Tablet Today

Books bring history to life, and a film brings a book to life


Tablet Magazine parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall took her kids to see Where the Wild Things Are. Their verdict? Meh. Books columnist Josh Lambert looks at a plethora of books about immigrants’ experiences, as well as two hot new novels and more. And you can count on much more throughout the day, here on The Scroll.

J Street Speakers Talk Generation Gap

At conference’s opening night


About 1,000 people arrived last night at a Washington, D.C., Hyatt for the opening night of the first national conference hosted by the liberal pro-Israel lobby group J Street. Founder Jeremy Ben-Ami and others emphasized the desire among left-leaning American Jews to see a secure Israel at peace, but a number of speakers—including prominent Reform rabbi Andy Bachman—chose instead to focus on a generational split among American Jews. Bachman was among those who claimed membership in the “pre-1967 generation” of Jews whose relationship to Israel is shaped by having known the country before it became a political occupier, and he expressed a desire to bring his generation’s Zionism to the more jaded post-’67 generation. (Fear of losing younger generations, of course, is central as well to the more traditional Jewish establishment that J Street aims to counteract.)

The audience, too, appeared to have a majority of pre-’67-ers in attendance, many veterans of long-established progressive Zionist groups like Americans for Peace Now. In an interlude during the official remarks, the lights went up and attendees were asked to converse with their tablemates about what brought them there, then tweet or email their thoughts to the folks up on stage. At our table, everyone pounced on the sole college student, asking him about Israel politics at Yale, but the only person who wanted to transmit her thoughts was a gray-haired woman who used a pencil and paper. “Finally!” she wrote.

Whose Israel Is It? [Talking Points Memo]

Daybreak: Brin Gives Back

Plus a way around Goldstone, another poor billionaire, and more in the news


• Google co-founder Sergey Brin donated $1 million to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helped his family escape the Soviet Union 30 years ago. [NYT]
• Jeffry Picower, a billionaire thought to be the biggest beneficiary of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and a friend of the conman, was found dead at the bottom of his pool in Palm Beach this weekend. [Reuters]
• Rather than following the Goldstone Report’s call for an independent investigation of military actions in the Gaza War, Israel will gather a legal team to review the investigations already undertaken by the IDF. [JPost]
• Lou Jacobi, an actor who started his career in The Diary of Anne Frank, was featured in several Woody Allen films, and made comedy recordings such as “The Yiddish Are Coming! The Yiddish Are Coming!,” died Friday at 95. [NYT]
• Lebanese chefs made the world’s largest plate of hummus, setting the world record and, naturally, making an anti-Israel geopolitical point. [AP/NYT]

Sundown: Iran Balks on Nuclear Deal

Plus hate on parade, wholesome pinups, and more


• Iran has backed away from a deal to ship its uranium abroad for enrichment, instead proposing that the country buy its nuclear fuel for a medically designated reactor; “Iran has often used counterproposals as a way to draw out nuclear negotiations with the West,” notes the Associated Press. [AP]
• In his Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at Stanford University, Sen. Joseph Lieberman spoke against Islamic extremism: “Ending the war on terror does not require that we succeed in creating heaven on earth. Rather, this war will end when a critical mass of people recognize that the ideology of our enemy is capable of creating nothing but hell on earth.” [Commentary]
• The hate-mongers from Westboro Baptist Church will be taking their anti-Semitic, anti-gay show to a JCC and Anti-Defamation League office in New Jersey next week. [NYT]
• An American man, born in the United States to Jewish parents but adopted by a Catholic family with neo-Nazi ties, has been granted the right of return to Israel after an emergency hearing by the nation’s Supreme Court. [JPost]
• Forget JDate, 12 wholesome bachelors are showing their stuff as pinups in next year’s Nice Jewish Guys Calendar. [Forward]

Neurosis Can Cause Asthma, Study Says

Another thing to worry about


Is it possible that the Woody Allen stereotype of the neurotic, asthmatic, nebbishy Jewish guy actually has some basis in truth? (Don’t all stereotypes?) Reuters is reporting on a recent academic study (conducted in Germany, stereotypically) that finds a link between neurosis and respiratory trouble. “People who are neurotic—they tend to worry a lot and to have emotional ups and downs—seem to be at increased risk of developing asthma, a new study hints,” Reuters says. “Animal studies have shown that chronic stress alters hormone levels, which can inflame airways making it difficult to breathe. Researchers believe that neurotic character traits may exert similar effects. If so, then helping neurotic people to calm down or ‘chill out’ could, theoretically, reduce their risk of asthma.” Call us neurotic, but that “theoretically” seems like a pretty big hedge.

