Parent Documentaries: A New Jewish Genre?

Filmmakers reinterpret the 5th commandment


Reading an article in yesterday’s Times on documentaries about famous parents by their children, it was striking to realize that the overwhelming majority of those who have been so profiled—the architect Louis Kahn, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Brooklyn-born folksinger Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and the lawyers William Kunstler and Martin Garbus—were Jews.

What to make of such an intersection? There’s maybe a sociological explanation: there is, of course, no shortage of Jews working in film. There’s a psychological explanation: documentaries about parents can be seen as a species of therapy—albeit in sessions that last around 90 minutes rather than 50. But there’s also the temptation to move beyond the realm of social and behavioral science and reach for something more ancient: the commandment to honor one’s parents.

It’s an unconventional definition of honoring, to be sure. Many of the filmmakers drawn to the nascent genre have had complicated relationships with their parents—or, in some cases, no relationship at all. And so, there’s an element of score-settling involved. (Just look at the picture of William Kunstler that accompanies the article, and it quickly becomes apparent that this is not hagiography.) Yet, it’s clear that what animates these documentaries is a desire to understand—to understand the importance to the broader world of figures who, in the filmmakers’ eyes, once existed only as moms and dads. And what emerges, more often than not, is a sort of grudging respect. Besides, there’s a name for films about family members made without any bite: we call those home movies.

Filmmakers’ Controversy: Their Dad [NYT]

‘The Leviathan,’ in Hebrew

Hobbes classic gets its first full Hebrew translation


As of last month, Israelis have access for the first time to a full translation of The Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes. Earlier Hebrew editions “had quietly dropped anything Hobbes had to say about the Bible,” says Yoram Hazony, the provost of the Shalem Center, which sponsored the translation. “For decades, Israelis read Hobbes without any inkling that he is, in a way, part of their own story.”

The New York Times asked a few experts to weigh in on the implications of the new translation, which Hazony hopes will allow Israelis “to reconsider their place in the intellectual life of the West.” One participant was Rebecca Goldstein, author of the Nextbook Press volume Betraying Spinoza; Goldstein couldn’t help seeing a connection between that titular thinker and Hobbes: “Both were impressed by the enormous destructive capacity of religion. Both saw religion as coming from man’s terror at his own mortality. The question was how to transform the state so as to stabilize the volatile religious impulse that—realists that they were—they knew could not be made to disappear.” One wonders what Israelis might think of Goldstein’s assessment that “Hobbes, like Spinoza, not only wants to wrest the interpretation of religious texts away from religious authorities, but to reveal those texts as undermining the very legitimacy of those authorities.”

Hobbes in Hebrew: The Religion Question [NYT]
Related: Betraying Spinoza [Nextbook Press]

Costco to Sell Illustrated Torahs

Just in time for Hanukkah, or Christmas


Hey, you know what you shouldn’t be paying retail for this holiday season? Torahs. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, discount giant Costco is going to start selling a special edition at select stores later this month. The distributor told the news service that The Illustrated Torah, published by Gefen Publishing House of Jerusalem in conjunction with The Studio in Old Jaffa and the Jewish Publication Society of New York, is supposed to appeal to both Jewish and Christian consumers who don’t have access to a local Jewish bookstore or Judaica shop. Or, you know, to the Internet.

Costco to Sell Torah [JTA]

Orthodox Rioters Take On Intel

Protestors ransack factory for operating on Shabbat

Two of the protestors on Saturday.(Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)

At least 1,500 ultra-Orthodox Jews stormed an Intel plant in Jerusalem on Saturday, angry that the computer chip-maker is operating there on the Sabbath. The rioters, some of whom wore shtreimels and other holiday finery, threw rocks at onlookers and journalists and ransacked part of the factory, including its chapel. According to the Jerusalem Post, protestors threw “prayer books to the floor and used prayer stands to bash in the doors.” Jerusalem’s mayor and other government officials condemned the violence and Intel-Israel CEO Maxine Fassberg pointed out that the factory has been in operation—including on Saturdays—for nearly 25 years without objection. (Blogger Neal Ungerleider offers a different account, stating the rioters stormed a new Intel plant.) Fassberg also dismissed rumors that Intel, which employs 6,500 people in Israel, would leave the country altogether if such protests continue.

