Netanyahu’s Brief Homecoming

Visits 92nd Street Y, reminisces, leaves to catch plane

Netanyahu at the United Nations yesterday.(Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a brief homecoming—of sorts—last night at the 92nd Street Y, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where he apparently learned to swim as a kid. “This was where I had my first immersion into American Jewish affairs,” Netanyahu joked to the thousand or so people who turned up, at relatively short notice, and waited two hours at security to see him give a 20-minute speech about, of all things, an encounter he had with the Lubavitcher rebbe in 1984, while serving as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Netanyahu, fresh from addressing the U.N. General Assembly yesterday morning, had a plane to catch, so he raced through the tale of how he was summoned to spend the Simchat Torah holiday in Crown Heights by a former soldier who had become Lubavitcher. Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson wanted to tell him to “light a candle of truth” in the U.N.’s “house of lies,” Netanyahu recounted, referring specifically to Holocaust denial and reports criticizing Israel as the aggressor in the conflict with the Palestinians. “We’re not conquerors and we’re not colonialists!” Netanyahu declared, after explaining that he keeps a 2,000-year-old signet ring in his office inscribed with the name of some other Netanyahu who lived in ancient times. “That is my name!”

Then the prime minister asked the crowd—which included a smattering of black-hatted men—to do the same, this Yom Kippur, and “light one more—the same candle of truth.” There was applause. A little girl presented the politician with a bouquet of flowers, the crowd sang The Star-Spangled Banner and Hatikvah, and then Netanyahu waved and went home.

Bibi: U.N. as ‘House of Lies’ [Politico]
Netanyahu Recalls Rebbe’s Advice: Dispel Lies, Darkness, With Truth []
Previously: Netanyahu at U.N.: If They Recognize Us, We’ll Recognize Them

Today on Tablet

A Hasidic tradition, kosher footwear, and Moses’s last day


Marc Caplan describes Rosh Hashanah with a Hasidic sect in Ukraine. Allison Hoffman has some advice on leather-free shoes for Yom Kippur. Liel Leibovitz brings Pancho Villa into this weeks Torah portion, about the end of Moses’s life. Plus, more to come here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Hosni Blames Jews for UNESCO Loss

Obama to confont Ahmadinejad, Olmert trial begins, and more in the news


• Farouk Hosni, the Egyptian culture minister who lost a bid to become head of UNESCO, most likely in part because he once threatened to burn Israeli books, blames the “Jewish organizations and lobby who lit a fire of lies” about him. [Reuters]
• President Barack Obama, along with British and French leaders, will confront Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about a secret nuclear facility believed to be in the works near Tehran. [NYT]
• White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told Charlie Rose that Obama’s meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders was more than a photo op: “they now have to go home and face the people that they represent.” [Haaretz]
• Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s trial on corruption charges began today; testimony has been postponed until next February. [Ynet]
• The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the wills of a couple who opted to disinherit their grandchildren if they didn’t marry Jews; four out of five lost out on the money. [AP]

Sundown: Make It Rain

Another scam, Ahmadinejad in line, and a settler speaks


• According to a market-research poll, the number one Rosh Hashanah wish among Israeli Jews is a practical one: increased rainfall. (In a rule that would be instructive to beauty pageant organizers, respondents weren’t allowed to choose peace.) [Ynet]
• Jewish charities in Latin America were the hardest hit victims of the Madoff-esque Ponzi scheme allegedly perpetrated by R. Allen Stanford; he may have targeted them specifically. [CBS]
• A Palestine Monitor interview with a Jewish settler in Hebron who believes “the ends justify the means” is relatively even-handed (albeit interspersed on the page with videos of settlers abusing Palestinians). [PM]
• A Swedish official says Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s speech yesterday did not cross the “red line” that would have prompted a full walkout by the European Union, although she understands “there were other reasons for other countries that decided to leave.” [EJP]
Publishers Weekly has an interview with Maggie Anton, who recently published the third installment in her trilogy of romances based on the real lives of Rashi’s daughters. This one’s “like Gone with the Wind, but with the Crusades instead of the Civil War,” Anton says an editor told her. [PW]

