Thursday, July 29, 2004

Entertainment update

· So now we know why Madonna is going to Israel for the Chagim. Not to celebrate Rosh Hashana. To celebrate the wedding of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, in the Holy Land.
Is anyone other than me sick of these people? I hereby vow never to write about the new Kabbalists again. Barring exceptional developments, of course.

· JK Rowling 'discovers' that her classifications of 'pure blood' and 'halfblood' [wizards] are reminiscent of the way the Nazis 'graded people according to their genetics.'
I was under the impression her books, especially the later ones, were very carefully and deliberately thought out to reflect real-world political issues and situations. Is she really claiming this was just a product of her imagination?

FBFs go public

From this week's New York Observer, an article on 'frum' people posting ads for casual sex on (and leaving other visitors, apparently, bemused at the word 'frum': does it stand for "fru-strated, m-arried?"):
It turns out that the deeply religious have sexual tastes as mundane as the rest of us. "Single frum guy for single frum girl for fun!" wrote one 24-year-old. "Married, frum guy looking for a frum girl (married or unmarried) for some NSA [no strings attached] fun. We can have good time ‘learning’ together," a 31-year-old posted.
"Frum married guy looking for frum guy to explore," wrote another, continuing: "I am a frum married 28 yr old guy … during the summer my wife will be upstate and I am looking to explore having sex with a man … please be frum."
That’s not to say that this frum frenzy hasn’t ushered in a whole range of heretofore unimaginable caveats such as "We could do as little as you want," written by a gentle soul seeking a frum woman, and "No chassidish," written by a 24-year-old married Manhattanite... Or, less chastely, a poster seeking "Frum girls gone wild" for an orgy in Brooklyn, or another one advertising a Yahoo group for married frumsters seeking "extracurricular fun."
A quick search on Craigslist confirmed that there are, indeed, many postings from 'frum' people looking for casual sex with other 'frum' people. Not that this is really news; everyone knows it's going on. The rather technical question that popped into my mind, however, is: why are they looking for other 'frum' Jews? Surely they have a better chance of keeping things quiet, especially if they are cheating on spouses, if they go outside the community?
The only answer I could think of was that another 'frum' person would have a similar stake in confidentiality. Or is this a kind of a racism / 'frum' snobbery, that even the person you cheat with / have casual sex with should be an ehrlicher Yid?

(Hat tip: My Urban Kvetch)

Fight age-old prejudices, get rewarded in old-age

A 'good news' story: Sister Mary Rose Thering, a Dominican nun who has spent her life battling anti-Semitism, retires to an old-age home at the MetroWest Jewish Center.**

**Notice, I refrained from making any predictable jokes about how living with a bunch of crotchety old Jewish retirees might turn her into an anti-Semite after all.

Natasha gets a promotion

Natasha (AP) Posted by Hello

Forget about Natasha the MK. We're booking her in to read Ktubot at weddings!
Ho ho ho.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Breakthrough for animal rights?

So, how did the Jewish blogosphere miss this story (as far as I know)?
According to Gary Rosenblatt, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, rosh yeshiva and rosh kollel at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, had the following to say about women reading the Ktubah at a wedding ceremony: "even if a parrot or a monkey would read the ketubah, the marriage would be 100 percent valid... Yes, a monkey could also read the ketubah!"
Rav Schachter was conveniently unavailable for comment, however his colleagues (anonymously) defended him, explaining that "he is naive and meant no disrespect. Others said part of the problem is that Rabbi Schachter is unaware of the negative connotations of his remarks."
What a pathetic defense; frankly, I'd rather hear that he meant every word. Because for a leading rabbi to be so ignorant and unaware of the (potential) feelings of half the community is as unacceptable as anything he might have said deliberately.

Au revoir, Hezbollah

Not two weeks after Canada permitted the broadcast of al-Jazeerah, France has banned Hezbollah TV -- because of one anti-Semitic program, broadcast last October (only one?). The article fails to mention how long the al-Manar station has been available in France, and what other anti-Semitic Arab stations have been allowed to poison young minds there.

Klika here for love

Only 1,500 subscribers so far to Klika, the new matchmaking television channel in Israel. Where are all the Jewish mothers buying subscription packages for their kids?

Got $40,000 to spare?

Buy the Ten Commandments.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

That was quick

A French court handed a four-month suspended jail sentence yesterday to Marie-Leonie Leblanc, 23, who pretended she was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack on a French train earlier this month, almost giving the Parisian Jewish community a collective heart-attack.
"I wanted people to look after me," a pale Leblanc, dressed in jeans and a white sweatshirt, told a magistrate's court in the northwest Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise. "I wanted my parents and (my partner) Christophe to look after me."
The sentence also requires Leblanc to undergo medical treatment.

Book news

· London's Evening Standard interviews Jonathan Safran Foer, who says that the movie of his best-selling book Everything Is Illuminated, which will star Elijah Wood and is due out next year, is only 25% faithful to the novel. However, he doesn't care, because it will still allow his ageing grandmother to access his work. (Sorry, no link available)
· Random House Australia has withdrawn Forbidden Love (also published as Honor Lost) by Norma Khouri from sale, until serious allegations it was a hoax have been investigated. The book, which was a best-seller around the world last year, is about an honour killing in Jordan.

How strongly do we really feel about Temple Mount?

Police have barred non-Muslims from Temple Mount today, Tisha B'Av, out of 'concern for public safety.'
The Jerusalem Post reports 'outrage' at the decision -- although they can only back this claim up with two quotes from National Union MKs and the Temple Mount Faithful. The fact is, I suspect, that while most people think it is wrong for Jews to be barred from their own holiest site because of what amounts to Muslim threats, they are not outraged.
The Jewish ambivalence towards Temple Mount -- taking a few crazies who want to blow the place up out of the equation -- has been particularly noticeable over the past few years: there have been no mass protests over the destruction of Jewish antiques by the Waqf, and until last year, when Temple Mount was re-opened to non-Muslims, there were no mass demonstrations on the matter either.
A couple of years ago on the 35th anniversary of the capture of Temple Mount I wrote about this ambivalence in The Jerusalem Post, interviewing a range of Israelis about their feelings or lack of feelings towards Temple Mount. To this day, I am mesmerized by Haredi MK Ravitz's admission he went up to Temple Mount as a soldier, and had a rapturous experience, knowing full well he was committing a sin. Read the full article here; in a nutshell:
Does the lack of action suggest that Israelis do not care about the Temple Mount as much as they are reputed to?
'If the issue really hit home, we would have seen some more action,' says Yehuda Etzion, former leader of the Jewish underground that in the early 1980s planned to blow up the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount. But the facts also suggest something about the subtle way in which Israelis care about the Temple Mount.
According to head of the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University and Israel Prize laureate Professor Avi Ravitzky, the nation is deeply bound to the Temple Mount as a symbol, although what exactly it symbolizes varies from group to group. The public is not, however, interested in the physical place itself.
'They are even slightly wary of it,' says Ravitzky.
He says this is consistent with a deeply ingrained Jewish tradition, whereby the Temple Mount is regarded as out of bounds until the coming of the Messiah.
'It is a deep and spiritual idea, that there is a place which we do not approach or control, but leave beyond history,' says Ravitzky.
There is an alternative explanation. For many Israelis, both secular and religious, the dream of returning to the Temple Mount may be attractive, but the reality of controlling the Temple Mount is simply too complicated. It poses too many awesome problems religiously, politically and ideologically.
If Israelis are in danger of losing or have already lost the Temple Mount, then it may be because they have no real desire to be there under current conditions.
I am particularly proud of this article, which I thought was one of the most interesting I ever wrote, and remember wondering at the time why I received so little response to it. I hope it was just another proof of how uninterested most Israelis are in their holiest site, and not a reflection of my writing!

