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Today on Tablet

A Hanukkah memoir, an important professor dies, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, in honor of Hanukkah (which begins at sundown tonight), Vanessa Davis offers a graphic memoir of her long battle against Hanukkah materialism. Staff Writer Marissa Brostoff eulogizes Professor Yosef Yerushalmi, “an unusually erudite and wide-ranging thinker who made the concerns of Jewish history universally interesting.” Hadara Graubart pounds the pavement to find out what Manhattanites know (and don’t know) about the Jewish Festival of Lights. Liel Leibovitz presents his column on this week’s Hanukkah-appropriate haftorah as a poem. And while we can’t promise more poetry, you never know quite what will appear on The Scroll—so check in throughout the day to find out.

Israeli Orthodox Schools to Start Sex Ed

In all its ‘dullness’

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Modern Orthodox high schools in Israel are going to begin teaching sex education to students. Science will be taught alongside religion, and topics to be covered include anatomy, desire, and even homosexuality—contraception is optional (to be taught, that is). We can’t help but see this as a step in the right direction, but just as students’ teachers should talk about the things the students are thinking about anyway, if might help if they also thought about those things the way the students do. We’re looking at you, educational director Rabbi Yehuda Felix. “Young people today must know about this dull period that starts at 12 and goes on, according to some opinions, until 35 or 40,” Felix said. Felix should know better: that “dull” period frequently extends at least until you’re 45. Then things get exciting.

It’s Sex Education, Orthodox-Style [Jewish Chronicle]

Daybreak: Settlers Burn West Bank Mosque

Plus White House party controversy, Madoff gets some respect, and more in the news

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• West Bank settlers vandalized and then set fire to a mosque in a Palestinian village south of Nablus. [JPost]
• The White House Hanukkah party, scheduled for December 16, has been the subject of controversy over its guest list, its self-declared status of “holiday party,” and other issues, much to the consternation of administration officials. [NYT]
• In his North Carolina prison, Bernard Madoff has made friends—with whom he plays chess, checkers, and bocce—and even earned respect. “To every con artist, he is the godfather, the don,” a fellow resident says. [WSJ]
• At the Conservative movement’s annual convention, a new move for internal reform began to stir in earnest. [Haaretz]
• Columnist David Brooks digs into Hanukkah’s history for a lesson about the complex moral issues raised by legitimate self-defense. [NYT]

Sundown: The Bike Battle Moves to Copenhagen

Plus getting out of Gaza, Yad Vashem’s names, and more

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• Waiting for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he arrives in Copenhagen for the U.N. climate talks will be protesters from Brooklyn angry about a supposedly green politician taking an anti-bike lane stance. [Vos Iz Neias]
• A new trend has been detected, of Gaza Palestinians faking cancer in order to gain passage out of the Strip. [Haaretz]
• The British government is now advising supermarkets on how to distinguish between West Bank produce grown on Palestinian land and that on settler land, in order to more easily facilitate boycotts. [Guardian]
• Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, has redoubled efforts to register all of Hitler’s Jewish victims. So far, it has approximately 3.6 million names. [Washington Times]
• Former Seagram’s head Charles Bronfman relates how he resisted entreaties to invest with Bernard Madoff. [Jewish Chronicle]

Evangelical Intellectuals: Heirs to the Jews?

