A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 1 min 37 sec ago
File under: This would be a funny story were it not so terribly serious…yesterday’s opening of the Barbie Dreamhouse Experience, ostensibly a museum-meets-theme-park in Berlin’s commercial Alexanderplatz area, was overshadowed by some (not entirely unwarranted) protests against Barbie as a reductive feminist symbol.
In the weeks before its opening, various groups voiced their disapproval of the temporary theme park. And on Thursday, demonstrators finally got their chance to show just how furious they are. In the early afternoon, an activist with the women’s rights group Femen climbed onto the gigantic shoe dressed only in a mini-skirt. She was carrying a burning cross on which a Barbie doll had been crucified. Parents and children stood nearby. The women screamed over and over again: “Being Barbie is not a career!”…
The Jewish minyan that once made up the front office of the New York Jets is starting to look more and more like an empty shul.
The first sign of danger: The firing of Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, who (to quote Scroll Editor Emeritus), “despite coming from outside Boston, looking the part, and being named Mike Tannenbaum” isn’t actually Jewish. Then today, came the real news:
There is a running joke in American pop culture about how difficult it is to get into a Pearl Jam concert. The Seattle-based 90s grunge rock band has maintained its popularity over the years and, married with their crusade against Ticketmaster, Pearl Jam remains a tough ticket to get. Nobody tell the Israelis that.
Kentucky Fried Chicken has long been an American culinary institution spreading goodwill throughout the world [reference needed]. Colonel Harland Sanders, who is not really a colonel, but is a visionary, has brought American-style fried chicken to countless countries around the world–creating a veritable UN of yum no less vital than Ray Kroc’s Golden Arches. Where the Colonel’s secret recipe hasn’t worked, KFC has adapted. In Israel, for example, KFC recently went kosher, after swapping its milk-based chicken coating for a soy-based replacement.
Yesterday, Fares Akram blew the roof off the global yearning for Kentucky Fried Chicken when he wrote about a Gaza smuggling operation in which Khalil Efrangi, a pseudonymed savvy businessman, and others sneak chicken over (or rather under) the border from Egypt to Gaza. Next they deliver four-hour-old chicken to happy patrons at nearly $30 a bucket.
When Israel was suspected of bombing weapons sites in Syria nearly two weeks ago, the Israeli government reacted coolly to Syrian threats of war. Bashar Assad, the common wisdom went, was too beleaguered to try a serious retaliation. But Israelis in the Golan Heights think differently. They hear the sounds of the fighting just over the border, and warily note when the occasional rocket or mortar lands in the Golan. Now, some Israelis are drilling emergency plans, seeking weapons permits, and recalling the 1973 war when Syrian troops marched across the Golan.
In Alonei Habashan, just before the Shavuot holiday, community manager Israel Bar told me the Syrian civil war has changed life there. Alonei Habashan is a religious moshav of 56 families. The moshav grows grapes for the Golan winery and runs a modest guest house. In the last few weeks, Bar said, two mortars fell in an open area just inside the moshav’s fence. On the side of the road that sweeps around Alonei Habashan is a concrete arsenal painted blue and locked with a black dial that looks like a safe. Usually, weapons sit here just in case, but Bar said last month he applied for permits from the army to allow locals to hold guns in their homes. The moshav council has guided each family for which bomb shelter to flee to in case of emergency.
• Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rejection of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plea to not delivery a sophisticated air-defense system to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, it’s being reported that 12 Russian warships are now patrolling the waters outside of Tartus, Syria. Yikes. [ToI]
• Meanwhile, Israel may have located what is believed to be a new natural gas field off the coast of Haifa. The discovery of a third natural gas field comes as Israel decides how much gas it will export on the market or import to maintain energy independence. [JTA]
Faithful readers, we’re stepping away for Shavuot.
If you haven’t checked out our stellar Shavuot line-up, we’ve got video of Joan Nathan making blintzes, thoughts on why so few American Jews celebrate the holiday, everything else you need to know about Shavuot, and much much more.