Neurotic? It Could Lead to Asthman [Reuters]

Obama Will Be First Prez to Attend UJC

Insiders wonder if it’s just a way to tell Feinberg ‘thanks’


Amid all the excitement from the United Jewish Communities this morning over their announcement that President Obama will address its upcoming General Assembly meeting, we wondered when was the last time a president appeared at the annual event, which draws together the senior leadership of local Jewish federations throughout the country. And guess what? After a look through the archives, a UJC publicist confirmed that the answer, somewhat surprisingly, is never. The only other president to come close was Bill Clinton, who delivered remarks by satellite to the 4,000-person gathering in Indianapolis back in 1997. (George H.W. Bush also addressed the group, when he was still Ronald Reagan’s vice-president, as did Al Gore.)

So the next question, of course, is why now? There are all kinds of political benefits, of course—Obama, whose Middle East policies have been heavily criticized in some quarters of the Jewish community, can take his case for peace directly to people who can communicate it back to their local communities. And he’s apparently been able to draw Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, into making the trip from Jerusalem, which means another opportunity for them to talk in person. But the insider scuttlebutt we’ve heard notes a perfectly good reason much closer to home: the event is being chaired by UJC executive committee member Dede Feinberg and her husband, Kenneth—the Treasury’s special master for compensation who has, of course, just finished putting in place an extremely contentious Administration plan for cutting pay to the top dogs at bailed-out Wall Street banks. In other words, it may just be the president’s way of saying thanks.

Earlier: Obama to Address UJC Assembly

Does BBC Think All Jews Are Hasids?

Photo choice suggests yes


It’s not an easy task to represent Jews with one image. Should it be an average Joe with an unobtrusive yarmulke? A curly-haired girl lighting candles? A bearded rabbinical type? Seth Rogen? In a feature on how different religions handle grief, the BBC website opted to represent the tribe with a picture of an ultra-Orthodox man with payes, a black hat, a tallis, a raised eyebrow, and his hand held in a gesture reminiscent of an Italian curse. The Jewish Chronicle asked why BBC chose the image—and the broadcaster’s response was to switch the image for a picture of a candle.

In our opinion, what makes this image inappropriate has less to do with the figure’s portrayed religiosity than his jokey fakeness. But the British Jewish Board of Deputies is fed up with what it sees as a recurrent problem; its chief wrote a letter to BBC citing two other examples of ultra-Orthodox Jews used to illustrate unrelated Jewish stories, saying: “They in no way illustrate the subject matter of the stories in question or, indeed, mainstream Jewish life in the UK or anywhere in the world.”

A BBC spokesman replied, “We always try to use an appropriate and relevant image and are more than happy to discuss this issue with the Board of Deputies to ensure we reflect the breadth of the Jewish community.” Not a bad idea. Maybe next time they should use this guy.

BBC Uses Charedi Picture to Illustrate Jews

On Eve of Conference, J Street Chief Talks Intermarriage

Also Zionism, politics, with ‘Atlantic’ correspondent Goldberg


Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic correspondent (and Tablet magazine contributing editor), and J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami had a long conversation yesterday about all kinds of controversial issues: the nature of Zionism, the political orientation of the American Jewish community, and the arguments of Stephen Walt, the academic who has argued the Israeli lobby hurts American interests. Goldberg, as is his wont, has posted the whole transcript, in honor of this weekend’s big J Street conference in Washington. Most of the conversation simply elaborates on points that both sides have made elsewhere—Goldberg voices the concerns of American Jews who are nervous that J Street is too soft on Israel, Ben-Ami argues that it’s a question of political disagreement and not a litmus test for being a good or bad Jew—but we were surprised to discover, about halfway in, that the two men actually agree on something. Well, sort of agree. The something, however, is intermarriage—a subject outside J Street’s core competence area, as a consultant might say. Goldberg asked about a recent New York Times Magazine story in which Ben-Ami was quoted—inaccurately—as saying his whole staff was intermarried. (It’s definitely not true; at least one is married to a rabbinical student.) Here’s what they said:

JB: An inaccurate quotation. Our staff is not intermarried. Not that that’s a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with being intermarried.

