‘Time’ Names Bernanke ‘Person of the Year’

Fed Chairman is third Jew to win honor


Princeton economics professor turned Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke scored the famous year-end Time cover, it was revealed today. “There is irony here,” notes Time managing editor Richard Stengel in an interview with Bernanke, “that here’s this man who spends his life distinguishing himself studying economic history—and then one day you wake up and realize that you’re at the center of economic history in a really unusual chapter.”

The mild-mannered—let’s say “nerdy,” since everyone else does—yet super-powerful policymaker becomes the third Jew to receive Time’s designation, after Yitzhak Rabin and Henry Kissinger, both of whom shared the honor with others. Bernanke grew up in Dillon, South Carolina, in “an observant Jewish family in a tight-knit Christian community where social life revolved around church.” What distinguished the Bernankes most, though, was not their religion but their attitude toward blacks: “Once,” we learn, Bernanke’s “house was egged after he ate dinner with a black friend named Kenneth Manning at the local Shoney’s.” Finally, Bernanke plays down his pre-Fed leadership experience, which was basically confined to heading Princeton’s economics department, thusly: “he liked to joke that his major decisions involved what type of bagels to order for faculty meetings.”

Person of the Year 2009 [Time]

Earlier: ‘Foreign Policy Names Top Global Thinkers

Top Latkes

The five best potato pancakes in New York City

Latkes from Stage Restaurant.(Always Hungry NY)

You’re darn right latkes deserve their own year-end list. This writer has partaken of four of the five selections, and can seriously recommend the Ukrainian East Village mainstay Veselka (their cheese blintz complements their latke nicely), as well as the Park Avenue Winter selection (a bit precious, but the size and density are appealing). Experience confirms that the more explicitly Jewish food-stops Barney Greengrass and Sammy’s Roumanian deliver an “old school” latke— formidable, dense, and savory, with a little sprinkle of Hebraic know-how. Stage Restaurant is our next destination: we hope to make it there by the eighth night.

Top 5: Latkes [Always Hungry NY]

U.K. Pledges to Prevent Future War-Crimes Charges

Israel is angry, Britain apologetic after attempted Livni arrest

Brown in London yesterday.(Matthew Lloyd - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Tzipi Livni, the Israeli opposition leader, to tell her she was “most welcome” on his fair isle despite that time a few days ago when a British judge issued an arrest warrant for her on war-crimes charges stemming from last January’s Gaza conflict. Additionally, Britain is “urgently” examining how to prevent such an incident from ever happening again. On the Israeli side, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave his British counterpart, David Miliband, a piece of his mind over the phone (that must have been fun for Miliband), while Britain’s ambassador to Israel was summoned and rebuked in person (that must have been even more fun). The British government’s unequivocal atonement here, while commendable, was entirely predictable. What will be more interesting to see is if Britain’s Labor leadership is forced to pay for it domestically: there is, after all, something of a constituency there that saw the Livni warrant as a positive step. And a general election, which the opposition Tories are favored to win, will take place in the spring… .

Brown Says Livni ‘Most Welcome’ in U.K. [Ynet]
U.K. Ponders Law Change After Tzipi Livni Arrest Warrant [BBC News]
Lieberman, British FM Discuss Arrest Warrants [Arutz Sheva]

Earlier: U.K. Court Issued Warrant for Livni

House Passes Symbolic Iran Sanctions Bill

Why nothing has happened and everybody has won


Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 412-12 in favor of legislation intended to punish Iran for pursuing its nuclear program. But the bill, introduced by Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat (and, yes, Jewish), would not directly impose sanctions on Iran itself; rather, it would bar the mostly European oil companies that do business with Iran from doing business in the United States. Which may be why the White House, anxious about alienating countries whose support is needed for more direct sanctions proposals at the United Nations, has been pushing hard to slow the progress of companion legislation in the Senate. That leaves the broad array of Jewish groups that backed the Berman bill—everyone from AIPAC to J Street—at loggerheads with President Barack Obama and Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), who controls the bill’s fate in the Senate, as JTA’s Ron Kampeas noted yesterday.

