Daybreak: Iran at the Table

Plus a somber anniversary, a big giver, and more in the news


• Talks began between Western leaders and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Geneva yesterday; the United States is looking to be reassured about Iran’s nuclear program but is prepared with sanctions in case that doesn’t work out. [Reuters]
• A German court upheld a law that excludes property in housing estates from being returned to pre-Holocaust Jewish owners. [Haaretz]
• Israeli Arabs commemorate the October 2000 riots that started the second intifada with a general strike and protest marches. [Ynet]
The New York Times profiles philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, who has financed the restoration of Nazi-era Torahs. [NYT]

Sundown: Chicken Soup for the Drinker’s Soul

Yom Kippur without God, a Catholic call-out, and Dylan disappoints


The New York Times pays some attention to a drink from Barbra Streisand’s childhood: the “guggle-muggle,” or Gogol Mogol, made from some combination of egg yolks, milk, and liquor, which the paper calls “the Jewish echinacea: no one really knows if it works, but that doesn’t stop people from taking it.” [NYT]
• A secular Jewish center in Israel grappled with Yom Kippur, which, unlike other holidays when it is “not too complicated to get around the religious issue with a dreidel, a doughnut, by planting trees or offering the first fruits,” requires a conversation with God. [Ynet]
• Israel has made an allowance for lulavim (palm fronds used for Sukkot) to be exported from Gaza to compete with overpriced specimens from Egypt; like the Palestinian women who manufacture yarmulkes, this decision raises questions about religion and economic symbiosis. [JPost]
• Adding injury to those who take his upcoming Christmas album as an insult, Bob Dylan plans to release the thing early to Citigroup customers. [First Post]
• The Vatican attempts to mitigate the Church’s sex scandals in a statement calling out Protestants and Jews for their own abuses. “Comparative tragedy is a dangerous path on which to travel,” replies the head of the New York Board of Rabbis. [Guardian]
• Yesterday marked the launch of the Holocaust Collection, the largest online database of archival material about the genocide. [Holocaust Collection]

What Makes a Jew?

A British paper asks, and four brainiacs stumble to answer


The British Jewish Chronicle asks four known Jews to weigh in on the ever-sticky question of identity. After clearing his throat with the obvious (“We are not just a religion.… Equally, though, Jews are not just an ethnic group”), writer Jonathan Freedland makes the point that the trouble with attempts to “locate the Jewish essence in some sort of sensibility, even a very broad, capacious one, is that there will always be some Jews who are not quite like that.” Filmmaker Naomi Gryn’s insights are limited to extolling her own commitment to some amorphously defined Jewishness while bashing the authority of the Orthodox sector, whose members she defines as “anachronistic misogynists who have decided that they have some sort of authority over defining who is a Jew.”

Reliably, writer Howard Jacobson has the most colorful take, characterizing Jews as thinkers and questioners via an anecdote about two Yeshiva boys discussing which prayer to say over toasted bread. “That seems to me wonderful, that there is a culture in the world that would spend money to say: ‘Go study the difference between bread and toast and it doesn’t matter how long you take.’ It is my passion. I earn my money essentially arguing about the difference between bread and toast.”

Although none of these perspectives is apt to rock the world of identity politics, Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen expresses one common view best in praising the merits of Jewdar: “We can be on the other side of the world and the presence of a Jew is something that doesn’t take us more than a few seconds to determine.” In other words, Jews, at the end of the day, are like pornography: you know them when you see them.

Who Is a Jew? The Great Debate

Anne Frank, YouTuber

The famous diarist’s latest online presence

Anne in her YouTube clip.(

This should be noted: Anne Frank now has a YouTube channel. “The site contains existing and new images, including the only known video footage of Anne—a shot a few seconds-long of her leaning out of an upstairs window during the wedding of a neighbour in July 1941,” reports London’s Telegraph today. There’s also an interview with Anne’s father, Otto Frank, interviews with people who knew her, and a clip of Nelson Mandela talking about reading her diary while he was in prison. This new site, at, comes on top of, the official site of the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam,, the site of the Anne Frank Center USA, and Anne Frank The Writer, a section on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. It’s an impressive digital presence—especially for a girl who never lived to see Univac.