CNN Meets the Ex-Crypto-Jews of Crown Heights

But doesn’t call them ‘Sephardic’

Email has a story on Moshe and Chanaleah Nunez, Latin American-born Jews who are now part of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Moshe (born in Guadalajara, Mexico) and Chanaleah (born in Panama) both grew up in Christian homes—those aren’t their given names—and later determined that their respective ancestors were crypto-Jews who had converted to Christianity after the Spanish Inquisition but kept some Jewish traditions alive. Later, they met, married, and underwent an Orthodox conversion in the United States. Now, they and their two children live in Crown Heights where, Moshe told CNN, they aren’t the only Spanish-speaking Hasidim around: “There are a lot of Latin American Jews here. Some of them have moved from countries like Venezuela, Colombia, and Argentina, where there’s political unrest.” Interestingly, he—and the story’s reporter—consistently use the term “Latin American Jews” or speak of “Hasidic families in the neighborhood [who] are also Latinos.” There are plenty of Latino Jews out there, and typically they’re described with the term “Sephardic.” The word might be absent from the story simply because CNN didn’t want to use a term a general audience might not know, but it does raise an interesting point: if you grew up Christian and converted to a sect with roots in Eastern Europe, but your putative ancestors were Jewish, it really confounds that already-confusing term.

Brooklyn Family Keeps Latino-Jewish Traditions Alive []

Netanyahu at U.N.: If They Recognize Us, We’ll Recognize Them

But meetings have resulted in little apparent progress

Netanyahu displaying Nazi plans for Auschwitz at the United Nations today.(Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

A year ago, when Israeli President Shimon Peres got up to address the United Nations General Assembly, he chose to begin by donning a yarmulke—a showman’s touch that indicated, symbolically, that he was speaking not just as a head of state, but as a Jew. This year, Israel’s new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu—who was not wearing a kippah—kicked off a little more aggressively, with a show-and-tell of Nazi documents recording the systematic genocide of Europe’s Jews. “These are the plans of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp I now hold in my hand, with the signature of Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s deputy,” Netanyahu said, waving a thick folder. “Are they a lie?”

Netanyahu’s case, familiar by now, was that the U.N.’s failure to challenge Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated Holocaust denials, the Iranian regime as a whole, or its backing for Hamas terrorists in Gaza, threatened to undermine its ability to prevent terrorism—and, more to the point, undermines his willingness to believe that any sacrifices Israel makes on the road to peace will be met with a guaranteed payoff. Israel withdrew from Gaza, he argued, and “we didn’t get peace—we got an Iranian-backed terror base 50 miles from Tel Aviv.” So, he went on, “only if we have the confidence to know you will stand with us, will we take further risks for peace.” Get the Palestinians to recognize the Jews’ right to a homeland in ancient Judea, he said, and he would be happy to recognize that “the Palestinians also live there, and they want a home”—a demilitarized one, he insisted, but nonetheless one where they could live in “prosperity and dignity.” The delegations present—which did not include the Iranians—broke into applause.

Which is nice, but there’s still, as far as anyone knows, no deal on restarting negotiations. (So much for Peres’s hope, expressed last year, that a final deal could be reached by the end of 2009—a year after George Bush’s December 2008 deadline.) Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in interviews earlier today that he had no intention of re-starting talks without resolving “fundamental disagreements”—in other words, the dispute over the settlement freeze—while Netanyahu told Haaretz that he wouldn’t sit down until he had an explicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Meanwhile, Politico cited two “senior U.S. officials” who insisted that talks about renewing talks are moving along just swimmingly. “Now we’re in deep discussions with both sides on the basis to launch negotiations,” one of the officials said. “It seems to me that clearly we’re in a better position than we were.” Clearly.

