm 54, a new graphic novel about growing up in rural 1970s Israel. [Words Without Borders]

• No way we can top this headline: ‘Man Broke Into Synagogue Dressed Up in the Rabbi’s Clothes and Stole Booze.’ [CBS 12/Vos Iz Neias?]

• Police in the Jewish areas of the West Bank receive “abusive” calls from Palestinians. 30,000 to 40,000 of them. Per month. [JPost]

• Palestinians protesting the West Bank settlement barrier have taken to painting themselves blue in reference to Na’vi, the cruelly colonized creatures in the movie Avatar. [AP/HuffPo]

Omri Casspi Steps Out

Israel’s first NBA player is only going to get bigger

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Prediction: after this weekend, Omri Casspi—the Sacramento Kings forward who is the first Israeli to play in the NBA—will be a little bit more of a household name.

Back home (in Sacramento, not Tel Aviv), they’re starting to realize that the rookie is actually really good:

He has been a starter, been benched, forced his way back into the rotation. He throws down two-handed dunks that rattle backboards, then snarls for effect. He asks to defend Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, and surprisingly, doesn’t embarrass himself.

He is emboldened by his growing celebrity, and by the perception that he is better than advertised, certainly better than most players drafted 23rd.

The league is taking note: he got a private meeting with NBA Commissioner David Stern; the New York Knicks cannily used a Kings visit to stage their Jewish Heritage Night—the results of which were “Omri Casspi” chants and a Kings win. Oh, and yes: a Sacramento-area couple named their newborn Omri.

Also notable: before a game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Casspi shook hands with Hamed Haddadi, who hails from Iran. “This is something we decided before the game,” Casspi told one reporter. “If we can make anything small, a shake of a hand and we can be friends and give a hand for peace, then we do it.”

Coming off the Knicks game, which may have been his most high-profile yet, Casspi has a big weekend ahead of him: it’s NBA All-Star Weekend, and Casspi plays tonight in the Rookie Challenge (in which top rookies play top second-year players).

Seriously, if I know anything about how the media works, you can bank on the combination of the Knicks game and All-Star Weekend generating real media attention (although he already got a Sports Illustrated profile!). There’s also the fact that the guy is averaging 12 points, five rebounds while not always starting, and he’s only going to get better.

Finally, Casspi seems to have a good head on his shoulders and to understand the obligations that, without any real effort or even, necessarily, willingness on his part, have been thrust upon him: “There is a lot of responsibility to being the first,” he told one interviewer. “I am not only representing myself, but I am representing basketball in Israel. I am also representing my country and the Jewish people in the States.”

Oh Baby, Is Casspi An Impact Player [Sacramento Bee]
Knicks Lose the Game and the Crowd [NYT]
Conversation with a King
[Ynet]
Profile: Omri Casspi [Jewish News of Greater Phoenix/Kaplan’s Korner]

Related: Omri Casspi Is Ready For Primetime [Tablet Magazine]

Fellas: Heed the Millionaire Matchmaker

Daughter of professional Jewish yenta dispenses advice on Bravo

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(Millionaire’s Club)

Sunday is Valentine’s Day, when the world is divided into two categories: people who are basking in true love and people who are searching for it. If you’re in the first group, well, mazel tov! But if you’re in the second, then Patti Stanger, better known as the Millionaire Matchmaker, has some advice: if you’re not sure whether you really like someone, just see what your schmeckle has to say. (Or your knish!)

For those of you who haven’t seen her Bravo show, Stanger’s an L.A. transplant who’s taken the trade-craft her mother and grandmother practiced as shadchans at their New Jersey shul and applied it to the very rich and, frequently, very shallow people who pass through her office every week. But she’s no platitudinous fairy godmother, offering up worthy Cinderellas to lovelorn Prince Charmings; she’s Sophie Portnoy for hire. “Patti’s mom is quieter—she was that Jewish mom on the street who wanted to see the nice little Jewish girl get together with the nice Jewish boy and be happy,” Stanger’s right-hand man, Destin Pfaff, told Tablet Magazine the other day. “But Patti takes that nice Jewish boy who wants to be set up and says, ‘There must be something wrong with you, because otherwise you wouldn’t be single.’”

This is, by the way, the show’s secret genius: it’s not about watching people find love, it’s about watching millionaires discover that money doesn’t make them any less insecure than the rest of us. (Exhibit A: Justin Shenkarow, whom Stanger dubbed her “angry Hobbit” and who threw a thoroughly recognizable tantrum when Stanger visited his home with a wardrobe consultant: “You come into my fucking room and you tell me you have to open my closets? Who are you?” he snapped.)

Stanger gets away with eviscerating these guys because she exudes ethnic authenticity—which is to say, she talks back—and because everyone knows that, deep down, she really just wants them to be capable of finding happiness. “There are people who come in with this challenge attitude, like, ‘I challenge you to find someone for me,’” Pfaff said. “But these people just need a mirror in front of them to help untie some of those knots.”

Starting next Wednesday, we’ll be distilling Stanger’s wisdom weekly on The Scroll. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with an example of how not to behave this weekend: do not be like last season’s favorite, Dave Levine, a sex-toy mogul who told Stanger he was looking for a bisexual swinger who also had her own career and would be a good mother to his children; you know, someone he could take home to his Conservative family in Boston. Stanger’s analysis: “Ugh, Charlie Sheen.”

Video-Dating For the Frum Set

It’s like Skype, but rabbinically-approved

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Alone on Valentine’s Day? The caring folks at the Make-a-Shidduch Foundation (a shidduch is a match between potential marriage partners, the unfortunate sound of the word notwithstanding) have a new project that could help you find your soul mate, particularly if he or she lives too far away to travel for a blind date.

Shidduch Vision is a video conferencing program in which “studios” are set up in the homes of pre-screened “hosts” so that Orthodox singles who have been fixed up by a shadchan (matchmaker) can have video “dates.” There are currently studios in Chicago, Baltimore, and Lakewood, New Jersey, with more on the way. At $18 per 50-minute session, it’s more kosher than Skype, which Shidduch Vision creator Jeff Cohn says puts daters in dangerous online territory, where “you can look at any www site that you want.” It’s more flattering, too (Cohn told Tablet Magazine that a cosmetician in Baltimore has offered to do girls’ pre-date makeup for free).

One problem? As commenter A. Nuran on the site Frum Satire points out: “One of the ways we unconsciously maximize our chance of having healthy children is to smell if they are good candidates for breeding with us. This isn’t much of a concern in the general population. In small ones which don’t have a lot of genetic diversity it has significant health implications. Video shidduch dating throws that all out the window.” For some, then, Shidduch Vision just doesn’t the smell test.

Related: Hard to Match [Tablet]

Tablet Writer on ‘Guardian’ Podcast

Hoffman discusses Rabbi Leib Tropper

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, “Sounds Jewish,” the Guardian’s Semitic-themed podcast, today tackles the Rabbi Leib Tropper scandal. Tropper is the Monsey, New York-based ultra-Orthodox conversion guru disgraced by allegations, in part broken by Tablet Magazine, that he attempted to trade conversion for sex. And the fun part is, podcaster David Solomons invited none other than our very own Allison Hoffman onto the program.

So give it a listen! Allison, Solomons, and Jewish Chronicle editor Miriam Shaviv discuss Tropper from roughly the 1:25 mark to 11:45.

And may your Valentine’s Day be less ironically celebrated than by discussing Leib Tropper.

Sounds Jewish: Valentine’s Day Special [Guardian]

Related: Sex, Lies, and Audiotape [Tablet Magazine]

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