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Ames, Cross Jew Up Brooklyn Book Fest

Author and comedian put on a ‘touching’ show

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Ames and Cross yesterday.(Kate Glicksberg/Brooklyn Book Festival)

The culminating event at yesterday’s Brooklyn Book Festival was an installment of New York’s popular Happy Ending reading series, and host Amanda Stern started things off on a Jewish note when she told the crowd that she didn’t have a middle name because that’s not traditional for Jewish girls. (It was the first we’ve heard of this one, but lord knows there are obscure customs aplenty). As a child she decided to remedy the situation by dubbing herself Amanda “Michael Jackson” Stern.

Later, the reliably outré writer Jonathan Ames empathized with his childhood tormentors—hey, they couldn’t help themselves from hunting down the only Jew in the neighborhood—before bringing up comedian David Cross who proceeded to bend a depantsed Ames over his knee and administer some paddle blows. Cross then took the stage to debunk claims that he is a self-loathing Jew: “I don’t loathe myself, and I don’t loathe Jews. I just find them both equally annoying.” As for the charge that he can be condescending at times, Cross didn’t deny that his biggest targets are religious folks, to whom he says, “You are living a lie that you will never be able to rewind. I’d say that’s pretty condescending.” This judgment includes ultra-Orthodox Jews: “I find them very rude.” Cross read a selection from his new book I Drink for a Reason entitled “Ask a Rabbi”; although his rabbinical accent was commendable, the faux-advice column didn’t quite have us laughing as loud as his finale, in which he and Ames dropped trou and kissed on stage. Two not-so-nice Jewish boys—what could be sexier?

Can a Jew Represent Blacks?

Rep. Cohen’s fight to retain Memphis Congressional seat

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U.S. Rep. Steven Cohen has about a year until he’s up for reelection in his Memphis district, but the heat is already on. Challenger Willie Herenton, an African-American ex-mayor, is making the case that the area’s 60 percent black electorate needs a black congressman, as The New York Times reported yesterday. Until 2006, when Cohen won, the seat, created in a redistricting 30-odd years ago, was filled by the state’s only black representative—Harold Ford Jr, who succeeded his father. Herenton refused to speak to the Times about his opposition to Cohen, though his campaign manager was happy to talk. “This seat was set aside for people who look like me,” said Sidney Chism. “It wasn’t set aside for a Jew or a Christian. It was set aside so that blacks could have representation.” Cohen admits there’s a limit to how much he can understand the black experience, but says he nevertheless votes like a 45-year-old black woman. What he does know? “About being a minority and being discriminated against because of religion.”

Ex-Mayor of Memphis Starts Bid for Congress, Invoking Race in Campaign [NYT]

Toronto Abuzz About Israeli Film

Forget Tel Aviv; they want to see ‘Lebanon’

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Moaz after winning the Golden Lion in Venice Saturday.(Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

The biggest buzz yesterday at the Toronto International Film Festival belonged to an Israeli film—and not, as it happens, one of the movies featured in the much-protested spotlight on Tel Aviv cinema, but to Lebanon, a movie by Samuel Maoz that won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday. The film, which follows the plight of four young Israeli soldiers trapped in an IDF tank behind enemy lines during first Lebanon war, in 1982, is an autobiographical piece that revisits the fog of war, and the lasting psychological effects of combat—“The Hurt Locker meets Waltz with Bashir,” as Hollywood Reporter writer Steven Zeitchik put it.

So, while the City to City sidebar went ahead quietly, with a screening of Danny Lerner’s film Kirot—the story of a Russian sex worker in Tel Aviv, played by, of all people, Olga Kurylenko, better known as the most recent Bond Girl—critics were apparently stampeding to make it into an afternoon screening of Lebanon, which has now rocketed to the top of the acquisitions wish-list for anyone hoping to repeat, or perhaps even improve on, Bashir’s Oscar showing. Poetic justice, irony, or both? While we wait to hear what Naomi Klein thinks, feel free to watch the Lebanon trailer (in Hebrew—though, as Matt Goldberg notes on the film blog Collider, it’s perfectly clear what’s going on even if you’ve disappointed your ancestors terribly by forgetting everything you ever learned in Hebrew school):

‘Lebanon’ and ‘Single Man’ are Suddenly Hot in Toronto [Risky Business Blog]
War and Drugs in the Cross Hairs [NYT]

Today’s Sorry

As Yom Kippur approaches: ‘Fido, I owe you one’

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We all have things to atone for. Did you tell a little lie? Say something nasty to a friend? Shout “you lie” in the middle of a presidential address? To help you get things off your chest, Tablet is offering a Daily Sorry each day until Yom Kippur. Today’s atoner has her four-legged friend on her mind. Here’s her apology.

