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Israel to Mark 14th Anniversary of Rabin Assassination

But at both far ends of political spectrum, memories aren’t so fond

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Rabin at the White House with President Bill Clinton, 1995.(Robert Giroux/AFP/Getty Images)

A rally in Tel Aviv was scheduled to take place tomorrow night, marking the 14-year anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination—but stormy weather has led organizers to postpone the event, at which Labor and Kadima party leaders will speak, until next weekend. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reports, members of the religious Zionist movement are struggling with how to commemorate Rabin’s death. On the one hand, they resent being linked by the Israeli left to assassin Yigal Amir, who counted himself among them; on the other, they don’t remember Rabin, co-creator of the Oslo accords, too fondly. The chief rabbi of the town of Safed told the paper he’s “sick of it all. Every year about this time there is a concerted effort to ram Rabin’s legacy down our throat.” That sentiment is apparently shared by a group of right-wing activists who, according to Arutz Sheva, distributed fliers to non-religious schools that read, “Despite our principled stand against murder and intra-Jewish violence, it is clear to all that the message at memorials of this type is not one of remembering Rabin the individual, but rather his so-called ‘legacy.’” (The news network notes that both the right and the left have chosen to forget that Rabin favored the creation of a “Palestinian entity … that is less than a state,” and that he envisioned permanent settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.)

Abroad, Guardian columnist Seth Freedman recalls being a student at a London Jewish day school when Rabin was killed, and teachers framing his assassination as “not the Jewish way … let the unenlightened and barbaric Arab states around us settle their differences via the sword.” While “Judaism certainly does not allow for such base behavior,” Freedman writes, viewing the murder “as a one-off aberration rather than the culmination of years of incitement and provocation was to take a dangerously out-of-context view of the event, and—by continuing to do so even today—those making such assertions run the risk of similar attacks being carried out in the future.”

Stormy Weather Postpones T.A. Memorial Marking Rabin Assassination [Haaretz]
Analysis: Religious Zionism Confronts Rabin Legacy [JPost]
School Flyers Against the ‘Rabin Legacy’ [Arutz Sheva]
The Far Right Wrath That Killed Rabin [Guardian]

Mag Tells Conversion Stories

Some inspired by ‘Fiddler,’ knishes, TV ads

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In its forthcoming issue, Moment magazine offers an instructive history of conversion to Judaism followed by first person accounts of what made some folks do it. The narratives are fairly straightforward, save the occasional observation from the province of the improbable. Former Mormon Karen Nielson-Anson speculates that playing Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof “probably lit the fire,” even though Fruma Sarah is the scary dead wife of Lazar Wolf and her ghost visits Tevye in a nightmare (well, that’s the story Tevye tells his own wife, at least). Tinamarie Bernard, the great-granddaughter of a high-ranking Nazi officer, asserts her conversion had nothing to do with inherited guilt but with having “a Jewish neshemah [soul] all along that just needed a chance to take off.” And Hank Eng observes “I love knishes,” a declaration that is ludicrously out of place amidst legit reasons to totally change your religious orientation (we like wafers, especially the Necco kind, but aren’t thinking of taking communion any time).

Then there’s Y-Love, the Orthodox African-American rapper, who recalls seeing “a TV commercial that said ‘Happy Passover from your friends at Channel 2’” when he was a wee boy of 7. It blew his mind so utterly he subsequently proclaimed, “Mommy, I want to be Jewish.” Is that all it takes? Golly—imagine the mess that could’ve been avoided had Ogilvy & Mather been around during the Crusades.

The New Jewish Convert [Moment]

L.A. Synagogue Shooting Not a Hate Crime

LAPD says, though shooter still at large

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Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Synagogue yesterday.(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Good news: police seem to have decided yesterday’s early-morning shooting at a Los Angeles synagogue wasn’t a hate crime. They’re not really sure what prompted it, and they definitely don’t know who did it, but the main thing, LAPD counterterrorism chief Mike Downing told the Los Angeles Times, is that the two victims weren’t shot on account of being Jewish, but because someone had a score to settle. Which means that the guy who told the paper that the neighborhood where the shooting happened is “like a small Israel” was more right than he probably realized.

Synagogue Shooting Unnerves Los Angeles [LAT]

Israelis Think War with Iran is Inevitable

Argues Yossi Klein Halevi in ‘WSJ’ op-ed

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In an op-ed the Wall Street Journal titled “The Return of Israel’s Existential Dread” (whether it ever really left is debatable), journalist Yossi Klein Halevi parses the growing sense among Israelis that war with Iran is inevitable. He sees this zeitgeist shift reflected in everything from Sabbath dinner conversation to a postcard demarcating how long residents in different parts of the country would have to seek shelter if attacked. He notes that the public remained discomfited by the possibility of Iran signing on to the proposed U.N. deal for shipping its uranium abroad—“If Iranian leaders are prepared to sign an agreement, Israelis argue, that’s because they know something the rest of us don’t”—which is probably for the best, as Iran officially rejected the proposal this morning.