Anne Frank’s Channel [YouTube]
Anne Frank Channel Launched on YouTube [Telegraph]

Amy Winehouse Raps About Being Jewish

And smoking bacon


Many of the good people of the internet are trashing Amy Winehouse’s rapping abilities, as demonstrated on a YouTube video of her jamming with some mates. But we respectfully disagree. This is punk rock, guys—it’s not a Grammy-winning performance, but it’s contagiously ecstatic (especially if you can deal with a little banshee-like shrieking). More saliently, it includes the following flow from Ms. Winehouse: “Oh, snap, I never knew, I never knew that, well, I’m a Jew/Well a Jew makin’/Anyway, if you can smoke bacon/Then I reckon that, um…”—at which point she changes the subject to the drumming prowess of her friend Zalon. If we’re following the logic correctly, what should fill in the lacuna at the end of that line is that, if you can smoke bacon, you can smoke crack. And if you’re a Jew who smokes bacon—really, what can’t you smoke?

Amy Winehouse Rapping: How Many Seconds Can You Stand Before You Press Stop? [Entertainment Weekly]

Israel, Hamas Reach Preliminary Deal on Shalit

Prisoners for video, as a first step


In diplomacy, symbolism and timing are everything. So we think it’s probably significant that this morning, just as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators arrived in Washington for a new round of meetings with their American interlocutor, George Mitchell, about re-launching substantive peace talks, officials in Jerusalem announced that they had reached a deal with Hamas to trade 20 female Palestinian prisoners for video evidence that Gilad Shalit is still alive.

Shalit is the 23-year-old IDF corporal held hostage by Hamas since 2006; he has not been heard from since the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in January, despite efforts by the International Red Cross and other agencies to win humanitarian access. The bargain is actually the fruit of a joint Egyptian and German initiative intended to smooth final negotiations about Shalit’s actual release—in other words, it, too, is a negotiation about a negotiation. The trade is expected to be made on Friday, but Israeli President Shimon Peres warned not to get expectations up: “The road to his release is still long and not simple, and we do not want to create any illusions.” Washington, are you listening?

Israel to Free Prisoners to Obtain Video of Soldier [NYT]

U.S. Jews Still Support Obama on Israel

But less than they do Netanyahu, and less than they did in November

Obama at an AIPAC conference last year.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Barack Obama’s Jewish support is slipping, according to the American Jewish Committee’s Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion. A poll conducted between August and September that canvassed 800 American Jews found that 51 percent disagree “with the Obama Administration’s call for a stop to all new Israeli settlement construction.” Moreover, more approve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the Israeli-American relationship than they do of Obama’s handling of it, though a majority—54 percent—approve of Obama’s handling, too. (Only 32 percent disapprove.) Also, more American Jews support military action against Iran and are more pessimistic about the chances for peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict than they are optimistic. Unsurprisingly, Orthodox Jews—about 9 percent of the survey respondents—were tougher on the president than Reform, Conservative, and other Jews.

Survey: Jews back Obama, by narrower margins [Politico]

On Tablet Today

Gravestones, rabbinical unease, and a convert’s craft


Lynn Harris takes a look at the recession’s effect on rabbis. Ruth Ellen Gruber examines the symbols used to represent Jewish women on tombstones in Romania. As the culmination of her conversion to Judaism, C.A. Blomquist designed a chuppah for her upcoming wedding. And, of course, more to come here on The Scroll.

