On Tablet Today

Readers write, and the ambivalence of the Jewish novelist


Novelist Adam Langer considers the ramifications of being a Jewish writer. For his column on the weekly Torah portion, Liel Leibovitz asks readers to submit personal stories of humility. And The Scroll will roll out new updates as the day progresses.

Cash for Sewing Machines

What Obama’s trade-in program owes to the Singer company

(Wikimedia Commons)

The “Cash for Clunkers” concept is nothing new, technology historian Edward Tenner wrote the other day in blog post for The Atlantic. It was an idea employed already a century and half ago by Isaac Merritt Singer and Edward Clark, the duo that founded the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Flush with confidence in the quality of their designs, the pair took out an ad in 1857 encouraging consumers to trade in their older models for new ones:

These worthless Machines now stand directly in the way of the sale of good ones. Their existence causes great pecuniary loss to us…. We, therefore, have an extensive and direct interest in having all bad Sewing Machines finally withdrawn from the market, and our new improved ones substituted in their place.

As a result of the gambit, Singer sales grew that year by 50 percent, and the fortune that those sales helped amass brings us back into the world of 21st-century politics and ideas. The New Republic magazine owes its current existence, at least in part, to the fortune inherited by Singer heiress Anne Peretz, wife of TNR editor-in-chief and part owner Martin Peretz. Ironically enough, recent posts on The Vine, TNR’s environment and energy blog, have been lukewarm on “Cash for Clunkers,” arguing that the program’s potential environmental benefits will, in the end, be quite modest.

Vested Interests
[The Atlantic]

Daybreak: Israel Killed Arafat?

Settlements vs. Iran, Spielberg honored, and more in the news


• At this week’s conference, Fatah resolves that Israel bears full responsibility for the death of former leader Yasser Arafat. [JPost]
• Still hoping to revive peace talks, the U.S. asks Israel to freeze settlement growth for one year. [Reuters]
• Meanwhile, a group of Republican leaders on a visit to Israel think President Obama should shift his focus to the Iranian threat. [AP]
• German police raided a hotel being used by neo-Nazis as a youth training center. [Ynet]
• And an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor will testify at former Nazi John Demjanjuk’s trial. [UPI]
• Steven Spielberg will receive Philadelphia’s 2009 Liberty Medal, joining the likes of Bono and Hamid Karzai. [JPost]

Sundown: RV Dinners

Israel vs. Zionism, Jewish Rio, and the underworld


• A New Jersey couple gives new meaning to the term “mitzvah mobile,” parking an RV outside a local hospital as a place for Jewish families with sick children to celebrate the Sabbath. [Jewish Star]
• Dov Yermiya, a 95-year-old Israeli pioneer and activist, has formally renounced Zionism in the face of what he sees as oppression and cruelty toward Palestinians, opening a debate as to whether Zionists can maintain their ideals in the face of disappointing realities. [TPM]
• A case for looking at the Coen Brothers’ 1991 film Barton Fink—which has been studied by Holocaust scholars—as a representation of hell. [Examiner]
• In a recent video advertising his forthcoming book, fraudulent Holocaust “memoirist” Herman Rosenblat retells the story he has already admitted is not true. [Gawker]
• Rio de Janeiro boasts a new Jewish cultural center—now you can call your beach vacation “educational.” [JTA]

Tom Friedman Has Seen the Great Arabic Hope

And, believe it or not, it’s the Palestinian Authority

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Mustachioed New York Times foreign-affairs guru Thomas Friedman trotted to one of his favorite corners of the globe for today’s column, a dispatch from the Palestinian capital of Ramallah, in the West Bank. From there, he recounts the findings of the U.N Development Program’s new Arab Human Development report, which contains all sorts of dispiriting, if not entirely surprising, details. Throughout the Arab world, there’s huge unemployment, huge illiteracy, and stagnant economies, and things have only gotten worse since the last similar report, in 2002. It’s evidence for traditional Friedmanian points: Arab leaders must embrace modernity rather than fight it, they must focus on their own people not their enemies, and other similar ideas, more pithily sloganized by Friedman than by your humble blogger. But, interestingly, this column offers a bright spot—and, even more interestingly, that bright spot is the Palestinian Authority. “The whole report would have left me feeling hopeless,” Friedman writes, “had I not come to Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government in the West Bank, to find some good cheer.” (“I’m serious,” he adds.) As it turns out, “Salam Fayyad, a former I.M.F. economist, is testing out the most exciting new idea in Arab governance ever,” Friedman writes. “Fayyadism is based on the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services…. He is an ardent Palestinian nationalist, but his whole strategy is to say: the more we build our state with quality institutions—finance, police, social services—the sooner we will secure our right to independence.” And, Friedman points out, the strategy seems to be bearing fruit: The number of new businesses in the West Bank is skyrocketing this year, and the economy there should grow by 7 percent, according to the IMF. Who knew?