Except … it doesn’t, really. Since the whole effort is merely an exercise in political saber-rattling anyway, everyone is both having and eating their respective cakes: hawks—Jewish or not—can say Congress is willing to move against Iran, with or without help from other countries; and Obama can still go to prospective allies and say he’d like their help, and actually, hey, could they please get on board sooner rather than later, because Congress is getting a little restive, you know? “The administration did not say, ‘Go ahead,’ and they did not tell me not to go ahead,” Berman told reporters yesterday. And what did Israel—whose security is a key part of why everyone’s so worried about Iran getting nuclear weapons—say? Ambassador Michael Oren “deeply appreciates” the U.S. effort to stop Iran from getting the bomb. Win-win-win.

House Votes to Expand Sanctions on Iran [AP]
Obama and Kerry Slowing Sanctions Legislation Push [JTA]
Berman: Iran Sanctions Bill Empowers Obama [Politico]

Rabbi Boteach Cashes in on Michael Jackson

Complete with lousy ‘Thriller’ jokes

Jackson and Boteach in New York in February, 2001.(Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Thank goodness the A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin read Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s The Michael Jackson Tapes so we don’t have to, confirming the suspicion that the book, a combination of interviews with Jackson and the New Jersey-based rabbi’s own thoughts, is “the worst kind of posthumous cash-in from a rabbi who accomplishes the seemingly impossible feat of being creepier than Michael Jackson.” Boteach, who fancies himself ‘America’s Rabbi’—“the Semitic Billy Graham,” as Rabin puts it—strives to portray Jackson as a “normal” heterosexual male, but, according to Rabin, “the best Boteach can muster is an anecdote about Jackson asking him to set him up on a date with Katie Couric.” Ultimately, Rabin concludes that Boteach’s decision to publish the interviews (despite a falling-out with Jackson) is primarily an opportunity for the rabbi to showcase his own righteousness, as demonstrated by his assertion that he has “tried to educate my children to know always that no man but God is the real Thriller.”

The Michael Jackson Tapes by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach [A.V. Club]

Today on Tablet

A Jewish doll, middle-class art collecting, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Daphne Merkin takes a look at Rebecca Rubin, the American Girl series’s first permanent-collection Jewish doll. Senior Writer Allison Hoffman profiles Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, a solidly middle-class hamishe New York couple who somehow turned themselves into formidable contemporary art collectors. For those in more of a watching than reading mood, Yuri Baranovsky presents a Hanukkah-themed episode of his Web show, Break a Leg. From our archives, novelist Jonathan Tropper remembers one especially fraught pubescent Hanukkah. And we will try to hide our voice cracks by speaking very softly today on The Scroll.

Memphis Boasts Young Jewish Basketball Coach

NYT profiles ‘climber with a conscience’ Josh Pastner

Josh Pastner, head coach of the Memphis Tigers.(NYT)

Today, the New York Times introduces 32-year-old Josh Pastner, the first-year head coach of the Memphis Tigers men’s basketball team. Pastner is the rare case of the college basketball player—he was on the Arizona Wildcats in the late 1990s, when they won the national championship—who wanted to be a coach all along (his father was also a basketball coach). And, though the Times article doesn’t mention this, Pastner is Jewish. Memphis has of late been the NCAA’s winningest program, and this year it is off to a 7-1 start.