Halevi gives several good reasons (besides being a militarized society that has faced near constant threats to its existence over its short 60 year history) why Israel might be falling into the state of mind characterized by a phrase from early in its history: “Ein breira, there’s no choice.” One is the nature of Iran, which, particularly under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has established itself as near-impossibly unreasonable. As Halevi puts it: “A regime that assembles the world’s crackpots to deny the most documented atrocity in history—at the very moment it is trying to fend off sanctions and convince the international community of its sanity—may well be immune to rational self-interest.”

Another is a question “Israelis have been asking themselves … with increasing urgency: Should we attack Iran if all other options fail?” If all other options have failed, then, presumably, the only alternative to war would be suicide; and, while Jews have fallen back on that last resort in dire historical circumstances, it’s definitely antithetical to the Israeli psyche. But what happens when the populace starts to think of war as inevitable, even as no one wants to see it happen? Does the territory implied by the words “all other options” widen to include innovative and marginal ideas in an attempt to stave off disaster, or does everyone resign themselves to gritting their teeth and pulling the trigger as quickly as possible?

The Return of Israel’s Existential Dread [WSJ]

Taylor Swift Is Not Actually a Nazi

Despite photo with boy wearing a swastika

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(TMZ.com)

We’re still not really sure who Taylor Swift is, except that we know Kanye West isn’t a fan, and we have no idea at all who Katy Perry is, but apparently the former went to a birthday party for the latter, at which she had her picture taken with a dude wearing a swastika, and now no one is happy.

Taylor Swift Embraces the Swastika [TMZ]

Today on Tablet

Spooky—and geeky—stories for Halloween

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It’s almost Halloween, and Tablet Magazine has some stories to get you in the mood. Marc Tracy reports on a new book that brings a Jewish twist to the vampire trend. Peter Bebergal traces the history of the occult in Judaism. Liel Leibovitz presents a slideshow of of biblical monsters illustrated by comic book artist Mike Dubisch. Leibovitz also reflects on nerdy obsessions via this week’s haftorah. And The Scroll will roll out updates all day.

U.S. Religious Freedom Report: Israel

A look, by the numbers

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(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. State Department released this year’s installment of its annual International Religious Freedom Report this week. Here are some numbers from the section on Israel and the occupied territories:

Estimated percentage of country’s Jewish population born outside the country: 30
Approximate number of Messianic Jews living in the country: 10,000
Immigration applications by Messianic Jews blocked by Ministry of the Interior and now in court: 3

Start date of Yom Kippur-related rioting caused by an Arab driving in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood: 10/08/2008
Number of legal permits for foreign workers issued during 2008: Almost 100,000
Number of illegal workers residing in country: at least 80,000

Number of recognized Jewish holy sites: 137
Number of recognized Muslim holy sites: 0

Approximate number of citizens who immigrated under the Law of Return but are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinate and cannot be married, divorced, or buried in Jewish cemeteries within the country: 310,000
Year that a law was passed requiring the government to establish civil cemeteries: 1996
Number of secular cemetery currently planned: 1

Yearly average number of Hajj pilgrims traveling from Israel via Jordan in order to receive papers on the way to Mecca: 4,500

Number of Jews per synagogue in Beer Sheva: 700
Number of Muslims per mosque in Beer Sheva: 5,000
Number of Bedouins per mosque in unrecognized villages: 80,000

Number of comparisons of women to clay “to shape and mold as husband pleases” in Orthodox marriage pamphlet distributed during marriage counseling necessary to marry in government-recognized ceremonies: 1
Number of suggestions to compliment wife regularly, even if untrue, in that pamphlet: 1
Number of couples that go abroad each year, mostly to Cyprus, to marry in civil ceremonies: at least 5,000

Minimum number of Israeli Muslims killed by Gaza rocket fire: 1

Reports of forced religious conversions: 0

U.S.: Israel Favors Orthodox Sects [JPost]
Israel and the Occupied Territories [State Dept.]

Daybreak: L.A. Shooting Derails Bar Mitzvah

Plus Iran, Russia, Lebanon, and more in the news

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• Yesterday’s shooting at Los Angeles synagogue Adat Yeshurun left two injured and one bar mitzvah boy and his family in the lurch—Alejandro Sisro’s ceremony was postponed until the evening, and he consoled himself thusly: “I’ll get famous.” [LAT]
• Also yesterday, Iran officially rejected the United Nations plan for the country to ship its uranium abroad for enrichment. [NYT]
• Meantime, the U.S. Senate passes a bill calling for sanctions on Iran, particularly focusing on companies that help Iran “import or produce refined petroleum.” [JTA]
• Lebanon’s ambassador to the United Nations warns that he suspects Israel is set to attack his country, citing as evidence the fact that Israel fired on Lebanon as retaliation for this week’s rocket attack. [Haaretz]
• U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Abu Dhabi on Saturday to keep up the pressure on restarting peace talks with Israel, according to an anonymous official. [Reuters]
• A federal judge has issued a “default order” against Russia, allowing some members of Chabad to seek legal action to recover historical rabbinical documents from Russia in U.S. court. [AP]

Sundown: Shul for School

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

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• 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

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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