Bintel Blog

Jews are Clever, Make Different Movies

By Dan Friedman

Brazil is not only home to the Jules Rimet trophy, Copacabana beach, Carnaval and the frighteningly militarized favelas portrayed in “City of God,” it’s also the location of an old and respected Yiddish community. Now Jose de Abreu is making a Yiddish-speaking film — “Where Pigs Eat Oranges” — about Jewish immigration from Czarist Russia (Bessarabia) to Brazil, in 1904. Supported by the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA), Jewish immigrants founded the first organized agricultural colony in Brazil, called Philippson Colony (in the Brazilian pampa). The film takes its name from a phrase in a JCA pamphlet encouraging immigration.

It’s written by Marcos Bernstein who wrote the screenplay for “Central Station” — the poignant 1998 film nominated for an Oscar. At $10m, the budget is extensive by Brazilian standards, and includes building a shtetl in Paulinia-Sao Paulo State, and the Philippson Colony will be shot where things really happened, in a farm in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul State. All he needs now are some Yiddish-speaking children to film next year!

Meanwhile, in Turkey, Selim Çiprut has already made his film “Süpürrr!” (”SweePPP!”) about, of all things, curling. You know, men with brushes skating very slowly down a strip of ice trying to encourage large chunks of stone to end up close to each other: aka Canada’s second national sport. The film will be released December 18 in Turkey and thereafter on DVD with English subtitles in February.

Selim did not refer to “Cool Runnings” — the film about a Jamaican bobsled team — but, until the DVD comes out I’m imagining that a Turkish film about curling may be going for that same counter-intuitive cute niche. When asked why on earth a Turkish Jewish filmmaker would make a film about curling, Selim replied: “Turkish Jews make curling movies, because we like to create something extraordinary, like curling. Jews are clever, make different movies.”

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An ‘Unmistaken Child’ Crosses the USA

By Benjamin Ivry

Released in June from Oscilloscope Distribution, the documentary “Unmistaken Child” by Jerusalem-born Nati Baratz, a graduate of Tel-Aviv University’s Film School, continues its triumphal march across America, with scheduled screenings in Honolulu (Sept. 9); Cleveland (Sept. 11); Great Barrington, MA (Sept. 11); Key West (Sept. 11); and San Francisco (Sept. 13), and further showings into the winter.

Patiently filmed over five and a half years, “Unmistaken Child” tells the story of a search for the reincarnation of an eminent, recently dead Tibetan master by his disciple, who had been his companion since the age of seven. With a notably spare style and absence of narration, the film expresses the emotional clarity of the disciple, Tenzin Zopa, as he searches through tiny Tibetan villages. While there is plenty here to please JuBus, the film does not over-idealize its subject, and when the reincarnation is found in the form of a pudgy little boy, he howls with outrage when his head is ritually shaved, and shows less than reverent respect when presented to the Dalai Lama.

Baratz, who previously directed two documentary shorts, “Tel Aviv-Kyrgyzstan” (2001) and “Noches”(2004), first went to Nepal to research a film on a group of Orthodox Jews who are seeking a hidden Jewish tribe in Tibet. There he met Tenzin Zopa and, after asking permissions, was allowed to film a record of the quest for the reincarnation. Although not stated explicitly, the Tibetan approach of nonviolence (when possible) and loving their enemies powerfully captured the imagination of Baratz, himself born in a region where quite different approaches are more often the rule.

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Jeffrey Goldberg and Michael Chabon on Sandler’s ‘Zohan’: ‘The Worst Movie’ But Quite Enjoyable

By Daniel Treiman

Not to be too self-referential (as if there’s any such thing), but I’d just like to point out that in my recent paean to Adam Sandler’s (goyish) wit and (Jewish) wisdom, I rendered the following verdict: “‘You Don’t Mess With the Zohan’ is a stupid movie; I couldn’t stop laughing.”

Now, I’m happy to report, actual famous people with actual accomplishments to their names are actually expressing similar sentiments. New Yorker writer turned Atlantic uber-Jew Jeffrey Goldberg reports on his incessantly Jew-y blog:

You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is the worst movie I’ve ever seen, though it was better than Munich.

Okay, I liked it. So what? Who doesn’t like a hummus joke? Or 37 hummus jokes? It turns out that Michael Chabon also thought it was the worst movie he’s ever seen, and he enjoyed it very much as well….

You can enjoy Chabon and Goldberg’s silly e-mail exchange on the topic here.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan


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Casting Call: Coen Bros. ISO Bar Mitzvah Boy, Nose-Job Seeker, Wise Rabbi

By Daniel Treiman

Minneapolis’s Star-Tribune reports that native sons made good (filmmakers), the Coen brothers, are holding a casting call at the JCC in their hometown of St. Louis Park:

Their new film “A Serious Man,” about a Midwestern Jewish family in the late 1960s, will hold an open casting call to fill those roles with performers from the community. No acting experience is required.

