A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 5 hours 47 minutes ago
When I was single and ads for Tu B’Av, the Jewish Valentine’s Day, would explode across all media throughout Tel Aviv, I would feel thoroughly defeated, deflated. Listening to my friends’ plans—the flowers and the reservations, the gifts and the chocolate—I was reminded just how alone I was, and that my wish for a truly special love might never come.
Obviously this endless romantic failure meant I was just not good enough. After all, there’s some science here: my friends found love and I hadn’t. The men I want don’t want me. This had to mean something. I’m too fat. Too boring. Do I smell? What is it?
When Theodore Bikel passed away last week, the New York Times ran an obituary that stated Bikel’s family was from Bukovina, a region described as part of “Romania and Russia.” The Times subsequently corrected this factual mistake about the entertainment giant’s origins after I reached out to them.
In fact, over the twentieth century, Bukovina changed hands several times. From 1775 to 1918 the region was ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and prior to that, Bukovina was part of the Ottoman Empire. Following World War I, Greater Romania annexed the region until World War II, when Bukovina was variously occupied by the Soviets and the Romanians/Axis Powers. In the postwar period, Bukovina was divided into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and Romania. It’s so complex a region that the Times even corrected its own correction. On July 23, the correction read “[Bukovina] has at different times been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Romania and Ukraine—not of Romania and Russia.” Yet by July 25 the correction read, “One of the countries of which [Bukovina] has historically been a part is Ukraine, not Russia.” While the significance of the difference between Ukraine and Russia is obvious—especially in today’s climate—the error about Bukovina (and its corrections) is also cause for further discussion.”
Unorthodox, Tablet’s newest podcast, is officially here. Part of Slate’s Panoply network, Unorthodox is a smart, fresh, fun take on Jewish news and culture.
The podcast is hosted by editor-at-large Mark Oppenheimer and features senior writer Liel Leibovitz and myself. Each week we’ll sound off on the latest headlines and talk to special guests, including a non-Jew with a question he or she has always wanted to ask about Judaism.
Here’s the moment that tells you everything you need to know about Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, the feverishly anticipated, eight-episode comedy series debuting on Netflix on July 31. It’s when two of the counselors at Camp Firewood, in Maine, challenge each other to a “shofar dick sword fight.”
It’s a throwaway bit, barely a joke, and immensely juvenile and stupid, but I’d bet my toddler’s college fund that the “shofar dick sword fight” line will be quoted, more or less incessantly, for the next 20 years. It reflects the parody of teen movies and their gross-out humor, plus the over-the-top absurdism and gleeful Jewishness, that made Wet Hot American Summer such a delight back in 2001.
The subject of writer-director Nadav Lapid’s latest movie is a precocious 5-year-old poet. Lapid, who is 40, can hardly be considered a child prodigy. Still, his two features, Policeman (2011), available through Netflix, and The Kindergarten Teacher (2014), which opens this Friday in New York, have made him the most internationally acclaimed Israeli filmmaker in recent memory… and perhaps ever.
Policeman, a multiple-award winner at the 2011 Jerusalem Film Festival, is a sardonic, deeply fascinating character study in which two violent, self-absorbed quasi-tribal groups—one a highly disciplined elite police commando unit, the other an anarchic band of left-wing Jewish terrorists—find each other, with predictable results, at the wedding of a billionaire’s daughter in contemporary Tel Aviv.
A New Film About Sophie Tucker, The Last of the Red Hot Mamas, Is In Theaters. Here Are Her Most Suggestive, Sex-Positive, Hip-Slinging Songs
A new movie, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker, purports to introduce audiences to the bawdy, brassy, ballsy singer who was once a household name. Today, she’s nearly forgotten—or remembered merely as an influence on The Divine Bette Midler—but oh, is she worth knowing. Sadly, the movie isn’t a great introduction. It needs a little less conversation, a little more action please (to quote another larger-than-life, sequin-loving singer whose weight was much scrutinized). It’s a fragmented, talking-head-filled balagan. And there’s not enough singing!
This is a shondeh. As Tablet contributor Jody Rosen points out in the New York Times: “Tucker’s vocals were a triumph of not just power but, in a raucous way, finesse. She slurs some vocal lines and punches out others hard against the beat. She attacks the chorus of “Please Don’t Take My Harem Away” like a deranged opera diva and delivers “My Husband’s in the City” in slyly syncopated speech, a kind of turn-of-the-century rapping. It’s a strikingly modern sound.”