Sunday, July 25, 2004

My anthropological adventure, part 3

Unanticipated consequences of egalitarianism: Elf has problems keeping her tallit on.
Talking of which, I also went to my local egalitarian minyan this Shabbat. I'd intended checking it out since my experience in my cousin's Masorati shul a few weeks ago, but this was the first chance I had.
Unlike at my cousin's Bar-Mitzvah, this time I actually sat next to my husband, which was a wonderful experience: a few hours of spiritual time spent together. Yet again, I also really appreciated the women's participation (this time, women led mussaf) and appreciated sitting in the middle of the 'action,' part of the community, rather on the sidelines. On the downside, I found the leyning extremely amateur. It was shared between seven people and every single person struggled; it was actually painful to sit through, and reinforced what I concluded last time: "Masorti and the non-Orthodox movements except in very rare instances have yet to show that they’ve achieved the intensity of Jewish involvement and Jewish knowledge of the Orthodox community. The Orthodox community, on the other hand, have the intensity, but can be infuriating in their social and ideological stances."
So while I think I'll appreciate having this minyan next door as an occasional change, I don't think it will be my new spiritual home. The search (which isn't really terribly active) continues...

Really important halachic questions tackled

According to NRG/Ma'ariv, the new Shas newsletter says you're allowed to drink the water out of your fish tank, even if it contained non-Kosher fish. Just so you know...

Monkey business in Israel

Natasha (AP) Posted by Hello

This is Natasha, the 5-year-old black macaque from the Ramat Gan Safari who recently began walking exclusively on her hind legs after a stomach ailment nearly killed her.
A letter to the Jerusalem Post says: "That means she's now eligible to become a member of Knesset. Good luck to her: I'm sure she'll fit in well."
Ho ho ho.

Turns out, even the Palestinians love a wall

The separation fence is being built with cheap Palestinian cement, enriching Palestinian businessmen -- and Yasser Arafat knows all about it. The report doesn't mention what his cut was.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Dept. of BBFKs

Or, in other words: Badly Behaved Frum Kids.
Following hot on the trail of the 39 schoolgirls who had to be rescued off a Scottish mountain they should never have been on, and showed absolutely no gratitude to their rescuers (until the media picked up on the story), we now have London's Hasmonean schoolboys.
According to an official report by their local council, the boys' behaviour is "a real cause for concern."
"The inspectors, who spent seven days at the boys' Hendon site, said there was 'little evidence of pupils being actively engaged in lessons': There was evidence of Walkmans, mobile phones, eating, drinking, singing, chewing, games of shove ha'penny, paper aeroplanes and blackjack” -- all of the above in lessons.... They noted that 'some teachers do not see behaviour-management as their role' and said there was 'little respect for the students, which engenders a lack of respect in turn.'
Some teachers used 'sarcasm or put-downs' and more than once the inspectors 'saw teachers shouting full into students' faces.'
Among other deficiencies noted were very poor attendance and punctuality, resulting in disruption of lessons."
Of-course, this is an improvement compared to what the school used to be like; my husband describes full-on soccer matches at the back of classrooms -- as lessons were in progress (of-course, he never participated).
While this kind of behaviour is hardly unique to the 'frum' system, it is hard to deny that this kind of systematic chaos is a particular problem in 'frum' schools. There are many reasons, including the over-familiarity between students and teachers, and extensive parental influence. These often apply to non-'frum' Jewish schools as well. What this report (commissioned by Hasmonean itself, by the way) does a good job of spot-lighting is a significant added cause in the 'frum' sector, and that is the incompetant teachers. Completely unsuitable people, often without teaching certificates, go into the profession because they can 'learn' -- although not necessarily teach; and because in the frum world, they might not have many other options. Some particularly nebbachy teachers are often accepted as a form of chessed, while it is anything but for the students.
Can these under-motivated, unsuitable teachers really be expected to see 'behaviour-management as their role?' Would they know how to manage behaviour if they tried?
Until now, parents have largely accepted the situation, because of a lack of options, and because the schools often still manage to bring in the results (Hasmonean, for example, is a national leader in terms of exam scores).
As indicated by both the Scottish Mountain episode and this report,
it is time for the frum(mer) community to start adopting more professional standards when it comes to hiring and firing. The safety and the values of our children are at stake; and while this plea has been issued countless times before, it is not too late to start now.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

To convert, or not to convert?

And now, seriously. My previous entry actually reminds me of an interesting question I used to ask my (Jewish) friends: if you one day woke up and discovered that by some strange turn of events, you weren't actually Jewish, would you convert back to Judaism?
Much to my surprise, the majority said no, and the more religious they were, the more likely they were to say no. Usually, the reason wasn't that they felt restricted by the Jewish way of life; rather, it was the belief that technically, mitzvot are meant only for Jews, and if you're not Jewish, there's no reason to take them on. They followed the mitzvot because they believe they were commanded to, and would give it all up if they ever discovered the mitzvot did not apply to them.
For me, it was always obvious I'd convert in a flash; I love and believe in Judaism and the Jewish people and I cannot imagine leading any other life. I was always shocked when people I'd always assumed felt similarly passionate told me, quite seriously, they wouldn't convert.
What would you do? I open the question up to the floor...

Amish vs. Heimish

A new television reality show sends five Amish kids into a 'Big Brother'-style house in LA, and introduces them to bikinis, fast cars, and all manner of modern temptations.
Of-course, jokes about "Hassidim on the Dude Ranch" being next were quick to follow. But what's of real Jewish interest is the Amish idea of "Rumspringa," or "running free." For up to a year, Amish teens are allowed to leave the Amish way of life and explore the outside world, in order to decide for themselves that they truly want to live as Amish before they are baptised.
According to this interesting article -- which also, by the way, speculates that the kids in the program show signs of living outside the Amish framework before filming began -- many Amish communities do not actually encourage their teens to go through with "Rumspringa." Many others who do, see their children end up living just a few miles from their parents, in trailer parks, getting drunk for the year; they can't afford a real interlude in the 'modern' world. Many, however, use their time usefully to weigh up their choices and make sure they are following their way of life out of choice, and not out of habit.
So what am I proposing we learn from this? The Amish have one thing right: many need the option of exploring alternative ways of life without risking the censure of their communities in order to be truly sure of their choices. Others just need a taste of 'freedom' to cure themselves from the illusion that it's worth having. The majority will come back strengthened: 92% of Amish teens who do go through with the ritual, do, apparently, choose their community.
So -- shmitta. That's what I propose. And not just for our teens. Once every seven years, we all get a year off, eat shrimp to our hearts' content and then re-commit to Judaism gladly and willingly.
Or perhaps we should do it the other way round? 6 years of shrimp and one of Judaism?
The polls are open.

Constipation, not terrorism, to blame for plane scare

The mystery of the 14 Syrian men who terrified the passengers on a Northwest Airlines flight last week has been solved. The men, it appears, genuinely did belong to a Syrian musical band performing in a casino in Los Angeles and were not terrorists trying to build a bomb in the airplane bathroom, as Annie Jacobsen feared.
As Clinton Taylor points out in NRO, however, this does not mean there is nothing to worry about. No one knew at the time who the men were, and no one bothered finding out or confronting them in any way:
"If this had been the real thing, and the musicians had instead been terrorists, nothing was stopping them from taking control of the plane or assembling a bomb in the restroom. Given the information they were working with at the time, almost everyone should have reacted differently than they did.
"Jacobsen's fear was quite natural under these circumstances, and she has done us a service by pointing out some egregious shortfalls in our airline security. Danke Schoen, Darling. Let's hope the right people are listening."
Unfortunately, it's unlikely they are. It's not like the shoddy state of airport security after 9/11 is any great secret.

