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Why Israel Tour Books Are for Tourists

A ‘Haaretz’ writer finds them cringeworthy

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Haaretz’s Yotam Feldman takes a “voyeuristic” perusal of guide books for tourists to Israel, and discovers the reason why “[t]hese books are translated into every language but the one spoken in the country being described.” He finds a portrait of his home country that makes him uncomfortable—but we confess that as recent travelers to the holy land, and thus part of the books’ target audience, we don’t find them as far off the mark as Feldman might like to believe.

While the suggestion that curious travelers ask a Palestinian woman “about her embroidery and its significance” might sound silly or condescending, it’s hard to think of a better suggestion; chances are, she won’t want to discuss last week’s episode of Mad Men or the rush hour traffic in your home town. And if, as Feldman says, the books “stop just short of explaining one should chew food moderately yet persistently in order to avoid indigestion,” that’s probably because overwhelmed travelers can get flummoxed by mundane things such as buying toothpaste or making a phone call from their hotel. He takes umbrage at one book’s assertion that “Israelis prefer to drink instant or Turkish coffee, and when they drink alcohol, they prefer Goldstar beer”—but, well, that jives with our recent experience. If he wants to change Israel’s reputation regarding beverages, he might want to start with a letter to whomever plans hotel buffets.

Feldman does strike on something disturbing in the way these guides treat the Palestinian territories, which they present as “ideal sites for the danger enthusiast,” apologizing that Gaza doesn’t quite measure up to Iraq or Afghanistan. But his idea of what kind of book the average traveler might be looking for—“The one I would put together for visitors to Israel would bring them to places that are not very different from the ones where they live: residential neighborhoods, city parks and suburbs. It would help them understand public transportation, and let them sit in on court hearings and university lectures”—proves that not only is it better for locals not to read the books, but probably not to write them either.

Why Israelis Shouldn’t Read Travel Guides to Their Country [Haaretz]

Daybreak: Mumbai Jews Still Afraid

Plus Israel’s Iran options, Libeskind’s latest, and more in the news

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• The location of a new Chabad House in Mumbai is a secret revealed only to Jews looking for community; this caution reflects a general atmosphere among the city’s Jewish population since last year’s attacks. [WP]
• Meanwhile, the group responsible for the destruction remains a threat. [NYT]
• Thomas Friedman compares attempts to delegitimize President Obama with the “poisonous political environment” that led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Israel in 1995. [NYT]
• An examination of Israel’s options when it comes to a nuclear Iran. [Haaretz]
• Architect Daniel Libeskind is set to design a new synagogue for a Reform congregation in Munich, replacing the city’s “liberal synagogue,” which was destroyed during World War II. [JTA]

Sundown: America’s Top Jews

Zionism litmus test, the Bible in school, and the power of art

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• The results of an online poll have been tallied, and the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia has the top 18 American Jews for its “Only in America Gallery”; honorees include Sandy Koufax, Emma Lazarus, and Estee Lauder. [JTA]
• Technology may have marred a once placid holiday in Israel, but pictures show Yom Kippur there was still a day less bustling than most. [Haaretz]
• Young Israel, an Orthodox organization in Richmond, Virginia, has fired its rabbi, Joseph Kolakowski, for his anti-Israel views. [VIN]
• A new report from the Bible Literacy Project says that over 350 schools in 43 states are teaching the Good Book, most using 2005’s textbook The Bible and its Influence, in which the “approach is academic and not devotional.” [Christian Post]
• Holocaust survivors discuss how they used art as a means of resistance in a new documentary, As Seen Through These Eyes. [Jewish Week]

Brandeis President to Step Down

Not as a result of Rose Museum mess, he insists

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The saga of Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum reached one of its final chapters late last week, when the university’s president, Jehuda Reinharz, announced he’ll soon step down. The controversy started in January, when the Brandeis board of trustees, facing a steep plunge in endowment and fallout from the Madoff scandal, voted to close the 48-year-old art museum and sell a part of its collection, which includes famous works by Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. In the months since, a series of botched PR efforts led to international criticism of the museum, the school, and Reinharz by everyone from art collectors to Brandeis professors. Now the museum, which was set to close in late summer, will stay open on the recently announced recommendation of a university committee. Reinharz, who’s been the public face of the messy decision, insists the decision has nothing to do with the museum brouhaha, and he’ll stay on through the end of the 2010-11 academic year, unless a successor is found sooner. “Every job that one does has great periods, and some periods that are more difficult,” Reinharz commented earlier this year.

