Today on Tablet

Books, boxing, and bodies


On our weekly podcast, Vox Tablet, Matt Lieber reports on boxer Yuri Foreman, who is also in training to become an Orthodox rabbi. Marjorie Ingall speaks out in favor of organ donation. Books columnist Josh Lambert reads up on liturgy, pop music, and the Jewishness of Jewish poets. And more to come throughout the day on The Scroll.

Oren, Cantor Focus on Iranian Threat

In G.A. addresses yesterday

Oren speaking yesterday.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, and Virginia congressman Eric Cantor, the only Republican Jewish member of the House of Representatives, delivered a pair of addresses yesterday at the opening of the Jewish federation system’s annual three-day General Assembly meeting, held this year in Washington. More than 3,000 people involved with the federation system—the 155 local Jewish community agencies throughout the United States and Canada, and the second-largest charitable network in North America—heard both men play Cassandra on Iran rather than to wade into the stickier questions of what, exactly, is happening with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and what might happen later today, when President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the subject.

Cantor drew a stark comparison between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the Holocaust, warning the audience that “it may be too late” to halt Iran from developing nuclear weapons that could annihilate both Israel and the United States. “Have we not been down this road before?” he asked. He argued the Iranian question wasn’t a Jewish cause or an Israeli one but an American one, and asked the audience to “discard ideology,” as well as political correctness, and move toward—well, it wasn’t clear whether he wanted sanctions or something a little tougher. Oren, for his part, was explicit about what he wants, at least as a first step: “Ask for synagogues and your schools and community centers, alongside those banners proclaiming an end to the genocide in Darfur, an end to the AIDS epidemic in Africa, there must also hang banners declaring support international sanctions and stop the Iranian bomb.”

Cantor Wants Jews to Act Before It Is ‘Too Late’ [JTA]

Louis Armstrong’s First Influence: Jewish Peddlers

Says Terry Teachout in ‘Commentary’

Armstrong in concert in Paris, 1965(AFP/Getty Images)

How did Louis Armstrong surmount pervasive racism to become the greatest jazz musician of the 20th century? Critic Terry Teachout, author of an upcoming biography of Satchmo, writes in the new issue of Commentary that one of the the musical prodigy’s first inspirations was a Jewish peddler family he worked for as a boy in New Orleans. In a recollection about his relationship with the Karnofskys, “Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family,” Satchmo told how at 7 years old, he recognized “the ungodly treatment that the White Folks were handling the poor Jewish family that I worked for. They were always warm and kind to me, which was very noticeable to me, he fondly recalled, just a kid who could use a little word of kindness.”

The experience was so transformative that Armstrong became a lifelong philo-Semite who wore a Star of David around his neck, given to him by his Jewish manager. But Armstrong’s relationship with the Karnovksys extended beyond personal affection. Teachout writes that Armstrong greatly admired how Jews overcame prejudice by banding together, seeking to better their lot through work. He was dismayed, by contrast, Teachout argues, with black reactions to racism, writing in his memoirs that “the Negroes always wanted pity, [doing] that in place of going to work.” Armstrong developed his open-mindedness and “gospel of self-help,” Teachout says, from the Jews.

Satchmo and the Jews [Commentary]
Related: A Fine Romance

Daybreak: Obama Cancels G.A. Talk

Plus Tom Friedman gives up on peace negotiations, and more in the news


• President Barack Obama canceled his appearance at the Jewish federations’ General Assembly, planned for tomorrow, in order to attend a memorial for the victims of the Fort Hood shooting. He’ll still meet with Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington today. [JTA]
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman thinks the White House should give up on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, at least for now. [NYT]
• The great-grandson of Richard Wagner protested the use of the composer’s “chauvinistic war-mongering music” at an event marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, calling his great-grandfather a “militant anti-Semite.” [JTA]
• Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, implored his constituents to eat less meat to help the environment. [JTA]
• A Spanish-language eBook version of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf illustrated by a swastika image was for sale on Apple’s App Store on Friday; by Saturday it had disappeared, possibly due to outrage in the blogosphere. [JPost]

