A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 2 days 28 minutes ago
“Never again,” the world vowed in the middle of the last century. But here we are—again. Our ‘never’ is proving heartbreakingly finite.
In between our last vow and today, there was Bosnia, Rwanda, South Sudan, and others. But the plight of the Kurds, manifested in the struggle against ISIS over the Syrian city of Kobani, is different. When it came to Hutu and Tutsi, we wanted the slaughter to cease. But in Kobani, I want the Kalashnikov-wielding women, with hair cascading down their backs, smiling winningly at the camera showing the victory sign, to win. Rather, I want them to obliterate their enemy, the militant group known as ISIS, who have taken to calling themselves the Islamic State.
Episode seven of Boardwalk Empire’s fifth season, which aired last night, may have been the most ‘Jewish’ of the entire series. It was action packed with mezuzah-kissing, Bugsy Siegel’s antics, a lot of nagging, and a firm focus on Meyer Lansky’s growing empire. In fact, as Lucky Luciano barters an exchange with Nucky Thompson for the return of his good friend Bugsy Siegel, Luciano, born outside of Palermo, turns to Siegel and asks, ‘Khamoyer, vos machstu?’ It goes to so show that even the Sicilian pioneer of the American mafia can pick up some Yiddish by hanging out with Jews for long enough. (Earlier in the series, Luciano referred to Siegel as meshugana).
Later in the episode, Thompson’s hit squad goes after Salvatore Maranzano, who was called the Capo di Tutti Capi—the boss of all bosses—in an attempt to cut a deal with Lansky and Luciano. Maranzano had opposed Luciano’s dealings with Jewish associates like Lansky. In reality, however—and not pictured on the show—Maranzano’s assassins were members of the Murder Incorporated hit squad. Among them was Siegel himself, and Samuel Levine—the gunman who refused to kill on Shabbat. (Luckily, Maranzano’s hit was planned for a Thursday).
Last month a new book called Naming Jack the Ripper claimed that the serial killer who targeted London prostitutes in the late 19th century was a 25-year-old Polish Jew named Aaron Kosminski. The book’s author, Russell Edwards—a self-described Ripperologist—supported his theory with purported DNA evidence: a shawl with Kosminski’s semen and a victim’s blood was sold at auction, and was later analyzed by Edwards.
However, Sir Alec Jeffreys, a pioneer of DNA fingerprinting (and therefore a bit more knowledgeable on the matter than Edwards), recently came out against Edwards’ finding. He suggested that the genetic trait Edwards used to identify Kosminski was misidentified, and is in fact a much more common genetic mutation that can’t be used to isolate Kosminski as the definitive suspect. Furthermore, the type of DNA that Edwards analyzed has a much higher match rate in the general population than nuclear DNA, which would mean a rather large sample of the population could have fit the genetic profile that Edwards used to pinpoint Kosminski.
Say what you will about America, but you can’t accuse us of ignoring the elderly. Yesterday, the AP reported that dozens of suspected former Nazis who moved to the U.S. after World War II are still being paid millions of dollars in social security benefits.
Among the aged suspected Nazis are concentration camp guards, troops, and even a rocket scientist who used slaves in order to conduct his research. Although most of the beneficiaries have died, the AP reports that at least four are still living, though none are living in the U.S.The benefits got locked in over the last few decades as the U.S. tried to purge the remaining suspects from the country.
Tonight is the opening night of The Death of Klinghoffer, the Metropolitan Opera’s production of the controversial opera about the 1985 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship by the Palestinian Liberation Front and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger. The lead-up to the Met’s production has been met with protests and condemnation, particularly among Jews, and objections to the opera’s depiction of the murder and its motivations.
A protest outside Lincoln Center on the Sept. 22 opening night of the fall opera season drew more than 1,000 people, and a planned demonstration for this evening (the show begins at 7:30 p.m.) will likely draw a similarly large crowd.
