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Breaking Tradition, While Breaking Bread

Obama invites Jews to Muslim meal at the White House

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Last night, Barack Obama hosted an iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during the Muslim month of Ramadan. It’s actually not a new White House tradition—Bill Clinton started it, and George Bush continued it, as an event for the diplomatic corps along the lines of a state dinner. Obama, as is his wont, broke precedent by adding Muslim community leaders to the guest list, and by expanding it to include Jewish dignitaries, including Israel’s recently installed ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren. Spokesman Thomas Vietor told the Washington Post that Obama “thought it was an opportunity to reach out to ambassadors of nations with sizable Muslim populations, including the ambassadors of France, the [United Kingdom], India, and Israel.”

Also in attendance were Rabbi David Saperstein (of the progressive Religious Action Center) and Nathan Diament (of the Orthodox Union), both of whom are members of Obama’s ecumenical Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Diament was seated with the Pakistani ambassador, Husain Haqqani; Muslim congressman Andre Carson; White House legislative assistant Phil Schiliro; and Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s Secretary for Health and Human Services. “We were joking ahead of time about whether there would be one table for the Jews,” Diament told Tablet. “There was not.” That said, Oren wound up seated with Jewish White House staffers David Axelrod and Susan Sher (who handled Jewish outreach before being named Michelle Obama’s chief of staff). “It’s part of a normative statement that Israel is part of the Middle East landscape,” explained David Harris, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, who was not on the guest list. “It’s another nod from the president to the Arab world that Israel is a fact on the ground that they have to deal with.”

Ramadan Dinner at the White House: The Guest List [WaPo]
List of Expected Attendees [Whitehouse.gov]

Why Jews Are Liberal

To give Podheretz a book topic, and, according to Medved, because we reject Christianity

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To help its former editor-in-chief Norman Podhoretz roll out his new book, Why Are Jews Liberals?, Commentary magazine organized a “symposium” of six writers, including Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and a Conservative rabbi, David Wolpe, to offer their takes on the question. (Podhoretz’s answer, in a nutshell, is that for millenia Jews’ greatest allies have been liberal universalists; as Jewish religiosity declined, it was replaced by a semi-religious allegiance to liberalism.) The most interesting contribution comes from conservative talk-show host and movie critic Michael Medved, who writes, “For most American Jews, the core of their Jewish identity isn’t solidarity with Israel; it’s rejection of Christianity.” He offers two convincing hypotheticals: first, a imagined meeting between Woody Allen and a young emissary from the ultra-Orthodox Chabad movement, in which “the one area where they find common ground—and differ (together) from the majority of their fellow citizens—is their dismissal of New Testament theology.” And, second, the fact that while “atheist Jews, Buddhist Jews, pro-Palestinian Jews, Communist Jews, homosexual Jews” are accepted by left-leaning Jewish congregations, Jews for Jesus are decidedly not. Medved concludes that “the liberal belief that Jews should be pro-choice and pro-gay marriage has nothing to do with connecting to Jewish tradition and everything to do with disassociating from Christian conservatives.”

Why Are Jews Liberals? A Symposium [Commentary]

Davening Through the Downturn

High Holidays in the recession

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As the High Holy Days approach, synagogues are feeling the lash of a lousy economy like never before. Rabbi Charles Klein, of the Merrick Jewish Centre on Long Island, told the Associated Press that he’s had more economic hard-luck conversations in the last year than he’s had in 31 years at his congregation. “I’m calling up universities and talking with admissions officers, trying to advocate for scholarships for kids because the parents can’t pay the tuition,” Klein said. Shuls in areas of the country especially devastated by the downturn—such as Detroit and its outlying suburbs—are offering job networks and support groups. Still, as Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg recently noted, the Chicago Board of Rabbis’ website lists expensive tickets for non-members to attend services in the Windy City this year. “High Holidays ticket prices range as high as $500,” Steinberg wrote. “Evanston’s Beth Emet The Free Synagogue charges $400—ironic, given the name.”

According to Steven Bayme at the American Jewish Committee, U.S. Jewish organizations have lost 25 percent of their wealth since the market went south (though Bernie Madoff’s graft surely helped fritter away institutional funds and private wealth that would have gone toward donations, too). As a result, writes Rachel Zoll at the AP, many synagogues are doing what they can to offer free admission to Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana services, including putting off repairs, cutting jobs, and canceling programs.

