Bel Kaufman Muses on the Benefits of Being 100

Celebrated author and Yiddish scion passes away at 103

) 'The Nannies' Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin pose with Bel Kaufman (C) during Marymount Manhattan Writing Center Anniversary Party on March 12, 2003 in New York City. (Getty Images)

This past Friday, Bel Kaufman passed away at 103. She was the grande dame of the Upper East Side, a former schoolteacher, author of the 60s classic Up the Down Staircase—and the granddaughter of celebrated Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem. Kaufman was born on May 10, 1911, in Berlin, and spent her childhood in my own home city of Odessa. After the family was forced to flee during the Russian Revolution, they settled in the Bronx in 1923, when Kaufman was 12 years old. She studied education at Hunter College, graduated in 1934, then obtained a master’s degree in English from Columbia University, ultimately launching her successful literary career while serving as a substitute teacher.

Two years ago, I was in the middle of making a documentary film about my husband’s family friend, the great Russian-born Jewish violinist Nina Beilina. Bel, active to the last, kindly agreed to appear in a crucial scene with Nina and spent the afternoon with us. (more…)

Remembering Margot Adler

NPR anchor passes away at 68


Known and admired for her deft reporting on topics ranging from the KKK to Hurricane Sandy, NPR’s Margot Adler died earlier this week after a three-and-a-half-year bout with cancer. She started out at as the host of “Hour of the Wolf,” a show about sci-fi writers on WBAI in New York City, before joining NPR where, among other achievements, she landed the first radio interview in the country with J.K. Rowling—the brains behind Harry Potter. She was the granddaughter of Alfred Adler, the Viennese psychoanalyst who became one of Freud’s rivals.

According to the New York Times, Margot Adler was “a self-described Wiccan high priestess who adhered to the tradition for more than 40 years,” and wrote the influential Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America. Adler explained later that her attraction to neo-paganism had very much to do with its ties to feminism and the natural world. (more…)

Brooks, Stephens Get it Just Right

Getting to the bottom of what the war in Gaza is about

An Israeli artillery gun fires a 155mm shell towards targets from their position near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014. (Getty Images)

Thinking their way through the recent war in Gaza, even observers usually blessed with a keener eye seem to be succumbing to a foggy confusion over what we’re fighting for, who’s to blame, and what’s at stake. Prime examples are here and here. That’s why it was so refreshing to receive a double dose of superbly clear analysis yesterday morning in America’s two major newspapers.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the indispensible Bret Stephens gave his column just the right title: “Palestine makes you dumb.” (more…)

Project Offers Fresh Glimpse Into Jewish Krakow

‘Snapshot’ highlights traces of the city’s past using Polaroid-style frames

Graffiti reading Radość / Smutek (Joy / Sadness) framed on the corner of Plac Nowy, a trendy square known as the Jewish Square in Krakow, Poland. (Photos by the author)

On a Thursday morning earlier this month, a group of 12 people gathered in front of Krakow’s Jewish Community Centre, ready to explore the city’s Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, with a fresh gaze. We were led by Helena Czernek and Aleksander Prugar, the creative minds behind “Snapshot—Urban Project,” which debuted at this year’s 24th annual Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow. Different sized cardboard Polaroid-style frames were distributed, and smaller groups were tasked with ‘framing’ details of the neighborhood that may be overlooked, interesting, or symbolic.

“The goal is to make Kazimierz a gallery for everyone,” said Czernek. “After today it’ll still be there for people who didn’t take part.” (more…)

A Bibi-Obama Transcript, and No End in Sight

Day 23 of Operation Protective Edge

smoke rises from the coastal side of the Gaza strip following an Israeli air strike on July 30, 2014. (Getty Images)

Diplomacy had yet to make a dent in the fighting on Wednesday, as the death toll continued to climb in the Gaza Strip and Israel on the 23rd day of Operation Protective Edge.

On Wednesday afternoon, three soldiers were killed in a blast in a booby-trapped building near Khan Younis, bringing the number of soldiers killed in the operation to 56. 15 more were hurt by the collapse of a wall of the building after the explosion.