The moment I met Scott Storch I knew we were going to hit it off—this despite Storch’s lingering reputation as one of the thornier characters in hip-hop. But how could I not like him immediately, when, standing in the DJ booth of the South Beach nightclub Mansion, a pair of Beats by Dre headphones around his neck, he greeted me with a fist bump and a hug: “Yo, what’s good, bubeleh?”
Storch, the super-producer and composer who in his early thirties famously squandered his $70 million fortune on a jaw-dropping lifestyle of luxury—and serious drug habit—now appears to be a refreshed and reformed man. Puffing on a Marlboro Red in the DJ booth, the 40-year-old Storch was focused and alert, having substituted lines of cocaine for Coca Cola on ice. He may have written and produced some of the biggest hip-hop and pop hits hits of the last decade, but he’s now adopted a new persona: electronic dance music (EDM) singer.
The Jewish High Holiday season can seem like one giant whirlwind of atonement, matzoh ball soup, and relatives asking whether you’ve met any nice girls lately. Plus, with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the intensity of Yom Kippur, the grand architecture of Sukkot, and the fun of Simchat Torah, the low-key holiday of Shemini Atzeret—literally the “eighth day of assembly”—can get easily overlooked.
The history and story behind Shemini Atzeret, too, is much lesser-known than those of its fellow fall festivals. To help us understand the under-appreciated Jewish holiday, We asked rabbis and professors to explain Shemini Atzeret and its place within Judaism.
I hate to take vehement issue with a fellow Tablet writer. But earlier today, my colleague Yair Rosenberg reported that the Milwaukee Jewish Federation “forced” the removal of a Sukkah from the courtyard of a local high school on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state. (The sukkah was eventually built nearby, at a private home, off school property.) Yair argued that the Federation’s stance goes against the values Jewish communal organizations should be working for. I couldn’t disagree more. (Full disclosure: I’m familiar with Nicolet High School; my husband went there. Go Knights!)
First off, it’s vital to note that it was Jewish students who asked the Federation’s Community Relations Council to approach the principal. As senior Hannah Paley put it, “We felt like, if people put up a Christmas tree or Nativity scene, we’d feel uncomfortable with that, so why would we have a sukkah? It would be very easy for it to go the opposite way in a predominantly Christian country.” Indeed, as I wrote earlier this year, I was uncomfortable with my daughter’s public school teacher’s desire to read The Polar Express, a Christmas story starring Santa Claus, to the class. I told him I was uneasy, and he immediately chose a different book. (Thanks, Colin!) What grounds would I have to complain about Santa if I insisted on building a sukkah in the school playground?
Judaism acknowledges the day of one’s death and not one’s birthday. It makes a certain kind of sense: You can only really measure the impact of a person’s life after it is over. But what if we don’t know the date of a yahrzeit? That is what happened to the first woman rabbi, Regina Jonas, who was deported from Terezin on October 12, 1944, and arrived at Auschwitz on October 14. It was Shabbat, Shabbat Bereshit, which this year falls on Oct. 18. After that there is no record of her.
It is time to honor her memory. That’s why a growing number of rabbis and Jewish leaders have designated this Shabbat, Oct. 18, as her yahrzeit and will say kaddish for her.
Simchat Torah is an anomaly on the Jewish calendar. The festival, which celebrates the completion of the yearly cycle of public Torah reading, doesn’t appear in the Bible or even the Talmud. The holiday that does appear in biblical texts on this date is Shemini Atzeret, a one-day festival that immediately follows Sukkot and completes the holiday season. Yet over the last millennium, Simchat Torah has become one of the most beloved holidays of the Jewish year—and in some ways overshadows the other holiday with which it shares a date.
The Talmud deems it unfathomable that the Jews had a period without public Torah reading. It asserts that Moses established public reading of the Torah on Shabbat mornings and on the festivals, with Ezra subsequently adding readings on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat afternoons. Based on passages in Philo and in the Talmud, Professor Yitzhak Gilat has suggested that these ancient readings followed no set order; rather, they were chosen based on timely topics and on the local sage’s inclinations.
