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Sundown: God on Board

Plus nudgy phones, revealing tchotchkes, and more

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• A federal judge has ruled that license plates issued by South Carolina decorated with a cross and the words “I Believe” are unconstitutional; here’s hoping the state doesn’t secede. [AP]
• Quentin Tarantino collaborator Eli Roth says that the filmmaker may put out a prequel to his World War II revenge fantasy Inglourious Basterds. Moviefone suggests a title: “Inglourious Feetuses.” [Moviefone]
• A new study has shown that nagging text messages imploring you to save money or take your meds can actually make an impact; Newsweek calls the idea “your Jewish mother, on your mobile.” Um, what’s new about that again? [Newsweek]
• The rise and fall in popularity of certain souvenirs at a shop in Gaza—from U.N. flags to mugs reading “SMILE You are in Largest Jail on Earth Gaza”—illustrates the changing political situation in the region. [NYT]

Rockin’ Rabbi Takes NYC Pulpit

Jazz fixture Greg Wall to head Lower East Side synagogue

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Wall at his installation ceremony on October 31.(NYTimes.com)

We’re not sure how we missed this New York Times blog post from Monday, which opens thusly: “At first glance, the term ‘jazz rabbi’ might seem incongruous.” Now, to those of us who eat, sleep, and breathe Jewish miscellanea, it actually kind of doesn’t. But still, we were curious to discover that avant-garde jazz musician Greg Wall has taken the pulpit as the rabbi of Sixth Street Community Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The position combines his two relatively un-lucrative passions; “I still can’t quite make a living as a rabbi, though, so I need to have something to fall back on—like being a jazz musician,” he said to his new congregation at his inaugural event, a concert on Halloween featuring musicians from all over the world playing in a variety of eclectic styles.

Like John Coltrane, whose inclusion of a Jewish prayer in the liner notes to the album A Love Supreme inspired Wall, the rabbi, who was ordained in 2006, is thrilled to have found a way to express the religious feeling that he found through music: “If you start talking about spirituality during a show, then you’re seen as a fanatic, but if you’re a rabbi, they cut you some slack.”

An East Village Synagogue Gets a Jazzy Rabbi [NYT]
Related:
Live Wires
[Tablet]

Journos Fight Over Health Reform, Lieberman, Judaism

Jeffrey Goldberg, Dan Baum launch blog feud

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Atlantic national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg and journalist Dan Baum (who left the New Yorker under something of a cloud in 2007) are engaged in a Jew-on-Jew brawl, over health care and Joe Lieberman. Two days ago, Baum sent an email to Jewish friends and contacts imploring them to contact Lieberman and object to his pledge to filibuster a health care reform bill, which Lieberman has threatened to do if a bill contains any hint of a public option. “I’m the last guy in the world to try to organize people by religion, but we Jews may be the only people to whom Senator Joseph Lieberman might listen,” Baum wrote in the note, which he told us he sent to about 50 people.

Goldberg, who is also a Tablet Magazine contributing editor, objected to the faith-based corralling and posted what Baum calls a hostile attack on his Atlantic blog. Baum “may have revealed himself to be an ‘As-a-Jew,’ a particular Semitical sub-type,” Goldberg wrote. “As-a-Jews are people who invoke their heritage only when they feel a need to dump on another Jew, or a Jewish organization, or the Jewish state. It’s a low practice.”

Calling Goldberg’s post “despicable,” “vicious,” and “smarmy,” Baum confessed to us that he frankly didn’t understand it. “Yes, I am a Jew. I am appealing to other Jews to put pressure on a Jewish member of the Senate as Jews. I don’t know what a ‘Jew-type’ is,” he said. “If he supports Senator Lieberman’s position on health care, he should say so. But I don’t really know what he’s objecting to, unless he’s objecting to any kind of identity politics, in which case, that train’s done left the station.”