University President Jehuda Reinharz Resigns [The Justice]

Whither Polanski

With silence from Switzerland, everyone else debates director’s arrest

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Polanski at the Marrakesh Film Festival last year.(Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

If Roman Polanski were making a movie about his own extraordinary life—beginning with his childhood escape from the Krakow ghetto during the Holocaust, tracing his catapult into Hollywood fame with Rosemary’s Baby, moving on to his pregnant wife Sharon Tate’s murder by the Manson Family, following his guilty plea to charges of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl in a drug-fueled episode at Jack Nicholson’s house, and then documenting his subsequent decades as a highly visible, Oscar-winning fugitive from a possible California prison sentence—he couldn’t have found a more melodramatic way to open the denouement than what happened this weekend, when L.A. prosecutors arranged his arrest in Switzerland on the eve of Yom Kippur. (more…)

$6 Million for Tel Aviv Diaspora Museum

This time, to teach Israels about Jews elsewhere

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Tel Aviv is home to the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, but museumgoers there must be foreigners, because, says the Jerusalem Post, “according to experts, most Israeli youth pass through the state education system without a single lesson on the Diaspora.” That’s why a Russian-Israeli billionaire, Leonid Nevzlin, gave the museum a $6 million grant last week to help fund an offshoot, the Museum of the Jewish People, scheduled to open in 2012 and designed to convey to Israelis the value of Jewish life outside its borders. The new museum has a big task ahead of it: “More than 60 percent of the 150 history and civics teachers polled said the subject of Diaspora Jewry had never entered their classrooms, according to a 2006 study by the American Jewish Committee’s Israel/Middle East Office,” the Post report said. “Only 13 percent said they had taught it or heard of it being taught at least once.”

$6m. Gift Earmarked for TA’s Museum of the Jewish People [JPost]

Remembering William Safire

Columnist and language maven—but did he get his last name’s Hebrew root right?

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Safire on Meet the Press in 2007.(Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist William Safire, who died Sunday at 79, was a New York City-born college dropout-turned-public relations wizard who rose to prominence in 1959 when he organized the famous “kitchen debate” between Richard Nixon and Nikita Krushchev in Moscow. Nixon later hired Safire to work on his failed 1960 presidential campaign against John F. Kennedy and to write speeches for him in 1968, once Nixon was president. Within five years, Safire had left the White House, winning a coveted spot in the New York Times’ op-ed rotation. Safire took issue with the invocation of anti-Semitism by figures he supported, including Nixon and Pat Buchanan, with whom he worked as a speechwriter. But he also didn’t shy from criticizing Israel, as when the country was on the verge in 2000 of selling arms to China, against the wishes of the United States. Tweaking the injunction not to forget Jerusalem lest your right hand wither, Safire advised, “”Reconsider, Israel; let not your democratic hand lose its cunning.” Soon after he joined the Times, he also began writing the “On Language” column for The New York Times Magazine, in which he opined on idioms, etymology, and correct usage. In person, he pointed out (at least on one occasion that we witnessed) that his last name, Safire, derived from the Hebrew letters that make up the word “sofer,” meaning “scribe.” They do. Yet even more precisely, the letters in question—samech, pei, resh—spell the word “book.” (But who’s counting?)

William Safire, Political Columnist and Oracle of Language, Dies at 79 [NYT]
Wlliam Safire, New York Times Columnist, Dies at 79 [JTA]
A Colleague’s Remembrance [Forbes]

Goldstone Presents Gaza Report in Geneva

Urges both sides to seek justice, for peace

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Leshno-Yaar at the Human Rights Council in Geneva today.(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Richard Goldstone, the Jewish South African judge who headed up a United Nations investigation into potential war crimes committed during last winter’s Gaza war, formally presented his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva this morning. In his remarks, Goldstone—who formerly served as chief prosecutor for the international tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia—said he had held off making an immediate recommendation that both Israel and Hamas be referred to the international criminal court in order to give each side a chance to, in essence, do the right thing. “The ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence,” he told the panel.

What happened next depends on which news report you read. According to Reuters, the U.S. representative, Michael Posner, called on Israel to do more investigating. The Associated Press reports that Posner told the council the United States disagrees “sharply” with many of the findings in Goldstone’s report and “believe it to be deeply flawed.” Everyone, however, seems to agree that the Israeli representative, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, continued to dismiss Goldstone’s report and to defend Israel’s existing military investigations into a spectrum of war-crimes allegations, including the firing of white-phosphorus shells and unwarranted attacks on civilian facilities. “Israel is committed to fully examining every allegation of wrongdoing, not because of this report, but despite it,” Leshno-Yaar told the council. The Palestinian representative, Ibrahim Khraishi, was apparently silent about Hamas’s failure to investigate or halt rocket firings, but welcomed Goldstone’s findings about Israel. “My people will not forgive the international community if the criminals are left without punishment,” he said. So much for starting the new year off with a buried hatchet.