JG: This is getting Seinfeldian here.

JB: There’s nothing wrong with intermarriage. What’s wrong with intermarriage?

JG: We’re a small people—

JB: Right, but you know what I find? I find that most of my friends, and we’re talking mid-to-late forties at this point, most of my friends who intermarried, their spouses either converted, or their kids are being raised Jewish. What I find so fascinating about my intermarried friends is that they’re searching for welcoming Jewish communities. So let’s make ourselves a welcoming community.

JG: Look, I have that sadness of ‘Oh, why are you leaving?’ but I also recognize that you may as well just open up the door and say, ‘Come on in.’

JB: The fastest answer to the shrinking Jewish population is to welcome in all of these spouses.

JG: It’s good for the gene pool, too.

J Street’s Ben-Ami on Zionism and Military Aid to Israel [The Atlantic]

Earlier: J Street Debuts in ‘Times Magazine’

Academics Riff on Zionism, Diaspora

Butler, West, others speak at Cooper Union


Four marquee academics—the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, Canadian public intellectual Charles Taylor, social theorist Judith Butler, and religion historian-cum-one-man-show Cornel West—gathered at Manhattan’s Cooper Union yesterday for a panel discussion on “Rethinking Secularism: The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere.” We caught the second half of the program, when the latter two thinkers spoke. First came Butler, who’s best known for her work on gender, but has in the past several years written about war, trauma, and Judaism. Yesterday, she returned to the theme of Jewish critiques of Zionism, which for Butler primarily means work by German Jewish philosophers of the World War II era—Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem—rather than, say, J Street (though she did name-check her affiliation with the group Jewish Voices for Peace). “I’m not here to say that Jews are obligated to criticize Israel—though I think they are—we are,” she said, then discussed the difficulties of doing so in public: the suspicion such critiques produce that “really something else is going on; really something else is being said” (the something being, of course, anti-Semitism). In fact, though, Butler said, Buber believed that a Jewish state would corrupt a spiritual, utopian form of Zionism, though he later favored a bi-national Jewish-Palestinian state. And Scholem, who introduced Jewish mystical thought to a European intellectual audience, lent her an image of what other thinkers call diasporism: “the kabbalistic notion of a scattered light … in which Jews are always scattered among non-Jews.”

West, not to be outdone, introduced himself as a “bluesman,” delivered his discussion of prophetic religion with the cadences of slam poetry, credited the Jews with the “breakthrough” philosophy that one should “treat the Other as thyself,” and alluded to Hillel: “The rest,” he said, “is just footnotes.”

Rethinking Secularism: The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere [Cooper Union]

Obama to Address UJC Assembly

First speech as president to major Jewish group

Obama at a campaign event in New Jersey this week.(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama will address the annual General Assembly meeting of the United Jewish Communities and Jewish Federations next month in Washington, D.C., the UJC announced this morning. It will be his first speech as president to a broad audience of Jewish leaders. “The speech comes as many American Jews and Israelis have been encouraging Obama to do more to explain his Middle East peacemaking efforts,” notes the JTA in its report, “although Obama could also choose to discuss domestic issues such as health care and other social services that UJC advocates for in Washington.” Obama will speak on November 9, replacing Vice President Joe Biden, who was previously announced to speak. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also expected to attend the meeting.

Obama to Speak at UJC [JTA]

Tablet Today: Death

Jewish Body Week comes to a close


Jerm Pollet on Jewish Body Week from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

It’s the final day of Jewish Body Week at Tablet Magazine, and today’s video testimonial is from comedian Jerm Pollet, who is surprised to find himself hot for Jews. But the other content today examines death. With an audio slideshow, we take you on a tour through a major collection of Jewish funerary objects. Sarah Weinman considers the conflict between religious imperative to leave the body intact and bury it quickly and the occasional legal requirement for an autopsy. And Diana Bletter, a member of a small Israeli village’s burial society, reflects on preparing a young woman’s body for interment. Additionally, in his weekly Blessed Week Ever column, Liel Leibovitz considers this week’s haftorah portion, on praise and kids. And there’ll be more on The Scroll throughout the day.

Chinese Jews Arrive in Israel

And we write an entire item without making a Jews-and-Chinese food joke!