Well, this should convince Arafat to go

The NYT calls for Arafat's "immediate retirement."

Don't believe everything you read, II

Israellycool says he almost opened a champagne bottle this week when he read the AP headline, "Arafat Critic Wounded As Violence Grows," and thought, for a moment, it said "critically wounded."
You can imagine what I thought had happened today when I saw the following teaser on the main page of OpionionJournal: "Good news in the election returns despite McKinney's comeback. Plus Arafat's cancer scare!"
Turns out, he was just regurgitating that old canard about Israel polluting the West Bank with depleted-uranium bullets and causing an increase in cancer rates. Such a blatant lie, hardly even worth debunking on

Don't believe everything you read, I

Cathy Seipp profiles the husband-and-wife team behind, a website devoted to debunking urban legends.
I checked out their religion section, and was pretty disappointed to find out that geologists in Siberia have not managed to drill down to hell, that marking 'Jedi' as your religion on census forms will not force your government to grant it official status, and that the physician who once placed dying patients upon a scale in order to measure the weight of the human soul never existed. No, hold on, that one is apparently true.
OpinionJournal, by the way, picks up on another part of Seipp's article, in which she talks to folklore professor Jan Harold Brunvand about the media's role in spreading such urban legends.
"Brunvand, whose latest book is Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Book of Scary Urban Legends (out in October), said that actually the media have been pretty good about correcting these tales.
"But Brunvand added that 'Reuters is especially prone to circulating doubtful stories, especially those that have shown up in newspapers in faraway places. The Reuters story will just say, 'as reported in the such-and-such,' which is true enough, but they apparently make no attempt to verify or investigate the item.'
Does the Palestinian Authority qualify as 'faraway places'?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The emperor has no clothes

Over the past few months, both Europe and many Muslim countries have claimed the moral highground over Iraq. They've attacked America for 'abusing' human rights, being anti-Muslim, interfering in another country's internal politics and being interested only in oil. So where are they all now, when it comes to Sudan?
Has anyone heard the European leaders stand up for these victims of Arab militias? Where are the Arab and African states, defending Muslim villagers who are being systematically raped and driven out of their homes?
As the London Times concludes,
It has been left to Washington to voice the world’s outrage and warn Sudan to halt its brutalities. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, has made clear America’s readiness to back moves in the United Nations to use military force to halt the attacks. Washington has called for a global arms embargo against the Janjawid and their allies, and would be ready to support calls by Human Rights Watch for sanctions against all Sudanese officials supporting the militias.
I hope the Americans take action, fast. I wouldn't rely on those European and Muslim hypocrites.

Talk like an Egyptian

Blogger's new blog of note: Living in Egypt, by a Canadian ex-pat and mother-of-two.

Moving targets

Jew-spotting used to be simple: You noticed a Jewish-sounding name on the cover of a book or in the credits of a movie, and shepped nachas from their careers for ever after. I like the way Nate Bloom demonstrates how things are no longer so simple:
GWYNETH PALTROW was more-or-less was raised in her father's Jewish faith. But which way is she moving? Well, she married a non-Jewish guy. She gave birth recently to a baby girl and named it Apple —— but the "Jew clue" is that one of the kid's middle names is "Blythe" —— her mother's name. (Not good —- since Jews of Northern or Eastern Europe ancestry rarely name after a living person. It's a strong custom, but not a religious prohibition) Finally, Dreamworks has just announced that Paltrow will star in a bio-pic on the legendary German actress Marlene Dietrich, who saved many Jewish friends and told Hitler to shove it when he offered her a blank check if she came back to Germany. (Not bad).

What about JAKE GYLLENHAAL, who is really hot now because of the global warming blockbuster, "The Day After Tomorrow?" Jake's mother is Jewish and a couple of years ago he said he considered himself "more Jewish than anything else." (Pretty good). Then last month a Malaysian paper profile said that Jake was brought up Jewish, but is now a Buddhist. (Not good). But in a London Times profile that came out almost the same day he said that he studied Buddhism in college under Uma Thurman's father, but "I'm not a card-carrying Buddhist, but I do try to practice mindfulness." (We are confused).
Actually, Gyllenhaal just split up with non-Jewish Kirsten Dunst. (Better!).

Perhaps he should have started with the Bible

Police spend 10 minutes in a crazy car chase, going against traffic, through parking lots, onto sidewalks and an interstate highway. Finally, the wanted man throws 'a bag of contraband' out the window of his car and gets arrested.
All for what? Drugs? Money?
Nope — five stolen library books about Judaism. I hope it was at least The Making of a Godol, or something else really expensive.

The next international Israeli superstar?

Hadar Manor Posted by Hello

Remember -- you saw her here first (unless you happened to pick up today's Evening Standard). This is Hadar Manor, 23, formerly a lieutenant in the Israeli army, and for the past year or so, a busker (!) on the London underground. Recently, she was spotted by two record companies playing and singing in various tube stations, and now she's about to be featured on a (usually) highbrow tv show on the arts. Sounds like we may be hearing a lot more from her in the future. One thing's for sure: when I travel on the tube each day, I'll be taking a much closer look at who's providing the musical entertainment.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The Madonna Loshen

According to The Sun (that most reliable of sources), Madonna's newest shtick is that she's singing in Yiddish.
The Sun comments, "It’s difficult to imagine how the lyrics of Like A Virgin would translate." I'm sure someone out there could help.

Is it natural talent? Is it all those training sessions? No, it's the X-Ray Rabbi

Ha'aretz follows up on the sudden popularity of the X-Ray rabbi, Ya'akov Ifergan, amongst sportstars:
"[Maccabi Herzliya chairman Ariel] Scheiman, it turns out, isn't the only Israeli soccer personality to seek spiritual advice.
'I visit the X-ray once or twice a week,' says former Israel international Itzik Zohar. 'In the past I used to see Yeshiahu Pinto in Ashdod. I visit the graves of righteous rabbis as well. It makes me feel good. I believe in it, and not just in order to succeed on the soccer pitch. I think that almost every player in the top two divisions and certainly in the lower divisions consults with rabbis. Mostly in Tiberias, Netivot, Ashdod and Nahariya.'
"Zohar may favor the X-ray, but the big name in the Premier League at the moment, other than Assoulin, of course, is Rabbi David Abuhatzeira of Nahariya. Almost the entire squad of both Maccabi and Hapoel Haifa consults with Abuhatzeira, and with players from Be'er Sheva, Ashdod, Tel Aviv and Netanya making the pilgrimage, it can be hard to get an audience with the rabbi.
"I believe in him,' said one of Maccabi Tel Aviv's top players. "He is God's messenger. He does a lot of good and we will continue to go see him."
"Several Betar Jerusalem players go to the Western Wall every Thursday for midnight prayers. But Betar hasn't reached the spiritual level of Ashdod, which is considered the "Kabbala club." The entire team, with the exception of the foreign players, travels frequently to meet with rabbis and to pray at the graves of righteous rabbis.
"The X-ray may not know much about soccer,' Scheiman admits, 'but he doesn't have to. He understands spiritual affairs..."
Well, maybe. But by now it's clear what else the X-Ray rabbi knows about, and that's making friends in high -- or extremely medium, I suppose -- places and taking advantage of their naiveté.

My son, the barber...

Who knew? "For generations, the barbers of Central Asia were Jews..... There were barber shops where only Bukharian Jews worked, 20 or 30 people."
And now, the cutting edge Jews are taking Long Island by storm -- while keeping in mind that American customers are not quite the same as the Uzbeks: "In Tashkent, there is more a standard haircut, three types of haircuts," said Rakhmin Izgelov, one of the barbers. "Here everybody is different, different kinds."