Tensions are high in Krakow’s Jewish community after a new nightclub opened this past weekend—in a 19th century Jewish house of study. Mezcal, Krakow’s new spot for “cool dance parties with DJ’s and agressive, even metal concerts,” debuted this weekend in the former Chewra Thilim beit midrash, in Kazimierz, the city’s Jewish quarter.
How did this religious site end up as a boundary-pushing nightclub? According to the Jerusalem Post, the leaders of Krakow’s Jewish community signed off on a five-year lease of the property, which they gained ownership of in 1997, citing the financial strain of the building’s upkeep. Asked whether Mezcal, which is operated by non-Jewish Poles, is at all similar to the trendy event spaces opening in former synagogues around New York City, Ornstein gave an emphatic no. “It’s not a synagogue that was built in the 1950s,” he explained. “We’re talking about a 19th century building with important historical value.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, the doctor is out.
Dr. Joyce Brothers, the legendary television psychologist and $64,000 question boxing maven (she later credited her expertise in this area to a producer suggestion, hours and hours of furious cramming, and a truly prodigious memory), has died of a respiratory ailment at age 85. Gentle, approachable and calmly articulate, Dr. Brothers was a ubiquitous but always charming media presence, from her television show to her columns to her multitude of cameo appearances, including The Simpsons, Hollywood Squares, Happy Days (in which she famously dissected the latent homosexual tendencies of the Cunningham’s dog—it’s on the blooper reel) and my personal favorite, her gracious turn on the country club catwalk during the Wilderness girl-themed, Robin Leach-hosted celebrity fashion show in my favorite movie of all time, Troop Beverly Hills (“clad in khaki for a luxury stroll or a walk in the woods.”)
Now that the Stephen Hawking controversy has died down and the usual suspects have traded their predictable barbs, it would serve us well to examine, coolly and without prejudice, the contours of the affair. If for no other reason, we’re likely to see similar cases pop up in the near future, and rather than being swept anew each time by the powerful gales of resentment and rage, we would do well to try and define the contours of useful conversation. Let us steer clear of the blowhards on either side, whom we’ve lost long ago. Let us also avoid nudging the conversation towards absolute terms like legitimacy, and assume, bluntly, that any human action that is not illegal is a legitimate and permissible one. What we aim for is something much more practical and far less illustrious, namely some common ground for us, the majority of people who see the nuance in this situation and who strive to settle reason, justice, and common-sense. Towards that end, I propose, the following four principles apply:
The Priority Principle: As soon as news broke of the esteemed physicist’s snubbing of the Jerusalem conference, defenders of the Jewish State argued that Hawking’s response was nonsensical given the rush of brutalities surging everywhere from Damascus to the Democratic Republic of Congo. To the extent that it implies that one ought to focus on one conflict at a time, the argument is false; as Noam Sheizaf rightly pointed out in +972, “the genocide in Cambodia was taking place at the same time as the boycott effort against South Africa,” and any claim that we ought not to focus on one when there’s another going on may very well lead to inaction. This, however, is where the priority principle comes into play: to the extent that one chooses to be an engaged and responsible global citizen, one is expected to set priorities and act on them. Such is the mark of maturity: while we are all surrounded by a constellation of stimulations, we must, if we wish to lead a morally balanced life, concentrate our attention on those challenges that are most pressing, which, as all but the most hardened cynics would agree, means that priority ought to be given to any crisis involving the loss of human life. There is little doubt that, for many, living in the occupied West Bank is cruel and tragic. But 70,000 human beings have been slaughtered in the last two years just a few kilometers to the north in Assad’s inferno. Anyone, then, is free to protest Israel’s policies, but as long as they remain silent on other, and far more pressing, catastrophes, reasonable observers will be right to question whether singling out Israel mightn’t be guided by ulterior, and dishonorable, motives.
• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have his work cut out for him as he attempts to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin not to give Syrian dictator Bashar Assad anti-aircraft missiles. [ToI]
• Dr. Joyce Brothers, the famous television host, psychologist, and only woman to answer the “$64,000 Question” has died at age 85. [NPR]
• The Associated Press is reporting that two months’ worth of phone records for some of its reporters and editors were secretly obtained by the Justice Department. [AP]
• The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is in hot water for unveiling a map of the Middle East in which Israel does not exist. At a German-funded project launch, the Hamas-employing group replaced Israel with “Arab Palestine.” [ToI]
The good folks over at the Bowery Boogie have a story today about someone who is near and dear the hearts of many: the Houston-born Beyonce. Apparently though, not everyone loves the ubiquity of Bey.
