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Bubbe and Zayde Turning On Obama?

Health-care tsuris in Florida

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(Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Barack Obama won Florida last November with help from Jewish retirees in places like Sunrise Lakes, where three out of four people voted for him over John McCain. People, for example, like 73-year-old Ronald Clifford, who insisted that whatever Obama does is “the emes.” “You know what that is?” Clifford asked New York Times reporter Kevin Sack for an article in today’s paper. “That’s Yiddish for the truth.” Well, here’s a sadder truth: polls show support for the president slipping in the Sunshine State, and it appears that even some Sunrise Lakes residents are among those turning against the president over health-care reform: “I voted for President Obama, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m sorry now because I don’t trust what he’s saying,” 71-year-old Elaine Carl told the Times.

Now, it seems to us that if Obama wants to win over the dubious bubbes and zaydes who don’t share Clifford’s view, he should think about calling in his secret weapon: their grandchildren. Last year, a small army of them, responding to a video request from comedienne Sarah Silverman, schlepped on down to Florida (or at least made nice phone calls) on behalf of Obama’s presidential campaign last year. Maybe Silverman is interested in an encore performance?

Where Elderly Back Obama, Health Bill Anxiety [NYT]

Sundown: Israel vs. Sweden

Organ harvesting, Lady Gaga, and an Orthodox woman cop

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• Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman is furious at Sweden’s foreign ministry for declining to denounce a recent Swedish newspaper article claiming that the IDF harvests organs from Palestinians it kills. [CNN]
• A British tabloid says Madonna got good-luck bracelets from her boyfriend Jesus Luz from his native Brazil for her birthday, but says she won’t wear them “because they clashed with her Kabbalah bracelets.” [Daily Mirror]
• In a similar show of respect for traditional Jewish fashion, Lady Gaga toned down her apparel when she visited Israel earlier this week. [Celebrity Café]
• And the first ultra-Orthodox cop in an upstate New York town is suing the police department she works for, claiming she’s been harassed and discriminated against by fellow officers. During an interview for the job, she says, she was asked “if she could arrest a rabbi, handle a hostage situation at a yeshiva or work on the Sabbath.” [LoHud.com]

Israelis Turn Beatboxer Pro

Even if Hebrew-language skills still elude him

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South African native King Cano Huricane Kwa-Zulu spent 15 years traveling the world and beatboxing for handouts. Once he got to Israel, where he’s now settled, the reactions of fans convinced him to go pro. “People loved it,” he tells Haaretz. “They said chaval al ha’zman, chaval al ha’zman. I don’t even remember how they say it—it’s just a word that means super amazing, great.” Well, no. It’s actually three words that mean “too bad about the time,” or, more colloquially, “time’s a wasting.” But the point’s the same: get on with your career! Which he did, thanks to supportive Israelis. And, anway, it’s the beats that are his majesty’s forte—listen to them yourself at around minute two of this video.

Inspired by Israel, South African Globetrotter Launches Music Career [Haaretz]

Critics Fascinated, Repulsed, and a Little Bored

By ‘Inglourious Basterds’

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Quentin Tarantino’s version of the World War II epic opened today, and critics seem to find the film more interesting to discuss than to watch. It’s “unforgivably leisurely, almost glacial, a film that loses its way in the thickets of alternative history,” writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times; Manohla Dargis of The New York Times agrees: “rarely has one of [Tarantino’s] movies felt as interminable as this one,” she writes. The New Yorker’s David Denby says “it’s too silly to be enjoyed, even as a joke,” and even J. Hoberman at the Village Voice, who wrote one of the film’s more positive reviews, found it “a tad long at two and a half hours and a little too pleased with itself.”

The same critics, though, have engaged deeply with what the film means, comparing it (often negatively) with movies by Ernst Lubitsch, Charlie Chaplin, Mel Brooks, and Steven Spielberg. “Here is an alternate World War II, in which Jews terrorize and slaughter Nazis—a just Holocaust,” Hoberman writes. “Schindler’s List comforted audiences with similar, albeit less outrageous, reversals.… However devoted to movie magic, however, Spielberg would never be so tasteless as to admit the excitement he experienced in asserting his will over history.” In Slate, Dana Stevens agrees that “Tarantino’s rewriting of the war’s ending is audacious and perversely enthralling,” but asks, “Is the best way to work through the atrocities of the 20th century really to dream up ironically apt punishments for the long-dead torturers?” Denby sums it up: “Tarantino may think he is doing Jews a favor by launching this revenge fantasy…but somehow I doubt that the gesture will be appreciated.”

