A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 8 hours 46 minutes ago
After climbing the famed golden staircase at Venice’s Palazzo Ducale, I came upon the princely apartment of the bygone Doge (chief magistrate) and was greeted by a rumbling, clanking sound from within. The noise was the audio component of a dome-shaped installation that glowed a fiery orange. The piece, which greets visitors upon entering an ambitious new exhibition called “Venice, the Jews and Europe 1516-2016,” hosted in the very apartment, was meant to evoke a foundry, where metals are poured and cast.
The exhibition, which opened June 19, is described by organizers as “the highlight” of dozens of events commemorating the 500th anniversary of Venice’s Jewish Ghetto.
Donald Trump was in Scotland Friday, reopening the newly renovated Trump Turnberry golf resort and holding court on Britain’s impending departure from the European Union. He’ll have his work cut out for him when he gets back to the United States: According to a Federal Elections Commission financial disclosure form released earlier this week, Trump’s presidential campaign has a mere $1.3 million on hand, a lesser war chest than any number of members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Trump’s fundraising challenges will be steep, but he has one famously generous donor on his side. With little apparent interest from much of the Republican donor class, Trump may have to lean more heavily on multi-billionaire casino magnate and Trump endorser Sheldon Adelson, whose staunch views on Israel could be newly relevant in this coming presidential contest.
Imagine if an academic lecture on Jewish studies could not be held in Washington, D.C. out of fear that participants would be unsafe. That’s exactly what happened this week in the capital of the European Union.
On Tuesday evening, Dr. Philippe Pierret, a graduate of the Sorbonne and a researcher at the Institute for Studies of Religion and Secularism, was scheduled to deliver the closing talk of the academic year at the Free University of Brussels to discuss his recent book on the history of Jews in Brussels from 1785 to 1885. But at the last minute, the event was called off due to the authorities’ inability to provide adequate security, reported Belgian paper La Libre.
With all the insane and frankly terrifying news coming out of the U.K. today—and can I just say that I still don’t understand why on God’s green Earth you would put something as important as Brexit up for a public vote—there is at least some solace because one great British institution is still making a modicum of sense.
On Wednesday, Dame Helen Mirren denounced BDS during a visit to Jerusalem, where she hosted the Genesis Prize ceremonies, during which violinist Itzhak Perlman received a $1 million lifetime achievement award (the so-called “Jewish Nobel”). (Perlman slammed Donald Trump for apparently making fun of a disabled reported last fall, calling the would-be president’s gesture “terrible.”)
Following the Orlando shooting, the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, a Modern Orthodox high school in the Bronx called its students, grades 8-12, into the auditorium for a vigil and prayer service for the Pulse nightclub victims. The event soon became an unprecedented showing of support from the school’s administration for its own LGBT student body, a population at risk.
On Tuesday June 14, SAR Academy High School principal Rabbi Tully Harcsztark provided three reasons to students as to why they had gathered in memoriam, all of which were grounded in Jewish thought and law. After invoking the teachings of Maimonides to explain to students their obligation to mourn with Orlando and greater LGBT community, he clearly declared support for the SAR LGBTQ student body.
Saying Goodbye to Vox Tablet, an Audio Institution Dedicated to Capturing Jewish Life Around the World
With today’s episode, Tablet will bid farewell to Vox Tablet and the tremendous forces of creativity and skill that were behind it, Julie Subrin and Sara Ivry. Over the past 11 years, they’ve produced nearly 500 episodes, covering everything from the lessons of genocide studies and new ways of praying to Bollywood, and interviewing everyone from Michael Chabon to Dave Berman to Jill Soloway to Luzer Twersky, and many more in between.
There is no question that this magazine will be paler in their absence—and that we, as colleagues and friends, and you, the readers and listeners, will be too.
Presumably you know about modern-day gay kidlit classics like And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole; The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner, illustrated by Mike Byrne; and Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. But hey, just in time for Pride Weekend here in NYC, let’s talk about some brand-new children’s books with gay or transgender characters!
