Bintel Blog

China Is the New Texas: Even for Jewish Eating Joints

By Dan Friedman

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Marshall “Masher” Grainge, my fearsome (but fearsomely fair) high school vice principal, always used to say that “they do things big in America.” But then China came along and did things multiple factors bigger. Leeds-New York-Beijing. Big-bigger-biggest. Huge-huger-huguosi.

By 2050, when Jews only speak either Mandarin or Hebrew, we’ll look back on this transitional Yid-Chinglish with fond incomprehension. Until then we’ll keep squinting at the signage and eating in Huguosi Nosheries around the world.

Hat tip, as always, to Nick “Huguosi” Frisch.


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Haiti's Jewish Remnant

By Gabrielle Birkner

Haiti, the island nation suffering terribly in the wake of the catastrophic January 12 earthquake, is home to a tiny Jewish remnant.

According to Chabad.org, the number of Jewish residents is about 25, but Larry Luxner — in this piece for JTA, in 2004 — wrote that the the Jewish population could be as high as 50 in a country of about 9 million people, most of whom are Voodoos and Catholics.

In the aforementioned piece, Luxner wrote:

… Luis de Torres, the interpreter of Christopher Columbus, was the first Jew to set foot in Haiti, in 1492. The first Jewish immigrants came from Brazil in the 17th century, after Haiti was conquered by the French. These marranos were all murdered or expelled — along with the rest of the white population — during the slave revolt of in 1804.

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a synagogue in Jeremie, a city along Haiti’s southern peninsula that was home to many mulatto families of Jewish origin; there are also vague historical references to Jewish tombstones in the port cities of Cap Haitien and Jacmel.

… [B]y the end of the 19th century, Sephardic Jews began arriving from Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. In 1937, Haitian officials — like their counterparts in the neighboring Dominican Republic — began issuing passports to Eastern European Jews fleeing the Nazis. Many of those grateful Ashkenazim stayed until the late 1950s.

Mid-century, Haiti’s Jewish community is said to have peaked at around 300.

In 1947, Haiti was among the 33 countries that voted in favor of partitioning the British Mandate of Palestine into two states — one Jewish, one Arab.

Chabad of the Caribbean is preparing kosher food shipments to those residents, as well as to the Israeli aid workers, who arrived in Port-au-Prince on January 15.


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Haifa’s New Legacy — Teenage Drinking

By Nathan Jeffay

Haifa has many legacies. It was the seat of the British Mandate before the State of Israel was established. In the early decades of statehood it was the “red” city, so-called because of its left-wing politics. Latterly it has been known for its laid-back attitude toward religion, with more shops and services operating on Shabbat than elsewhere in the country. But now comes a slightly less flattering label — boozy Haifa.

Come the weekend, Haifa’s bars are packed. But the type of drinking that is becoming associated with this city is teenage binge drinking. Figures just released by Magen David Adom, Israel’s ambulance service, show that for the fourth year in a row there has been an increase in drinkers under 18 in Israel requiring medical attention. In 2009 there was an average of more than one case a week — 58 total. The youngest was just 10 years old and the average age was 16.

The interesting thing about teenage binge drinking in Haifa, which we’ve not seen elsewhere in Israel, is that it’s not just a habit but it’s becoming a cause that the young are championing. Last week was Israel’s Alcohol Awareness Week and the municipality had a host of events planned. Now in most other cities and certainly other countries teenage drinkers would sit through events taking place in their classrooms and nod, even if they are resolved to go home and hit the bottle. But some Haifa youth apparently have an even larger-than-normal dose of Israeli chutzpah. They started a campaign on Facebook to subvert Alcohol Awareness Week and turn it in to a pro-drinking event, urging school students to take alcohol to school and get drunk.

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Foreman Scares Pacquiao : Too Tall

By Dan Friedman

World Champion Jewish Boxer Yuri Foreman will not be fighting Manny Pacquiao. Multiple World Champion Pacquaio from the Philippines, possibly the greatest ever pound-for-pound boxer in history, has declined to fight the Israeli because Foreman is “too tall.”

The LA Times quotes Pacquiao’s U.S. business manager Michael Koncz as saying that:

Manny’s concerned about Foreman’s height. We’ll go through the entire [welterweight and junior welterweight] categories and see what we can come up with.

