A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 7 hours 46 minutes ago
To judge by the breathless media reports, Pope Francis’s comments this week about the compatibility of evolution and religion signaled a sea change in Catholic teaching. “[God] created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment,” the popular pontiff said, adding that “evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.” New York quickly labeled Francis’s words “shockingly progressive” and a “bombshell.” The Daily Beast dubbed them “a small step into a brave new world for Catholics,” while Salon celebrated “a leap forward for the Catholic Church.” Smithsonian declared Francis had repudiated the “creationist- and intelligent design-leaning views of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI,” as did Jezebel.
There’s just one small problem with this narrative: the Catholic Church and its Popes have had little quarrel with evolution for decades. Way back in 1950, Pope Pius XII published an encyclical stating that “the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution.” Pius cautioned that evolution had not yet been proven, but said it did not intrinsically conflict with Catholic doctrine, so long as one continued to believe in the divinity of the soul. Notably, this declaration was made when anti-evolution statutes were still on the books in multiple American states, and at a time when, “in response to sensitivity about the topic, national textbook writers became increasingly less dogmatic in their presentation of Darwinism,” as Edward Larson recounts in his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Scopes Trial. So the Church’s stand was from uncontroversial.
Let’s say you’re Haaretz’s cartoonist, and that your job is finding fresh and visually appealing ways to poke fun at the fraught condition that is Israeli life and politics. And let’s say that the hottest story of the day has to do with the tension between the Obama and Netanyahu Administrations. How’d you capture that in cartoon form?
Ponder that question for a moment as you behold the actual cartoon, pictured above, published by Haaretz’s actual long-term editorial cartoonist Amos Biderman. Remind you of anything?
Like millions of other kids in the early 1990s, I regularly subverted bedtime rules and took a flashlight under my covers to consume the latest book in R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. Stine, who is Jewish, has been called “the Stephen King of children’s literature,” and his legendary villains, like Slappy the Dummy and The Abominable Snowman, haunted my nightmares. They also ignited my abiding love for all things spooky.
As a traditional Jewish gal and devoted horror buff, I often get a little wistful around Halloween—if there’s one pagan-oriented ritual with Celtic influences that I’d want to wholeheartedly partake of, this holiday would so be it. This year, though, I was more than happy to make do by catching up with the master himself, Robert Lawrence Stine—who goes by Bob—on the eve of the eve of Halloween.
My wife and I both turned 61 in September. I’ve reached the number of home runs Roger Maris hit in 1961 to break the Babe’s record. Look on Wikipedia for any number, and you’ll find some interesting stuff. I’ve matched the country code for Australia—and Bob Dylan’s highway.
I wasn’t one to worry about hitting 60, didn’t feel the need to call it “the new 50.” It had its advantages: one year closer to retirement, one step closer to Social Security—not to mention cheaper movie tickets. I was further away from being included in the word and world of “young.” Still, I wasn’t thinking that way. But then I learned that my wife and I could live in the same “senior adult” community where my 85-year-old mother in law lives. I mean water aerobics, early bird specials, talent shows. God help me.
The building that houses Tifereth Israel Town & Village Synagogue was designated as a landmark Tuesday by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. (A small structure in the back of the building was excluded from the ruling.) But not everyone is excited about the news. According to Town & Village president Marianna Mott Newirth, the Conservative synagogue “opposed designation.”
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, known by the acronym GVHSP, was the main force behind the push to secure landmark status for the building, which was built in 1866 as the First German Baptist Church and became the Ukrainian Autocephalic Church of St. Volodymyr in 1926. The building was sold to the Town & Village Synagogue in 1962, and has undergone a number of cosmetic changes in the last 150 years: The original church spires were replaced at some point, and the synagogue swapped the images depicted on the stained glass windows.
Yehuda Glick, a well-known advocate for Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount, was shot in the chest Wednesday night in Jerusalem in what is believed to have been an assassination attempt. The U.S.-born rabbi remains in “serious condition.”
The shooting occurred as Glick exited an event at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center about the Temple Mount, at which he had spoken. According to Knesset member Moshe Feiglin the gunman drove by on a motorcycle, asked if he was Yehuda Glick, and shot him after he confirmed his identity.
German students are definitely getting grounded after a Hitler fan club they started earned the attention of German authorities, the New York Post reports. The group of young teenagers not so wisely took to social media to publicly share their newfound Führer fandom (glorifying Nazism or Hitler is outlawed in Germany). They also reportedly harassed a Jewish classmate, putting a sticker for the notorious right-wing National Democratic Party on his jacket.
