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Sundown: The NYT’s Exotic Philo-Semitism

Plus landing a White House invite, Dylan vs. Diamond, and more

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• Slate’s Jack Shafer examines the New York Times’s proclivity, evidenced in its weekend story about Montana (which we covered yesterday), for “hey-folks-we’ve-found-some-Jews-living-in-a-strange-place moments.” [Slate]
• “Is there jockeying?” a Jewish Democratic consultant says of the White House Hanukkah party guest list. “Oh my God, jockeying is a polite word.” [WaPo]
Heeb magazine compares the two new Christmas albums from non-Christian rock stars Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan. [Heeb]
• Despite U.S. researchers’ conclusion that the ostensible remains of Hitler in Russia’s possession contained female DNA, a Russian security service spokesman insisted that its jawbone and skull fragment were genuinely the Führer’s. [Haaretz]
• Check out an excerpt from 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, from Nextbook Press author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. [Edge]

Jewish Orgs. Join Call to Slow Greenhouse Emissions

Statement directed at U.N. meeting in Copenhagen

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A Copenhagen church today.(Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

As the United Nations-sponsored meetings on climate change begin in Copenhagen, 22 prominent U.S. Jewish groups signed a joint statement supporting substantial change in how the world’s countries deal with greenhouse gas emissions and calling on participants to agree on aggressive action to combat global warming. Among the signers were the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements; the American Jewish Committee; B’nai Brith; Hadassah; and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Something tells us that their statement was released in a different spirit than the recent arguments from the Municipal Environmental Associations of Judea and Samaria that the West Bank construction freeze, by halting the building of certain infrastructure, is anti-green.

Oh, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will attend the Copenhagen summit, along with his Environment Minister.

Jewish Groups Call for Climate Change [JTA]
The Building Freeze is Bad for the Environment [Arutz Sheva]

Israel Lobs ‘IKEA’ Dis at Sweden

Dept. of ‘Oh, snap!’

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A top priority for Sweden during its current possession of the European Union’s rotating six-month presidency was to get the association’s 26 other member states to sign a proposal to split Jerusalem into the capitals, respectively, of Israel and a future Palestinian state. Additionally, the Swedish document explicitly called for said Palestinian state to be established along the pre-1967 lines: “Europe calls for an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable state of Palestine, comprising the West Bank and Gaza and with east Jerusalem as its capital,” the original proposal said, hitting most of the magic words. Israel lobbied against this document, and was successful. However, Sweden still managed last week to get 27 signatures on a milder “draft statement” that declares, “If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states.”

Israel’s response to that event, which was communicated through a Foreign Ministry official on background and which references Sweden’s iconic national company, ought to be savored, like a really expensive glass of wine. “The peace process in the Middle East,” Israel said, “is not like IKEA furniture. It takes more than a screw and a hammer, it takes a true understanding of the constraints and sensitivities of both sides, and in that Sweden failed miserably.” (Our bold.) Because we’re journalists, whose main bias is not for a particular side as much as for a good story, we hope that Sweden’s rebuttal is forthcoming. In fact, we hope it mentions how difficult it is to get through the stubborn sole of a Teva sandal.

Israeli Officials to Sweden: Middle East Peace is Not Like IKEA Furniture [Haaretz]

Previously: Swede Dreams

Hipsters Take Bike Lane Battle to the Street (Literally)

Activists caught repainting Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue

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As we reported last Friday, a contested bike lane that runs through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn was abruptly removed by New York’s Department of Transportation, stoking tensions between the neighborhood’s hipsters (who bike) and Satmar Hasidim (who don’t, and don’t like to see immodestly dressed riders doing it, either). At that point, it was still only rumor—well, and logic—that suggested that the New York mayor’s office, whose boss was recently running for a third term, had removed the lanes as part of a political deal with the Satmars. However, the New York Post now asserts that “a source close to Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg said removing the lanes was an effort to appease the Hasidic community just before last month’s election.”

Anyway, the fight for the streets of Williamsburg continues: in the wee hours of yesterday morning, a small group of black-clad bike activists quietly began to repaint the 14-block stretch of Bedford Avenue bike lane that the DOT had sandblasted. Not quietly enough, though: two of them were apprehended by the Shomrim, the Satmar neighborhood watch group, who called the cops. (No one was arrested.) Before they were caught, the vigilante cyclists filmed themselves repainting the lanes. Anarchy!

