A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 7 hours 47 minutes ago
American journalist Simon Ostrovsky, a reporter for Vice who has dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, was taken into custody by pro-Russian separatists yesterday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk. Ostrovsky has been reporting from Ukraine for the past few weeks, producing provocative videos for Vice about Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the growing tensions in the region.
TIME’s Berlin correspondent Simon Shuster and three other journalists were also detained, but have since been released. According to TIME, “The journalists were traveling in a car in the separatist-held town of Slavyansk when they were stopped at a checkpoint by armed separatists.” Local separatist leader Vyacheslav Ponomarev, who calls himself the “people’s mayor,” has confirmed that Ostrovsky is in his custody.
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the opening the 1964 New York World’s Fair (and yes, that also means that Season 4 of Mad Men also took place 50 years ago, but we’ll get to that later.) In celebration of such an august anniversary, the beloved structures designed for the fair by legendary architect Philip Johnson in Flushing Meadows Park opened to the public for the first time in nearly three decades.
With people lined up around the block to see the crumbling but still imposing structures, it’s also a good time to point out some of Johnson’s less admirable achievements, notably his warm, and never renounced, embrace of fascism. As Matt Novak pointed out on Gizmodo, Johnson was an avowed anti-Semite, a man who referred to Jews as “a different breed of humanity, flitting about like locusts.” Johnson, writes Novak, “visited Germany in the 1930s at the invitation of the government’s Propaganda Ministry. He wrote numerous articles for far right publications. He started a fascist organization called the Gray Shirts in the United States. He was with the Nazis when they invaded Poland and wrote about how it wasn’t as bad as the American press was making it out to be. He was an ardent supporter of the notoriously anti-semitic Father Coughlin. And he was so in the tank for the Nazis that the FBI even suspected him of being a spy.”
Israel may have been the Start-Up Nation for a while now, but never was that title more deserved than right this second. That’s because an Israeli start-up has created something that might just completely change the way we see our world our cat’s world.
Cat2See appears to be a device that allows users to solve one of the most vexing questions of our era: what does my cat do all day long? It’s a roving webcam, feeding device, and toy, all of which can be operated remotely from a smartphone. Plus there’s a way to share photos from the webcam, because cats.
Meeting with Israeli reporters in Ramallah yesterday, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which controls the West Bank, will end its seven-year feud with Hamas and form a unity government within five weeks.
“There is no contradiction,” Abbas said, “between the [internal Palestinian] reconciliation and the peace process.”
William Rapfogel, the former CEO of Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty who was arrested in September 2013 on charges of grand larceny and money laundering, pleaded guilty today in New York’s State Supreme Court. The New York Times reports that Rapfogel, who led the organization for more than 20 years until getting fired in August 2013 during the investigation, admitted to stealing more than $7 million from the charity.
Also charged was Rapfogel’s predeccessor at the Council, David Cohen, who pleaded guilty today as well—suggesting that the fraud potentially spanned decades. The sceme involved the Met Council’s insurance company, Century Coverage Corporation, which would inflate the Council’s insurance rates by hundreds of thousands of dollars, which Rapfogel and his co-conspirators would then keep for themselves. Century’s owner pleaded guilty to grand larceny, money laundering, and tax fraud in December 2013.
Gazing out from a large photograph by Israeli artist Roee Rosen are 14 bearded men surrounded by books. That these exaggeratedly hirsute men might be anything other than rabbis is, at first glance, improbable. But a closer look reveals that the men aren’t wearing skullcaps, most of their beards look glued on, and some of their faces seem oddly familiar: Doron Rabina, Yair Garbuz, and Boaz Arad are icons of the Israeli art scene, and Adi Ophir and Moshe Zuckermann are Tel Aviv University professors. They are spiritual leaders, but of a decidedly secular sort. It’s no surprise, then, that this is the photo that greets visitors to Secular Judaism, an exhibit that recently opened at the Nahum Gutman Museum of Art in Tel Aviv’s quaint Neve Tzedek neighborhood.
Directly across from the photo is the text of Achnai’s Oven, an old Talmudic legend recounting how a group of Babylonian rabbis asserted their independence from the heavens in regards to all manners of earthly halakhic interpretation, much to the delight and satisfaction of God himself (“My sons have defeated me,” he says, laughing). The exhibit explores how ever-growing strata in Israeli society have allowed individuals to take that independence even further, practicing a post-pious sort of Jewish study in secular batei midrash, and examining how this phenomenon has resonated with the local art world.
My mother was teary-eyed when the woman at the consulate gave us our papers. Just like that, with one certificate each, my mother and I became German citizens. It was hard to believe that we were being reclaimed by a nation that, 70 years ago, tried to exterminate our people.
It was even harder to believe that we as Jews had given up our grudge and accepted the invitation codified through Article 116, Part 2, of Germany’s Basic Law: “Former German citizens who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945, were deprived of their citizenship for political, racial or religious reasons, and their descendants, shall be re-granted German citizenship on application.”