Have an apology of your own waiting to get out? It’s not too late to repent. Call Tablet Magazine’s Sorry Hotline at 718-360-4836, and tell us all about it.

On Tablet Today

A reading list, a risky admission, tooting the horn, and those two little words

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C.A. Blomquist braces herself to tell her father about her conversion to Judaism from Christianity. On our weekly Vox Tablet podcast, Gabriel Sanders discusses—and attempts to blow—the shofar. Josh Lambert pages through the newest volumes on the Israeli Black Panthers and Hebrew poetry, plus kids’ books, fiction, and more. Marjorie Ingall muses on children and apologies. And stay tuned for updates to The Scroll.

The Story Behind The ‘Lost’ Ad

Turns out the group wanted more shekels

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The controversial Israeli ad thatimplied that non-Israeli Jews, particularly those who intermarry, are somehow “lost,” and which uses ominous train imagery to get its point across, was actually the extremely misguided result of a bold attempt to reinvigorate the Masa organization’s brand in Israel, where its backers hope that the government will pick up even more of its tab. Masa, an organization that brings foreign Jews to Israel to live and study, currently receives half of its annual $39 million budget from the government, and half from the nonprofit Jewish Agency. But, according to JTA’s Fundermentalist blog, the Jewish Agency has sustained massive cuts, and was consequently hoping that Israel would contribute 75 percent of Masa’s budget in the future. That’s why Masa was trying to grab the attention of the Israeli government’s constituents with a provocative ad. That plan, of course, completely backfired: an uproar ensued, the ad has been pulled, and Masa is certainly in a weaker position vis-a-vis getting more money from the Israeli government than before. Apparently, though, much of the dissatisfaction with the ad, at least among Masa’s Jewish-American backers, stems not exclusively from its content but from its steep, $850,000 price tag. Bad enough it was a stupid campaign with an offensive message; you couldn’t even get a decent deal?

More on the MASA Ad Controversy [JTA]
Earlier: Ad Calls Non-Israeli Jews ‘Lost’

Daybreak: How Dangerous Are Settlers?

Talk and more talk today in the news

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• Even the most hard-core Jewish settlers in Israel’s West Bank may be more bark than bite when it comes to violently resisting evacuation. [NYT]
• Meetings between Iran and world leaders are scheduled to begin in October; they will discuss the nuclear program in Tehran, whether Iran likes it or not. [Reuters]
• Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu states the obvious: “there is still work to do” for his country to strike an understanding with the United States. [AP]
• Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, a leader in the Reform movement who ordained the first female rabbis in the United and Israel, died Saturday at 79. [JPost]

Sundown: Israel Takes Attack to U.N.

Plus debating Iran sanctions and Biden’s early new year.

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• Israel formally filed a complaint with the United Nations over this morning’s rocket attack, arguing that it violated a U.N.-mandated ceasefire and that the Lebanese government should be held responsible. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has already condemned the attack. [Ynet]
• Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that his country opposes further sanctions against Iran because it has no cause to doubt Iran’s declaration that its nuclear program is purely peaceful. [Haaretz]
• As for the U.S. Congress, Rep. Howard Berman, the California Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told American Jewish leaders that he hopes to move forward next month on a bill that would allow U.S. sanctions against companies that help Iran import petroleum. [JTA]
• Vice President Joe Biden hosted national and Washington, D.C.-area Jewish leaders, as well as Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, at a reception to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. It was a bit early, but it’s the thought that counts. [JTA]

Ortho Women Are De-Lousing Experts

Charge up to $200 per kid

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(iStockphoto)

It’s pretty much universally agreed that lice are to be avoided. But it turns out that there are people to whom lice represent not the nadir of childhood—that is, the awful confluence of nit combs, long hours stuck in a chair, and ostracism by the Temple Beth Am preschool class of 1983—but something rather more promising: a business opportunity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these people are Orthodox housewives in Brooklyn, who are so practiced at picking critters out of their own children’s hair that they’ll happily do it for others, at a price. Today’s Jewish Chronicle peeks into the teeming world of lice-removal services, where pros like Abigail “The Lice Lady” Rosenfeld and L’via “The Lice Queen” Weisinger charge up to $200 a head to suffocate and remove nits kids have picked up at summer camp or on trips to Israel.

