Sundown: Shul for School

Plus a break for Baltimore’s Jewish paper, Yiddish flu-prevention, and more


• Admission to religious private schools in England has become so competitive that some families are resorting to synagogue attendance to get their kids in. [Financial Times]
• Israel took a break from its busy schedule of refuting charges of committing war crimes and withholding water from Palestinians to deny involvement in the blood diamond trade. [JTA]
• The city of Baltimore is suspending required loan payments for the Baltimore Jewish Times to help keep the publication in business. A journalism ethics expert worries that “if you are in debt to a powerful organization, you may be inclined to not cover them.” [Baltimore Sun]
• The New York City Department of Health wants to protect all citizens from swine flu, going so far as to issue a colorful poster detailing hand-washing instructions in Yiddish; “It pays to have a Jewish mayor,” says a blogger. [Truth, Praise, and Help]
• At the second wedding reception for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner the meal included “a variety of kosher food, as well as hamburgers, hotdogs, steak sandwiches, sushi and salad,” People magazine reports. Wonder if they know that all those other things can be kosher too? [People]

Religion Can Be Spiritual, Says ‘Forward’ Columnist

But it’s still pretty lame


In the new Forward, Jay Michaelson confronts the increasingly ubiquitous notion that spirituality and religion are essentially separate. “I, too, have often claimed that spiritual practice is distinguished from religion by its pragmatic focus—what a practice does—rather than its significance in a system of myth or dogma,” he grants, but he’s not content to leave it at that: “the dichotomy is misleading.” In fact, he contends, “even the most diehard, hyper-rational, Lithuanian Orthodox, High Reform, or otherwise non- or anti-spiritual religionists perform religious acts because they want to feel a certain way. In other words, religion is a form of spirituality.”

OK. But what starts out seeming like an attempt to defend religion from fed-up spiritualists turns quickly back-handed (“lame synagogues do promote mind states”), and Michaelson ends up subtly advocating for a more conventionally “New Age” spirituality by using the concepts of “values” and “states of mind” almost interchangeably. Secular Judaism offers “integrity, ethics, authenticity”; “social justice” Judaism’s got “righteous indignation, sense of moral goodness”; Zionism—“patriotism, strength, belonging”; and old-school synagogue Judaism has this loaded foursome: “particularism, security, traditionalism, Jewish survival.” Given this array, followed by his sly suggestion that “[m]aybe other mind states like inspiration, joy or introspection, might work better,” it seems that while he says, “[w]hat I’ve tried to suggest is that these seemingly Californian spiritual values are not so distant from hard-core New York religious and political ones,” he’s actually trying to sell one to the other.

Religion is Actually Spirituality [Forward]

U.S. Anti-Semitism at Record Low, Says ADL

But that doesn’t mean we can stop being vigilant!


The Anti-Defamation League released the results of its annual poll on anti-Semitism in the United States this morning, and the news is, as one might say, good for the Jews. The organization’s pollsters report that only 12 percent of Americans are prejudiced against Jews, a figure that matches the ADL’s previous record low, set in 1998. (When the group first started conducting its polls, which determine levels of anti-Semitism based on people’s propensity to agree with ideas like “Jews have too much power in the U.S. today,” it determined 29 percent of Americans didn’t like Jews.)

But what’s good for the Jews isn’t necessarily good for the ADL, which exists primarily to combat anti-Semitism. Accordingly, the group’s website is currently advertising the results of the poll under the banner “Anti-Semitism Still a Factor in U.S.” In a statement on the site, executive director Abraham Foxman reminds everyone that positive news is no excuse for relaxing vigilance: “We can’t dismiss that 12 percent of the American people means that there are still over 30 million Americans that hold anti-Semitic views.”

Poll Finds U.S. Anti-Semitic Views at Historic Low [Reuters]
Poll on Anti-Semitic Attitudes [ADL]

Gore Vidal: Polanski Is a Persecuted Jew

Novelist-provocateur thinks religion, not rape, to blame for director’s woes

Polanski at a funeral in Paris in January.(Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

So why is Roman Polanski in a Swiss prison cell? To hear author, intellectual, and seasoned provocateur Gore Vidal tell it, the famed director’s troubles have little to do with having drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl all those years ago. Polanski, Vidal tells The Atlantic in an interview published online yesterday, is being hounded because he’s Jewish. He cites “[t]he idea that this girl was in her communion dress, a little angel all in white, being raped by this awful Jew, Polacko—that’s what people were calling him,” Vidal said, adding decisively that “anti-Semitism got poor Polanski.” In his defense, Vidal, who knew Polanski in the 1970s, seemed reluctant to address the whole matter. “I really don’t give a fuck,” he replied when first asked about his former friend’s woes. “Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?” You, sir, are what we Jews call a real mensch.

