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Sundown: Anne Frank Site Burns

Britney Spears’ imagined conversion diary, and more

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• A “suspicious” fire destroyed the barracks in which Anne Frank slept in a Dutch work camp before her transfer to Auschwitz. The barracks, most recently used to store farm equipment, was ready for transport back to the site of the work camp, which now contains a Holocaust memorial. [JTA]
• With the news that Britney Spears is considering converting to Judaism for her new boyfriend, Jason Trawick, The New Yorker imagines her “conversion diary”. “Got verklempt last night with Jason when I told him how close I was to joining his tribe and all. Felt kinda guilty that my spiritual journey has been so easy, what with my already being mostly Jewish, but then Jason explained that feeling guilty just makes you Jewisher, so it’s all good.” [NYer]
• The golf course at Long Island’s Woodmere Club contains hundreds of old Jewish gravestones along its shore with Reynolds Channel. [NY Post]
• Adam Yauch, one-third of the (three-thirds Jewish) Beastie Boys, announced via candid YouTube the “pretty heavy news” that he has cancer in a lymph node. “This is something that’s very treatable and in most cases it’s, um, they’re able to completely get rid of it,” he says. [ArtsBeat]
• Mongolian neo-Nazis have co-opted Nazi imagery, rhetoric, and racial philosophy in the service of Mongolian nationalism and anti-Chinese sentiment. [Time]
• And as we commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing, it’s fascinating to remember that the Lubavitcher Rebbe believed that space exploration and scientific discovery generally served to buttress the Torah’s teachings by throwing previously-held scientific consensus into increased doubt. [Chabad.org]

Romanian Springtime for Hitler

Mayor dresses up for fashion show

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(News.Sky.com)

Many of us walked away from the movie Valkyrie, about Nazi officers’ failed plot to kill Hitler in 1944, pondering the moral quandaries facing patriotic Germans during World War II, or wondering why Tom Cruise’s character alone among the Germans did not speak with a British accent, or mourning the 121 minutes of our lives we will never get back. But Radu Mazare, the mayor of Constanta, Romania, left the movie inspired to “dress like a Wehrmacht general because I’ve always liked this uniform, and admired the rigorous organization of the German army,” a Romanian newspaper quoted him saying. And so he he lived out his dream over the weekend, when he and his son dressed in Nazi uniforms and goose-stepped in a fashion show.

Now—can you believe it?—some people are upset! The Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism has asked Romania’s general prosecutor to investigate Mazare for breaking a Romanian law that, yes, bans the wearing of Nazi uniforms, as well as for instigating a child to break same law. (For most of World War II, Romania’s right-wing and anti-Semitic government was allied with the Nazis; government forces killed as many as 380,000 Jews in territories that came under Romania’s control, a fact the government formally acknowledged in 2004.) The Reuters story reports that the mayor’s action “outraged Jewish and pro-democracy groups.” While that’s no doubt true, we prefer not think of such events in such narrow terms, or to assert proprietary claims over them. The Nazis may have been bad for the Jews—particularly bad, even—but they were bad for everyone else, too, and we are confident that this event outraged groups of all sorts. Including, we hope, residents of Constanta, Romania.

Outrage As Mayor Goose-Steps In WWII Uniform [Sky News]

Miley Cyrus Finds a Nice Jewish Boy

He’s playing soccer at the Maccabiah Games

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You might call them Marilyn-and-Arthur for the tween set. Today, a gossip rag called The Jerusalem Post brings news that teen heartthrob Gregg Sulkin, 17, who stars in the Disney Channel series As The Bell Rings:

• Is a British Jew;
• Can currently be found in Israel playing for the British soccer squad in the 2009 Maccabiah Games; and
• Is dating teen mega-star Miley Cyrus!

Most of the article concerns Sulkin’s experience on the team and with Israel. (It’s his second trip; his bar mitzvah was held at the Western Wall) But let’s face it, you don’t want to hear about that stuff. You want to hear him say, “”If she wasn’t that busy, I’d love to persuade her to come to Israel.” We’d love that too, Gregg! And it gets better. We did some digging, and it turns out that, according to PopCrunch, Cyrus, 16, began her relationship with Sulkin while still dating 20-year-old underwear model Justin Gatson (who we suppose is the Joe DiMaggio of this little tale). Moreover, we learn from Sulkin’s IMDB page that Cyrus’s father, musician Billy Ray Cyrus, had at one point urged his daughter to stick with Underwear Boy—apparently to no avail. To his credit, he now seems onboard the program: according to the Post, Billy Ray “has offered to help Sulkin further his acting career.”

