A New Read on Jewish Life
Updated: 8 hours 50 minutes ago
Today, Netflix released the third season of its acclaimed political drama House of Cards, headlined by Kevin Spacey as corrupt President Frank Underwood. Last night, Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States and current candidate for the Knesset, took advantage of the cultural moment to post his own House of Cards-themed political ad. He even took a stab at imitating Underwood’s Southern drawl.
Madonna, the outspoken singer whose lithe performance at last month’s Grammy Awards makes it hard to believe exactly how long she’s been an outspoken singer, gave an interview to Europe 1 in which she doubled down against France’s far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, onto whose face the Material Girl projected a (backwards) swastika during concerts a few years back. (Le Pen threatened to sue). Madonna also condemned the current climate in France, saying “anti-Semitism is at an all-time high.”
The frightening reality faced by the Jews of France for the past year—heightened by last month’s Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and subsequent deadly siege at a kosher supermarket across the city—is no secret. The toxic atmosphere has led French Jews to flee for Israel in record numbers. But many pundits and politicians have danced around just what, exactly, to compare the situation in France.
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem quivers with the sort of nervous intensity common to good horror films and bad marriages: Everyone is polite and speaks softly, but you can tell that some monstrous force is just waiting for the right moment to bite.
Congregated in a small room in Haifa’s rabbinical court are the film’s eponymous heroine, a hairdresser (played by the exquisite Ronit Elkabetz, who also co-wrote and co-directed the film with her brother, Shlomi) and her husband. She is suing for a get, the traditional Jewish divorce document a husband must grant his wife. He refuses her pleas. The judges, bearded eminences, summon witnesses, the couple’s friends and family members, to account for the state of the Amsalems’ union. Rage builds up quietly, in characters and viewers alike, as all ask, with an increasing sense of urgency, just why it is that sweet Viviane is being denied the most basic of human rights, the right to be free and love whomever she wants?
The psychoanalyst Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin takes the view that, in order to make sense of the violent jihadis, it is fine and good to look at studies and analyses of Islamist ideology such as the ones that I have been writing—but really we ought to peer a little more deeply. She laid out her argument in Tablet magazine a few weeks ago. You can find it here. It is stimulating to read. A deeper look, in her estimation, will bring us into the subterranean zones of psychology.
She emphasizes the appeal of sadomasochism, which she describes as “the thrill of violence, power, and control that comes from inflicting pain on others”—though for some reason the second half of the word and the peculiar thrill of having pain inflicted upon oneself seems not to figure in her analysis. She tells us about “the debilitation of growing up in a shame-honor culture,” which impedes maturity. She describes a syndrome that she calls “the maternal drama,” which makes it hard for children in “Arab Muslim culture” to separate from their mothers and leads to “a perversion.” She touches on a few other matters—a difficulty in developing an individual identity, as opposed to a group identity, and so forth. “My theory,” she tells us, invoking her own research and the findings of neuroscience, “is that terrorists may not fully develop empathy”—which does seem to be the case. But mostly she points to the sadomasochism, the “shame-honor culture,” and the “maternal drama”—the three factors lying “at the heart of Islamist terrorism.”
An Argentinian judge has dismissed prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s accusations against Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Nisman, who was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head last month hours before he was to present controversial findings before a Congressional Committee, accused Kirchner of conspiring with Iran to obstruct a probe into the deadly 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community center. In an allegation he filed before his death, Nisman also found that Kirchner had directed her Minister of Foreign Affairs, Héctor Timerman, to remove Iran from the case in hope that it would strengthen trade of Argentinian grain for Iranian oil.
The New York Times reports that Judge Daniel Rafecas ruled Thursday that the criminal allegations put forward by Nisman before his death were not sufficient to open an investigation into Kirchner. The allegations did not “minimally hold up,” according to Judge Rafecas’ 63-page report.
At 12:01 a.m. today, marijuana became legal (well, kinda-sorta) in Washington, D.C. It’s been decriminalized in Colorado, Washington state and Alaska; Oregon passed an initiative that takes effect in July; five more states face upcoming ballot initiatives on legalization. In 24 states, medical marijuana is legal.
