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]

Some Jews Actually Like Mary Robinson

In defense of her Presidential Medal of Freedom


There’s a small furor in Jewish circles over the White House’s decision to award Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and the former U.N. commissioner for human rights, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But now comes a JTA report citing those prominent American Jews who think that the coordinator of the notorious “Durban” conference on racism—which many saw as little more than an excuse for the Organization of the Islamic Conference to pelt Israel with anti-Semitic stones—is actually someone befitting of the highest honor bestowed by our government on a civilian. Ruth Messenger, the president of the American Jewish World Service, calls Robinson “a true agent of global change” and cites her condemnation of anti-Semitism, her activism on behalf of the Rwandan genocide, and a host of other do-gooder plaudits. Other defenders include Nancy Rubin, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission during the Clinton administration, and James Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank.

Some more Jewish defenders of Mary Robinson [JTA]

A Postage Stamp for Golem Inventor

Though Czech P.O. says he didn’t actually do it


The Czech Republic has issued a stamp honoring Rabbi Yehuda Loew ben Bezalel, who died 400 years ago this fall, according to the Yiddish news website Vos Iz Neias? (The stamp costs approximately $1.20.) Known for his treatises on philosophy, the Talmud, and law, he’s also credited with inventing the character of the Golem, to defend Prague’s Jews from accusations of blood libel. But, notes the Post Office, the story of Loew’s Golem-inventing ise likely apocryphal—none of his papers ever mentioned such a being. In addition to the stamp, the Imperial Stables at the Prague Castle is holding an exhibit about the rabbi through November.

Czech Republic-The ‘Golem of Prague’ Stamp Issued in Honor of The Maharal [Vos Iz Neias?]

Mississippi Congressman Visits Israel

And faces bizarre video attack from local blog


A Mississippi blog called Y’all Politics made this video to express displeasure at the fact that Democratic Congressman Travis Childers is in Israel this week, rather than at home fielding harangues from his constituents about health care reform:

While politicians’ relationships with Israel are often blamed for various problems, drawing a correlation between images of Jerusalem and screaming, visor-clad southerners, all to the soundtrack of an eerily aggressive rendition of Hava Nagila may be in poor taste. The video pits Childers’ reluctance to take a clear stance on health-care reform against a statement by fellow Dem Gene Taylor that he wouldn’t vote for it “if they put a gun to his head.” Y’all Politics is throwing down the gauntlet: Do away with your “civility” and “new friends” who just happen to wear yarmulkes and get back to your hyperbole-loving constituency to join the yelling.

Y’all Might Want to Reconsider this Video [JTA]

Today on Tablet

Chopped liver with bacon, and 40 years in ‘Fiddler’


Molly Young talks to chef Joseph Dobias, who is known to incorporate Jewish flavors into very unkosher dishes. Jesse Oxfeld interviews actor Chaim Topol about a lifetime of playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. And The Scroll rolls out new thrills right here, all day.

Madoff Aide DiPascali Pleads Guilty, Goes to Jail

A shonde fur di Yidn?

DiPascali, center, in a court rendering.(

Frank DiPascali, whom The New York Times describes today as “one of [Bernie] Madoff’s closest aides for decades, pleaded guilty to 10 felony counts, including conspiracy and tax evasion, in Manhattan federal court yesterday. He’s been cooperating with prosecutors, explaining details of how Madoff’s long-running scam operated, but, despite prosecutors’ requests, was not allowed to remain free on bail after his plea. (Prosecutors argued that he’d be better able to help them piece together the crime as a free man, and presumably wanted to offer him a reward for his cooperation; the judge pointed out that the guy’s got plenty of money and every incentive to flee before he’s sentenced.) “It was all fake,” said DiPascali, who, it seems, blamed all his wrongdoing on an overabundance of (misplaced) loyalty. “It was all fictitious. It was wrong, and I knew it was wrong at the time.” He’s now the third person to be charged with crimes in the Madoff Ponzi scheme—the other was Madoff’s accountant, who was charged with rubber-stamping, rather than actually auditing, his books—and the second, after Madoff, to plead guilty and go to jail. Most notably, though, he is also—bless his heart—the first gentile to catch any blame for this thing.

