A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 1 hour 55 minutes ago
You don’t have to be the Newspaper of Record to recognize the distinction between reported news pieces and op-eds. Even so, op-eds must still be subject to normal journalistic standards. When an opinion piece suggests a starkly different reality than the one the newspaper’s own correspondents and editors have conveyed to readers, you’d expect a serious outlet like The New York Times to carefully scrutinize the contribution and, should it fail to support its own arguments in a thoroughly convincing way, reject it.
Little of this diligence was on display this weekend when the Times published an opinion piece titled “How Israel Silences Dissent.” The harsh headline suggested blow-by-blow accounts of reporters rounded up, activists stopped for interrogation, and other means of intimidation—a curious proposition as no such horrors have been reported by the Times’s correspondents on the ground. One imagines that the piece rocketed to #1 on the Times website almost instantaneously precisely because it promised to blow the lid off the repressive ethno-centric Jewish dystopia that some Times readers believe exists, contrary to the paper’s own reporting, and that other readers see in their nightmares.
The Most Important Thing Netanyahu Did in New York Wasn't at the U.N.—It Was Meeting Indian PM Narendra Modi
Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations. Like every year, the event was covered assiduously by both the American and Israeli media, who carefully parsed each element of the Israeli leader’s speech. But in fact, the addresses at the annual U.N. General Assembly are usually just window dressing that obscures the main event: high-level meetings between heads of state that take place on the sidelines of the New York confab. This was especially true for Israel, for whom the most important development this year was not a predictable speech in which Netanyahu likened Hamas to ISIS, but a little-heralded handshake with recently elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The two leaders met on Sunday, in what was the first meeting between an Indian prime minister and his Israeli counterpart in 11 years. It was also Bibi’s first scheduled stop when he arrived in New York. “We are two old peoples, some of the oldest of the nations on earth, but we’re also two democracies,” Netanyahu said at a press appearance with Modi. “We’re proud of our rich traditions but we’re also eager to seize the future. The Indian leader, who met earlier that day with American Jewish leaders, reciprocated in kind, noting “India is the only country where anti-Semitism has never been allowed to come up, and where Jews have … lived as an integral part of our society,” and that “there was a time in the city of Mumbai that Hebrew was officially taught in the university and even one of the mayors of Mumbai city was from a Jewish family.” But the meeting wasn’t simply an exchange of pleasantries.
The latest depressing installment of New York City real estate having its way with historic houses of worship (see: “Historic NYC Synagogue Fights Foreclosure;” “16th Street Synagogue Fights to Stay“) has at least avoided a tragic casualty. The ark at Congregation Adas Le Israel Anshei Meseritz—the last surviving tenement synagogue in the East Village, which was sold to a developer and is being renovated into a controversial condominium with the synagogue occupying the ground floor—has found an unlikely new home: an Episcopal Church on Wall Street.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the ark has been acquired by Tamid, a congregation that meets at St. Paul’s Chapel on Wall Street. (The stained glass windows at Anshei Meseritz have also been removed for construction.) With a few tweaks—”A local general contractor reassembled pieces of the ark to fashion a large, rolling, ornate cabinet that both fits the style of St. Paul’s Chapel and tucks easily into a corner”—the ark has been spared an uncertain future as its old home undergoes a dramatic transformation. Still, for many, the ark’s preservation is bittersweet.
Tablet is delighted to welcome the New Year 5775 by introducing our new contributors to our News and Politics section. While they have all distinguished themselves as clear thinkers and honest reporters in their respective fields, what they share in common is a fierce attachment to heterodoxy, which is the closest thing that Tablet has to an editorial policy or a political line. We couldn’t be prouder to have them at our editorial table, and to introduce them to you here:
Paul Berman is the author of Terror and Liberalism, The Flight of the Intellectuals, and A Tale of Two Utopias, and has been unofficially certified as a “genius” by the MacArthur Foundation. As longtime admirers of his work, we are thrilled that Paul will be making his journalistic home with us, writing a regular column as well as longer pieces. His first column can be found here.
Today the AP reports that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, will join its international brethren MI6 and CIA by listing jobs within the agency on a website. It may seem completely unremarkable that in 2014 an organization should be offering online applications, but over the last half century Mossad’s recruiting techniques have been a lot more Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than Monster.com. Gone are the days when Mossad hopefuls would have to post an envelope with their resumes and a list of family secrets to the bottom of a mailbox on a deserted street.
The Mossad, long known for its Mission: Impossible-style tactics, will be trying to reach a new pool of applicants who may not have known about job openings in the past. The AP suggests that the available posts won’t likely include a Walther PPK and a license to kill, but could instead be in the organization’s technology or administration department. (Which isn’t to say that a job in HR at a spy agency doesn’t come with its own set of stresses.)