So, the toughest man in the world is so scared of Foreman’s extra 5 1/2 inches that he’s prepared to fight almost literally anyone shorter and lighter than him. Well almost anyone, Pacquaio’s not prepared to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. either because he’s scared of the drug-testing needles.

Hat tip to Gordon “Pacific” Haber.


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Poll: A Minaret Ban Would Make Little Headway with Israelis

By Nathan Jeffay

Israelis are more tolerant than the Swiss about mosque minarets.

At the end of November Switzerland voted in a referendum to ban mosque minarets. Here in Israel, a large part of the Jewish public feels antagonism towards the Arab minority, as indicated by various attempts in the last year to pass legislation aimed at it such as the Nakba law and the success of Yisrael Beiteinu in last year’s elections after proposing an “allegiance law” that would require all citizens to pledge allegiance to the state. Furthermore, a lot of Jews who live within earshot of the call-to-prayer complain that it is annoying.

But while in the Swiss referendum 57.5% of voters were for banning minarets and just 42.5% against, in a simulated referendum in Israel a firm majority was against. According to a new poll 43% of Israeli Jews would oppose such a ban while 28% would support one. The rest were undecided.

Intriguingly the strongest opposition came from the demographic that is often most antagonistic to the Arab minority — religious-Zionists.

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Yelling Match Live on Israeli Television

By Nathan Jeffay

Israeli television certainly has its moments. On Thursday night, as much of the Western world relaxed and got ready to toast the New Year and many TV channels ran fluffy items, things got heated on a popular Israeli talk show.
Jamal Zahalka, a lawmaker from the Arab party Balad was in the Tel Aviv studio of Erev Hadasha (“New Evening”), a Channel 23 program which is broadcast live. After a few moments of amicable discussion, the focus turned to Gaza and Zahalka accused Defense Minister Ehud Barak of killing children. The interviewer, former Haaretz journalist Dan Margalit, initially responded with a rather understated remark that the comment was a ”chutzpah.” Then, in true Israeli-style, a fight began — propelled not by the subject under discussion but by the various names that the two men called each other.

The fight lasted around a minute and a half. Then the interviewee was removed from the studio. In most other countries one imagines that the presenter would have dusted himself off, composed himself, and got the show back on track. Not in Israel! As the co-presenter shifted uncomfortably and tried to move on, Margalit started speaking about the altercation and got his frustrations off his chest. The back-and-forth restarted, and ended with Zahalka yelling that the studio is located in Sheikh Munis, an old Arab village. Margalit responded by claiming that the incident shows Zahalka’s true colors as a politician who wants all of Israel to become Palestine and not just areas that Israel captured in 1967. The footage has been posted on YouTube with an English translation that gives the general idea but isn’t correct throughout. 




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OneVoice Stakes Its Claim as Peace Movement of Israeli Mainstream

By Nathan Jeffay

OneVoice, the grassroots movement that “aims to amplify the voice of Israeli and Palestinian moderates,” has run many an interesting event since its establishment in 2002. Last week it ran one of the most innovative to date — a discussion, held in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, with students on prospects for a two-state solution. This was followed on Tuesday with an event that cemented OneVoice’s emerging reputation as the peace organization that is reaching the Israeli mainstream — a discussion on the future of the two-state solution at Tel Aviv University, headlined by Kadima leader Tzipi Livni.

The Tel Aviv event provided an interesting insight in to the sharp differences between Livni and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even since the latter has embraced the two-state solution. The big bone of contention, it was clear from Livni’s comments, is Netanyahu’s idea of “economic peace.” Livni claimed that “those politicians who thought that the world would accept an ‘economic peace’ but not the real thing are finding out that no such thing exists.” She added:

Any attempt to create solutions that are not leading to the end of the conflict is a historical mistake on behalf of Israel. Any postponement or an idea about a [Palestinian] state in temporary borders would leave the conflict standing and lead to further weakening of Israel’s positions. This has nothing to do with Israel’s interests.

… When Israel only says “no” and doesn’t present its formula to ending the conflict — the world will not stand by its side. There is no party that is more or less committed to security — this is not a political matter.


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Engraved on the Unconscious: French Historian Élisabeth Roudinesco on Antisemitism

By Benjamin Ivry

On a subject where hysteria often seems to reign, a brilliant, well thought-out and balanced new book like “Return to the Jewish Question” (Retour sur la question juive) by the French historian and psychoanalyst Élisabeth Roudinesco is a treasure which urgently deserves translation into English.

