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On Tablet Today

Behind the tiles, beyond the myth

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Hadara Graubart penetrates the National Mah Jongg League, a group both feared and respected by players of the increasingly popular game. Tablet Magazine columnist Adam Kirsch looks at a new book that wants to eliminate leftist affection for Leon Trotsky once and for all. And all throughout the day, The Scroll will offer insightful updates.

Daybreak: No News on Shalit

Plus a potential settlement freeze, messiah problems, and more

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• Amid the latest talk of a prisoner exchange with Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that there is still “no conclusion, no decision, and no deal” for the return of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. [JPost]
• According to an unnamed Israeli TV program quoting unnamed officials, Netanyahu has proposed a 10-month settlement freeze in the West Bank. [AP]
• The Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America bans those with messianic views from membership, which will primarily affect those in Chabad who believe the Lubavitcher Rebbe may come back from the dead. [COLlive]
• Bernard Avishai speaks up for J Street: “[I]f Jews can be said to have stood for anything traditionally, was it not this allergy to dogma—this breaking of idols? Did we not see the democratic rights as, well, commanded? And, tragically, have not the land of Israel and Jewish military power themselves become idols for American Jews since 1967?” [WPost]

Sundown: The Hitler-Mobile

Plus Jews on film, unconventional art, and more

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• Despite feeling “really torn” about trading in property that once belonged to a “horrible mass murderer,” a German car dealer has reportedly arranged the sale of Hitler’s Mercedes to a Russian billionaire. [AP]
• A group of Los Angeles Catholic schoolteachers celebrated a midweek Shabbat as part of the ADL’s “Bearing Witness” program, which reinforced the connection between the religions—guilt—when one woman was moved by a Holocaust story to ask herself “[W]hat am I doing with Darfur and the genocide in Africa?” [LAT]
• To mark the anniversary of the Chabad center bombing in Mumbai, a blogger reflects on how a video tribute to victims Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg led him to a transcendent viewing of the Denzel Washington thriller Déjà Vu. Yes, you read that right. [Blogcritics]
• Kiki Smith, a German-born American artist known for using ideas of feminism and Catholicism in her work, has been chosen to create a window for New York City’s landmark Eldridge Street Synagogue along with architect Deborah Gans. [NYT]

Florida Kids Suspended for “Kick a Jew Day”

After Facebook group suggested hugs

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Last week, a group of kids at a Florida middle school tried to declare Thursday “Kick a Jew Day.” According to the Naples News, ten students at North Naples Middle School sent around an e-mail on Wednesday night telling classmates that if they saw someone Jewish, they should deliver a kick. The kids have all been suspended, and now, instead of reading for 20 minutes during homeroom, all the students in the school will have to watch videos about bullying and take lessons in respect and kindness. Maybe they were just jealous after “Hug a Jew Day” earlier this month.

10 North Naples Middle Students Suspended for ‘Kick a Jew Day’ E-Mail [Naples News]

Reclaiming Bob Dylan for the Jews, Again

In three easy steps

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Seth Rogovoy, author of Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet, joins a long tradition of people reading whatever the heck they want into the life and works of the elusive musician. (Some people are tired of hearing about him altogether.) Jews have a leg up on this practice—after all, the artist was formerly known as Robert Zimmerman—and in an interview, Rogovoy offers a peek into his process that serves to illustrate some Dylanology basics:

1. If you look hard enough, you will find something: “It involved a lot of dedicated listening over and over again to all of Dylan’s recordings; re-reading fundamental Jewish texts and key guidebooks, including Abraham Joshua Heschel on the Prophets—you read him on the likes of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and just substitute Bob Dylan for the ancients and it totally resonates.”

2. Evidence against your point can always be turned around to support it: “I go to great pains to show how, in fact, the gospel albums are a lot less about the narrator’s belief in Jesus than they are about the narrator’s identification of Jesus with the Jewish prophets.”

3. Don’t speak for the man, he doesn’t like that: “I don’t really pretend to have any insight into what, if anything, Bob Dylan believes in.”

Interview with Seth Rogovoy, author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet” (Part One) [Examiner]

Dispatches from Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region

Courtesy of Masha Gessen

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Seventy-five years ago, 600 Jews from Ukraine and Belarus traveled across Siberia to be the first settlers of Birobidzhan, a Jewish autonomous region 50 miles short of the Chinese border. To research a book she’s writing on the would-be homeland for Nextbook Press, journalist Masha Gessen retraced their path across Russia. She arrived at a train station marked by “two signs, one in Hebrew letters and one in Russian,” she writes on Slate. “The Hebrew faces the tracks, and though it is a fair bet that virtually no one on the Trans-Siberian can read it, it communicates all the necessary information. (I assume it says Birobidzhan, but I can’t read it, either.)” The mountainous region is by turns rocky, wet, and crowded with insects, all factors which made the establishment of Birobidzhan no less than “the worst good idea ever.”

