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Sundown: Maidel-on-Maidel Action

Online Yiddish, comedic justice, and evangelical fervor

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• A new film to be directed by Darren Aronofsky features Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis engaging in “ecstasy-induced hungry aggressive angry sex.” But, of course, the real question is: “Does the story that surrounds the sex”—a psychologically probing tale of a Russian ballerina and her doppelganger—“disappoint or excel?” [ScriptShadow]
The Nation’s blog speaks up for Israeli professor Neve Gordon’s recent—and much maligned—op-ed supporting a boycott against his own country, which he believes is practicing apartheid. [Nation]
Google Translate has added Yiddish to its list of available languages. According to the commenters on Vos iz Neias?—who would know—the service is faulty, so you might want to cross-reference before you try to impress your grandparents. [VIN]
• Sunda Croonquist, a half-black, half-Swedish comedian who converted to Judaism, is being sued by her mother-in-law for jokes like this one about what the older woman said in advance of the birth of her granddaughter: “I want to know what you’re naming that little tchotchke. Now we don’t want a name that’s difficult to pronounce like Shaniqua. We’re thinking a name short but delicious. Like Hadassah or Goldie.” [AP]
• An open letter to Mike Huckabee asserts that the former governor’s “hopes for an eventual violent apocalypse in Israel” have blinded him to the Zionism of “Jewish Americans who would dare to see the grandkids of their Israeli cousins living in peace with their Palestinian neighbors.” [True/Slant]

Is Obama Circumcised?

The latest question from the nutty ‘birther’ movement

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Obama golfing on Martha’s Vineyard today.(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

The loons in the “birther” movement have come up with a new demand for Barack Obama to prove he was born in the United States. (They’re convinced he wasn’t, and is thus ineligible to become president.) They want him to reveal whether he’s circumcised. If not, they say, it’s proof that he was born on foreign soil, because so many American men—Jewish or not—are circumcised. Jezebel’s Kay Steiger points us to comments on Free Republic, where one lazy conspiracy theorist yearns for “someone to make a phone call to the hospitols [sic] in HI and ask if they routinely do circumcism [sic] and when that practice started.”


Birthers Want to See Obama’s Penis
[Jezebel]
Related: First Cut [Tablet]

Matisyahu Releases New Album, ‘Light’

Mixes electronica, guitar rock into the reggae, to not-so-great reviews

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Matisyahu play Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore last summer.(Scott Gries/Getty Images)

Matisyahu released his third album, Light, yesterday, and this time he has added new elements—“electonica, funky pop, straight-up guitar rock and even a touch of folk,” according to the AP—to his trademark Hasidic-inspired reggae. He’s taking some knocks for it at home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn: “Just yesterday I was walking down the street and some kid was walking by me,” he told the news service. “He’s like, ‘Matis, stick to the reggae!’ I was like, ‘Ahhgh!’” Songs on the new album are eclectic; one track, the AP says, “combines mystical themes he studied from Rabbi Nachman (1772-1810), the crisis in Darfur he learned about while contributing to a John Lennon tribute album, and the tragedy of Africa’s child soldiers.”

Some critics aren’t sold. “The biggest hurdle for white, Western reggae singers to overcome is phoniness: How to make reggae without faking patois (which sounds silly and condescending), and how to embrace its themes without reducing a racially and politically charged genre to mere schtick?” notes a reviewer in Paste. “Matisyahu spectacularly fails to solve these predicaments, but the biggest problem with his reggae is simpler: He’s unequivocally terrible at it. Not only do we get fake patois, but also raging electric guitars and cluttered hip-hop production.”

Hasidic Star Matisyahu Mixes It Up on New Album [AP]
Lyin’ From Zion [Paste]
Previously: Melody Maker

Palestinian State by 2011, Fayyad Says

That is, a workable state, whether granted statehood or not

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First Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad gave an interview to Haaretz in which he seemed to acquiesce to his Israeli counterpart’s proposal of “economic peace.” Now comes word that Fayyad has drafted a proposal for a de facto Palestinian state that would emerge in 2011. “We have decided to be proactive, to expedite the end of the occupation by working very hard to build positive facts on the ground, consistent with having our state emerge as a fact that cannot be ignored,” he told The Times of London. If accurate, this plan represents a repudiation of years of political wrangling for peace with the Israelis—something that many observers on both sides, 16 years after Oslo, don’t anticipate any time soon. One wonders, then, if Fayyad has taken a lesson from Nouri al-Maliki’s Iraq: the fastest way to convince the world of your sovereignty is to take control of your own internal security forces and infrastructure so as to obviate a foreign occupation on material, rather than political or moral, grounds. As The Scroll has noted in the past few months, Netanyahu’s government seems keen on working with this approach.