Estimates of Palestinians killed Wednesday were around 100 as Israel carried out a number of strikes across the Strip. One of these strikes was an alleged attack on a market in the Gaza neighborhood of Shejaiya and another incident in which 15 died after Israel reportedly shelled a UN school in the Strip. The Palestinian death toll has now climbed to over 1,100, with thousands wounded, according to officials in Gaza. (more…)

Mika Brzezinski Welcomes Viewers to ‘Morning Jew’

And a challenge for our readers


We all–I should hope–remember the terrific Woody Allen riff in Annie Hall about hearing anti-Semitism everywhere. He is walking along trying to persuade his friend, played by Tony Roberts (whom I think I once saw eating in a deli with Joel Grey, but never mind) that he overheard somebody say, “Jew eat”–instead of “Did you eat?” Hilarity ensures.

Well, the kosher chicken, its fat deliciously rendered as gribenes, has come home to roost at MSNBC, where this morning co-host Mika Brzezinski referred to her own show, just moments after interviewing the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., as “Morning Jew.” Check it out: (more…)

‘Palestinian’ Woman in JetBlue Altercation Actually Jewish

Says she’s also Menachem Begin’s third cousin


In the latest twist in an increasingly absurd story, the recent altercation aboard a JetBlue flight over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict turns out to have been between two Jewish women, the New York Post reports.

As originally reported, tensions on the plane rose when Lisa Rosenberg, a gynecologist from New York, discussed recent events in the Middle East on a phone call. A woman who identified herself as Palestinian approached Rosenberg and said that she was offended by her conversation, and a dispute ensued. But according to the New York Post, the woman confessed to Rosenberg last week that she is actually Jewish and from Brooklyn–and she also said that she is a third cousin of late Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. (more…)

Tel Aviv Nursery Children Cope With Rockets

A teacher’s story


“Giraffe!” I shout. “Giraffe! Giraffe! Giraffe!”

It’s a code word the kids and I came up with at our morning meeting. They know now that when the teacher starts calling out “Giraffe” they must run, as quickly and calmly as possible, back to our ground level school’s kitchen, which is underground and thus the safest place for us when the sirens go off.

At three years old, it’s hard for them to balance the jumble of vocabulary and narratives that have accompanied the recent arrival of regular rocket fire over Tel Aviv. One girl says that the siren (she calls it the “woo woo woo”) is the noise made when an airplane leaves its doors open. This could be something her mother told her, or just something she decided for herself. (more…)

Sam Harris: ‘Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?’

The famed and controversial atheist weighs in on Gaza


On Sunday, Sam Harris — famous atheist, best-selling author of The End of Faith, passionate internet debater — published on his blog an essay titled “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?” It’s the updated and revised transcript of a 15-minute spoken podcast, and it represents a new side of a man who has made his name toilet-papering every house of religion, whether Jewish or Muslim, Christian or Hindu. He has received death threats from Muslims — yet he also believes that there should be no “Jewish” state. In this essay, he explains his thinking on the current Middle East conflict, including where his sympathies lie … or don’t. He’s agreed to let Tablet republish it.

The question I’ve now received in many forms goes something like this: Why is it that you never criticize Israel? Why is it that you never criticize Judaism? Why is it that you always take the side of the Israelis over that of the Palestinians? (more…)

Day 22: Hamas Denies Ceasefire Reports

Israelis debate end goals of the campaign

(Getty Images)

Funerals were held across Israel on Tuesday after 10 IDF soldiers were killed in incidents across the Gaza Strip on Monday, as the Israeli death toll climbed to 56, including 53 soldiers. The IDF fatalities included four soldiers killed in a mortar strike on the Eshkol region and five who were killed by a Hamas gunmen who emerged from an attack tunnel near the kibbutz of Nahal Oz and fired an anti-tank missile at an IDF watch tower.

Hours after the IDF fatalities, the Gaza Strip suffered some of the heaviest bombing and shelling yet of the 22-day campaign, as the Palestinian death toll climbed to over 1,100 killed and thousands wounded, according to officials in Gaza. The IDF said they struck 70 targets overnight between Monday and Thursday, including the empty home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. (more…)

24 Arrested in Protest Against Israel’s Gaza Campaign

Norman Finkelstein, Benjamin Kunkel, Corey Robin among those arrested

(Batya Ungar-Sargon)

At noon on Tuesday, 24 people were arrested in Midtown during a protest against the ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza. Over 100 people had gathered for the event, organized by professor and author Norman Finkelstein, who had posted a message to his website stating that if 100 people committed to an act civil disobedience, it would take place at the Israeli mission at the UN in New York City on Tuesday.