Don’t Forget Jerry Lewis’s Holocaust Movie

It’s so much worse than ‘Basterds’

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Lewis receiving the Jean Hersholt humanitarian award at this year’s Academy Awards.(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Even if you hold a low opinion of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which opens today—like, say, Tablet Magazine’s Liel Leibovitz—you can perhaps take some consolation from the fact that the Holocaust-revenge-fantasy flick is likely not even close to the most vulgar, unseemly movie ever made about the Shoah. That distinction, rather, is said to belong to a never-released 1972 film called The Day the Clown Cried. As reported many years ago in Spy magazine, Clown is “the most notorious cinematic miscue in history.” Oh, and yeah: its director and star was Jerry Lewis.

Lewis plays a German-Jewish clown named Helmut Doork—suffice to say that we’re making absolutely none of this up—who is sent to Auschwitz, where his job is to entertain the children as they are marched to the gas chambers. So picture Jerry, complete with slicked-back hair but dressed as a clown, doing his schtick, while Jewish children—who all look suspiciously Scandinavian; the film was made in Sweden—are joyfully, laughingly walking unwittingly to their brutal slaughter. Life is Completely, Totally Tasteless. At the end, the clown, having led yet another group of kids to the “showers,” decides to enter with them. Fin.

According to The New Yorker, Lewis—who was battling a Percodan addiction during the film’s production—insists the film will never see the light of day (even as he also insists it is a masterpiece). So we have to rely on those unlucky few who have borne witness. “This was a perfect object,” comedian Harry Shearer told Spy. “This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.” “I was appalled,” concurs journalist Lynn Hirschberg. “I couldn’t understand it. It’s beyond normal computation.” No word on how the French felt about it.

Jerry Lewis Goes To Death Camp [Spy]
Previously: Inglorious Indeed

U.S. Jews Kvetch to U.S. Catholics

Are they trying to convert us?

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(Uriel Sinai/Getty Images))

The AP is reporting today that representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements got together to send an aggreived letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They’re complaining that the bishops issued their own letter in June, which seems to suggest that they think the value of Catholic-Jewish dialogue is to give the Catholics a chance to convince the Jews that they should accept Christ as their savior. If so, it’s certainly a clever gambit by the Catholics. (Indeed, were the miter on the other head, one might even call it crafty.) But we’re less than convinced that a kvetchy letter is necessarily the best countermeasure. So we offer this, instead: Let’s just go proselytize them back.

U.S. Jews Protest Catholic Document on Salvation [AP]

On Tablet Today

Panning Tarantino, examining Novak, listening to Moses, and talking about Maimonides

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Today on Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz reviews Inglourious Basterds, finding Quentin Tarantino’s new film “a bit of shallow propaganda … a worldview in which cool trumps consequence, nothing is real, and everything is permitted.” James Kirchick considers political columnist Robert Novak, who died earlier this week, and his relationship to Israel and Jews, both of which he harshly attacked throughout his career, and wonders whether the writer’s own conversion from Judaism to Catholicism helped harden his views. Leibovitz also looks at this week Torah portion, finding in it lessons applicable to the current health-care debate. And Marissa Brostoff interviews Sherwin Nuland, physician and Nextbook Press author, on what Maimonides would have had to say about universal health care. As always, there’ll be more through the day, including regular updates to The Scroll.

Daybreak: Talking About Talking

A Saudi nuclear plant, a Satmar rivalry

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• President Obama’s spokesman said that the United States plans to “finalize the steps” for resumed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks over the coming month. [JTA]
• Even so, prominent officials on each side blamed the other side for forestalling the prospect of talks. [ynet]
• A Saudi newspaper reported that the country plans to build its first nuclear power plant. Israeli defense officials say the move comes in response to Iran’s nuclear program. [JPost]
• Hundreds of Satmars feud in a cemetery in—where else?—Brooklyn. [New York Post]

