On Tablet Today

Guns in the chapel, Palestinians in the heartland, and ruminations on maturity


Marissa Brostoff examines the politics below the surface of a film about Palestinian immigrants in America. Michael Weiss presents a video of rabbis learning to use guns for protection in synagogue. Liel Leibovitz discusses this week’s Torah portion on the subject of wisdom and age. And stay tuned for more right here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Toronto Film Fest Under Fire

Settlement freeze postponed, Evangelicals and Israel, and more in the news


• Artists and writers including Jane Fonda and Naomi Klein sent a letter of protest against the Toronto International Film Festival for a planned segment focusing on films from Tel Aviv, which they say is tantamount to a propaganda campaign. [Reuters]
• In an interview with Evangelical pastor John Hagee, Elie Weisel said, “Whenever anyone does that, criticizes Israel, I say, ‘What are your credentials?’ Have you ever praised Israel? Have you ever defended Israel? Have you ever been on the side of Israel?” [USNWR]
• Evangelical students will now have the opportunity to build their cred by participating in the March of the Living, a trip through the former Nazi death camps in Poland and then to Israel; “The fact that this could happen to any group of people on the basis of their faith is something that all people of faith need to take very, very seriously,” says a Christian leader. [JPost]
• An aide to Benjamin Netanyahu says the Israeli P.M. will approve plans to build new homes for settlers before considering a later construction freeze. [Reuters]
• Meanwhile a source at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv confirms it’s “doubtful” President Obama signed off on the plans. [Ynet]

Sundown: Dude Jumps Like a Lady

Freedom of the press, fight or flight, and juice for Jesus


Berlin 36, a new German documentary, tells the story of a female Jewish high-jumping phenom whom the Nazis replaced in the 1936 Olympics—with a man in a skirt. [Times of London]
• An interview with noted Holocaust denier David Irving will be featured in Spanish newspaper El Mundo’s series of “innovative” views on WWII marking the 70th anniversary of the war; an editor has promised that in this piece, Irving doesn’t deny the Holocaust, but rather blames it on the Allies. Innovation at work! [AP]
• In the New York Times Magazine, Norman Podhoretz evades a question about whether there is any Democrat he likes by selecting Joe Lieberman. [NYT]
• Israeli airline El Al is barring anyone displaying symptoms associated with swine flu from boarding their flights without a doctor’s note; no word on whether they will at least give the rejected passengers a bowl of chicken soup. [Ynet]
• Filmmaker Kamran Pasha undertakes a lengthy investigation into the possibility that Jesus was a vegetarian. One piece of evidence: some of JC’s earliest followers, the so-called Jewish Christians, “had a passionate commitment to vegetarianism.” [HuffPo]

Big Reveal on German “Antiques Roadshow”

Art was stolen by—and then from—Nazis


So, if you’re going to go on Antiques Roadshow, you generally want to make sure that you’re not showing off a piece that’s been stolen. The corollary rule, if you’re going on the German version, is to avoid trying to offload stolen Nazi art. But of course, the whole point of the show is that people don’t know what they have, which may be how someone turned up on Kunst und Krempel (Art and Junk) last November asking for an appraisal of a 17th century painting titled Sermon on the Mount, by the Flemish baroque painter Frans Francken the Younger. The painting, it turns out, was worth about $143,000—and it had been stolen from a Jewish family that had bought it at a gallery in Dresden, and was at one point destined for a Nazi museum in Hitler’s Austrian hometown, Linz. The painting disappeared from Hitler’s reception building in Munich sometime after April 1945, according to police. So far, the television network that broadcasts the program is claiming journalistic privilege and refusing to hand over the name of the person who turned up with it.