Jewish Mother Russia [Slate]

U.S. Universities Sold Out for Iranian Money

By hiring pro-Ahmadinejad professors, says ‘NY Post’

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The New York Post reports that a shady Iranian charity organization has been donating big bucks to Columbia University and Rutgers University to support the hiring of pro-Iran, anti-Israel faculty. The Alavi Foundation seems to have been under the thumb of Iran’s government and has also been found to have supplied money to Iranian spies in Europe; Federal authorities are now attempting to seize the organization’s funds, which total as much as $650 million.

Among the results of what Michael Rubin, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, describes as “the ivory tower…prostituting itself for money” were Columbia’s hosting of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2007 and its hiring of Professor Gary Sick, who has expressed the following:

He [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] made it very clear that, whether he is talking about ‘wiping Israel off the map,’ or ‘erased from the pages of time,’ or whatever the quote is, what he means is that there should be a free referendum among the peoples of the Palestine that existed to the partition in 1948 to vote about the kind of a government they should have. He is confident that, in a free vote, Israel and Israelis would lose that vote and it would turn out to be something else: a unitary state, probably run by the Palestinians.

Schools’ Iran $$ Pipeline [NYPost]

Today on Tablet

A new official, a political pontificator, books to check out, and schlock to avoid

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In this week’s edition of our podcast, Vox Tablet, Sara Ivry talks to “citizen diplomat” Stephen P. Cohen about the “need to reconceptualize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one in which there are no victors.” Allison Hoffman interviews Hannah Rosenthal, the newly appointed U.S. anti-Semitism envoy. Marjorie Ingall’s suggestions of what not to give your kids for Hanukkah include a “techno draydel” and plush mohel scissors. Josh Lambert reviews books on the spectrum of Zionism, poetry, music, and drama. And much more as always, here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: PLO Staves off Abbas Retirement

Plus a Hungarian bust, a German painting, and more in the news

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• The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council plans to meet in December to authorize current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to continue running the government along with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in order to stave off the problem of postponed elections and Abbas’s declaration that he will not seek another term. [WPost]
• Hungarian riot police busted a beer-hall meeting of the nation’s illegal neo-Nazi group Hungarian Guard. [JTA]
• Israel attacked two suspected weapons factories and a smuggling tunnel in Gaza on Sunday, wounding at least seven, to retaliate for rocket attacks; the night before, Hamas had declared that it would cease firing at Israel. [AP]
• A German auction house has halted the sale of a painting by Alexander Adriaenssen after an estate claimed it had belonged to a Jewish family who was forced by the Nazis to sell it. [AP]
• A used-car dealership in Colorado displays a large billboard depicting President Barack Obama in a turban and the words “PRESIDENT or JIHAD?”, “BIRTH CERTIFICATE, PROVE IT!”, and “WAKE UP AMERICA! REMEMBER FT. HOOD.” [AP]

Sundown: Jews Monkey, Horse Around

Plus prayers on a plane, old Amsterdam beats New Amsterdam, and more

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• A renegade monkey was spotted heading toward the Tampa Jewish Community Center, sending police on a search and forcing the Center’s day-care participants to stay indoors today; if it had been this primate, they might not have had a problem. [Tampa Bay Online]
• David Cohen, a 25-year-old jockey with the fourth most wins in the United States, says he’s an expert at “how to hit a horse properly” but dreams of someday owning a Jewish deli. [Forward]
• In other Jewish equestrian news, Bobby Frankel, a horse trainer who had a particularly successful relationship with the stable of Saudi Arabian Prince Khalid Abdullah, died at 68. [BloodHorse]
• Some rabbis advise that while flying, it’s better to pray in one’s seat rather than to arrange a minyan: “The airlines don’t like people congregating in the back of the plane any more,” said one. [JC]
• Job Cohen, the unfortunately-named mayor of Amsterdam, is the fourth Jew who has held the position since World War II, which, a blogger pointed out, is “a better record than New York.” [JTA]

Aviation Blues

Airline pulls magazine after wrongheaded Holocaust fashion shoot

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(NewStateman.com)

EasyJet, a British airline, has withdrawn all copies of its in-flight magazine after being contacted by the New Statesman, a London magazine, about a Holocaust Memorial fashion photo shoot in its latest edition. In a written statement reproduced by the newspaper, easyJet apologized for the spread, which was photographed without permission at the Peter Eisenman-designed “Field of Stelae,” the Holocaust memorial in central Berlin. The airline also quickly distanced itself from the publishing house that produces its magazine, saying that it “prides itself on bringing together a wide range of cultures and beliefs and is appalled by this insensitive and inconsiderate photo-shoot, the aim of which was to highlight some of Berlin’s iconic landmarks.”

Exclusive: easyJet Grounds In-flight Magazine After Holocaust Gaffe [New Statesman via The Awl]

Israel, Syria Ready to Re-start Talks

Except there’s no agreement on preconditions, or on potential mediator

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As prospects for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority look increasingly grim, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is saying he’s open to reopening negotiations with Syria. And Bashar Assad, Syria’s prime minister, is saying he’s willing to resume talks as well. Good news, right? Not so fast. The first problem is, the two leaders are insisting upon different conditions for negotiations, as the Istanbul-based journalist Yigal Schleifer explains in The Faster Times: Assad wants indirect talks mediated by Turkey, which hosted the last round of negotiations between the two countries (they stalled last year). Netanyahu wants direct talks mediated by any country but Turkey, whose government has been increasingly critical of Israel since the Gaza War.