Josh Pastner Has Memphis Sailing in Calipari’s Wake [NYT]
Pastner’s Passion is Hoops [Jewish News of Greater Phoenix]

Daybreak: President-For-Now Abbas

Plus a new peace push, if Netanyahu will have it, and more in the news


• The Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive council extended President Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential term indefinitely, until credible elections can be held. [LAT]
• The United States, Egypt, and France plan a push to restart peace negotiations predicated on the 1967 borders and an undeclared construction freeze, including in East Jerusalem, according to Egypt’s foreign minister. [Haaretz]
• The New York Times weighs whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a genuine peace maker, or if the typical skepticism is justified. [NYT]
• The U.S. House of Representatives passed new economic sanctions against Iran; however, a Senate vote is not expected this year. [JPost]
• Christian evangelist and university founder Oral Roberts died. Here, Rabbi David Wolpe remembers, Roberts “considered himself a friend to the Jewish people.” [WP]

Sundown: Judah Maccabee, Nobel Laureate

Plus Hadassah Lieberman, a bullet-riddled laptop, and more


• A Maryland rabbi uncovered the speech Judah Maccabee gave while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize over 2000 years ago. Its argument that peace sometimes requires war may sound familiar to those who have paid attention to more recent, and real-life, Nobel addresses. [JTA]
• A group of liberal activists wants Hadassah Lieberman—wife of Sen. Joe—booted from her position as “Global Ambassador” for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. (Relatedly: the Komen Foundation and Hadassah—the Zionist women’s organization—recently teamed up.) [Daily News]
• Naveed Haq was found guilty of murdering one woman at a Seattle Jewish center in 2006. He will spend the rest of his life in prison. [Haaretz]
• Slate’s Daniel Gross profiles Mrs. Cohen, from Hadera, Israel—a “John Doe”-esque name (she doesn’t actually exist) for the typical Israeli investor. [Slate]
• A special, funny link for our Christian readers: how to celebrate Christmas while being sensitive to your non-Christian friends. [The New Yorker]
• This is what a MacBook that Israeli border security has put three bullets through looks like. [Gizmodo]

‘Glee’ Star Scores Golden Globe Nod

Michele is Jewish, but so is her character


Congratulations to Lea Michele (née Lea Michele Sarfati), the star of Fox’s Glee, on her Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a TV Comedy. In Tablet Magazine, Jeremy Dauber celebrated Glee, an hour-long comedy with musical numbers, as “the most bizarre, delirious, delightful show currently airing on network television.” In particular, Dauber praised one plot-line in which a Jewish football star falls for a Jewish theater chick—played by Michele—and serenades her with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” (see below!). It is important, Dauber suggested, for a show all about high school outsiders to include Jewish characters (and even have them portrayed by Jewish actors, like Michele): “They’re part of the story of minority America muscling their way, in their difference, to center stage, to the heart of American entertainment.”

Golden Globe Nominations Announced! [Vulture]

Related: The Outsiders [Tablet]

Israeli Attains New Chess High

And Sharansky checkmates boxer Salita


On Monday, Belarusian-born Boris Gelfand became one of the highest-ranked Israeli chess players ever: he is now the Chess World Cup holder, or third in the world. Should he become the world’s best chess player, he will join a whole bunch of other Jews who have previously been the world’s best chess player.

Meanwhile, also on Monday, Orthodox Jewish boxer Dmitry “Star of David” Salita was soundly trounced … in chess. His victorious opponent? None other than Natan Sharansky, the one-time Soviet dissident and Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs. Sharansky, who once beat chess world champion Gary Kasparov (albeit during a simultaneous exhibition game on, according to a sullen Kasparov, an off-day), took 20 moves to get to checkmate, or presumably longer than the 76 seconds Amir Khan needed to KO Salita in the ring earlier this month.

Israeli Wins Chess World Cup [Vos Iz Neias?]
Sharansky Knocks out Boxing Champ Salita—on the Chessboard [Arutz Sheva]

Earlier: Boxer Credits God For … Defeat?

Google Recognizes West Bank as ‘Palestinian’

But on Google Maps, it’s all Israel


In the classic 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, a judge rules that one Mr. Kris Kringle is legally Santa Claus, based on the fact that the U.S. Postal Service forwarded him Santa’s mail. One wonders (well, not really, but indulge us) whether the search-engine behemoth Google could impose similar binding authority on Palestinian and Israeli negotiators. Those surfing the Web from the West Bank—including settlements—are now identified by Google as being located in “Palestinian territory,” whereas most Websites recognize these browsers as being in “Israel”. On the other hand, on Google Maps, “Ramallah, Israel” gets you the West Bank capital; “Ramallah, Palestine” gets you a Baptist church in Palestine, Texas. So maybe there won’t be any Miracle-esque court rulings any time soon.

