A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 8 hours 14 minutes ago
On August 15, 1945, when the Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered in a pre-recorded radio address to end World War II, British officer Mordaunt Cohen was in Burma, where he had fought with a unit of soldiers from West Africa.
In the jungle, information about the broader theater of war was scant. But when news of the radio address came, Cohen and a brigadier celebrated by drinking an old bottle of Brandy that had, like them, somehow survived the fighting.
Last night, the State Department posted 7,000 pages of Hillary Clinton’s emails as Secretary of State, as part of a rolling release of her communications in government. Previous batches have been scrutinized for Clinton’s attitude towards Israel and BDS. But this latest collection contained the presidential contender’s most Jewish–and most mystifying–email of all:
The email and its open-ended question quickly gave rise to speculation: Was Clinton rushing to procure gefilte fish for her upcoming seder? Or did she perhaps snack on it during her spare time while criss-crossing the globe? But the truth, as ever, is stranger than the fiction.
Trita Parsi, the Iranian-born émigré who moved to the United States in 2001 from Sweden, where his parents found refuge before the Islamic Revolution, should be the toast of Washington these days. As I argued in Tablet magazine several years ago, Parsi is an immigrant who in classic American fashion wanted to capitalize on the opportunity to reconcile his new home and his birthplace. And now he’s done it: The founder and president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the tip of the spear of the Iran Lobby, has won a defining battle over the direction of American foreign policy. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action not only lifts sanctions on Iran, a goal Parsi has fought for since 1997, but also paves the way for a broader reconciliation between Washington and Tehran across the Middle East.
In Washington, to have the policies you advocate implemented with the full backing of the president counts as a huge victory. Winning big like this means power as well as access to more money, which flows naturally to power and augments it—enhancing reputations and offering the ability to reward friends and punish enemies. And yet, Parsi (who declined comment for this story) has got to be frustrated that very few in the halls of American power—either in government or in the media—are celebrating the Iran lobby for its big win. It seems the only thing people can talk about is the big loser in this fight over Middle East policy—the pro-Israel lobby, led by AIPAC. It’s as if Parsi and NIAC had nothing to do with the Obama Administration’s decision to move closer to Iran while further distancing itself from Israel.
Last week, Daf Yomi readers began a new section of the Talmud, Tractate Nazir, which is entirely dedicated to a particular kind of vow—the nazirite vow. Naziriteship is an ancient Jewish institution, established in the Bible in Numbers 6, where it is stated that a person who vows to become a nazirite is subject to three restrictions: He or she cannot drink wine (or anything “that is made of the grape-vine, from the pressed grapes even to the grapestone”), cut his or her hair, or come into contact with a dead body. (The prohibitions are similar to those binding on priests, so a nazirite can be seen as a kind of temporary, voluntary priest.) A person usually becomes a nazirite for a fixed period of time; when the term expires he brings a particular kind of sacrifice, then cuts off his hair and burns it in the sacrificial fire.
Temperatures in Poland have pushed 90 degrees Fahrenheit over the last week, leaving many locals looking for ways to cool down. Among them were the proprietors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, who came up with a novel idea for helping visitors beat the heat while waiting to enter the concentration camp: free showers.
Last week, Dartmouth sophomore Cameron Isen began circulating a petition calling for his school to provide kosher food options acceptable to all students who observe the Jewish dietary laws. The issue at play was complex: Though Dartmouth does offer kosher food, it is certified by Tablet-K, an organization whose standards are not widely accepted in the American Orthodox community. As such, the provided food is unhelpful for many of the students it is intended to serve. By contrast, all other Ivy League schools have long offered their students kosher fare that meets the highest accepted standards.
Isen’s petition, pushed by fellow undergrads Mayer Schein ’16, Matthew Goldstein ’18, and Eliza Ezrapour ’18, quickly garnered over 500 signatures in just one week. Supporters pointed out that not only was Dartmouth losing out on certain students due to its more restrictive kosher policy, but also on some kashrut-observant professors. At the same time, while sympathetic to student concerns over certification, Hillel director Rabbi Edward Boraz noted that the costs might be prohibitive.
In the early morning hours of August 12, vandals struck an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in San Antonio, Texas, breaking windows and spray-painting anti-Semitic graffiti, swastikas, and hateful epithets on over 30 cars and homes. In its wake, the hate crime left the residents of the insular, north-side enclave reeling, asking themselves and one another who could have done such a terrible thing.
Having grown up in San Antonio—where I have no memory at all of ever hearing about, much less experiencing, anti-Semitism—I found this attack not just alarming and disturbing, but also baffling. The city of my youth, as far as I remembered it, was sleepy and dull, set off from the rest of the world and its woes. In college, when I used to tell people that I came from San Antonio, they would inevitably ask: “Texas has Jews?”