On Tuesday an organization called Global Zero, or an “international movement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons,” published a video with a slew of celebrities who ultimately urge viewers to support the Iran nuclear arms deal, which is currently under review in Congress.
The video, which can be viewed below, features actor Jack Black, Morgan Freeman (the lighting on his segments is really good), actress Natasha Lyonne, actor Farshad Farahat (Argo), former CIA officer Valerie Plame, Queen Noor of Jordan, and Tablet contributor Thomas R. Pickering, the former under secretary of state and ambassador to the United Nations, Russia, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria, and Jordan.
The Gospel of Jill Soloway: The creator of 'Transparent' Addresses the 'State of Emergency' for Female Voices in Hollywood
As the creator of Amazon’s critically-lauded and Golden Globe winning series Transparent, (which, not for nothing, is also a major Emmy favorite, at least in the circles I run in), Jill Soloway has found herself at the forefront of the timely revolution in transgender issues, awareness and acceptance. Never forget, before there was Caitlyn Jenner (or at least, before we knew Caitlyn Jenner), there was Transparent‘s Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman played by Jeffrey Tambor whose every move reminds the audience that visibility is more than just starring in a glamorous Annie Lebowitz photo shoot for Vanity Fair; it’s about being acknowledged to be living your life, every day, surrounded by the people who have always been in it and don’t always appreciate you—just like anybody.
And Soloway is using her own massive visibility and new-found stardom to bend the conversation about gender equality to the issue of female filmmakers in general, urging them to set aside any inhibitions they may have internalized about how they should tailor their work to get ahead in the notoriously male-dominated industry. In a moving and passionate introductory speech at a recent Cinefamily showing of female-directed short films, which was sponsored by her own Wifey.tv, Soloway deftly dissected the way female filmmakers have been held back: not just by the overt sexism of powerful men tending to hire who makes them most “comfortable” (i.e., generally other white men), but by the way male directors (who still direct the overwhelming majority of films, studio or otherwise) tend to both emphasize and empathize with the male gaze. This, argues Soloway, leaves women—however sympathetically treated—to be little more than objects, or plot devices to be desired, or viewed as rejects by their male beholders.
According to Israeli media reports, the Israel Air Force today struck a vehicle traveling near the village of Hader in the Syrian Golan Heights, killing all five passengers on board. One of the passengers was a man named Samir Kuntar. It is vulgar, if not worse, to rejoice in the demise of another human being; for Kuntar, however, one might make an exception.
Born to a family of wealthy Lebanese Druze restaurateurs, Kuntar rejected his comfortable bourgeois upbringing for the thrills and thrusts of terrorism, which, in Lebanon of the late 1970s, were plentiful. He joined the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, trained as a guerrilla, and set out to take the lives of Israelis. His first attempt—a plot to hijack an Israeli bus—was foiled, and Kuntar spent 11 months in a Jordanian prison, released late in 1978. A few months later, on April 22, 1979, Kuntar, commanding a small unit of four armed men, piloted a small dinghy from Lebanon to the northern Israeli town of Naharia. Undetected by the Israeli Navy, the terrorists struck at midnight and wasted little time: spotting a police car, they opened fire and killed one officer, Eliyahu Shahar. Then, they proceeded into the town, forcing their way into the nearby home of the Haran family.
MKs from the Joint List party of the Knesset have accused the Israeli government of inciting religious conflict between Muslims and Jews for political purposes, following a particularly tense weekend at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
The Times of Israel reported that on Sunday, during Tisha B’av, a group of Palestinian rioters and protesters barricaded themselves within the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque, armed with Molotov cocktails, firecrackers, and stones, as Jerusalem police and security forces attempted to flush them out. According to Haaretz, the police were called to the scene after receiving information about a group of Arab youths who were preparing to confront police and prevent Jewish visitors from entering the Temple Mount for the day of fasting and prayers that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples. According to The Times of Israel, the protesters’ intent was to attack the thousands of Jewish worshipers who would be gathering at the Western Wall to pray.
Last week we picked up Maxine, 10, at sleepaway camp. The first thing she did when she walked into the house was go straight to the giant jar of pickles my husband had thoughtfully left on the counter. She wrapped her arms around it and sighed, “I think I’ve missed you most of all!”