In fact, the Post reports that Sulkin is heading directly to Los Angeles for callbacks after the Games. We definitely recommend that Sulkin take Billy Ray up on his offer. Sulkin may feel at home among his own people in Israel. But the aid of a country-music singer from Tennessee will definitely come in handy as Sulkin tries to make it as a Jew in Hollywood.

Miley Cyrus’s Boyfriend: Maccabiah, Then Hollywood [JPost]

Omri Casspi Is Ready For Primetime

But NBA’s first Israeli misses good hummus

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Casspi speaking in Tel Aviv last month, after he was drafted by the Kings.(Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

The Sacramento Kings were the NBA’s worst team last year, posting a dismal 17-65 record. Yet when the new season starts in the fall, we’d bet they’ll have picked up a lot of new fans. Why? Their top draft pick, Omri Casspi, is from the Tel Aviv suburb of Yavne, and he played for Maccabi Tel Aviv, which in Israel has something like the stature of the Lakers and Celtics combined. Most importantly, Casspi will be the first Israeli to play in the NBA. So Israelis, who love only soccer more than they love basketball, have been predictably ecstatic.

Casspi is well aware of the extra weight his trailblazer status places on the shoulders of his 6-foot-9-inch frame. “I think all the eyes and ears in Israel, in basketball in Israel, are focused on me now,” he told The New York Times over the weekend. “There is big expectations, and all the Jewish community in the States is really excited about it. So I think there’s a big responsibility with it.”

The Times discloses several fun facts about Israel’s most famous 21-year-old. Casspi grew up worshipping Michael Jordan. His cell phone bill from his first two weeks stateside came to $4,500—“expensive even by NBA standards,” the paper notes. The player he models himself after is Hedo Turkoglu, who has the size of a forward but the quickness of a guard (also, similarly to Casspi, Turkoglu is a hero back home, which in his case is Turkey). Finally, we learn that, so far, American hummus has left Casspi unsatisfied. “Man, I tried it; that’s all I can say,” he says. “I will bring some from Israel, maybe. I’ll let you taste it and you tell me.”

When Tablet last covered Casspi, draft day was imminent, and we weren’t sure whether he would even get any playing time, were he picked. But a month later, he seems on pace to play a real role in the Kings’ upcoming season. In fact, last Friday, in an exhibition game in Las Vegas, Casspi contributed 11 points toward the Kings’ win over the New York Knicks (admittedly not much competition). If he keeps that level of performance up, he’ll be as popular in his new home as he is in his old one.

From Israel to the NBA, Missing the Hummus [NYT]
Previously Draft Notice

Canadian Writer Makes $3 Million

And some bold claims about Holocaust fiction

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Martel winning his Man Booker in 2002.(John Li/Getty Images)

Saturday’s New York Times brought word that a Random House imprint has paid Canadian novelist Yann Martel around $3 million for his latest novel, a Holocaust allegory that features dialogue between a donkey and a monkey. In an interview with the paper, Martel, whose 2001 Life of Pi won the Man Booker Prize, decried what he sees as the restraint with which the Holocaust is depicted in books and onscreen. “It’s always represented in the same way, which is historical or social realism,” he said. “I was thinking that it was interesting that you don’t have many imaginative takes on it like George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and its take on Stalinism.” Artists, Martel added, are generally “fearful of letting the imagination loose on the Holocaust.”

It’s a provocative, if debatable, position. It’s also a curious one coming from an author who, in a decidedly unimaginative move, lifted the premise of his prize-winning book from another novelist.

‘Life of Pi’ Author Is Said to Get $3 Million Deal [NYT]

Today on Tablet

One short drive, Waxman’s new book, and forbidden Tuscan love

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It’s the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 astronauts’ arrival on the moon, and on Tablet today Samuel G. Freedman’s recalls of that famous landing, and how it’s linked to a car trip he and his mother took to rescue his sister, Carol, from unhappiness at summer camp. A study finds that more spiritual children are happier children but that religious observance has no similar impact—prompting Tablet parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall to wonder whether Jewish spirituality can truly be divorced from Jewish religious practice. In his weekly look at new books, contributing editor Josh Lambert discusses Rep. Henry Waxman’s memoir, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dennis Ross’s new Middle East tome, and Israel is Real, by Tough Jews author Rich Cohen. The weekly Vox Tablet podcast features Adam Schell, whose debut novel, Tomato Rhapsody, portrays a forbidden Jewish-Catholic romance in Renaissance Tuscany. And of course, check The Scroll all day for new posts.