Now 65, Roudinesco, niece of the noted French Jewish feminist Louise Weiss, is best known to English readers for such reflective works as “For What Tomorrow… : A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida,” (Stanford University Press); “Philosophy in Turbulent Times” (Columbia University Press) and “Our Dark Side, a History of Perversion” (Wiley). Convinced, as Roudinesco explains in a recent radio interview that antisemitism is “absolute foolishness,” re-fomented by the current crises in the Middle East, she now offers an “historical, critical, dispassionate return, in the spirit of the Age of Light.”

Evoking historical phases of French antisemitism, she prints a revealing, previously unpublished 1952 letter by her friend and colleague Jacques Derrida who notes that paradoxically in France, “as soon as an Antisemite is intelligent, he does not believe in his own antisemitism.” A strongly autobiographic chapter describes how as a temporary teacher of French literature in Algeria at the time of Israel’s Six Day War, Roudinesco found her school’s walls defaced with swastikas by students who knew nothing of Jewish history or the Shoah, proving to her that “antisemitism was engraved on their unconscious.”

Cited with devastatingly restrained scorn are Noam Chomsky’s approving preface to a book by Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, and the French author Renaud Camus who made headlines in 2002 by fretting that there were too many Jews on French radio. Also dealt with is French media darling Marc-Édouard Nabe Marc-Édouard Nabe who claims that because of Freud, Marx, and Einstein, whom Nabe calls the “Marx Brothers of depression,” Jews have “destroyed humanity.”

Roudinesco also points out when writers manage to find antisemitism where none exists, such American literary critic Jeffrey Mehlman, translator of one of her previous books, who went overboard in claiming that André Gide, who never wrote anything against the Jews, was nevertheless antisemitic, a notion Roudinesco persuasively rejects.

Watch Roudinesco in a November 26 appearance, with simultaneous English translation.

Watch Roudinesco in an October 2009 French TV appearance (no subtitles unfortunately).


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Defying Threats and Madoff, the AICF Marches On

By Benjamin Ivry

Visitors to the America-Israel Cultural Foundation website see bad news and good in anticipation of this year’s gala fundraiser January 10th at Carnegie Hall. The bad news, announced in a banner: “Unfortunately, the bulk of AICF’s endowments were invested with Bernard L. Madoff Securities.” The good news, AICF is one of the few charities to underestimate its own impact, since its slogan, “Building a Better Israel through the Arts,” is far too modest. Since 1939, the AICF has handed out over 100 million dollars to Israeli artists and cultural institutions, thereby making the world a better place, not just Israel.

No single concert or event can encapsulate the AICF’s full range of scholarship support in music, art & design, dance, film, and theatre. At the January 10th event, some of the most touching performances will doubtless be by veteran performers whose scholarships date back to the 1950s, like the ardent violinist Miriam Fried and the warmheartedly engaging pianist Joseph Kalichstein.

Absent at Carnegie Hall but very much present on the world scene are some still-young past recipients like the pianist Ran Dank, whose rigorous performances of Bach are in the great tradition, and the remarkable clarinetist Moran Katz who plays with transcendent passion.

Another scholarship recipient is the multi-talented actor Itay Tiran, who combines the stage presence of a younger Ewan McGregor with a moving, Broadway-style voice. The jazz scholarship program has been especially strong, supporting the pianist Alon Yavnai, an interpreter of somber grace and eloquence and the Sonny Rollins-influenced alto sax player Uri Gurvich.

The serenely masterful guitarist Gilad Hekselman aptly comments on the AICF website: “It’s great that in a country that is constantly under threat, there is an organization so devoted to the arts. It’s rare! From a culturally developed reality — peace will come.”

Watch past AICF scholarship winner Sivan Magen, a spectacularly expressive harpist who plays at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 17.

Watch past AICF scholarship winner Inbal Segev, a radiantly vigorous cellist who performs a recital on March 10 at the West Bloomfield, Michigan’s Jewish MusicFest.