Sundown: Reform Jews Call For Equality for Israeli Arabs

Plus Israel’s minority, an Olympian soundtrack, and more


• The Union for Reform Judaism has passed its first resolution calling for equal treatment of Israeli Arabs in the Jewish state. [JTA]
Entertainment Weekly asked Matisyahu, whose song “One Day” is being used to advertise the 2010 Winter Olympics: “So, how did a Jewish reggae guy end up as the official soundtrack to lugeing, curling, and freestyle skiing?” We can’t imagine what the mag is implying about Jews and extreme sports. [EW]
• Peter Kaplan, former editor of the New York Observer, commented on the goings-on at his old rag: “He never thought he’d see the headline ‘Jewish Publisher Hires Pope,’” reports a blogger. He was referring to the paper’s owner Jared Kushner’s selection of Kyle Pope as the new editor, but this headline is not that far off. [Portfolio]

U.K. Kids Think Auschwitz Is Theme Park

But only some of them, in a multiple-choice poll

(Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images)

If kids say the darnedest things, they’re bound to get even darned-er if you feed them funny potential answers to serious questions: A multiple-choice survey of 2,000 9- to 15-year-old children in the United Kingdom found that “while a majority of children have basic knowledge about the two world wars, a significant minority have no clue.”

One stat has us sincerely hoping that the children being surveyed were showing off their senses of humor: “77 percent of the children aged 9-15 recognised Hitler as leader of the Nazi party, but 13.5 percent thought he invented gravity in 1650 and seven percent thought he coached Germany’s football team.” Another seems oddly revealing about how the Holocaust is treated: “Auschwitz was correctly identified by 70 percent—but 15 percent thought it was a WWII-based theme park.” A third is simply baffling: “61 percent knew who Goebbels was but 21 percent thought he was a ‘well-known Jew who wrote a diary in the attic.’” Perhaps we’re biased, but it’s hard to imagine anyone not having a pretty clear idea who Anne Frank was, what with the constant media attention given to the girl and her diary.

Of course before proceeding to mock the sad state of education in the United Kingdom, consider the fact that more than 90 percent of respondents know who Winston Churchill is. We’re not sure the same can be said about school children on this side of the pond.

Kids Think Hitler Was German Football Coach: Poll [AFP]

Orthodox Jews: Key New York-Area Swing Voters?

Ortho Union points out role observant Jewish voters played in several area races


Orthodox Jews are apparently the “long-suffering swing voters of the Jewish world,” at least according to the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, which posted an unsigned blog item this morning rounding up various races in which Orthodox voters may have made a difference to the outcome, all of which were won by Republicans: Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral victory in New York City, Chris Christie’s gubernatorial win in New Jersey, and even some local county races in Long Island’s Five Towns area. All the races cited in the post put the Orthodox voters on the winning side, so we’re not sure how exactly they suffered—but we did notice that it overlooked the results of an election in the upstate New York town of Monroe, where voters in the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Kiryas Joel helped oust a pair of longtime Republican local board members by throwing their support to the victorious Democratic challengers, apparently under the influence of “the Karl Rove of Monroe politics,” the local Times Herald-Record reports. (That guy, we should note, is a Democrat, so probably not really the Karl Rove of anything.) So it would seem they didn’t suffer there, either—but they did become a key swing vote.

Orthodox Voters – Change Again []

Correction, November 10: This post originally credited the blog item posted by the Institute for Public Affairs to the organization’s director, Nathan Diament. It has been updated to reflect that the item was published unsigned.

Gordon Robertson to Speak at Birthright Alum Event

CBN chief promoted Messianic Judaism, which Birthright claims to reject


Alumni of the Birthright Israel program, which brings young American Jews on free trips to the Jewish State, are in for an unusual keynote speaker at Birthright NEXT event set to be held in two weeks: Gordon Robertson, son of the Rev. Pat Robertson and CEO of his father’s Christian Broadcasting Network. Robertson is a prominent evangelical leader, and the event is titled, “Are Evangelical Christians More Fervent Zionists than American Jews?” But on a July 2008 CBN program, Robertson praised the growth of the Messianic Jewish community in Israel. “You can still be Jewish and believe in Jesus as the messiah,” he said on the show. Last year, Birthright said it wouldn’t permit Messianic Jews to take advantage of its free trips. “There is unanimity in Jewish life that individualswho choose the Messianic path have chosen a path that separates them from the accepted parameters of Jewishness in contemporary Jewish society,” Birthright’s CEO, Gidi Mark, said at the time. The alumni network says it’s not troubled by that disconnect. “We’re not asking him to come and talk about Christianity or Jews trying to get Jews to believe in Christianity. It’s not the topic,” a Birthright NEXT official told the Jewish Week.

