Daybreak: Permanent Fence

Bibi’s plans, Hillary’s umbrella, and more in the morning news


• Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will keep the West Bank fence up no matter what, as it is “a critical component of Israel’s security,” he says. [Haaretz]
• Israeli minister Dan Meridor says he is troubled by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pledge that America will defend Israel under its “nuclear umbrella” should Iran develop a bomb, because it could indicate “they have already reconciled with this possibility.” [Haaretz]
• Several different American Jewish groups have sought President Obama as a speaker, but he hasn’t said yes to any, yet. [JTA via Forward]
• A blast seriously injured four at the Gaza wedding of the nephew of prominent Palestinian Authority figure Muhammad Dahlan. Hamas has denied responsibility. [JPost]
• And several prominent Israeli intellectuals, including novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman, have called for an external investigation into the military’s February Gaza incursion. [Ynet]

Sundown: The West Bank Boom

Huckabee in Jerusalem, wonders of the world, and more


• A new study found that West Bank settlements receive a disproportionately high amount of government subsidies, and that their population grows at three times the rate of Israel proper’s. [Reuters]
• Former Arkansas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will reportedly broadcast his weekly Fox News show Huckabee with Mike Huckabee from an Israeli construction site in Palestinian East Jerusalem. Huckabee will be there in “solidarity”; the U.S. opposes the building. [Haaretz]
• The U.S. State Department is requesting the extradition of 11 Israelis accused of running one of those Nigerian email scams. It is also requesting $10,000 cash wired to an account, in exchange for which it will receive US$50,000,000. [Ynet]
• Jordan revoked the citizenship of thousands of Palestinians living there, with a minister explaining, “Our goal is to prevent Israel from emptying the Palestinian territories of their original inhabitants.” [JTA]
• Don’t forget to vote the Dead Sea as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. Its 27 formidable competitors include the Amazon, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Black Forest. [Arutz Sheva]

Cantor’s ‘Judeo-Christian’ Stance on Israel

Jewish GOPer speaks to Evangelical Zionists

(Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Eric Cantor—the Virginia representative and House minority whip who is likely the most powerful Jewish Republican politician in the country—addressed over 4,000 members of Christians United for Israel at the evangelical Zionist group’s fourth annual convention in Washington today. The ten-minute speech emphasized Israel’s status as “America’s steady ally—our only reliable ally—and one true friend in the Middle East” and catalogued the threats Israel faces from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. Cantor argued that the “real stumbling block to peace” is not the settlement or refugee questions but rather “those who vehemently deny the Nation of Israel’s historical right to the land of Zion.” Most notably, Cantor declared: “Reaching out to the Muslim world can help aid in creating an environment for peace in the Middle East. But we must insist, as Americans, that our policies be grounded in the beliefs of the Judeo-Christian traditions.” Though President Barack Obama was not mentioned in the speech, it is very likely that Cantor intended the lines to stand in subtle contrast to Obama’s Cairo speech in June. Tomorrow, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the conference via satellite. Among the other speakers will be Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and Pastor John Hagee, the group’s national chairman.

Cantor: Set Mideast policies in ‘Judeo-Christian’ tradition [JTA]
Related: Previously Love Thy Neighbor [Tablet]

Israeli Diplomat’s Settlements Interview

Has something to please and worry everyone


Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Sallai Meridor, made two noteworthy statements in a radio interview today. First, Israeli settlement expansion was part of the Bush-era “roadmap” peace plan, he said, agreed to by both Tel Aviv and Washington, and that the Obama administration was in violating it by pressuring the Netanyahu government to call a halt to construction. And, second, he said that of course Israel is committed to Haaretz’s reported “lightning” evacuation of 23 illegal settlements in the West Bank—that was also part of the deal with Bush. News of this impending IDF clearance of settlements had right-wing pols in Israel either skeptical (Netanyahu wouldn’t pull a Sharon) or alarmed (or would he?). “News of this kind could push the settlers to extreme actions,” said Aryeh Eldad, a Knesset member from the National Union party, told Army Radio. “The members of the coalition will also have to open up a front against the prime minister.” Meanwhile, the IDF denied the Haaretz claim, saying it had received no orders to remove settlers, and had not been conducting preparatory exercises to do so. According to reporters Yuval Azoulay and Yoel Marcus, however, the IDF will likely keep their plans under wraps for fear of prompting a more coordinated settler rebuff. Like, you know, the one Eldad is implicitly threatening.