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The Midas Touch of Hungarian-Jewish architect Ernö Goldfinger

By Benjamin Ivry

Long derided as a creator of “Brutalist” architecture, the Budapest-born Ernö Goldfinger in 1902 has more recently won respect and even admiration, as two London local councils opted in November 2009 to preserve the low-lying buildings which he designed near his landmark high-rise social housing Trellick Tower itself now a “listed building” of special significance.

Nicknamed “Goldfinger’s Babies,” these concrete blocks inspire new affection among some of today’s Londoners, who see them as gritty, permanently uncutesy appendages to the now-gentrified Notting Hill neighborhood. As Nigel Warburton’s charming 2003 biography “Ernö Goldfinger: The Life of an Architect” (Routledge) recounts, Goldfinger was a wealthy, hotheaded Marxist who rubbed many people the wrong way. The spy novelist Ian Fleming felt the name was suitable for a villain, and in 1959 duly baptized his arch-nogoodnik Auric Goldfinger after the architect.

In the 1930s, when Ernö Goldfinger demolished some London mews houses in the 1930s to build his own home, now a National Trust museum, (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-2willowroad), he irritated some anti-modernists, but Warburton asserts that Fleming was not among them. Whatever the motivation, the 1964 film “Goldfinger’s” theme song, co-written by the Jewish singer-songwriter Anthony Newley, who recorded an aptly creepy demo version, still echoes in everyone’s ears. Newley was replaced on the film’s soundtrack by Shirley Bassey whose endless performances of the song over 45 years have grown into Wagnerian-scale production numbers.

Goldfinger himself would soon be awakened by drunken crank callers roaring out the catchy Bond song, and this peculiar form of British pub humor continues to interrupt the sleep of his descendants who happen to be listed in the phone directory. The two Goldfingers, fictional and architectural, are inextricably intertwined, as a witty design by London artist Dean Zeus Colman, known as Zeus indicates; for London’s 2009 Portobello Film Festival, Zeus sculpted the awards in the shape of the Trellick Tower, painted in gold. Elsewhere shaped into bookends as souvenirs or used as the backdrop of music videos, the Trellick Tower may be brutalist, these British fans seem to say, but it’s our brutalism.

Watch a brief animated view of Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower below.

Watch a 2008 home video below, that shows the sometimes lamentable quality of Trellick Tower’s maintenance.


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Why Fewer Christians Are Being Born in Israel

By Nathan Jeffay

Christians have the lowest birth rate of all religious groups in Israel, official statistics reveal.

Christian women have on average two children, which is far lower than the statistic for Jewish women who have 2.9 and Muslim women who have 3.8. These statistics come from a new report by the Central Bureau of Statistics, an office of the Israeli government.

It reveals just how sharply birth rates have dropped in the Holy Land’s Christian communities in recent decades — in 1960 the corresponding figure was 4.6. This results in a Christian population that is failing to keep up with Israel’s population growth. In 1949, 2.9% of Israelis were Christian, a figure that dropped to 2.3% in 1972 and now to 2.1% (154,500 people).

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Duff Goldman: Ace or Not, a Jewish Baker of Cakes

By Benjamin Ivry

Devotees of the mouth-watering recipes for rugelach, babka, and kichel in “The Jewish Holiday Baker” (Schocken, 1997) by the eminent Joan Nathan may be reluctant to associate Jewish tradition with the toy-like, fondant-covered cake-objects produced mainly to amuse the eye by Duff Goldman’s Baltimore-based Charm City Cakes, the home of a Food Network series “Ace of Cakes.” Yet “Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes,” a new memoir from William Morrow publishers co-authored by Goldman and his TV exec brother Willie, stresses that despite his self-consciously scruffy appearance (somewhat disingenuously, his book claims that Goldman resembles a mechanic, plumber, or graffiti artist), he is ultra-traditional in terms of Jewish roots.

Scion of a Midwestern Jewish artsy family originally from the Ukraine, Goldman grew up in a Detroit suburb, raised on children’s verses by Shel Silverstein and was barmitzvahed at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, a URJ member. A post-barmitzvah trip to Israel left Goldman “inspired to achieve. Israel is full of superachievers, and the experience was very eye-opening.”

Back from Israel, Goldman was soon employed at a local outlet of a chain, “Skolniks Bagel Bakery Restaurant.” Although his book misspells the bagelry’s name as “Skolnick’s,” to this day Goldman most closely resembles an oven man at a bagel bakery, more than any graffitist or other counter-cultural aspirant. His working hipster appearance and Food Network show make him the perfect person to add a celebrity aura to the forthcoming “The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals: The Evil Monkey Dialogues” although his comments there will not reassure those looking for hechshers on his cakes.