How could one-half of America’s royal couple possibly misstep? Well, it has nothing to do with the national anthem. It’s not even Sasha Fierce so much as it is the image (see above) of a bikini-clad Bey at a bus stop on the Lower East Side’s Grand Street. Notice something strange about this H&M ad? According to the Boogie, something of an ongoing modesty war is taking place with that particular poster, which people continue to find partially covered up when they amble up to the bus stop at Grand Street and Columbia. Each time the covering is torn down, it seems that is taped up just as quickly.
This past week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited China. It was the first time Beijing ever simultaneously hosted the leaders of the two rival nations. As China’s new president discussed peace with Abbas, the media rushed to anoint the joint visits as evidence that China had come of age in the Middle East. The growing East Asian power, whose dependence on Arab oil grows higher every year, was depicted as ready to play a genuine role in the peace process. One influential analyst suggested that the new Chinese president’s peace initiative to Abbas was “a momentous shift in China’s foreign policy.”
In embracing this narrative, observers swallowed the story Beijing wanted while completely missing the real reason for Abbas’s visit. Abbas was not in China to herald a new dawn of Chinese peacemaking. Beijing invited him for one overriding reason: to provide diplomatic cover for Netanyahu’s far more strategic meeting with China’s new leaders.
Would you like to read a classic Yiddish novel about hasidic wife swapping, messianism and Polish nationalism?
That was a rhetorical question—of course you would. And the opportunity is within your grasp: Michael Wex, Yiddishist and author of the New York Times bestseller “Born to Kvetch,” is spearheading a campaign to translate Joseph Opatoshu’s 1921 masterpiece, In Poylishe Velder (“In the Forest of Poland”), into English. Says Wex:
It’s been three weeks since it was first reported that Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was also now suspected of being involved in a triple homicide. In the context of the marathon bombing, the details of the unsolved 2011 slaying have the florid hallmarks of a tabloid splash: the three victims–two of whom (Erik Weissman and Raphael Teken) were Jewish–were believed to be have been killed in extraordinarily gruesome fashion on September 11, 2011 in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Over the weekend, new details emerged in a report that links both of the marathon bombing suspects to the murder with the evidence only mounting.
• With limitless potential for either a romantic comedy or a Liam Neeson movie, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian Premier Vladimir Putin will reportedly meet this week to discuss Syria. The focus of the meeting will be a troubling arms deal between Syria and Russia. [NYT]
• The academic conference that astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has decided to boycott has a record of hosting Palestinian leaders, academics, and negotiators each year. [ToI]
Following the Newseum’s controversial decision to include two members of the Hamas-linked Al-Aqsa TV, a group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States government, in its annual memorial for fallen journalists, the D.C.-based museum is now reconsidering.
A few minutes ago, the Newseum’s manager of media relations sent out this statement:
Last week when a Friend-of-Tablet reminded us that Sigmund Freud’s birthday was fast approaching, he urged us to pay tribute to one of the most influential figures in history, Jewish history, and romantic comedies. This is, of course, a near-impossible task, but since Freud’s birthday this year (this past Monday) was painstakingly close to another big celebration (Mother’s Day), I thought a better question to ask would be: What would Freud say about Mother’s Day?
To help, I enlisted Daphne Merkin, who in addition to being a Tablet contributor and a celebrated writer and critic, knows more than a thing or two about Freud and the intellectual domains in which he dwelled.
The Scroll is adding to our poetry output with Scroll Verse, a recurring feature that presents the works of Jewish poets–or in some cases, poets who write on Tablet themes or have Jewish souls. Our last poem was Adding It Up by Jake Marmer.
Our latest installment is a work by the Polish poet and translator Boris Gerus, who wrote this poem in Hebrew. Friends and fans are Gerus are working to raise funds for Gerus, who suffers from the rare Takayasu’s Disease.