A Conversation With Gore Vidal [Atlantic]

On Tablet Today

Religious education, jazzy folk, spiritual writing, and an illuminating film


Ellen Umansky explores the implications for parents who send their children to a Chabad-run preschool, many of which are popping up nationwide. Liel Leibovitz looks at “riveting” new documentary Killing Kasztner, about a Hungarian who negotiated with Nazis to save Jews from the Holocaust, leading to controversy and his eventual murder. Tablet Magazine music columnist Alexander Gelfand reports on a new trend of Israelis bringing folk songs into the realm of jazz. Joshua Cohen examines the influence of kabbalah on French writer Georges Perec. And more throughout the day on our blog, The Scroll.

Two Shot at L.A. Synagogue

UPDATED: Victims in good condition, assailant still at large


Two people were shot in the legs this morning at the Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic synagogue in North Hollywood, California, the Associated Press is reporting. “Police say a man with a handgun entered the building at about 6:20 a.m. and shot two people,” says the wire service, which notes that the police are treating the shootings as a hate crime. A man has been detained near the synagogue, but a police officer tells the AP he’s not if that is connected to the crime.

We’ll update as more information is available.

UPDATE, 1:55 p.m.: The Los Angeles Times has more detail, including word that the man arrested near the synagogue is not believed to be the gunman.

The two victims, both in their 40s, were arriving for morning minyan when they were shot in Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic’s underground parking lot. The gunman fled; other worshippers inside the synagogue called 911. The LAPD tells the Times that both victims are in good condition at local hospitals.

The police are investigating the shooting as a hate crime, but Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called it “a senseless act of violence.”

Police Search for Gunman in North Hollywood Synagogue Shooting [LAT]
2 Shot in Legs as Gunman Attacks L.A. Synagogue [AP/NYT]

Jewish-‘Joking’ Irish Tenor to Sing for ADL

Dropped by Yankees and AARP, but Foxman & Co. accept apology

Tynan sings prior to a papal Mass at Yankee Stadium last year.(Mike Segar/AFP/Getty Images)

From the all’s well that ends well department: the Anti-Defamation League announced yesterday afternoon that Ronan Tynan, the Irish tenor, will be singing “God Bless America” at the opening meeting of its annual conference tonight at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. In its press release, the ADL mentioned that the leaders of the anti-anti-Semitism organization had met with Tynan and granted him their indulgence for “a comment he made about Jews.” So what was the glossed-over comment? The singer, who is also a Paralympian, apparently told a real-estate agent showing apartments in his building that he would welcome new neighbors as long as they weren’t Jews. The Yankees promptly dropped him from his planned gig at the opening game of the American League playoffs, and, Tablet Magazine has learned, the AARP also revoked Tynan’s invitation to appear as a “spotlighted” performer at its annual conference last weekend in Las Vegas. Tynan told New York’s Irish Echo that he “has many Jewish friends,” and three Jewish musicians in his band. He also explained that he had cried and prayed over the episode, and even considered leaving New York in shame, but decided to stay and clear his name. “The truth eventually wins,” he said.

After Saying Sorry for ‘Jewish’ Joke, Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan to Sing at Anti-Defamation League [NYDN]
Earlier: Yankees Drop Singer Over Jewish Slur

Catholic Bishops Give Up on Converting Jews

U.S. bishops’ group to remove controversial passage from June statement

(Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in June intending to clarify its position on relations with Jews. While it had been understood, at least since the publication of a 2002 document “Reflections on Covenant and Mission,” that Catholics respected Jews’ unique covenant with God, which “must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people,” the new statement specified that “the Christian dialogue partner is always giving witness to the following of Christ, to which all are implicitly invited.”

This language raised a red flag to Jewish leaders, who saw a backtracking away from the revolution in Jewish-Catholic relations brought on by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, and a coalition quickly responded with an official letter detailing their disappointment. In August, Eric J. Greenberg, the Anti-Defamation League’s associate director of interfaith affairs and one of the primary authors of the letter, explained his concern to Tablet Magazine: “Based on the last 45 years, the Catholics and Jews have a special relationship.” The new statement, he said then, “invites us to apostasy. We need to be vigilant because the stakes are so high based on our history.” Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, executive director of the National Council of Synagogues, told Tablet he was dismayed by the “implication that every time we meet there is a subliminal desire to bring us into the church.”

Their protest paid off. The JTA reports:

In a letter to the Jewish groups, the bishops said it would change the document to eliminate the disputed passage and affirmed that Catholic-Jewish dialogue “has never been and will never be used by the Catholic Church as a means of proselytism … nor is it a disguised invitation to baptism.” They also said the Mosaic covenant—a conditional covenant made between God and the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-24)—“endures till the present day.”

The Jewish coalition has responded with gratitude: “We welcome the fact that the bishops not only heard our concerns, but are making efforts to be responsive to them.”

