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Remembering Robin Williams, King of Playing

The comedian and effusive entertainer was also a first-rate dinner companion

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Robin Williams speaks onstage during the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

So many important and wonderful people have died this year (your Hoffmans, your Stritches) that it’s starting to seem that I mostly write obituaries for people I have long loved from afar. But the death of Robin Williams yesterday morning, in what seems to be a tragic suicide, I feel particularly personal. People of my generation grew up with Robin Williams. His frenetic humor, the dizzying runs of free-association, resonated across all ages; as children, we might not exactly get all the references, but we knew we were in the presence of a virtuoso.

He was the King of Playing. We watched his films for kids (can you watch the end of Mrs. Doubtfire without crying? I can’t, and my parents aren’t even divorced) and his films for adults; we howled with joy when we caught a glimpse of him during a Nick at Nite rerun of Mork and Mindy and realized that, too, was Robin Williams. Our Robin Williams. Our favorite uncle, our silly big brother, our captain, our genie. He existed before we did, and somehow, that made him even more magical. (more…)

Mel Brooks Misses the Bagels in Vilna

But other than that, the comedy legend is pretty happy in Los Angeles

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Mel Brooks speaks during a 'Salute To Sid Caesar' at on July 16, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.. (Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)

Comedy icon Mel Brooks was born in Brooklyn in 1926, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t miss the old country. Specifically, Vilna (though his mother’s family was from Kiev, and his father’s family was from Danzig.)

In an entertaining interview with Tablet contributor Taffy Brodesser-Akner in Town and Country, the father-son duo of Mel and Max Brooks sound off about Los Angeles, where Brooks has lived since directing Blazing Saddles in the 1970s. The younger Brooks, born and bred in L.A., is an author and screenwriter. He spoke to Vox Tablet in 2012 about his second zombie novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. (more…)

The Letter From Camp Lives On

Even in the age of email, the genre of ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah’ endures

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(Shutterstock)

If there was any concern that modern technology would mark the end of missives from camp, the fear seems to have been unfounded. Kids may be glued to their smartphones during the school year, but the letter from camp is not only surviving, it’s thriving.

“Quite honestly, we are finding that kids are writing just as often as any other year of camp,” said Louis Bordman, senior director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Eisner camp in Great Barrington, Mass, which requires campers to write two letters home a week during their rest periods. The rule gets them writing, but how much and what the campers writes, Bordman explains, is up to the campers themselves.

“Depending on what’s going on, I’m finding that kids are telling their parents [about] the friends they have made, or the things that are going on.” he explained. “Certainly, when they are not feeling up to par, they want their parents to know so they do that quite rapidly as well.” In other words, they know how to write a “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” letter. (more…)

‘Dizengoff’ Is Philly’s Newest Hummus Joint

Zahav owners offer their take on an Israeli-style hummusiya in Center City

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Hummus at Dizengoff. (@AbeandDiz)

Dizengoff, the brand new hummusiya from Zahav owners Steven Cook and Michael Solomonov, has opened in Philadelphia, Grub Street reports. Zahav, which Leah Koenig recently called “the unrivaled current champion of Philadelphia’s Jewish food scene,” is a well-established modern Israeli restaurant in Philly, so it makes sense the duo, known as CookNSolo, would want to branch out with something a little more casual.

“There will be great hummus along with some traditional garnishes and some new-wave ones,” Cook told Koenig in April. Right now their menu features tehina, corn, lamb, and matbucha. (more…)

On the Front Lines of the Ebola Outbreak

An American health worker living in Sierra Leone describes the devastation

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A relief van drives through the Kono District of Sierra Leone during the rainiy season. (Laura Miller)

It’s been nine weeks since the first case of Ebola hit Sierra Leone, the epicenter of the outbreak ravaging West Africa. There are now over 600 confirmed cases in the country—and 200 deaths.