Reached by phone, Goldberg stated bluntly that he’s “for a single payer system. I’m for completely removing the profit motive,” and further explained that his post has nothing to do with Senator Lieberman or health care. What appalls him is Baum’s “ethnic bullying” with its implication that there is only one Jewish point of view on health care; such an approach diminishes Judaism, Goldberg said. Baum, he continued, is using his “blood ties to an ancient tribe to make a self-righteous point. You can’t have it both ways. Either you’re a member of the tribe and you live that membership in a kind of way or you don’t believe it’s a tie that binds and you don’t live in a way that suggests it’s a tie that binds. But to invoke your blood connection to Joe Lieberman seems kind of atavistic,” Goldberg said. “You can’t be Noam Chomsky and Abe Foxman in the same email.”

The Ineffable Dan Baum’s Latest Project [Atlantic]

Unemployed? Jewish? Go to Israel!

Freebies for prospective immigrants lure cash-strapped Americans, Reuters says

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Being Jewish occasionally has its privileges, and today Reuters uncovers a lesser-known one: subsidized living in Israel. According to the news service, increasing numbers of unemployed American Jews are traveling to the Jewish state to take advantage of government-backed and private programs designed to assist prospective new immigrants, many of which offer free housing, Hebrew classes, and a few months of respite from the strain of job-seeking at home. (Ironically, perhaps, many of them are funded by American Jewish organizations.) MASA, one of the biggest promoters of aliyah, said it had quadrupled participation in its programs after running a “Better Stimulus Package” campaign, but most of the people Reuters spoke to said they had no plans to actually stay once the freebies run out—except, that is, for one guy from Los Angeles, Adam Hecht, who said he might change his mind, with the right incentives: “I could immigrate,” the 25-year-old said, “if I could find my future wife here.”

U.S. Jews Turn to Israel to Escape Bleak Job Market [Reuters]

Abbas: No Talks Without Settlement Freeze

Talk comes after Netanyahu, Emanuel comments at G.A.

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Abbas speaking in Ramallah today.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

The Israeli government is ready to talk peace with the Palestinians but not to make any concessions ahead of time in order to get everyone to the table, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in addressing the General Assembly meeting of the Jewish federation system on Monday. Yesterday, President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, told the same gathering that the Obama Administration is determined to force the issue as soon as possible, before the ill will between the two sides that has festered since last winter’s Gaza war dissolves the chances of finding common ground. Today, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas—who we don’t think was invited to speak at the G.A., sadly—appeared at a rally in Ramallah called to commemorate the death of PLO head Yasser Arafat, where he announced that he was not going to sit down with anyone until Jewish settlement construction stops. (Abbas’ ambassador in Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, told Foreign Policy’s Cable blog that he’s delivered the same message to the White House.) It is, of course, important to remember that all of this is happening just as Abbas, who is facing dissent from his own supporters, is threatening to resign, and take down the entire Palestinian Authority government with him. The real question, it seems, isn’t really whether or not the Israelis or the Americans are willing to crack down on the settlers, or how badly anyone wants peace, but whether or not either party can come up with a way to reassure Abbas that they’ll have his back when he needs it.

Abbas Repeats Demand for Jewish Settlements Freeze [Guardian]
PLO’s Man in Washington: No Talks Without Settlement Freeze [FP]
Earlier: Emanuel Addresses G.A., Pushes Peace Talks