Barkat voices his support for Intel [JPost]
Ultra Orthodox Jews Storm Intel Plant [True/Slant]

The 2,000 Year Old Man Brought Jewish Humor Mainstream

Brooks and Reiner tell ‘Times,’ as they prepare for box set

Brooks and Reiner performeing the 2000 Year Old Man in 2003.(

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner have been doing their “2,000 Year Old Man” routine for a meager 50 years, but apparently that’s long enough for their creation of minor genius—a Yiddish-accented schlub who’s been around for the crucifixion, the inquisition, and the French Revolution, and still his 42,000 children don’t call—to get his own four-disc box set rerelease. In an interview with Brooks, who plays the Man in the routine, and Reiner, who plays his befuddled interlocutor, the New York Times identifies the original 2,000 Year Old Man albums, from the early 1960s, as among the first that “helped make Jewish humor American humor.”

Brooks and Reiner seem to agree. At first, “[We said] we can’t do it for anybody but Jews and non-anti-Semitic friends,” Reiner recalled. “The Eastern European Jewish accent Mel did was persona non grata in 1950. The war had been over for five years, the Jews had been maligned enough.” The television personality Steve Allen convinced them to put their character on an album, but they remained skeptical about the Man’s crossover appeal until, said Reiner, Cary Grant reported that the Queen Mum was a fan: “I said, ‘Well there’s the biggest shiksa in the world, we must be all right.’”

A Shtick With a Thousand Lives [NYT]

Today on Tablet

Kids getting vaccinated, hanging out


Marjorie Ingall wonders why vaccination is such an issue for parents. Orlee Maimon reports on a camp for the sons of Chabad emissaries, or shluchim, who were in town for a conference last week. And, as always, much more to come here on The Scroll.

Palestinians Threaten Declaration of Statehood

Israel rejects unilateral move; analysts argue peace process is dead

Erekat atthe State Department in Washington last year.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It hasn’t been a good few days for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Over the weekend, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat announced he would force the whole issue by going to the U.N. Security Council and demanding recognition of a Palestinian state covering the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by saying that any unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians would nullify existing agreements and draw reciprocal “unilateral steps” from Israel’s side—a threat that may, according to the Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz, potentially include practical measures like cutting off the supply of desalinated water into the West Bank, or, as Environment Minister Gilad Erdan threatened this morning, wholesale annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The question now is whether all this noise is just that, or a sign that the dream of achieving a single, encompassing peace settlement is turning into a nightmare full of dissatisfaction and mutual resentment. Indeed, a growing chorus seems to be suggesting that the whole existing framework of discussions—all pointed in the direction of achieving “final status negotiations” around a two-state deal—should just be dropped. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote last week that “this dysfunctional ‘peace process’” was achieving nothing except weakening the Obama Administration. Now, in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley—who helped arrange the failed Camp David summit in 2000—argue that since 16 years of negotiations have failed to produce a viable two-state agreement, Obama ought to look for some interim solution. Trouble is, no one really knows what a good short-term deal would look like, either. “How such an interim arrangement would work is hard to fathom,” the two men write. “But is an end-of-conflict settlement is out of reach, and the status quo out of the question, options that fall somewhere in between deserve at least serious exploration.”

Palestinians to Seek U.N. Endorsement of Statehood [AP]
Israel & Palestine: Can They Start Over? [NYRB]

Daybreak: World-Champion Rabbi

Plus Palestinian plans and David Irving’s email, and more in the news


• Boxer and rabbinical student Yuri Foreman won a World Boxing Association title in Las Vegas on Saturday night. [AP]
• Some Palestinians have drafted a plea to the U.N. Security Council to appeal directly for their own state; Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu says if they move forward with it, Israel may cancel the interim peace accords, which are what allow the Palestinian Authority to exist in the first place. [AP]
• Meanwhile, the Palestinian Liberation Organization is planning a coup to take over the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Hamas-controlled parliamentary body for the P.A. [Ynet]
• A group of “anti-fascist” hackers exposed private emails of Holocaust revisionist David Irving, which include details about his use of pseudonyms to book speaking arrangements, such as the one last week in New York that was thwarted. [Wired]
• And this year’s conference for Chabad emissaries in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was the first since a married pair of emissaries was killed during last year’s Mumbai terror attacks. [NYT]