Sierra Leone has fallen into turmoil. Health workers have been attacked, schools have shut down, and the government has declared a state of emergency.

“I don’t think the world ever expected what has happened here,” said Laura Miller, the health coordinator for the International Rescue Committee. (more…)

Rabbi Fatally Shot Walking to Miami Synagogue

Police say murder of 60-year-old Brooklyn rabbi most likely a botched robbery

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Mourners pay their respects outside the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters during the funeral of Rabbi Joseph Raksin on August 11, 2014 in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Joseph Raksin, a Chabad rabbi from Brooklyn visiting his daughter in Miami, was fatally shot on his way to his daughter’s synagogue Saturday morning. Miami-Dade police have said the incident, which occurred just a few blocks away from Bais Menachem in North Miami Beach, was most likely a robbery gone wrong.

According to the Miami Herald, “Raksin was walking east on Northeast 175th Street and Eighth Court at about 9 a.m. Saturday when he was confronted by two young men, police said. He was then shot by one of the men, police said.” He was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, where he died.

The Anti-Defamation League confirmed that there is no evidence the murder was a hate crime. (more…)

Anatomy of a Tel Aviv Neighborhood

How Florentin became bohemian, artsy, and affordable—and not at all hipster

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Tel Aviv's Florentin district. (The Visual Explorer / Shutterstock.com)

When Thrillist published a list of the Top 10 Hipster Neighborhoods on Earth last month, a surprising entry took second place. While it was inevitable that Williamsburg would be crowned the international hipster mecca, the website ranked Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood just below it; before London’s Shoreditch, even before Berlin’s Kreuzberg. This would have been a somewhat entertaining honor—not that we’re so crazy about hipsters, but it’s nice to hear Israel mentioned in international media right now in a non-conflict context—if it were at all true. (more…)

Iconic Israeli Director Menahem Golan Dies at 85

Film about his Hollywood movie empire debuted at 2014 Cannes Film Festival

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Israeli producers Menahem Golan (L) and Yoram Globus at the 67th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 16, 2014. (LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)

Director and producer Menahem Golan, one of the founding fathers of Israeli cinema who also made it big in Hollywood, has died at 85, less than three months after a documentary about his film empire debuted at the the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

Though visibly unwell, Golan traveled to Cannes in May to attend the premiere of Hilla Medalia’s documentary, The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, together with Yoram Globus, his partner in the film company. The film, screened as part of the prestigious Cannes Classics, documented the rise and fall of the cousins’ trashy but extremely successful Hollywood venture. The Hollywood Reporter described the duo as “the last of the brash, shameless, old-school, ingratiatingly crass pirates to streak across the cinematic firmament before the advent of the suits and bean counters”—and indeed they were. (more…)

Special-Needs Kids Ride the Waves With a Pro

Surfing legend Izzy Paskowitz helps bring calm to children with autism

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A Surfer's Healing camp in Montauk, N.Y., in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Surfer's Healing)

Kristin Kucia-Stauder remembers the moment she noticed that her son was so far out in the ocean that she couldn’t see him. “He was just a dot on the horizon,” she said. As she watched from the distant shore, she knew that she should probably feel nervous; beginning a new activity of any kind could be difficult for her son, and this particular activity was a bit on the extreme side. But instead, she was struck by an odd sense of calm.

Kristin and her son, Thaddeus, were participating in an event hosted by Surfers Healing, a nonprofit organization that takes autistic children out surfing. Throughout the summer, families gather on beaches across the U.S. and in Mexico for free, daylong surf camps. At each event, experienced surfers take hundreds of children with autism out into the ocean for the first time. The first Surfers Healing camp in 1998 took 30 children out; now, the organization works with about 4,500 children a year.