Netanyahu Scolds UNGA for Turning Blind Eye to Terror [JPost]
U.S. Officials: Middle East Talks on Track [Politico]
Abbas: No Return to Peace Talks At This Time [AP]

Today’s Sorry

That whole economic collapse? My bad.


Yom Kippur is nearly here—just a few called-in atonements left. Today’s sorry is from someone with a sneaking suspicion that he may be a least a little bit responsible for the economic collapse. Listen to his apology here.

Tomorrow will be your last chance to atone on Tablet Magazine’s Sorry Hotline. Call the hotline at 718-360-4836, tell us what you’re sorry for, and we’ll publish all the remaining repentances tomorrow.

Security Council Boosts Non-Proliferation

Good news for Israel


The U.N. Security Council, with President Obama acting as chairman, unanimously passed a resolution yesterday intended to bolster nuclear deterrents, such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and lower the chances that civilian nuclear programs can be used for military purposes. The chief targets of the resolution are North Korea and Iran, although some Western leaders think the measure doesn’t go far enough. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy both urged the imposition of sanctions on Iran—a difficulty given that one of the long-standing opponents of sanctions is China, a permanent member on the Security Council.

Though it may only be a symbolic gesture coming from a forum not known for its sympathies with Zionism, the resolution does benefit Israel in implicitly censuring one of its most hostile neighbors, whose rulers have pledged to wipe Israel off the map. Another minor triumph for the Netanyahu government was Obama’s climb-down in rhetoric against settlement building—he spoke yesterday of the need to “restrain” it as opposed to “freeze” it, a word choice that has conservative pundits skeptical of Obama’s initial policy claiming, “I told you so.”

U.N. Security Council Adopts Measure on Nuclear Arms [NYT]

Sorry Songs

Musical selections to put you in the mood for atonement


The Day of Atonement is a few days away, and tradition requires us to ask each other’s forgiveness for sins, slights, and other snafus we may have committed during the past year. If you’re in need for a bit of inspiration with all this sorry business, here are some musical examples of Jews apologizing in a variety of ways, from the morbid to the heartfelt:

“Sorry-Grateful,” by Stephen Sondheim: When it comes to relationships, Sondheim tells us, we’re always sorry-grateful and regretful-happy. “Why look for answers when none occur?” he asks. “You always are what you always were, which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.”

“Sorry Angel,” by Serge Gainsbourg: “It’s me who suicided you,” apologizes the French poet of the obscene. “Now you’re with the angels.” That’s Gainsbourg’s idea of a love song. (more…)

Today on Tablet

Eating, not eating, and the most captivating part of Yom Kippur


Marc Tracy gathers some wisdom about what to eat in preparation for the big fast on Monday. Eddie Portnoy, on the other hand, looks back at anarchic Yom Kippur feasts that marked secular Jewish over a century ago. Alexander Gelfand muses on that most somber and affecting of melodies, the Kol Nidre liturgy. And we’ll keep rolling out the good stuff here on The Scroll.

Hope for High Holiday Slackers

A new website locates free services


If you’ve fallen out of the fold of synagogue membership, or if the economy’s got you down on high ticket prices for Yom Kippur, you’ve still got time to peruse your atonement options. The website No Membership Requiredoffers a list of last-minute, no-tickets-required services in cities across the country.

So now you’ve got no good excuse not to go to shul.