Infertile Israel

Israel -- heaven for infertile couples:
There are more fertility clinics in Israel per capita than in any other country, and the highest per capita rate of IVF procedures. According to Treasury statistics, Israel provides 3,400 treatments per one million people, compared with 300 in England. Nearly 5 per cent of babies born in Israel today are test-tube babies, against 1 per cent in Britain. There are no waiting lists: once the problem has been isolated, treatment begins.
In Israel, unlike most other countries, the government will also pay for an unlimited number of IVF cycles. In England: you get one.
The explanation, of course, is a comination of demographic pressures and religious sensibilities. I recall reading somewhere, however, that Israel also has one of the highest infertility rates in the Western World -- does anyone have any stats?

Monday, July 19, 2004

Planning to fly in the near future? Don't read this

A terrifying account of a domestic US flight, during which 14 men with Syrian passports and one-way tickets took turns entering an airplane bathroom, emptying their bags and exchanging dirty looks while the stewerdesses looked on in terror and women passengers actually cried with fright. Were the men trying to, or rehearsing an attempt to, assemble a bomb on the plane, as the FBI has been warning might happen? Did a planeload of people let their imaginations get the better of them? Either way, shouldn't security have been just a little more stringent?
As experienced by a correspondent for Women's Wall Street (whatever that is?). Follow-up and comments by various airline officials here.

(Via LGF).

UPDATE: See extensive discussions of this story, with every possible angle covered, at MichelleMalkin, Opinionjournal, One Hand Clapping and virtually every other blog under the sun. Bottom line for me: basics of story clearly true (see Annie Jacobsen and Michelle Malkin's follow ups). Whether they ultimately turned out to be terrorists or not, it's clear many lessons in security from 9/11 are yet to be learned.

Auf wiedersehen, Volvo!

Just noticed that last week, the Knesset agreed to buy Opposition Leader Shimon Peres a NIS 1.8 million armored BMW. At the moment, like the majority of the ministers, he has a Volvo, but apparently it would take the Swedish company months to deliver a new one, so they're opting for a BMW.
You know Israel's come a long way when the Knesset issues a German car as an official vehicle.

Lurching from crisis to crisis

Countries alienated by Israel this week: New Zealand, France.
Next week? Potentially, the world.
And while I can already hear murmurs of "why does this matter, they hate us anyway," the fact is, it does matter. Is this week, when Israel needs all the help it can get in the UN, really the week when we want to make enemies of the French? Does a diplomatic crisis with New Zealand really improve our strategic position?
Through his calls for French Jews to escape "the wildest" anti-Semitism by moving to Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has shown himself to be utterly oblivious and insensitive to:
a. The real efforts made by the French political leadership this week to condemn and combat anti-Semitism, real and imagined
b. The fine line walked by every Jew in the Diaspora between loyalty to the country they live in and loyalty to Israel; it's one thing to make a general statement that "all Jews are welcome in Israel" and another to issue an appeal to Jews of a specific country and put the onus specifically on them
c. The rules of statesmanship and diplomacy, which dictate that a prime minister should avoid telling the citizens of another country what to do about internal problems.
When he became prime minister after a stint as opposition leader, Sharon famously stated that 'dvarim sheroim mikan lo roim misham' -- 'things you see from here, you can't see from there.' Perhaps Sharon should start looking at the world even more widely still.

Spider-Man: Out. X-Ray Rabbi: In.

Remember the Roentgen Rabbi, otherwise known as the X-Ray Rabbi or less commonly, Rabbi Yaakov Ifergan? Known for his expert medical advice (despite lacking a medical degree), 'psychic powers,' and lately, his business advice, he has now moved into a new area, sports. The Roentgen, it appears, is responsible for basketball star Lior Assoulin's decision to sign on with Maccabi Tel Aviv and not transfer, as planned, to Betar Jerusalem.
Pity the man; It's tough being a rabbi nowdays. So many areas to master, so little time... remember the good old days when being a rabbi meant just doling out halachic advice?

The crustaceans strike again

And now they're affecting our sushi.

Sunday, July 18, 2004


Jews aren't the only ones with religion-specific dating sites: Muslims have them too, although there are some crucial differences: 
Like other online dating services, the Muslim Web sites ask their members to post photos, biographical profiles and descriptions of what they are looking for in a spouse. But instead of moving quickly to the dating stage, the user of a Muslim site typically spends weeks or months exchanging comments online with a potential mate before deciding whether to seek a meeting.
The next step is for the couple to meet in the presence of family members, friends or the leader of a mosque. If that goes well, they will set up other chaperoned meetings that could lead to an engagement. They are not allowed to be alone together until after they are engaged.
Check out and I particularly liked this post from a woman searching for a match -- for her brother!

Fanning the flames of anti-Semitism?

In a throwaway sentence in the middle of a larger article, former Israeli MK Uri Avnery makes an extremely grave accusation:
"Our government is pouring petrol on the flames by instructing its representatives around the world to stigmatize all criticism of its actions as anti-Semitism."
Are you being serious, Mr. Avnery, or is this just hyperbole? Do you have credible information here, or are you just being irresponsible? Pray tell us more.

Many journalists become bloggers. But can bloggers become journalists?

According to Luke at Protocols, Jewish-uber-blogger Steven I. Weiss has been fired from the Forward -- apparently because he never successfully made the mental transition from blogger to journalist.
Commiserations, Steven, and good luck in your next endeavor. Judging by the comments on the site, a bunch of people are eagerly awaiting your return to Protocols.  
So what does this mean for the journalism vs. blogging debate? Nothing, at least until we've heard Steven's version of events on Fiddish, and preferably the other side too.


Nefesh B'Nefesh, then and now

The articles on last week's batch of Nefesh B'Nefesh Olim just keep on coming and coming (Nefesh B'Nefesh must have one hell of a press office, by the way; there have been articles on this in every newspaper under the sun).
But where are the articles on last year's Nefesh B'Nefesh olim?  How have they settled in? Has the program's financial aid really made a difference?  After all the idealistic sentiments bandied about on arrival, have they come back down to earth? 
Someone please follow up!

Friday, July 16, 2004

Maccaba speaks out

"It was a story that made headlines around the world. The “indecent proposal” case – in which businessman Brian Maccaba accused Federation beth din head Dayan Yaakov Lichtenstein of smearing him as a serial adulterer – became the UK’s longest slander suit.
"It ended last month in punishing defeat for the 46-year-old Maccaba, who denied offering a man $1m (£540,000) to divorce his wife and now faces a multimillion-pound legal bill. In his first and only interview since the trial, the dad-of-six tells [Totally Jewish/London Jewish News] about the devastating impact the verdict had on his life and his desire to bring the case back before a Jewish court."
More here

Incidentally, they don't ask him anything about his relationship with Nathalie Attar.  What kind of  tabloid is this??? A Jewish one, I guess.

O Canada, where art thy sense?

An interesting contrast in Canada, where in the same week the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission managed to ban popular Quebec radio station CHOI FM for its expletive-filled diatribes and offensiveness to the entire world -- and, with certain restrictions, permit the broadcast of Al Jazeera on Canadian cable tv. 
Why, you may wonder, is a station which gained a huge local following by running Howard Stern-like hosts worse than a station that shows beheadings and gives a platform to terrorists? Has there ever been a better demonstration that Canada's fetish of multi-culturalism and free speech has gone too far? 