Green Shoots in Palestine [NYT]

So What If von Brunn Hated Jews?

Does a ‘hate crime’ designation really mean anything?


In addition to being indicted for first-degree murder, alleged U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum shooter James von Brunn was also charged last week with having committed a hate crime. For Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, this charge—which comes a month after the Senate passed new hate crime legislation named for gay murder victim Matthew Shepard—is a perfect illustration of the “folly” of hate-crime laws, which are premised on the notion that some crimes against individuals actually make entire communities less safe. “I am Jewish,” Cohen writes. “But even with von Brunn’s attack, I am more affected by a mugging in my neighborhood that might keep me from taking a walk at night than I am by a shooting at a Holocaust museum.” In the Houston Voice, Rebecca Armendariz fired back: “Just because you, Mr. Cohen, can weigh the effects of a mugging in your neighborhood against the shooting at the museum doesn’t mean everyone can,” then went on to list crime victims, like Shepard, whose sexuality or skin color may have made any neighborhood a dangerous one for them to take a walk. In the San Francisco Chronicle, though, Debra Saunders made a pragmatic argument that aligns with Cohen’s. “It’s hard to understand how a federal hate-crimes law could send a stronger message than life in prison,” she writes. “With or without the Shepard act, Von Brunn could face the death penalty if convicted of first degree murder.”

The Folly of Hate-Crime Laws [WP]
Richard Cohen on Hate Crimes [Houston Voice]
Another Hate-Crimes Bill [S.F. Chronicle]

Secular L.I. Parents Sue Orthodox-Run School Board

Five Towns feud!


Hey, poli-sci majors. Discuss: should public services—let’s say schools—be governed by the people who pay for them, or by the people who use them? That’s the question raised by a federal lawsuit filed yesterday by a group of parents in Lawrence, N.Y., one of Long Island’s famous Five Towns, where the school board is dominated by Orthodox Jews whose children don’t use public schools at all—they go to yeshivas—but who are nonetheless obligated to pay high property taxes to support the district.

The suit claims that the board’s recent decision to shut down the district’s newest elementary school in the face of falling enrollment—allegedly with the ulterior motive of cherry-picking the best facility to sell or lease to a yeshiva—amounts to the backdoor establishment of religion, in violation of the First Amendment. It’s the latest flare-up in long-running tensions between Orthodox residents, on one hand, and secular Jews and non-Jewish residents, on the other, who are steadily being crowded out of the community. (Previous iterations have included vicious budget fights and contract disputes.) Lawyers for the school board dismiss the accusations and insist the public will “not only be aware, but they will participate in the process.” Which, of course, means the entire public, not just those who use the public schools.

First Amendment Suit Filed in Woodmere School Closure [Newsday]

Bibi Gets Good Economic News

On top of everything else that’s going right

This is the happiest-looking photo of Netanyahu we could find. It’s from the opening of a new highway interchange last month.(Ariel Schalit-Pool/Getty Images)

The National Insurance Institute of Israel reports today that the Israeli economy is growing slightly, after suffering from the global slump for the past year. According to Haaretz, there’s been a five percent drop in unemployment and a 2.2 percent drop in the number of welfare recipients.
This is clearly good domestic news for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the past few months has seen his coalition government strengthened for a variety of reasons. First, Israelis have rallied behind him in the face of U.S. pressure to stop settlement growth. Second, the chaos in Iran bolstered his conservative government, which was elected in part because of its commitment to national security. And finally, the impending resignation of Netanyahu’s controversial foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman—should Lieberman face charges for fraud, which seems likely—would give Netanyahu even more of a purchase on power, and this just months after being elected in a tightly contested election and on very tenuous terms. Good economic news is just icing on the cake.

