CONVERSION DEFECTION: A new, more strict conversion policy adopted by the Rabbinical Council of America has already prompted some leading Modern Orthodox rabbis to set up their own rabbinic organization and threaten to set up their own conversion courts. Now, a member of the RCA committee that fashioned the conversion policy, leading New York Orthodox rabbi and educator Haskel Lookstein, is airing his own dismay with the new standards in an interview with The Jewish Week. “I oppose the system,” he tells the Jewish Week. “I am very much afraid of this system. The RCA is making it more difficult for people to convert just as the Chief Rabbinate has made it more difficult for people to convert in Israel. We are replicating their mistakes.”
GEE, SORRY ABOUT THAT ASSASSINATION EXHORTATION: The head of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, says sorry for saying that Israel’s prime minister should be shot if he tries to give away Jerusalem. The New York Jewish Week has the story.
BREAKING THE HILLEL: Jews at Harvard are split over a photo exhibit that the campus Hillel is hosting that offers a critical look at the Israeli army’s actions in the West Bank, The New York Jewish Week reports.
CALIFORNIA’S CAMEL FARM: The San Diego Jewish Journal visits with Gil Riegler, an Israeli army veteran who has established a camel farm in Southern California. Riegler takes the opportunity to dispel a common misconception about camels: that they are prone to spitting at people. “It takes a lot to get a camel to spit,” he tells the paper. “You really have to work to make it angry for a long time before it will demean itself with spittle.”
BOBBY FISCHER, LEFTIST? In Brooklyn’s Jewish Press, John-Paul Pagano psychoanalyzes Bobby Fischer and concludes that that the troubled chess-master’s antisemitic rants were more than simply the ravings of a madman. Instead, he makes the case that they echoed certain ideas that have been circulating on the political margins.
CROSS-DRESSING CLOWN: The New Jersey Jewish News profiles Barry Lubin, also known as “Grandma,” the Big Apple Circus’s lead clown. “I used to think of my performance as something apart from me,” he told the newspaper. “Now I know this is my real life, just in a heightened form, and more enjoyable than doing taxes — not that I’d normally start lip-synching to ‘The Best of Barry Manilow.’”
TEXAS-SIZED APPETITES: Competitive matzoh-ball eating has arrived in the Lone Star State. The winner of the Inaugural World Matzoh Ball Eating Championship, Joey Chestnut — who has previously won hot dog, chicken wing, burger and asparagus contests — managed to scarf down 78 matzoh balls in eight minutes. Houston’s Jewish Herald-Voice was on the scene.
NO JOB FOR THE RAF: “No military unit is better equipped and trained to protect the Jewish homeland’s borders than the Israel Defense Forces,” Boston’s Jewish Advocate reports.
JEWS ON ‘BODIES’: The controversial “Bodies Revealed” exhibit comes to town, and the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle asks local rabbis what Judaism has to say about this display of plasticized corpses.
‘COOTIES’ FROM CADAVERS: San Francisco’s J. visits the local health-sciences branch of Touro University in an article titled, “A Jewish-run university in the Bay Area? Who knew?” In the course of the article, Yitzchak Kaufman, the staff rabbi of the mostly non-Jewish campus, explains how the school addresses the Jewish legal requirement that kohanim (or descendants of priests) keep clear of cadavers because of tummah, or impurity. “Tummah is best described as cooties,” Kaufman said. “With a dead body, these cooties go out wherever they can, but walls and doors can block it. So the entrances and exits of the anatomy lab have two doors, with a vestibule in between and an electronic setup so you can’t ever have both doors open at the same time. It keeps the tummah inside the lab, so it can’t spread throughout the building.”
PURIM WITH A DIFFERENCE: Black, Asian, Latino and other “Other” Jews will gather in San Francisco for a Purim festival devoted to diversity, the first such celebration sponsored by Be’chol Lashon, Hebrew for “in every tongue.” J. has the story.
ISRAEL STUDIES GO WEST: Jewish studies are booming out West, the L.A. Jewish Journal reports.