Birthright NEXT Hosts Evangelical Leader Who Promotes Messianic Judaism [JewishWeek]

Goldstone, Gold Debate Report at Brandeis

Investigator, former Israeli diplomat take on Gaza War report

Goldstone and Gold at Brandeis yesterday.(

The United Nations General Assembly yesterday afternoon approved the Goldstone report, which alleges that both the IDF and Hamas committed war crimes in Gaza last winter, but the debate over the report started up again almost immediately at Brandeis University, where jurist Richard Goldstone and Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, argued over whether the report was fair to Israel. it was the first public confrontation between Goldstone and a former representative of the Israeli government, and hundreds of students, professors, and community members packed a Brandeis auditorium, the Boston Globe reported

Goldstone argued that Israel was entitled, under international law, to defend its citizens against Hamas rocket fire, Ynet reports. But, he said, “the strategy adopted by the Defense Ministry”—which involved attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure—“is against international law…. Why did they have to bomb the mosque? Why did they have to bomb the American school? Why did they have to attack the [United Nations] compound?” Gold countered that civilians and their infrastructure were not intentionally targeted; rather, he said, because Hamas infiltrates the civilian population, attacks on that population were not disproportionate. “There’s no question there was enormous damage in Gaza,” he said, according to the Globe. “But why doesn’t Hamas appear as a responsible party for what happened? Who booby-trapped the buildings in Gaza? Who launched an eight-year war against Israel?”

The crowd was respectful, clapping for both debaters, the Globe said, and laughter broke out when Goldstone recalled the nightmares he had before entering Gaza to conduct the report, in which “Hamas would kidnap me, and the Israelis would rejoice.”

Goldstone Defends U.N. Report on Gaza [Boston Globe]
Goldstone: I Was Afraid of Being Abducted in Gaza [Ynet]

Today on Tablet

Raunch and reverance


Continuing her illustrated memoir, cartoonist Vanessa Davis looks at her artistic influences, including R. Crumb. Liel Leibovitz ties this week’s haftorah, a Jewish take on the story of Lazarus, who rose from the dead, to his baseball disappointments. And stay tuned for much more here on The Scroll.

U.N. Endorses Goldstone Report

And Israel claims a moral victory, of sorts

(Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

After two days of debate, the United Nations General Assembly voted last night to endorse the recommendations of the Goldstone Report, the much-contested inquiry commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council that accuses both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during last winter’s fighting in Gaza. The resolution, which urges the Security Council to consider referring the allegations to the International Criminal Court if neither side conducts independent investigations, passed 114-18, with 44 nations abstaining and 16 not voting at all.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinians envoy to the United Nations congratulated the supporting nations for “fighting against impunity and seeking accountability,” while the Israelis, having initially rejected the result as “deeply flawed, one-sided, and prejudiced,” changed their minds overnight and are now calling the whole affair a victory of sorts. “We are neither surprised nor disappointed with the vote,” Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said today in Jerusalem. The nays, mainly from Western democracies—including the United States, following a Congressional resolution urging the Obama Administration to contest the report—actually constitute a “moral majority” for Israel that proves the country “is succeeding in getting across the message that the report is one-sided and not serious,” Lieberman argued. And now what will happen? Well, probably nothing: the United States is unlikely to let the matter go before the Security Council, and neither Israel nor Hamas are likely, at this point, to respond with any degree of seriousness to the report itself. So, in other words, everyone can say they won, and maybe now we can all talk about something else for a change.