Reporter Paul Berger offers up a few theories about why Orthodox women are particularly keen on the lice business, including the idea that Orthodox women come with easily transferable skills learned by picking tiny insects out of fruits and vegetables. Of course, lice also involve children and, frequently, the rules of private yeshiva schools, which require parents to certify their kids are nit-free before showing up for class in September. It’s also something, not irrelevantly, women can do for a living without violating codes of modesty. For now, it seems to be primarily a New York thing, but—like lice—it might be spreading: Aude Prevost, a London mother of three, told Berger she was thinking of starting her own outpost of LiceBustersNYC, an outfit she recently visited with her infested brood. “People would pay a fortune,” she said.

Orthodox Women Offer De-Licing Service at $200 a Head [Jewish Chronicle]
Related: Modest Sums [Tablet]

Hillel Doesn’t Work at Small Colleges

Says small-college student

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The Jewish campus organization Hillel tries to be everything to everyone, but that doesn’t work at small schools, Swarthmore College student Sam Green argues in the Jewish student magazine New Voices. Not that the organization works perfectly at large schools either, he says: “on many campuses Hillel is like a synagogue, JCC, Greek organization, and religious school all in one,” which, coupled with its “non-denominational, pluralistic” approach to religion, is “just as confusing as it sounds.” But that kind of incoherence is less of a problem at universities with “enough Jews to populate Jewish groups and enough wealthy alums to fund Jewish activity.” At small colleges like Swarthmore, Green argues, Hillel offers both—as it were—bad food and too-small portions. The campus “does not have a true Hillel, instead using the Hillel brand to indicate a platform for Jewish student groups”; students trade off leading Shabbat services that leave students who grew up with other traditions feeling uncomfortable; Jewish day school graduates wind up “dismayed” by the paltry turnout and never return, while less affiliated Jews get a whiff of Hillel’s “perceived exclusivity” and never show up in the first place. One point for Hillel’s competitor, the ultra-Orthodox outreach organization Chabad, which Green isn’t cynical about yet—at least they offer “kind and welcoming” staff and “great food.”

The Hillel Monopoly [New Voices]

British Marxist Talks Religion at Harvard Club

Terry Eagleton interviewed by JTS’s Arnie Eisen

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Pairing a pugnacious British intellectual with an American Jewish religious leader for a public conversation on faith must be a lot of people’s idea of fun, because it’s happened in Manhattan two years in a row. The first time around was a bit more raucous: 2,000 people turned out to see Christopher Hitchens and Conservative rabbi David Wolpe storm around the bima of Temple Emanu-El debating the existence of God last November. Last night’s event, on the other hand, was a civilized conversation at the Harvard Club between Jewish Theological Seminary chancellor Arnie Eisen and his interview subject, the British Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton, sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation. Though the two are not necessarily aligned on questions of faith, they bonded over a disdain for Hitchens and his fellow “new atheist” Richard Dawkins, whose contempt for religion is the topic of Eagleton’s new book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution. Eagleton, who called Dawkins a “bitter, old-fashioned positivist” and said he’d known his other intellectual target at Oxford—“when he was a mere ‘Chris’ Hitchens, we were members of the same Trotskyist society,” he said—posited that these thinkers are motivated by a combination of the stubborn belief that reason is the only valid structure of thought, and, more perniciously, the need for a justification of Islamophobia. They elide radical Islamism and the teachings of Islam, he argued, and while they’re bashing the Muslim faith, are trying to tear the whole edifice of religious thought down with it. It’s “a new and ugly trend,” Eagleton said.

Rockets From Lebanon Land in Israel

Hezbollah didn’t do it, but action still raises tensions

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For only the fourth time this year, and the first time since February, rockets fired from southern Lebanon landed in Israel, prompting an artillery response. This morning, two Katyusha rockets were launched from near the Lebanese port of Tyre, and one of them landed near the Israeli town Nahariya. The Israeli Defense Forces fired artillery shells at the launching site. Neither side reported casualties or significant damage. Though no one has claimed responsibility, the Jerusalem Post reports, and other sources agree, that the perpetrator is likely a small jihadist group, and not Hezbollah.

While the Israel-Lebanon border had seen several months of quiet, the accompanying war of words had not. Israel has accused Hezbollah of re-arming, and even the United Nations has found that the group violated the 2006 ceasefire by maintaining a weapons depot near the border. A spokesperson said today that the IDF “views this incident very severely and we hold the government of Lebanon responsible.”