Dilemma for High Holidays [Chicago Sun-Times]
Synagogues Under Stress as High Holy Days Approach [AP]

‘Israel’ Is Wrong

‘Times’ blog runs corrections, complaints about ‘Israel Is Real’

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Rich Cohen’s new book, Israel Is Real, which Adam Kirsch panned on Tablet Magazine but Tony Horwitz more or less praised in the New York Times Book Review is getting renewed attention on Paper Cuts, the Times book blog. After noting that the paper ran corrections to Horwitz’s review (Horwitz misidentified the region from which hailed a 12th-century false messiah; Cohen misstated Ehud Barak’s father’s name and city of origin; and both men offered an incorrect history of the Exodus refugee ship), the blog reprints irate letters from readers. They point out additional inaccuracies in the book, for instance stating that Rabbi Abraham Kook was a spiritual leader for West Bank settlers when in fact his son is the one who gets that dubious credit, plus they castigate Horwitz and the Times for glibness. Writes one uncharacteristically succinct reader: “Tony Horwitz is the perfect reviewer for a book on Jewish history by Rich Cohen…. Unfortunately, this was not the April Fool’s issue of the Book Review. What’s next, a review article on recent works of Soviet history by Sacha Baron Cohen?”

There’s a thought.

Israel, Really [Paper Cuts/NYT]
A Land and a People [NYT]

Cuckolded Husband of Madoff Mistress Speaks

Though we wish he wouldn’t

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Just when you didn’t think the sideshow surrounding Sheryl Weinstein—the former Hadassah CFO who outed herself in a memoir as Bernie Madoff’s ex-mistress—could get any ickier, it does. This morning the Daily Beast published an interview with Weinstein’s cuckolded husband, Ron, in which he reveals that he hasn’t read Madoff’s Other Secret—that’s too painful—but nonetheless hopes it does well, because he’d like his share of the money. “Half the profits are mine,” he told Tracy Quan, author of several Diary of a Call Girl books. Weinstein defended his wife of 37 years against bloggers and commenters who have been calling her a “money-hungry slut” but acknowledged that while he wasn’t too fussed about the 18-month dalliance (which happened at a time when he was suffering from undiagnosed ADHD, he explained), he wasn’t too thrilled about Sheryl going public, particularly with details about Madoff’s small member. “I dislike the choice she made. I am not okay with it, but I try to understand it,” Weinstein said, adding that his wife had told him “that if I wanted, I could write my own.” Fair enough, but, you know, we wouldn’t.

Bernie Made Off With My Wife [Daily Beast]
Earlier: Madoff Had Affair With Hadassah CFO

Tablet Today

Political minefields and a beloved architect

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Samuel D. Gruber reviews a new book on the legacy of architect Louis Kahn. Michael Weiss tackles the possibility of another war between Israel and Lebanon. Seth Lipsky inquires how President Obama will handle the release of a convicted Libyan terrorist. And much more, all day, here on The Scroll.

The Decline of the Deli

New book chronicles demise, celebrates sandwiches

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Sax and a sandwich.(JTA.org)

Books about food that have imperatives as titles generally implore the reader to Get Fit! or Just Stop Eating So Much! but journalist David Sax’s Save the Deli wishes you will do so much more—like, turn the tide of American Jewish history so we get kosher-style delis back. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Sax’s book, which comes out in October, follows the deli from its European origins to its mid-century American peak, when there was a large market for semi-kosher homestyle Ashkenazic food: no cheese on the pastrami, but no rabbinic supervision needed. Sax variously blames the rise of the glatt kosher industry and chain restaurants like Jerry’s Famous Deli for the fact that, apparently, in 1931 there were 2,000 delis in New York City, and now there are 25. Oh, and he also says the best rye bread is in Detroit. Who knew?