Hipsters Repaint Bike Lanes in Brush Off to Hasids [New York Post]

Möbius Bagel

How to make the first meal of the day the most interesting

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The linked bagel, with cream cheese.(GeorgeHart.com)

If breakfast is about starting the day right, then it should be more than just nutritious and delicious—it should be fun, too. In that spirit, scholar and sculptor George Hart presents the linked bagel, complete with a handy guide to how to do it yourself. (Hart draws the various points and lines on the bagel where you should cut; when you do it, though, you might want to leave your bagel unblemished, unless you have a particular jones for the taste of Sharpie.) Note how the extra surface area allows you to unguiltily increase your cream cheese intake. What Bart Simpson once said to his little sister Lisa, we now say to Mr. Hart: “I can’t believe it! You’ve actually found a practical use for geometry!”

Mathematically Correct Breakfast [GeorgeHart.com]

Today on Tablet

We talk to the Palestinian PM, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Michael Weiss profiles Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a Western-trained technocrat whose apolitical leadership “provides what seems to be Palestinians’ best hope for a more functional future.” Book critic Adam Kirsch reviews a biography of Vilna ghetto hero and later-life Israeli poet Abba Kovner, who “found an alternative to helplessness” by leading a few Jews out of their doomed city to fight, guerilla-style, under the Red Army’s auspices. And don’t forget to consult The Scroll throughout the day.

Europe’s Jews Oppose Swiss Minaret Ban

Though law doesn’t affect them, concern still felt

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Berlin’s Khadja Mosque, last week.(Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

The conventional thinking goes that European Jews are fearful of Europe’s growing Muslim community, which has frequently incubated anti-Semitism in the same cities where many Jews reside. On the other hand, the two groups are both religious and ethnic minorities who tend to be more observant and pronounced in their beliefs than their countries’ white and Christian majorities—majorities, by the way, whose historic track record of tolerance toward folks who are ostentatiously different than they are is a good deal less than admirable.

This common perspective is why prominent European Jews and Jewish groups have actually been among the loudest voices decrying Switzerland’s recent ban, which passed late last month with a 57 percent majority, of the construction of minarets specifically alongside mosques. The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the vote gave “succor to the unacceptable politics of unlimited hate being peddled around Europe by right-wing extremists,” while the two main Swiss Jewish groups opposed the measure. Ditto the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, as well as France’s Chief Rabbi, who went so far as to condemn the measure especially for the way it fixated uppn Islam, noting “the discrimination that it introduces by authorizing the construction of church steeples and tall buildings by all other religions except Islam.” (Stateside, the Anti-Defamation League opposed the ban.)

In Haaretz, columnist Shlomo Avineri compared the minaret rule to Switzerland’s 1893 (and still operative) law against kosher animal slaughter. “The same circles that sought to prevent Jewish immigration by banning kosher slaughter over a century ago now seek to end Muslim immigration by banning mosque minarets,” he argued. Behind both, he suggested, lies “a deep-rooted animosity on the part of large swathes of Swiss society toward those who are seen as foreign and different.” And although the target of the Swiss ban is Muslims, not Jews—the ban is jerry-rigged so that it applies only to Muslims—Avineri is not conducting an idle history lesson: a study released only last Sunday found that anti-Semitism in Europe continues to rise. The silver lining to the Swiss ban? Two groups who are generally at odds with each other are beginning to realize that, in their “difference,” they are similarly situated.

What Do Mosque Minarets and Kosher Slaughter Have in Common? [Haaretz]

Daybreak: Oren States Bibi’s Case

Plus Edward Sanders R.I.P., N.J. gay marriage, and more in the news

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• Israeli Ambassador (and prominent journalist) Michael Oren takes to the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to defend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s temporary construction freeze and call on the Palestinians to reciprocate. [WSJ]
• Edward Sanders, a one-time American Israel Public Affairs Committee head and adviser to President Carter who rose to prominence during the 1973 oil crisis, died, of cancer, at 87. [LAT]
• Syria has agreed to negotiate openly with Israel without preconditions and with French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy as mediator, according to Netanyahu. [Haaretz]
• A committee narrowly passed New Jersey’s gay marriage bill, setting up a vote of the state’s full Senate. [NYT]
• The U.S. death rate from colon cancer (to which Ashkenazim are particularly susceptible) will drop significantly, reaching half its 2000 level in 2020, a new report predicts. [Vos Iz Neias?]

Sundown: Explaining Hitler’s Hatred

Plus is the construction freeze bad for the environment?