Why Israel Tour Books Are for Tourists

A ‘Haaretz’ writer finds them cringeworthy


Haaretz’s Yotam Feldman takes a “voyeuristic” perusal of guide books for tourists to Israel, and discovers the reason why “[t]hese books are translated into every language but the one spoken in the country being described.” He finds a portrait of his home country that makes him uncomfortable—but we confess that as recent travelers to the holy land, and thus part of the books’ target audience, we don’t find them as far off the mark as Feldman might like to believe.

While the suggestion that curious travelers ask a Palestinian woman “about her embroidery and its significance” might sound silly or condescending, it’s hard to think of a better suggestion; chances are, she won’t want to discuss last week’s episode of Mad Men or the rush hour traffic in your home town. And if, as Feldman says, the books “stop just short of explaining one should chew food moderately yet persistently in order to avoid indigestion,” that’s probably because overwhelmed travelers can get flummoxed by mundane things such as buying toothpaste or making a phone call from their hotel. He takes umbrage at one book’s assertion that “Israelis prefer to drink instant or Turkish coffee, and when they drink alcohol, they prefer Goldstar beer”—but, well, that jives with our recent experience. If he wants to change Israel’s reputation regarding beverages, he might want to start with a letter to whomever plans hotel buffets.

Feldman does strike on something disturbing in the way these guides treat the Palestinian territories, which they present as “ideal sites for the danger enthusiast,” apologizing that Gaza doesn’t quite measure up to Iraq or Afghanistan. But his idea of what kind of book the average traveler might be looking for—“The one I would put together for visitors to Israel would bring them to places that are not very different from the ones where they live: residential neighborhoods, city parks and suburbs. It would help them understand public transportation, and let them sit in on court hearings and university lectures”—proves that not only is it better for locals not to read the books, but probably not to write them either.

Why Israelis Shouldn’t Read Travel Guides to Their Country [Haaretz]

Daybreak: Mumbai Jews Still Afraid

Plus Israel’s Iran options, Libeskind’s latest, and more in the news


• The location of a new Chabad House in Mumbai is a secret revealed only to Jews looking for community; this caution reflects a general atmosphere among the city’s Jewish population since last year’s attacks. [WP]
• Meanwhile, the group responsible for the destruction remains a threat. [NYT]
• Thomas Friedman compares attempts to delegitimize President Obama with the “poisonous political environment” that led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Israel in 1995. [NYT]
• An examination of Israel’s options when it comes to a nuclear Iran. [Haaretz]
• Architect Daniel Libeskind is set to design a new synagogue for a Reform congregation in Munich, replacing the city’s “liberal synagogue,” which was destroyed during World War II. [JTA]

Sundown: America’s Top Jews

Zionism litmus test, the Bible in school, and the power of art


• The results of an online poll have been tallied, and the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia has the top 18 American Jews for its “Only in America Gallery”; honorees include Sandy Koufax, Emma Lazarus, and Estee Lauder. [JTA]
• Technology may have marred a once placid holiday in Israel, but pictures show Yom Kippur there was still a day less bustling than most. [Haaretz]
• Young Israel, an Orthodox organization in Richmond, Virginia, has fired its rabbi, Joseph Kolakowski, for his anti-Israel views. [VIN]
• A new report from the Bible Literacy Project says that over 350 schools in 43 states are teaching the Good Book, most using 2005’s textbook The Bible and its Influence, in which the “approach is academic and not devotional.” [Christian Post]
• Holocaust survivors discuss how they used art as a means of resistance in a new documentary, As Seen Through These Eyes. [Jewish Week]

Brandeis President to Step Down

Not as a result of Rose Museum mess, he insists


The saga of Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum reached one of its final chapters late last week, when the university’s president, Jehuda Reinharz, announced he’ll soon step down. The controversy started in January, when the Brandeis board of trustees, facing a steep plunge in endowment and fallout from the Madoff scandal, voted to close the 48-year-old art museum and sell a part of its collection, which includes famous works by Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. In the months since, a series of botched PR efforts led to international criticism of the museum, the school, and Reinharz by everyone from art collectors to Brandeis professors. Now the museum, which was set to close in late summer, will stay open on the recently announced recommendation of a university committee. Reinharz, who’s been the public face of the messy decision, insists the decision has nothing to do with the museum brouhaha, and he’ll stay on through the end of the 2010-11 academic year, unless a successor is found sooner. “Every job that one does has great periods, and some periods that are more difficult,” Reinharz commented earlier this year.