Why are these books important to us as Jews, even if some of ‘em have no Jews in them? Well, teaching tolerance is a Jewish value. And it’s never too early to read to your kids about different kinds of families and different identities, and to model why kindness is important. Everyone is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. If your kids are independent readers, give them books that reflect the world they live in. Believe me, they already know way more about gender non-conformity and LGBT identity than you do. Show them that your home is a safe space—not just for your kid, but for your kid’s friends—with the gift of books that demonstrate understanding and love for folks who don’t quite fit the dominant paradigm. After all, we’re Jews. We don’t fit the dominant paradigm either.
Recently my 14-year-old brought a bright yellow pamphlet home from school, a handout from her school’s gay-straight alliance. The pamphlet was called “Coming Out as a Supporter.” Josie and her friends found it hilarious. Who the heck would need to “come out” as an ally? They giggled at the the booklet’s hushed and somber language:
For a lot of people, learning that someone they know and care about is LGBT can open a range of emotions, from confused to concerned, awkward to honored. It may be hard to know how to react, leaving you with questions about what to say, how to talk about being LGBT and wanting to know what you can do … this guide is designed to help build understanding and comfort.
In our final episode, we take a brief walk down memory lane to some of our favorite moments from the past decade. Among highlights we feature are our visits with actor Fyvush Finkel; illustrator and author Roz Chast; Silver Jews’ frontman David Berman; tourists en route to the Statue of Liberty; South African justice Albie Sachs; attendees at an annual deli luncheon in a small Mississippi town; Israeli musician Noam Inbar; and West Side Story aficionado Alisa Solomon.
To borrow that old marketing chestnut, if you read only one Torah portion this year, make it this week’s. An astonishing story in a book thick with them, it teaches us a lesson in leadership that resonates particularly loudly these days.
At the story’s core are the Israelites: Stiff-necked and simpering, they complain to Moses that the divine diet he’s catered for their errand in the desert, the heavenly manna, just won’t do. In Egypt, they whine, they had watermelons and leeks and garlic, and all for free, give or take a few cracks of the whip and the permanent gloom of the house of bondage. Give us some meat, they demand of their weary leader, and he, poor soul, turns to God and delivers a rant for the ages.
It’s hard explaining to my children why some people seek to do them harm simply because they’re Jews. It’s harder still that I can’t protect them from the violent hatred that stalks the streets of Jerusalem, Paris, and even New York. But they suffer no naiveté when it comes to the blessings and burdens of being Jewish.
Attacks against the LGBT community make up an outsized proportion of hate crimes in the Unites States, doubling those against African Americans and surpassing those against Jews. My children have only ever expressed pride in me as a gay woman. They’ve advocated for greater LGBT inclusion on campus and celebrated marriage equality in step with their generation’s commitment to freedom.
The Washington Wizards had a disastrous 2015-2016 campaign, and do not have a pick in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft in Brooklyn. To make up for a poor showing this past season, Wizards fans are praying—like literally praying—that the team’s front office will be able to lure basketball demigod and Prince George’s County native Kevin Durant in the offseason.Italy’s power forward Nicolo Melli (C-L) defends Israel’s Shawn Dawson (C-R) during a EuroBasket 2015 matchup in Lille, France, September 13, 2015. (Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images)
But what if the 2014 NBA most valuable player decides he doesn’t want to pull a LeBron and take his world-class talents back to his hometown, where he can achieve eternal legend status by single-handedly bringing a championship to D.C.? Could an Israeli basketball star be part of the the Wiz’s backup plan? Possibly! According to Bleacher Report, Shawn Dawson, a 22-year-old, Eilat-born, 6′ 6″, 195-pound swingman for Maccabi Rishon LeZion received an invite to join the Wizards Summer League team next month.
Palestinian President Abbas Tells EU Parliament that Israeli Rabbis Called to Poison Palestinian Water
On Thursday, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas addressed the parliament of the European Union. Unsurprisingly, his speech placed the blame for the failure of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks solely at the feet of the Jewish state. But in his enthusiasm for assailing Israel, Abbas unwittingly demonstrated that other issues might be at play in the impasse.
Just 24 minutes into his address, the Palestinian president veered into explicit anti-Semitism, telling the assembled European dignitaries that “only a week ago, a number of rabbis in Israel announced, and made a clear announcement, demanding that their government poison the water to kill the Palestinians.” As Reuters reported, this “appeared to be an invocation of a widely debunked media report that recalled a medieval anti-Semitic libel.” Jews were accused throughout the Middle Ages of poisoning Europe’s wells, most notoriously during the Black Plague. Such slanders invariably led to the slaughter of Jews, and have resurfaced through the centuries to the present day.
