Today in Tablet

New Yiddish theater, an old synagogue, and the week’s haftorah


Today in Tablet Magazine, Marissa Brostoff profiles Shane Baker, a latter-day vaudevillian whose one-man show, The Big Bupkis (opening tonight!), chronicles how this Kansas City Episcopalian became one of today’s foremost practitioners of Yiddish theater. Allison Hoffman travels to New Haven, Conn.’s little-used Orchard Street synagogue and to a nearby space where artists have created works inspired by the shul’s one-time glory. This week’s haftorah, about the prophet Obadiah, puts Liel Leibovitz in mind of the German novella Michael Kohlhaas, another tale of a man on a futile quest for justice. Justice may be elusive, but consult The Scroll all day for hints.

Al-Aqsa Leader Sues Sacha Baron Cohen, Letterman

Wants $110M because of scene in ‘Brüno’

Cohen at a Brüno premiere earlier this year.(Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)

A couple months ago, the pro-Palestinian al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade expressed its displeasure over a scene in the movie Brüno in which the eponymous character, a gay Austrian fashion maven played by Sacha Baron Cohen, mocks and humiliates an alleged leader of the terrorist group. The Brigade has not acquired a sense of humor since then, but it has acquired a lawyer: the leader, Ayman Abu Aita, will sue Cohen and NBC Universal in U.S. federal court for $110 million, charging libel and slander. Additional defendants will include Brüno director Larry Charles, Gannett, and CBS and David Letterman—apparently the group is particularly miffed by a segment Cohen did on The Late Show while promoting the film. Somebody might want to tell the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade that Aita’s scene—and the movie generally—are actually pretty forgettable, or would be if the group didn’t keep reminding us of them.

$110 Million Lawsuit Says ‘Brüno’ and Letterman Defamed Palestinian Leader
[THR, Esq.]

Previously: Terrorist Threatens Sacha Baron Cohen

Daybreak: Shalit Deal Held Up

Plus the pros and cons of trying Demjanjuk, and more in the news


• Disputing reports that a deal over captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been struck, a Hamas spokesperson said Israel refuses to release 15 specific prisoners upon whom Hamas has insisted. [Haaretz]
• A long article weighs the legitimate reasons for trying accused concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk against the 89-year-old’s apparently frail health. [LAT]
• Russia decisively kiboshed U.S. efforts to get it, the European Union, and the United Nations to join the United States in formally declaring support for Israel’s construction freeze. [Haaretz]
• Waldorf Astoria is building a luxury hotel/residence in Jerusalem’s Mamilla neighborhood, which has seen several other similarly expensive new developments of late. [NYT]
• As his two predecessors did repeatedly (and he already did once), President Obama postponed for six months the implementation of a 1995 U.S. law requiring that the United States’s Israeli embassy be located in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv. [JPost]

Sundown: Goldstone Gets Human Rights Prize

Plus have your cake and drink it too


• Richard Goldstone, author of the controversial U.N. report on the 2009 Gaza War, won the Stockholm Human Rights Award. [ynet]
• A new trend in Israel is to infuse sufganiyot, or Hanukkah donuts, with vodka. One hard sufganiyah costs a little more than $1, and contains as much alcohol as a beer. What a bargain! [ynet]
• Though fewer of them are violent, anti-Semitic incidents in Australia have reached record levels. [The Jewish Community Online]
• Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, who is Jewish, was named the head of the Democratic Governors Association. [Capital J]
• Designer Jonathan Adler goes shopping for stylish Hanukkiahs. [NYT]
• Tootsie Rolls are now kosher. [Jewish Journal]

Your Hanukkah Moment of Zen

Dancing in the Jerusalem streets


Nefesh b’Nefesh, the non-profit that seeks to increase the numbers of those who make aliyah, recently organized a holiday-themed “flash mob”—in which a group of people suddenly stage a seemingly impromptu, wacky performance in a public place—on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street. Do you want to watch over 100 people dancing to a version of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” with Hanukkah-appropriate lyrics? Of course you do!

Jews Split on Failed N.Y. Marriage Vote

Senators mention heritage as driving force


Yesterday, the New York Senate voted 38-24 to reject a bill that would have permitted gay marriage in the state. A group of upstate Orthodox Jews were among the bill’s loudest opponents; following the vote, the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America praised the outcome. But there are two sides to the story of where Jews and Jewish institutions stood on the issue. Reform Jewish Voice of New York State’s comment struck a different tone: “This backward step is a deeply disappointing delay on the road to equality, and a vote that is on the wrong side of history.” Additionally, several Jewish senators who voted for the bill explicitly tied their support to their experiences as Jews. Liz Krueger, of Manhattan, spoke of how her grandparents escaped Russian pogroms. Suzi Oppenheimer, of Westchester County, said she saw similarities between gays’ current status and the discrimination Jews such as her husband faced in pre-Holocaust Europe. Such references are all the more remarkable for their occurring in staid, business-as-usual Albany. “I don’t tend to be particularly emotional in this town,” Krueger told the New York Times. “This is different.”