University President Jehuda Reinharz Resigns [The Justice]

Whither Polanski

With silence from Switzerland, everyone else debates director’s arrest

Polanski at the Marrakesh Film Festival last year.(Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

If Roman Polanski were making a movie about his own extraordinary life—beginning with his childhood escape from the Krakow ghetto during the Holocaust, tracing his catapult into Hollywood fame with Rosemary’s Baby, moving on to his pregnant wife Sharon Tate’s murder by the Manson Family, following his guilty plea to charges of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl in a drug-fueled episode at Jack Nicholson’s house, and then documenting his subsequent decades as a highly visible, Oscar-winning fugitive from a possible California prison sentence—he couldn’t have found a more melodramatic way to open the denouement than what happened this weekend, when L.A. prosecutors arranged his arrest in Switzerland on the eve of Yom Kippur. (more…)

$6 Million for Tel Aviv Diaspora Museum

This time, to teach Israels about Jews elsewhere


Tel Aviv is home to the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, but museumgoers there must be foreigners, because, says the Jerusalem Post, “according to experts, most Israeli youth pass through the state education system without a single lesson on the Diaspora.” That’s why a Russian-Israeli billionaire, Leonid Nevzlin, gave the museum a $6 million grant last week to help fund an offshoot, the Museum of the Jewish People, scheduled to open in 2012 and designed to convey to Israelis the value of Jewish life outside its borders. The new museum has a big task ahead of it: “More than 60 percent of the 150 history and civics teachers polled said the subject of Diaspora Jewry had never entered their classrooms, according to a 2006 study by the American Jewish Committee’s Israel/Middle East Office,” the Post report said. “Only 13 percent said they had taught it or heard of it being taught at least once.”

$6m. Gift Earmarked for TA’s Museum of the Jewish People [JPost]

Remembering William Safire

Columnist and language maven—but did he get his last name’s Hebrew root right?

Safire on Meet the Press in 2007.(Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist William Safire, who died Sunday at 79, was a New York City-born college dropout-turned-public relations wizard who rose to prominence in 1959 when he organized the famous “kitchen debate” between Richard Nixon and Nikita Krushchev in Moscow. Nixon later hired Safire to work on his failed 1960 presidential campaign against John F. Kennedy and to write speeches for him in 1968, once Nixon was president. Within five years, Safire had left the White House, winning a coveted spot in the New York Times’ op-ed rotation. Safire took issue with the invocation of anti-Semitism by figures he supported, including Nixon and Pat Buchanan, with whom he worked as a speechwriter. But he also didn’t shy from criticizing Israel, as when the country was on the verge in 2000 of selling arms to China, against the wishes of the United States. Tweaking the injunction not to forget Jerusalem lest your right hand wither, Safire advised, “”Reconsider, Israel; let not your democratic hand lose its cunning.” Soon after he joined the Times, he also began writing the “On Language” column for The New York Times Magazine, in which he opined on idioms, etymology, and correct usage. In person, he pointed out (at least on one occasion that we witnessed) that his last name, Safire, derived from the Hebrew letters that make up the word “sofer,” meaning “scribe.” They do. Yet even more precisely, the letters in question—samech, pei, resh—spell the word “book.” (But who’s counting?)

William Safire, Political Columnist and Oracle of Language, Dies at 79 [NYT]
Wlliam Safire, New York Times Columnist, Dies at 79 [JTA]
A Colleague’s Remembrance [Forbes]

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