Zis is very bed Inglish

Zis is very bed Inglish Posted by Hello
Biur Chametz has posted this picture of a notice in Ben Gurion Airport.  Notice the last three items in English: "Draft Beer," "Sweats" and "Ice Cream Snakes."
Reminds me of a menu in Center 1 in Jerusalem, which offers "black bear," "Carlsburg bear" or "Maccabi bear."  Any other good ones out there?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Ingathering of the athletes, part 2

Reports today that the Israel cricket team now has a bona fide Indian playing for it.
Says an ecstatic Sanjay Gupta, who is married to an Indian Jew and who made Aliya in 2001: "I didn't expect to make it to the team so soon. This is my first season in the league and I never dreamt of a call to play at the European Cricket Council (ECC) championships. Certainly not this year. I see myself being rewarded for all the hard work."
I guess Mr. Gupta has been too wrapped up in cricket to notice, so I'm going to break the bad news: Israel (population: 6.5 million) isn't as big as India (population: 1 billion plus). Your chances of being included in any official sports team go up by quite a bit when you move there. Especially if you become one of only 15 people in the country who can play cricket...

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Harry's back -- and he's on a roll

According to Harry, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said some rather strange things to the new Nefesh B'Nefesh Olim. Specifically:
"First of all I want to say, I am a Jew. And that should concern each and every one of us.”
“You are mostly welcome to this country.”
Concern us? Mostly?
I guess the pressure of building a new coalition is getting to him.


Harry also, incidentally, promises to prove over the next few days that Spider Man is NOT a Jew. We're waiting ...

Aaah, childhood memories...

Ha'aretz reports on an Arab website which has become the first in the Arab world to openly offer sex advice and education.
Interesting article. But what caught my eye were the following paragraphs, which I can just imagine the Ha'aretz reporter writing with shock and disdain:
"Ostensibly, at least in Egypt, high school students can learn about the human anatomy and sexual functioning. Nevertheless, these are essentially biology courses called "reproductive health." In these classes, there is no discussion of sexuality, but the students are required to read background material.
"In girls' schools, it was decided to glue together the pages depicting the male and female sex organs to avoid the appearance of pornographic literature."
Funny that. I remember the exact same thing happening in my Jewish high school in London, when we were supposed to be studying the reproductive system for our GCSEs (better known to most people outside the UK as O-levels).
In our school, they were for some reason at first only concerned with the boys, and initially only cut out the offending pictures of the female reproductive system.
Before they got very far with this little project, someone pointed out that the holes in the page were now actually framing pictures of the male genitalia -- which would be too much for the girls.
So they promptly glued all the pages together -- just like in Egypt...
I wonder, though, that the Egyptian school girls haven't yet discovered what the Hasmonean students quickly did -- that pages that are glued together can be separated. It wasn't long before the teachers recalled the books and actually cut the pages out.
The moral of the story? They must use better glue in the Middle East...

Where Israel's foreign pas(sport)s come in handy

The NYT profiles some of the Russians who have become the bulk of the Israeli Olympic team, together with a few Ethiopians. Oh yes, and there are some Israelis as well -- kind of:
Roei Yellin, 22, a native Israeli who is one of the three kayakers who will represent Israel in Athens, said he, too, now understands and speaks quite a bit of Russian. His coach, Anatoly Peshehodov, who is from Moldova, has even Russified Yellin's name, calling him Roeike. Yellin's kayaking team - his coach, sports doctor, sports psychologist and the man who maps out his training plan - are all from the former Soviet Union.
I particularly liked the comments from one of the other kayakers, who now lives on a Kibbutz and appears to have gone completely native:
Before every competition, kibbutz members drape signs wishing him luck on an old grain silo. More signs and a festive reception always accompany his return.
'On kibbutz I have training-camp-like conditions - a place to live, a bed, meals three times a day, laundry,' he said. 'It's everything I need and the people are great.'
What a good sport (oy)...

(Via Shosh)

The body isn't even cold yet... Hold on, there isn't even a body yet

Israel is already making concrete plans for Arafat's burial, producing written reports and everything. Which begs the question: do they know something we don't?
(The report, by the way, apparently discusses three ways of death: "an Israeli military operation, a prolonged illness, or a short, natural death." Is it just me, or is there something a little disarming about the blasé way in which these three options, particularly the first, unnatural one, are rattled off?)

If this doesn't drum it in...

New prayers produced by the Church of England for the days immediately before Easter include the following rather blunt lines, written in the person of G-d speaking to his Church:
"I grafted you into the tree of my chosen Israel and you turned on them with persecution and mass murder. I made you joint heirs with them of my covenants, but you made them scapegoats for your own guilt.”
Not surprisingly, there's been some opposition from within the church.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

My mother witnesses a murder

This has nothing to do with anything Jewish, however... last night, my mother witnessed a murder, or at least heard it from a distance.
The full story:
My parents live in a quiet, mostly Jewish street in a good, mostly Jewish suburb of Toronto. Since they moved into their house, though, there have always been running jokes and speculation about their rather shady next door neighbors, specifically at their rather shady son. There were always obvious thugs hanging out outside the house, and while my parents never felt threatened, they certainly didn't like it.
Last night, watching television in bed, my mother heard a series of thuds coming from next door. About half an hour later, there was the sound of screaming and sobbing. At this point, my mother mentioned the noises to my father -- she'd never heard such a thing from there before -- but put it down to a family fight.
By 3 am, she was thorougly annoyed by the noises coming from next door; it sounded like a "very noisy barbecue."
Turns out, it was the police and their wirelesses, investigating the murder of our next door neighbor. He had apparently been shot (possibly following a physical fight) and was discovered by his parents, returning from a (real) barbeque. Hence, the thuds -- and half an hour later, the screaming and sobbing.
The entire street is still cordoned off as investigations continue.
So, what will this do to the value of their house? Not much good, I dare say.

UPDATE: More on the case here. Apparently, it's now accepted that the murder was drug-related. Is it surprising, therefore, that someone put a notice at the shrine to the murdered boy at the end of the street saying, "I'll always remember the two years of straight tripping"!

Hands off! He's ours!

Everyone, it seems wants a piece of Spider-Man.
According to Harry, now the Palestinians think he's theirs.
What was that I said about insecure Jews who need to own every hero out there? Spidey's a Jew, you know.

Breaking news: verdict in "Wicked stepmother" case

I had an inkling a verdict had come down in the Sherrington case when I got a series of hits this morning to my previous entry on the scandal. As you will remember, Daliah, 30, Donna, 27 and Ramon, 21 Sherrington were seeking to have their father's will overturned, after it left his £10m. fortune to his second wife Yvonne and left them with a total of just £50,000 from his life insurance policy. Sherrington died in a car accident in 2001 just 7 weeks after Yvonne's daughter from a previous marriage drew up this will.
And... the verdict is: Mr. Justice Lightman (who gets most of the exciting Jewish cases, it seems), has accepted the children's arguments that Richard Sherrington's second marriage was miserable, that signatures on the will were not properly witnessed and he had been pressured by his second wife into making it.
I'm told that wills are exceptionally difficult to overturn in English law; congrats, kids.
And that seems to bring to an end a series of high-profile, high-gossip factor British-Jewish court cases. Long may the lull last.