NOT TO BLAME: L.A. Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshman writes that nobody should blame Israel if it decides to invade Gaza.
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS HITLER: An artist’s self-portrait of himself as Hitler, — a finalist for Australia’s prestigious Archibald Prize — has sparked an uproar. “What I wanted to say is far from trivialising or glorifying, it’s really the exact opposite,” says artist Sam Leach, according to The Australian Jewish News. “I wanted to underline the monstrosity of what occurred with the Nazis and to say that there is something in Western European culture that allowed that to occur, or at least didn’t prevent it, and we can’t take it for granted that whatever it was, is now gone.” While the president of the country’s Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre calls Leach’s effort a “dismal failure,” the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission says that the artist seems to have had good intentions.
KIPPAH BASHING: A Jewish inmate is alleging that he was beaten by guards in an Australian prison for refusing to remove his yarmulke, The Australian Jewish News reports.
EASTERN EXPOSURE: I’m pretty excited to have recently stumbled upon the Jewish Times Asia, a relatively new monthly publication that bills itself as “Asia’s first community newspaper for the region.” Among its stories: El Al rides the tram in Hong Kong, a Beijing kosher restaurateur gears up for the Olympics, Chabad buys a new home in Tokyo, young Hong Kong Jews form “Asia’s first ever Jewish school football (soccer) team” and hundreds gather in Jerusalem for the 12th-annual Chabad-Lubavitch Thailand reunion.
BANNED IN BRITAIN: Israeli far-rightist Moshe Feiglin is professing to be perplexed after being informed in a letter from a British official that he has been banned from visiting the United Kingdom. ““This is all very strange because I have no plans to visit Britain either in the short or long term,” he tells London’s Jewish Chronicle. Noting that an editor of a Hezbollah journal was allowed into Britain for a speaking tour, Feiglin says, “I almost feel honoured, because of the way that the British government is behaving, to be marked as the bad guy by a government that supports terror. I see it almost as a compliment.”
STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: The Jewish Chronicle reports on a court case in which a publicly funded, Orthodox-aligned Jewish school has been accused of racism for refusing to admit a student whose mother wasn’t born Jewish but converted under Reform auspices. The school, the newspaper notes, has found a surprising defender in the head of the British Reform movement.
ENOUGH WITH THE ‘LOST ARK,’ I WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT THE CANNIBALS: A British academic believes he has solved the mystery of the “lost ark” from Solomon’s Temple — and that the answer is in Zimbabwe. Tudor Parfitt, a professor of Hebrew at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, follows the trail of the “lost ark” to the Lemba, a southern African tribe whose members have been found to be genetically related to the Jews. Today’s ark, according to Lemba tradition, is a drum, constructed from the remains of the original ark (which, according to the professor, may also have actually been a drum-like object). London’s Jewish Chronicle has the story of this latter-day Indiana Jones (in an article that also makes a passing reference to Parfitt’s encounter with New Guinea’s Gogodala, “a python-eating tribe of ex-cannibals who also claim to be Jewish”).
CAMERON SPEAKS: The J.C. reports on Conservative Party leader David Cameron’s address at the annual fundraising dinner of the Community Security Trust, the communal agency dedicated to ensuring British Jewry’s safety. “We are here for a profoundly serious reason: to raise money to protect the Jewish community, which comes under attack to a greater degree than any other faith or ethnic group in Britain. All minorities are at risk from bullies, thugs, racists, but Catholics can stand outside the church after Sunday mass, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists can chat outside their temples,” he told attendees. “Even Muslims, who certainly suffer from abuse and discrimination, can gather outside the mosque after Friday prayers. It is only Jews who are advised not to linger outside synagogues before or after services: and this is not paranoia, it is a precaution against very real threats.”
FIRST SHAKESPEARE, NOW POEMS: First, students at a London Orthodox girls’ school refused to answer national exam questions on Shakespeare because they feel the Bard was antisemitic. Now, the J.C. reports, another Orthodox school is kvetching that poetry practice sets for the exam are too racy.