Sundown: Our Mouthpiece, Ben Stein

Good hair, English roots, and an Egyptian synagogue

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• Ben Stein got props from a woman at a town hall meeting on health care, who credited him with “tracing the decline of America to taking prayer out of school.” No word on how Stein feels about her claim that America’s a Christian nation, or how Jews feel about her claim that Stein’s a “Jewish spokesman.” [Huffington Post]
• Egypt announced the restoration of the Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue in Cairo, named for the second-most famous Moses who lived in that country. The government says this is not a not a ploy to assuage the controversy over would-be U.N. official Hosni Farouk. [AP]
• Writer James Lasdun, who has a new story collection out, grew up in London, where his father—an eminent British architect—expressed his otherwise-dormant Jewish identity by insisting, “We’re not English.” [The Scotsman]
• A Chris Rock documentary about the politics of black women’s hair will be a must-see for many frizzy-haired Jewish women as well, a Forward blogger writes. Best part of the trailer for Rock’s movie: women at a beauty parlor referring to hair relaxer as “creamy crack.” [Forward]
• Some Oregonians are angry that an annual breast cancer walk in Portland is being held on Rosh Hashana this year, especially given that “Ashkenazi women have a genetic propensity toward breast cancer.” [USA Today]

Dudu’s Dead

Disgraced Israeli TV star found hanged in prison cell

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Dudu Topaz, the disgraced Israeli television star who was arrested recently after admitting to orchestrating attacks on entertainment industry honchos he believed had wronged him, hung himself in his prison cell this morning. He was 63. An official investigation has been launched to ascertain how Topaz—whose cell was under constant surveillance since a failed suicide attempt in May—managed to take his own life.

Among Topaz’s alleged list of victims were producers, agents, and fellow entertainers, all of whom, Topaz believed, were actively sabotaging his career. Just last week, an envelope from Topaz—addressed to Tzvika Hadar, the host of Israel’s version of American Idol—was discovered in a Jerusalem post office. Inside was a bullet. “This,” Topaz wrote in an enclosed note, “is the end.”

Judge to Oversee Topaz Suicide Probe [JPost]
Related: Crime Time [Tablet]

Jewish Boxer Is Contender, Scholar

He’s got a title fight lined up, and he’s studying to be a rabbi

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Foreman, at right, fighting Vinroy Barrett in Atlantic City in 2008.(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Yuri Foreman, a 29-year-old Belarus-born boxer who moved to Haifa at age 11 and now lives in New York City, will become Israel’s first-ever fighter in a world championship bout when he battles for the welterweight title in November. But the auspiciously-named Foreman has his eyes trained on even higher goals—the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports he’s studying to become an Orthodox rabbi. His website’s adorned with religious references—the first thing it shows is a star of David with a lion inside, an allusion to his astrological sign. Foreman’s also something of a polymath, listing favorite books (the Bible and all things Vonnegut), films (In the Mood For Love and all things Miyazaki), and musicians (classical music and all things Motorhead).

Above all, he’s got love for Israel, describing the euphoria he felt upon first arriving there. “I remember how different it smelled—so fresh and fragrant. When we arrived in the airport, the Israelis welcomed us with wedges of fresh oranges. I had never tasted anything so sweet and delicious before. I thought I had arrived in paradise.”

Israeli Boxer Set for Championship Bout [JTA]
Yuri Foreman [Official site]

Did Scotland Have the Wrong Man?

Lockerbie convict released, but some think Iran was really behind the bombing

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Al-Megrahi boarding the plane to Libya today.(Danny Lawson/Pool/Getty Images)

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, convicted in 2000 of planning the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, was released from prison in Scotland today, on the grounds that his terminal prostate cancer warrants clemency. Al-Megrahi is now en route to his native Libya, aboard a private jet belonging Muamar Qaddafi. “Some hurts can never heal, some scars can never fade,” the magistrate who ordered the release wrote in her ruling. Some 270 were killed the attack, the majority of them Americans. “Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive…. However, Mr. al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power.” The United States has condemned the decision, as have many of the Lockerbie victims’ families.

But here’s the interesting part: Some suspect that Scotland has had the wrong man all along. One theory, described in 1989 by David Tal of Israel’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, holds that Iran, not Libya, was actually behind the attack, that it was revenge for the accidental downing of an Iranian passenger plane by the USS Vincennes over the Straits of Hormuz in 1988. According to Tal, the attack itself was carried out by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a terrorist cell based in Damascus. Tal wrote that evidence was found on Popular Front agents caught in West Germany just months before the bombing, including bombs designed like the one that took out the Pan Am plane, and flight timetables. In 1997, Abolghassem Mesbahi, an Iranian dissident, told German officials that Iran was indeed behind Lockerbie—a claim Iran denied.