No Membership Required [Homepage]

Daybreak: Ahmadinejad Still Pissed at Jews

A shul to close, a school to open, and more in the news


• Speaking to a half-empty room at the U.N. General Assembly yesterday—many delegates, including those from the United States, walked out—Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke out against the “Zionist regime” responsible for “genocide,” and the “small minority” who dominate the world with “racist ambitions.” [JTA]
• Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still think the other should make the first move toward compromising for peace. [Reuters]
• The “lack of muscle” behind Obama’s demand for a settlement freeze in Israel may have caused more harm than good in the Middle East. [AP]
• A 104-year-old synagogue in Lexington, Mississippi, will close after this Yom Kippur. [Forward]
• Meanwhile, New Jersey will have its first publicly funded Hebrew-language charter school in 2010. [Star-Ledger]

Sundown: Sometimes ‘Sorry’ Just Ain’t Enough

An obvious question, poetic justice, and following Fonda


• One-time conman Sam Antar, former CFO of Crazy Eddie electronics stores and Eddie’s cousin, spends his time repenting via public speaking engagements, but is under no illusion that it will get him off the karmic hook: “I’m going downstairs for a long time before I go upstairs.” [Jewish Week]
New Voices asks: is the Kindle good for the Jews? The answer: well, using it is pretty much the equivalent of reading a book—so, yeah. [NV]
• Once, a poet bemoaned the lack of a monument at Babi Yar, site of the massacre of 33,771 Jews during World War II. Now, in post-Soviet Ukraine, there is one; soon, there won’t be. Taking its place: a resort hotel to accommodate “soccer tourism.” [Haaretz]
• In a cleverly-titled editorial—“Jane Erred”—the New Jersey Jewish News gives props to Jane Fonda for doing teshuva after protesting against the Tel Aviv spotlight at the Toronto International Film Fest by signing a letter that the paper says “wasn’t much different from the Goldstone Report.” [NJJN]
• Speaking of which, the man himself defends his report against accusations of “disproportionate attention to the conduct of Israel,” which he says was “unavoidable considering the many incidents the mission was obliged to investigate in Gaza.” [JPost]

Lebanese Critics Pan ‘Lebanon’ Movie

Saying it’s one-sided


Some Lebanese critics are dismissing the Israeli film Lebanon, which won the award for best picture at the Venice Film Festival last week (and just got picked up by Sony), says Agence France-Presse. The film, based on director Samuel Maoz’s experience during Israel’s 1982 war with Lebanon, is shot from the perspective of four Israeli soldiers trapped in a tank in a bombed-out Lebanese city over the course of a harrowing 24 hours. Though early reviews in the United States have praised the film’s “no-frills power” (if not its psychological depth), some Lebanese critics say it presents a wildly unbalanced view of the war. “It depicts an operation of self-defense where the ‘Other’ does not exist, where the enemy is hidden, absent, treated as ‘terrorist,’” wrote a correspondent in the Lebanese daily An-Nahar. “The film falls, as expected, into the logic that transforms the executioner into a victim or a quasi-victim.” Another daily, al-Mustaqbal, agreed that “the film serves only to show the supposed humanity of the Zionist state, which wages war ‘against its will’ and ‘in pain.’” AFP explains that in the film, “Israeli soldiers confined to their tank do not see the horrors and massacres they leave in their wake: a woman on the verge of insanity after the death of her child, an elderly man consumed by hate, the agony of a gutted donkey, and more.”

Lebanese Critics Blast Israeli Director’s ‘Lebanon’ [AFP]

A Nobel for Amos Oz?

British bookies Ladbrookes favor him

Oz last year.(Uwe Meinhold/AFP/Getty Images)

Ladbrokes, the famous British oddmakers, is favoring Amos Oz four-to-one for this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. He’d be the second Israeli to win the prestigious award, after the first was S.Y. Agnon in 1966. Oz, the author of several acclaimed works including the 2004 memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness, is joined on the list by the American perennial Philip Roth, who gets a seven-to-one shot, and countryman A.B. Yehoshua, whose odds of taking home the prize are fairly long at 40-to-one. There’s no word on why Oz is this year’s favorite, but he’s often been mentioned as a contender in recent years. The winner of the prize will be announced later this year in Stockholm.

Amos Oz Tops Betting for Nobel Literature Prize [Monsters and Critics]

Thank You!

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