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On ‘Boardwalk,’ Meyer Lansky Looms Large

The ruthless Jewish gangster is all business on the Prohibition-era HBO show

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Anatol Yusef as Meyer Lansky on 'Boardwalk Empire.'(HBO)

On Sunday’s episode of Boardwalk Empire, we heard Steve Buscemi’s character Nucky Thompson imply that a “little kike” was behind his assassination attempt. He is, of course, referring to the 5’0” gangland kingpin Meyer Lansky, played by British actor Anatol Yusef.

Maier Suchowljansky, born in 1902, came to The United States in 1911. Like many Polish Jews, his family settled in New York’s Lower East Side. Lansky, (who unlike most of his fellow mobsters managed to die of natural causes at the ripe age of 81) started out as a cat burglar and low-level gambler, and eventually became a successful bootlegger, loanshark, and gambler. (more…)

State Department Spokesperson: Gaza Strikes Are War Crimes

But are U.S. drone attacks on Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia any different?

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U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf pronounced three Israeli air strikes in and around U.N. facilities in Gaza during this summer’s conflict with Hamas to have been unjustified—and therefore war crimes. According to Harf, “the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.” She added that “Israeli authorities say they’re investigating. We expect these to be investigated thoroughly and promptly, and we’ll continue pushing them to do so.”

​Now, it is easy to dismiss Harf’s remarks as so much blather, issued without any access to operational or investigative information—if not for the rich irony of her former job as an intelligence analyst for the CIA. It is no secret that the CIA’s drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia have escalated markedly since President Obama took office, with an estimated 390 extra-judicial assassinations and bombings which have killed at least 2400 people, with some estimates closer to four thousand. It is also no secret that many of the people killed and injured by the CIA’s drones—and other American weaponry—have been civilians. (more…)

Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Inducts 2014 Class

Adam Greenberg, Chicago Cubs slugger injured in 2005, among honorees

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Adam Greenberg in his first Major League at-bat since being hit in the head by a pitch in 2005 on October 2, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Marc Serota/Getty Images)

The National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame inducted its newest class of honorees Sunday, CBS reports. Adam Greenberg, the former Chicago Cub who was struck in the head by a baseball during his very first at-bat in 2005, and who suffered sustained vision problems and vertigo, was among the honorees. In 2012, after seven years in the minor leagues and a brief stint playing for the Israeli national team, a social media campaign launched on Greenberg’s behalf landed him a one-day contract with the Miami Marlins. His brief return to the big leagues saw him playing for the Marlins against the New York Mets. (more…)

The Jewish Monkeys Aren’t Messing Around

Israeli band’s new album showcases distinctive mix of rock, klezmer, and funk

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The Jewish Monkeys. (Orit Arnon)

On the whole, Israelis aren’t that into Jewish music. Apart from the language—and even that isn’t always the case—Israeli pop/rock doesn’t concern itself much with questions of Jewishness. But the pattern doesn’t hold for Tel Aviv band Jewish Monkeys, probably because two of the band’s three singers and founders are German-Jews who made Aliyah as adults.

Entrepreneur and author Jossi Reich and veterinarian Roni Boiko actually met as kids, singing together in the Frankfurt Synagogue’s boys’ choir in the 1970s. Years later, in Israel, they met psychotherapist Gael Zaidner and together decided to pursue their love of music—and satire.

The Jewish Monkeys aren’t your standard rock band. (more…)

Ted Cruz Exposes Christian Bigotry Against Jews In the Middle East

Senator’s parallel between region’s imperiled Christians and Jews draws ire

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Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Cracks in what is normally represented as a tight alliance between Jews and Christians in Washington D.C. over Middle East issues were highlighted by Senator Ted Cruz’s dramatic and courageous performance Wednesday night as keynote speaker at the gala dinner for the In Defense of Christians conference. The gathering was assembled to address the plight of Middle Eastern Christians, who have been targeted by various extremist groups—with ISIS currently getting the lion’s share of media attention. Cruz kicked over a hornet’s nest when he encouraged his audience to see a potential ally in another Middle Eastern minority—Israeli Jews. After all, explained the likely 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, Christians and Jews in the region share many of the same enemies, from ISIS to Hamas. “The very same people who persecute and murder Christians,” said Cruz, “who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the same reason.”

