Sundown: Solar-Powered Peace

An uncommon rite, bubbly’s back, and Obama’s image


• A group of pro-peace Israeli scientists and activists called Comet-ME has brought solar panels and wind turbines to a Palestinian village left off the power grid. [AP]
• 62-year-old Brooklyn seltzer delivery man Ronny Beberman, in a full neck and back brace after falling off his truck, is back on his route with the help of a driver, to the joy of his clients: “I don’t know if they’re happy that I’m back, or my seltzer.” [NYT]
• An Israeli source says he was “stunned by the level of anger” among Democratic congressmen in the U.S. “over attempts to portray Obama to the American public as an enemy of Israel because of his efforts to restart peace talks and freeze settlement construction.” Such critics may or may not be chastened by the POTUS’s shiny new Nobel Peace Prize. [Haaretz]
• Disabled New Jersey 13-year-old Sydney Forman, who is non-verbal, will have her Bat Mitzvah aided by a communication device. [Jewish Community Voice]

Good Vibrations in Blue

Brian Wilson to put his singular spin on George Gershwin


In the wild world of ex-Beach Boy Brian Wilson, when he calls an upcoming album “the most spiritual project I’ve ever worked on,” almost anything could spring to mind: Gregorian chants? Rainforest noises? Babies gurgling? In fact, his latest muse is even more surprising: George Gershwin. As part of a two-album deal with Disney, Wilson will release a record based on the composer’s unfinished works as well as covers of standards by both George and Ira, two artists whose work is discussed in the new Nextbook Press title A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, America Songs by David Lehman. Can we put in a vote for a “Brian-ized” (to use Disney’s word) “Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha”?

Brian Wilson’s New Partner: George Gershwin [NYT]

Tablet Today

War on film, finger painting, a muddy mom, and another holiday


Tablet Magazine provides a primer on the upcoming holiday of Simchat Torah. Vanessa Davis illustrates a muddy spa vacation with her mother. Joshua J. Friedman presents a rabbinical student who uses an unconventional canvas for her visual interpretations of the Torah: her fingernails. Allison Hoffman looks at a cinematic trend of Israelis revisiting the 1982 Lebanon War. And stay tuned to The Scroll for more.

Peres, Wiesel Congratulate Obama

Citing hope, intellect, blackness

Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Netanyahu-Abbas meeting in New York last month.(Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Well, that was easy. President Obama woke this morning to discover that he’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor bestowed only twice before on sitting U.S. presidents. Reaction to his win has been predictably mixed—with some observers saying that simply by altering the rhetoric and protocols of American diplomacy, Obama deserved it. Past recipient and outgoing International Atomic Energy Agency direct-general Mohammed ElBaradei was “delighted” at the news, saying that no one better deserved the Prize. Lech Walesa, the Polish Solidarity leader who won the Nobel in 1983 and was not pleased with Obama’s decision to scrap a proposed missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, was perplexed: “Who, Obama? So fast? Too fast—he hasn’t had the time to do anything yet.” A much circulated Associated Press news analysis this morning reads: “The prize seems to be more for Obama’s promise than for his performance. Work on the president’s ambitious agenda, both at home and abroad, is barely underway, much less finished.” The only concluded item on the agenda, it seems, is convincing the world he’s the anti-Bush.

On the other hand, fellow laureate Elie Wiesel is pleased with the decision to honor someone who is just starting to make change in the world, pointing out that “the mystery of beginnings is part of Jewish mysticism.” He is also one of the few to acknowledge a milestone the Nobel committee left out: “He is the first black person to hold that high office.”

And one unstinting hat tip came from Israeli President Shimon Peres, himself a past winner and now acting as Israel’s best face forward in trying to repair weakened relations with the United States. Peres wrote Obama directly, saying, “Very few leaders if at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact. You provided the entire humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a lord in heaven and believers on earth.”

After that characterization, a settlement freeze and de-nuked Iran should be easy, no?