Ex-Envoy To U.S.: Israel ‘Totally Committed’ To Razing Outposts [Haaretz]

Today I Am a Word Processor!

Ridiculous press release promotes virtual b’nai mitzvah


Dimdim is a free Web video-conferencing service, clearly aimed at the business world–an easy way to exchange PowerPoints and the like. But according to a press release that arrived in our in-boxes this morning, Dimdim’s service may be good for something else: the virtual b’nai mitzvah! “As long as all Dimdim invited guests have a laptop with webcam, you can set up the invitations for free and record portions of the bar mitzvah,” the company boasts. “Everyone can view each other as clearly as if you’re in the same room. How lovely would it be that long distance relatives can even join at one person’s home and all watch the bar mitzvah together—celebrating the mitzvah in a unique way.” Kind of like a destination bar mitzvah, except, you know, the exact, total reverse.

Lest you think this is just one of those things that only works “in theory,” Dimdim informs us that “Steve Chazin, Marketing Director of Dimdim, decided to change this spending cyclone at his son’s bar mitzvah” and invited certain out-of-town guests via the service; doing so saved him “a small fortune.” Hopefully Chazin’s desire to tighten his own belt doesn’t mean that Dimdim faces a dimdim financial outlook—although that would explain the company’s foray into the haftarah industry.

Anyway, maybe there’s some more room to run with this! Perhaps those in the synagogue can place a laptop upon the central podium and allow a distant relative to say a prayer (admittedly, this would probably only work at reform congregations—very reform congregations). If you are invited via Dimdim, why not reciprocate the cost-saving favor that your “hosts” did for you by virtually sending your gift, also via Dimdim? That way, you can keep the gift! And how about a Dimdim hora: five or ten people, dancing in a circle in a living room, hoisting a laptop atop a chair. You can even supplement the music coming through Dimdim with your own recording on iTunes.

And after it’s all over, and you’ve attended your second-cousin-once-removed’s bat mitzvah from the comfort of your own living room, you’ll be able to look forward to your old college friend’s nephew’s Dimdim bris, just a few months away.

Frank McCourt on Irish Jews

In a 1971 Village Voice article

McCourt at a reading in Dubai in February.(Haider Shah/AFP/Getty Images)

Frank McCourt, who died Sunday at 78, wrote of the Jews he knew as a child in Brooklyn in his 1996 debut, Angela’s Ashes and its follow-up, ’Tis. But long before that, when McCourt was still in the midst of his James Joyce phase, he took a Bloomesque wander through Limerick, Ireland, where he was raised, searching for the grave of a Jewish princess he’d heard about from an old man in a pub. He wrote about it in the Village Voice. “On the Trail of a Jewish Princess,” published in the September 2, 1971, issue of the paper, opens with a quote from Ulysses, the line about Ireland never having persecuted Jews because she’d never let them in. McCourt goes on to give a complete history of anti-Semitism on “Erin’s Isle,” boiled down to a few self-conscious columns.

Limerick was the only town to have seen full-blown rioting against the Jews, in 1904—a fact McCourt writes he first learned at the New York Public Library. When his mother was a girl, he writes, the children used to press their noses against the window of the Jewish-owned sweet shop until “the oul’ woman would come out and scream at us ‘Vot ye vont?’ and we’d yell back ‘We vont noddings’ and run off laughin’ over the woman’s Yiddish accent.

By the time McCourt returns to Limerick, the same year the city’s mayor said the Jews deserved what they got in the riots, there was only one Jewish family left. The man in the pub tells him the princess was Polish, and that the Jews are clean, “a very clean class of people altogether, forever washing themselves dead or alive.” At the cemetery McCourt imagines the princess’ body being gently swabbed for burial. He trips and scrapes himself, “blood of a goy on a Jewish grave,” he writes, and takes it as a sign he should go. But first the thought strikes that “the cows here eat grass sprung from Jewish graves, Jewish flesh, and the people of Limerick consume the body and blood of the Chosen.”

Back in town, his English boots covered in Irish cow dung from a Jewish graveyard, he hears the princess may have been Russian, or Rumanian, or German. He wonders in any event why in the name of God the Jews chose Limerick after wandering for thousands of years and millions of miles. “Perhaps they felt at ease with a people whose sufferings were as intense though not as prolonged as their own, or was it the knowledge beyond words, an instinct, that told them the Irish are indeed one of the Lost Tribes of Israel?” McCourt writes. “But the fact shatters the myth sometimes, and I preferred the myth.”