This was too much for the IDC audience, which evidently included a large number of anti-Zionists—including featured speaker Antioch Church patriarch Gregory III Laham, who in this video of Wednesday’s event can be seen demanding that Cruz leave the event. Eventually the Texas Senator did leave the stage amidst a deafening chorus of boos. (more…)

New York Times Reporter Wonders Whether Hamas Kidnapped Those Three Teenagers

How much more evidence do we really need?

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Israeli soldiers take part in a search operation for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers on June 18, 2014 in the West Bank town of Nablus. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP/Getty Images)

The question of who did or did not order the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers this summer has become one of the more contentious issues of the recent round of violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. From the beginning, Israel blamed Hamas, and began arresting Hamas operatives in the West Bank—where they told Mahmoud Abbas that his rival was planning a coup. Hamas responded by raining dozens of rockets per day on the South of Israel. Israel responded with air strikes on Gaza. You know the rest of the grim story. The kidnapping and murder of the three teenagers was the match that lit the fire. But who lit the match?

Because this was not one of those terrorist acts whose authors claimed immediate and proud responsibility, its origin won’t ever have the absolute, perfect clarity that such admissions, in their twisted way, provide. Nevertheless, a clear preponderance of the evidence that has emerged since—including statements by the terrorists and their controllers—supports the Israeli government’s assigning of responsibility to Hamas. Anyone interested in the opposite view would do well to read Isabel Kershner’s piece in The New York Times last Friday. It appears to be a good-faith effort to make sense of recently released court documents, but I think that her conclusions are simply not warranted. (more…)

Israel’s National Religious Party to Run Non-Religious Candidates

More proof that Israel is not becoming a theocracy

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Naftali Bennett, leader of Israel's Jewish Home party. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Back in April, the New York Times published an op-ed alleging Israel was on the road to becoming an Orthodox Jewish theocracy. As I wrote at the time, the piece evinced profound ignorance of the beliefs of Orthodox Jews in Israel–many of whom oppose theocratic governance–and the broader politics of the country, which have taken a decidedly anti-clerical turn. Recent months have seen the drafting of the ultra-Orthodox into the army, the stripping of powers from the country’s chief rabbinate, and an alliance between secular and religious Zionist politicians against the ultra-Orthodox. In other words, contrary to some of its more hysterical critics, not only is Israel not on the cusp of religious rule, it is heading in the opposite direction. And this week, Naftali Bennett, head of the country’s largest religious party–Jewish Home–showed why. (more…)

CUNY BDS Group Schedules Anti-Israel Vote for Shabbat

Their resolution itself is just as comically inept

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CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. (Wikimedia)

Last week, activists at CUNY’s Doctoral Students’ Council, a group representing more than 4,700 graduate students at the university, embarked on an effort to pass a resolution supporting the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and calling for divestment from Israeli companies. The vote was never prominently publicized, but supporters of the measure were notified via an email that has since leaked. No materials explaining the rationale for the vote were distributed, a decision a DSC representative chalked up to an effort to be environmentally friendly. And finally, the vote was scheduled for this Friday evening, making it very difficult for any students who are observant Jews to voice their opinions.

Such measures are the opposite of the free and open discussion that academia is supposed to foster. And sadly, they’re growing more prevalent on college campuses: last year, NYU professor Lisa Duggan took similar measures, keeping an anti-Israeli seminar secret from all but her ideological cohort, and anti-Israeli activists at Cornell scheduled a vote to boycott Israel for the Passover vacation, a major hurdle for Jewish students. (more…)

Report: Anti-Semitic Incidents Double in France

Watchdog group cites more incidents through July 2014 than in all of 2013

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(Shutterstock)

According to a French watchdog organization, anti-Semitic incidents so far this year have just about doubled since last year. The group, known as SPCJ, announced an astonishing increase in the amount of acts committed in France in the first seven months of 2014 as compared with the same time span in 2013, JTA reports. Notably, that time period includes much of Israeli operation in Gaza, which stoked anti-Israel—and often anti-Semitic—sentiment around the world.