New Film About Holocaust Survivors

Documentary ‘Four Seasons Lodge,’ out today, follows them in old age

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Four Seasons Lodge, a documentary about a group of Holocaust survivors now in their 80s and 90s who’ve gathered at a Catskills bungalow colony every summer for the past 26 years, opens today in Manhattan. The film, critics say, is more Number Our Days than Number the Stars—as Variety puts it, “the Holocaust supplies the subtext rather than the text of the docu, which concerns the fragile present, as octogenarians dance to Cabaret showtunes or applaud blue jokes by entertainers almost as old as they are.” First-time director Andrew Jacobs, a journalist who first chronicled the group in a series of articles for the New York Times, who made the film with veteran documentary cinematographer Albert Maysles, focuses less on narrative or Holocaust testimony than on “the thick detail of life,” the Times says: “all the more shocking, then, is the almost casual revelation by the colony’s vice president that he was operated on by Josef Mengele, or the recollection by another resident of the exact time of day the Germans entered Lodz and hanged a Jew in public as a warning to the rest.” Filmcritic.com, however, dislikes the film for that same attention to the details of aging: it reminded the site’s reviewer “uncomfortably of the taint of death that surrounds most elderly Jewish gatherings, and how the documentary did capture the feeling of being trapped at your family’s holiday dinners.”

Four Seasons Lodge [Variety]
In the Catskills, Holocaust Survivors Forge a Bond [NYT]
Four Seasons Lodge [Filmcritic.com]

On Tablet Today

New perspectives on the apostle Paul and his Jewishness

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Judith Shulevitz examines new evidence that the apostle Paul, long known as “the father of anti-Judaism (the theological critique of Judaism as a religion), the grandfather of anti-Semitism (the hatred of Jews as people), and the inventor of the theology of the Cross,” may in fact have remained a lifelong Jew. Plus, much more to come on Tablet Magazine’s blog, The Scroll.

The Jewish Fight Over Einstein

‘Atlantic’: His first U.S. trip caused a rift between Zionist leaders

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Einstein at Princeton University on his 75th birthday, in 1954.(AFP/Getty Images)

Walter Isaacson takes a trip down memory lane (not his own, however) in the December issue of The Atlantic with a look at Albert Einstein’s maiden voyage to the United States in the spring of 1921. With the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, Einstein was persuaded to accompany Chaim Weizmann, the president of the World Zionist Organization, on a fundraising trip to help establish both a Jewish homeland and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, even though Einstein had until then largely avoided sectarian affiliations, according to Isaacson, who published a biography of the physicist in 2007. A newly published volume of Einstein’s papers from 1921 shows the scientist’s increasing affinity for Jewish causes as well his entanglement in a rift between Jewish leaders that pitted Weizmann against Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter. The latter two were “the more polished and cautious potentates of American Jewry,” Isaacson writes, and Brandeis, who was at the time the head of the Zionist Organization of America, “wanted the Zionist organizations to focus on sending money to Jewish settlers in Palestine and not on agitating politically.”

Isaacson calls the rivalry “an old-fashioned power struggle” and “a clash of personalities” that wound up pitting prosperous, assimilated American Jews against less refined, working-class European ones. Though glad that Einstein was in the States making the rounds, the American contingent tried to persuade him to downplay talk of money—both raising it for Israel and asking for it in terms of delivering lectures—and instead urged him to make believe he was here to talk relativity. And though the likes of Arthur Hays Sulzberger refused invitations to meet the future Nobel laureate, he was greeted, according to Isaacson, by immigrant throngs on the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn, causing him to later write to a friend, “I had to let myself be shown around like a prize ox.… It’s a miracle that I endured it. But now it’s finished and what remains is the fine feeling of having done something truly good and of having worked for the Jewish cause despite all the protests by Jews and non-Jews—most of our fellow tribesmen are smarter than they are courageous.”

How Einstein Divided America’s Jews [Atlantic Online]

Daybreak: Obama, Sarkozy Take Different Stances on Israel

Plus dissent on abortion, support for Rubashkin, and more in the news

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• The Jewish Telegraphic Agency culls evidence that the Obama administration has increasingly shifted toward Israel’s side in the conflict with the Palestinians but is making an effort not to allow this stance to be publicly evident. [JTA]
• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Paris today to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has proved less flexible than U.S. leaders in demanding a freeze on settlement growth in the West Bank. [AP]
• The National Council of Jewish Women, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the American Jewish Congress have spoken out against the clauses in the health care bill that prohibit government plans from covering abortion except in certain cases. [JTA]
• Orthodox Jewish men from all over the country are making a pilgrimage to South Dakota to support Shalom Rubashkin, who is on trial for immigration fraud at the Agriprocessors kosher meat factory in Iowa. [AP]