Madoff Aide Reveals Details of Ponzi Scheme [NYT]

Daybreak: Welcome Back, Westboro

Fear in Israel, suspicion in the U.S., and more from the news


• Some of the lovely folks from Kansas’s Westboro Baptist Church have set up in front of Jewish organizations in New York City with signs reading “God hates Jews.” (Well, it’s really more love/hate.) [JPost]
• Ukrainian Holocaust survivor and prize-winning Yiddish author Josef Burg has died at age 90. [JTA]
• Israel fears that recent quiet days are the calm before the storm. [NYT]
• A huge influx of refugees from Africa has Israel’s government flummoxed. [AP]
• According to a recent survey, 55 percent of American Jews think President Obama is being “naïve” in his expectations from Palestinians. [JPost]
• Obama will participate in a 40 minute call-in program about health reform sponsored by religious groups, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. [JTA]

Sundown: For Our Brilliant Readers

More Madoff trickle-down, kashrut, and another disputed honoree


• In a state-of-the-industry article about Jewish journalism, one editor flatters his readers—“the most incredible, literate, active, involved demographic”—perhaps hoping to keep them hooked. (Let us know if it works.) [JPost]
• Anyone tired of being indignant about President Obama’s selection of Mary Robinson for the Freedom Medal can turn their ire on Australia, which has just awarded a peace prize to John Pilger, a journalist who has drawn parallels between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the Holocaust. [JTA]
• Media mogul Mort Zuckerman, who lost $30 million to Madoff, has withdrawn his funding from a scholarship program at NYU. [Gawker]
• A conservative rabbi in Georgia is “not thrilled about” his state’s kashrut laws, which require Orthodox standards, making his certifications criminal acts. A supervisor from Atlanta’s kashrut authority doesn’t understand why anyone—apparently including himself—would care about a law he calls “toothless.” [JTA]

Ortho Group Worked on Hudson Crash Scene

Misaskim shows up whenever Jewish bodies are involved

The helicopter’s wreckage in Hoboken yesterday.(Rick Gershon/Getty Images)

The National Transportation Safety Board requested the services of Misaskim, an ultra-Orthodox organization that tries to ensure that Jewish victims of disasters and violent crimes are buried in accordance with religious law, after the air crash over the Hudson River last weekend, which killed five people on a tourist helicopter and three on a private plane, according to Yeshiva World News. Rabbi Jack Meyer, a Misaskim director, confirms his group was there, but says things happened a bit differently—the accident occurred on Shabbat, so Misaskim didn’t arrive right away, and it was through “the Jewish grapevine,” not through the NTSB, that they found out the Philadelphia family on board the plane was Jewish. But the government agency is regularly in touch with Misaskim after an incident if agents believe there are Jewish victims, said Meyer and Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB. “The last time we really dealt side by side was the train crash in Washington,” Meyer said, though it turned out in that case that none of the dead were Jewish. But when there are, he said, “we make sure that it gets buried as quickly as possible and [with] the least desecration of a body.” A similar organization in Israel specializes in collecting body parts and blood after terrorist attacks. And what if the victims are secular Jews who wouldn’t necessarily have wanted their remains handled by an Orthodox organization? “Doesn’t matter—Reform, Orthodox, Conservative—as long as you’re a Jew,” Meyer said.

Misaskim on the Scene of Plane/Chopper Crash on the Hudson [Yeshiva World News]

Plane Song

Rabbis and kabbalists take a ‘prayer flight’ over Israel to stop swine flu


Some Jewish leaders may have failed to switch the name of the H1N1 virus from swine flu to Mexican flu, but others are taking a more, er, practical approach to battling the disease. Yesterday morning a group of rabbis and kabbalists boarded a plane in Israel and flew over the country with the goal of crop-dusting the land with blessings and preventing further deaths. In flight, they blew a shofar seven times, a number presumably derived from some complex numerological acrobatics, and not in reference to the seven trumpets of the apocalypse mentioned in the New Testament. While air travel is known as a common incubator for communicable illnesses, these fliers are convinced they have achieved the opposite: “We are certain that because of our prayers danger is already behind us,” says one of the rabbis involved. The question now is will they go on tour? Organizations from summer camps, to a yeshiva, to the Tablet office have been struck by the flu, and are probably willing to suspend their disbelief in magical prayer squads to get some of that protective goodness.

Rabbis Fly Over Israel in Hopes of Eliminating Swine Flu [Ynet]

You Basterds!

Jeffrey Goldberg considers Tarantino’s latest


Can Quentin Tarantino’s non-purposive kitsch violence succeed in the ultimate Jewish revenge fantasy? That’s the question Atlantic correspondent and Tablet contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg attempts to answer in his essay on Inglourious Basterds, the hyper-caffeinated auteur’s latest film, which depicts an elite, murderous, and Jewish squadron of U.S. soldiers who, as their non-Jewish leader puts it, are corralled for “one thing and one thing only: killin’ Nazis.” Kill they do—with baseballs to the heads they elect not to scalp. Goldberg, who dreamed as a boy of paratrooping into Axis headquarters and shooting Josef Mengele in the face, is deeply unsettled by what filmmaker Eli Roth, who has a role in Inglourious Basterds, calls “kosher porn.”

“It’s almost a deep sexual satisfaction of wanting to beat Nazis to death, an orgasmic feeling,” Roth said. “My character gets to beat Nazis to death. That’s something I could watch all day. My parents are very strong about Holocaust education. My grandparents got out of Poland and Russia and Austria, but their relatives did not.”