If the Boardwalk Empire storyline were to trail into the following decade, we would inevitably be introduced to the dealings of distant Meyer Lansky associate Mickey Cohen.
Like most Jewish mobsters, Cohen was born in New York to Eastern European parents after the turn of the century. Cohen, however, started his career in crime a bit earlier than most—he started moonshining gin at age seven in the back of a drugstore. His frequent, although not surprising, absences from school led to an extended, year-and-a-half stay in first grade. At nine, he was apprehended for trying to hold up the box office of a theater with a baseball bat. After that, Cohen participated in a string of robberies, graduating from baseball bats to proper firearms.
Neil Diamond is coming home. This morning the singer, who grew up in Brighton Beach, announced he was heading to Brooklyn tonight for a free concert at Erasmus High School, his alma mater. Fans can line up at 3 p.m. at the high school—after classes let out—to claim one of a limited number of tickets.
The intimate concert is part of a promotional effort for Melody Road, Diamond’s first studio album in six years. Diamond was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 (some would call the honor long overdue). He was ranked second on Billboard’s 2013 list of the Top 30 Jewish Musicians, just behind the piano man himself, Billy Joel.
Haaretz Correspondent Booted From Conference at Palestinian University—Will an Academic Boycott Ensue?
Last week, Amira Hass showed up at Ramallah’s Birzeit University to attend a conference entitled “Alternatives to Neo-Liberal Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories—Critical Perspectives.” Hass is a columnist for Haaretz; alone among all Israeli journalists, she has lived both in Ramallah and in Gaza, and her work, often sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, has earned her the World Press Freedom Hero Award from the International Press Institute, alongside other coveted laurels. Yet when Hass sat down at the conference, she was surprised to learn her hosts had other plans.
“During the first presentation on Tuesday,” she wrote in a candid account, “two lecturers from the CDS approached me within ten minutes of each other, asking me to step outside, saying that they needed to talk to me. I asked them to wait until the break, but after they asked me a third time, I stepped out of the conference hall. ‘Am I not allowed to be here?’ I asked, half-kidding, but one of the lecturers answered that there was a problem.”
As a child in the New Jersey suburbs in the 1970s, I grew up hearing harrowing tales of the Holocaust, often while playing in the backyards of the grandchildren of survivors. In the summer, glimpses of numbered tattoos peaked from loose clothing, permanent proof of what this generation had gone through, sometimes leading to reluctant conversations against the watery backdrop of sprinklers, iced tea, and swimming pools.
I was raised in a non-Jewish family in what was essentially a suburban shtetl. Come December, our house was among the few on the street with a Christmas tree. The holiday season was when our Polish-born uncle Eddie, who had married into the family via my aunt RoseAnn, would come to visit. He too had stories of the Nazis. The most vivid was his escape from a work camp hidden inside the wheel carriage of a departing train.
When my mother passed away two and a half years ago, I realized that I had lost not only her but Yiddish, too. It’s not that she spoke it much, but she lived it and because I loved her, it became a primitive, pressing need for me to memorialize her by speaking the language of her early life.
So last year, when I saw an ad for Yiddish Vokh, the annual summer retreat for Yiddish speakers held in Maryland, I jumped at the chance to go.
On Monday, a rally against the Metropolitan Opera’s decision to stage the controversial 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer this fall drew nearly 1,000 protestors, many of them Jewish. They argued that the opera, which depicts the 1985 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship by the Palestinian Liberation Front and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger, is anti-Semitic and sympathetic toward terrorist acts.
The Met Opera’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer, scheduled to begin performances Oct. 20, has sparked a heated dialogue about thorny questions of art, representation, and trauma. Judea Pearl, the father of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, denounced the cultural institution’s decision to stage the opera in a moving letter to the editor published in the New York Times this week. (A version of the letter was read aloud at Monday’s protest.) The Met had, he argued, elevated an act of terror and brutality into something “worthy of artistic expression.”
Last week I traveled to the United States for the publication of my book The War on Women in Israel: A Story of Religious Radicalism and the Women Fighting for Freedom. It was a whirlwind week—I traveled to events and book signings across five cities in four states in 10 days. I signed lots of books, met some fabulous people, and heard from many people—men and women—who were deeply grateful for a moderate voice calling for an end to the religious extremism that is hurting women. That’s why what happened to me on the flight home to Israel was so shocking, and so upsetting.
The plane took off 20 minutes late because an ultra-Orthodox man was negotiating with passengers so as not to have to sit next to a woman—me—on the 11-hour flight. I asked myself if this was karma or poetic justice. After all, I had just spoken to hundreds of people about exactly these issues and the way women are made to feel like second-class citizens as a result. Part of me wanted to smile and hand out copies of my book. But I sat there silently for a long time, watching all this happen, witnessing all these men around me talking about me, mostly in Yiddish, but also in Hebrew and English, without looking directly at me. I sat there, torn between my desire not to make a scene and my feeling that If I don’t articulate, right here and now, how all this affects women, how this affects me, who will?