Surfers Healing is the brainchild of professional surfer Israel “Izzy” Paskowitz. (more…)

The Best Writing Advice Judy Blume Ever Got

It was from her daughter, and it’s delightfully simple

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Judy Blume at the 15th Annual Glamour 'Women of the Year' Awards on November 8, 2004 in New York City. (Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

Trailblazing author Judy Blume, who wrote young adult books before that was even a category, is known for classics like Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Summer Sisters, Deenie, and Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself. But the beloved writer is back with a new novel for adults, which will be published in the summer of 2015.

Blume is working on revisions this summer, and according to her endearingly honest tweets, it’s been a stressful process. (more…)

From Sports Camp to Talmud Sleepaway Camp

Kutsher’s Sports Academy’s former Catskills location now Hasidic boys’ camp

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(Shutterstock)

From intense sports to equally—if not more—intense Torah study, one summer camp site in Monticello, N.Y., has just about seen it all.

According to the New York Times, Rav Tov, aTalmud-centric summer camp for Hasidic boys, is operated on the property that formerly housed the well-known Kutcher’s Sports Academy, which relocated to Barrington, Mass, in 2006. Sports courts and fields are everywhere, but they’re no longer used by campers, who instead focus on learning. (more…)

Ukrainian Jews Fleeing Fighting Head for Israel

More than 150 Jews housed in temporary shelters while waiting to emigrate

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A picture shows a house destroyed by combat between the Ukrainian armed forces and pro-Russian militants, in the village of Senyonovka, near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, on August 7, 2014. (ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian Jews fleeing war-torn towns like Donetsk, where fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatists continues, are hoping that Israeli will be their final destination. JTA reports that more than 150 Ukrainian Jews are expected to arrive in Israel next month.

Those waiting to emigrate to Israel are currently being housed in temporary shelters at a Chabad summer camp in the western Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr while paperwork is being secured for their move to Israel. (more…)

Anger After Director Distances Israeli-Funded Film From Israel

Ministry of Culture wants its $400,000 back on Venice Film Festival entry

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Still image from Suha Arraf's film, Villa Touma. (Venice International Film Critics' Week)

The Israeli government and members of the country’s film industry are furious with Israeli-Arab film director Suha Arraf, who categorized her film Villa Touma as Palestinian at this month’s Venice International Film Festival, without mentioning Israel, even though she received funding for it from the Israeli government.
 
Israel’s Ministry of Culture is now demanding that their subsidy of the film—nearly $400,000—be returned, since their funds are specifically intended to support Israeli culture. (more…)

Larry David Writes Broadway Play About Shiva

Don’t think about mourning, this is something to celebrate!

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Larry David on July 25, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

After weeks of grim tidings, one small piece of happy news has hit the wires, fluttering into our hearts like Hope emerging from the depths of Pandora’s Box. Larry David has written a play and it’s coming to Broadway. Scott Rudin will produce.

The play is called Fish in the Dark, and it’s about sitting shiva.

Shiva. Just soak it in. Imagine how much yelling there is going to be. And crazy old people. And crazy old people yelling at each other about nothing. And also musings on mortality and hilarious—not tragic—death. (more…)

The Gender Politics of the Gaza Conflict

Elana Sztokman on the status of Israeli women during the war

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Relatives and friends of slain 36-year-old Israeli reservist Sergeant First Class (res.) Yair Ashkenazi, who was killed in the northern Gaza Strip, mourn during his funeral on July 25, 2014 in the southern Israeli city of Rehovot. ( GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)

Over at the Atlantic, Tablet contributor and Jewish feminist activist Elana Sztokman discusses how gender dynamics have played out during the recent Gaza conflict in an essay pointedly titled, “Gaza: It’s a Man’s War.” Sztokman points out, rightfully, that the images we’ve seen during the month-long conflict have largely featured men.

“When women did appear,” Sztokman writes, “they were often seen eulogizing, mourning, or struggling to reconcile with their reality.”

The Israel-based activist and author focuses on the status of women on the Israeli side of the conflict, noting the startling absence of women on seemingly all fronts: in combat roles, leadership roles, and in the ongoing ceasefire negotiations. (more…)

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