Beppe Grillo, the Italian comedian-turned-politician otherwise known as Italy’s Yair Lapid, has found himself in hot water over a parody poem he wrote attacking the Italian government, which he posted on his blog. Grillo, who founded the Five Star Movement, an anti-establishment party which pulled off a major upset in the 2013 elections, posted a poem he titled “Se questo é un paese,” or “If This is a Country,” an obvious play on the title of Primo Levi’s well-known poem, “Se questo é un uomo,” or, “If this is a man,” Italy’s The Local reports.
Levi’s poem, which now serves as the introduction to his book of the same name (known in English as Survival in Auschwitz), is a somber accounting of the struggle to maintain humanity while imprisoned in a concentration camp. Grillo’s poem, meanwhile, is a scathing attack on the Italian government.
As the movie industry finally becomes attuned to the issue of gratuitous violence in blockbuster films often marketed to—or, at least, regularly viewed by—young audiences, and industry titan Harvey Weinstein pledges to make less violent films, it seems we’ve arrived at an important cultural moment. And since no cultural moment would be complete without a comic send-up, Funny or Die has a solution to the problem of violence on the big screen: Jewish James Bond.
This newest iteration of 007 is played by Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal, who shudders at his weapons cache (“I’m one guy—how many guns does a person need?”) and would prefer to drive a Prius. “Bond. James Bond,” he says, his voice cracking. “But you can call me Jim, Jimmy…”
Egyptian authorities have rescued a trove of Jewish treasures from smugglers trying to export the artifacts to Belgium, the AP reports. The artifacts recovered include a silver Torah case and a silver knife which is believed to date back to 1890.
Antiquities Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said in a statement on Friday that the trove, which was discovered by officials during a cargo search Thursday at the port in Damietta, “embodies a period of religious tolerance in Egypt’s history.”
You guys, social media feuds just got a lot more highbrow. The latest celebrity to call another well-known person out for being “a little bitch” on Instagram (the message was scrawled over a photo, the modern equivalent of Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin) is not your usual breed of Real Housewife or pop star I’ve recently become too old to have heard of, but James Franco, the polyglot actor who is the only person in the history of the universe to actually do everything that artsy boy from Jewish summer camp told you he was planning to.
The subject of his ire is none other than Ben Brantley, the lead theater critic of the New York Times, who recently reviewed the production of Of Mice And Men Franco is currently starring in with Chris O’Dowd, with his patented brand of tepid criticism. Franco, he observed, “is often understated to the point of near invisibility. It’s a tight, internal performance begging for a camera’s close-up.” I haven’t seen the show, so I can’t comment on whether I agree with Brantley on this occasion (for the record, we’re only in accordance about 50 percent of the time; the same as flipping a coin), except to say that it does have the ring of something an enterprising high school drama teacher might dream up for the benefit of the best actors among the graduating seniors, but Franco’s criticism of Brantley’s respectful critique was pulled no punches: “Ben Brantley and the NYT have embarrassed themselves. Brantley is such a little bitch he should be working for Gawker.com instead of the paper of record. The theater community hates him and for good reason, he’s an idiot.” (I have failed to reproduce the eccentric capitalization Franco employs here, to keep myself from going crazy. You can check it out yourself.)
The Shas party has a new spiritual leader. Shalom Cohen, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Porat Yosef religious seminary, will replace Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who died last year, as the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Sephardi Shas Party. Aryeh Deri remains the political leader of the party, which is Israel’s fifth largest and holds 11 out of 120 Knesset seats.
Cohen is a controversial rabbi perhaps best known for saying that anyone who voted for Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party is going to hell, or his statement suggesting that anyone who wears a knitted yarmulke, as is customary for modern Orthodox Jews, is part of the tribe of Amalek—a group the Bible demands be wiped out.
Chelsea Clinton crashed a Clinton Foundation event yesterday to share the news that she and husband Marc Mezvinsky are expecting their first child later this year. The announcement brought cheers from the crowd and surprised even host America Ferrara, who recovered by asking Hillary Clinton, seated on stage next to her daughter, if she too was pregnant.
Clinton’s pregnancy marks the beginning of the next generation of the Clinton dynasty—or the beginning of the Clinton dynasty, or the continuation of it, I’m not sure how these things work. Both parents tweeted their excitement about the news, which mostly proves that if you say how badly you want to become a grandparent to enough news outlets and in enough interviews (or just out loud to enough people), it will eventually happen.
Vaan Nguyen is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who were among the so-called Boat People who fled Vietnam by sea in the late 1970s. After failing to find refuge in the Philippines, the family was given asylum in Israel by then Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Born in Israel in 1982, Nguyen grew up in Jaffa. Today she is an up-and-coming Israeli poet, championed by some of the country’s leading critics.
Her debut collection, The Truffle Eye, first saw the light of day six years ago, as a stand-alone pamphlet handed out with an issue of the literary journal Maayan. The journal is now publishing the collection—together with a handful of few new poems—as a proper book.