There is a prominent liberal meme concerning “yoostabees”: people who supposedly “used to be a Democrat” until 9/11 changed everything—including on issues wholly unrelated to 9/11. The joke usually takes the form of a mock declaration that “I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick.” The idea is that while it is perfectly plausible that the September 11th attacks might change one’s views on foreign policy, there is no reason why it should affect beliefs about Ted Kennedy’s decades-past car crash—or any liberal domestic policy initiative like universal healthcare.
And yet, many of us have met such people, or their conservative counterparts—Republicans who turned into Democrats after souring on the Iraq war, for instance. This oddity is actually reflective of an interesting new branch of inquiry in social psychology known as “cultural cognition.” Cultural cognition suggests that most of us form our beliefs based not on reasoned and independent appraisal of evidence, but rather based on whether they align with our cultural predispositions and communities. In other words, most of our beliefs, most of the time, are mediated by the degree to which they are in harmony with our cultural priors. People prefer not to be outliers; they tend to decide ambiguous or contested arguments in a way that is consonant with the beliefs of their peers. This includes liberals and conservatives.
We were out on a fun date on that summer night a few weeks ago, laughing hysterically, when my Ethiopian-Israeli boyfriend–in the typical Israeli way–nonchalantly slipped in some bad news with the good times.
“You know,” he said. “My brother almost got killed last week.”
This year is different. Bachman stepped down from the pulpit earlier this summer and is therefore now preparing to have a much more intimate holiday season. That doesn’t mean, though, that the concerns and fate of the Jews no longer interest him or that he has lost interest in spirituality and leadership responsibilities.
The Israeli culture wars arrived in my kitchen a few months ago when I discovered that the cure for my daughter’s grumpy preschooler moods was a Hebrew dance hit called “Happiness Revolution.” The song is of the genre known loosely as Mizrahi, a blend of Middle Eastern, Greek, and Western influences associated with Israelis who have roots in the Islamic world. In the country’s early decades Mizrahi music was deemed primitive and generally kept off radio and TV, shunted instead into an underground of small clubs, cheap wedding halls, and cassette stores clustered around the grimy bus station in Tel Aviv.
It turned out that my daughter not only knew the words (“A happiness revolution / Because we’re all family! We’ll dance like crazy / Because it’s time to fly!”) but also dance moves that she performed while watching her reflection in the oven door. She had learned the song at her Jerusalem kindergarten from the music teacher, a young ultra-Orthodox woman with no Middle Eastern roots that I can discern. When I attended the year-end party at the kindergarten, the kind of affair where the customary soundtrack has always been Naomi Shemer, the kids put on a performance involving a dozen songs, more than half of which were Mizrahi.
A new study about Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, or AEPi, explores whether or not membership in the organization has a intensifying impact on brothers’ Jewish identity.
The report, titled “Assessing the Impact of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Experience,” was commissioned by AEPi itself, at the impetus of alumnus Elan Carr, a district attorney based in Los Angeles, who has been a member of the fraternity since 1986 and was the international president of AEPi when the study was commissioned. Groeneman Research & Consulting, the organization that also completed (along with the Schusterman Foundation) a 2011 BBYO study of Jewish teenagers, conducted the research. “We knew anecdotally [that the fraternity] had an enormous impact on Jewish identity,” said Carr, who added that he wanted the Jewish community to see that the AEPi experience was as much a “game changer” for maintaining Jewish identity in young Jews as a program like Birthright.
Meet Jamie Loeb, a 20-Year-Old From Ossining, NY, Who Will Make Her Pro Tennis Debut at The U.S. Open
When I spoke with Jamie Loeb on Thursday she had just completed her daily training at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randall’s Island, her typical stomping grounds for tennis practice for the last four years. Loeb, 20, was days away from making her pro debut at the hallowed courts of Flushing Meadows, Queens, which lies in the shadow of the UFO-like edifices of the 1964 World’s Fair.
About a twenty-five-minute drive from Randall’s Island, the top players in the world were getting in their swings and volleys at the U.S. Open courts, readying themselves for this week’s action on the actual courts of play. Sure to be among them was Caroline Wozniacki, the former World. No. 1 (and currently World No. 4) who represents Loeb’s opening-round opponent.
Summer may be almost over, but there’s still plenty of time left to experience the great outdoors. The trees are lush and green, the ponds are lukewarm, and the insects on the trails have even calmed down from their frenzied biting. Have you always wondered what the stars look like at night in the forest? Go and find out!