Sundown: Larry David Goes Native

Plus saving the earth from synagogues, an identity musical, and more


• For a strange and degrading appearance on Lopez Tonight, Larry David took a DNA test and host George Lopez revealed that the comedian “really is a bad Jew,” as he is, supposedly, 37 percent Native American. [Monsters and Critics]
• The overzealous printing of Torah-study pamphlets by Israeli synagogues has led to a garbage crisis, as the holy pages must be disposed in special genizah bins and then buried; an environmental group is encouraging publishers to refrain from printing whole Bible verses and using God’s name, which will allow the sheets to be recycled. [Arutz 7]
• Congratulations to Irina Reyn, who won the Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction by Emerging Writers for her 2008 book, What Happened to Anna K. [Foundation for Jewish Culture]
• Joel and Ethan Coen have a marketing video for A Serious Man that seems to be especially for the tribe (much like the flick itself), in which they discuss “the aspects of Jewish arcane that are in the movie.” [JTA]
• In My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, a new musical now running in Toronto, playwright David Hein explores “what it means to be Jewish in a multi-hyphenated world.” [Canadian Press]

Being Jewish Made Kunstler a Radical

Legendary lawyer’s daughters speculate as their documentary opens


“I’m not a self-hating Jew,” the radical lawyer William Kunstler says in William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, a documentary opening today. “Anyone who knows me knows I love myself.” Kunstler became famous—or infamous, depending on your point of view—for defending the Chicago Seven, the Catonsville 9 (who burned draft files to protest Vietnam), Meir Kahane’s killer, and one of the defendants in the Central Park jogger attack, among others. This film, made by his two younger daughters, is “a refresher course on the history of American left-wing politics in the 1960s and ’70s as well as an affectionate personal biography,” says New York Times critic Stephen Holden. Born into an upper-middle-class New York City family, Kunstler followed a clean-cut path to the Ivy League and then World War II service. So what turned him radical? In an interview with Gothamist, Sarah Kunstler noted her late father’s “profound sense of injustice and empathy for oppressed peoples” and said that she and her sister have “been wondering if it had anything to do with growing up Jewish during the first half of the 20th century.” She explained: “When dad graduated from law school in 1948, none of the top law firms would higher Jewish lawyers. Most Jewish lawyers from that period started their own firms or went into private practice. I think that on some level, being treated as an outsider made dad think more creatively about what to do with his law degree. Conforming just wasn’t an option. So when the ACLU asked him to go to the South to observe the arrests of Freedom Riders, he leapt at the chance.”

Radical Lawyer’s Appeal (and Rebuttal) [NYT]

Emily and Sarah Kunstler, Filmmakers
Daughters of Infamous Lawyer Assess his Legacy in ‘Kunstler’ [Jweekly]

Irving Booked UES Catholic Center; Center Says Talk Is Cancelled

But Irving says it’ll go on

Irving arriving at the Oxford Union in 2007.(Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

Yesterday, we reported that Holocaust revisionist David Irving was scheduled to give a talk in New York City on Saturday, in a secret location that would be announced to registered audience members only at last minute. This afternoon, a group called New Yorkers Against David Irving announced that they’d discovered Irving’s planned venue: the Catholic Kolping Society on the Upper East Side, an outpost of a Catholic fraternal society based in Cologne, Germany. Irving booked the venue under a fake name, the anti-Irving group said, adding that after its members contacted the Society, the event was canceled. A receptionist at the Society house, who would not give his name, said that someone claiming to be named Michael Singer came to the house “a couple of days ago” to schedule a book reading for Saturday, but had not yet left a deposit when the Society started getting calls warning that the speaker was actually Irving.