Send Her Your Tired and Poor Votes

Vote for Lazarus in silly Jewish Hall of Fame contest

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(Photo illustration by Len Small)

Many years ago, when your blogger was about 13 years and 1 month old, your blogger’s grandmother, to mark the recent occasion of his bar mitzvah, took him to Israel. On that trip, he remembers, they visited the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, in Tel Aviv, and—a cultural critic even then—your blogger was unimpressed. The museum, it seemed to him, was a well-presented, carefully displayed, sometimes-interactive version of sitting around with a bunch of kibbitzing alter kockers in Boca: Benjamin Disraeli was Jewish, you know! And Albert Einstein! And Sandy Koufax, too! And so on. It was, it seemed to your young nascent blogger, simply a collection of narcissistic boosterism, and, as such, more than a little bit distasteful. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that they’re building a National Museum of American Jewish History on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, and they’re letting people vote on which 18 Jewish Americans should be included its “Only In America Hall of Fame” gallery, a sort of Cooperstown of American Jewry. (That Sandy Koufax—such a ballplayer!) So go vote. We’re rooting for Emma Lazarus.

Only in American Hall of Fame [NMAJH.org]

Daybreak: Gates Goes to Israel

A visit from the Defense secretary, and more in the news

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• U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will visit Israel on July 27 to address the Iranian nuclear issue as well as, potentially, West Bank settlements. [JTA]
• In a statement, meantime, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected American calls to cease building settlements in East Jerusalem, asserting sovereignty over “united Jerusalem”. [NYT]
• In a skirmish, Gazans shot a rocket-propelled grenade at Israel soldiers over the border; the soldiers shot one unarmed Palestinian man, wounding him severely. [JTA]
• Last week, in the first-ever high-level meeting between the two governments, a senior Palestinian negotiator met with Iran’s foreign minister. [Arutz Sheva]
• And Jason Lezak set a new Maccabiah swimming record in the 100-meter freestyle: 47.78 seconds. [Haaretz]

Sundown: Hate the Composer, Not the Music

Oppenheimer, Winehouse, and Seinfeld

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• Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich wants the L.A. Opera to rethink its planned production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in 2010, citing the composer’s anti-Semitism. Director Plácido Domingo, however, is proud to encourage “intensive analysis and discussion.” [Jewish Journal]
• Plus more on Jewish composers: A Thai conductor muses on his love of Mahler, who “once said that he was three times an alien: a Bohemian in Austria, an Austrian among Germans, and a Jew in the whole world.” [Nation]
• “Nobody,” says New Voices, “debates the rock-star status of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the chain-smoking, Bhagavad Gita-quoting Jew at the helm of the Manhattan Project.” In honor of yesterday’s 64th anniversary of the first nuclear bomb test, some reminiscences about the man. [New Voices]
• Shockingly, Amy Winehouse—famous for autobiographical lyrics like “I told you I was trouble, you know that I’m no good”—and her husband are getting divorced. [Guardian]
• Having trouble in your marriage? Jerry Seinfeld’s seemingly horrific reality show, The Marriage Ref, is holding open casting calls. [NBC]

Shabbat on the Radio

May no longer be a New York tradition

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The sanctuary at Emanu-El.(Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

At 5:30 tonight, the New York classical-music station WQXR will broadcast the regular Shabbat service from Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, just as it has for decades. But the broadcast’s future is unclear. The cash-strapped New York Times Company, which has owned the station since 1944, agreed earlier this week to sell it earlier this week to the public radio station WNYC Radio and Univision. So far, the new owners have committed to continuing long-running programs from the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic, but the rest of the station’s schedule, including the Shabbat service and other religious programming from local churches, is up for discussion. “Everything will be getting a second look,” said WNYC spokeswoman Jennifer Houlihan.

Times Co. Agrees to Sell WQXR Radio [NYT]

Oregon Ban on Religious Clothes for Teachers

Brings people together

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Is the Oregon state legislature trying to make peace between the world’s religions? That seems to be the inadvertent effect of a bill under consideration in Salem that would keep in place a law that “prohibit[s] a teacher from wearing religious dress while engaged in the performance of duties as a teacher,” according to The Oregonian. Originally passed nearly a century ago as an anti-Catholic measure, says the paper, it’s now being protested by Sikh and Muslim groups, who want the governor to veto the bill. And what’s one element of their argument? Both Sikh and Muslim leaders have invoked the plight of Jewish teachers prohibited from wearing a yarmulkes or Star of Davids. Such togetherness!