To be surrounded by all of the colors, sights, and smells of nature, where you don’t feel alone but are free from frustrating questions, stares, and judgments, is incredibly liberating. For all Jews this can bring a sigh of relief; for Jews of Color, who are often on the receiving end of these unfortunate occurrences (even in our safe Jewish spaces), even more weight is lifted. But as it turns out, 88% of the nearly 300 million people who visited American national parks in 2014 are not people of color, let alone Jews of color. (See this Colorlines article titled, “Why People of Color Don’t Frequent National Parks,” inspired by a recent New York Times article, titled “Why Are Our Parks So White?”)
When I was about 15 years old I had a smart-aleck thing I liked to say whenever anyone brought up the subject of marriage: When and if I ever get married, there are only two circumstances in which I would consider changing my name—if my husband-to-be’s last name gave me a nice drag queen-esque pun to go by (Rachel Riots, for example, or Rachel Tension), or if I was going to get a title, like I’d become one of the Countess of Grantham or Dutchess of Devonshire, or something like that. Then, of course, I’d laugh because obviously neither of those things was going to happen. I had never even heard of a man with a last name of, say, “Inequality.” And as for the title, yeah right. How the hell was some weird little Jewish girl going to break into the English nobility? (It’s telling perhaps, that the idea of continental aristocracy never occurred to me; even as a sophomore in high school I had standards.)
Well, now I know that it’s not impossible! A.J. Langer, better known as Rayanne Graff, the wild-child punk rock friend of Claire Danes on the seminal 90’s drama My So-Called Life—and if you think I’m using the word “seminal” lightly here, just say the words “Jordan Catalano” to any woman of your acquaintance in her early to mid 30’s and see what happens—has just become the Countess of Devon. Since 2005, Langer has been married to Charles Courtenay, an Old Etonian and lawyer who is the scion of one of the U.K.’s oldest aristocratic families. She has just assumed the title of “countess” upon the death of her father-in-law, the Earl of Devon.
Hurricane Katrina, 10 Years On: Our Coverage of the Aftermath of One of the Most destructive Natural Disasters in U.S. history
Ten years ago, one of the most destructive and deadliest natural disasters in United States history ravaged the Gulf Coast, from central Florida to Texas. The neighborhoods of New Orleans, Louisiana, were overtaken with water after its levee system failed. Estimates place the death toll at at least 1,646 people. To this day New Orleans is still recovering from the effects of the hurricane, and the damage on the city has had significant political and economic effects on the rest of the country. In the aftermath of the disaster, the government response was heavily criticized, especially then-President Bush and FEMA.
Since Tablet’s inception in 2009, we’ve covered the aftermath of the hurricane in a number of articles, from pieces that explore the challenges the city of New Orleans faces in working to repair the damage, to continuing Jewish observances in the midst of a tragedy. Here is a look at some of that coverage:
This year marks the 160th birthday of Jacob Adler, the shining star of Yiddish theater. Adler was perhaps best known for his triumphant turns in two Shakespeare productions: Der Yiddisher King Lear (The Jewish King Lear), which transposed the dramatic action to 19th-century Russia, and Shaylok, oder der Koyfman Fun Venedig (Shylock, or The Merchant of Venice), which featured a sympathetic, naturalistic portrait of the Jewish moneylender.
Adler played Shylock on Broadway in 1903 and 1905. All the other actors spoke Shakespeare’s English, while Shylock spoke conversational Yiddish. (The New York Times wasn’t entirely impressed, bemoaning “the colloquial patois robbing the lines of all semblance to blank verse, though enabling the actor to color his playing with many realistic touches that are highly effective if not too closely analyzed.”) Adler was nicknamed “nesher hagodl (“the great eagle”), after his stately presence and soaring talent. His daughter Stella followed him into the family business, eventually becoming a celebrated method acting teacher who trained Marlon Brando, Judy Garland, Harvey Keitel, Lena Horne, Robert de Niro, Elaine Stritch, and many others.
Last week, Tablet asked readers and friends what they want to hear from President Obama in his live webcast to the Jewish community on Friday afternoon. We received many responses. Below are the ones we’ve chosen to republish. They’re written by:
Yishai Schwartz, Anne Roiphe, Peter Jacobson, Robin Freed, Sohrab Ahmari, Rabbi Elliott Kleinman, Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, Richard A. Rohan, Thane Rosenbaum, Barbara Zasloff, Annice Grinberg, Michael Krepon, Arthur Elstein, Jonathan Greenblatt, Allan Leicht, Shadi Hamid.
When I first read Katha Pollitt’s essay “Learning To Drive” in The New Yorker in 2002, it seemed that Pollitt was my soul sister. She and I shared a shameful secret: Both of us struggled long and hard to learn what most teenagers pick up as second nature; we sweated to become drivers.
My driving troubles weren’t entirely of my own making. I began with a cultural handicap: My immigrant parents, Holocaust survivors, didn’t drive; we never owned a car, and I grew up in Manhattan, where public transportation is so wonderful and parking spaces so scarce that a car is actually a liability.