The Kaifeng group arriving at Ben Gurion.(

Wherever you go, as that old Hebrew-school song goes, there’s always someone Jewish—even in Kaifeng, China, as it turns out. The Israeli papers are carrying news of seven Chinese descendents of the Jewish community there who arrived earlier this week at Ben Gurion Airport, made a first stop at the Western Wall, and then will spend up to a year learning Hebrew on a kibbutz and then completing the conversion process. No one is quite sure how Jews ended up in Kaifeng, but the prevailing theory is that they’re all descended from Persian traders who arrived there on the silk road in the 10th through 12th centuries, according to an article in Ynet. The community now numbers about 1,000, Ynet says, and while its members have almost completely assimilated, they’ve preserved some Jewish traditions like avoiding pork and baking matzo at Passover. “My dream is to complete the process of converting to Judaism and become a certified rabbi, after which I will return to my community and serve as its first rabbi since the dissolve [sic] of the Jewish community some 150 years ago,” 23-year-old Yaacob Wang told Ynet, in a statement that suggests he’ll have an excellent career crafting soundbites if the rabbi thing doesn’t work out. “I am excited to arrive to the holy land,” he added. “It is a dream come true.”

Chinese Descendents of Ancient Jewish Community Make Aliyah [Ynet]

Daybreak: Iran Deal Close

But Barak doesn’t like it, plus peace-talk status reports, military exercises, and more in the news


• The United States and allies are close to an agreement in which Iran will ship its uranium to Russia for enrichment, not to weapons grade. But Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, issued a statement saying a must require “the cessation of enrichment by Iran, and not just the removal of the enriched material.” [NYT]
• One month after the Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas meeting in New York, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reported to the president yesterday that almost no progress has been made in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. [NYT]
• But U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell said the talks also aren’t yet a failure. [Ynet]
• Major U.S.-Israeli joint military exercises began in the Middle East this week, but officials insist they are unrelated to current tensions in the region. [JPost]
• And Israeli Foreign Miniser Avigdor Lieberman asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to ensure the Goldstone report doesn’t advance further, calling the world organization “hypocrtical.” [Haaretz

Sundown: Goldstone to Debate at Brandeis

Plus voices of reason, a scary costume and more


• Richard Goldstone will discuss his contentious report on the Gaza War with Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, at Brandeis University on November 5. “What we’re in for is learned, direct, and honest drama,” says a school official. [Boston Globe]
• The Interfaith Alliance, composed of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim clergy and leaders, has issued a letter requesting a moratorium on “inappropriate Nazi and Holocaust references” in public debate. Hear, hear. [JTA]
• Bernie Madoff costumes are hot this year for Halloween—that would be a mask of the conman’s memorable mug paired with striped jailhouse duds. “This happened once before, with Richard Nixon,” says one shop owner. [Forward]
• An immigration loophole that has facilitated a tradition of young Israelis coming to work in American shopping malls over the holidays has been closed, so this Hanukkah your local Dead Sea bath salt kiosk might be staffed by someone a little less knowledgeable. [Ynet]

Tina Brown Interviews Philip Roth

Gushingly, about ‘The Humbling,’ dildoes, and the future of books


Philip Roth’s 30th novel, The Humbling, was published this week, and it has prompted the author to sit for a rare interview. Tina Brown does the gushing video interrogation for the Daily Beast, asking Roth for his views on the future of the novel (what with Kindle and television, he gives the printed book no more than 25 years), on performance anxiety (she’s talking about writer’s block, people, and yes, he worries about where his next idea will come from), and on the challenge of writing sex scenes.

The Humbling has a scene in which the protagonist’s love interest, a “predatory, threatening lesbian,” as Brown describes her, straps on a green dildo, mention of which causes Brown to laugh nervously and Roth to take a sip of water. Awkward gestures aside, Roth sees this love interest as no more predatory than any of us and notes that writing such a scene was “no harder than writing a sex scene with a woman without a green dildo. Most of my sex scenes have been without women with green dildoes.” The objective in any sex scene, he says, is that “you don’t want to repeat yourself for one, you don’t want to fall into clichés for another. You don’t want to be licentious, really.” No, not really, though it can’t hurt book sales and movie options for adaptations starring the likes of Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins.

Philip Roth Unbound [Daily Beast]

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