Is Israel Emerging From the Economic Crisis? [Haaretz]

Ahmadinejad Sworn In for New Term

Will we see him in New York this September?

Ahmadinejad address the U.N. General Assembly last year.(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in this morning for his second term as president of Iran, despite ongoing popular protests and a walkout by reformist legislators. We’re sure there won’t be any shortage of serious discussion about the policies he’ll pursue in his first hundred days, but with our fall social calendars already filling up, here’s what we’d like to know: will Ahmadinejad return to New York in September to hobnob with other world leaders (including Barack Obama) at this year’s United Nations General Assembly?

Ahmadinejad’s last outing to a U.N. powwow was in April, when he traveled to the so-called Durban II anti-racism conference in Geneva; there, hecklers in Bozo wigs pelted him with clown noses as he launched into a diatribe against Israel, prompting a walkout. The Iranian leader is an inveterate showman, and unlikely to resist the opportunity to parade in front of the world’s cameras (or to provoke the politically useful ire of Israeli diplomats). So if he does turn up, we wonder: Given the turmoil of the last month, and the disillusionment of even the most avid fans of engagement, will any prominent universities invite him to campus in the name of free speech? Will any rabbis deign to meet with him in the name of interfaith understanding? Will Sarah Palin be re-invited to protest him? And, most important: Will Fred Armisen be forced to choose between reviving his Ahmadinejad act or perfecting his Obama impression? Stay tuned…

Ahmadinejad Sworn In for 2nd Term as Iran’s President

Online High-Holiday Services

Boon for slackers, shut-ins


We’ve all been there, haven’t we? All of the sudden, just like that, it’s erev Rosh Hashana, and you realize you forgot to pay the synagogue dues and therefore never got your tickets in the mail. The synagogue office is already closed for the holiday, so you can’t make a last-minute payment and pick up tickets, and so you won’t be able to show up to daven. (Well, of course, you could, because you know from experience you can totally outfox those alter kockers from the Men’s Club who work as ushers and sneak in while they’re not paying attention. But that’s a little tacky, no?) What, oh what, is a good but absent-minded Jew to do? Thank goodness, then, for a press release we’ve just received from, apparently “the world’s first progressive online synagogue,” according to the release. They’ll be offering a live Internet stream of High Holiday services from Congregation Beth Adam in Cincinnati. There’ll be an erev Rosh Hashana service, a Rosh Hashana morning service, a Kol Nidre service, a Yom Kippur morning service, and a Yizkor service, all easily viewable from the comfort of your computer desk. It’s free, too—but, as the press release also informs us, they’re very happy to accept your donations. Which you can pay online, as last-minute as you’d like. [Homepage]

Tablet Today

Love, marriage, politics


To mark Tu B’Av, the so-called “Jewish Valentine’s Day,” Tablet Magazine counts down the ten greatest breakup songs written by Jews. Tova Mirvis takes a look at impediments to matchmaking in the Orthodox community. Allison Hoffman checks out the pair behind the book It’s Never Too Late to Date. Seth Lipsky explores the legacy of Corazon Aquino, former president of the Philippines. And much more, right here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: More Robinson Gripes

Crypto-Jews, the bright side of intermarriage, and more from the news


• Democratic congressman Eliot Engel joined the ADL in criticizing President Obama’s decision to award Mary Robinson a Medal of Freedom, citing anti-Israel remarks she has made. [JTA]
• But the President is sticking by his choice to honor Ireland’s first female president. [AP]
• Amos Kenan, an Israeli writer and artist instrumental in the development of Israeli culture in the 1940s, has died at 82. [AP]
• At the recent 2009 conference of the Society of Crypto Judaic Studies in Denver, many told stories of melding Jewish practices with Catholicism. [Denver Post]
• The “good news” about increased intermarriage rates? A larger “extended” Jewish community. [Jewish Week]

Sundown: Milk, Honey, and Black Gold

Striking it rich, preparing for battle, and objecting to an award for Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson at the John Jay Justice Awards in New York in April.(Brad Barket/Getty Images)