From the Floor and the Heart, Senators Make an Issue Personal [NYT]
Jewish Groups Split on Gay Marriage Vote [JTA]
Marriage Equality Bill Voted Down in New York State Senate [SF Examiner]

Previously: Orthodox Communities Set Against N.Y., N.J. Gay Marriage

Is Mengele Responsible for Brazilian Twins?

Show suggests ‘Angel of Death’ continued his experiments


Of all Dr. Joseph Mengele’s infamous experiments on humans, it’s said none were more important to him than the stuff he did to and about twins. At Auschwitz, Mengele’s “investigations” resulted in little besides unspeakable suffering. But could Mengele’s legacy include something else? A new episode of the National Geographic Channel’s Explorer posits that Mengele may have continued conducting twin tests after escaping to South America, and that these may in turn be the cause of the astounding 38 pairs of blonde, blue-eyed twins that have been born among only 80 households within one square mile in a community in middle-of-nowhere Brazil. Frankly, it would almost be weirder if Mengele wasn’t the cause of that.

Nazi Mystery: Twins From Brazil [Explorer]

Orthodox Boxer Will Pray, and Then Fight

Dmitry Salita goes for title Saturday night after a minyan


Fight fans should have this upcoming Saturday circled on their calendars: it’s the night Brooklyn’s very own Dmitriy “Star of David” Salita takes on reigning World Boxing Association junior welterweight champion Amir Khan in Newcastle, England. Salita’s fellow Jewish fighter Barney Ross—the subject of Douglas Century’s Nextbook Press biography—ruled the 140-pound weight class in the 1930s, and now Salita thinks it will be his: “I’ve trained very hard to take it and will do whatever is necessary to bring it back home with me,” Salita said of Khan’s belt. (Khan, who is favored, is a Muslim; he has made it clear that he does not consider the match symbolic of a Jewish-Islamic clash.) Salita would not become the first Orthodox Jew to hold a boxing championship belt—Yuri Foreman, who won the junior middleweight title last month, beat Salita to the, er, punch there. Still, Salita is incorporating his observance into his training: a Newcastle rabbi will preside over a pre-fight minyan.

Jewish Boxer Vows To Take Belt That’s ‘Rightfully’ His [Haaretz]
Salita is Boxing Clever with Pre-Fight Minyan [The Jewish Community Online]

Previously: Barney Ross [Nextbook Press]
In Training

Will Chelsea Convert?

And why we shouldn’t care so much


Chelsea Clinton’s engagement to Marc Mezvinsky has bypassed the usual question of, “Is it good for the Jews?”—the answer seems to be an obvious “yes”—and spurred a more audacious inquiry: Will Chelsea convert? But Washington, D.C. JCC blogger Josh Ford makes a persuasive case that rooting for Chelsea to formally join the Jewish faith actually avoids the more substantive implications of this high-profile interfaith coupling.

First, Ford chides those who would encircle Chelsea like vultures: “Her spiritual decisions are not some ethno-religious trophy we should seek to display like a white rhino head next to Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Ivanka Trump.” And he cautions against being “overly impressed when the elite of the elite decide to marry the elite of our elite. The kid is the son of two former members of Congress—it’s not like she’s marrying Motel the tailor.” In other words, you’re getting drool on the poor woman; shut your mouths.

This frothy energy, he says, could be better spent examining the way we fetishize winning official conversions from the Gentile halves of interfaith couples:

It is great that Chelsea went with Marc to Yom Kippur services. But if that was the only Jewish connection Marc was going make this year, either with or without Chelsea, then it doesn’t really matter if she converts. However, if Chelsea never feels like taking a dip in the mikveh, but they light Shabbat candles, observe the yearly rhythms of the Jewish holidays, make themselves knowledgeable in Jewish history and practice, and decide to communicate these values and practices to any children they might have … then I think we as a people will still come out ahead.

Of course, one could argue that rooting for merely any sort of increased Jewishness in a super-prominent shiksa is a bit uncouth. But the issue is nonetheless important. As Ford points out, the prize is not so much Chelsea and her man, but rather “the thousands of Marc Mezvinskim who are going to marry non-Jews in the coming years, most of whom will not be presidential offspring.”