When you need a sperm donor, the Bible probably isn’t the first place you’re going to look. But when I was in my mid-twenties, planning to launch a family, I was single and didn’t need to be married, and I was a rabbinical student immersed in scripture. And so it was only natural that I found inspiration in the Torah.
One of the primary prophetic texts in Judaism, one that is read every Rosh Hashanah in congregations around the world, turned out to be a wonderful tale of unconventional family making. In this biblical story, a woman named Hannah, who has been unable to conceive, goes to the shrine of the holy man Eli where she prays desperately to become pregnant. (1 Samuel 1:1 – 2:10) After spending time at the shrine, Hannah goes home and sleeps with her husband, Elkanah, discovers she is pregnant, and gives birth to Samuel.
A few years ago, looking through my late parents’ papers, I spotted something I’d never noticed before. It was a 1937 letter from my father addressed to Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Studios. I knew a little about Laemmle’s relationship with my father, who had passed away in 1965 and never spoke much about his past. He had told me that Laemmle had helped him leave Germany, and that he’d gone on to teach Hebrew to Laemmle’s son, Carl Jr. But after I came across that letter, I wanted to find out more.
An Internet search led me to a scholarly article titled “Laemmle’s List.” The author, Dr. Udo Bayer, was the vice principal of a school in Laemmle’s birthplace of Laupheim, Germany. His paper detailed how Laemmle had issued affidavits during the late 1930s that saved more than 300 European Jews from probable extinction. Laemmle not only pledged to support the newcomers; he followed through when the immigrants arrived.
Israelis have few qualms about this summer’s Gaza war, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis, according to Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn. It’s not like the 2006 Lebanon war where the public questioned Israeli actions. Instead, their focus has shifted to a budget war with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And internationally, ISIS has taken the spotlight.
“There was no discernible effect on Netanyahu’s popularity or his public stance,” Benn said last week after a panel discussion at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York. “There’s still no challenger who would run against Netanyahu or is seen as a possible successor.”
President Obama offered a Rosh Hashanah greeting to hundreds of U.S. rabbis on a conference call earlier this week, where he also discussed global anti-Semitism, ISIS, and Iran’s nuclear threat. JTA reports that nearly 900 rabbis called in for the off-the-record conversation.
According to a White House statement about the call, Obama spoke about “his commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and our collective responsibility to respond to the sharp increase in global anti-Semitism.”
A group of nearly 1,000 people gathered across the street from Lincoln Center Monday evening, not to attend the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera’s fall season, but to protest the New York City institution’s decision to keep The Death of Klinghoffer in their fall lineup. (The Met agreed to cancel a scheduled international online simulcast in November.)
The controversial opera, which was composed by John Adams, depicts the 1985 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship by the Palestinian Liberation Front and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger.
Five years ago this month (as I wrote in Tablet at the time), I entered the mikvah and finalized my conversion to Judaism. About two months before, in response to my timid query, the rabbi I was studying with promised, “You will be a Jew by Rosh Hashanah.” And I was.
The High Holy Days have had an enhanced meaning for me ever since. As I have taken part in the communal observance each year since 2009, I also have silently evaluated how my sense of being Jewish has intensified or altered over the intervening months. Those personal assessments have focused on my learning, praxis, and integration into the Jewish community here in my hometown, as well as in Israel on visits there, and have been a private and fairly prosaic process.
The seven-year jump to this season of Boardwalk Empire has also meant skipping the bulk of another minor character’s entirely criminal activity. Waxey Gordon made appearances in the last few seasons, but by the time this season ends, the career as a bootlegger that made him one of the most famous Jewish gangsters will presumably be on its last legs.
Irving Wexler, son-in-law to a rabbi with a son of his own in med school, may sound like the ideal Jewish self-made man. And, in some sense, Waxey was a self-starter—in that that his reputation for stealing and racketeering caught the attention of Arnold Rothstein, who eventually asked Waxey Gordon to run his whole distillery operation.
We here at Tablet love nothing more than a Jewish holiday-themed cocktail (see: Passover Ten Plagues cocktails; Tablet’s signature Thanksgivukkah cocktail), and we’ve found the perfect way to ring in the Jewish New Year: a Manischewitz Fizz.
The folks at VinePair created three Rosh Hashanah concoctions that use Manischewitz—that sweet, nostalgia-laced red wine—though they’re definitely not what you’d find at your temple’s kiddish. Our favorite, the Manischewitz Fizz, is a High Holiday-appropriate take on a bellini that uses wine in place of peach purée.