Sundown: Madoffiana, Priced to Move

Plus basketball, wandering, and a case for avoiding team sports

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• Couldn’t afford Bernie Madoff’s Montauk spread? Now his cheaper tchotchkes are up for auction. [Gawker]
• Jewish basketball star Nancy Lieberman becomes NBA’s first female head coach. (And, no that’s not an Onion headline.) [JChronicle]
• Jews continue to wander, now in obvious ways: As U.S. population has shifted south and west, so has Jewish population, says study. [Federations]
• Another study finds that high-school sports do not actually prevent drug use, crime, and alcohol abuse, as they’re often promoted these days. Protective Jewish parents of asthmatic, intellectual Jewish kids let out a (wheezy) sigh of relief. [Reuters]

Hip-Hop Mag Rates Rappers’ ‘Jew-Friendliness’

Cam’ron leads with five Stars of David

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The online hip-hop magazine XXL has known at least since May that there are Jewish rappers out there; now its editors have taken the almost ADL-ish step of ranking the “Jew-friendliness” of several non-Jewish artists on a scale of one to five Stars of David. Coming in first, with five Magen Davids, is Cam’ron, for creating a sitcom he describes as a “black Curb Your Enthusiasm” and referring to his fans as “yentas” in a music video. Asher Roth trails him with three stars, which he garnered for actually having a Jewish father and a Hebrew name. RZA gets two stars for appearing in Funny People alongside Seth Rogen and Adam Sandle, as does Soulja Boy, for the line “I just got a new deal, and I ain’t talking pickle” (because, says XXL, “pickles and money, what’s more Jewish than that?”). Erykah Badu’s former boyfriend Jay Electronica apparently sometimes goes as Jay ElectHanukkah and Jay ElectYarmulke, for which he receives a measly one star. And Shyne, who was recently deported to Belize, is pronounced “more Jewish than anyone else on this list” for sporting what appear to be tzitis. XXL misidentifies them as a tallis.

The Jewish Street Cred Report [XXL]

Emanuel Addresses G.A., Pushes Peace Talks

Speaking in lieu of his boss; audience reaction is mixed

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Emanuel speaking to the conference today.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, addressed the General Assembly of the Jewish federations today, and the first thing he did when he took the podium was apologize for not being Obama, who canceled his scheduled appearance in order to attend a memorial for the victims of last week’s shooting at Fort Hood. The second thing Emanuel did was remind his audience that he was born in Chicago to an Israeli father, who fought in the militant Irgun movement for Israel’s establishment, and who made sure his sons grew up loving Israel.

He then gave a 20-minute address about the urgency of getting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process moving, quickly, before the latest “last, best chance” to reach a real settlement evaporates. Emanuel got warm rounds of applause for talking about America’s determination to ensure Israel’s security and guarantee its long-term future, and for calling on the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist and reject political violence. Ditto for his commendation of Israel’s efforts to promote economic development in the Palestinian territories, remove checkpoints, and support the establishment of Palestinian security forces—points that echoed yesterday’s speech by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

But the applause dropped off once he started talking about Obama’s insistence that Israel halt settlement construction and fell to scattered, at best, as he warned Israel against taking any unilateral actions—prompting Emanuel, who made an early crack about name-checking Chicago every time he wanted to generate cheers, to interrupt himself. “I’m getting weaker here, guys,” he chided the crowd, drawing grudging laughs.