Wait for the backlash

It is now beginning to look like the incident with the French woman violently attacked on a train by Arab / North African thugs never happened. According to Bloomberg, "Police have failed to trace any witnesses of the attack and haven't found any evidence of the gang on video footage taken from security cameras." Ha'aretz adds that according to an unattributed report on French television, the woman in question "had previously filed six complaints of assault."
Obviously the first reaction for many people, including myself, will be anger, mainly at the probable backlash. Because of this woman (who is clearly sick), future anti-Semitic incidents may be treated with scepticism. A lot of the sympathy which should be directed towards genuine victims of anti-Semitism in France has now been spent in a hoax. And you can expect several days of commiseration with the North African and Arab communities, who may have a legitimate grudge at being unfairly portrayed as aggressors -- moving the focus away from the genuine victims in all this, the victims of anti-Semitic violence.
However, several hours after first hearing of the holes in the story, I'd like to suggest another reaction. And that is, relief. Relief a woman was spared this horrible incident. Relief that we're not yet at the stage where six thugs on a subway can mutilate a woman out of anti-Semitic motives. Relief that 20-odd French people are not guilty of watching an anti-Semitic attack and doing nothing. And most of all, relief that French Jews, who have enough to be scared of as it is, do not have to be that much more afraid.
Cold comfort, I know -- the fact is, everyone believed this incident could have happened. But it makes a difference that it (apparently) didn't.

Can Reuters' writers reform? Can a leopard change its spots?

At the end of a long article on Reuter's anti-Israeli bias, Tom Gross notes:
"Lately, with a new Jerusalem bureau chief, Reuters has taken some steps to ensure greater balance. For example, it no longer claims Hamas’s goal is merely “to set up an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza” (which it is not), but instead writes that Hamas is “sworn to Israel’s destruction” (which it is).
"Reuters no longer carries the highly misleading “death tolls” at the end of each story that lumped together Palestinian civilians, gunmen, and suicide bombers. (Agence France-Presse continues to do this.) And, apparently, there are plans to relocate Wafa Amr [the 'Senior Palestinian Correspondent' who is a family friend of Arafat's and who boasts close ties to the PA] by next year."
Credit where credit's due; good on Reuters for taking a (baby) step in the right direction. I'd like to know where exactly they're thinking of relocating Amr, though. To the BBC, perchance?

Monday, July 12, 2004

France wakes up -- but why?

This Press Association (are they the same as AP?) report on the attack on a French mother on a Paris train, which I've seen in several places, states, "That the band of six attackers mistook their victim’s identity did nothing to soften the reality of the horror for France, where attacks on both Jews and Muslims have escalated over the past several years."
What an understatement. Had this woman turned out to be Jewish, would this incident have received the same coverage? I don't think so. It's primarily the irony that she wasn't Jewish which finally brought home the horror to the French (the other factor, of course, being that this attack was on a woman and child as opposed to a man or a building).

The world vs. Diamond Joe

As if it wasn't enough that Chabad millionaire Joe 'Where's the Diamonds' Gutnik was being targeted by al Qaida, it now emerges he's being stalked by another Chabadnik, a former friend and business associate to boot.
Could The Age find a picture in which the alleged stalker looks any more stalker-ish?? I don't think so.

Blog Baby

The first lady of Jewish blogging, Allison Kaplan Somer, stops off on her way to the hospital to record that she's having contractions. Now that's dedicated blogging!
According to someone on her comments section, she had a girl. Will Allison be blogging from the hospital? Either way, a huge Mazal Tov!

"Blending Into Extinction"

I review Double or Nothing: Jewish Families and Mixed Marriage by Sylvia Barack Fishman in The Jerusalem Post's new literary supplement. It's an important, and fascinating, book. My review begins:
"Although there are no exact statistics, it is generally accepted that around half the "Jewish" marriages in North America are in fact intermarriages, and well over three quarters of the resultant children don't marry Jews either.
"But why do Jews choose to marry Christians? How do they decide whether to convert out, ask their spouse to convert in, balance both religions or turn to something else altogether? How do Jews who have married out perceive their own religious identity? And how does all this affect Judaism?
"These are the kind of questions tackled by Sylvia Barack Fishman, director of the program in Contemporary Jewish Life in the Near East and Judaic Studies Department at Brandeis University, in Double or Nothing?.
"Whereas previous studies have focused on numbers - thus providing a snapshot in time - she brings the carefully researched stories of 254 mixed-married, intermarried and converted adults. She goes beyond the statistics to provide a picture of how their religious identity evolved over the course of marriage.
"In the process, she ends up describing an enormous hybrid sub-culture of North American Judeo-Christian families, that differs "strikingly" from all other American Jews.
"This of course has profound implications for North American Jewry, which might soon find itself outnumbered by such alternative families, and even for Israel, which theoretically could be forced to accept many of them under the Law of Return...."
More here.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Still with their heads in the clouds

The case of the 39 Bais Ya'akov girls who were rescued last week from the top of a Scottish mountain shrouded in mist continues to reverberate. As you will recall, the girls were wearing school uniforms and trainers, with only garbage bags to protect them from the rain, had no compass -- and completely ignored warnings the mountain wasn't safe under the weather conditions and refused the offer of a guide should they insist on doing the climb regardless. To make matters worse, when the girls were rescued -- it took the team an hour to find them! -- they were apparently rude to the rescuers and took it all as a big joke.
The Health and Safety Executive and the Department for Education and Skills are now launching an investigation, and it looks like the school governors, together with the three teachers who climbed down halfway and the sole teacher left with the girls, will now face prosecution.
The question is -- will they learn their lesson? I fear not and that it will take someone, G-d forbid, dying before they do. A spokesman for the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations told the Jewish Chronicle this week that it was an issue for the schools, not the community; never mind that the JC story was accompanied by a box detailing a series of similar incidents over last few years, in which ill-equipped haredi school groups and organizations had to be rescued during hikes in England.
The fact is, this is a problem of community culture, which stems from:
a. The complete disregard haredim have for the 'secular' world, which includes secular rules, even when they concern health and safety and are for their own benefit;
b. The haredim's complete unfamiliarity with the natural world and with the countryside of the very country they live in. When they venture out of their own communities once a year on their annual trip into nature, they seem to assume no harm can come to them in today's day and age and show complete ignorance of the very real danger nature still poses;
c. The ad-hoc way many of the schools are still run.
As a quick PR cover-up the school has offered to buy the rescue team a piece of equipment, and the girls are sending them a totally embarrasing piece of "poetry," which includes the lines:
“We are truly amazed at your dedication day by day / So that mountaineering remains safe all the way / Your work as volunteers deserves much praise and song / Helping the experienced and amateur to get along.”
That 17 year old girls could produce such inane drivel can only be a reflection of the total infantalization of haredi education. What about a sincere, straight letter of apology? The tone of this so-called "poetry" would indicate that after all they've been through, these girls still aren't taking their little escapade very seriously.

More on the Maid of Ludmir...

in Ha'aretz.
What is interesting is that the Maid seems to have been 'adopted' by a female rabbi, who is the one who raised the money for Hannah Rochel Verbemacher's headstone.
Right at the end of the article, Rabbi Kagan acknowledges that were the Maid of Ludmir alive today, as a haredi woman, she may not have approved of Kagan's 'journey.' The fact is, there is no real record of what the Maid of Ludmir actually preached or believed in; What Rabbi Kagan seemingly fails to appreciate is that, were the Maid of Ludmir alive today, she, Rabbi Kagan, may not have approved of the Maid, either.

The best Jewish sprinter in the world

His name is Philip Rabinowitz -- and he just became the world's fastest 100-year-old, slashing more than five seconds off the record for the 100 meter sprint for centenarians. His time: 30.86 seconds.
This is his second attempt at setting the record, after the official timer broke during his attempt last week.
The most intensive part of his training takes place each week on a Saturday -- when he walks 13 km to shul.
Who said Jews weren't good at sports? Give this man a place in the Olympics!