Why “Will Chelsea Convert?” Is the Wrong Question [Blog at 16th and Q]

Today on Tablet

Crowdsourcing your siddur


Today in Tablet Magazine, Associated Editor Hadara Graubart looks at the Open Siddur Website, a sort of liturgical Wikipedia for people who wish to create their own, personalized prayer books. Plus, The Scroll will be doing its thing all day long.

A Jewier JDate

New match-making site aims to cut out the riff-raff


Though many Jewish singles swear by JDate, the Website has become notorious for proliferating numbers of Gentile members trolling for a mate more Semitic than themselves (and who can blame them?). Which is all well and good for some. But those Jews interested solely in dating within the faith now have JSoul, a new social-networking site with a match-making angle. JSoul “was designed to address the most important needs of a wide variety of Jews—built by Jewish people for Jewish people.” “For Jewish people” isn’t italicized, but perhaps it should be. Anyway, doing both JDate and JSoul is the new playing the field.

JSoul Online Jewish Dating Pre-Launch

Daybreak: Answering the (Economic) Call

Plus, settlers cold to freeze, the Israeli mob in L.A., and more


• 33% more North American Jews will have moved to Israel this year than last, a result of the economy more than anything else. [WSJ]

• Yesterday saw the first spate of arrests of settlers protesting the construction freeze, even as the Palestinians still refuse to negotiate. “So far,” the paper says, the freeze “has succeeded only in pitting the settlers against the state.” [NYT]

• Israel revoked 4500 Palestinians’ Jerusalem residencies last year—an all-time high—according to its own newly released figures. [Washington Post]

• Though the police do not believe an October shooting at a North Hollywood, Calif. synagogue was a hate crime, they are now investigating possible ties to Israeli organized crime. [L.A. Times]

• Following his country’s ban on minaret construction, the leader of a mainstream Swiss political party called for an end to separate Jewish and Muslim cemeteries. [JTA]

Sundown: The Freeze Thaws

Plus, making gelt, and bruchot for Beckham?


• In contravention of its own ten-month settlement freeze, Israel approved the construction of several dozen buildings in the West Bank. [Haaretz]

• A history of chocolate Hanukkah gelt, followed by a recipe! [Forward]

• David Beckham’s Jewish maternal grandfather, who was also his “footballing inspiration,” died. No word on whether the soccer megastar will sit shiva. [The Jewish Community Online]

• Acclaimed critic and novelist Cynthia Ozick announced that her new novel, Foreign Bodies, will be published late next year. [ArtsBeat]

• Following controversial firings at three Boston-area hotels, the Jewish Labor Committee has called for a boycott of Hyatt. [JTA]

How Bibi Gets His Way

One word for it might be ‘nagging’


In an online slideshow accompanying his portraits of world leaders for The New Yorker, famed photographer Platon discloses Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s subtle negotiating tactics, no doubt honed over years of talks with the Palestinians. “As I was doing this portrait,” Platon relates, [Netanyahu] leaned forward and said, ‘Platon, make me look good.’ And the bizarre thing is that once the shoot was over—we had a few chats here and there—every time he would pass me with his entourage over the next few days, he would always come, shake my hand again, have a chat, and whisper in my ear, ‘Platon, make me look good.’ So I was kind of brainwashed by Mr. Netanyahu, that when it came to the editing process, I found myself making him look good.” Did Platon succeed? You be the judge.

Portraits of Power [The New Yorker]

Bagel Wars!

The New York-Montreal deathmatch


“New York bagels versus Montreal bagels” is one of those Beatles-vs.-Stones-type questions for which the answer “either one” is simply unacceptable. The New York Times’s City Room blog delves in to the debate, exposing what makes these two delicacies so different, and trying to settle, once and for all, which is better. For the tragically uninitiated, Montreal bagels are thinner (half the weight), crisper (baked in wood-burning ovens), and sweeter (boiled in water and honey) than their gigantic, doughy, and salty New York City counterparts. Both variants originated among the cities’ Jewish communities, although the Montreal bakers claim their version is truer to the Old Country antecedent. So which is better? City Room quotes partisans of both sides. (Food writer and Tablet Magazine contributing editor Mimi Sheraton reps NYC: “I thought they were horrible,” she says of Montreal’s.) A quick taste test at the Times office heavily favored the paper’s hometown. An impromptu, informal poll here at Tablet’s (Manhattan) office produced the same result.Still, you are cheating yourself if you do not at least give both a try. A bagel by any other name would taste just as sweet. But apparently a bagel by the same name can taste delightfully salty.

Montreal’s Bagels Square Off Against New York’s [City Room]

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