It’s impossible to know how much of the speech was lifted from Obama’s planned address, or whether Obama, had he spoken himself, would have made more pointed demands, or appeals for support from America’s Jews. Given the news blackout surrounding the president’s White House meeting last night with Netanyahu, it’s also impossible to know whether whatever was said there had any bearing on the talk—though Emanuel did say the meeting had been “very positive,” echoing comments Netanyahu made to Israeli reporters traveling with him today that the encounter was “very open and very warm.” We figure it’s safe to assume that the kicker, though, was certainly Emanuel’s alone: he wound up the address by saying he and his super-agent brother, Ari, plan to take their sons to Israel next year to be bar mitzvahed, and quipped that he would accept $18 checks in lieu of cheers. The 3,000 delegates laughed and clapped anyway.

Rahm Speaks to Jewish Federation [Politico]
Earlier: Obama, Netanyahu Meet, Stay Silent

N.Y. Mets Go to Bat for Hebron Jews

Controversial fundraiser for settler group is set for Citi Field

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Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the struggling New York Mets, the team now faces criticism for hosting a fundraiser for a right-wing, pro-Israeli settlement group at Citi Field. The Hebron Fund—which supports the Jewish community in that predominantly Palestinian West Bank city, a community considered to be among the most radical and violent of Jewish settlers—booked a club at the Mets’ stadium for its annual fundraising dinner. Eeleven organizations—consisting of American, Palestinian and Israeli peace activists—have petitioned the Mets to cancel the event, scheduled for November 21. “The New York Mets will be facilitating activities that directly violate international law and the Obama administration’s call for a freeze in settlement construction,” read the petition, “and that actively promote racial discrimination, and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homes in Hebron.” The Mets, however, have refused to take any action, and the controversial event will take place as planned—a perfect coda, perhaps, to the team’s year of rancor and disappointment.

Mets Won’t Strike Out Hebron Fund Dinner at Stadium [JTA]

Qatar Would Welcome Israelis (and Booze)

If it gets to host 2022 World Cup

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In their bid to host the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament, officials in the Muslim state of Qatar have said they’d welcome Israel’s national team in the competition even though, like other countries on the Arabian peninsula, Qatar does not currently recognize the Jewish state. It’s a positive step for Israel-Arab relations in the region and stands in contrast to a move earlier this year by Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, which refused to issue an entry visa to Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe’er—a decision that caused an international outcry. For its part, Qatar is known as one of the more liberal Muslim states; though restricted, alcohol consumption is not entirely banned and would be sold at the tournament as well, officials told Reuters. Of course, this could also all just be some easy good-faith gestures on Qatar’s part that won’t require any actual action: the last time Israel did well enough in World Cup qualify rounds to earn an appearance at the elite soccer competition was in Mexico in 1970.

Qatar would let Israel attend World Cup [Reuters]

Obama, Netanyahu Meet, Stay Silent

All we know is they talked about Iran and peace

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(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Washington for the Jewish federations’ annual General Assembly this week, went to the White House last night for a meeting with President Barack Obama. The two men were joined by senior staffers—including Israel’s American-born ambassador, Michael Oren—and talked for about an hour and forty minutes. What did they talk about? Well, that’s what no one knows. The meeting was closed to press, and there were no pre- or post-visit press conferences held by either party—though, up until late yesterday, the Israelis were telling reporters they expected to hold a public debriefing of some kind. That appears to have been scrapped, and Netanyahu is on his way to Paris, where he’s scheduled to meet tomorrow with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Why? No one seems quite sure about that, either. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs chalked it up to the last-minute nature of the meeting—which wasn’t confirmed until Sunday, prompting plenty of grumbling from pundits who saw it as a White House effort to put Netanyahu at a disadvantage.

In any case, the only account of what happened last night has come from the White House, which issued the following terse statement:

“The President and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed a number of issues in the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship. The President reaffirmed our strong commitment to Israel’s security, and discussed security cooperation on a range of issues. The President and Prime Minister also discussed Iran and how to move forward on Middle East peace.”

There you have it.

Readout of the President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu [whitehouse.gov]
Earlier: Bibi on Peace: ‘Let’s Get on With It’

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