Cultural preconceptions expressed in his memoir, like “Every Jewish kid is going to argue that his or her mom makes the best brisket” are, however, conventional in the extreme, providing a clue to the cheery charm of “Ace of Cakes,” a comfortingly self-contented exception on a network otherwise mostly devoted to crassly agitated shows about junk food, boorishly pushy restaurateurs, and all-devouring gluttons. Goldman’s dithyrambic description of his mother’s brisket can entertain even readers whose Jewish mothers were ungifted in the kitchen: “One bite and you’ll see the face of God. She even puts matzoh balls around the sides instead of dumplings or potatoes, and they absorb the gravy and throw a little party in your mouth.”

Watch Duff Goldman present his new book at a Michigan bookstore below.


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Christmas Cheer for Palestinians?

By Nathan Jeffay

Will it be a merry Christmas for Palestinian Christians this year? The answer is that it depends who you ask.

According to some the picture is bleak. Take, for example, this report about Santa having to “ditch his sleigh in Egypt and crawl through a smuggling tunnel to bring a little Christmas joy to the Gaza Strip.” Or this piece about new nativity scene sculptures on sale in Bethlehem that sum up local frustrations — they show Joseph, Mary, crib, wise men and large Israeli concrete wall with military watchtower.

Others are more upbeat. The Bintel Blog has already reported that Palestinian hotels are experiencing something of a boom. This article discusses flourishing tourism in Bethlehem, with four times the number of visitors this year than in 2007, and reports on a new event meant to draw people in — the town’s first Christmas rock concert.

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Rival Parties for Gay Jews on Christmas Eve

By Laura Sinberg

Jewish Christmas parties, such as the Matzo Ball, are geared toward straight singles. But tonight, there are also warring gay parties in New York City that are competing for the attention of Jewish gay men.

There’s the third annual “Christmas Eve Jewbilee,” thrown by Jayson Littman of He’Bro, a gay, Jewish networking site. The party will cater to the “young, gay professional” set, as Littman puts it. The gathering, at Hudson Terrace in Midtown, is 21 and up, and there is a $7 cover (10% of the proceeds will go to Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, which serves the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community in Manhattan).

Then there’s “Homo for the Holidays,”, put on by Alan Picus, for the 18 and up crowd. There is no cover and the bash will be held at Splash, a gay bar on West 17th Street.

Littman says his party is for culturally Jewish gay men, who aren’t necessarily practicing, but still want to date other Jews. However, he notes that anyone — straight, lesbians, non-Jews — can attend. “There are a lot of yarmulkes at the party,” he said. “There are Orthodox gays who come to the party. Bartenders will be wearing yarmulkes, too.”

And while you may not meet your future husband, you may just meet that special someone: “I don’t know if any marriages have come from it yet, but it’s still a new party, and marriage is still not legal in New York,” Littman said.

Both parties begin at 9 p.m. on Christmas eve.


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Gershwinning on All Fronts: An American Jewish Lyricist in Excelsis

By Benjamin Ivry

The distressing news about a battle over royalties between George and Ira Gershwin’s heirs coincides with a no less unexpected report that Beach Boy Brian Wilson has been allowed by the Gershwin Estate to complete songs left unfinished by George when he died of a brain tumor at age 38 in 1937.

Ira, who survived into his anecdotage, dying in 1983 at age 86, is being honored with a new volume in Library of America’s Poets Project, alongside Jewish modernists Muriel Rukeyser, Louis Zukofsky, Karl Shapiro and Samuel Menashe.

Ira Gershwin (born Israel Gershowitz on the Lower East Side) rates this company since, despite his assimilated, even insular approach to Tin Pan Alley craftsmanship (“Even if Roumania/ Wants to fight Albania./ I’m not upset,” from “I Can’t Be Bothered Now”) there is a recurring awareness of the Old Country in his lyrics. His parents, Moishe and Rosa, emigrated from Russia, and Ira’s patter song “Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians),” written for Danny Kaye (Born David Kaminsky to Ukrainian Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn) is a frenetic list of Russian composers, mentioned alongside Russian Jews (Joseph Rumshinsky and Dimitri Tiomkin) and even Polish Jews (Leopold Godowsky).

