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Ehud Olmert Convicted of Bribery Charges

Former prime minister found guilty of accepting bribes for Holyland complex

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (C) leaves after a hearing in his trial for corruption linked to a major property development on March 31, 2014 at Tel Aviv District Court. (DAN BALILTY/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted of bribery by a Tel Aviv district court on Monday morning. In addition to Olmert, who was found guilty of two of the four charges against him stemming from his role in the Holyland complex debable, 10 of 13 former officials were convicted as well, the New York Times reports.

The controversy over the Holyland complex came to light in 2010, when it was reported that Olmert, who oversaw the Israel Land Authorities, had allowed the Jerusalem site to become more than 12 times its allotted size. According to the Times, a judge then called it “one of the worst corruption affairs in Israeli history.” In court on Monday, a judge ruled that Olmert had, with the help of his brother Yossi, funneled nearly $143,000 in shekels from Shmuel Dechner, a businessman responsible for obtaining permits. (more…)

Rabbi Andy Bachman’s Next Adventure

The beloved Brooklyn rabbi steps down from his pulpit

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Andy Bachman is the kind of mensch who invited me to his home to join his robust and welcoming seder some years ago when I revealed I had nowhere to go that night. At the Mount Carmel Cemetery, where he led Vox Tablet producer Julie Subrin and me on a tour of the final resting spots of the illustrious deceased for a High Holiday podcast, he spoke passionately and with deep knowledge about historical figures in New York City and about how Judaism deals with death and renewal. When I ran into him last weekend along Prospect Park West with his youngest daughter and their pooch, Nathan, he was able to tell me exactly what was going on with the eviction notices being delivered to the residents of a nearby senior citizens home.

Bachman, a longtime friend of Tablet, is the beloved senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. But he won’t be for long. Earlier this week, he announced on his blog that he will not seek renewal of his contract when it comes due next year. He will step down from his pulpit at the end of June 2015. (more…)

Sometimes a Misogynist is Just a Misogynist

Don’t excuse Lars von Trier

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Uma Thurman in Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" (Magnolia)

There’s a lot of love for Lars von Trier these days. Despite making off-color jokes about being a Nazi, for which I can forgive him, and launching perhaps the most sustained and unrelenting assault on the female body throughout his career that the film industry has ever seen, for which I can’t, there exists an irrepressible respect for his work among movie critics.

Words such as “outrageous” and “provocative” have abounded in descriptions of von Trier’s latest flick, Nymph()maniac, a film so avant garde that the word can’t even be spelled properly. David Denby in the New Yorker called it “an obsessive, violent, and at times remarkably eccentric sex epic that is often brilliant and never simple-minded or dull.” Sheila O’Malley at rogerebert.com called it “fascinating, engaging and often didactic.” Manhola Dargis was slightly less effusive, though she insists “you’re unlikely to turn away.” And our own Liel Leibovitz called it a “godly film.”

I have to admit that I am mystified by this praise. (more…)

Leaked: The Rolling Stones’ Tel Aviv Playlist

A satirical set list for the Stones

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The Rolling Stones in concert at RFK stadium during the Voodoo Lounge Tour in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, August 4, 1994. (Shutterstock)

For every loudmouth like Roger Waters who spews anti-Israel venom, there are many other performers who are more than happy to play concerts in Israel. But it would be disingenuous to suggest that these artists are mindfully bucking the BDS movement; it is far more likely that for them, “it’s not personal, it’s business”—and, anyway, a gig’s a gig.

With that in mind, we can rejoice to learn that the Rolling Stones will be playing a concert in Tel Aviv in June, despite the BDS crowd’s best efforts to get them to back out. You can imagine Mick Jagger’s septuagenarian sneer when he looked the BDSers in the eye and stood his ground—especially because rumor has it that the Stones will be getting $4.5 million for their performance.

We have even more reason to rejoice, though. We got our hands on the most sought-after intelligence to come out of Israel since the specs of the Iron Dome missile defense system. I am referring, of course, to the list of songs that the Stones will be playing at the concert in Tel Aviv.  (more…)

Rabbi Wolpe’s Picks: A Titan of Babylonia

‘Sa’adyah Gaon,’ by Robert Brody

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(iStockPhoto)

Rabbi David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and the author, most recently, of Why Faith Matters. In this Scroll series, Wolpe examines a work of Jewish scholarship, either contemporary or classic, which has relevance for modern Jewish life.

