Today on Tablet

Shark attacks, Bibi’s luck, and Sontag’s screen secret


Michael Weiss counts the ways that Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure as Prime Minister of Israel has been charmed since its problematic beginning. Marc Tracy examines Sunsan Sontag’s semi-forgotten documentary film about Israel. Liel Leibovitz draws a parallel between the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week and this week’s Torah portion. And much more, here on The Scroll.

‘Homeless’ Hebrew U. Donor, Not So Much

Not a Holocaust survivor, either

Fischer, with some dude the News doesn’t identify, in the late 1980s.(

Perhaps moved to investigate further by the skeptical comments when the story first ran, New York’s Daily News has uncovered the “mystery” of the homeless Holocaust survivor who willed more than $100,000 to Hebrew University, quite possibly against the dead woman’s wishes. Now, instead of the portrait of a desperate bag lady painted by the press over the last week, we have an actual photograph of Ida Fischer, who, according to the new article, didn’t survive the Holocaust but rather fled Vienna with her family beforehand, was a religious Jew, very popular with men, and lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. And, according to her will, which the Daily News also took the liberty of publishing, the money she left to Hebrew University was specifically designated to go toward research on blindness and heart disease. One part of the original story still seems to be true: Fischer did move neighbors’ cars for money, and then left a quarter of her estate to one of them. A friend said he “wasn’t surprised Fischer had a gentleman friend to help her,” but if she kept him from getting parking tickets in New York, and then willed him a chunk of change, it seems like the other way around. Don’t worry, though, the Daily News’s online commenters have still seen fit to kvetch, now about why Fischer left her money to Hebrew University instead of any number of their own pet charities. The University has apologized for spreading the false information.

‘Eccentric Hippie’ Who Donated Fortune, Ida Fischer, Had Megabucks to Match a Huge Heart [NYDN]

Daybreak: Palestinian P.M.’s Low Standards

A new website, Anne Frank abused again, and more in the news


• In an interview, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad says, “Israel’s character is Israel’s business and nobody else’s,” and shares his modest goal: “to prove to the world that the Palestinians can run a state no worse than anyone else.” [Haaretz]
• Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of “waging a propaganda war” against the group’s findings of abuses during the Gaza War. [Ynet]
• The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has launched a new website, [JTA]
• A group of “yutzes” are using Anne Frank’s image, with a blue cross instead of a yellow star, to illustrate their “profoundly baffling misimpression” that President Obama is creating an “enemies list” of people who complain about his health care reform. [JTA]
• After a tip that an Israeli soldier had been kidnapped, a search by the IDF ruled out the possibility. [NYT]

Sundown: No More Mezuzah Makeouts

Charms, gripes, and the language of racism


• Like the fabled restaurant mints, it turns out mezuzahs, hung in doorways and traditionally kissed for luck, are covered in gross bacteria from so many pious hands and mouths. In order to prevent the spread of swine flu, one doctor recommends becoming more religious—about hygiene—and sticking with air kisses for the time being. [Ynet]
• But not to worry, we haven’t completely abandoned superstition as a way to curb the disease: Israeli rabbis are calling for an anti-swine flu fast day next Wednesday. [Arutz Sheva]
• The Republican Jewish Coalition has become the first Jewish group to officially come out against President Obama’s health care reform, saying “the consequences of Obamacare will include massive taxes, massive new spending and massive new debt.” [JTA]
• A German appeals court has ruled that displaying Nazi slogans is only illegal if they’re written in German. After all, in English, “Blood and Honour” could just be referring to a post-soccer game pub crawl, rather than a Hitler Youth motto. [AP]
• But some offenses are still clear as day: As if their hair wasn’t reprehensible enough, two of the jackasses from reality TV show NYC Prep have been photographed taping swastikas onto a car and dressing up as Hitler for a giggle. [Perez Hilton]

Good Reviews for Shiva Book

Jonathan Tropper’s ‘This Is Where I Leave You’