Friday, July 09, 2004

Going Dutch in New Amsterdam

The Jewish Chronicle offers the following anecdote in its 'Diary' section, without providing any information on where they got this story. Does anyone know? Or is this just an urban myth?
A New Yorker, who turned down a second date with a guy she met on a Jewish Internet site got more than she bargained for, when her dinner date sent her an e-mail asking for her to split the bill.
The lawyer wrote: "On June 5, you agreed to accept dinner, paid for in full by me, based on your stated offer that we would go out again.
In that you have ignored all overtures to said follow-up meeting, you are hereby considered in breach of contract..."
He goes on to say: "In that this was merely a promise to meet and not a promise to marry, the agreement is binding under New York Law... Payment in full is expected within 30 days."
Fearful that he would take out a lawsuit against her, the girl duly paid up. Maybe a lawyer isn't such a good catch after all.
You can say that again. I bet his profile on said Jewish Internet site goes on about how honest, open and sensitive he is, just looking for true love...

Religious singles bar opens

According to Ma'ariv / NRG, a new Kosher pub called 'Balance' has opened in Tel Aviv. Kosher, that is, in all senses; musical performances are apparently 'cleaner' and more traditional than in their secular equivalents. Says founder Inbal Pelach, "most of the girls wear skirts, and when there's karioke, you mostly get groups getting up to sing, usually 'solid' songs. And people don't beat each other up."
Not surprisingly, it's become a big religious singles hangout.
Has anyone been? Would anyone want to? I guess Tel Aviv isn't as treif as it used to be.

"Memory as Punishment"

A very brief double book review by me in this week's Jewish Chronicle.

Paritzky and kneecaps

You know those mystery movies where two minutes before the end, it turns out the least suspicious guy in the flick was the twisted, guilty guy all along? Watching Yosef Paritzky going down is like being in one of those movies. I must say, I was really taken by surprise by today's revelations, and really find it hard to square this plotting, malicious man with the seemingly straight, if somewhat comical guy all journalists knew would oblige with a long, ideology-laden rant if they needed a good quote.
In all the commotion, however, there's one thing I wonder about. The private investigator Paritzky attempted to use was employed by the Electric Company's worker's committee. The way most reports are worded, it sounds as if Paritzky just came across this guy and decided to use him to plot the downfall of his colleague Avraham Poraz.
But right the end of this Ha'aretz article, Paritzky himself implies otherwise. "They sent me a private investigator," he says, "and I fell for the bait."
Who, I wonder, is "they?" One can only assume he means the Electric Company, or at the very least, its worker's committee. At the time, of course, Poraz was trying to pass a law which would curtail their supply of free electricity.
If this is true, and I suspect it is, it would hardly be surprising. The Electric Company is known as one of the most powerful and corrupt organizations in the country, whose workers have many privileges they protect at all costs. Its legendary chairman of the IEC worker's union, Yoram Oberkovitz, who died a couple of years back, was regarded as a real mafioso who was convicted of falsification of corporate documents and indicted for bribery, and in 2003 Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein recommended he be suspended as chairman of the union.
A few years back, my boss at the Jerusalem Post asked me to write an expose of the electricity company. I declined, 99% because I wasn't interested, but -- I'll admit -- just a tiny bit because I didn't fancy the prospect of having my kneecaps blown off.
In that context, I must wonder why more of the media is not asking more questions about how exactly Paritzky got hold of this private investigator -- and from where exactly he got the idea of framing Poraz.
I guess the other journalists don't fancy losing their kneecaps either.

UPDATE: Ma'ariv is beginning to ask the questions. So far they're reporting that the private investigator was paid for by the IEC, which -- under Oberkovitz's personal instructions -- wanted to dig the dirt up on Poraz itself. However, the IEC denies ever meeting with Paritzky on this, or being involved in any other way in the Paritzky affair. The new chairman of their worker's union is on his way back from the States to explain...

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Spider-Jew, revisited

Apparently, I was too quick to scoff at the idea that Spiderman might have a Jewish connection. According to Totally Jewish, both the comic's inventor and the movie's directors, who are both Jewish themselves, see something in the theory. The rationale: He has a healthy sense of guilt; suffers from 'traditional Jewish neuroses'; is into Tikkun Olam and fighting evil; and likes wearing tights and a mask. No, hold on. They didn't actually say the last bit.
The point is, you can make almost anyone sound Jewish if you try hard enough, pick and choose your evidence and make broad enough generalizations. The last victim: Harry Potter.
It's one thing to Jew-spot and try and identify genuine achieving Jews. But what's this jealous, competitive obsession with making everyone a member of the tribe? Why can't we allow some heroes to be non-Jews? Surely we have enough of our own.
So let's leave Spider-Man alone.

The Maid of Ludmir...

finally gets a headstone.


The Jewish Week hosted its annual “Funniest Amateur Jewish Comics” competition. Reports from the scene:
"Winner Michael Salloway, 25, who moved from Sylacauga, Ala., to the Big Apple to pursue a career in comedy writing and performance, observed 'it’s easier to date in New York, because down South I’ve only got so many cousins.'
"Because his was the only Jewish family in the county: 'It’s easier to find people with extra fingers and toes than it is to find Jewish people,' Salloway was often called upon to 'say something in Jewish' or explain why he wasn’t celebrating Christmas. He joked that when he saw guys with shaved heads buying guns at Wal-Mart, he thought to himself: 'I hope it’s not Jew season already.'
"Jokes about dating, Jewish parents, mothers-in-law and doctors abounded. Dr. Howard Goodman recalls his doctor asking him if obesity ran in his family; 'No one runs in my family,' he replied, winning third place.
"Second-place finisher [Is that a word? -- MS] Stuart Rappaport predicted a sequel to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”: 'It’s called ‘The Pishin,’ and it’s two hours of Mel Gibson suffering with a kidney stone.'"
Have I already said, 'Oy'?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

About a blog

The Jewish Week is running an amusing piece on the Jewish blogosphere, although there are no major insights or revalations; the writer seems to have cribbed most of the article off the actual blogs instead of talking to people.
Never mind; I'm beginning work on a feature on Jewish women bloggers for the Jewish Quarterly. If you're a Jewish woman blogger, expect my call. Allison -- don't give birth until I've spoken to you, please!


At long last. After months of anti-Semitic comments in upper-class drawing rooms, vile attacks against Israel on the BBC, 100 attacks on synagogues since 2000, teenage robbers who target Jews, and a general rise in anti-Semitic acts, the British government is finally doing something to protect its Jews: it's passing a law banning discrimination on religious grounds.
Not quite.
The law will stop Muslims preaching against members of other religions. But only incidentally. According to the BBC, the real reason the law is being passed is because... "The government is worried in particular about discrimination against Muslims."
This, on the same day the government refused to stop the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi entering England and appearing as the "guest of honour" at a debate organised by the Greater London Authority. Al-Qaradawi, who is not allowed into the US because of suspected links to terrorists, has publicly supported suicide bombings against Israelis, has said that the beheading of Nick Berg had to be seen "in the right context", and supported beating of 'disobedient' wives and the execution of homosexuals.
But ban him? We wouldn't want to discriminate against Muslims.

Superstition -- I'm all for it

Hot on the trail of Tuvia Lushkin, the Haredi businessman drilling for oil in Israel because of a vague Biblical reference, we now have one of Israel's leading businessmen, Nochi Dankner, basing his business decisions on advice from 'The Ex-Ray Machine.'
According to Globes, 'The Roentgen,' better known as Rabbi Ya'akov Ifergan, is believed to have psychic powers; to the best of my recollection, he is actually better known for medical "miracles" -- consulting patients and doctors on complex health issues and giving life-saving advice, despite having no medical degree.
How could a reputable businessman rely on advice from such a sham? How's this going to look to foreign invest...
Hold on.
Dankner's businesses seem to be faring rather better than Lushkin's. In fact, it looks like they're doing better than ever.
Where's my stockbroker's number?
I love that Rabbi Rentgen ( May he live to 120).