Palestinian PM: We’ll Form de Facto State by 2011 [Haaretz]

How to Be a Better Atheist

By rejecting Maimonides’ God, ‘New Yorker’ writer says

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One of the difficulties of being an atheist is that the task of explaining just what it is one doesn’t believe in requires, to some degree, an idea of what God might be like, if one did believe in a Supreme Being. In this week’s New Yorker, James Wood examines the question of whether the recent crop of public atheists (Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens among them) have rejected a “cheaply understood” God who is, among other things, “not very Judaic, or very philosophical.” Wood slices through the new book by the Marxist Catholic literary theorist Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, which argues that the new atheists ought to stop and consider the ethereal, Judaic God described by none other than Maimonides. It’s a deity indescribable by human attributes, “not neurotically possessive of us,” a provider of the power to be our best selves. Which Wood says might be fine, except that Christianity kind of depends on Jesus—and believers like the idea, as Joan Osbourne put it, of imagining God as one of us. So how to be a good atheist? Woods offers up a religious approach he calls “disappointed belief.” “Such atheism, only a semitone from faith,” he writes, “would be, like musical dissonance, the more acute for its proximity.” That, of course, is something the vast tribe of two-day-a-year-plus-Seder Jews can swallow—literally.

God in the Quad [New Yorker; subscription only]

Israeli Town Offers Prize for Mermaid Photo

So Brooklyn group sues

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This mermaid is Australian.(Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Anxious that a $1 million prize for anyone who proves that there’s a mermaid frolicking near the Israeli town of Kiryat Yam “badly and outrageously damages the legendary mermaid legacy,” officials at the Brooklyn-based Mermaid Medical Association, a health center located on Mermaid Avenue, have threatened legal action. According to Yediot Ahronoth , authorities at the medical association sent a letter to Kiryat Yam officials saying the town has 10 days to rescind the prize or they will take their complaint to the International Court of Justice in hopes that the tribunal will intervene on behalf of maintaining the illusion that make-believe fish-women may or may not exist. (The town offered the prize two weeks ago, after several residents and tourists suggested they’d spotted a fish-woman frolicking off its coast. The town also insisted the prize isn’t a tourism gambit, though it allowed that it might attract tourists hoping to snap the mermaid and win the prize.) Though our e.s.p about the International Court is rusty, it seems unlikely the Court will do a thing—between cases on atrocities in Congo and Serbia, the docket in the Hague is rather full.

Kiryat Yam to Be Sued Over Mermaid [Ynet]
Mermaid Fever Sweeps Israel Beach Town of Krivat Yam as Many Report Sightings of Fabled Creature [NYDN]

On Tablet Today

Shopping, dreaming, and evolving

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Adam Kirsch examines a book about the institutional changes that have shaped contemporary Judaism. Etgar Keret meditates on a recurring dream’s connection to the economy. Daniella Cheslow asks what effect suburban shopping malls are having on Israel’s commercial life. And there is much more to come, here on The Scroll.

Does Western Wall Note Protect Florida?

Goyishe Gov. Charlie Crist says yes

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Crist at the Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Fort Lauderdale in May.(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Florida’s governor, Charlie Crist, says he has found the answer to a problem plaguing his state for decades: how to avoid hurricane damage. Addressing an assembly of Florida’s real-estate agents over the weekend, the governor, a devout Methodist, said that since 2007, he has been making annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, where he places a note begging the Almighty to spare the Sunshine State. As a result, he claimed, God’s been good to Florida for the last few years.

But what if the governor, a busy man, can’t make the trip? No problem, said Crist: last year, he sent Florida State Senator Nan Rich on his behalf, giving her, he added, not only his note but also specific instructions on how to place it in the wall. Crist was even kind enough to share the exact wording of his notes to heaven. “Dear God,” they read, “please protect our Florida from storms and other difficulties. Charlie.” Amen.