Integrating Jews in the New World was also evident in another song, “Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha” in which brother George’s music likewise fades out to quasi-nonexistence to better pay tribute to the “Temp’rmental Oriental Gentlemen,” the fiddlers Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, Toscha Seidel and Sascha Jacobsen (the latter being the LA Philharmonic’s concertmaster). And it’s also evident in “Freud and Jung and Adler” whose repeated names add up, according to the singing psychiatrists, to “Six sex psychos, we!” who are available “If you’re really not certain as to which your/ sex is.”

Ultimately, Ira’s Yiddishe kop is expressed in his glowing esteem for Jewish intellectual achievement, in “The Economic Situation,” ranking Benjamin Disraeli with the Ancient Greeks: “Questions that Plato and Socrates/ And Disraeli wouldn’t dare discuss.” He was a brilliant wordsmith and thoroughly deserves this brilliantly new presentation by editor Robert Kimball.

Watch the great chanteuse Frances Faye (born Frances Cohen) sing Ira Gershwin classics. The lower one introduced by Hugh Hefner.

Watch Faye and Mel Tormé (born in Chicago to a Russian Jewish family) sing Gershwin.


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Greek Jews Remembered: Resilient, Passionate, Variegated

By Benjamin Ivry

The history of Greek Jews is dizzyingly complex. Comprising both the Greek-speaking Romaniotes and the exiled Sephardim of Thessaloniki, some of whom spoke Ladino, the differing cultures are expertly distinguished in K. E. Fleming’s “Greece: A Jewish History” (Princeton University Press) of which a paperback edition is due this spring, and Steven Bowman’s new “The Agony of Greek Jews, 1940-1945” (Stanford University Press).

These and Mark Mazower’s much-praised “Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950” (Vintage, 2006) bring into focus a fascinatingly variegated population which endured near-constant persecution. Some of that population managed to escape by emigrating to America, where Romaniotes built New York’s Congregation Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue in 1927.

Among these Romaniote emigrants was the singer Amalia Vaka who gradually made a career for herself in America. Those who remained in Greece reveled in the passionate, earthy singing of the great diva Roza Eskenazi (born Sarah Skenazi in Constantinople to a Sephardi Jewish family).

While Eskenazi survived the Nazi Occupation, the vast majority of Greek Jews did not, as shown in the 1989 Willem Dafoe movie “Triumph of the Spirit,” a Hollywood version of the life of Thessaloniki-born boxer Salamo Arouch who survived Auschwitz by entertaining his bloodthirsty captors in the ring.

With a comparable kind of fighting spirit, the much-loved Israeli singer and songwriter Yehuda Poliker, the son of Auschwitz survivors from Thessaloniki, recorded “Afar Ve’avak” (Dust and Ashes), a 1988 Holocaust lament. Poliker’s music, often self-accompanied on the bouzouki, delves ever deeper into his roots.

Fleming explains that today’s Mideast turmoil has made antisemitism in Greece “in some respects…stronger than ever,” as recent headlines confirm. Yet Bowman looks optimistically to a future cultural revival based on two Jewish museums which opened a decade ago in Athens and Thessaloniki, and in the latter city, a small but ardent Jewish community still thrives, as opposed to the relatively assimilated Jews of Athens. That any Jewish culture survives in Greece is itself a miracle.

Watch a video tribute to Sephardi Jewish singer Roza Eskenazi below.

Watch Israeli performer Yehuda Poliker play the bouzouki, below.


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Why Garrison Keillor's Rant Makes Me Say 'Bah Humbug'

By Sarah Seltzer

During this most wonderful time of the year, when non-Jewish people wish me a Happy Hanukkah with a knowing look in their eyes; I refrain from saying “Seriously, it’s a minor holiday. Merry Christmas, and get back to me on Pesach.” I 100% accept the fact that Christmas is really and truly a Bigger Deal than any other winter holiday; even in New York, where bodegas stock menorahs, December 25 will dwarf all other seasonal celebrations.

But what I don’t accept is watching the vast majority of the country get psyched about Christmas while pundits complain that their day is being taken away from them. It’s enough to bring out my inner Scrooge. Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog tipped me off to this Garrison Keillor piece kvetching about the de-sanctification of Christmas by casting aspersions on Jewish songwriters contributing to the Christmas-song canon:

And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.