Man on a Mission to Save the Jewish Deli [JTA]
Related: Meat Up [Tablet]

Daybreak: A Question of Dignity

A misguided Dutch group, peace through economics, and more in the news

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• A project called Dignity Return is being planned to exhume the remains of Jews buried in mass graves during the Holocaust and give them each a proper Jewish burial. [JTA]
• Holland will prosecute an Arab group for publishing a Holocaust-denying cartoon; the group claims it was a test of the double standard evinced by the government’s failure to prosecute the politician who used cartoons of Muhammad in a film last year. [AP]
• A big Yankees-Red Sox game that was rescheduled to the night of Yom Kippur has been returned to its original pre-holiday slot in deference to “a higher authority” than ESPN. [AP]
• Israeli and Palestinian ministers got together, in the first such meeting since P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu took office, to discuss economics. [Haaretz]
• Also, Israeli and Palestinian mayors have joined forces for an industrial project. [JTA]

Sundown: Post- Denominational Pals

High-priced holidays, blushing brides, and a wasted plea

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• A Modern Orthodox synagogue in New Orleans lost its home in Hurricane Katrina; since then, it has developed a partnership with a local Reform congregation, and will be constructing a new building on their land. Says one official, this unusual camaraderie is indicative of the “rosy future” for New Orleans’ Jews. [JTA]
• Via a peculiar rant that starts off bemoaning Chicago’s lack of an authentically dirty Jewish deli, a Sun Times columnist discusses the dilemma of expensive tickets for High Holiday services in tough times, and for a population that “risks evaporating into the anything-goes polychromatic wasteland of American culture.” [CST]
• Some Jewish federations in Florida are offering money to Jewish students who stay in-state for college; an example is the Thelma and Isador S. Segall scholarship, presumably set up in a bid to keep its honorees first names’ from remaining among the most popular in the state. [New Voices]
• In its own desperate bid to restore modesty to its tarted-up student body, an ultra-Orthodox girls’ yeshiva in Israel is offering a scholarship of about $265 to anyone who agrees not to wear makeup on her wedding day. [Ynet]
• South African president Jacob Zuma gave a stirring message imploring expat Jews to return home and rejoin the community. The only problem is, he was speaking to Jews who are still in S.A. [JTA]

Huge Yankees-Sox Game Set for Kol Nidre

So many questions, including: will Youkilis play?

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A potentially pivotal game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox has been suddenly rescheduled, and now begins at 8 p.m. on the night before Yom Kippur. The change—motivated by ESPN’s desire to broadcast the match-up as Sunday Night Baseball—prompts the all-important question: will star Red Sox first baseman and Most Famous Current Jewish Ballplayer Kevin Youkilis play against his team’s archrival as it struggles to secure a playoff berth? The issue last arose prominently eight years ago, when Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Shawn Green elected not to play a crucial game that fell on the Day of Atonement. In 1965, as every Jewish boy has been reminded by his mother at one time or another, Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax refused to start Game 1 of the World Series, instead attending shul for Yom Kippur; Dodgers Don Drysdale got shellacked for a loss, and afterward quipped to his manager, “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too.” On the other hand, when slugger Hank Greenberg’s Detroit Tigers had a crucial late-season game on Rosh Hashanah, 1934, he played; his two home runs lifted the Tigers to a 2-1 victory. By the time Yom Kippur rolled around, the Tigers had all but clinched a World Series slot, and Greenberg took the day off and entered his synagogue to applause.

One wants to see the hand of Adonai Himself in the uncanny timing whereby the High Holidays always fall smack in the middle of the pennant race and postseason, tempting the talented faithful. Anyway, given that the Sox are currently a mere 6.5 games behind the Yankees, we’d guess most New Yorkers are hoping Youkilis has so many sins that he has no choice but to Kol Nidre the night away.

An Unholy Move by ESPN [New York Post]
Green, Koufax, and Greenberg—Same Dilemma, Different Decisions [ESPN Classic]
Previously: Look, Jews in Baseball!
Yankees Trade For a Jew

Will Netanyahu, Abbas Give Peace a Chance?

At the UNGA? Or maybe later? Or ‘it depends’?

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Just when you thought it was safe to be only highly skeptical of preliminary Arab-Israeli peace talks instead of extremely skeptical of preliminary Arab-Israeli peace talks, senior diplomats (from an unidentified nation—could be Swedish pranksters!) are telling Haaretz that the proposed confab between President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the upcoming United Nation’s General Assembly isn’t likely to happen—not least because, according to one of the diplomats, the White House has no plan for such a confab.