So with pot becoming increasingly accepted and available (57 percent of Americans live in states that have decriminalized possession and/or allow medical marijuana, and 86 percent of all Americans support medical marijuana), the Orthodox Union announced earlier this week that it would be willing to offer its kosher certification to qualified medical marijuana products. (Hey, there’s gold in them thar ills.)
When you’re an American living abroad, you get used to the fear of bad news from home. When the phone rings bearing an unfamiliar American number, you wonder if someone is in the hospital. As your email loads in the morning, you imagine that something disastrous has happened overnight.
But nothing could prepare me for the punch in the gut I felt when I heard that Jon Stewart’s Daily Show reign was coming to an end. In saying goodbye to him, I wouldn’t just be losing a beloved decade-long tradition, I’d be bidding farewell to what had become my lifeline: a quick, easy, and casual way to keep in touch with family and, as a Jew living in Germany, to remember where I had come from.
Pop star Katy Perry, in Europe for her ‘Prismatic World Tour,’ visited Auschwitz yesterday after her concert in Krakow. She posted an Instagram photo from the former concentration camp, with an emotional message for her 15 million followers.
My heart was heavy today. For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazi murdered about one and a half million men, women and children mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz – Birkenau 1940-1945 "The one that does not remember history is bound to live through it again" George Santayana
For all of 15 minutes last weekend, Patricia Arquette was a progressive hero. Arquette, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar Sunday evening for her role in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, used the final few seconds of her acceptance speech to deliver a stirring plea for female equality. “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights—it’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” Arquette declared, to enthusiastic cries of approval and passionate finger-pointing from fellow celebrities Jennifer Lopez and Meryl Streep.
But in the time it took for Arquette to move from the Academy stage to answer questions from the press, she went from a liberal champion who used her two minutes of fame to speak passionately on behalf of a cause that she believed in to the latest target of the left’s ritualistic Two Minutes of Hate. Her offense: “It’s time,” she said, “for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”
“What am I going to say to mom?” Lin asked her sister Martha. It was 1987, and Lin and her husband Peter had decided to adopt a black baby. A sculptor who carves and assembles wooden knots, bridges, and ladders, Lin was raised in an open-minded secular Jewish home. But she wasn’t certain how her mother would react to the prospect of having a black grandchild. “Tell her about adoption first,” Martha advised. “Give her a couple of weeks to let it sink in, and then talk to her about race.”
A short, wiry woman with untamed curly hair, Lin remembers calling her mother. “We’re going to adopt children but it will take a while.” Her mother’s response surprised her. “Not if you adopt black children!”
The ongoing contretemps over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to a joint meeting of Congress has once again put a spotlight on the troubled relationship between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, with both leaders’ supporters arguing that their guy is more justifiably offended.
Analyzing the timeline of events, Tablet columnist Liel Leibovitz seemed to suggest that Netanyahu is way too smart a politician to have helped engineer such a cock-up, and therefore the controversy can be fairly laid at Obama’s doorstep. Yet, while Leibovitz mocked the idea that Netanyahu sought to achieve any domestic political benefit from the speech, a recent poll conducted by the Israeli Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University found that “a large majority (67 percent) thinks the timing of Netanyahu’s trip, right at the peak of the election campaign, was central to his decision to go to Washington and address Congress there; in other words, that he is using a speech abroad to influence the election results at home.” Also criticizing the timing of the speech, former Israeli Deputy National Security Adviser Chuck Freilich wrote that Netanyahu has “subordinated Israel’s most crucial strategic interests to election considerations.”
This week, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study indicating that giving babies peanut products can prevent peanut allergy by as much as 81 percent.
One of the authors, Gideon Lack, is a professor of pediatric allergy at Kings College, London who’d already published a study in 2008 showing that the rate of peanut allergy in Israeli Jewish kids is only about a tenth that of British Jewish kids.
Well, it’s official: A Madoff miniseries is coming soon to a television screen near you. Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss is slated to star as the notorious fraudster in ABC’s multi-part something or other based on Brian Ross’ book The Madoff Chronicles: Inside the Secret World of Bernie and Ruth. Fun, right?