U.N. Assembly Votes for Probes of Gaza War Charges [Reuters]
U.S. House Condemns Goldstone Report

Daybreak: Fort Hood Shooter Condoned Suicide Bombers

Plus a tough year ahead for JCCs, tough words from Israel, and more in the news


• Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, who opened fire at Fort Hood army base in Texas, killing 13 and wounding at least 30, had written a blog post: “If one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard that would be considered a strategic victory.” [Times (London)]
• Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, told a British news station that his country is not “bluffing” when it comes to the prospect of attacking Iran. [JPost]
• Allan Finkelstein, president of the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, said that 2010 will likely be more challenging for Jewish organizations than 2009, but he sees hope in challenging the “Foundation system” of gathering revenue; rather, he proposes a “concept of the Jewish community as an integrated organism and not as many separate entities.” [JPost]
• Yesterday the U.N. General Assembly voted to approve a report by Arab countries calling for Israel and the Palestinians to conduct independent investigations of the Gaza War; Israel has rejected the motion, which is an offshoot of the Goldstone Report. [AP]

Sundown: Rabbis Protest James Cameron, Richard Dawkins

Plus another scary move by Iran, Federation fundraising, and more


• Rabbi Jonathan B. Freirich of the Roma Rights Network has joined Hindu groups in requesting a disclaimer on James Cameron’s upcoming 3D sci-fi flick Avatar, as the title is also “a Sanskrit term meaning descent or incarnation,” and “the central theme in Hinduism.” [All Headline News]
• British Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks is more concerned that “neo-Darwinians” are contributing to a decreased birthrate in Europe. “Europe is dying,” he said in a lecture at a theology think tank. “We are undergoing the moral equivalent of climate change and no one is talking about it.” [Telegraph]
• Iran’s new deputy culture minister, in charge of media and communications, is Mohammad-Ali Ramin, who has been called “the brain” behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust. Who knew there even was one? [National Post]
• Recession, schmession: Federation of New York raised $43 million at its annual campaign kickoff last week, equal to the 2008 total. [JPost]
• Entirely unsurprisingly, Hezbollah objects to the distribution of the new, Arabic translation of Anne Frank’s diary in Lebanon. [Haaretz]
• Five finalists were announced in Jewish Community Hero Awards. [NYBlueprint]
• And a study of the films of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa got one writer thinking about his own tragedy-laden cultural heritage: “Have we not had enough telling of stories of Jewish history’s disasters? Is there not one director or screenwriter that can chronicle the triumphs of Jewish history?” [JPost]

Abbas Won’t Seek Reelection, He Says

Palestinian president won’t run in election called for January

Abbas at a meeting of the Fatah executive committee today.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced today that he won’t seek a new term in the president election he has called for January. “This is not a bargain or maneuver,” he said, although it’s unlikely the election will actually be held in January—they won’t happen until there’s a political reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah party, allowing them to go forward—which means he won’t be leaving the presidency anytime soon. “A top aide to Mr. Abbas said a large part of the ‘despondency and frustration’ felt by Mr. Abbas and the entire Palestinian leadership was due to President Obama’s unrealized promises to the region,” reports Ethan Bronner in the New York Times. “He said he feared that without a stop to settlements, Islamist rivals in Hamas could triumph and violence could break out.”

Palestinian President Says He Won’t Seek Reelection [NYT]

Israel’s ‘Tech Miracle’ Explained

Credit the IDF, say authors of ‘Start-Up Nation’


What’s behind Israel’s tremendous success in the tech sector? In their book Start-Up Nation, which came out yesterday, Dan Senor, a former foreign policy adviser to President George W. Bush, and Saul Singer, a Jerusalem Post columnist, argue that a culture of innovation has grown from the relatively non-hierarchical structure of the IDF—unusual among militaries. It’s “the fact that when you’re being promoted in the Israeli military, your subordinates have input, or can have input, in those decisions,” Senor said in an interview with Atlantic correspondent Jeff Goldberg. “It’s a very entrepreneurial, start-up military. There are very few bosses.” That’s allowed for an economy dominated by small, creative businesses rather than huge, top-heavy ones—exactly the kind of economy, Singer argues, that survives best in a recession, and one that should be copied by developing economies around the world.

Indeed, even (or especially) Arab businessmen are getting curious, Singer said: “Whenever I go to the Gulf, it’s all they want to talk about, they’re so intrigued by the Israeli model. But everything about the economic strategy of these Gulf countries is about spending money.” American Jews, too, are starting to catch on. “For the longest time, American Jews would not invest in Israeli start-ups. They would give to UJA and they’d give to all these philanthropic organizations, but they kept a firewall up between their business activities and their philanthropic activities. I think for the last three to five years you are, for the first time, really seeing American Jewish investors investing in Israel.”

The Origins of Israel’s Tech Miracle [Atlantic]

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