Prosecutors are investigating a class from Landaberg School near Leipzig regarding allegations that several of the 14- and 15-year-old students had become obsessed with neo-Nazi ideology, Central European News reports.
Toronto-based writer and illustrator Sarah Lazarovic, a Tablet contributor, has tackled topics for us ranging from Semiteseeing to grogger fatigue. Last year, she explored the challenge of reconciling the biblical commandments against waste while also partaking in the latest—and likely fleeting—fashion trends. “The Bible has strict provisos against wearing clothes that contain both wool and linen,” she wrote. “But what about hot pink jeggings?”
Lazarovic’s book, A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy, an illustrated ode to slow, smart, and sustainable shopping, was published yesterday. The following is an excerpt.
Israeli company SodaStream is closing down its West Bank factory, Bloomberg reports. Last month the company confirmed they were considering closing the factory, located in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, and consolidating operations at the company’s new Lehavim plant, near Beersheba—a decision which CEO Daniel Birnbaum called “purely financial,” and not related to ongoing calls to boycott the facility for operating within the West Bank (See: Scarlett Johannson controversy).
According to Bloomberg, the company is doubling down on the economic reasoning behind moving the controversial facility:
Near my home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan runs a sleepy avenue, just four blocks long, called Freedom Place. The street was named in memory of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered in Mississippi in the summer of 1964 while attempting to register African-American voters. This year marks the 50th anniversary of their deaths, and of their project, which came to be known as Freedom Summer.
Previous: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Jews of Atlanta
In the latest sign of the deepening relationship between Israel and India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has just announced a $525 million deal with Israel’s Raphael Advanced Defence Systems to purchase at least 8,000 Spike missiles and more than 300 launchers. The Indian government chose the Israeli-made weaponry over a competing U.S. offer of Javelin missiles, which Reuters reports, “Washington had lobbied hard to win.”
For newly-elected Prime Minister Modi, who visited Israel while a local governor in Gujarat before ascending to his country’s premiership, this is but the latest in a string of steps cementing ties between the two nations. In September, Modi’s government green-lighted a $144 million deal for 262 Barak-I missiles, ending a delay that had stymied the transaction since 2006. And earlier that month, while in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Modi met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the first such encounter between Israeli and Indian leaders in a decade. That meeting followed on the heels of the summer’s Gaza war, during which Modi’s government rejected a resolution condemning Israel’s operation, in a break from past practice.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jonas Salk, the doctor who invented the Polio vaccine in 1952. (Salk died in 1995 at age 80). Although SARS, Swine Flu, and now Ebola have recently captured national attention, none of them had the same nationwide debilitating effects of Polio, which “crippled an average of more than 35,000 people” per year in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Dr. Salk was born and raised in New York City. The son of Jewish immigrants, he attended City College for undergraduate studies and received his M.D. from NYU. Instead of pursuing a career as a practitioner though, he took a job as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh where, after years of work, he developed the Polio vaccine.
Melissa Rivers is filing a medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit following her mother’s death in September, the New York Post’s Page Six reports. The “multimillion-dollar” suit is against Yorkville Endoscopy clinic, where Joan Rivers went into cardiac arrest during a routine throat procedure after doctors performed an unplanned biopsy. She was put into a medically-induced coma and died the following week.
In the nearly two months since her death, moving tributes to Rivers have appeared online and on television. We were lucky enough to be able to publish an excerpt of Abigail Pogrebin’s interview with Rivers, which appeared in Pogrebin’s 2005 book, Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish. Among other things, Rivers spoke about her Jewish upbringing:
In the grand sanctuary of Manhattan’s Congregation Shearith Israel last Thursday, a group of more than 200 people gathered to hear from the leaders of Mimouna, a group of Moroccan Muslims dedicated to preserving Jewish Moroccan culture. This particular Jewish experience began with, of course, the food; a wide array of Moroccan kosher delicacies, including fig liqueur.
Afterwards, the crowd headed upstairs for remarks and a panel discussion. Moroccan Counsel General Mohammed Benabdeljalil kicked off the event by wishing everyone a belated “Shana Tova” and highlighted Moroccan efforts to preserve national Jewish landmarks.