Obviously, a big splashy adaptation of one of the most shameful episodes in American Jewish and economic history was inevitable. The fall of the House of Madoff, in all its cruelty, hubris, and abjection is second only to that of the House of Atreus in terms of tragic dramatic potential. (You can almost imagine it adapted, Greek-style, with a chanting chorus and scenes of Olympian interference.) And Dreyfuss, an intense live-wire of an actor whom we haven’t seen nearly enough of lately, seems like a perfect choice for the Queens-born, self-justifying sociopath.
Upon winning an Oscar for his adapted screenplay of The Imitation Game, Graham Moore gave one of the most-discussed speeches of Sunday’s Academy Awards. He explained that he had attempted suicide at age 16, and urged young people watching the show, “Stay weird. Stay different. And then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.”
A nice Jewish boy, Moore brought his mother with him to the Academy Awards.
A new study from the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Trinity College found that anti-Semitism is on the rise on U.S. college campuses. Their National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students polled 1,157 students about their campus experience, and found that 44 to 73 percent, with an average of 54 percent, reported experiencing anti-Semitism during the first six months of the 2013-2014 academic year.
The study found that anti-Semitism pervades all campuses, not just ones with strong anti-Israel activism or in parts of the country where Jews are a smaller minority.
The documentary Catfish, released in 2010, followed Nev Schulman along the journey of finding out that his new love and her entire network of extended family and friends were not who they claimed to be. Apparently, Nev—or his humiliation—tapped into something, because two years later MTV launched its television version of Catfish, which has regularly garnered top ratings in the network’s most coveted demographic. (The fourth season premieres tonight.) Now Schulman has a new book out, one that positions him to be—well, if not the voice of his generation, at least a voice of one sliver of his generation, the sliver that is so consumed by social media that its greatest humiliations happen with people they have never met in person.
When I insisted on meeting Schulman, he insisted that we meet in Lincoln Center. Waiting for him, I found myself nervously ruminating on why he chose this spot. Less than 50 feet away, there was a swarm of kids from nearby middle schools and high schools, gathering for post-graduation photos. MTV’s core demographic was crowding around me; watching them, my anxiety grew. Would we even have a chance to talk, or would he be swarmed? But then the concern faded. Schulman’s face, I realized, could be blown up on a billboard overlooking Lincoln Center, with his Semitic dark olive skin and ever-present, ever-full five o’clock shadow, and they still wouldn’t notice him. They couldn’t see each other for real, so busy were they with the glass on their phones, the screens on their cameras.
In the mid-1970s I was the proverbial Wandering Jew. Born and raised in Atlanta, my younger sister and I had an erratic upbringing, having lost our mother to cancer when I was 10, then raised by a series of governesses. Though my mother was Jewish, my father was Protestant and a churchgoer, and consequently I never was bar mitzvahed. My sister adjusted well, eventually marrying and raising a family. As for me, after making the rounds of private schools, I dropped out of college and, after a couple of years on the West Coast, was bumming around Europe. I had seen all the trademark sights: London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, the Alps. People I’d met had spoken well of Copenhagen. The few specifics that stood out appealed to me: Copenhagen was on the concert circuit, weed was easy to get and, most appealing, there were blondes. Lots of blondes.
On the surface, Copenhagen looks rather generic European, a city of brick and concrete and tile and verdigris dulled by leaden skies. It’s also a flat city, with a flat skyline pierced by church towers and the occasional high-rise. Being flat makes Copenhagen a city of bike riders. Everybody bikes here, from kids peddling to school, to suited businessmen and women peddling to work.
The first things you see when you enter the current temporary exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Berlin are the life-sized, hyper-realistic sculptures of two naked men.
One is a dark-skinned Australian Aborigine, a plaster model made for anthropological purposes in 1939. The other is a 1998 sculpture in resin by the Canadian artist Evan Penny, depicting a thin man with very pale skin named Murray.
Israel retains broad support among Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, but that has not prevented fractious debate about Israeli policies.
Today’s divisions over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress have a partisan hue, with Republicans largely supporting the speech and Democrats largely opposed. Last summer, although national surveys reported substantial support for Israel in its war with Hamas, they also reported a generational divide, with older Americans more likely than younger Americans to view Israel’s conduct of the war as justified.