Catholic Bishops to Edit Interfaith Document [JTA]
Jewish Leaders Welcome Removal of Conversionary Language from American Catholic Document [ADL]

Daybreak: Obama ‘Woos’ Israelis

Plus Iran responds, the high cost of kosher, and more in the news


• President Barack Obama sent a video to Israel to commemorate the 14th anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination; Haaretz calls the move a “bid to woo Israelis.” [Haaretz]
• Iran has officially responded to the International Atomic Energy Organization on the U.N. nuclear plan for the country, to which it seeks “major revisions.” [Haaretz]
• Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said he does “not rule out the possibility” that Israel was responsible for the rocket fired from Lebanon on Tuesday, which he sees as “an excuse for Israel to keep violating Lebanon’s sovereignty.” [Ynet]
• At a meeting in Brussels, European rabbis discussed the problem of high kosher food costs on their continent, which “often place them at a disadvantage when they attempt to present Torah Judaism in a positive light.” [JPost]

Sundown: Kosher Food Porn

A cuddly Jewish monster, another con man, and multi-denominational togetherness


• The folks at Vos iz Neias are pretty excited about what they turned up at Kosherfest, a trade show that took place this week in New Jersey; the site’s photo gallery gushes over the first kosher sangria, an “oil bottle with an extra-long spout,” and a package of raw mystery meat inexplicably labeled “beautiful.” [VIN]
• In the latest scam on philanthropically minded Jews, a California man has been convicted of tricking people into buying religious travel packages to Cuba to help the Jewish community there and then running off with their money. [Courthouse News Service]
• Seth Rogen spills the beans about the character he voices in the upcoming Monsters Vs. Aliens animated Halloween special: “B.O.B. is Jewish; most people don’t know that. He’s actually Orthodox.” Could be—according to Wikipedia, the creature’s “main goal is to digest things.” [Star Pulse]
• A multi-denominational delegation of Los Angeles rabbis took a trip to Israel, where, between laying wreaths and shaking hands, they discovered that, “While we may have difficulty praying together, and we do, we can learn together, and now we even teach together.” [JPost]

Ultra-Ortho Jew Saves Gay Palestinian

Only in the West Bank, kids

(David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images)

How’s this for a dilemma? A Palestinian man, identified as “T.” in Ynet’s account of his saga, is gay and in a committed relationship with an Israeli, Doron. They can’t get married, not only because they’re gay, but because T. is not Jewish. T. is in the process of trying to get authorized for “family unification,” which would allow him permanent-resident status in Israel, but it doesn’t seem forthcoming, so he lives there without health insurance, a bank account, or a driver’s license. Nor can T. return to live in his hometown in the West Bank, because the community’s outrage at his sexual orientation makes even a visit there “life-threatening,” and even if it didn’t, it’s unlikely that Doron would be accepted there. Have a headache yet?

It gets worse: T.’s father gets sick, so T. arranges to visit him near a checkpoint on the Israel-West Bank border. When he tries to cross back and return to his home in Israel, T. gets entangled in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare of lost permits, unspecified “security considerations,” and endless waiting. “So,” says Ynet, “this is how it came to be that T., a gay Palestinian, has been hiding out in the home of a religious Jewish family in a settlement.” That’s right—apparently, T. has an old friend who happens to be a settler, and the unlikely hero has given him asylum for the 10 days that have passed since the border-crossing fiasco began. In a situation in which everyone’s perspective is seen as extreme by everyone else, an ultra-Orthodox man—who represents possibly the most hotly-contested population in the troubled land—turns out to be the bearer of reasonable compassion.

Religious Settler Comes to Aid of Gay Palestinian [Ynet]

Is J Street More Centrist Than Its Members?

Conference attendees suspect they’re to the left of the group


J Street has devoted much of its young life to trying to convince the conservative segments of the Jewish community that it’s not a left-wing organization. And indeed, nowhere at the left-leaning Israel lobby’s first conference this week did J Street organizers give an indication of being anything but staunch supporters and lovers of Israel—though ones who see that country’s political future darkening without a two-state solution. But it also seemed that the liberal blogger Richard Silverstein was onto something when he told Tablet Magazine, “The impression that a lot of us are getting is that the rank and file of attendees of the conference are to the left of J Street.”

On a few occasions at the just-ended event, this tendency was on public display: the booing Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform movement, received when he put down U.N. investigator Richard Goldstone; the semi-official convening of bloggers like Silverstein that the Weekly Standard took as evidence of J Street’s true left-wing nature; and the rumor(unfounded, as it turned out) that J Street’s college division had dropped “pro-Israel” from its motto. Far more commonplace, though, were participants who gave no indication—other than, perhaps, being outfitted in flowing scarves rather than Congress-ready suits—of departing from J Street’s party line but who, in conversation, acknowledged that their personal politics were further left of the organization’s. They weren’t wed to the idea of Israel being a Jewish as well as democratic state, for instance—but they also seemed happy to behave themselves for the sake of the organization.

