Watching ‘The Producers,’ Nearly 50 Years Later

Mel Brooks’ 1968 film evoked laughs in the face of the obscene. It still does today.

Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel in the 1968 film, 'The Producers.' (MGM/IMDb)

When I sat down to watch The Producers last weekend, I was prepared for the humor to be somewhat obscene. Having already seen Spaceballs and History of the World Part I, I was familiar with Mel Brooks’ style. But The Producers reached an entirely new level. I love Brooks’ sense of humor, but still I wondered if it was OK to laugh—while wincing—when the female SS officers dance in a Swastika formation during the first performance of Springtime for Hitler. Still, my discomfort was short-lived, and I didn’t find it too difficult to decide to just laugh at and enjoy the film.

My proximity to the film’s subject matter perhaps helped make me feel more comfortable laughing along with The Producers. (more…)

Hamas Leader Admits Kidnapping Israeli Teens

First time the group has claimed responsibility for the catalytic June murders

Israeli soldiers stand next to their vehicles on June 30, 2014 in the village of Halhul, near the West Bank town of Hebron, where the bodies of the three missing Israeli teenagers were found. (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Speaking at a conference of Muslim clerics in Turkey Wednesday, Saleh al-Arouri, a senior Hamas leader and the founder of the organization’s military wing, admitted that his group was behind kidnapping and killing Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah. “It was an operation by your brothers from the al-Qassam Brigades,” he said.

This is the first time Hamas has publicly accepted responsibility for the June kidnapping, which many see as the catalyst behind the current round of violence in Gaza. (more…)

We Can Be Vital Supporters of Israel and Still Question Its Policies

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah responds to Tablet

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City. (Yelp)

For the last 40 years, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the largest LGBTQ synagogue in the world, has been a vibrant spiritual community and a progressive voice within Judaism. Passionate, provocative, and deeply Jewish, CBST champions a Judaism that rejoices in diversity, denounces social injustice wherever it exists, and strives for human rights for all people. We are committed to Israel and engaged in supporting efforts to secure peace, justice and equality for all.

Over the last 40 years, CBST has welcomed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (and straight) Jews who join together for prayer, community, and social justice work. (more…)

David Gregory Writing Book About Being Jewish

Former ‘Meet the Press’ host observes Shabbat, celebrates Jewish holidays

David Gregory during a taping of NBC's 'Meet the Press' December 7, 2008 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press)

Former Meet the Press host David Gregory’s next big project will be a book about his Jewish faith, Politico’s Playbook reports. Gregory, who was rather suddenly removed from his post last week after a two-decade career at NBC, has been working with Simon & Schuster since 2011 on a book that will be published next year.

“This book has always been intended as an exploration of an aspect of David’s life that viewers rarely see in his journalistic work,” Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Publishing Group, told Playbook’s Mike Allen in an email. (more…)

Senior Hamas Commanders Killed in Gaza

One of three Hamas leaders killed in IDF strike led 2006 Gilad Shalit capture

Palestinian mourners attend the funeral of three senior Hamas commanders in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on August 21, 2014.(SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)

The Israeli cabinet approved the call-up of 10,000 IDF reservists on Thursday, the 45th day of Operation Protective Edge, following the killing of three Hamas commanders, including two top officers, in a targeted assassination overnight in the Gaza Strip.

The reservists will replace others who will be sent home for rest, and join a total of 86,000 reserve soldiers called up since the beginning of the Gaza operation this summer. Most of the reservists were sent to replace active troops in the West Bank and on the northern border, though others were sent to Gaza and the Gaza front line border areas.

The Hamas commanders killed in the air strike in Rafah were named as Mohammed Abu Shamaleh and Raed al-Attar. A third Hamas leader was also killed in the attack. (more…)

London Getting Life-Size Amy Winehouse Statue

Bronze tribute to be unveiled near the late singer’s Camden home next month

Amy Winehouse performs at a concert in celebration of Nelson Mandela's life at Hyde Park on June 27, 2008 in London, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Amy Winehouse, the powerhouse singer who died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, at age 27, will be immortalized in bronze in her London neighborhood. On Sept. 14, which would have been the singer’s 31st birthday, a life-size statue of Winehouse will be unveiled in Camden, JTA reports.