It’s further complicated by the fact that would-be mediators aren’t readily letting go of the chance to play peacemaker. Turkey still wants the job, as does France—Nicolas Sarkozy officially expressed his interest earlier this week. Netanyahu seems amenable, but that, says Foreign Policy Watch, is because Sarkozy won’t insist Israel give Syria the disputed Golan Heights, and, moreover, does not have the muscle to make either side follow through on much of anything. The government that really ought to mediate, the news analysis site argued, is President Barack Obama’s, which is not currently offering to do so. On the plus side, Schleifer noted, mediation offers from Croatia and Brazil are still on the table.

Istanbul Calling: Are Israel and Syria Ready to Negotiate? [The Faster Times]
Choosing the Right Broker [Foreign Policy Watch]

The Naches of Sex Studied

Berkeley symposium took a prurient look at Yiddish culture

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When we think about Yiddish culture, sex isn’t usually the first thing that springs to mind. But the folks behind this week’s conference “Sex and the Shtetl,” held at the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, put the spotlight on the prurient.

Discussions included what the Jewish Telegraphic Agency calls the “almost erotic idealization of the comradeship and intimacy of the all-male worlds of the yeshiva, the bathhouse and the rebbe’s court”; Molly Picon’s cross-dressing; and the shame of single motherhood that led to the creation of a Jewish “baby-farming operation” in 19th century Vilna where mothers “acted as wet nurses for wealthier matrons while their own babies were spirited away and killed.” Also, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Eddy Portnoy, who recently wrote about a grisly sex crime culled from the 19th Century Yiddish press, spoke at the conference about “‘dowry farmers,’ Jewish men who married young women for their dowries, then left for the New World.” And Cantor Sharon Bernstein sang this dirty ditty: “I had a sister named Esther, her ____ was as deep as the Dniester, and when she ____ she’d say, ‘fester, fester.’” (To fill in JTA’s blanks, check out Tablet Magazine’s article on the myriad Yiddish terms for the female reproductive organs).

The three-day extravaganza ran in concert with a Yiddish film festival featuring screenings of films based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yentl and S.Y. Ansky’s The Dybbuk. Naomi Seidman, director of the Center for Jewish Studies, pointed out the sexual politics inherent to each: “The fact that no one notices Yentl is a woman shows how effeminate Jewish men were considered compared to the Western European ideal of masculinity,” Seidman said. “Demonic possession of a woman by a man is a transgender dream we haven’t even begun to enact here in the Bay Area.”

Conference Explores Steamier Side of Shtetl Life [JTA]

Foxman, Ben-Ami Feud Over Palin

ADL, J Street leaders debate the meaning of ‘pro-Israel,’ and chutzpah

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It's ultimately all just more publicity for Palin's book.(Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Sarah Palin went on Nightline and told Barbara Walters that she disagreed with the Obama administration’s policy of pressuring Israel to freeze new construction in Jewish settlements on the West Bank, in part because “more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead.” On Wednesday, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, issued a statement accusing Palin of “pandering to her right-wing base.”

Anti-Defamation League chief Abraham Foxman didn’t appreciate that, and he last night he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Eric Fingerhut that Ben-Ami’s statement was “the height of chutzpah.” See, Palin’s statements might have been a “simplistic effort to be supportive of the Israeli government” but they were “clear and well-intentioned,” and, anyway, “all politics is pandering.” As for Ben-Ami, Foxman accused him of “attacking a celebrity for supporting Israel, but not in the way they want her to support Israel.” This morning, Ben-Ami responded with a long, sharply worded letter accusing Foxman of being “willing to go along with the defamation of a world-renowned (and Zionist) jurist”—Richard Goldstone—“who has asked tough questions about the Gaza War,” and also of trying to hijack the designation of “pro-Israel.” “You of course have every right to disagree with us. It’s a free country,” Ben-Ami wrote. “But you have no right to decide who is and who is not pro-Israel based on whether they agree with your views.” We’ll let you know if Foxman responds.

Foxman Blasts J Street on Palin, Questions Its ‘Pro-Israel’ Slogan [JTA]
Ben-Ami Responds to Foxman [JTA]

Tablet Today

Sniffing out threats and changing people’s minds

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Tablet Magazine columnist Etgar Keret tells of his heightened awareness of his Jewishness while on a visit to Eastern Europe. Hadara Graubart reports on an Israeli journalist who uses humor as a weapon against misconceptions about Israel. Liel Leibovitz reflects on a haftorah portion that puts ritual above all, and explains how a similar sentiment led him to New York from Israel. Stuart Klawans explores a documentary that downplays the dangers of anti-Semitism. And don’t forget The Scroll, which will inform and entertain you with updates throughout the day.

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