In This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper’s new novel, members of a dysfunctional family gather to sit shiva for their atheist father who nevertheless took the kids to synagogue on holidays because, as he told them, “I’ve been wrong before.” It gets good reviews today. Narrated by Judd Foxman, whose wife has recently left him, the story is “bracing and refreshing,” says Donna Freydkin in USA Today; she sees shades of Nick Hornby in the prose. Janet Maslin digs it too, but compares its “wry domestic tone” more to Tom Perrotta (who, incidentally, provided one of the mere 22 blurbs on the book’s dust jacket).Having only read an excerpt, we are left to wonder more about Tropper’s physical likenesses. Anyone else see hints of Tim Roth and Jacob Weisberg?

In Tropper’s ‘This is Where I Leave You,’ It’s a Man’s World [USA Today]
Eyes May Be Moist, but the Jokes Are Dry [NYT]

Sex, Kabbalah, and the Academy at Fringe

NYC theater festival starts this week


The New York International Fringe Festival, that annual summer smorgasbord of off-off-off-Broadway theater, will include a handful of Jewish-themed plays this year among its 200-odd offerings when it opens tomorrow. For one, there’s Sex and the Holy Land, which began as the undergraduate thesis project of playwright Melanie Zoey Weinstein, now 23. Inspired by organized trips to Israel Weinstein went on in high school and college, it has a “girls just want to have fun, sex in the Holy Land vibe, but it’s about so much more,” she told the New Jersey Jewish News. Then there’s The Secret of Our Souls: A Kabbalistic Love Story, in which “the Baal Shem Tov (John Lopez) and his wife, Chana (Alexis Fishman) battle false messiah Jacob Frank (Adam Reich) over the Jewish blood libel,” according to the Jewish Week. The musical, by Sesame Street songwriting veterans Ben Goldstein and Philip Namanworth, won’t play on Shabbat and will be performed Orthodox-style one night, with no women singing, according the Jerusalem Post. And Peace Warriors, by Israeli-American historian Doron Ben-Atar, lampoons a group of philandering anti-Zionist professors; when it played in Washington, D.C. last month, The New Republic called it a “savagely witty satire of elite American academics, and their attitudes toward the Middle East.” We’ll have reviews early next week.

Showing Off Their Fringe [Jerusalem Post]
Love in a Warm Climate [New Jersey Jewish News]
Sex On The Fringe: Ironic Twist on Tzitzit [Jewish Week]
Peace Warriors [TNR]

Out of the Outpost

Israel evacuates an illegal settlement, steps up efforts to placate U.S.


Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled today that residents of the Bnei Adam outpost in the West Bank had to go. The evacuation, which is being carried out voluntarily and carefully overseen by the Defense Ministry, is part of a coordinated effort by the Netanyahu government to appease the U.S., which has called for a settlement freeze. The Israel Defense Forces’ Civil Administration has recently upped by 50% the number of settlement inspectors monitoring construction in so-called Area C of the West Bank, the territory designated by the government as Palestinian land.

Settlers agree to evacuate West Bank outpost Bnei Adam [Haaretz]

Madoff Had Affair With Hadassah CFO

She testified against him

(Hiroko Masuike/Getty Images)

Former Hadassah CFO Sheryl Weinstein was one of nine Bernie Madoff victims to give withering testimony at the conman’s June sentencing. “He walks, dresses like us—but underneath he is a beast,” she said then. “Keep him in a cage behind bars.” It all takes on a different cast, doesn’t it, now that she’s revealed she had had an affair with the man who defrauded her? Weinstein has written a soon-to-be-released memoir called Madoff’s Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie, and Me; and Barnes and Noble are selling advance copies without revealing the identity of the author, but a spokesman for St. Martin’s Press confirmed that it’s Weinstein, Bloomberg News reports.

Weinstein met Madoff 21 years ago when she hired him to manage a $7 million donation to Hadassah, according to Bloomberg. The Jewish women’s organization later invested another $33 million with him, and Weinstein invested with him personally. At the sentencing, she said that she and her husband of 37 years have had to sell their home after losing “everything” to Madoff’s scam. “Our son Eric worked for him one summer in college. A few months before this, [Eric] called to thank him,” she said in her testimony. “My family and I are not anonymous people to him.” Apparently not.