Just when you think you know a guy.
Sure, you’ve read about Ari Nagel in the New York Post. And yeah, you know he’s that dude who’s sired 22 children, and that he sometimes made the sperm donation hand off at a Target bathroom.
Even in the face of its waning influence, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate seems committed to upholding its discriminatory practices. The latest show of indifference involves Rabbi Yosef Hadane, Chief Rabbi of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, who was denied an extension (read: fired) by the Religious Services Ministry of his post, apparently in retaliation for his involvement in protesting the Rabbinate’s regular denial of marriage licenses to Ethiopian Israelis in Petah Tikva. Reported The Jerusalem Post:
Members of the Ethiopian community have complained on several occasions in the last three years, particularly regarding the Petah Tikva rabbinate, that they have been unable to register for marriage, because several local rabbinates have refused to accept their conversions through the state conversion authority.
The Jewish heritage of a tiny town is being brought back to life with a museum on the site of an ancient synagogue in Lecce, Italy. Palazzo Taurino, which opened last month, was conceived to educate tourists and locals alike on the once thriving Jewish community of the southern Italian town that today is non-existent.
“It’s totally different to what it used to be in the Middle Ages,” said Fabrizio Lelli, a museum curator and an associate professor of Hebrew language and literature at the University of Salento in Lecce. “There used to be a thriving community,” he said. “Nothing remains.”
On Unorthodox, Olympics expert Matthew Futterman, Latinist Ann Patty, and super sperm donor Ari Nagel, dad of 22
Our Jewish guest is Matthew Futterman, senior special writer for sports at The Wall Street Journal and author of the newly published book Players: The Story of Sports and Money, and the Visionaries Who Fought To Create a Revolution. He tells us how NFL quarterbacks used to sell real estate in the off-season to support themselves, plus what he’s looking forward to at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio and why water polo is an underrated Olympic sport.
A brilliant short book called (in English translation) In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong was published in English translation on Sept. 14, 2001. I fell upon this book as a revelation. It was, and remains, a vivid and piercing account of the dynamics of the bristling tribalism that converts airplanes into guided missiles and suicide into massacre. Over the following 15 years of catch-up reading, I have not come across a finer account of the Islamist hatred that aims to remake the world through slaughter.
The author of this book was a Lebanese-French novelist and essayist named Amin Maalouf—in 2001, a new name to me. In the fine translation by Barbara Bray, Maalouf wrote that the romance of identity begins by “reflecting a perfectly permissible aspiration” but becomes a “false friend.” It offers false relief for actual pain. It dissolves humanity into a paste of simplification. It sacrifices the roundedness of life for brutal joy.
On Wednesday, LeBron James, the best basketball player on the planet, soaked in the Cleveland sun—and the ardor of an estimated 1.3 million fans—with a bottle of Moët in his hand, and an unlit cigar in his mouth. “2016 World Champions, Cleveland, Ohio!” he proclaimed. “Yessir!”
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ championship parade celebrated a comeback for the ages. Last Sunday, the Cavs became the first team to win an NBA championship after being down 3 games to 1—and they did so against a team boasting the best regular-season record in NBA history. It was one of the greatest feats in sports. It also strikes me as an against-all-odds accomplishment Maimonides would have lauded.
According to the Anti-Defamation League’s “Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents” report, the total number of anti-Semitic occurrences—”criminal and non-criminal acts of harassment and intimidation, including distribution of hate propaganda, threats, slurs” and assaults—rose 3 percent in 2015 (941 incidents) from the year prior (912). The group, which has been tracking anti-Semitic instances since 1979, also reported in it’s annual “snapshot” 90 incidents on U.S. college campuses in 2015, nearly double the amount from the year prior. These occurrences make up 10 percent of total anti-Semitic incidents overall. Assaults were also up more than 50 percent in 205, with 56 incidents recorded.
Historically, however, the ADL says that anti-Semitic instances, which have seen a “steady” rising since a peak in 2006 (1,554), have declined overall. In fact, anti-Semitic incidents are down nearly 40 percent since 2006, according to the ADL.