Barack Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize [Washington Post]
World Reaction to a Nobel Surprise [NY Times]
Obama’s Fellow Laureate Wiesel: ‘I Confess Surprise’ [NPR]

Michael Chabon’s WASP Envy

Revealed in new book of essays

Chabon signing The Yiddish Policemen’s Union in West Hollywood, California, 2007.(Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

Earlier this year Ayelet Waldman extended her resume of confessional writings with the publication of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace. Now her husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, takes a whirl into the world of intimate revelation with Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son. “The Hand on my Shoulder,” an essay in the collection excerpted on NPR’s website, describes his relationship with his first set of in-laws (Waldman is his second wife), gentiles who owned a beach house that had been in the family for generations. The place “was more heavily and richly layered with memories, associations, artifacts, and stories than any place any member of my own family had lived since we had left Europe seventy years before,” he writes in “The Hand on my Shoulder.” Such permanence “was a seductive thing to a deracinated, assimilated, uncertain, wandering young Jew whose own parents had not been married for years and no longer lived anywhere near the house in Maryland where, for want of a truer candidate, he had more or less grown up. They were in many ways classic WASPs, to be sure, golfing, khaki-wearing, gin-drinking WASPs. The appeal of such people and their kind of world to a young man such as I was has been well-documented in film and literature; perhaps enough to seem by now a bit outdated.”

Outdated, sure, but rarely dull.

Michael Chabon: The Pleasures and Regrets of ‘Manhood’ [NPR]

Daybreak: Mazel Tov, Obama!

A Nobel, a threat, and more from the news


• Surprise: President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize! Among other rationales, the committee cites the fact that “dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.” [WP]
• “Even if one American or Zionist missile hits our country, before the dust settles, Iranian missiles will blow up the heart of Israel,” says a Iranian military official. [Reuters]
• Jewish leaders in the United Kingdom have asked the Conservative party for evidence that it vetted Polish and Latvian politicians known for their anti-Semitism and homophobia before joining forces with them in the EU. [Guardian]
• The latest trial of John Demjanjuk, the alleged “Ivan the Terrible” at Treblinka, has been set for November 30 in Munich. [JTA]

Sundown: Jews and Arabs Unite!

Plus losses, a warning, and a literary reunion


• When you see a headline that starts with “Jews and Arabs unite,” you can be sure there’s comedy to follow; in this case, their common enemy is the proposed construction of an ultra-Orthodox town in Northern Israel. [Jewish Chronicle]
• Writer and professor Raymond Federman died just weeks before a series of events celebrating his 80th birthday; a former student remembers Federman’s tale of surviving the Holocaust as so inspirational that “no one in the room that day has probably ever felt since that his or her problems were enough to end it all.” [Artvoice]
• Another sad loss: Ruth Brin, community activist and writer of poetry, liturgy, and more, is dead at 88. [Forward]
• Israel’s Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who recently made waves with his anti-Shabbat elevators proclamation, reiterates that it’s bad form—both halachically and politically—for Jews to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. [JPost]
• 50 years after publishing the magnificent children’s novel The Phantom Tollbooth, writer Norman Juster and illustrator Jules Feiffer are collaborating on another book, The Odious Ogre, due out next fall. [PW]

Haim Saban in Talks to Buy al Jazeera Stake?

Egyptian paper breaks news, but we’re skeptical

Saban at a Lakers game.(Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

The Israeli news site Ynet reported this morning that Israel-raised billionaire media mogul Haim Saban—whose investment group owns Univision—is negotiating to buy a 50 percent stake in the Al Jazeera television network from the emir of Qatar. The Ynet item cited a story from an Egyptian news site, Al Mesryoon, which apparently claims that Saban is conducting negotiations through an Egyptian businessman, and, moreover, that this is the second time Saban has made an offer. It also doesn’t really provide any evidence for the claim.