Madoff Had Affair With Ex-Hadassah Finance Chief, Her Book Says [Bloomberg]
Related: A View from the Courtroom [Tablet]

Rabbi, Mystic, Miracle of Nature

Tells fortunes in Brooklyn, right or wrong


According to The Forward’s Michael Casper, one Rabbi Chaim Yosef Sharabi, scion of a family of Yemeni mystics, has set up shop at the back of an optician’s store in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where he tells fortunes and dispenses paper amulets for $180 a pop. Casper reports that the rabbi’s predictions aren’t very good—the reporter’s cousin was told months ago that she would meet her future husband within eight months, and she hasn’t—but that doesn’t stop people from waiting as long as six hours to hear what Sharabi portends for them. Sharabi’s wife, who translates for him from Hebrew, insists that what he does isn’t really fortune-telling, but rather communing with God; Sharabi, for his part, said he has indeed fulfilled his relatives’ predictions that he would become a great mystic. How did they know? Easy, he said: “I was born circumcised on Yom Kippur.” A miracle!

A Jewish Mystic Offers Amulets and Predictions, for $180 a Pop [Forward]

David Mamet and Anne Frank

Coming to a theater near you


Disney has acquired pic rights to a new rendition of The Diary of Anne Frank,” to be written and helmed by David Mamet.Variety, yesterday

What we imagine to be the trailer:


The thing is…


It’s that…


It’s that I still believe…


I still believe, in spite of everything…

There’s a lot of shit out there.

There is. But I still believe.

I know, you believe.

No, what I’m saying is…

What the hell are you saying?

I’m saying that I still believe, in spite of everything…


That people are truly good at heart.

Oh yeah?


Fucking fool.

Mamet Takes on ‘Anne Frank’ [Variety]
Related: Anne Frank’s Diary, As Interpreted by David Mamet [Vulture]

Tablet Today

A mama’s boy, Democratic Jews, revamped rites, and a journalist remembered


Victor Navasky pays tribute to iconoclastic journalist Sidney Zion. Jordana Horn susses out the phenomenon of bar mitzvahs held at havdalah, the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath. Allison Hoffman discusses the challenges of managing the National Jewish Democratic Council in today’s political landscape, and talks to Antonio Sabato Jr. about his decision to search for love, with his mother’s help, on a new reality show. And this very blog, The Scroll, will enlighten you with updates all day.

Daybreak: Surrender or Surprise Attack?

A secret hideout, a baller, and more from the news


• Human Rights Watch says Palestinian families carrying white flags were killed by Israeli troops during the Gaza war; the IDF says Hamas uses flags illegally, making it impossible to distinguish between civilians and combatants. [Reuters]
• The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the group of Reform rabbis, has issued a statement advocating equal citizenship and rights for Arabs in Israel. [JPost]
It’s done: President Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson. [JTA]
• Hezbollah may have a base in Venezuela, from which to collect intelligence and plan remote attacks. [Ynet]
• American teenager Jeremy Tyler left high school to play for Israeli basketball team Maccabi Haifa, hoping to prove himself before returning to the States in time for the 2011 NBA draft. [Haaretz]