Reached for comment, Irving confirmed that the talk was planned for the Kolping Society. “We have a valid contract, and we’re going to go ahead with that,” he said. “We’ll be there at 7 p.m.” When a similar situation occurred in Toronto, he said, “I turned up, and my entire audience turned up, and that was the end of that. I’m sure that the Kolping Society will see reason.” He said that the Society’s claim of canceling the event was a “smokescreen” and that he will still speak there—as, he added, he’d previously done, in 2004. A Society spokeswoman denied both those claims. “He has no contract at all,” she said. “There’s absolutely no contract. He cannot come in the building.”

UPDATE: New Jersey Residents Against David Irving, a counterpart to the New York anti-Irving group, has announced that an American Legion post in the town of Wayne has canceled a lecture Irving had been scheduled to give there tonight.

Earlier: David Irving to Speak in New York, Secretly

Rubashkin Found Guilty of 86 Fraud Charges

Sentencing, plus a second trial, on immigration charges, still to come


Sholom Rubashkin, former manager of the Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, was convicted yesterday in federal court of 86 financial fraud charges. Rubashkin’s sentencing date has not yet been scheduled, but he will likely be sentenced to hundreds of years in prison, the AP is reporting. In addition, he still faces a second trial on 72 immigration charges. Agriprocessors declared bankruptcy last year several months after a federal immigration raid in which nearly 400 undocumented workers were arrested.

In a jury trial held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (defense attorneys feared that Iowa jurors would be biased against Rubashkin because of pretrial publicity), Rubashkin was found guilty of bank fraud, making false statements to a bank, mail fraud, and money laundering, the Des Moines Register reports. He was found not guilty of five additional charges of failing to pay livestock providers within a 24-hour window required by law. Defense attorneys “tried to portray Mr. Rubashkin as a bumbling businessman who was in over his head,” said the AP, but prosecutors successfully countered in his closing arguments that “Mr. Rubashkin had been aware of the fraud at the plant and that to assume otherwise was ‘ridiculous.’”

Rubashkin’s attorneys say they intend to appeal. They are also seeking to dismiss the charges related to money laundering because, they say, Rubashkin did not profit from the crime. “It’s unbelievable,” Rubashkin’s daughter Roza Weiss told the Argus Leader, a Sioux Falls paper. “My only comment is, we’re Jewish and we’re proud of it.” The Rubashkins are part of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

Jury: Fmr. Slaughterhouse Manager Guilty of Fraud [AP]
Sholom Rubashkin Guilty on 86 Charges in Fraud Trial Involving Postville Meat Plant [Des Moines Register]
Rubashkin Found Guilty on 86 Counts [Argus Leader]

AP: Radicalism on the Rise in Mideast

As Iran holds its ground and hope of peace talks recedes


As news headline writers struggle daily to come up with different ways to say “No Progress on Peace Talks” and “Iran’s Gonna Do Whatever it Damn Well Pleases,” the Middle East in general is becoming more susceptible to radical anti-Israel factions, according to the Associated Press. Actually, as the news service puts it, the region is “backsliding toward name-calling and saber-rattling, and away from the goal of a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world.”

Recently, Syrian President Bashar Assad, who once held out hope for negotiations with Israel, said that peace will only come “through resistance.” Earlier this week, Hassan Nasrallah, the Iran-backed head of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which now holds 10 of the 30 seats in the Lebanese government, upped his rhetoric against President Barack Obama, who he says has facilitated “absolute American commitment to Israeli interests, Israeli conditions, and Israeli security … while disregarding the dignity or feelings of the Arab and Muslim people.” Even Israel’s old friend Egypt has increasingly turned against it, both culturally and politically. Also not helping: The fact that the Obama administration has increasingly backed away from its initial insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze in the Palestinian territories, not to mention Israel’s hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who, says the AP, “has said Israeli-Arab lawmakers who meet Palestinian militants should be executed and the president of Egypt could ‘go to hell.’”

All of this is music to Iran’s ears: “[W]ith peace efforts stalled, the first time Iran uses its leverage in the Arab world to support another armed conflict against Israel, the election debacle will be quickly forgotten.”