Maxie is about as rabid a pickle fan as you’ll ever meet. The rest of us love pickles and make regular field trips to The Pickle Guys on Essex Street on the Lower East Side, but Maxie’s passion is such that we have to keep the kitchen stocked with giant jars of cheap Vlasic dills from Costco and discounted half-gallon containers of tiny gherkins from East Village Cheese. (The latter is our delightful old-school neighborhood discount fromagerie started by a Jew and now owned by a pair of Tibetans.)
On Nov. 26, 2013, three days after the signing of the interim agreement (JPOA) between the powers and Iran, the Iranian delegation returned home to report to their government. According to information obtained by Israeli intelligence, there was a sense of great satisfaction in Tehran then over the agreement and confidence that ultimately Iran would be able to persuade the West to accede to a final deal favorable to Iran. That final deal, signed in Vienna last week, seems to justify that confidence. The intelligence—a swath of which I was given access to in the past month—reveals that the Iranian delegates told their superiors, including one from the office of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, that “our most significant achievement” in the negotiations was America’s consent to the continued enrichment of uranium on Iranian territory.
That makes sense. The West’s recognition of Iran’s right to perform the full nuclear fuel cycle—or enrichment of uranium—was a complete about-face from America’s declared position prior to and during the talks. Senior U.S. and European officials who visited Israel immediately after the negotiations with Iran began in mid 2013 declared, according to the protocols of these meetings, that because of Iran’s repeated violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, “Our aim is that in the final agreement [with Iran] there will be no enrichment at all” on Iranian territory. Later on, in a speech at the Saban Forum in December 2013, President Barack Obama reiterated that in view of Iran’s behavior, the United States did not acknowledge that Iran had any right to enrich fissile material on its soil.
If you’re interested in postwar American art, I recommend that you visit Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and get lost in a well-curated exhibition of deceptively rigorous Alex Katz paintings from the artist’s formative decade, the 1950s. In this exhibition (and in the show’s exceptional catalog) you’ll witness how “a Katz” becomes “a Katz.” But more, you’ll get a lasting impression of Katz’s “company of muses”—the people and places the artist keeps in close proximity (just like his brushes, paints, stretcher bars, and canvas), who range from muse No. 1, his wife Ada, to a close-knit circle of poets, critics, and painters on whom he relies for fluid inspiration.
In the ’50s one can clearly see Katz’s modest beginnings, the unexpectedly fertile culture where his “style” was born. But style and fashionability can be misleading. What is truly manifest in early Katz is a certain grit, charm, economy, intensity, cunning, and, most importantly, attitude.
In an interview with Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker, CNN quoted the Wisconsin governor musing about his talks with the leader of the Israeli left. But rather than identifying Labor’s head as Isaac Herzog, the non-stop news network awarded the privilege to another Herzog, documentary filmmaker and monotone messiah Werner.
Mistakes are revealing. They are often, as any amateur student of Freud would tell you, the only pathway available for great and repressed truths to slip into the light. Who, after all, is better-suited to lead not just the Israeli left but the nation itself than a man who has famously said he believed the common denominator of the universe wasn’t harmony but chaos, hostility, and murder? Here, then, in the hope he’d consider running, is the brief inaugural speech for Israel’s new hope, Werner Herzog:
On Tuesday the U.S. Parole Commission granted parole to Jonathan Pollard, the only person in U.S. history to be sentenced to life in prison for spying on an ally. A former intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, Pollard was arrested in 1985 for selling classified documents to Israel, a crime for which he plead guilty the following year. According to a statement from his lawyers, Pollard, now 61, will be released on November 21, or at the two-thirds mark of a 45-year term. This was Pollard’s second parole hearing; last year, Pollard, who is serving time at a medium-security penitentiary in North Carolina, was denied parole.
Two Girls Were Born 20 mins. Apart to Two Pairs of Identical Twin Parents Who Themselves Were Born 20 mins. Apart.
Chalk this one up to the miracle of life.
Over the weekend, JTA, citing the Haredi Orthodox website Kikar HaShabbat, reported on the birth of two baby girls in Israel. But these were not just some ordinary childbirths; there’s an incredible catch:
Goethe University in Frankfurt Establishes Professorship Devoted to Holocaust Studies, the First of Its Kind in Germany
According to German paper The Local, Goethe University in Frankfurt will be the first German university to host a professorship devoted purely to the study of the Holocaust. The news was announced last week by the Hessian Ministry for Science and Arts, who confirmed that funding had been secured to establish the position. Although a number of institutions in Germany have departments devoted to the study of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, Goethe University’s permanent professorship in Holocaust research will be the first of its kind. The candidate, who will start in 2017, will also head Frankfurt’s Fritz-Bauer Institute, an organization devoted to documenting the history of the Holocaust, reported Haaretz.