Scotland Releases Lockerbie Bomber [AP/JPost]

Will the Basterds Take Israel?

Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious’ producer hopes so

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By now, we’ve heard plenty about how Quentin Tarantino is using his new film, Inglourious Basterds, to undo decades of Jewish victimization in Holocaust movies, by casting his renegade crew of Nazi scalp-hunters as angry American Jews. We’ve heard relatively less about the man who made it all possible: Tarantino’s longtime producer, Lawrence Bender, who told the Jewish Journal that he was thrilled not just to avenge Jews killed in the Holocaust, but to re-direct his lingering anger at the kids who taunted him as “Bender kike” in high school.

“As a fan, I thank you; as your producer, I thank you; as a member of the Jewish tribe, I thank you,” Bender recounted telling Tarantino after reading the first draft of the script. (He said something similar, though saltier, to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in the magazine’s September issue: “As your producing partner, I thank you, and as a member of the Jewish tribe, I thank you, motherfucker, because this movie is a fucking Jewish wet dream.”) The 51-year-old bachelor, who put together financing for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, also helped finance the relatively more wholesome Good Will Hunting, which led to an audience at Camp David with Bill Clinton, and, in turn, a second career as a Democratic fundraiser and Israel activist (he’s involved both with AIPAC and the left-leaning Israel Policy Forum). While German critics have lauded Basterds—they do, after all, sort of have to—Bender told the Journal he’s more interested to see how it plays in Israel: “I feel it’s like a little pin in the hay, like, ‘Hey guys, go to Israel.’ I think it’s such a great place, and Hollywood does need to focus on it more.”

The Other Avenger: Tarantino’s Producer Lawrence Bender [Jewish Journal]
Earlier: You Basterds!

A Very Kosher (And Unkosher) ‘Top Chef’

Chef Leventhal pigs out on season premiere

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Leventhal’s pork tenderloin with chorizo, bread pudding, and bacon.(Bravotv.com)

Season Six of Bravo’s cooking-competition show Top Chef, which premiered last night, has the potential to be the Jew-heaviest season yet (although in this regard it faces stiff competition from last season, which was won by one Hosea Rosenberg). Based on the name game alone, we count, to varying degrees of certainty (we’re pretty sure about Eli Kirshstein), five Members of the Tribe among the 17 contestants. And one of them, Seattle chef Robin Leventhal, put her heritage front and center last night. The challenge for the chefs was to present a dish based on a vice of theirs, in homage to this season’s location, Las Vegas. Chef Leventhal announced that her vice was being a “bad Jew,” and with that in mind served up a pork tenderloin stuffed with chorizo, alongside bread pudding and a strip of bacon. Perhaps her vice got the better of her: she did not win, and first prize went to a dish—arctic char (slow-cooked, in deference to the chef’s vice of procrastination) with turnip salsa verde—that looked both absolutely scrumptious and perfectly kosher.

Top Chef [Bravotv.com]

Rabbis Gang Up on HuffPost!

Three essays by four Jewish religious leaders

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Yesterday appeared to be Rabbi Day on the Huffington Post, with four pieces authored or co-authored by Jewish clergy. At 11:10 in the morning, Rabbi Jennifer Krause, a professor of Jewish studies at New York’s City College, kicked off the day with a screed against the “invective, vitriol, basic erosion of civility and humanity, and the overall fever-pitch” of the health-care debate. At 3:15 in the afternoon, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, opined against a New York Times op-ed that advocated for a one-state solution in Israel/Palestine—with help from his colleague Rabbi Marvin Hier. Finally, at 4:40, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, best known for his books on Kosher Sex, weighed in against President Obama’s meeting with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, deriding Mubarak’s position that “progress can only be made if Israel agrees to ‘freeze settlements … and agree to negotiate with all issues on the table including the status of Jerusalem and the refugees.’” Tomorrow, perhaps, they’ll have enough for a minyan.

For Heaven’s Sake, See the Movie! [Huffington Post]
The ‘One-State Solution’ Only Stokes Palestinians Self-Delusion [Huffington Post]
Do Arabs See Israel as a Permanent Fact? [Huffington Post]

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