Malcolm Gladwell, panelists discuss their former faiths

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On Tuesday night, four prominent intellectuals from evangelical Christian backgrounds—bestselling pop sociologist Malcom Gladwell, New Yorker literary critic James Wood, former The Nation books editor Christine Smallwood, and, as moderator, journalist Caleb Crain—gathered in Manhattan to discuss the impact their religious heritages have had on their work. But this being New York, the conversation between these (uniformly lapsed) Christians was organized by a Jewish editor (Mark Greif) of a heavily Jewish literary journal (n+1); the panelists all described the anxiety of influence they felt toward their Jewish forebears; and the panel opened with remarks about Jewishness, and closed with a question from an audience member who happened to be a rabbi. In fact, this Jewish intellectual ubiquity was the very impetus for the panel, Greif explained in his introduction. Growing up, Greif said, he was steeped in the lore of how 20th-century Jewish thinkers, with their Talmudic ear for argument and their revolutionary outsider politics, had shaped American intellectual life. (His relatives “were very proud of it despite the fact that none of them had anything to do with it.”) More recently, he continued, he became aware of the fact that a number of brilliant contemporary thinkers came from evangelical backgrounds, and wondered if how they thought about their own intellectual genealogies mirrored how their Jewish predecessors felt about theirs.

Both Gladwell (who is Canadian) and Wood (English) were raised with forms of liberal British evangelicalism; Smallwood grew up attending a “mini-megachurch” in a world of WWJD bracelets, conversions at Christian rock concerts, and biblical literalism. All of them have since lapsed from faith, though they’ve all carried over practices of close reading picked up from Bible study, as well as a profound irritation with “New Atheists,” like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, who dismiss religion as humbug.

Discussing their religious backgrounds in public appeared to be a novel experience for all of the panelists, which, they were well aware, was in itself striking given the frequency and ease with which many Jewish intellectuals, even non-practicing ones, address their Jewishness. The panelists agreed that if they were Jewish, their intellectual sensibilities might be more legible to others. After all, everyone assumes she is anyway, Smallwood said, a bit wistfully, despite the fact that you can’t spell “Christine” without “Christ.” Later, an audience member asked whether the panelists thought that Isaac Newton could be considered an intellectual if he lived today, given that he was a total man of faith. Without skipping a beat, Gladwell deadpanned, “Isaac Newton could quite happily exist today if he was Jewish. He’d be living on the Upper West Side and going to one of those big Reform temples up there.”

The last audience member to come up to the mic was an older man who identified himself as a rabbi. “We’ll have you,” he told Christine. “Your conversion is immediate.”

“This is like a dream come true!” Smallwood replied. The rabbi went on to tell a somewhat incoherent joke and to make a confusing argument, both of which seemed to revolve around the idea that Jews are smart, great, and everywhere.

“It’s not enough to have the intellectuals,” Gladwell grinned in response. “You have to hijack them, too.”

Earlier: British Marxist Talks Religion at Harvard Club

ACLU Donor Withdraws $20M Gift

David Gelbaum provided one quarter of the budget

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We noted earlier today that l’affaire Madoff continues to have an adverse effect on philanthropy. And today brought news of another apparently hard-hit Jewish donor: David Gelbaum, a major clean-tech venture capitalist who has invested in several Israeli start-ups, has withdrawn his annual $20 million donation to the American Civil Liberties Union. (Actually, Gelbaum is an anonymous donor; or is supposed to be, anyway.) The $200 million gift represents a quarter of the ACLU’s operating budget. And the organization has already faced significant cutbacks over the past year … thanks to Madoff.

How Obama’s Nobel Speech Will Play in Israel

Was it naïve about Israel, or was it tough-minded?

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The Israel-Palestine conflict was mentioned directly only once in President Barack Obama’s Nobel speech this morning, and still fairly vaguely at that. Yet the reference has already provoked some interesting discussion. Toward the close of the address, Obama said:

And yet somehow, given the dizzying pace of globalization, the cultural leveling of modernity, it perhaps comes as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish in their particular identities—their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we’re moving backwards. We see it in the Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.

Poltico’s Ben Smith supposes that Israelis might feel insulted by Obama’s casting them as tribal, even primitive, as well as implicitly placing them on the same plane as the “Arabs.” But Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s top political guy, takes a different view. Many Israelis, he says, “especially on the right, would see this as Obama finally realizing that (from the Israeli perspective) the dispute is not ‘just about’ borders and can’t we just split the difference and all get along … but that the Arabs just don’t want the Jews around and don’t want to settle the conflict.” It is bizarre to think that a Nobel Peace Prize speech—guaranteed to be read years and years from now—is still grist for the usual political close-read mill. Yet as Obama was careful to remind the world, he is first and foremost a politician, “a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation.”