It’s an interesting idea—a Jewish half-ownership in the Arabic news network. Saban’s spokeswoman declined to comment one way or the other. But we’re a bit skeptical: If a huge media deal were in the offing, what are the odds that the story would be broken not by any of the media reporters who cover Saban and the TV business—either here and in the Emirates—but instead by an Egyptian site we’ve never heard of? (And one which, if our Google Translator steers us right, only launched last year, and looks more the Huffington Post than Wall Street Journal.) Plus, if Al Jazeera is losing money, as the story claims, is it really likely that the Qatari emir would turn to an Israeli billionaire for help? And why would Saban—the world’s 261st-richest person, according to Forbes, but also, as the single largest donor to the Democratic Party, an extremely politically astute individual—want to invite the kinds of headaches that would be involved in taking on this particularly thorny, supposedly cash-strapped overseas enterprise? After all, if he wants another television channel he could just, like, buy out Al Gore over at Current or something.

Report: Saban wants to buy al-Jazeera [Ynet]
Related: Morphed [Tablet]

British Actor Upsets Poles

Stephen Fry angers Poland with Auschwitz reference


Today there’s a new reminder for those in the public eye to watch their references to the Holocaust, this time from British actor Stephen Fry. Fry appeared on British Channel 4 news to argue with a European Parliament member from the Conservative party about its alliance with members of Poland’s far-right Law and Justice Party. Fry’s got justice on his side; his main complaint was about the Polish party’s “mean-spirited, joyless, loveless homophobia.” And he wasn’t wrong in criticizing Poland’s tradition of anti-Semitism. But we winced a little when he called that history “disturbing for those of us who know a little history, and remember which side of the border Auschwitz was on.” It seems a bit harsh to blame the entire Polish nation for terrible things German Nazis did there (He may have been a bit overzealous in this reference to the entire nation, perhaps because he himself discovered relatives who perished in Auschwitz, as well as more details of his own Jewish background, via a genealogy program a few years back.)

And now, naturally, Poland is pissed. A spokesman for its embassy in London said that for Fry “to imply, however vaguely, some form of collective responsibility of the Polish nation and Poland for the notorious death camp which came to symbolise the horrors of the Holocaust, is utterly misleading, and quite frankly, slanderous.” And a historian has pointed out the error of Fry’s “border” reference—after all, under Nazi occupation, “there wasn’t really a Poland to speak of.”

Complaints: Fry ‘Slandered’ Poland Over Auschwitz [Channel 4]

Jews Lose Nobel Prize

Literature award goes to Herta Mueller, not Oz or Roth

Mueller at a celebratory press conference in Berlin today.(Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

So it turns out the Nobel Prize for Literature has gone not to the Israeli novelist Amos Oz, as some people were predicting, or to Philip Roth, who others (though fewer others, it seemed) thought was a leading contender. Instead, the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature is Herta Mueller, a Romanian-born German novelist whom none of us had heard of until this morning. She is 56 years old, and she immigrated to Germany in 1987, after years of persecution and censorship in her native country, according to The New York Times. The Swedish Academy, in announcing the award, praised Mueller, “who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.” This year is the 20th anniversary of the fall of European communism, and Mueller opposed the Ceausescu regime and was a member of Aktionsgruppe Banat, which the Times describes as “a group of dissident writers who sought freedom of speech.” Also intriguing: the Times notes that her father served in the SS during World War II.

Herta Müller Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature [NYT]

No More Shabbat on the Radio

Public ownership kills New York’s weekly broadcast


At 8 p.m. tonight,  the New York Times Company will hand ownership of its 75-year-old classical music station, WQXR, to the local public radio station, WNYC. For classical music fans, the switch means tuning to a new frequency—105.9 FM, instead of 96.3—but for Jewish listeners, it means the beginning of the end for the station’s decades-old weekly Friday night broadcast of Shabbat services from Temple Emanu-El, the Reform bastion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. WNYC spokeswoman Jennifer Houlihan said that WQXR will discontinue all of its religious programming—which also includes Sunday-morning church services—as of January 1, 2010, in accordance with the station’s policy on nonsectarian broadcasting. The synagogue, which will continue streaming services on its website, is still hoping to find another broadcast outlet, but administrative vice-president Mark Weisstuch tells Tablet Magazine that, as of now, “we have not met with much success in finding an alternative radio home.”