As if terrorism, global warming, and the fact that one of this year’s hottest Halloween costumes is a sexy Ebola containment suit weren’t bad enough, this week brought rumors that Russell Brand may be running for mayor of London on an “anti-politics” ticket. It’s the right idea, but the wrong town: if Brand really wants an elected office that suits his worldview, he should succeed Mahmoud Abbas at the helm of the Palestinian Authority.
It’s no joke. Brand and Abbas have a lot in common.
Peter Guber, co-owner of the Golden State Warriors, is under fire for using the word “hoodish” in an email to employees yesterday, referencing all the new languages he has to learn this year to converse with the NBA’s record number of foreign-born players. In the email, which he sent from his phone and which was obtained by Yahoo Sports, he wrote, “I’m taking rosetta stone to learn Hungarian Serbian Australian swahili and hoodish This year. But it’s nice.”
He quickly apologized, explaining that he meant to type the word “Yiddish,” and either mistyped the word or it got autocorrected by his phone.
Selling out an early Sunday night show at the Mercury Lounge on Bowery is nearly unheard of. But on this past Sunday night, standing before a sold-out crowd, Elisha Mlotek told a sobering and existential tale of the Hasidic Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, his band’s namesake. Zusha, Mlotek explained, bemoaned his life on his deathbed with the self-admonition, “Zusha, when I pass from this world to the next, I will be asked, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you Zusha?’”
On one hand, the wordless original niggunim, or religious melodies, chanted by Shlomo Gaisin, the band’s towering, bearded, and frocked frontman, a forceful and far-ranging vocalist, struck me immediately as a tribute to Zusha’s Hasidic heritage. He offered at once crescendos of musical mastery and nuanced arpeggios of exploratory, religious incantation. He was at once the band’s main instrument and vocalist, offering a ceaseless melody and solo above the backing band, vocals, and harmonies. His voice’s range and character conjured a mix of Chris Martin and Regina Spektor, though he also channeled musical instrumentation—saxophone, guitar—in his wordless and practiced improvisations. During a vocal interlude, he suggested that the wordless form offers audience members the space to insert their own language into the melody—inspired by, perhaps, a Hasidic theology founded on a theory of experimental poetry.
Pope Francis received a major honor at the Vatican this week—from an Israeli university. Bar-Ilan University’s president offered the Pope the Tel Aviv institution’s highest honor, the Award of Distinction, in front of a small audience in Rome, JTA reports. The award commemorated the Pope’s “lifelong efforts promoting peace and fighting for human rights,”
Francis, formerly the archbishop of Buenos Aires, has long been a proponent of interfaith dialogue and exchange, even before he got to the Vatican (and assumed rock star status). His old friend from Argentina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, served as his personal tour guide when the Pope visited Israel this spring. On that trip he used his prayer, not politics approach to the region’s deep-seated tensions, inviting then-Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican for a prayer session. He also offered offered a moving tribute to the Jewish victims of the deadly 1994 Buenos Aires JCC bombing on the 20th anniversary of the attack this summer.
If last week’s revelation that the United States government has been paying millions of dollars in social security to suspected former Nazis over the past 50 years wasn’t enough to rile you up about the cozy relationship between the U.S. and the former S.S. (don’t worry, legislation has been proposed to end the practice), a new book alleges far more surprising U.S. activity after World War II. An excerpt of Eric Lichtblau’s new book, The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men, published in the New York Times Monday, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies turned to an unlikely demographic for help during the Cold War: Nazis.
“At the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, law enforcement and intelligence leaders like J. Edgar Hoover at the F.B.I. and Allen Dulles at the C.I.A. aggressively recruited onetime Nazis of all ranks as secret, anti-Soviet ‘assets,’ declassified records show,” Lichtblau writes. “They believed the ex-Nazis’ intelligence value against the Russians outweighed what one official called ‘moral lapses’ in their service to the Third Reich.
Boardwalk Empire, HBO’s Prohibition-era series which ended last night after five seasons, has given viewers fictionalized portraits of several real-life Jewish gangsters over the years. In the show’s final seasons, those characters have become some of the most dangerous and fascinating. But in the last century, film and literature have given us equally remarkable fictional Jewish gangsters.
The Godfather II’s Hyman Roth (played by Lee Strasberg) is a Jewish gangster living in Florida and partner-turned-enemy of the Corleone family. Roth, who is supposed to be a portrait of Meyer Lansky, is behind the famous assassination attempt on Michael and Kay in their bedroom, and is responsible for bringing Michael’s brother Fredo over against his own family. Like Lansky, Roth’s later attempt to seek safe haven in the Holy Land was not welcomed by the Israeli government.