From Jan. 1 to July 31, SPCJ documented 527 anti-Semitic incidents compared to 276 in the same period of 2013, the security service reported in a statement Thursday. In all of last year, SPCJ documented 423 incidents. (more…)

Jewish Man Regrets Telling Oprah He’d Never Date a Jewish Woman

Infamous audience member from 1993 show now married to a Jewish woman

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Oprah Winfrey. (Mike Windle/Getty Images for TWC)

The guests on The Oprah Show have given us plenty of cringe-inducing moments that will go down in pop culture history (remember when Tom Cruise jumped on the couch?). The show’s audience members have been, in contrast, pretty tame, with the notable exception of a Jewish attorney named Alan Gurvey. In a 1993 episode of the show, Gurvey took it upon himself to let the world know that he would never, ever, date a Jewish woman:

“Jewish women are identical,” he said. “From their looks right down to their attitudes. They’ve got short, dark hair with makeup and big hips, and their attitudes? I mean, I don’t even need to go out with a woman. I just fax them my resume: ‘Ivy-league lawyer.’” (more…)

The Road to the New Jerusalem

To understand what’s happening in Crown Heights today, look at Instagram

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(Twin Design / Shutterstock.com)

The Crown Heights of my ‘90s childhood imagining bears as little resemblance to the neighborhood today as it did to the early-20th-century Jewish enclave that was already in the process of uprooting for the suburbs when the Rebbe assumed leadership here in 1951. From that time until his death in 1994, the neighborhood became a magnet for spiritual seekers, part baale teshuva training camp, part devotional proving ground—but mostly your standard black-hat Brooklyn shtetl.

Once established, shtetls are slow to move. New York real estate is precious, particularly among those for whom geographic proximity is a function less of affinity than of religious law that dictates the devout must hoof it between almost every place they might reasonably want to go, at least on Shabbos. (more…)

Watch Elderly Jews Explain Yiddish Words

You wouldn’t plotz if you lost a bingo game; zaftig is ‘more plump than heavy’

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Screengrab from 'Yiddish Part One.' (YouTube)

The folks at the Los Angeles Jewish Home have put together an adorable, Internet-ready video of some of their residents explaining the various meanings of Yiddish words. They go through the usual suspects—schvitz, schmuck, tuchus—as well as some less often heard terms like geshmak.

It’s a sweet video, with the participants—filmed in front of an extremely high-tech looking Bingo screen—seeming to really enjoy their on-camera walk down memory lane.

“It is so funny that we come from different streaks, but the Yiddish language and the Yiddish songs are always the same,” one woman says. (more…)

Grande Dame of London Literary World Dies at 99

Lady Berlin, a French-Jewish aristocrat, was ‘the last of her generation’

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Aline de Gunzbourg photographed in 1934 in Paris shortly before her marriage to André Strauss. (George Hoyningen-Huene)

Aline Elisabeth Yvonne de Gunzbourg, later Lady Berlin, died on August 25 in London at the age of 99. The youngest daughter of an aristocratic French-Jewish family of Russian descent and a remarkable woman in her own right, she was married in turn to three eminent men. Her first husband, André (“Dédé”) Strauss, was the scion of a prominent French-Jewish banking and art-collecting family; The second, Austrian physicist of Jewish origin, Hans Halban, was later an important figure in the Manhattan Project; The last was Riga-born English philosopher Isaiah Berlin. The London publishing house that her son Peter and daughter-in-law Martine founded was profiled in Tablet earlier this year.

Aline was born in 1915 in London, the fourth child of Baron Pierre de Gunzbourg. (more…)

New Law Bans Holocaust Denial in Greece

Hate speech legislation a response to the rise of neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party

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Parliament in Athens, Greece.(Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

In response to the chilling rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece—the far-right group currently holds 19 of 300 seats in Parliament—lawmakers are cracking down on hate speech, a move the Jews of Greece say is long overdue. Greece’s Parliament has approved a new law that bans Holocaust denial or trivialization, as well as similar comments about other recognized genocides, JTA reports.

The measure passed late Tuesday with 55 of the 99 lawmakers present in the 300-member Parliament voting in favor.

The law increases jail time for instigating racist violence from two years to three years and imposes fines on individuals and groups. Groups found inciting racism can be barred from receiving state funds.

(more…)

Study Says All Ashkenazi Jews Are 30th Cousins

Researchers identify 350-person founding population of Ashkenazi Jewry

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DNA. (Shutterstock)

According to a new study, all Ashkenazi Jews are basically cousins. More specifically, Ashkenazi Jews are at least 30th cousins. LiveScience reports on the international team’s new study, which found that “the central and eastern European Jewish population, known as Ashkenazi Jews, from whom most American Jews are descended, started from a founding population of about 350 people between 600 and 800 years ago.” (more…)

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