Is God Protecting Fla. at Gov. Crist’s Request? [AP/Miami Herald]

Daybreak: Gadhafi Unwelcome in N.J. Suburb

A test-prep magnate dies, Palestinian developments, and more from the news

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• Residents of Englewood, New Jersey, are bristling at word that Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi may set up camp in their town while he’s here for the U.N. General Assembly next month; his proposed lodgings are next door to the home of rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who weighs in: “I don’t want him as a neighbor.” [AP]
• Stanley Kaplan, the philanthropist and test-prep kingpin who said he grew fond of standardized tests after he couldn’t get into med school because of the “double whammy” of being Jewish and having attended a public college, died Sunday at age 90. [NYT]
• A skirmish at the Gaza border left one Palestinian dead and one Palestinian and one Israeli wounded. [Reuters]
• A Palestinian family that was evicted from its home in a disputed area by Jewish settlers earlier this month is now camping nearby; the community rallied around them for Ramadan. [Reuters]
• And Palestinian P.M. Salam Fayyad plans to develop infrastructure, creating a “de facto state apparatus” over the next two years. [Ynet]

Sundown: A Different Kind of Death Sentence

Rockin’ to Peres, belated womanhood, and fear in Pittsburgh

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• Apparently the morbid speculations about Bernie Madoff’s life expectancy before his sentencing were beside the point—word has it the conman is dying of pancreatic cancer in prison, where, strangely, some fellow inmates are “trying to kiss his butt.” [NY Post]
• Giving new meaning to “coming of age,” six women aged 79-100 recently had Bat Mitzvahs in North Carolina. [WCNC]
• Israeli President Shimon Peres’s poetry has been set to music on a new album to benefit charities worldwide; the sounds run an unlikely gamut from Celine Dion-esque melodrama to top-40 country to Euro-dance pop beats. [PRI]
• Architect Daniel Libeskind has squandered his opportunity to design a mezuzah for the Berlin Jewish Museum, creating a “glorified tchotchke.” [Architect’s Newspaper]
• In what may be either a heartening example of economic symbiosis or a sad commentary on the dependency of the occupied on their oppressors, Palestinian women have a flourishing cottage industry making yarmulkes for their Jewish neighbors. [Reuters]
• Authorities in Pittsburgh are throwing down in concern over possible violence during the G-20 summit there, which coincides with the Jewish high holidays: “If protesters show up at synagogues, they will encounter not just worshipers but uniformed police officers too.” [Pittsburgh Channel]

Henry Waxman Noshes With ‘New Yorker’

Hits 2nd Avenue Deli, makes dumb joke

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Waxman chairing a House Energy and Commerce Committee meeting in April.(Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Having recently fainted on the job, Rep. Henry Waxman, abstained from a dish called the “instant heart attack” (thick latkes substitute for bread in a sandwich with a meat filling of your choice) on a recent trip to the 2nd Avenue Deli with The New Yorker’s Ben McGrath. In town to promote his book The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works, the kosher-observant California Democrat indulged instead in a pastrami omelette (hold the fries),and some one-of-a-kind yuks. After a publicist suggested the meeting was a “borscht summit,” Waxman, who’s been in government for 35 years, chimed in, “a borscht summit to talk about abortion.” Then he corrected himself: “bad pun.” Yes.

Mustache of Justice [NYer]

This Week in Obstacles to Mideast Peace

No treaty soon with Lebanon; more Jewish building in East Jerusalem?

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Lebanon will be the last Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, or so says Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, reiterating his government’s stance that Israel should withdraw from the territory it has occupied since the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War. He also denied claims by Israeli President Shimon Peres that Hezbollah has stockpiled 80,000 rockets. “I don’t know how he counted these rockets,” Salloukh told The Daily Star of Lebanon. “Let them [Israel] give us a list showing who the source is and how they identify these rockets. [Peres] imagines too much.”

Meanwhile, East Jerusalem is the source for further real-estate controversy as the city is denying claims by a pro-settler group that it approved the construction of 104 new houses in Ras al-Amud , a predominantly Arab neighborhood. The Ir Amim association, which opposes the construction, said that the plan is build a bridge to connect Ras al-Amud to the Jewish neighborhood of Ma’aleh Hazeitim, a claim that the city denies. The controversy has fractured the Jerusalem City Council—in favor of more conservative, pro-settler elements—with some members, such as Meir Margalit, a Meretz Party councilman, wishing the United States would bring greater pressure to bear on the Netanyahu government to squash such expansionism.