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I'm a wimp

Coming home on the tube / subway today, I sat down next to two guys who, it quickly became clear, were speaking Hebrew.
I couldn’t hear them properly because of the sound of the train (not that I was trying to... ahem), but at some point, I caught the end of one of their exchanges.
The guy sitting next to me (in Hebrew): "Who?"
The other guy: "The girl sitting next to you."
(Ie. -- Me.)
The guy sitting next to me: "Imagine we were talking about someone [in the feminine -- MS] on the train and it turned out she was Israeli?"
This, of-course, is the point at which I should have come out with some cutting remark about how he doesn’t have to imagine too hard – it’s happening to him right now. Just like the old urban myth about the two guys on the NY subway who call some woman a cow in Hebrew, and before she gets off, she turns around and moos at them. Unfortunately, I was so busy trying to work out whether what they’d said about me had been positive or negative that I completely missed the moment. They got off the train before I managed to recuperate.
Now I'm kicking myself for not saying anything. Any suggestions for how I should have handled it? I want to be prepared for next time (and there probably will be a next time, seeing how full this city is of Israelis).

Not model behavior

An unnamed Israeli model is asking for a tax-break on her plastic surgery, claiming her career is dependent on her looks and that there's a precedent with businessmen getting tax deductions for their suits.
For goodness sake. There are people in Israel at the moment who can't even afford plastic cutlery, let alone plastic surgery. I want to know who this model is who thinks she's past it -- and who thinks she can ask the tax-payer to subsidize her plastic surgery without identifying herself.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Food for thought

Ha'aretz is running a feature about the different meals offered by various airlines. Alitalia, it appears, "offers coach passengers seafood or Japanese or Indian meals. Air Canada has several main course choices for lunch, including eggplant lasagna and ricotta with mushrooms and spinach. For dessert, the airline serves Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Israir serves passengers meals similar to those served in business class, but on smaller trays - grilled salmon fillet in butter, saffron and strips of tomato, with sugar pea pods."
El Al, it appears, offers "salt-free meals, meals for diabetes sufferers, dairy-free meals, gluten-free meals for celiac sufferers" -- yummy -- but there's no mention of what options appear on the menus.
Ho hum. I guess the old joke is still true: When the air hostess comes round with the food on El Al, you get two choices: "yes" or "no."

Canadian's no longer good enough...

Two Israelis are awaiting sentencing in New Zealand for trying to obtain local passports fraudulently. Not surprisingly, the New Zealand government accuses them of being Mossad spies and is wondering why they're yet to hear an explanation from the Israeli government (because no one cares about New Zealand, dummies). According to The Jerusalem Post, "Two other men, Ze'ev William Barkan, 37, and an unnamed man believed to be in hiding, have also been charged, but Barkan has fled the country."
I wonder what passport he was using?

Sunday, July 04, 2004

The worst job in the world?

Abu Hamza. Talk about tuches-licking  Posted by Hello

According to the Hindustan Times, London's top-security Belmarsh prison has hired a male nurse at £30,000 a year (!) to "clean the radical cleric Abu Hamza after he visits [the] toilet."
For a moment I couldn't imagine what they were talking about -- until I remembered that the repulsive Abu Hamza, who is awaiting extradition to America on 11 terrorism charges including hostage-taking and trying to set up a terrorist training camp in the US, doesn't have hands.
I hope Britain's most evil man realizes how good he has it in this country he hates so much. If it were up to me, I'd let Captain Hook wipe his own tuches.

Tolerance and forgiveness

Albert Meyer, the chairman of the city's Jewish community, has revoked permission for the Berlin City Senate to award a major prize in a Berlin synagogue, after discovering it was going to Hilde Schramm, 68, the daughter of Albert Speer, Hitler's "friend, architect and munitions minister."
He claims that "Some of his members had been made slave workers by Speer... and, despite his respect for Mrs Schramm, it would be an affront to honour a Speer descendant in a synagogue."
Sounds reasonable -- and Schramm herself is supporting Meyer on this. But the £6,700 prize is for Schramm's work in supporting tolerance and forgiveness among Berlin's Jews. She set up a fund to give financial assistance to Jewish women wanting to undertake artistic or scientific projects, and worked on other projects that help former slave workers and other Nazi victims in the former Soviet Union, where other aid is not available.
It's a shame Berlin's Jews can't show some of that same tolerance and forgiveness towards a woman who herself was not guilty of anything, and whose work for the Jewish community is all the more, not less, remarkable because of who her father was.

The oldest Jew in the blogosphere?

The newest addition to my blogroll: Help Me, Bubby!, a blog full of sensible, old-fashioned advice from an 88-year old Jewish great-grandmother.
Her most famous piece of advice -- to date -- has been telling a woman asking how to defrost chicken to make sure it's dead before she freezes it. Who could argue with that?
More words of wisdom:
Dear Bubby,
I am in the 6th grade. I used to be considered a nerd/weirdo. I still haven't had a girlfriend. I found a girl I like, but I am not sure if she likes me. She isn't exactly what you'd call popular. I want to tell her, but I don't want to ruin my new reputation. What do I do?
Sinceriely, an anyomous 6th grader

Dear 6th grader,
With a nick name like nerd/weirdo I am sure you will go places and leave the rest of those kids behind. Don't worry about that. Just study and learn. As for this girl I think you ought to say good morning and ask her if she thought the homework was difficult for her to do and offer to study with her. Then you work up to a walk and maybe a soda. A few jokes. Let her see what a good friend you can be.
Have fun. ♥, BUBBY

New candidates for the Darwin awards

According to AP, "A suspected polio outbreak was reported Friday among children in a heavily Muslim Nigerian state that had boycotted immunizations campaigns."
The reason for the boycott?
"Suspicions the vaccines were part of a U.S.-led plot to render Muslims sterile."

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Virtual Jews

The Orthodox-trained Rabbi of a Reform shul is offering online conversion classes. But don't worry, this isn't a quickie conversion or anything. At the end of each of the 8 "study units," which can be completed in 3 months, there is a quiz!! Intimidating stuff.
Actually, participants also have to attend a "conversion seminar," and write a final exam. "But unlike most tests," says the NYT, "there is no predetermined passing score."
The article doesn't mention the actual conversion ceremony. Do they, I wonder, go to a virtual mikveh as well?

Forget Jastrow, here's the real thing

According to the London Times, "Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, has sparked a new craze in the southern Indian state of Kerala: a rush to learn Aramaic, the ancient, fast-disappearing language of Biblical times. Within weeks of the film’s release Kerala’s institutes for the study of Aramaic were deluged by calls."
Apparently, Aramaic "has lived on in Kerala as the liturgical language of the eastern churches, taken there by ancient settlers. In Kerala it is no longer routinely taught to all Christians but is spoken by a few hundred priests, nuns and monks and intoned to congregations from the church altar."
The article notes that "Only half a million people worldwide speak Aramaic at home, mostly in the Assyrian Christian communities of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon."
Only??? That's half a million people more than I expected!

Multicultural Canada

After four years, a group of Jewish residents of a condo building in Outremont, Montreal have won the right to build Succot on their balconies, despite their neighbors' objections.
The case was originally notable for the intense anger the community showed towards a rabbi who testified in court the strictly legal point that it is not necessary for someone to have their own Succah; a common one downstairs is enough.
Also, if I recall correctly (I actually can't remember whether this really happened or was a joke at the time) in the first year this came up, the Judge ordered the residents to take down the structures within 8 days! Needless to say, this wasn't a problem...