A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 2 hours 32 sec ago
A Rosh Hashanah meal shared with family and friends is one of the first acts of the New Year, and it’s as positive and life affirming an act one can perform. After all, nothing says ‘We’re here, we made it through another year, L’Chaim!’ like a festive meal shared and savored with loved ones.
There are five foods the Talmud says we should eat on Rosh Hashanah to ensure a year of good fortune: gourds, black-eyed peas, leeks, beets, and dates. These foods all have names that are a play on words for a particular wish for the new year: For example, the Hebrew word for dates is tamar, which sounds like yitamu, which means ‘to be removed’—as in, remove our foes from our midst.
Wondering who will win the next presidential election? Ask Nate Silver.
Wondering which country’s regime could be the next to begin a large-scale slaughter of its own people? Ask Jay Ulfelder.
Last month, former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman published an essay in Tablet highlighting how, and why, news organizations get Israel so wrong. The AP’s Jerusalem bureau, where Friedman used to work, was the subject of much of his criticism. He argued that the bureau stuck to a preexisting narrative of Israeli extremism and Palestinian moderation. One of his examples that his former employer stifled stories that presented a divergent narrative came from 2009, when two of his colleagues had a story about a peace proposal from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Palestinian leadership rejected. Both the Israelis and Palestinians confirmed this, but editors pulled the piece.
Steven Gutkin, the former AP bureau chief in Jerusalem, who hired Friedman in 2006, wrote a response in which he denied the charge that the story was pulled due to editorial bias, asserting that the information discovered by the reporters, namely a map depicting a proposed land swap, was old news. (Friedman addressed Gutkin’s response here on the Scroll last week. Gutkin has since published a rebuttal.)
If you have friends who brew kombucha, ask around for kefir grains, have a jar of kimchi bubbling away on the counter, or wax poetic about salty dill pickles fermented in brine, you can probably thank Sandor Katz.
The grandson of Jewish immigrants who came to New York from Belarus in 1920, Katz grew up on the Upper West Side, and has written about his fond memories of “yummy garlic-dill sour pickles [from] Guss’ pickle stall on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Zabar’s on the Upper West Side.”
Forget the trend stories decrying the death of Yiddish or proclaiming Yiddish’s trendy revival: the Jewish language remains very much alive in the United States, and by the looks of things, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The Workmen’s Circle, which bills itself as “the largest provider of Yiddish language classes in the United States outside of academic institutions”—and where your humble blogger took an introductory Yiddish literacy course several years ago—is now offering online Yiddish courses. While those might be three words your bubbe would never expect to hear in the same sentence, the virtual classes are further proof that the language of our Eastern European forebears is continuing its long tradition of adapting to fit the needs of its speakers.
A Kentucky man is running a write-in campaign for Senate, plastering the area with signs proclaiming, “With Jews, we lose.” The aspiring anti-Semitic senator is Robert Ransdell, a longtime white supremacist who has spoken at KKK-type rallies and is affiliated with the National Alliance, an organization whose web site bills itself as “your single source for pro-White news.”
USA Today reports that Ransdell has vowed to raise his profile, and is currently actively campaigning in the state. “I am absolutely chomping at the bit going forward with my campaign,” he wrote last month at the white supremacist forum Stormfront. “Only about a month until I am on the air, mainstream radio, primed to start a legitimate ‘conversation’ about race, as in a racially conscious White man letting loose on the problems we face, that so many of our people are beginning to wake up to.”
An archaeological excavation at Sobibor, a Nazi extermination camp in Poland, has yielded an invaluable result. The excavation—which began in 2007, JTA reports, and has uncovered various personal items belonging to Jewish prisoners—has now unearthed the death camp’s gas chambers.
Yoram Haimi, an archeologist working on the project, said finding the gas chambers was the goal of the excavation. “We were amazed at the size of the building and the well-preserved condition of the chamber walls,” he said. “The most poignant moment was when we found a wedding band next to the gas chambers, on which was the Hebrew inscription: “Behold, you are consecrated unto me.”
NEW HAVEN, CONN. – Westville neighborhood resident Mark Oppenheimer was up early on Wednesday, ready for his favorite annual ritual: checking the news to see if this was the year he’d win a MacArthur “genius grant.”