Rocket Fire From Lebanon Sparks Israel Retaliation [NYT]
Global Jihad Group Likely Behind Katyusha Attack on North [JPost]
Earlier: Hezbollah Broke U.N. Ceasefire
Related: Forbidding Sequel [Tablet]

AIPAC and Obama Headed for a Showdown?

‘Mother Jones’ thinks so

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The current issue of Mother Jones, which hit stands a few weeks ago, has a story asking whether AIPAC is heading for a showdown with the Obama administration over Israel policy. The piece, by Robert Dreyfuss, makes a nice bookend to James Traub’s story in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine about J Street, the new progressive challenger to AIPAC’s long-held dominance on Israel-policy issues. Taken together, they offer a portrait of how the arrival of the MoveOn generation—which includes not just Obama but his right-hand guys, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, who aren’t mentioned in either piece, but should have been—is changing Washington’s Jewish power structure.

But where Traub seemed to be looking for what J Street says about American Jewry, politically speaking, Dreyfuss appears to be setting up a political version of fantasy football, handicapping how many (and which) members of Congress would side with the White House over AIPAC should they wind up in a showdown over, say, settlements. In that universe, J Street (and groups like the Israel Policy Forum) only matter insofar as they provide political cover for members of Congress—including, in this world, staunch pro-Israel Democrats like Carl Levin, Howard Berman, and Henry Waxman—who might support Obama at the expense of Benjamin Netanyahu’s political agenda.

Two things to note, though. One, while Dreyfuss raises the infamous Mearsheimer/Walt argument that AIPAC and other groups in the “Israel lobby” promote their objectives at the expense of American interests, it’s worth remembering that AIPAC hasn’t always been a home for neoconservatives—once, it was a place for people who opposed Reagan, including on the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. Indeed, like other Jewish groups that took a rightward drift during the Bush years, AIPAC seems to have gone out of its way to appoint a new president who is on good terms with Obama, Lee Rosenberg, so it could just as well be argued that J Street is a kind of stalking horse presaging AIPAC’s return to the center. (Stephen Walt, incidentally, undoes the entire conceit of the piece by speculating to Dreyfus that Obama isn’t really “ready” to take on AIPAC, anyway.)

Two, there’s a blind quote near the bottom from a PR specialist with “close ties to the Israeli Embassy” that essentially blames naive Reform Jews for abetting this new era of dovish realpolitik. “All the cultural Jews, the Reform Jews, go, ‘Oh my God, he’s our guy! Seder in the White House, Bagel Month, Passover at the White House,’” this person said. Which is nice, because it’s reassuring to know that some things never change.

Is AIPAC Still the Chosen One? [Mother Jones]
Earlier: J Street Debuts in ‘Times Magazine’

Facebook Updates the Golan’s Status

Residents can now identify as Israeli

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Control of the Golan Heights may be disputed between Syria and Israel, but as far Facebook was concerned, there was no argument: if you lived there, your profile said you lived in Syria. This was true even if you lived in the two-thirds of the Golan’s 690 square miles that Israel has claimed and de facto governed since the 1967 War. This state of affairs upset Toronto-based nonprofit Honest Reporting, especially because, in the Golan, the personal is also political: the area is considered strategically crucial. So the group started a protest—led, naturally, by a Facebook page titled, “Facebook, Golan Residents Live in Israel, not Syria”—and, what do you know? On Wednesday, Honest Reporting noted that Facebook changed its policy so that Golan residents can now select cities listed as being in Israel as their hometowns. (The West Bank operates similarly in this cyberworld.)

“We deal with the listings for disputed territories on a case-by-case basis, and with Golan Heights we decided a dual listing made sense,” a Facebook spokesperson told Tablet Magazine yesterday. “It’s fair to say that we listen to our users and to feedback they give us, but we approach these decisions carefully, and only make changes where it makes sense to do so, as it did in this instance.” We’re sure that the 39,000 folks—according to Wikipedia—who live in Israel-controlled Golan appreciate that.

Facebook Changes Golan Policy [JTA]

Today on Tablet

Apple-and-honey taste test, Rosh Hashanah FAQs, meet the Beatles

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Ever wonder which types of apple and honey to buy for Rosh Hashanah? Tablet Magazine’s editors reveal the results of their massive taste test. They also answer all those nagging questions you’ve had about the Jewish New Year. In his weekly midrash, Liel Leibovitz notes that, concerning both the new The Beatles: Rock Band game and the Torah, “the sweet music of redemption always plays on, waiting patiently for fresh ears and young mouths to discover it.” And the sweet music of The Scroll will play throughout the day.

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