Abbas said last week that he’d be willing to meet with his Israeli counterpart. He then clarified yesterday, saying he wouldn’t meet with Netanyahu until the P.M. agreed to a complete settlement freeze. Still, rumors of an impending meeting prompted Shmuel Rosner of The New Republic to write, “the agreement of all sides to meet signals an end to the antagonism and bluster that have characterized U.S.-Israel relations since the beginning of Obama’s term”—which is as close to enthusiasm about peace as any Israeli pundit has come in the last six months. Indeed, the Haaretz disclosure runs counter to claims made recently by Israeli President Shimon Peres that a talk is being planned and facilitated by the U.S.

Diplomats: ‘Trilateral Obama Meet With Abbas, Netanyahu Highly Unlikely’ [Haaretz]

God Is Still a Woman, Even Older

Says rabbi who gave famous 1990 sermon

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The New York Times catches up with Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig, a lesbian who gained a measure of fame (or notoriety, depending on your point of view) with her 1990 sermon, “God Is a Woman and She Is Growing Older.” A self-professed “sermon junkie” who now teaches at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College New York campus, she defends her legendary talk against any suggestions it was sacrilege, telling Ralph Blumenthal, “Jewish texts are replete with anthropomorphic images of God. I don’t say God would ever die. I fudged that. Whatever else, I would say God is eternal.” So might be the Times’s interest in Jewish lesbians, if Sunday’s Modern Love column—about a couple challenged by whether they ought to call each other wife—is any indication.

A Rabbi Whose God Is a Loving and Long-Suffering Mother [NYT]
Once Political, Now Just Practical [NYT]

Rough Day for Former Israeli Pols

One on trial, two others start jail terms

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Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not the only pol in trouble in Israel—in fact, it’s a red-letter day for government crime there. Moshe Katsav, who was the first Likud member to be elected president and served from 2000 to 2007, is on trial for rape and sexual harassment; the first witness testified against him this morning. Outside the court, demonstrators rallied in support of the three women who filed the charges, letting them know “they are not alone.” The trial will be closed to the public, but according to Katsav’s lawyer, the court “might allow information about the proceedings to be published from time to time.”

Israeli readers may be holding their breath for these leaks, if only as a distraction from crimes that are beginning to seem dishearteningly run-of-the-mill, by the likes of Abraham Hirchson, Olmert’s finance minister, who begins a five year term for embezzlement today, and Shlomo Benizri, a former Shas minister, who starts his four year sentence for graft. Hirschon will be held in a prison/drug rehabilitation facility, while Benizri will serve in a religious prison. Their fellow inmates can look forward to likely educational sessions from each of them.

First Witness Testifies in Katsav Trial [JPost]
Two Former Israeli Ministers Start Jail Sentences Tuesday [Haaretz]
Related: Grifter [Tablet]

Who By Fire?

L.A. rabbi uses Rosh Hashanah liturgy to ask for help on wildfires

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Wildfires are a fact of life in Southern California, but over the past decade, they’ve grown increasingly destructive of life and property, as developers have pushed subdivisions ever deeper into terrain once considered too risky to build on. The Station fire, which has now spectacularly devoured 122,000 acres of national forest north of Los Angeles, has actually been relatively kind; so far, only 50 homes have been lost, compared to more than 1,000 in the biggest of the fires that raced through suburban San Diego County two years ago. Two firefighters died over the weekend, when their vehicle overturned, but so far no civilians have been killed (though two people who ignored evacuation orders wound up severely burned after taking refuge in their hot tub).

Still, inevitably, there’s the question: Why does this keep happening? Today, in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky offers up a brief eulogy for the two firefighters, a prayer for those who have lost their homes, and a call to everyone else to start opening their wallets for relief efforts, using a familiar piece of the impending Rosh Hashana liturgy, the Nitaneh Tokef: “Who will live, and who will die? Who by water, and who by fire?” We’re glad he skipped the part about the earthquakes and the plagues.

Who by Water, and Who by Fire? [Jewish Journal]

Today on Tablet

School books, true memories, and Olmert’s web

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Marissa Brostoff explores a Jewish group that advocates for changes to school text books to “fend off group defamation.” Liel Leibowitz parses the charges against former Israeli P.M. Ehud Olmert. Adam Kirsch presents a new book that recreates the world of the Warsaw ghetto. Todd Gitlin looks at the real story of the Baader-Meinhof gang, the subject of a new film. And, as always, we will keep bringing you updates on news and culture right here on The Scroll.

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