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• A new book offers a theory for the central place anti-Semitism held in Nazi ideology: Hitler’s mother, who had breast cancer, died after receiving the then-standard treatment—administered, as it happened, by a Jewish doctor. [Haaretz]
• Environmental groups from “Judea” and “Samaria” argue that the temporary West Bank construction freeze is bad for the environment, because some necessary infrastructure is not yet completed. [Arutz Sheva]
The New Yorker’s “Shouts and Murmurs” humor column this week contains fractured Hanukkah stories. [The New Yorker]
• A venerable fish market has been sued for alleged sexual and racial employment harassment at its Brooklyn location. According to the complaint, some slurs incorporated both the alleged victims’ race (black) and the alleged perpetrators’ (Jewish). [NBC New York]
• In the middle of last night, police arrested two men who were trying to spray-paint over the new, controversial Bedford Avenue bike path in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. [Vos Iz Neias?]
The Miami Herald’s report of the 75th birthday party that Naomi Sisselman Wilzig, who is the widow of an Auschwitz survivor and the operator of the World Erotic Art Museum, must be read to be believed. [Miami Herald]

Mamet’s New Play Receives Mixed Reviews

‘Race’ tackles just that

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Mamet at the 2008 TriBeCa Film Festival.(Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for TriBeCa Film Festival)

There are few active playwrights whose new plays constitute events in and of themselves, but David Mamet, who is also the author of Nextbook Press’s The Wicked Son, surely belongs in that elite handful, and last night’s opening of his Race is one of those events. The play, which is running at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre, is a rapid four-person drama (albeit with much humor: it is, after all, by Mamet) about three lawyers, two black and one white, who are defending a white man accused of raping a young black girl.

Reviews so far have been mixed. The New York Times concluded, “Despite the tension of its subject, and an abundance of the corkscrew plot twists for which Mr. Mamet is known, Race lacks real dramatic tension” (the review did reserve special praise for lead actor James Spader). “His ideas lack their usual polemical bite and there’s something tentative about the overall vision,” the Los Angeles Times agrees. USA Today, however, gives Mamet “credit for a briskly entertaining, if flawed, study.” And Bloomberg’s critic advises, “You can relish Race quite independently of whether you consider it bravura or bravado.” Mamet, whose plays themselves are frequently obsessed with language and talking, if nothing else seems always able to provoke a discussion.

The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews [Nextbook Press]

Sen. Lieberman Walks to Work on Shabbat

Trudges through snow for vote on health care

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Sen. Lieberman at a committee meeting in November.(Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

Everyone knows that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) is an Orthodox Jew, and everyone knows that observant Jews don’t do work on Shabbat. But we also know that for every rule there is an exception, and this weekend Lieberman exercised one—literally—in order to be present for the Senate debate on the health-care reform bill. On Saturday, the Connecticut senator walked nearly five miles, from his Georgetown synagogue to the Capitol, and once there cast a nay vote on a Republican amendment on Medicare spending cuts. His dedication to both his religion and his job is all the more notable because Saturday marked not just the Jewish day of rest but also the first snowfall in Washington, D.C., this winter. Lieberman told The Hill newspaper that it is okay to bend the rules when the good of the community is at stake. But “good of the community” is in the eye of the beholder: today, and despite his vote Saturday (which found Lieberman joining with Democrats), a progressive group launched a new television ad attacking Lieberman for his continued opposition to a government-backed insurance system. Shavuah tov, senator!


Lieberman Faces a Long, Chilly Walk to Saturday’s Healthcare Debate
[The Hill]

A New ‘Theory’ of the Armenian Genocide

Can you guess whom it blames?

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Armenians and Turks aren’t known for sharing a historical perspective on the Armenian genocide—generally, the Armenians support its recognition, the Turkish deny it happened—but a book out this month describes a conspiracy theory that actually has a foothold in both populations. In this version, Jews are to blame for the massacre. According to this counter-history, says historian Rifat Bali in A Scapegoat for All Seasons: The Döonmes or Crypto-Jews of Turkey, the Ottoman Empire’s Jewish bourgeoisie conceived of and carried out the mass slaughter of the Armenians, who (the theory goes) were their rivals for financial control of the region. This idea’s progenitors—who are mostly members of Turkish and Armenian Islamist factions—claim that it was specifically the Sabbateans, or Dönme, followers of the 17th-century Jewish-mystic-turned-Muslim Sabbetei Zevi, who perpetrated the slaughter. (Naturally, the Freemasons helped, too.) An excerpt from the book appears in The Armenian Weekly. If, after that, you still haven’t gotten your fill of Ottoman crypto-Jews, another book on the subject—The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks—comes out this month.