As in previous years at this time, he began with his award-day routine: cold shower, extra conditioner, trim the ear hair (in case of press conference), walk the dog, stop at “the ’buck” for a no-whip Frappuccino, quickly peruse the Times dining section.
If Israel and the Holocaust are Most Jews’ Points of Identification, Which Holidays are Really the High Holidays?
Earlier this summer, my brother-and-sister-in-law made aliyah. To say the timing was poor would be a dramatic understatement. Objectively, the timing was terrible.
Granted, there’s never a very good time to move to Israel, or go there even: The same way an observant Jew might mark time by the holidays (he was born around Purim, she was married by Hanukkah-time), a visitor to the Holyland generally recalls his stay by the conflict that was raging then (I was on Birthright during the Gaza pullout; on our last visit they were drilling for possible gas attacks from Syria).
Last week, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz walked off the stage at a dinner supporting Middle Eastern Christians, after the pro-Israel portion of his remarks drew heckling from some in the audience. “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews,” he declared, “then I will not stand with you.” The incident has sparked a heated but thoughtful debate among conservatives about the moral complexities of supporting both the Jewish state and persecuted Middle East Christians, given that the latter are not always favorably disposed towards the former. While this conversation is important, and Christians, Jews, conservatives and liberals alike could benefit from reading some of the sharper takes on the subject, the firestorm over Cruz’s walkout has had several less salutary consequences.
First, it subordinated the dire plight of the Middle East’s Christians–who are being brutally cleansed from the region–to a partisan squabble. And second, it has turned Israel into a litmus test over whether those Christians deserve outside support, when in fact Jews and the Jewish state have been actively working to bolster that support, without making any such demands. Whether one agrees with Cruz’s actions or not, then, it is important to refocus our attention on those in desperate need, and to emphasize the many Jewish efforts to assist them. Here are some of them.
Shahar Shamir as a child loved eating halva, the dense sesame confection he found at markets in his native Israel. But as an adult living in New York City, he began to crave a less sweet version of his beloved treat. A fair amount of kitchen tinkering birthed Brooklyn Sesame a deconstructed halva spread made from rich tahini stirred with honey. Today, Shamir makes six different versions of his spread: sesame seed, almond, pistachio, black caraway seed, toasted coconut, and cocoa and sea salt.
Like so many other artisanal food producers, Shamir works to honor a traditional food—in this case the Middle Eastern dessert, halva—while finding ways to bring it into a contemporary context. So while Brooklyn Sesame’s halva is most simply enjoyed spread on bread, crackers, or fruit, he recently began to reach for a jar when cooking. He soon found that his halva spread had potential to elevate an array of sweet and savory dishes.
The leader of Italy’s Jewish community announced a new measure to deal with a recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents: a hotline. The Anti-Semitism Antenna will be accessible by phone and online, explained Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, and is intended for use both by Jewish victims of anti-Semitic acts as well as Italian witnesses or bystanders, Haaretz reports.
“The goal of the initiative is to nullify any threat of hatred and discrimination. It is a concrete effort for the benefit of the entire community especially now that old biases are back even in the most advanced and democratic societies,” Gattegna said in a statement.
As you prepare for Yom Kippur this year, you don’t have to look much farther than your iPhone for an opportunity to atone for your sins.
The eScapegoat app, created by Jewish media production company G-dcast in 2013, allows users to unload their sins onto a virtual, animated goat. While the app is certainly a modern invention, it’s based on a Biblical text. It’s modeled after the Yom Kippur ritual described in Leviticus, in which the community’s sins were figuratively placed onto a goat that was then sent off into the desert.
A British security guard is the subject of a police investigation thanks to his attempt to bar two 11-year-old Jewish boys from shopping at Sports Direct, a U.K. sporting goods retailer.
“No Jews, no Jews,” the guard allegedly told the boys, students of Yavneh College, a Jewish secondary school in Hertforshire, when they tried to enter a local branch of the store. The boys, who had come to Sports Direct to shop for sneakers, were wearing their school uniforms.