Mideast Radicals Fill Space Left by Peace Impasse

Chabad Conference Comes to Town

How to feed 4,000 rabbis

Chabadniks praying in Brooklyn last year.(Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

The Chabad Men’s Annual Kinus, a conference for Chabad’s emissaries from all over the world, began yesterday in Brooklyn. Everything is staying local this year, with the enormous final banquet set for Sunday night at the Bedford Armory, at the edge of Chabad’s home neighborhood, Crown Heights. (Last year’s banquet at Chelsea Piers apparently required Herculean logistical support to get the several thousand attendees to the western shore of Manhattan.) The enormous armory, with 92-foot ceilings, will play host to 4,000 rabbis for the closing meal and require 7,000 square yards of burgundy event carpeting, 20 different kinds of lighting, and, somehow, an effective coat check for those 4,000 identical hats. Some other statistics on the banquet:

Months of prep work: 4
City licenses needed for the event: More than 10
Tractor-trailers needed to transport event equipment:5
Length of lighting and power cables used: 7 miles
Workers required to assemble and then break down the hall: 40
Simultaneous translations of the speeches: 3 (Russian, Hebrew, French)
DVD copies of the event that will be produced overnight for Monday morning distribution: More than 6,000

And what does it take to feed the 4,000 Chabad emissaries, known as shluchim, for the four-day conference? According to Bentzion Cohen Catering:

Total meat meals served: 15,500
Total dairy meals served: 6,500
Chickens used: 12,500 chickens
Pounds of margarine used: 55
Gallons of soup prepared: 2,500
Rugelach baked: 5,000

What Will Happen to the P.A.?

Speculation on a post-Abbas Palestinian Authority

Abbas at a rally commemorating the fifth anniversary of Arafat's death on Wednesday.(Omar Rashidi/PPO via Getty Images)

Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t rescinded his announcement that he won’t be running for a second term as Palestinian Authority president, but he’s agreed to postpone the P.A. elections that he had previously scheduled for January. Hamas, the party that controls Gaza—and has a worsening relationship with Abbas’ Fatah party in the West Bank—had refused to participate in those elections, so the postponement is viewed as a last-ditch effort by Abbas to avoid formalizing the divisions between the two territories.

The pressing questions about Abbas’ putative retirement, then, may be slightly less pressing, but no less confusing. First and foremost, is Abbas really planning to step down? He has, as the Economist points out, threatened resignation before. “Some of the Palestinian leader’s aides, however, insisted that this time he would go,” the magazine reported. “Others predicted that he would be persuaded to stay. Still others speculated that he could drop his post as president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), while continuing to wield power as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the umbrella organisation that embraces an array of nationalist groups, and as head of Fatah.”

And if Abbas does step down, who will replace him? No one’s exactly jumping for the job, but the most frequently named successor is Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader who helped organize the first and second intifadas, and is popular within Hamas as well. The problem with Barghouti is that he’s serving five life terms in Israeli prison. If he were to win the election, Yossi Beilin, a former justice minister of Israel and a friend of Abbas, writes in the Forward,a whole new set of questions would emerge: “Will Israel release Barghouti from jail and negotiate with him? Or will Israel’s leaders express a sigh of relief and feel justified in refusing to negotiate with someone they consider a terrorist?”

And then there are the more drastic possibilities. Some Fatah officials are considering unilaterally declaring an independent Palestinian state along 1967 borders, and then demanding “the UN to come and drag the occupation forces from our land,” as an Abbas aide told the Financial Times. There’s also a proposal to internally dismantle the P.A. in protest of its lack of real power, the paper said.

In any case, the portrait of Abbas that is emerging is of a man who is resigned in the emotional if not yet in the political sense of the word. As Beilin put it, “Abu Mazen never much liked power, never liked being president, and he eagerly awaits the day he will leave his job.”

Mahmoud Abbas Puts Off Palestinian Elections After Hamas Opposition [Guardian]
Will He Jump? [Economist]
Missing the Abu Mazen Opportunity [The Forward]
Fatah Signals New Strategy if Abbas Quits [Financial Times]

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