Read the full Village Voice article here [PDF]

How to Say ‘Peace’ In Esperanto

Polish town remembers “international language” founder


The town of Bialystock, Poland, might be most famous for giving its name to Mel Brooks’s blustering theater producer. But this week, it’s getting attention for the accomplishments of Ludwig Lazar Zamenhof (né Eliezer Samenhof), the Jewish Bialystocker who invented the “international language” of Esperanto. In honor of Zamenhof’s 150th birthday, Bialystock is opening a center devoted to Esperanto today, in advance of this weekend’s 94th World Esperanto Conference, also in the city.

With words derived mainly from Romantic, Germanic, and Slavic tongues, its ingenious system of prefixes and suffixes—heavily indebted to Hebrew’s linguistic structure—enables speakers to coin new words on the fly, obviating the need for an extensive pre-established vocabulary. The BBC estimates that one million people around the world speak Esperanto today. (While Zamenhof believed that an uneducated person could learn to speak Esperanto in a week, the BBC observes, Britishly, that “this assessment was probably optimistic.”)

Esperanto represents the other side of the same coin of Zionism’s project to rejuvenate Hebrew, Ilan Stavans points out in Nextbook Press’s Resurrecting Hebrew. Where Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the founder of modern Hebrew, propounded a sort of linguistic Jewish nationalism, Zamenhof—a one-time Zionist, who was born one year after Ben-Yehuda—sought the Jews’ salvation in a utopian linguistic universalism: a self-consciously international language that could further the cause of peace. For a time, Zamenhof’s vision bore fruit: organized groups for Jews and Arabs to converse in Esperanto were a common feature of Mandatory Palestine. After Israel’s founding, however, such contacts largely disintegrated. Perhaps the two sides should take a trip to Bialystock.

Esperanto celebrates power of hope [BBC]
Esperanto centre opens in Bialystock [Polskie Radio]
Resurrecting Hebrew

Today on Tablet

Golf course graves and Wiesel’s latest


We noted yesterday that Jewish gravestones had been found on the golf course at Long Island’s Woodmere Club. Today, photographer Ahron D. Weiner presents his photographs of some of the stones. Our book critic Adam Kirsch reflects on Elie Wiesel’s Rashi, and the ways in which the influence of the 11th-century sage is still felt today. In a essay occasioned  by the play The Soap Myth, now playing off-Broadway, Marissa Brostoff assesses the tensions that arise between survivors and scholars of the Holocaust. All this, and The Scroll all day long.

Red Rosa Found?

Maybe, if Jerusalem woman’s spit says so

Flowers are laid at a memorial plaque in Berlin for Luxemburg.(Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

Ever since the Polish-born Jewish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was murdered nine decades ago, the fate of her corpse has been a favorite historical mystery for her admirers. (Luxemburg led a brief, failed Communist uprising in Germany in 1919.) Now, thanks to a spit sample from an elderly resident of Jerusalem, the mystery may be solved. A few weeks ago, rummaging through Berlin’s museum of medical history, a pathologist named Michael Tsokos discovered a decapitated, limbless female corpse. He immediately thought of Luxemburg, whose name adorns one of the city’s bustling streets and whose body was never found. Searching online for living relatives of the felled firebrand, Tsokos came across Irene Borde, a great niece of Luxemburg’s who grew up in the Soviet Union and moved to Israel in 1973, settling in Jerusalem. Contacted by Tsokos, Borde agreed to send a spit sample to Berlin, where her DNA will be analyzed and compared with that of the newfound corpse. But the scientist cautioned Luxemburg fans not to get their hopes up: even the most advanced tests cannot indicate a relationship with more than 70 percent certainty.

Jerusalem Woman Could Help Solve Rosa Luxemburg Mystery [Haaretz]

Daybreak: IDF to Evacuate Illegal Settlements?