“I don’t believe in individual acts of martyrdom,” Finkelstein wrote on Monday, on his website. “It’s got to be a collective action. If one hundred people either sign up to get arrested or to be there in solidarity, I’ll be there too.” (more…)

Is Schindler a Projection of Spielberg Himself?

‘Schindler’s List’ is a story of redemption—for both the film’s protagonist and its director

Liam Neeson in Schindler's List (IMDb)

In a 1994 New Yorker profile that appeared a few months after the release of Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg spoke candidly about how his Holocaust epic had transformed him.

In the past, he told the magazine’s Stephen Schiff, there had been projects he’d done for the money—things like the Indiana Jones sequels and Jurassic Park.  “But,” he added, “these days I’d rather make the more difficult choices. I was just so challenged by Schindler’s List and so fulfilled by it and so disturbed by it. It so shook up my life, in a good way, that I think I got a little taste of what a lot of other directors have existed on all through their careers.”

Schindler’s List is also a story of transformation—of a hunger for money giving way to a higher calling. (more…)

Top Secret Hamas Command Bunker in Gaza Revealed

And why reporters won’t talk about it

A displaced Palestinian woman hangs washed laundry to dry near makeshift tents on July 27, 2014 in the garden of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. (Getty Images)

The idea that one of Hamas’ main command bunkers is located beneath Shifa Hospital in Gaza City is one of the worst-kept secrets of the Gaza war. So why aren’t reporters in Gaza ferreting it out? The precise location of a large underground bunker equipped with sophisticated communications equipment and housing some part of the leadership of a major terrorist organization beneath a major hospital would seem to qualify as a world-class scoop—the kind that might merit a Pulitzer, or at least a Polk.

So why isn’t the fact that Hamas uses Shifa Hospital as a command post making headlines? In part, it’s because the location is so un-secret that Hamas regularly meets with reporters there. On July 15, for example, William Booth of the Washington Post wrote that the hospital “has become a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices.” Back in 2006, PBS even aired a documentary showing how gunmen roam the halls of the hospital, intimidate the staff, and deny them access to protected locations within the building—where the camera crew was obviously prohibited from filming. Yet the confirmation that Hamas is using Gaza City’s biggest hospital as its de facto headquarters was made in the last sentence of the eighth paragraph of Booth’s story—which would appear to be the kind of rookie mistake that is known in journalistic parlance as “burying the lede.”

But Booth is no rookie—he’s an experienced foreign reporter, which means that he buried the lede on purpose. Why? (more…)

Miami Marred by Anti-Semitic Vandalism

Synagogue and Jewish cars defaced with ‘Hamas’ graffiti

Miami Beach (Shutterstock)

Over the past few days, two anti-Semitic acts have been committed in the least likely of places: Miami, Florida. Congregation Torah V’Emunah, a synagogue in North Miami Beach, was spray-painted with swastikas and the word “Hamas” on Monday morning, JTA reports. This act of vandalism comes just two days after the cars of a Jewish family in Miami Beach were egged and covered in cream cheese while the family attended Shabbat services. The cars, parked in the mainly Jewish neighborhood of Miami Beach, were vandalized with the words “Jew” and “Hamas.” According to CBS Miami, police are investigating the act as a potential hate crime, and many members of the neighborhood plan to install surveillance cameras. (more…)

A Mother’s Protective Edge Lullaby

We decided to start sleep training my son, and then the war broke out


Like any Jewish mother worth her salt, I’ve been bursting with pride over my son’s accomplishments ever since he was born seven months ago. He sits! He crawls! He pulls himself up to stand! But, alas, there is one sphere where he has been making no progress, and that is in the sleep department. Not only does he not sleep through the night, he wakes every hour or two, his face wet with tears, the pitch of his cries ever rising. And so, like many exhausted parents, we finally decided to sleep-train him. But unlike many other exhausted parents, our decision happened to coincide with the outbreak of war between Israel and Gaza.

At night, while my son cries it out, my husband and I sit glued to the Internet, refreshing the news over and over. We are following the advice of a highly recommended book on sleep, but we cannot follow it exactly because every few days—during naptime and sleeptime—I have had to pick my son up and carry him into the stairwell of our apartment building while rockets rain down on Jerusalem. I know it would be worse if we lived in Tel Aviv or in Sderot, and, of course, it would be worse in Gaza. Suddenly, rather than cry, my son is simply quiet, as though he knows that there must be an important reason for me to wake him on purpose. But when I put him back down, the screaming starts all over again. (more…)

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