From the close of the Talmud until the rise of Maimonides, Judaism’s greatest figure was a man who wrote commentaries, responsa, philosophy, poetry, linguistics, ran an academy and engaged in fierce public polemics. “No one in the Middle Ages,” writes Robert Brody in his biography of this protean scholar, “had a broader and deeper influence on the development of the Jewish tradition than Sa’adyah Gaon.” (more…)

Vivek Murthy Isn’t Jewish, But He Embodies the ‘Jewish Doctor’

His nomination to be surgeon-general is being held up by NRA lobbying

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(YouTube)

In the literature of the Haskalah, the early-modern Jewish Enlightenment movement, the Jewish doctor was a stock heroic character. His presence persisted into the 20th-century Yiddish literature that I study, where the most idealized doctors were intellectuals with a common touch, broad-minded humanists whose ready empathy was channeled into liberal political and social engagement.

They all owe a debt to Maimonides, the paragon of Jewish doctors—a thinker who scaled the heights of esoteric philosophy but also considered it worthwhile to instruct his readers on how to avoid the evils of constipation. But the transition he makes in his legal code from behavioral to digestive wellness isn’t haphazard; it pivots on the observation that without a sound body, one cannot properly contemplate the Divine. Who can study philosophy with a toothache?

I’ve been thinking about this integrative type of medical practitioner a lot over the past week as I’ve followed—with dismay turning to indignation—the stalled nomination of Dr. Vivek H. Murthy to the post of Surgeon General. (more…)

Why I Never Got a Gas Mask in Israel

Reflections on being an outsider under fire

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(Shutterstock)

I was rummaging through my shoebox of cosmetics recently, looking for a lip gloss, when I pulled out an antidote for nerve gas exposure. It was only a few months ago that everyone in Israel was lining up for gas mask kits. It was this past summer; Syria had chemical weapons and the United States was considering a ground attack. What nobody knew at the time was that we were in the twilight of the gas masks. At the end of February, the government stopped distributing masks to citizens.

It’s the end of an era: since the 1990s, Israelis have been able to get a mask for free from government distribution points. My friend Sarai recalls going to elementary school with her gas mask kit in tow. Each student had one, a little gas mask in a little box. With their teachers’ help they decorated the boxes one day in class. Sarai remembers markers, glitter, stickers. “Hiya kef,” she shrugs. “It was fun.”

Last summer, when it seemed like at any second a rocket bearing sarin gas might land on Tel Aviv, I felt like the only person in Israel without a gas mask. (more…)

Standing up to Anti-Semitism in the Baltics

Holocaust revisionism rises in old Jewish strongholds of Vilna, Kovno & Riga

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Pilies Street, Vilna(Wikipedia)

I first started demonstrating for Jewish causes almost 50 years ago, in the mid-1960s, as a young and impressionable high school student recruited for the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry by its founder, Jacob Birnbaum. Very few people were interested in the plight of Soviet Jewry in those days, however, and I remember our small demonstrations in the vicinity of the Soviet Mission to the United Nations as very intimate gatherings of a few chevre. We were not allowed near the “target,” and there were no physical confrontations with the “enemy.”

In the following years, as the Soviet Jewry movement grew, the number of demonstrators rose considerably, but the nature of the protests, marches, and rallies I participated in remained basically the same. Once the gates of the Soviet Union were opened wide to Jewish emigration, I assumed that my days of demonstrating for Jewish causes were over and I could rest on my laurels, having done my share for a highly successful campaign.

But in the past few weeks, however, I have once again found myself demonstrating, not once or twice, but three times within one month, in very hostile territory and badly outnumbered by those I was demonstrating against. (more…)

Meet The Jewish NCAA

Students gather for the fourth National Hillel Basketball Tournament

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(hilleltournament.com)

With the NCAA basketball tournament well underway, Jewish college kids from around the country are gathering at the University of Maryland this weekend for a college basketball tournament of their own. The fourth annual National Hillel Basketball Tournament will be the largest yet, with 41 teams of more than 300 players from over 30 universities set to arrive at UMD for a weekend full of basketball. (more…)

Rabbis Shave Their Heads For Cancer Research

More than 70 reform rabbis to participate in pediatric cancer fundraiser

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(Shutterstock)

The story of Sam Sommer, the dynamic young son of Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer, captivated and moved readers who followed along with Superman Sam, the blog that chronicled Sam’s battle with pediatric cancer. Sam died of leukemia in December 2013—just over 103 days ago—but his legacy continues to inspire, and motivate, those around him.