According to German publication Deutsche Welle, the professorship will have “a specific focus on the repercussions that have followed the Holocaust through to the present day.” And Olaf Kaltenborn, a spokesperson for Goethe University, commented, “This is a milestone in German Holocaust research.”
Jewish Identity is a Beautiful Mosaic, But We Must Respect our Differences Before We Can Come Together
This month I had the great honor (and pleasure!) of being part of the cast for the show Kaleidoscope, produced by none other than Vanessa Hidary, the Hebrew Mamita herself. It was an amazing eclectic cast of twelve, each one of us with our own unique story, with no two tales alike. Yet the driving impetus behind our pieces was simple: to reflect on the different ways people of different ethnicities fit into the Jewish community.
As you can imagine, that’s a difficult message to get across, particularly if you take into consideration the pathological cognitive dissonance of those American Jews who acknowledge that there were twelve distinct yet equal tribes, yet simultaneously see different Jewish ethnicities as different spots on a totem pole. Or those who celebrate when Jewish communities from India to Ethiopia aren’t destroyed, but get shocked when they see someone who is both brown and Jewish. Or those who debate about whether or not white Jews are white, yet Jews of color are looked at suspiciously because…they’re not white. You get the point.
The mysterious initials in E.L. Doctorow’s name—what do they stand for? From the obituary in the New York Times, by Bruce Weber, I never did learn the significance of the L., for “Lawrence.” But the E., for “Edgar,” turns out to signify one of Doctorow’s father’s favorite writers, who was Edgar Allan Poe. Evidently E.L. Doctorow turned an ironic eye on this circumstance. On the matter of his father’s literary taste, Doctorow said, as quoted in the Times: “Actually, he liked a lot of bad writers, but Poe was our greatest bad writer, so I take some consolation from that.” I hope Doctorow did not entirely believe this evaluation. It may be true that Poe was, in Doctorow’s words, “a drug-addicted, alcoholic delusional paranoid with strong necrophiliac tendencies.” Still, he expressed a lunatic intensity of New York. And who has better captured certain crazy intensities of New York than Edgar Doctorow?
But my point is not to defend the abused Poe. I note, instead, that Doctorow’s father and mother evidently entertained a plan or ambition for their newborn son, which they expressed by choosing his fateful American literary name. The plan was for little Edgar Doctorow to grow up to be a great American writer. And, lo! This turns out not to be uncommon. The mother and father of Ralph W. Ellison, born in Oklahoma in 1914, named him after Ralph Waldo Emerson. And, lo! Little Ralph Ellison grew up to be a great American writer. There is the case of Eugene V. Debs, the greatest of America’s Socialists, from a century ago. Debs was named for Eugène Sue, the author of the social-conscience popular classic The Mysteries of Paris (as well as, a bit oddly, The Wandering Jew). And Debs was named for Victor Hugo, the author of the greatest novel ever written on themes of social compassion, Les Misérables. And, lo! Little Eugene Victor Debs of Indiana grew up to become one of America’s greatest champions of the downtrodden.
When George Deek uses the word “we” in a conversation, it is not entirely clear whether he means “we Palestinians,” or rather “we Israelis,” or perhaps “we Westerners,” or even “we Arabs.” At the age of 30, with a constant five-o’clock shadow compensating for his baby-face and thin silhouette, he is both an Israeli diplomat, representing the Jewish state, and a descendant of a Palestinian family who fled its home during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. His cousins live today in Canada, Dubai, Damascus, and Ramallah, and some of them are considered by the United Nations to be refugees of that same war.
This personal tension came fully into being last summer, during the war between Israel and Hamas, when Deek was Israel’s chargé d’affaires in Oslo. He presented Israel’s positions and defended its actions, while Norwegian TV networks were screening endless footage of destruction coming out of the Gaza Strip. He explained how the Israeli army works, without ever serving in it. He spoke on behalf of Israel, when none of his viewers and listeners knew that he was actually (also) a Palestinian.