The bronze rendering, created by London-based artist Scott Eaton, will include Winehouse’s trademark beehive hairstyle, and depicts the cocktail dress-clad singer standing with her hand on her hip.

“Now Amy will oversee the comings and goings of her home town forever,” her father, Mitch Winehouse, told the U.K.’s Telegraph. (more…)

Putting the Jonathan Pollard Story on Stage

Infamous 1986 spying case plays out in NYC production of The Law of Return

André Ware, left, and Ben Mehl in “The Law of Return,” Martin Blank’s play at the Fourth Street Theater.(Hunter Canning)

Jonathan Pollard has spent the past 27 years in a North Carolina prison cell, pleading guilty in 1986 to spying for Israel. But for the past few weeks he—or, rather, an actor pretending to be him—has been treading the off-off-Broadway boards in The Law of Return, a play by Martin Blank in a production directed by Elise Thoron at the 4th Street Theatre.

Mostly eschewing any attempt to build tension, as the story’s real-life conclusion will come as no surprise to all but the most oblivious theater-goer, the play is a character study of three men: Pollard, a civilian, works as an analyst for American naval intelligence officer Steve Harris (Andre Ware), while at the same time passing on increasingly sensitive intelligence to Rafi Eitan (Joel Rooks), the storied Israeli spymaster behind the capture of Adolf Eichmann. (more…)

Pittsburgh’s First Jewish Mayor Dies at 96

Sophie Masloff, elected in 1988, was also the city’s first female leader

Then-Councilwoman Sophie Masloff at a subway groundbreaking ceremony on October 11, 1981.(From the Collections of the Pennsylvania Department, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Sophie Masloff, the first Jewish major of Pittsburgh, died Sunday at the age of 96, JTA reports.

Born to Romanian Jewish immigrants in a Yiddish-speaking home, Masloff worked as a county court clerk for 30 years and was elected to City Council in 1976. She later became its president and, in 1988, when she was 70, assumed the role of mayor following the death of then-mayor Richard Caliguiri. As Pittsburgh’s 56th mayor, she was the city’s first female and first Jewish leader. She served through 1994. (more…)

Obama Confirms ISIS Murder of U.S Journalist

James Foley, kidnapped in Syria in 2012, was killed by jihadist terror group

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement about the execution of American journalist James Foley by ISIS terrorists in Iraq during a press briefing in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. (Rick Friedman-Pool/Getty Images)

James Foley, a photojournalist who disappeared in Syria nearly two years ago, was killed by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, President Barack Obama confirmed today in a press conference.

Rumors of Foley’s death circulated after a video that apparently showed his graphic execution was posted on YouTube yesterday before being quickly removed by the website.

“There has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so it does not spread,” President Obama said, referring to ISIS, a jihadist group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States for 10 years. (more…)

Bibi: ‘We Will Continue Until the Goal is Reached’

Doesn’t address whether or not Hamas commander was killed in Gaza strike

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference on August 6, 2014.(JIM HOLLANDER/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference Wednesday night about the re-eascalation of fighting in Gaza following Hamas rockets that broke Tuesday’s ceasefire agreement.

He waxed confident on Operation Protective Edge, saying, “In recent weeks we’ve dealt Hamas a harsh blow. We’ve prevented, via Iron Dome, thousands of rockets from hitting our communities, and we destroyed thousands of rockets.”