• Christians and Jews alike have found a reason to love the Hebrew Bible—not just as a record of God’s laws, but as a treasure map detailing where to drill for oil in Israel. [Examiner]
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen makes an over-simplified, by-the-books argument against the necessity of “hate crime” laws, but ends with a provocative idea on the Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting: “To suggest that the effects of this attack were felt only by the Jewish or the black communities … ghettoizes both its real and purported victims. It’s a consequence that von Brunn himself might applaud.” [WPost]
• The Anti-Defamation League and some other Jewish groups are chagrined that President Obama has chosen to give a Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson; they blame the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights for allowing the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban to be dominated by anti-Israel voices. [ABC]
• Renovations have begun on the oldest synagogue in Beirut, with the approval of Hezbollah: “We respect the Jewish religion.… We have an issue with Israel’s occupation of land.” [LAT]
• On that note, Hezbollah is stockpiling weapons in its capacity as “Iran’s insurance policy” against Israel. [London Times]

A New Street on the Block

Introducing Z Street, a counterpoint to J Street


J Street, the progressive Zionist lobby group that developed as a counterweight to the hawkish lobbyists at AIPAC, has itself spawned an antagonist: Z Street, a new activist group that has planted itself firmly on the right wing of the American Zionist spectrum. On the conservative web magazine American Thinker, Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus describes the organization’s “ironclad positions,” which include “the right of Jews to live freely anywhere, including inhaling oxygen in areas the world insists are reserved for Arab Palestinians.” She explains that the group developed “in part as a response to organizations whispering into the ear of this US administration that pervert the meaning of ‘pro-Israel,’” and she compares her efforts to those undertaken by American Jews who fought to draw attention to Nazi atrocities during World War II. But how will her group be different from political allies like the Zionist Organization of America and Young Israel? “We intend to be more activist, not so involved with the academic side and the lobbying side,” Marcus told Tablet. “We want to have people’s attention grabbed and then confront them with the facts that have been obscured by the current discussion on the Middle East.” Currently, she’s working to get comedians in on the effort: “Humor is not a tool that’s been used from the staunchly pro-Israel organizational efforts.”

Luckily or unluckily for Marcus, Z Street’s cofounder, Allyson Rowen Taylor, is excellent at grabbing attention. In 2007, shortly after her resignation from the position of assistant regional director for the American Jewish Congress, the blog Muzzewatch accused her of having written an anonymous email to an employee of the American Friends Service Committee that asked, “Why do you hate being a Jew, why are you in favor of murdering Jews?” Taylor later confessed to the Forward.

Z Street [American Thinker]

Jewish Boys in Crisis

JTA offers solutions to a problem that doesn’t seem to exist


In an article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Amy Klein riffs on a recent spate of secular books tackling the troubled state of modern boyhood, asking, “Are Jewish boys in crisis?” While she initially concludes that, first, that’s too simple a question and, second, the answer would likely be “no,” Klein goes on to address the Jewish boys’ crisis throughout her article, gradually revealing it as that most recognizable and reportedly pervasive of crises: boys are not engaging sufficiently in Jewish life, stirring fears in the community not for their general success and achievement but for Jewish continuity.

Malina Saval, author of The Secret Lives of Boys, discusses one Jewish kid from her book, a 15-year-old Hebrew-school teaching assistant recovering from a drug addiction. Klein asks: “How could this self-reflective, hyper-intellectual, culturally aware, music- and fashion-obsessed nonconformist have gotten into drugs at such a young age?” Maybe things have changed since we were in high school, but that question sort of answers itself. That is, unless Klein’s descriptor—intellectual, aware, etc.—is simply code for “Jewish.” And although Michael Gurian, author of The Purpose of Boys, says of Jewish boys, “I wouldn’t say they’re in crisis in the same way other boys are in crisis,” he has started a program to help them specifically, through his synagogue in Spokane, Washington.

While the books the article jumps off from address problems like drugs, teenage fatherhood, and school dropout rates, the Jewish angle brings it back to boys not wanting to do extra homework for Hebrew school. One solution it suggests: Using the tactics of Christian bible-study programs, a new organization aimed at helping boys with this “crisis” attempts to suck them in by having them do, as one participant’s father puts it, “guys’ guy stuff” with Jews. We can just imagine the pitch: “Hey, nice slam dunk, Josh! Have you thought about whether you’ll circumcise your son?”

Are Jewish Boys in Crisis? [JTA]

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