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Plenty of Israelis Support Right-Wing Insubordination, Poll Shows

By Nathan Jeffay

So, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the settler rabbi who was encouraging soldiers to disobey orders to dismantle outposts, appears to have backed down. But according to a surprising new poll, there are plenty of Israelis who think that insubordination in the army is okay.


Jewish Israelis were asked if they deny the right of right-wing soldiers the option of refusing to participate in evacuating Jewish settlements in the territories. Some 29% of respondents agree to soldiers taking this route; 63% were against. There was also strong support for left-wing soldiers refusing to serve in the territories, with 18% of respondents supporting them and 77% coming out against. 



The really fascinating thing about this poll, a monthly Tel Aviv University “War and Peace Index,” is that it shows support for left-wingers refusing to serve in the territories is strong among a group that rarely shows much sympathy for the left — Haredim. With 32% of respondents this community endorsing this “right,” support was higher here than among the religious (31%), the traditional (20%) and the secular (12%). In fact, given that most left-wingers refusing to serve in the territories are secular, all these statistics are surprising. 



So what is going on here? The breakdown of support for subordination by right-wing soldiers may offer a clue. Here the rates of support stand at 66% among the Haredim, 50% among the religious, 25% among the traditional, and 12% among the secular. What we seem to see is a surprising case of right-to-left solidarity, with the two groups most strongly in support of right-wing insubordination rallying behind left-wing insubordination in a bid to be consistent.


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A Painter of Rabbinic Primal Screams: Boston Expressionist Hyman Bloom

By Benjamin Ivry

Art lovers have until January 24 to catch a compelling exhibit at the Yeshiva University Museum, “Hyman Bloom: A Spiritual Embrace.”

Originating at Massachusetts’s Danforth Museum of Art the show focuses on Bloom, one of the key Boston Expressionists examined in “Boston Modern: Figurative Expressionism as Alternative Modernism” by Judith Bookbinder (University of New Hampshire Press, 2005).

In tragically majestic, angst-ridden canvases, several entitled simply “Rabbi With Torah” (undated, cat. 48; c. 1995-2005, cat. 41; 1999, cat. 46) viewers can see a Jewish parallel to Francis Bacon’s “Three Screaming Popes.” Bloom’s painterly primal screams hardly lessen in power as the painter advances into great old age. Misprized early on by both admirers and detractors, Bloom was prematurely dubbed by critic Clement Greenberg as “America’s Greatest Living Painter” in the 1940s, while in the ‘50s, Hilton Kramer nastily commented that seeing Bloom’s work in a gallery was like “finding gefilte fish at a fashionable party…You can smell the pastrami.”

Both extreme appraisals missed the point. Born Hyman Melamed in Brunaviški, a Latvian village, Bloom emigrated with his family to Boston’s West End in 1920. There he was taught by the noted art instructor Harold Zimmerman, who stressed painting from memory, an approach which turned out to be ideal for an aspiring visionary like Bloom. Choosy about his friendships (Bloom’s closest ally and patron was the even longer-lived A. Stone Freedberg, Bloom was an ardent fan of hazanut, especially the famous cantor Pierre Pinchik, whose “Hassidic fervor” galvanized Bloom.

Ever in search of ecstasy, Bloom also studied Flamenco and Tibetan music, learned to play the sitar, and even took LSD. This offbeat mix made for unusual results, as his longtime art dealer Terry Dintenfass implied in an interview when she claimed that Bloom was the “most beautiful man I know in the whole world except for Ornette Coleman. He’s a very strange man.” Juxtaposing the innovative jazzman Coleman with Bloom rings true. Both created stunning riffs on familiar themes, rendering them strange and sometimes unsettling.

Watch below a trailer for a new short documentary, Angélica Brisk’s “Hyman Bloom: The Beauty of All Things.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Pierre Pinchik, Hilton Kramer, Hyman Bloom, Ornette Coleman, A. Stone Freedberg, Clement Greenberg

Cartoon Shows Sen. Lieberman Killing Santa

By Gabrielle Birkner

No one is accusing Sen. Lieberman of Christ-killing. Santa-killing, well, that’s a different story. See Bob Englehart’s recent Hartford Courant cartoon here.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Joseph Lieberman



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