Though the initial plan for the Shave for the Brave fundraiser was to get an auspicious 36 rabbis to participate in Sam’s honor, more than 70 reform rabbis have pledged to shave their heads for donations to St. Baldricks Foundation, an organization which raises money for pediatric cancer research. The fundraiser, organized by Rabbi Rebecca Schorr, has so far raised $495,686—or 91 percent of its $540,000 goal. The group will shave their heads en masse on April 1 at the Central Conference of American Rabbis convention in Chicago. (more…)

Controversy Over Signed Copy of ‘Mein Kampf’

Internet tycoon Kim Dotcom admits owning the book, denies Nazi sympathies

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One of two rare copies of 'Mein Kampf' signed by Adolf Hitler up for auction in Los Angeles, California on February 25, 2014. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

German-born Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom is simultaneously fighting extradition from New Zealand to the United States on racketeering charges and criticism for owning a rare signed copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The founder of MegaUpload, however, denies being a Nazi sympathizer, JTA reports.

Dotcom, whose real name is Kim Schmitz, founded the Internet Party earlier this year, an unregistered political party in New Zealand. One of the party’s main agendas is to advocate against government surveillance. Dotcom believes the anti-Semitic accusations against him are a ploy to set back his party’s campaign. (more…)

Major Nazi-Looted Art Collection to be Returned

Germany recluse’s hidden stash includes work by Monet, Renoir, and Matisse

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(Photograph of the painting "Sitting Woman," by Henri Matisse)

A trove of Nazi-looted artwork worth more than $1 billion found in the homes of Cornelius Gurlitt will be returned to the heirs of its rightful owners, Reuters reports. Authorities found the stolen collection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures while investigating Gurlitt on suspicion of tax evasion in February 2012. They raided his Munich apartment and discovered part of the massive collection, which includes more than 238 pieces of artwork in total.

Gurlitt wants to “return all (artworks) that have been stolen or robbed from Jewish ownership to each of their owners or descendants,” lawyer Christoph Edel was quoted as saying on Wednesday by Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Just last month, though, Gurlitt and his legal team filed a formal complaint against the seizure of the collection. (more…)

Russia’s Chief Rabbi Criticizes Ukrainian Jews

Attacks Jewish leadership for condemning Putin’s actions in Crimea

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Russia's chief Rabbi Berel Lazar attend a ceremony at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre in Moscow, on June 13, 2013. (YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar has come out criticizing Ukraine’s Jewish leadership for condemning Moscow’s actions in Crimea, JTA reports. We know how Lazar, a longtime friend of Putin’s, feels about the hostile take-over of Crimea, evidence by his vigorous clapping during last week’s annexation ceremony. But the Chabad rabbi took things a step further, insisting that all Jewish leadership share his approval of Putin’s actions.

“The Jewish community should not be the one sending messages to President Barack Obama about his policy or to President Putin or to any other leader,” Lazar said Monday in an interview. “I think it’s the wrong attitude.” (more…)

Video: French Attack Victim Describes Assault

Jewish teacher shows bruises, broken nose, and swastika drawn on chest

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Photograph of the victim. (Algemeiner)

The Jewish teacher attacked last week in Paris was recorded on camera describing the assault. The footage, which Algemeiner published today, features the 59-year-old man, identified only as David, recounting the attacked, which occurred as he exited a kosher restaurant on Rue Manin.

His nose was broken and a swastika drawn on his chest by the assailants, whom he described as three North African men, and who reportedly fled once the attack drew the attention of passersby.

Algemeiner translated parts of the video.

“They started to curse me out: ‘dirty Jew,’ ‘death to the Jews,’ ‘son of a b***,’ etc. Then they started to beat me up,” David says in the clip before breaking down in tears. “I was hit on my face, I got my nose fractured… And then one of them took something out of his pocket, I thought it was a knife… It was a marker… And this is what they did to me (showing his chest), a swastika as they were screaming ‘dirty Jew.’”

(more…)

U.S. Troops Get New Jewish Prayer Book

Military issues official siddur for the first time since World War II

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A Soldier holds a Jewish prayer book before a Task Force Marne Jewish Passover celebration and dinner, March 29, at the Freedom Rest, Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq.(U.S. Army)

Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis collaborated to create the first Jewish prayer book issued by the army since World War II, JTA reports. The siddur includes a foreword from President Obama.

In past years, Jewish chaplains have used a variety of different prayer books to lead services, but there has been no uniform text, which meant servicemen and women had to constantly adapt to new worship services as they moved between bases. The creation of the new siddur will hopefully eliminate this problem. (more…)

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