WQXR Is Moving to 105.9 FM [WQXR]
Shabbat on the Radio

Today on Tablet

Music, poetry, and language


David Lehman, author of Nextbook Press’s latest book A Fine Romance, creates a playlist of his favorite standards from the American songbook, all written by Jews. Robin Cembalest investigates a small-scale revival of the Ladino language in Turkey. Alexa Bryn explores the nuances of left-wing Israeli protest poetry. And, as ever, we offer you updates all day on The Scroll.

Fashion Photog Irving Penn Dies

Was mightier than Jews-as-outsiders stereotype

Penn photographed by Horst in 1951.(

Fashion photographer Irving Penn has died. A 2007 New York Times article on “the Jewish eye” in photography said that Penn did “not fit the profile of the nervous outsider,” and was therefore not firmly associated with his Jewishness. Rather, says the Times obit today, he was known for his “compositional clarity and economy” and was “most famous for photographing Parisian fashion models and the world’s great cultural figures, but he seemed equally at home photographing Peruvian peasants or bunion pads.” As the “photographer with the longest tenure in the history of Condé Nast” (he was most associated with Vogue), Penn portrayed the Hell’s Angels as “the graphic equivalent of a Greek frieze,” and typically depicted his subjects “enjoying a splendid isolation from the real world.” He was 92.

Irving Penn, Fashion Photographer, Is Dead at 92

Daybreak: Political Tests

Mitchell’s still trying, Goldstone up next week, and more in the news


• Pollster Mark Mellman explicates the Jewish affinity for Democrats while hammering home that “[s]upport for Israel is a critical element of Jews’ voting behavior.” [The Hill]
• Which doesn’t always favor the liberals—an editorial from a left-leaning Orthodox Jew worries that “far-right European politicians are being seen as kosher by some Jewish leaders as they are ‘pro-Israel’.” [Ynet]
• Pressure from Libya has persuaded the U.N. Security Council to move a discussion of the Goldstone Report from October 20 to 14. [Reuters]
• U.S. envoy George Mitchell plans to keep pushing for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians despite deep reluctance from both sides; for example, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman commented that Mitchell is “spreading illusions and in the end brings disappointment.” [Reuters]
• Influential mathematician Israel Gelfand has died at 96; Gelfand, who emigrated from the Soviet Union, where, as a Jew, his career was compromised, is described by a colleague as “the last of the greatest.” [NYT]

Sundown: Shop ’n’ Pray

Perennial prize-winners, fear of Christ, and Gibson’s luck


• A supermarket chain in Israel is committed to “maximizing the shopping experience”—not with low prices or expanded merchandise, but with in-store synagogues. [Ynet]
• Why aren’t Jewish Democrats grabbing the kind of city-wide political offices in New York that they once held? Shrinking demographic? Low turnout? Switching parties? Or maybe Jewish interests dovetail enough with the population at large that we actually vote for candidates regardless of their religion? [Jewish Week]
• The Jewish founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is suing a chaplaincy in Dallas, a member of which, he alleges, prayed to Jesus to “kill me and my family then wipe away our descendants for 10 generations.” [JTA]
Newsweek puts both Amos Oz and Philip Roth on the shortlist for the Nobel Prize in Literature; it also gives Bob Dylan 25-1 odds. At this point, hearing any of those names associated with an award feels like déjà vu. [Newsweek]
• The United Nations will add the Holocaust to its curriculum for Palestinian students, despite protests from Hamas. [Independent]
• Which may give them a leg up on Mel Gibson, whose drunk driving conviction has been “erased,” a bad precedent for a guy who may already have some revisionist views of history. [Reuters]

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