Sundown: Forget the Loch Ness Monster

Jews should return to Iraq, and other unconventional wisdom


• The Israeli town of Kirvat Yam is offering over $1 million for photographic proof of a mermaid some claim to have seen off its shore. No word on how much the town is offering for that even more elusive mythical entity, a workable peace plan. [Daily Mail]
• That is, if we still need one: A new magazine in Iraq implores Jews to return to the country, turning the tables on the idea of “right of return” by suggesting that if Arab countries welcome back their native Jews, all could be rainbows and lollipops in the holy land. [AFP]
• As some Jewish groups squabble over who should take the blame for allowing comparisons between President Obama’s health care plan and the Holocaust, a Florida rabbi OKs the analogy in hopes that “the shock value may keep lawmakers away from what he views to be threatening policies.” [WP]
• As if that isn’t enough heresy, in the Boston Globe, a rabbi says that Jewish identity is about more than just Israel! [BG]
• Big-shot Zionist rabbi Shlomo Aviner declares that non-Jews should not serve in the Israeli military—his hands are tied folks, it was Maimonedes’ idea. [Ynet]
• The largest-ever Hillel conference is happening now, which, says the organization’s president, “clearly places engagement at the center of the Hillel world.” (Let’s hope attendees won’t have to sit through much of that kind of non-speak.) [JTA]

Talmud Calls for Universal Health Care

Says Reform movement leader


This week, the head of the Reform movement’s political arm, Rabbi David Saperstein, helped launch an effort by progressive religious leaders to get President Barack Obama’s health care plan passed in Congress; the president’s agreed to join the group in a call-in webcast on August 19. Saperstein and liberal Rev. Jennifer Butler appeared this morning on the public radio show The Takeaway.

“There’s nothing in the Torah about palliative care, or dialysis…. When you start getting down to the details of the bills, how do you turn that into a moral argument as opposed to a political argument?” a host of the show asked Saperstein.

The rabbi gave the standard reply that we can apply the moral norms given in the Torah to contemporary situations; then, more intriguingly, he argued that “by the time of the Talmud 2,000 years ago, [these norms] had developed into health care systems and rules and requirements to provide adequate health care for all people. Any community that wanted to be considered a moral community had to provide health care, had to provide health care providers. These are not new ideas.”

So does that imply that people opposed to Obama’s health care plan are immoral?

“Good moral people can differ on the best way to go about achieving universal health care,” Saperstein said. “That isn’t what this debate has been about, unfortunately. This has been a very disturbing debate in terms of the civility of discourse in America. When people make these extraordinary accusations and allusions about fascism and Nazism and the Holocaust, what they’re doing is trying to take these ideas outside the free marketplace of ideas.”

The Moral of the Story: Religious Leaders on Health Care Reform [The Takeaway]
Previously: An Orthodox-Reform Divide on Health Care?

Ang Lee Takes Woodstock

With the help of a bunch of Jews

Lee at a Woodstock Film Festival screening of Taking Woodstock last week.(Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Focus Features)

Continuing the 40th-anniversary-of-Woodstock festivities, director Ang Lee has a new movie coming out, Taking Woodstock. It’s based on a memoir by Elliot Tiber, whose family owned an old-school Jewish bungalow colony in Bethel, New York, the Catskills town where the music festival took place. (No, Virginia, it wasn’t actually held in Woodstock.) In this telling, Tiber (played by Demetri Martin) was a closeted gay Manhattanite who returned home to help his parents with their failing motel; to drum up business, he arranged for a friend with a spare cow pasture to host a music festival that no neighboring towns wanted. Chaos, culture clash, and an iconic event of the 1960s ensued.

Lee told the Los Angeles Jewish Journal that the idea for the movie came about when he met an eagerly self-promotional Tiber at a talk show both were appearing on. Remembering the impact Woodstock made on him as a 14-year-old in repressive Taiwan, and eager to make a comedy after a string of depressing films (Brokeback Mountain; Lust, Caution), he took on the project. But did the director, known for his skill in capturing the feel of diverse times and places, find it a challenge to capture the feel of the waning Jewish world of the Catskills? Not really, he told the Journal, as everyone he works with, including writing partner James Schamus, is Jewish.

“I feel that Jewish people know Chinese people very well,” he said in the interview. “James, for example, understood me well even before I spoke fluent English; he would write my scripts as early as The Wedding Banquet, reading Chinese poetry, philosophy and literature as background, and then try to write the dialogue, and I would ask, ‘What is that?’ And out of frustration, he would give up and just write the characters like Jews, and I would say, ‘Oh, that’s very Chinese.’”

Ang Lee’s Catskills Culture Clash [Jewish Journal]

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