U.N. Expert Defends Gaza War Crimes Report [AP]
U.S. Urges Israel to Probe Gaza Crimes to Boost Peace [Reuters]
Related: Report Card [Tablet]

On Tablet Today

Anne Frank’s craft, Louis Brandeis’s Zionism, and books galore

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In Vox Tablet, our weekly podcast, Tablet Magazine’s Sara Ivry talks to author Francine Prose about Anne Frank’s estimable writing skills. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall speaks out for great children’s books that have been banned over the years. Book critic Adam Kirsch reflects on the uniquely American Zionism of Louis Brandeis. Book columnist Josh Lambert reads up on the “interpretive chutzpah” of Bible stories, gay Torah commentary, Saved by the Bell, and more. And stay tuned as always to The Scroll, where we bring you updates throughout the day.

Coens’ ‘A Serious Man’ Coming This Week

With even more Jewishness than their other flicks!

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Joel, left, and Ethan Coen at a New York premiere for A Serious Man last week.(Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Conjecture about Jewishness in the cinematic oeuvre of Ethan and Joel Coen has chased them for nearly 20 years, since the 1990 release of Miller’s Crossing, reaching a memorable plateau in 1998’s The Big Lebowski, which featured John Goodman as a Vietnam vet and convert who refuses to drive on Shabbat. Religious buzz is growing much louder now, as Coen fans await Friday’s release of A Serious Man. The new movie kicks off with a quote from Rashi (“Accept with simplicity everything that happens to you”) and a seemingly unrelated scene set in a Polish shtetl and spoken entirely in Yiddish before getting to the main drama—the story of a physics professor who seeks spiritual counsel from three rabbis in Minnesota in 1967. His is life coming undone; his son is a pothead, his daughter wants a nose-job, and his wife has left him.

Years ago, the Coens told The New York Times for Sunday’s Arts & Leisure section, they wanted to make a movie about a bar mitzvah boy who studies with a very old rabbi, “a Semitic Wizard of Oz,” says Ethan Coen. “He never spoke, but he had great charisma.” (In A Serious Man, the son studies for his bar mitzvah by listening to “Rabbi Youssele Rosenblatt Chants Your Haftorah Portion, Volume 12.”) The brothers says beyond the fact that their own father was a professor and that, like the boy in the film, they too had an affinity for the sitcom F Troop and a distaste for Hebrew school, the story is not autobiographical.

As for the Yiddish beginning, Ethan Coen explained it at a preview in Minneapolis: “You look at a shtetl, and you go, ‘Right—Jews in a shtetl.’ And then you look at the prairie in Minnesota and you kind of think—or we kind of think, with some perspective on it, having moved out, ‘What are we doing there?’ It just seems odd.” Added Joel Coen: “Mel Brooks once had a song called ‘Jews in Space.’ I guess that’s sort of the idea.”

Biblical Adversity in a ’60s Suburb [NYT]
The Coen Brothers Talk—Reluctantly—About Talking [MinnPost]
The Coen Brothers’ ‘A Serious Man’: More Jewish Than Matzo Balls? [LA Times]

Daybreak: Holiday Test

Iran threatens, Barak is sued, Madoff victims stew, and more in the news

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• Iran claims it test-fired three missiles on Sunday with the range to hit Israel. [NYT]
• A Jewish visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount spurred Palestinian riots in East Jerusalem over Yom Kippur. [JTA]
• Pulitzer-winning New York Timescolumnist William Safire died Sunday at 79. [NYT]
• Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is being sued in Britain for alleged war crimes in Gaza; Barak, who is currently visiting the United Kingdom, was warned to leave but stayed for his meeting with British P.rime Minister Gordon Brown today. [Ynet]
New York Magazine reports on the victims of Bernie Madoff who have been “cast out and left to stew in their own anger and humiliation.” [NYMag]