“I see it as a division of labor,” said Michael Feinberg, a New York rabbi and labor activist, who wouldn’t go into detail about his politics because he’d “already been so trashed about the issue” from some on the right, he said. “J Street’s policies are not mine, exactly, though they’re closer to it than many other groups. But I’m not looking for a perfect fit, I’m looking to get something done. Let’s get the big policy work done and then we can fight it out within the family.” Elizabeth Bolton, a Reconstructionist rabbi from Baltimore active in Rabbis for Human Rights, agreed. Bolton said she was disappointed, for instance, that Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street’s executive director, criticized Goldstone as well, but, she said, “Ben Ami is trying to push the policy perspectives of the American government. I don’t want to be naïve.”

Other participants said that, since long before J Street formed, they’ve been accustomed to framing their opinions carefully when doing activist work with some of the smaller organizations that participated in the conference. “I tend to want to be more outspoken and it was made clear to me that if I wanted to join Brit Tzedek, I needed to deliver a certain message,” said Linda Iacovini, a member of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, which is being absorbed into J Street next year. “I had a friend who didn’t want to join because of that.” That’s fine, said J Street spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick, as long as participants understand that the group is “an explicitly pro-Israel organization, and it’s not going to be otherwise.”

Amnesty Says Israel Is Denying Water to Palestinians

Rights group says territories receive insufficient water supplies


Israel is hogging clean drinking water, providing settlers with almost unlimited supplies while providing insufficient amounts to Palestinians, according to an Amnesty International report released yesterday. The report says that most Palestinians don’t have enough water for the level of per-person daily use recommended by the World Health Organization. Israel’s Water Authority disputes the charges, offering evidence that Palestinians have more water than the Amnesty report details, but it hasn’t yet provided a solid defense to the human-rights abuses Amnesty International alleges stem from the large discrepancy in water usage between Israeli and Palestinian populations. (The report offers only scant criticism of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Water Authority, but it does note that around 40 percent of water diverted to Palestinians is lost through faulty infrastructure.)

Critics of the report maintain that it ignores the complexities of Israel’s history and geography, and international law, in order to portray Israel negatively. “Amnesty’s report manipulates the issue of water and ignores the complexities of history and law in order to again falsely portray Israel as a brutal regime,” NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg told the Jerusalem Post. “Rather than recognize that water supply is a complex regional issue, Amnesty focuses only on Palestinian shortages.”

Water Authority Blasts Amnesty on Report [JPost]
Israel ‘Cutting Palestinian Water’ [Al Jazeera]

West Bank Labor Pains

Palestinian workers governed by Jordanian laws, weaker than Israel’s


The Israeli settlement Ma’aleh Adumim, which operates as an independent municipality in the West Bank, is expected to be incorporated into Israel in any two-state solution. Home to about 30,000 residents, 99.8 percent of whom are Jews, Ma’aleh Adumin is the settlement that Israelis pointed to the most when arguing against the Obama administration’s now-scuttled “settlement freeze” policy. How can any government stop a city that big from growing? And although the city is all but a de facto Israeli possession, a little discussed problem is how its vanishingly small Palestinian population is governed by a different set of labor laws. Jordan has been responsible for administering labor legislation in the occupied territories since 1965. So the 80 members of the Jahleen Bedouin tribe, who are technically Ma’aleh Adumin citizens, still answer to those policies with respect to their employment. As a result, Palestinians in Ma’aleh Adumin don’t receive the same benefits as Israelis do when it comes to rehabilitation pay, pensions, travel expenses, education funding, and religious dispensations. (It didn’t help that they all signed a separate agreement in 2005 with the municipal authorities reaffirming their alien work status.) In recent weeks, a number of Bedouin workers went on strike after their request for time off to attend Muslim Friday prayers was denied—a right that Arab Israelis enjoy under the more liberal Israeli labor law. “We are not trying to avoid the image of a settlement—this is an image that does not exist,” Eli Har-Nir, the director of the municipality who fired three of the workers, told Haaretz. Roughly translated: 80 Palestinians aren’t worth re-writing the municipal code.

in Ma’aleh Adumim Employed by Israel But on Jordanian Terms

Today on Tablet

Poetry, television, and two fascinating characters


Our podcast, Vox Tablet, features host Sara Ivry’s interview with Benjamin Moser, whose new book traces the fascinating life story of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. In the first installment of a new poetry column, David Kaufmann explores the work of Philip Levine and Hank Lazer. Seth Lipsky memorializes Marek Edelman, a leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Jeremy Dauber unpacks the Jewishness of the new musical TV show Glee. And stay tuned as The Scroll rolls out updates all day.

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