He pointedly didn’t address whether Mohammed Deif, the commander of Hamas’s military wing, had been killed in a targeted Israeli strike on the home he was believed to be hiding out in. (more…)

The Yoga Guru and the Violinist

B.K.S. Iyengar, who died today, worked closely with musician Yehudi Menuhin

Yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar, who died today at 95. (The Indian Express)

Though seemingly ubiquitous now in cities across America, yoga was once a rare practice in the West. Its popularity outside of India owes a debt to the late violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who met the yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar, in 1952 in what was then called Bombay, after the American-born musician was challenged to a headstand by his host, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Scheduled to last five minutes, their meeting stretched to three and a half hours, as Iyengar led Menuhin through a series of asanas—poses—designed to help him achieve greater physical and mental balance.

Iyengar, who died today at age 95, and Menuhin developed a decades-long friendship. The musician became an ambassador for Iyengar, helping introduce him and his work throughout Europe and adding yoga to the curriculum of his music school. (more…)

Are Politicians the Only People Visiting Israel?

Rick Santorum says tourism is down 95 percent. That’s not exactly true.

Jerusalem's Old City. (Shutterstock)

Former Pennsylvania Senator—and possible 2016 presidential hopeful—Rick Santorum is wrapping up a three-day trip to Israel. “It’s very sad to be here right now,” he told a Philadelphia radio station when he arrived.

Why? Because he’s lonely.

“Tourism is down 95 percent… You drive around Jerusalem and it feels like a ghost town,” said Santorum, a strong supporter of Israel and a member of the historically Jewish Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity. “It’s quite sad.” (more…)

‘Duck Dynasty’ Duo to Host Fundraiser for Messianic Jewish Group

Controversial reality show patriarch and preacher son headlining annual event

Members of Duck Dynasty's Robertson family. (A&E)

Over at Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner reports that the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute’s annual banquet will be hosted by Phil and Alan Robertson of the enormously popular reality show Duck Dynasty. Phil, the family’s patriarch, is perhaps best known to those who don’t follow the A&E show about the Robertsons, a family of entrepreneurial duck hunters in Louisiana, for the homophobic remarks he made in a GQ interview earlier this year (he was briefly suspended from the show as a result). His eldest son Alan, who joined the show in its fourth season, is a preacher, and the Robertson family’s devout Christian faith is prominently featured on the show.

They’ll be talking the Messianic mantle from George W. Bush, who headlined the event last year. His participation rankled Jews, who objected to his involvement with an organization that, as Posner explained at the time, aims “to ‘restore’ Israel and the Jews and bring about about the second coming of Christ.” (more…)

Germany Orders Nazi-Looted Painting Returned to Jewish Heirs

Max Liebermann painting part of massive Munich trove discovered in 2012

'Rides At The Beach' by Max Liebermann, photographed on November 18, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. The work is among the nearly 1,400 works German authorities confiscated from the Munich residence of Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer who worked for the Nazis. (Lost Art Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg via Getty Images)

German experts investigating the trove of Nazi-looted art stashed in the home of the late Cornelius Gurlitt announced Friday that a 1901 Max Liebermann painting, “Two Riders on the Beach,” was stolen during World War II and must be returned to the heirs of German-Jewish art collector David Friedmann, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Friedmann’s 89-year-old great-nephew, David Toren, the heir to the painting, filed a lawsuit against the Bavarian and German governments in March to have the painting returned.

He last remembers seeing the work as a child at Friedmann’s home. Friedmann died in the early 1940s, and his daughter committed suicide to escape Nazi persecution soon after his death. Toren and his brother were the only members of their family who survived the Holocaust. Toren’s brother, who died several months ago, is survived by three daughters, and Toren has one son. According to the Wall Street Journal, the family hasn’t decided who will get the painting. (more…)

Is This the Best Yiddish Rap You’ve Ever Heard?

Cantor Lee Schwartz kicks it way, way old school


Can I get an oy vey? Lee Schwartz, cantor emeritus at Sinai Free Synagogue in Mount Vernon, N.Y., drops some old school Yiddish beats in what might be the most charming rap video ever posted to YouTube.

I dropped out of my adult education Yiddish class after only one semester, so I’m not exactly sure what he’s talking about, but it sounds pretty hardcore. (more…)

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