What drives Tarantino nuts about Jewish perspectives on Jewish violence is the “hand-wringing,” the mishegas over whether or not taking a life—even if it’s a Nazi life—is morally defensible. Having not seen Ed Zwick’s Defiance, about a group of East European Jewish resistance fighters during World War II, Tarantino rightly guessed that there’d be trigger pulling, following by hair-pulling, over the righteousness of fighting back.

This is an old quandary that Goldberg doesn’t attempt to answer, but one that reminds me of something Moshe Dayan once told his students at an Israeli military academy. Having war-gamed the beginning of an IDF confrontation with Arab armies in the Middle East, Dayan asked for the students’ tactical gambits. “And I want no Jewish solutions here,” he said, meaning no agonized thinking that would paralyze quick, decisive actions. Looking at Israel today, one wonders if Jewish solutions still exist outside of Hollywood production companies.

Hollywood’s Jewish Avenger [Atlantic]

Is the ‘Juicebox Mafia’ Today’s ‘House Jews’

Are anti-Israeli Jews self-hating? And what should they be called?


Adam Serwer, an American Prospect writing fellow, parses Jewish identity politics on The Root today. You see, Marty Peretz and his staunchly pro-Israel acolytes have taken to belittling bloggers more critical of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, like Matt Yglesias, as the “Juicebox Mafia.” It’s a Jew-on-Jew slur, Serwer says, that’s basically equivalent to the old denigration of “house negroes”—in other words, that the “Juicebox Mafia” consists of self-hating Jews who’ve begun internalizing the stereotypes of their oppressors. Serwer doesn’t quite buy the charge. And neither does Ta-Nahisi Coates, writing on his Atlantic blog. But Coates has a deeper problem: “The real issue,” he says “is a shocking lack of imagination among the Jewish people. Seriously, how could those who gave us Phillip Roth and Michael Chabon also give us a phrase as unliterary, and unevocative as ‘Juicebox Mafia?’”

The Self-Hate Hustle [The Root]

House Jews and Field Jews

Bibi Backs Birthers!

At least, so says a TV kook


So you know who started the whole “birther” silliness, that nutty idea that Barack Obama isn’t actually an American and is thus ineligible to be president? Benjamin Netanyahu, at least according to Wayne Madsen, a sometime Counterpunch contributor and talking head who is also the publisher of an eponymous online report covering “politically incorrect and politically embarrassing stories.” Last night, Madsen appeared on a Russia Today broadcast pointing out that leading birther spokeswoman Orly Taitz flew to Tel Aviv immediately after releasing a phony Kenyan birth certificate, and that she is from Moldova, homeland of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. . “Netanyahu has a very strong base in the U.S.,” Madsen said. “It’s very easy for him to bring this whole canard back.” Madsen asserted.

Worth remember: Madsen reported last year that the Emperors Club, the prostitution outfit frequented by fallen former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, was actually a Mossad front that outed Spitzer in retaliation for his investigations of Russian-Israeli organized crime rings.

Here’s the Russia Today clip:

Previously: Birthers Melt Down

Fringe Jewish Group Blasts APA Gay Decision

We can too make ’em straight, JONAH says

(David McNew/Getty Images)

When the American Psychological Association declared last week that its member therapists should not offer “reparative therapy or other treatments” that promise to turn gay patients straight, there were howls of outrage from the expected sources: conservative Christian groups that promise to do just that. But it turns out such beliefs aren’t the sole province of those who believe in Jesus. The group Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality, known as JONAH (insert your own blowhole-related pun here), criticized the APA’s resolution, too, claiming that “the secular bias in the report against religious values” encourages religious clients to blaspheme by suggesting “an alternative religion or lifestyle that affirms their gayness.” JONAH was founded in 1999 by two New Jersey Orthodox Jewish couples with gay kids, and it claims to help those “struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions to journey out of homosexuality” with the help of support groups, therapy referrals, and lots of books and tapes. JONAH Director Arthur Goldberg, who is presumably not the former Supreme Count justice and U.N. ambassador, chairs a handful of homosexuality-pathologizing organizations and wrote Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change. He called the APA resolution an “unbalanced, scientifically flawed document,” noting that it was prepared by six “gay-identified therapists,” Evidently, gays not only flout Biblical law but also make inadequate researchers.

Jewish Group Slams Ban on Counseling Homosexuals Straight [Arutz Sheva]

Tablet Today

Two legacies, upgraded salt, and Israel’s fighting sport


Adam Kirsch asserts that a new biography tries too hard to convince readers that Leonard Bernstein’s politics “should matter to us.” Liel Leibovitz mourns the loss of Israeli writer and artist Amos Kenan, who was more than the sum of his achievements. Mimi Sheraton rhapsodizes on salt. Lee Smith takes a look at the popular Israeli martial art, Krav Maga. And, of course, more to come on The Scroll.

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