Art Stolen by Nazis Turns Up on TV Antiques Show
[The Local]

Assimilated Jews = Missing Persons

In new commercial for Israel study program


Haaretz reports that the Israeli government-funded organization Masa, which brings young people to Israel for semester- and year-long programs, has “launched a scare-tactic campaign that urges Israelis to combat assimilation in North America by working to prevent the ‘loss’ of their own Jewish acquaintances there.” The group’s running a commercial—complete with “melancholy flute music” and “images of missing-person posters hanging in locales in Europe and North America”—in which an announcer softly intones her hope that viewers who “know a young Jew living abroad” will call Masa and then “together, we will strengthen his or her bond to Israel, so that we don’t lose them.”

If creepy’s not your scene but you like aggressive, the head of Oranim Educational Initiatives, an Israel tour group that used to be one of Birthright’s biggest collaborators, has reinvented his organization as a Birthright competitor. In contrast with Birthright’s, Oranim’s free trips will be available to people up to age of 30 and will involve even more pressure to “keep the diaspora alive,” “solidify Israel’s public image,” and marry Jews.

New Campaign Targets Jews ‘Lost’ to Assimilation [Haaretz]
Momo Returns [Jewish Week]

Can Hebrew School Be Saved?

By making it more like other parts of teens’ lives?


Breaking news: the point of Jewish education is not to bore kids into confusion about their Jewish identities, leading them to, at best, channel their ambivalence into postmodern indie rock projects like David Griffin’s Hebrew School and/or later force their own kids into the same fate out of some resentful sense of “tradition,” while their parents bemoan their lack of engagement.

Argues Adam Gaynor, “Jewish education is almost always based upon the needs and desires of adults rather than kids…. Adult fears about Jewish continuity also lead to the misguided notion that Jewish learning can only happen in exclusively Jewish environments,” despite the fact that “most American Jews choose to live, work and play in multicultural communities.” This isolation tells kids that “a fundamental rift exists between their Jewish selves and the rest of who they are and what they experience. This dichotomy is false.”

Gaynor’s organization, The Curriculum Initiative, is trying to meet teens on their own terms, with projects such as a boarding school seder held in partnership with a gay student group. But would the “multicultural” brand of Jewish education Gaynor advocates be safe from the de-cool-ifying effect of parental pressure? Or is this yet another attempt by adults to turn something kids are already doing into something Jewish in order to reassure themselves of continuity?

Jewish Education Should Be Multicultural, Like Us

Oasis Breakup Brings Hitler to His Knees

In YouTube version of history


’Twas erstwhile Oasis member Noel Gallagher who brought down the Third Reich in the end, according to a rather inspired YouTube video that borrows footage from the 2004 German film Downfall. In this version of events, Hitler is driven to madness in his bunker—not by rapidly approaching allied forces but by the probable dissolution of his favorite Britpop band, which (in real life) Gallagher quit last Friday. Poor Adolf had mosh-pit tickets and everything: “What am I going to do on Friday now? Watch TV? Go to the pub? Go bowling?” The Fuhrer’s deputies wince as he mumbles, “I lost my virginity listening to Oasis. I had my first LSD trip to Be Here Now.” Too much information, bro.

Hitler’s Reaction to the Oasis Split [YouTube]

A Graphic Take on ‘Genesis’

From Robert Crumb, with a little help from Robert Alter


Bookforum offers one of the first reviews of Robert Crumb’s illustrated version of Genesis, and it sounds like a winner. Crumb’s interpretation departs from other graphic representations of the Torah by not bowdlerizing it, writes Jeet Heer; the legendary artist “doesn’t hide the fact that the holy book is filled with stories of incest (Abraham marrying his half sister, Sarah; Lot being seduced by his daughters), frenzied bloodlust (God’s various acts of mass murder, the terrible slaughter of a village after a young boy seduces Jacob’s daughter, Dinah), and general unsavory behavior (the theme of fraternal violence that runs from the story of Cain and Abel to the concluding saga of Joseph and his spiteful siblings).” In striving for a literal representation of what went down, Crumb relied on Robert Alter’s 2004 translated Five Books of Moses, but tweaked Alter’s prose to make it more colloquial. Alter’s translations have been criticized for a formality born of his desire to remain as true as possible to the Biblical syntax—an idea he discussed with Tablet in 2007.