Google Defines Samaria as ‘Palestinian Territory’ [Arutz Sheva]

Is Joe Lieberman Too Jewish?

A new explanation of his bizarre health-care flip-flops

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

Yesterday, one (Jewish) writer accused Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), perhaps the Senate’s most famous Semite, of possessing an un-Jewish lack of intelligence. Since then, Lieberman has proved himself, if not smart, then at least influential: his objections to certain progressive features of the U.S. Senate health-care reform bill—albeit features he supported only a few months ago—led the Democratic leadership to remove them. Now, today, another writer (also Jewish) offers yet another explanation for Lieberman’s seemingly nonsensical policy flip-flops: he’s not un-Jewish, he’s too Jewish! So says cultural critic Lee Siegel in The Daily Beast:

During the past decade or so, there has been a rising panic over the growing influence of fundamentalist Christian precepts on modern American politics, but no one has said very much about Joe Lieberman’s fundamentalist Judaism. Although he prefers to call himself an “observant” rather than an “Orthodox” Jew, he is in fact an Orthodox Jew. His approach to modern life is just as uninflected as that of his Christian counterparts.

When applied to politics, this fundamentalist perspective, Siegel argues, enables Lieberman to comfortably espouse substantive policy decisions based on nothing more than the irrational feeling that he is right: “You don’t doubt the morality of your feeling, because you have used your strict, self-sacrificing observance of Jewish law to prove to yourself that you are a good man.” Thus, what felt right in September can feel wrong in December, and that’s not inconsistent (even though, objectively, it is).

Siegel further points out that, actually, the detached irony required to extract Jewish morality—a commitment to social justice, say—from Jewish religion is, in its own way, Jewish as well. So Lieberman is un-Jewish, too Jewish, or not Jewish enough. Or maybe all three? Or perhaps the incoherent saga of Joe Lieberman’s health-care positions has nothing to do with his Jewishness at all. Perhaps Lieberman is, simply and typically, a petty politician hopelessly in thrall to his own worst traits and to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Connecticut’s formidable insurance industry has so generously given him. Just saying.

Joe, Start Acting Jewish! [The Daily Beast]
Lieberman Gets Ex-Party to Shift on Health Plan [NYT]

Earlier: How To Explain Joe Lieberman: He’s Just Kinda Dumb!

Conan O’Brien Sings Mormon Song for Hatch

‘Tonight Show’ drummer Weinberg responds to senator’s song on Tablet


Last night, NBC’s The Tonight Show highlighted our video of Sen. Orrin Hatch recording the oh-so-catchy tune he wrote for the Jewish people, “Eight Days of Hanukkah.” Host Conan O’Brien proceeded to announce that his show’s resident Jew, drummer and bandleader Max Weinberg (who also sets the rhythm in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band), wanted to return the favor to Utah’s senior senator and his co-religionists of the Mormon faith. Bottom line: you can watch the cast’s holiday song— “Mormons, Mormons, Mormons/We haven’t got a clue/Of what you folks believe in/Or think or drink or do”—below.

Today on Tablet

Where Jewish humor comes from, our favorite menorahs


Today in Tablet Magazine, a collection of Adam Brio’s extended Jewish joke-stories prompts our critic Adam Kirsch to trace the arc of distinctly American Jewish humor as it begins, perhaps, to die altogether. For a slideshow, Hadara Graubart selects our favorite—or, in some cases, simply most provocative—hanukkiahs. From our archives, husband-and-wife novelists Karen E. Bender and Robert Anthony Siegel yank the commercialism out of Hanukkah. We’ll get our one commercial of the day out of the way: this “Today on Tablet” was brought to you by The Scroll.

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