It’s use the Jew day in Ukraine—again. For millennia, treatment of a country’s Jews has served as the canary in the coal mine, and now the canary is tweeting all over the American and Israeli media. According to reports, a leaflet, now basically debunked and yet still inspiring fury all over Twitter, was handed out in Donetsk, the heavily Russian-speaking town in Eastern Ukraine, instructing Jews to register with authorities.
According to Ynet, the flier read as follows:
Way back in 2012, Bob Dylan gave an interview with Rolling Stone in which he spoke extensively about race in the United States. The interview is long and rambly, as you might expect from the then-70-year-old folk legend, but there was one especially odd remark strewn throughout. “If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day,” Dylan told Rolling Stone. “Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.”
That comment—made in an American magazine which also publishes a French edition—didn’t sit well with the Representative Council of the Croatian Community and Institutions in France, who mobilized to have Dylan charged, in December 2013, with “public insult and inciting hate.” France has notoriously strict laws against hate speech—authorities fined a 28-year-old $4,130 this month for photographing himself giving a quenelle salute—and in this case they seem to have ensnared an American who has spent much of his career denouncing racism.
Are you watching Inside Amy Schumer religiously yet, or can you never remember which channel Comedy Central is on your new cable affiliate and there are so many other shows you already have to watch? Well, if it’s the latter (as it has been for me) it’s time to commit your channel guide to memory and tune in. Along with her compatriots Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson on the equally excellent Broad City, Amy Schumer is one of the funniest, sharpest, and most subversive comics to come along in years, with an uncanny ability to skewer whatever morsels seem ripest for a shish kabob.
Need proof? Look no further than the clip from her show that went viral this week, an Aaron Sorkin parody set in a fast-food restaurant that is brilliant in its unsparing view of the self-regarding maestro’s work. With a more than able assist from Sorkin veteran Josh Charles (SportsNight), Schumer nails everything that makes Sorkin’s work so simultaneously distinctive and ludicrous: the histrionic importance placed on events of little real import (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, anyone?); the ticks of reflexive speech and urgent walk-and-talks, the curiously retrograde attitude towards female characters (Sorkin has frequently spoken of his wish to live in the 1940’s, a period where the fast-talking dames in his fast-talking movies were typically secretaries and sidekicks; Schumer’s character, a fast food employee, looks raptly and earnestly at Charles’s manager as she breathes: “A woman’s life is worth nothing unless she’s making a great man greater”), the perkily goyische names given to the main characters (I know Sorkin grew up in Scarsdale, but someone needs to tell him that there are gentiles out there whose last names do not necessarily being with “Mc” or “Mac.”)
Four days after Frazier Glenn Miller shot and killed two people outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and a third person outside Village Shalom, a nearby Jewish retirement home, the JCC reopened to host an interfaith memorial service for the three victims. Miller, 72, a well-known anti-Semite who yelled “Heil Hitler” from the back of a police car after his arrest, made no secret of his decades-long vitriolic hatred of Jews. In a dark and morbid twist to the tragic shootings, which took place the day before Passover, none of the victims were Jewish.
The first two victims, William Lewis Corporon and his 14-year-old grandson Reat Griffin Underwood, a high school freshman who was at the JCC to audition for a local singing competition, were members of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood. The third victim, Terri LaManno, who was visiting her mother at Village Shalom when the shooting occurred, was a longtime parishioner at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Kansas City along with her husband and children.
Matzos Coffee, also known as Matza Café, is a European Passover treat that has become forgotten for reasons I can’t fathom, since not only is this dish deceptively simple—it’s really nothing more than its name, matzoh soaked in coffee—it’s delicious and especially loved by children.
When I was growing up, my late father had the job of making it for the family. He’d start by cracking a few pieces of matzoh with his strong jewelers hands. Then he’d pour boiling hot freshly-made coffee on top. The hot coffee melted the matzohs into a velvety softness. After that he poured on milk and sugar. In prewar Romania, where my father spent his boyhood, they used cream instead of milk, making the snack doubly delicious—and doubly fattening, as well.
During the period of counting the Omer, between Passover and Shavuot, it is traditional to do ethical study; typically people read Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). This week, when we start counting the Omer again, I will continue a form of Mussar practice I began two years ago—Mussar being a 19th-century movement dedicated to Jewish moral conduct. You don’t have to be religious to do Mussar. It is accessible, efficacious, and fun—and it is doable.
In the summer of 2012, my friend Shari suggested that she and our friend Harriet and I read portions of Everyday Holiness by Alan Morinis, and discuss them in a three-person chevruta, the traditional Jewish method of studying with a partner. Morinis based his 2007 book on 19th-century Mussar tradition (though with some roots much older), built around texts by people like Rabbi Yisrael Salanter and Rabbi Chaim Luzzato. Always a startlingly modern-seeming spiritual practice, Mussar has broadened in appeal in its contemporary incarnations by including women and by lending itself to distance learning.