A military plan, Maccabiah, and more in the news


• The IDF has drawn up plans to evacuate 23 illegal West Bank settlements in a single day, Haaretz says, though IDF spokespeople say the military has received no orders to conduct such an operation. [Haaretz]
• And Sallai Meridor, Israel’s most recent ex-ambassador to the United States, claimed that the Israeli government was “completely committed” to evacuating West Bank settlements, although he also said the U.S. government had “retreated” from certain “understandings” about the settlements. [Haaretz]
• The fourth annual Christians United for Israel summit—and the first meeting of the evangelical Zionist group to take place outside George W. Bush’s presidency—is this week. [JPost]
• Yiddish apparently remains “the second language of New York politics,” with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and State Senator Hiram Monserrate recently accusing the other’s school plan of being “meshugeneh”. [NYT]
• And congrats to India’s Maccabiah cricket team, which ended its 16-year losing streak against Israel, triumphing 134-127. India faces South Africa in the finals today. [Haaretz]

Sundown: Anne Frank Site Burns

Britney Spears’ imagined conversion diary, and more


• A “suspicious” fire destroyed the barracks in which Anne Frank slept in a Dutch work camp before her transfer to Auschwitz. The barracks, most recently used to store farm equipment, was ready for transport back to the site of the work camp, which now contains a Holocaust memorial. [JTA]
• With the news that Britney Spears is considering converting to Judaism for her new boyfriend, Jason Trawick, The New Yorker imagines her “conversion diary”. “Got verklempt last night with Jason when I told him how close I was to joining his tribe and all. Felt kinda guilty that my spiritual journey has been so easy, what with my already being mostly Jewish, but then Jason explained that feeling guilty just makes you Jewisher, so it’s all good.” [NYer]
• The golf course at Long Island’s Woodmere Club contains hundreds of old Jewish gravestones along its shore with Reynolds Channel. [NY Post]
• Adam Yauch, one-third of the (three-thirds Jewish) Beastie Boys, announced via candid YouTube the “pretty heavy news” that he has cancer in a lymph node. “This is something that’s very treatable and in most cases it’s, um, they’re able to completely get rid of it,” he says. [ArtsBeat]
• Mongolian neo-Nazis have co-opted Nazi imagery, rhetoric, and racial philosophy in the service of Mongolian nationalism and anti-Chinese sentiment. [Time]
• And as we commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing, it’s fascinating to remember that the Lubavitcher Rebbe believed that space exploration and scientific discovery generally served to buttress the Torah’s teachings by throwing previously-held scientific consensus into increased doubt. []

Romanian Springtime for Hitler

Mayor dresses up for fashion show


Many of us walked away from the movie Valkyrie, about Nazi officers’ failed plot to kill Hitler in 1944, pondering the moral quandaries facing patriotic Germans during World War II, or wondering why Tom Cruise’s character alone among the Germans did not speak with a British accent, or mourning the 121 minutes of our lives we will never get back. But Radu Mazare, the mayor of Constanta, Romania, left the movie inspired to “dress like a Wehrmacht general because I’ve always liked this uniform, and admired the rigorous organization of the German army,” a Romanian newspaper quoted him saying. And so he he lived out his dream over the weekend, when he and his son dressed in Nazi uniforms and goose-stepped in a fashion show.

Now—can you believe it?—some people are upset! The Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism has asked Romania’s general prosecutor to investigate Mazare for breaking a Romanian law that, yes, bans the wearing of Nazi uniforms, as well as for instigating a child to break same law. (For most of World War II, Romania’s right-wing and anti-Semitic government was allied with the Nazis; government forces killed as many as 380,000 Jews in territories that came under Romania’s control, a fact the government formally acknowledged in 2004.) The Reuters story reports that the mayor’s action “outraged Jewish and pro-democracy groups.” While that’s no doubt true, we prefer not think of such events in such narrow terms, or to assert proprietary claims over them. The Nazis may have been bad for the Jews—particularly bad, even—but they were bad for everyone else, too, and we are confident that this event outraged groups of all sorts. Including, we hope, residents of Constanta, Romania.

Outrage As Mayor Goose-Steps In WWII Uniform [Sky News]

Miley Cyrus Finds a Nice Jewish Boy

He’s playing soccer at the Maccabiah Games


You might call them Marilyn-and-Arthur for the tween set. Today, a gossip rag called The Jerusalem Post brings news that teen heartthrob Gregg Sulkin, 17, who stars in the Disney Channel series As The Bell Rings:

• Is a British Jew;
• Can currently be found in Israel playing for the British soccer squad in the 2009 Maccabiah Games; and
• Is dating teen mega-star Miley Cyrus!