A Recent Anti-Semitic Theme: The Sabbatean Role in the Armenian Genocide [The Armenian Weekly]

Anatevka, Montana

The NYT’s awful, heart-warming story about a Hebrew-speaking dog

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It’s difficult to know how to feel about this Saturday New York Times article on the little-known but thoroughly charming—in a bad-Bernard-Malamud-story kind of way—Jews of Montana. The piece simply does not miss an opportunity to trade in Jewish kitsch. It reports “annual haggling” among rabbis over who gets to light the Hanukkiah at the Capitol building in Helena (two rabbis, three arguments!). These Jews may live in crazy, wild-west, white-bread Montana, but they still get excited about matzah at the supermarket, and they still brag about shipping pastrami in from Katz’s. Montana apparently used to have lots of Jews, and they toiled happily as “butchers, clothiers, jewelers, tailors and the like”—you know, Jewish-people jobs; in fact, did you know Mottel the Tailor moved Tzeitel and the kids to Bozeman after the pogrom?—but over time the Jews “assimilated or moved away to bigger cities,” as they are wont to do. Now, though, there are three rabbis in Montana, “one (appropriately) in Whitefish.” Appropriately, because, y’know, bagels and lox. Memo to the Times: a philo-Semitic stereotype is still a Semitic stereotype.

And yet! The story has at least two thoroughly enjoyable, even heart-warming set-pieces that just may, on balance, justify its existence. We learn that following an incident in Billings in which the windows of homes with menorahs were smashed, the townsfolk put menorahs in their windows. That’s sweet. (Let’s leave aside that such a shocking act of vandalism took place all the way back in … 1993.) Even sweeter and more adorable is the tale of Miky, the bomb-sniffing German sheperd who was raised in Israel but now plies his trade in Montana. Miky’s handler had trouble communicating with Miky because of the language barrier—Miky understands Hebrew, not English, you see—but after consulting with the local Lubavitcher rabbi and learning to articulate the hard “ch,” the trainer and Miky get along famously. Even more famously, now that they have been featured in the Times.

“So all is well in the Jewish community here because the Hasidic rabbi is helping the Montana cop speak Hebrew to his dog.” With a sentence like that, it is not surprising that, two days, later, the article is the third-most-emailed Times story. (As Slate’s Jack Shafer has noted, the surest way to write a popular article is to make it about an animal.) So we suppose it’s a win for the Times, a win for Miky, and perhaps even a win for the Jews. It’s certainly a win for the article’s author, Eric A. Stern—who, we learn at article’s close, is “senior counselor to Gov. Brian Schweitzer.” (Beats paying a reporter.) Looks like the article’s popularity is a win for Montana most of all.

Yes, Miky, There Are Rabbis in Montana [NYT]

With God on Our Side

New study says when we talk about God, we mean ourselves

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Does belief in God provide the faithful with an ethical compass driven by a morality that exists outside themselves? Or does belief in God merely enable the faithful to have pretty much whatever ethics they want to have, and then retroactively justify them by attributing them to God? A new study out of the University of Chicago, which employed both psychological investigation and brain-scanning, concluded that when many people talk about God’s rules, they’re really thinking about their own. As the study’s author puts it, “Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber.” Specifically, study participants (who were mostly American Christians) were more likely to argue that their own beliefs jibed with God’s than with other people’s. And scans revealed that the part of the brain that controls self-referential thinking lit up similarly when participants discussed their own belief’s and God’s beliefs. That, a believer might say, is just evidence that there is a little bit of God in each of us. A skeptic might say something else.

Creating God in One’s Own Image [Not Exactly Rocket Science]

Orthodox Boxer Crushed in Title Bout

Salita loses fight after 76 seconds and three knock-downs

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Khan vs. Salita. Salita is the one, er, getting punched in the face.(Graham Stuart/AFP/Getty Images)

Dmitriy “Star of David” Salita, a Ukrainian-born resident of Brooklyn, had hopes of becoming the second Orthodox Jewish boxer to hold a current world-championship belt (following Yuri Foreman). Unfortunately, his opponent Saturday night in Newcastle, England, Amir Khan, had other plans for their junior welterweight title fight. Seventy-six seconds after the opening bell sounded, the referee stopped the fight and awarded it to Khan: a sensible decision given that Khan had already knocked Salita down three times. Khan was heavily favored based on talent and experience alone; the fact that Freddie Roach, the trainer of the world’s best boxer, Manny Pacquiao, was in his corner made victory nearly certain. As for Salita, he gained respect for the moxie with which he eagerly kept rising from his knock-downs against his obvious better. In boxing, however, that respect is the consolation prize of the defeated.

Salita Falls Hard and Fast in Title Bid [Haaretz]
Amir Khan Completes Regal Resurrection with 76-Second Demolition of Dmitriy Salita [Telegraph]

Previously: Barney Ross [Nextbook Press]
Orthodox Fighter Will Pray, and Then Fight
In Training

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