Oregon Law Is Too Strict on Teachers’ Religious Garb [The Oregonian]
Sikhs reject ‘Gaping Hole’ in Oregon Discrimination Bill [World Sikh News]

Controversial Israeli TV Ad Now More Controversial

More tsuris over security-fence cell-phone commercial

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In Israel, even controversies spawn their own controversies. First came the controversy over a TV ad for an Israeli cell phone provider, which feature IDF soldiers kicking around a soccer ball with unseen Palestinians, over the Security Fence, and which was, depending on whom you listed to, either a callous mockery of the pain caused by the wall or a warm-hearted commentary on the common humanity of those on both side. Now, two Israeli filmmakers who saw the ad have begun legal proceedings, claiming it rips off a short film they made three years ago, which featured Israeli volleyball players tossing a ball to the other end of the fence.

Making matters even worse, say the filmmakers, Yossi Atia and Itamar Rose, is the fact that while their film was intended to protest the wall as a barrier to normal life, the cell phone spot sends a very different message. “In our movie, the ball is never returned back to the Israeli side,” said Rose, “just like in reality, because the wall was intended to sever the ties between both peoples. [In the commercial, Israelis and Palestinians] play and shout happily, which is the exact opposite message.”

We eagerly await the controversy over this latest controversy.

Filmmakers Claim: Cellcom’s Admen Stole Our Wall Ad [Ha’aretz, in Hebrew]
Earlier: Bridge the Security Fence

New ‘Harry Potter’ Is a Holocaust Allegory

Or else it’s a Christ allegory

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Critics agree: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—in which the offspring of mixed marriages between wizards and non-magical folk are tarred as “mudbloods”—is an allegory about racism with parallels in Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Barack Obama’s recent trip to Ghana. Oh, and the Holocaust. The Los Angeles Jewish Journal has some interviews it conducted with Potter producer David Heyman (who also produced Holocaust drama The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) to bring home the point. “Voldemort and his followers, the Death Eaters, are obsessed with the preservation of blood purity,” he says. “They’re not Nazis but they recall the politics and attitudes of Nazi Germany. And aesthetically—although it’s a cliché—the [Death Eater] Lucius Malfoy and his family are blond, like Hitler’s ideal of the quintessential Aryan.” Well, you see what you look for: Christianity Today reminds readers that “many see Harry, though far from perfect, as something of a Christ figure, while his nemesis, the Dark Lord Voldemort, clearly represents The Devil himself.”

Harry Potter: Wizards and Racism [Washington Post]
There’s Something Familiar About ‘Half-Blood Prince’ [The Wrap]
Harry Potter and the ‘Half-Blood’ Jews [Jewish Journal]
Is Harry Potter the Chosen One? [Christianity Today]

Ivanka Trump: Officially Jewish

And engaged; membership has its privileges.

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Ivanka at a family PR event last year.(Amanda Rivkin/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s been a big week for Ivanka Trump, the lovely heiress/socialite/real-estate developer. First, she became a Jew! Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, the Modern Orthodox synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, earlier this week formally certified the conversion of the daughter of real estate mogul Donald Trump (himself raised Protestant, by way of the positive-thinking pastor Rev. Norman Vincent Peale). Oh, and then Ivanka went and got engaged, to her boyfriend, New York Observer owner Jared Kushner, for whom she converted in the first place. Mazel tov to both.

Ivanka Trump on New Fiancé Jared Kushner: ‘He’ll be a Great Father’ [NYM]

Today in Iran

Controversy at Friday prayers

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Mir Hussein Mousavi—the leading opposition candidate in last month’s Iranian presidential election—and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who supports him, attended the high-profile Friday prayers at Tehran University today for the first time since the disputed presidential election. Security forces fired tear gas at protesters and arrested 15, according to The New York Times; a prominent Iranian women’s rights activist, Shadi Sadr, was also reportedly beaten by plainclothes militiamen and carted away before reaching the university. Rafsanjani delivered the sermon, calling for “unity” and the release of dissidents rounded up during the month-long revolutionary ferment. Why is the prominent cleric becoming such an opposition figure? Scholar Abbas Milani, who has been analyzing Iranian events for The New Republic in recent weeks, explains:

For at least four years, Rafsanjani has been unhappy about Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s inordinate power, the direction of the country, and Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery—particularly spurred by his sharp attacks against the Rafsanjani family. In the weeks before the election, Rafsanjani clearly sided with the reformists and put his considerable assets—financial and political—in the service of Moussavi. Rafsanjani today must know what most Iranians know: Unless he stands up to this most recent power grab by the triumvirate of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards, he and his family will be next on the chopping block. Should he, on the other hand, be too defiant in his support for the opposition, he invites the wrath of the triumvirate. This Friday’s sermon is thus shaping up as the most important in Rafsanjani’s storied career.

Police Fire Tear Gas Outside Friday Prayers in Tehran [New York Times]
Rafsanjani’s Day of Reckoning [The New Republic]

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