Sundown: Comic Stylings of the Brothers Foer

A Jewish helpline, eating right, and Crocs nixed

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• Jonathan Safran Foer’s brother Josh on building a sukkah together: “We’re supposed to be the People of the Book, but we’re actually the people of the carpenter’s square. From Noah to Jesus to Norm Abram, it’s a very proud tradition, you know.” The novelist’s reply: “Always hammering or getting screwed….” [Forward]
• Ultra-orthodox Jews in Manhattan and Brooklyn—and maybe soon, around the world—now have a special number for their own emergency needs, that will connect callers to the volunteer ambulance service Hatzolah or Jewish social services, among other things. [VIN]
• In an article offering advice to diabetics for the Jewish holidays, the only tidbit that’s Yid-specific is a suggestion to save high-fat egg yolks “to brown challah or the tops of some kugels,” which would seem to defeat the purpose. [5TJT]
• An ultra-Orthodox rabbi says that wearing Crocs on Yom Kippur, when leather shoes are traditionally prohibited, is “inadvisable,” as the chunks of foam are too comfy. (For alternative footwear, check out Tablet Magazine’s suggestions.) [Ynet]
The Washington Post’s Michael Gershon fears the internet—“The absolute freedom of the medium paradoxically encourages authoritarian impulses to intimidate and silence others”—seeing in it the “specter” of Germany’s transformation to Nazism. [WPost]

Israeli Census Stats Released

Palestinians more impoverished; ultra-Orthodox more hungry

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Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics released its annual report last week, in time for Rosh Hashanah. This week, in advance of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Bureau published a report comparing poverty statistics from 2003 with those from 2007. Separately, the International Peace Institute came out this week with new statistics on Palestinian public opinion on a number of political issues. Here are some highlights.

Number of people who live in Israel: 7,465,500
Percentage of those people who are Jewish: 75.5
Percentage of those people who are Palestinian: 20.3

Percentage of children in Israel labled to be at risk of poverty in 2007: 40
Percentage of Jewish children at risk of poverty in 2007: 27
Percentage of Arab children at risk of poverty in 2007: 73

Percentage of secular Jews “foregoing food for economic reasons” in 2007: 15
Percentage of ultra-Orthodox Jews “foregoing food for economic reasons” in 2007: 30

Percentage of Palestinians who support “a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, separate from Israel”: 55
Percentage of Palestinians who favor a bi-national state of Palestinians and Israelis: 11

Percentage of Palestinians who believe the most important step that could be taken to advance the peace process is evacuation of settlements and outposts: 28
Percentage who believe the most important step is the release of prisoners: 27
Percentage who believe the most important step is “halting demolitions and settlement building activity”: 6

CBS: Israel’s Population Numbers 7,465,500 [JPost]
40 Percent of Israeli Children at Poverty Risk [Ynet]
IPI Poll: Palestinians Support 2-State Peace Plan, Fatah, Abbas [International Peace Institute]

Intermarried Chicago Kids Won’t Get Grandpa’s Money

But will presented weird incentives for dad

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This morning, we mentioned the case of the Chicago man whose grandchildren were disinherited for marrying non-Jews. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that dentist Max Feinberg and his wife, Erla, were within their rights when drafting wills that made marrying Jews a condition of receiving a share of their estate. Legally speaking, this seems logical. Parents have no doubt drawn up valid wills based on flimsier preferences. “Equal protection does not require that all children be treated equally,” the judge in the case wrote. What strikes us as odd is that, in the absence of Jewish spouses, the money earmarked for the dentist’s five grandchildren—a respectable quarter-million apiece—goes instead to Max Feinberg’s son and daughter. What Feinberg seems to have done, in essence, is draft a will that gave his children an incentive to have their children marry non-Jews—which, given the will’s intent, seems a little odd.

Ill. High Court OKs ‘Jews Only’ Inheritance [AP]

Jacko Called Hitler ‘Genius Orator’

At least according to Shmuley Boteach book

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Jackson in London in March.(Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

Opportunist (and rabbi) Shmuley Boteach today starts hawking The Michael Jackson Tapes, a new book based on 30 hours of conversations he had with the late pop star. Among its big revelations is Jackson’s admiration for Hitler, whom he called a “genius orator,” according to Britain’s Daily Mail. “To make that many people turn and change and hate, he had to be a showman and he was,” Jackson told Boteach, noting that Hitler’s bad ’tude could’ve been mitigated with just a little therapy, since “somewhere, something in their life went wrong.” In the romance department, Jackson reportedly told Boteach that Cindy Crawford flirted with him, he considered dating Liz Taylor, and while Madonna loved him, the feeling was hardly mutual—“she is not sexy at all,” he asserted.

Michael Jackson: Adolf Hitler was a ‘genius’ at showmanship [Daily Mail]

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