In Timeless: Love, Morgenthau and Me, journalist Lucinda Franks tells the story of her unlikely yet intensely durable marriage to longtime Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau—a man 27 years her senior. When they met in the early 1970s, she was a young radical who had cut her journalistic teeth—and won a Pulitzer Prize—writing about a member of the Weathermen who accidentally killed herself while assembling a bomb. Morgenthau—already the scion of one of America’s leading political dynasties—was about to begin his history-making 35-year tenure as District Attorney for New York County. Franks makes much of how he was synonymous with the establishment, with bourgeois respectability, and how she was an outsider, an iconoclast. Yet, at the same time, the book’s underlying current suggests that for all their surface differences, they are kindred spirits, whose union, after 35 years of marriage, is as strong as ever.
Wellesley, Massachusetts, had long ago closed its portal to Jews, and in my pure-blood secondary school I had been too intense, too emotional, and too spontaneous to adopt the required air of Waspy indifference. Once in college, I discovered a kinship with my Jewish friends. Mostly born of Eastern European stock, they were intellectual, voluble, clever, antic. I began to think of myself as a Jewish soul in a Gentile body.
September is perhaps the most underrated month of the entire year. It can be easy to forget that most of September courses through summer—and by “summer,” I refer not to the sweaty, cloying humidity that gives the season a bad name but, rather, to the pleasant sunshine and balmy breezes. If one is Jewish, even if not an affiliated member of the tribe, September is the month to begin gearing up for the High Holidays. Perhaps even to start hoping for a favorable New Year. And if you’re Israeli, September is when your adrenaline likely begins to surge in anticipation of the year’s biggest news: the Nobel Prize selections.
Indeed, just as Cleveland residents followed LeBron James’ decision-making in June, Israelis track the six Nobel Prize selection committees’ process each year. It, too, is a form of sport. In fact, it could be called our national pastime. Here in Israel, Nobel season has begun.
The New York Times Style section caught up with Barbra Streisand at Donna Karan’s East Hampton, N.Y. home, where the gazillion-times platinum artist was promoting her new album of duets, Partners, as well as making some not-so-subtle landscaping changes to her friend’s summer home (“You have to be bold with it,” she says of some juniper).
Streisand, reporter Jacob Bernstein tells us, looks great. “She was dressed all in black, including a pair of stretchy pants and a cardigan-like jacket that she was proud to announce cost almost nothing: ‘$59.95 at an outlet store,’ she said. ‘It’s my favorite.’”
My essay “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth” touched a nerve far beyond my expectations—I didn’t think that in our times a 4,000-word essay would be shared 750 times on Facebook, let alone 75,000. A second essay will appear here soon.
The article drew a series of interesting responses. Richard Miron, a veteran of both the BBC and the United Nations, published a reflection on his own similar experiences. In Jerusalem the Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg, from the left side of the local political spectrum, called it a “must-read, must think about,” and Rick Santorum endorsed it on Twitter from Pennsylvania. Some accused me of being an apologist for the Israeli right, and worse. A few former colleagues thought practicing journalism on journalists was a kind of betrayal; others were discreetly thrilled. I have made friends and enemies I’m not sure I need.
New York magazine’s The Cut set out to uncover the identities of the pint-size preteens who captured the attention of the crowd outside the Marc Jacobs show Friday during Fashion Week while being filmed by a videographer. It turns out the gaggle of tweens were from Westchester, and were filming a video for pal Chloe Cornell’s bat mitzvah. Her mom picked everyone up after school and brought them to Manhattan for the shoot.
Clad in shirts bearing the Chanel logo—in this case repurposed to stand for ‘Chloe Cornell’—with similarly adorned hats and black sunglasses, the fashion-forward group is the latest entry in the canon of high production bat mitzvah videos, a trend which has some asking whether bat mitzvahs have become too glitzy.
In the latest behind-bars battle over kashrut, a death row prisoner in Connecticut is suing the state over what he says is their failure to provide kosher food for him, which he has been requesting since May 2013. JTA reports that convicted murdered and rapist Steven Hayes filed a lawsuit arguing that the state of Connecticut is violating his First Amendment rights as an Orthodox Jew.
In his lawsuit, Hayes said that the prison’s kitchen is not certified to provide strictly kosher food. The kitchen staff told him the food served at the prison is “kosher-like.”