During the week-long festival of Sukkot, which is currently being celebrated by Jews around the world, observant Jews are required to eat all of their meals in the Sukkah–the temporary hut from which the holiday takes its name. This can pose problems in professional and educational settings where a Sukkah is not readily available, forcing Jews to choose between having lunch or observing their religion. Thankfully, in recent years, businesses and schools have become sensitive to this concern, and Sukkot can now be found everywhere from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Google headquarters across the globe.
But one place you won’t find a Sukkah, reports the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, is at Nicolet High School in Wisconsin, despite the fact that Jewish students built one there last year without a problem. The reason? The Milwaukee Jewish Federation objected to the hut as a violation of the “separation of church and state,” and forced it to move off campus.
In September, dozens of people gathered outside the Qatari Embassy in London to protest Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup on the grounds of its sponsorship of Hamas. Organized by the new Israeli Forum Task Force, in collaboration with the existing Sussex Friends of Israel, the protest represented the first effort in recent years by Israeli expatriates in the U.K. to become politically involved as a community.
The organizers reasoned that the only way to challenge British public perceptions of Israel was to seize the agenda. They did so by capitalizing on existing controversy around Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup, calling to ‘Kick Terrorism out of Football’ as A means of drawing attention to the threat facing Israel of state-sponsored terrorism. Protestors wore bright orange boiler suits, resembling the jumpsuits worn by journalists just before their filmed beheadings at the hands of ISIS. Qatar is a member of the U.S.-led alliance bombing ISIS, but the event’s organizers felt this would have maximum visual impact given Qatar’s support for other Islamist groups. (Qatar also stands accused of permitting funds to be transferred from its territory to ISIS, so the choice of attire was not entirely misleading.)
Barry Freundel, the rabbi at Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C.—a Modern Orthodox synagogue whose high-profile congregation includes Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and former Senator Joe Lieberman—was arrested yesterday on voyeurism charges.
According to the Forward, Freundel is accused of placing video cameras above the showers in the synagogue’s mikvah area. Kesher Israel’s mikvah, which is adjacent to the synagogue, is D.C.’s only Orthodox mikvah.
A group of teenagers trashed a kosher grocery store in Crown Heights this weekend, sparking renewed concerns of anti-Semitism in the Brooklyn neighborhood. DNAinfo reports that at around 9 p.m. on Saturday night dozens of teens stormed into Gourmet Butcher and began to ransack the store, pushing boxes onto the ground, overturning shelves, and sweeping snacks off counters. The incident was caught on a surveillance camera, and the NYPD is reviewing the footage.
Customers blocked the teens before they could get past the entrance of the store, and the disturbance caused an estimated $500 to $700 of damage. “It is a miracle that they did not manage to get all the way into the store,” Yanki Klein, the owner of Gourmet Butcher, told the website Crownheights.info. “Otherwise I would have been dealing with much more damage or worse, heaven forbid.”
For a few weeks now, the Internet—or one large and particularly nerdy corner of it, anyway—has been alight with furious debates about #Gamergate. The mercifully short version of this affair is this: a swath of predominantly male gaming enthusiasts, motivated by not much save for the crudest cut of misogyny, have decided to wage a campaign against women who are entering the gaming community, designing their own games, and otherwise contributing to the growth of the medium.
Because bigotry is best served glazed with a thin coating of fake moral outrage, these Nintendoed Neanderthals are arguing that they’re really out to salvage the ethics of gaming journalism, an argument they support by singling out one designer, Zoe Quinn, who they allege to have slept with a number of prominent gaming reporters and thereby gained favor for her work. It’s false hooey, but it was enough, when shouted by hordes of hacks, to get large companies like Intel to remove ads from gaming sites that ran pieces criticizing the culture of rampant chauvinism prevalent in contemporary video game culture.