Meantime, have a look for yourself at Crumb’s version of Eve, who looks a mite like Crumb’s wife, Aline.

Word Made Fresh [Bookforum]

Today on Tablet

An empty nest, and the legendary Wallace Shawn


Gwen Orel chats with writer and actor Wallace Shawn about his Jewishness. Esther Schor reflects on her son leaving home for college. And all day, we’ll be updating this blog, The Scroll.

Beware Imported Shofars!

Buy local, say Tel Aviv rabbis


Are you in the market for a new shofar? Well, bear in mind that Tel Aviv’s Religious Council is warning customers against buying ram’s horns finished in either China or Morocco, which began exporting shofars to Israel last year. The Council’s members have lots of objections: the Chinese instruments are allegedly “smeared with pig fat,” according to one shofar distributor, while the ones from Morocco (identifiable by a silver ring on the mouthpiece, apparently) are glued with polyester, which somehow renders them halachically unacceptable, according to Ynet. One rabbi, Aryeh Levin, told the paper it wasn’t so much the production as the principle: “It’s disrespectful bringing a shofar prepared by an Arab on Shabbat into a synagogue.” He said he encouraged consumers to look for shofars produced under rabbinic supervision, but guess where the two biggest rabbinically supervised shofar factories in Israel happen to be? You got it: Tel Aviv, and neighboring Jaffa.

Religious Council: Don’t Buy Moroccan Shofar [YNet]

Daybreak: First Hearing for Museum Shooter

Good reasons for low hopes in the Mideast, and more in the news


• James von Brunn, the alleged Holocaust Memorial Museum shooter, went to court for the first time yesterday; the prosecution made the case that his crime was premeditated and that with “nothing to lose,” von Brunn cannot be safely set free. [WaPo]
• Citing “violations of international humanitarian law,” Norway has divested from the Israeli company that supplied surveillance materials for a separation wall in the West Bank. [JPost]
• The Israeli government “hinted” that it may retroactively legalize construction in two settlements that would otherwise need to be destroyed. [Haaretz]
• The New York Times’ Ethan Bronner makes the wise point that, with the skepticism of everyone invested in peace between Israelis and Palestinians, “low expectations all around may actually make it easier to achieve results.” [NYT]
• After a visit to Moscow by Natan Sharansky, the Jewish Agency, which he chairs, has partnered with a Russian philanthropy giant to expand Jewish education programs in the former Soviet Union. [JPost]

Sundown: Philosophical Claims

Milk, more Madonna, charity, and the lack thereof


• Mark Siegel, who wrote a New York Post op-ed explaining that he’s against health care reform because he follows “the Oath of Maimonides,” apparently didn’t realize that the 12th century rabbi, philosopher, and physician had already weighed in on the topic. [NYP]
• In an article about the tendency of Cholov Yisroel (kosher milk certified by a rabbi) to spoil quicker than its secular counterpart, an authority assures us it’s not because of the dinkiness of the dairies: “There’s no farm there that is just a Chasidic guy with a pail. They’re big farms.” [Jewish Star]
• At her concert in Tel Aviv last night, Madonna made out with a female dancer, and draped herself in an Israeli flag. Guess which stirred more ire? [Sky News]
• A burglar who swindled Brooklyn synagogues was arrested yesterday; previously, the rabbi at one of his marks pledged not to abandon the thief—who has “an apparent drug problem”—and to continue providing him with food and charity as before the robbery. [NYDN]
• Some rabbis in Israel are speaking out against Jews selling or renting their land to Arabs, saying that anyone who does so is “transgressing the commandment to love one’s neighbor like oneself” because non-Jews in the hood could hurt local property values. [JPost]

Breaking Tradition, While Breaking Bread

Obama invites Jews to Muslim meal at the White House


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 []

Why Jews Are Liberal

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


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


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]

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