Salloukh Denies Peres’ Claim Hizbullah Has 80,000 Missiles [Daily Star]
Group Says Left ‘Distorting’ East Jerusalem Construction Plan [Ynet]

Israel’s Migrant-Labor Problems

Won’t go away, because Israelis won’t hire Arabs

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The latest and longest in a stream of articles about Israel’s plan to deport a wave of illegal migrant laborers comes from Counterpunch magazine, which claims that Israeli finance minister Yuval Steinitz wants to expel 100,000 of those workers in the largest sweep since 2003. Yonatan Preminger, who’s described as being “active in the field of worker’s rights,” argues in the Counterpunch essay that these mass deportations will recur every few years until Israel stops importing cheap labor, mostly from Southeast Asia, instead of employing the Palestinian workforce in and outside of the Green Line. Even before the establishment of the Jewish state, Preminger contends, Jews in what’s now Israel have been trying to find a way around using Arab labor, whether to keep menial jobs for Jewish immigrants, as a security measure, or simply in order to “reduce the Arab presence on this piece of land.” That goal wasn’t fully realized, though, until the past couple of decades, as Israel’s economy has liberalized and become global, and legal and illegal migrant laborers from Thailand and the Philippines arrived in droves. (There are currently about 250,000 migrants in the country.)

Preminger’s essay ends on a bleak note: “Despite the economic crisis and associated rising unemployment, it is unlikely that Israel will wean its employers off cheap ‘foreign workers’ in favor of opening more employment opportunities to the Arab sector or Palestinians from the Occupied Territories: migrant labor has enabled Israel to open its borders to the globalized economy without endangering its Jewish identity, while bolstering the myth that Israel can be a country for Jews alone.”

The Strategy Behind Israel’s Migrant Labor Policies [Counterpunch]

Nazis Die, Germans Cheer

Teutonic love for Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Basterds’

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We’ve been told that Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which depicts a group of Jewish-Americans sent to kill as many German soldiers as they can, provides the greatest vicarious thrill to contemporary Jewish viewers, who get to watch some of their own tell the Nazis just where they can stick that Holocaust of theirs. But according to reports, the people who most enjoy watching Germans get brutally brained with a baseball bat are actually other Germans. “It felt so good to finally say, ‘Kill! Kill all the Nazis!’” a Berlin movie-goer was quoted saying. “Catharsis! Oxygen! A wonderful retro-futuristic frenzy of fantasy!” raved one German critic with a particularly continental prose style.

In fairness, there are other reasons for Germans to particularly like the movie: most notably, as anyone who saw the film over the weekend (and, according to box office numbers, quite a few did) can attest, nominal star Brad Pitt watches helplessly as the film is utterly stolen from him by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who plays a delightfully evil SS colonel. Still, the positive German reaction brings home an often-overlooked, and seemingly counterintuitive, point: Germans today have special cause to loathe the Nazis, since they carried out untold atrocities in the name of a people and culture that contemporary Germany rightly holds dear. You could even argue that modern-day Germans have the biggest beef with the Nazis of any group.

Well, perhaps the second-biggest beef.

Tarantino’s ‘Kosher Porno’ Thrills Germany [The Local]
Previously: You Basterds!

Israel vs. Sweden on Organ Harvesting

A newspaper story becomes a diplomatic spat

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Last week, the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet published a story alleging that Israeli troops harvest organs from dead Palestinians, under the headline “Our Sons Are Plundered for Their Organs.” The writer, Daniel Bostrom, based the piece not so much on, you know, evidence as on unsubstantiated claims from Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza, who told him they’d seen a man’s body returned to his family with stitches along the length of his torso.

Israel immediately accused the newspaper of blood libel and demanded Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, condemn it; Bildt responded in a blog post that he would not, because he stood by the freedom of the press. Now the affair has metastasized into a fullblown diplomatic mess. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is apparently saying, behind closed doors, that he won’t rest until Aftonbladet apologizes. (“We asked the Swedish government to express moral outrage and they don’t have the moral fortitude to do it,” Netanyahu’s chief spokesman, Daniel Seaman, told Tablet this morning, drawing a link to Sweden’s neutral stance during World War II.) To show everyone Israel means business, Israelis are being urged to boycott Swedish furniture superstore Ikea.

Meanwhile, Swedish Jews are blaming Israel for mishandling the response. Lena Posner, president of the Official Council of Jewish Communities in Sweden, told Haaretz that now the debate is all about whether Israel has the right to control the Swedish press, not about the irresponsibility of the reporter in the first place. “By making the preposterous demand for a government condemnation, the debate has changed from anti-Semitism to freedom of speech in Sweden,” Posner said.

Accusation of Organ Theft Stokes Ire in Israel [NYT]
Israelis Urged to Boycott Ikea [YNet]Swedish Jews: Israel Gave Organ Harvesting Claims Center Stage [Haaretz]

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