As a member of two special-interest groups who tend to react with great vehemence to incidents of hate speech—Jews and academics—one might think that I would be especially primed to be exercised by the swastikas chalked on the Yale campus last night. Add in the fact that I am a Yalie—I teach at Yale now, and I attended Yale: 22 years today I was probably standing on the exact spot in front of Durfee Hall where the swastikas were found, eating fro-yo and bouncing to Bob Marley coming out of speakers facing the quadrangle from the windows above—and I should be the single most enraged human on the planet.
But I am not. I am saddened, and a bit worried, in case it turns out this is part of a campus trend. But I always treat cowardly, dead-of-night hate speech as the likely work of a disturbed individual, maybe two, as likely to be a drunken bit of demented derring-do as a genuine expression of anti-Semitism. Of course such acts are disturbing reminders that anti-Semitic tropes persist, and that there’s a certain kind of sicko who, when drunk or angry or aggrieved decided to say or write something anti-Jewish (or anti-black, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-immigrant). But a lot of years on campuses have taught me that the first incident is usually not a harbinger of a second. Most students and faculty are horrified, and the perpetrator—who, by the way, may not even be a student, could just be somebody who stumbled onto campus—may wake up the next morning wondering what he or she did.
The New Yorker has published a moving exchange between Sayed Kashua and Etgar Keret, two writers for whom this summer’s war in Gaza was particularly troubling. Kashua, a Jerusalem-based Arab-Israeli novelist, announced in July that his upcoming sabbatical in Illinois would be a permanent one, and that he and his family would be leaving Israel for good.
Kashua writes to Keret—a Jewish Israeli writer and filmmaker who this summer expressed his own discomfort with the latest round of fighting (it’s not repetition, he argued, but descent)—about how it felt to be an Arab Israeli as the tension built before the war and his searing decision to leave Israel behind. He begs Keret to “tell me a short story with a happy ending, please.”
Fans of The Simpsons may have recited the mourners kaddish during the season premiere two weeks ago in memory of Rabbi Hyman Krustofski, the father of Herschel Krustofski, better known to viewers as Krusty the Clown. Krustofski’s death came after extensive speculation over which character would be killed in the first episode of the show’s 26th season.
Krustofski was voiced by Jackie Mason, who won an Emmy in 1992 for the role and whose own life story bears a striking similarity to that of Krusty. Krustofski the elder lived on the Lower East Side of Springfield and, like his father, and his father before him, served as a rabbi with hopes that his son would follow in his footstep. But when Krusty decided to go into comedy, the two grew apart.
For the past two seasons of Boardwalk Empire, we’ve been given small glimpses into the antics of Meyer Lansky associate Bugsy Siegel, played by Michael Zegen. Back in Season 3, Lansky saved Siegel’s life by shooting down two gunmen. Throughout the rest of the series, now in its final season, we see Siegel as a mostly incompetent gangster who is morally at peace with the idea of murder.
Siegel, like many of his fellow Jewish gangsters, was born in Brooklyn. His early criminal career involved the extortion of street merchants (sort of like Mickey Cohen’s extortion of newspaper boys). Like the rest of Arnold Rothstein’s crew, Siegel became a bootlegger during Prohibition and helped the drug trade get on its feet. He was one of the founders of Jewish hit squad Murder Incorporated, and occasionally acted as a gunman himself.
For much of her life, it was the men’s mitzvot that occupied Haviva Ner David. After applying to Yeshiva University’s rabbinical program and receiving no response, she struggled for more than a decade before eventually becoming one of the first women granted the equivalent of an Orthodox semicha, or rabbinic ordination. Having reclaimed a space traditionally reserved only for men, Ner David began looking elsewhere.
“As I grew into a more mature feminism,” she writes in the introduction of her new book, Chanah’s Voice, “I knew that in order to embrace my Judaism fully and discover my Jewish soul, I had to take a much-overdue journey into the three ‘women’s’ mitzvoth enumarted by the Mishnah: challah (religious laws around bread baking), nidah (menstruation rituals), and hadlakat ha-ner (Sabbath candle lighting).”