Most of the article concerns Sulkin’s experience on the team and with Israel. (It’s his second trip; his bar mitzvah was held at the Western Wall) But let’s face it, you don’t want to hear about that stuff. You want to hear him say, “”If she wasn’t that busy, I’d love to persuade her to come to Israel.” We’d love that too, Gregg! And it gets better. We did some digging, and it turns out that, according to PopCrunch, Cyrus, 16, began her relationship with Sulkin while still dating 20-year-old underwear model Justin Gatson (who we suppose is the Joe DiMaggio of this little tale). Moreover, we learn from Sulkin’s IMDB page that Cyrus’s father, musician Billy Ray Cyrus, had at one point urged his daughter to stick with Underwear Boy—apparently to no avail. To his credit, he now seems onboard the program: according to the Post, Billy Ray “has offered to help Sulkin further his acting career.”

In fact, the Post reports that Sulkin is heading directly to Los Angeles for callbacks after the Games. We definitely recommend that Sulkin take Billy Ray up on his offer. Sulkin may feel at home among his own people in Israel. But the aid of a country-music singer from Tennessee will definitely come in handy as Sulkin tries to make it as a Jew in Hollywood.

Miley Cyrus’s Boyfriend: Maccabiah, Then Hollywood [JPost]

Omri Casspi Is Ready For Primetime

But NBA’s first Israeli misses good hummus

Casspi speaking in Tel Aviv last month, after he was drafted by the Kings.(Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

The Sacramento Kings were the NBA’s worst team last year, posting a dismal 17-65 record. Yet when the new season starts in the fall, we’d bet they’ll have picked up a lot of new fans. Why? Their top draft pick, Omri Casspi, is from the Tel Aviv suburb of Yavne, and he played for Maccabi Tel Aviv, which in Israel has something like the stature of the Lakers and Celtics combined. Most importantly, Casspi will be the first Israeli to play in the NBA. So Israelis, who love only soccer more than they love basketball, have been predictably ecstatic.

Casspi is well aware of the extra weight his trailblazer status places on the shoulders of his 6-foot-9-inch frame. “I think all the eyes and ears in Israel, in basketball in Israel, are focused on me now,” he told The New York Times over the weekend. “There is big expectations, and all the Jewish community in the States is really excited about it. So I think there’s a big responsibility with it.”

The Times discloses several fun facts about Israel’s most famous 21-year-old. Casspi grew up worshipping Michael Jordan. His cell phone bill from his first two weeks stateside came to $4,500—“expensive even by NBA standards,” the paper notes. The player he models himself after is Hedo Turkoglu, who has the size of a forward but the quickness of a guard (also, similarly to Casspi, Turkoglu is a hero back home, which in his case is Turkey). Finally, we learn that, so far, American hummus has left Casspi unsatisfied. “Man, I tried it; that’s all I can say,” he says. “I will bring some from Israel, maybe. I’ll let you taste it and you tell me.”

When Tablet last covered Casspi, draft day was imminent, and we weren’t sure whether he would even get any playing time, were he picked. But a month later, he seems on pace to play a real role in the Kings’ upcoming season. In fact, last Friday, in an exhibition game in Las Vegas, Casspi contributed 11 points toward the Kings’ win over the New York Knicks (admittedly not much competition). If he keeps that level of performance up, he’ll be as popular in his new home as he is in his old one.

From Israel to the NBA, Missing the Hummus [NYT]
Previously Draft Notice

Canadian Writer Makes $3 Million

And some bold claims about Holocaust fiction

Martel winning his Man Booker in 2002.(John Li/Getty Images)

Saturday’s New York Times brought word that a Random House imprint has paid Canadian novelist Yann Martel around $3 million for his latest novel, a Holocaust allegory that features dialogue between a donkey and a monkey. In an interview with the paper, Martel, whose 2001 Life of Pi won the Man Booker Prize, decried what he sees as the restraint with which the Holocaust is depicted in books and onscreen. “It’s always represented in the same way, which is historical or social realism,” he said. “I was thinking that it was interesting that you don’t have many imaginative takes on it like George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and its take on Stalinism.” Artists, Martel added, are generally “fearful of letting the imagination loose on the Holocaust.”

It’s a provocative, if debatable, position. It’s also a curious one coming from an author who, in a decidedly unimaginative move, lifted the premise of his prize-winning book from another novelist.

‘Life of Pi’ Author Is Said to Get $3 Million Deal [NYT]

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.