Air Force Triplets Are Zionism’s Best Advertisement

You’ll want to see the bigger picture

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The Orbaum triplets, in uniform.(Jerusalem Post)

Meet Odelia, Nomi, and Donna Orbaum, 19-year-old Israeli triplets all currently serving in the Israeli Air Force.

What was your next question? Oh yes, non-Israelis can learn more about enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces here.

Dad Would Be Proud: Orbaum Triplets Serving in IAF [JPost]

Today Marks Anniversary of Madoff Confession

This day in infamous Jewish history

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One year ago today, the sons of asset management whiz Bernard Madoff informed legal authorities that their father had confessed to running a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme. A central point in the financial web of Jewish-American personages and institutions, he was arrested the following day, and the rest is history. The Forward has a retrospective package, which focuses on the effect the Madoff scandal continues to have on Jewish life and in particular Jewish philanthropy. For many, it is an important, if bitter, anniversary. For Madoff, it’s one more day in a prison term capped at 150 years.

Madoff: A Year Later [Forward]

New Poll: Israelis Split on Obama

Contra conventional wisdom, they don’t all dislike him

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The President and First Lady arrive at the Nobel Ceremony this morning.(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

This morning, shortly after President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, a newly released report found that even Israelis—who are thought of as more skeptical of Obama’s peace-making capabilities than most—have a generally favorable view of the president and his promise of bringing greater amity to the globe. The poll, conducted for the nonpartisan New America Foundation by a prominent Democratic pollster, concluded: “Despite repeated media reports touting a ‘4 percent Obama approval rating’ and arguments that the United States has lost the Israeli public’s support for renewed peace efforts, Israelis actually demonstrate a much more supportive and nuanced view.” A majority of Israelis believe Obama’s election will prove a plus for the world’s problems, according to the study, although slightly less than a majority believe he supports Israel. His 41 percent approval rating may seem a bit soft, but it is higher than his 37 percent disapproval rating. The main takeaway: Israel and Israelis are not as down on Obama as the conventional wisdom believes they are.

The main tension articulated in the poll results, it seems to us, is between Israelis’ apparent lack of a sense of urgency regarding a final-status agreement with the Palestinians and their perception of the American attitude here. Half think an agreement must be reached over the next few years; nearly half think an agreement should take “as long as necessary”; and nearly 60 percent think an agreement will not ever be struck. (Pity the at-least 10 percent who think both an agreement must occur soon and an agreement will occur never.) Yet, the Israelis also perceive the United States’s eagerness to settle the matter in the near future, and therefore worry that in the event that Israel rejects a United States-sponsored final agreement, military and financial repercussions will follow. The one country in the world whose trust and support it cannot afford to lose—65 percent believe the United States is the only powerful country it can count on—also does not know what is best for it, many Israelis fear.

A final note: the poll was done by Gerstein | Agne Strategic Communications, and specifically by partner Jim Gerstein. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Tablet Magazine’s Allison Hoffman has profiled him, and because he is a leading pollster for the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization J Street. Expect that group to argue that the numbers confirm that the president’s attempts at tough love toward the Israelis have not fallen as flatly as his critics have alleged. Meanwhile, expect those same critics to contend that even the high numbers are not high enough.

New America Foundation Israel Survey Analysis [New America Foundation]
Engaging Israelis on the Road to Final Status [New America Foundation]

Related: The Pulse-Taker [Tablet Magazine]

Today in Tablet

A Hanukkah primer, what the world thought of our song

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Today in Tablet Magazine, everything you always wanted to know about Hanukkah (which starts at sundown tomorrow night), but were afraid to ask. (Step #1: relax—it’s a very lenient holiday.) Hadara Graubart collects some of our favorite responses to the Hanukkah song that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) composed for Tablet Magazine. And plenty of fun (including possibly Hanukkah-related) will be had today on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Ambassador Oren Bashes J Street

Plus U.S. blames Goldstone, Obama accepts prize

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• Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren told the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism that dovish American group J Street is “a unique problem” because it “opposes all policies of all Israeli governments. It’s significantly out of the mainstream.” [Forward]
• In an off-the-cuff (though not –record) remark, a high-ranking U.S. diplomat blamed the Goldstone Report for the “fairly substantial gap” that newly exists between Israelis and Palestinians. [JTA]
• As negotiations with Syria become more likely, the Knesset passed a bill—supported by Prime Minister Netanyahu—to require a referendum before Israel withdraws from its territory. The Golan Heights was on the legislators’ minds. [Haaretz]
• President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, insisting that the use of force is sometimes “morally justified.” [NYT]
• But Ari Shavit, among Israel’s most influential columnists, argued, “He will be awarded the prize only because he is a Democrat, a liberal and a black man who defeated the Republicans.” [Haaretz]

Sundown: Bibi Cancels Copenhagen Trip

Plus fairweather friends of the Jews, Jews do Christmas, and more

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• Citing the high cost to taxpayers due to his extensive security detail, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his planned trip to the U.N. climate change summit in Copenhagen. [Haaretz]
• A right-wing chain letter beams over the Jews’ achievements … as a way of putting down those of Muslims. [The Awl]
• The ten best Christmas albums by Jews (or, in Harry Connick, Jr.’s case, half-Jews). [Jewcy]
• Denmark’s 2000-member Jewish community fears it will essentially cease to exist in the near future. [JTA]
• And check out Israeli President Shimon Peres’s new YouTube channel. YouTube’s founder flew to Israel for the launch. [Forward]

Run, Rahm, Run?

Emanuel steps closer to the spotlight

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Is Rahm Emanuel planning to run for the Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate due to be open next November? Capital J’s Ron Kampeas suggests he might. In a few words, he almost certainly will not: it is essentially inconceivable that, in the midst of being the boss of every White House employee other than the president, Emanuel has had time to set in motion plans to take the seat in under a year (the seat is currently held, in a two-year appointment, by Sen. Roland Burris, and previously held by President Barack Obama). But Kampeas is nonetheless perceptive to note that Emanuel, who once harbored dreams of becoming the first Jewish Speaker of the House of Representatives, has made himself more visible as of late. Last night, he headlined a congressional fundraiser for the first time since becoming White House chief-of-staff. (The event was for Rep. Howard Berman (D-California), who chairs the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee.) He also spoke at last month’s Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly. So higher profile, yes. But, for now, only in the service and at the pleasure of the president.

More Tidbits, Is Rahm Running Edition [Capital J]

Boxer Credits God for … Defeat?

Salita, in Israel, reflects on loss

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It’s been only a few days since Dimitry “Star of David” Salita’s 76-second pummeling at the fists of world junior welterweight champion Amir Khan in Newcastle, England Saturday night, yet already the Ukrainian-born, Brooklyn-bred Orthodox Jewish boxer is waxing philosophical on his humbling defeat. And he’s doing so in Israel, on a trip sponsored by the aliyah-promoting Nefesh b’Nefesh, prompting some to wonder whether Salita is considering a change of scenery. (He denies firm plans.) “I was cold and I didn’t get into the fight,” Salita says. “It felt like the easiest fight of my life. I mean, nothing happened.” Those who witnessed Salita get knocked down three times in the first round might disagree, but we understand what he means. More mystifying, however, is Salita’s claim that his ability to box comes from God. Given the circumstances, some might consider that blasphemy.

For the masochistic, here is video of the fight:

‘Star of David’ Boxer Visits Israel After Loss [AP]
U.S. Boxing Champ in Israel: God Gave Me the Ability to Box [Arutz Sheva]

Previously: Orthodox Boxer Crushed in Title Bout

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