The roles are Danny Gopnik (a boy preparing for his bar mitzvah), Sarah Gopnik (a typical teenager obssessed with getting a nose job) and Rabbi Marshak (the wise emeritus rabbi at the synagogue).

The paper has the details.


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Woody Allen in Eilat?

By Daniel Treiman

Israeli news site Y-Net reports that Woody Allen is expected to go to to the Israeli Red Sea resort town of Eilat for its film festival. The thought of the consummate New York nebbish in Eilat brings to mind that scene in “”Annie Hall” of a very uncomfortable Woody Allen in sunny Southern California.

I wonder if Woody will go scuba diving? Maybe Israel’s uber-aggressive paparazzi will manage to get some pictures of him in the scuba gear. I only hope that American Apparel has learned its lesson and doesn’t even think of plastering any such pictures on billboards.


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American Apparel to Woody: We’re Sorry (and We’re Parodists)

By Daniel Treiman

American Apparel is apologizing to Woody Allen after he filed a $10 million lawsuit against the trendy T-shirt monger for its unauthorized use of an image of him dressed in Hasidic garb on a pair of billboards.

“We deeply admire Woody Allen as a filmmaker and an inspiring social and political satirist,” the company said in a press release. “We sincerely regret offending him in any way.”

But, given that words are cheap and lawsuits are expensive, American Apparel also tried to cover its tuchus from legal standpoint, claiming that the billboards featuring the image of Allen (filched from his film “Annie Hall”) were not, in fact, intended to sell underwear, but were rather “meant strictly as a social parody.”

The question, of course, is what aspect of society, exactly, were the underwear-purveying parodists parodying?

Could it be, given that an American Apparel rep had originally told the Forward, “Woody Allen is our spiritual leader,” the billboards were an ever-so-ironic commentary on the company’s own social and spiritual shortcomings? But that would be more satire than parody.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Film, Fashion, Woody Allen, American Apparel

Woody Allen v. American Apparel

By Daniel Treiman

The holy rebbe is pissed.

Last spring, trendy underwear maker American Apparel, known for its sexually charged advertising, put up a pair of billboard ads that were unusually tame.

The billboards, in Los Angeles and New York, featured an image of Woody Allen dressed as a Hasidic Jew from his masterpiece Annie Hall, alongside Yiddish script that read “der heyliker rebe” (“the holy rebbe”). At the time, an American Apparel spokeswoman explained to the Forward, “Woody Allen is our spiritual leader.”

Only one problem: It seems American Apparel didn’t get Woody Allen’s permission first — and so the ads came down as quickly as they went up.

Now, the Associated Press reports, the nebbish-y movie-maker is getting even: He’s filed a $10 million lawsuit in federal court against the edgy shmatte maker.

We’ll have to see how the folks at American Apparel feel about their spiritual leader now.

Hat tip: Brad Greenberg’s God Blog.


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Brooks and Black on Blondes and Bar Mitzvahs

By Daniel Treiman

The New York Post’s Page Six features these two celebrity quotes today:

“”YES, I have always loved a good blonde, and who wouldn’t?” — Mel Brooks

“PART of the bar mitzvah is that you become a man supposedly at 13 years old. And as I was a man, I decided never to go to a synagogue again” — Jack Black.

Jewcy’s Izzy Grinspan says: “Are ‘Be Kind Rewind’ funnyman Jack Black’s feelings about his Bar Mitzvah really gossip-worthy? The New York Post seems to think so.”

So apparently does she (as, apparently, do I).

Incidentally, last year readers of the Jewish Teen ’zine JVibe gave Black its “Award for Best Singer/Group You Wish Would Refer More To Being Jewish.”

UPDATE: Last week’s London Jewish Chronicle had a silly pro-con assessment of Black’s “Semitic qualities.”


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Natalie Portman Says She and Scarlett Johansson are the ‘Hot Knishes’

By Daniel Treiman

Natalie Portman speaks at length with the Times of London about a variety of topics, including her dating patterns, why being an only child made her career possible and why Stephen Fry was her all-time favorite co-star.

She also touched on her Jewish identity. Asked whether her ethnic background has been a stabilizing influence, she replies:

Absolutely. I identify very strongly as Jewish, but I could be Indian, Puerto Rican … Anything that gives you a cultural identity makes you know who you are and grounds you, even as a young girl trying on identities.

Portman is, of course, starring with fellow Jewish starlet Scarlett Johansson (Jewish on her mom’s side, Danish on her dad’s) in the upcoming “The Other Boleyn Girl” — a project that is certain to stoke an unprecedented level of interest in the 16th-century British monarchy among young Jewish men. Her interviewer noted that when Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek co-starred in a movie they were dubbed the “hot tamales” (weirdly, since Penelope Cruz is Spanish, not Mexican), and asked Portman what the media would call her pairing with Johansson. Portman’s answer: “The Hot Knishes.”


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Neurotics of the World Unite!: Larry David To Star in Woody Allen’s Next Film

By Daniel Treiman

Entertainment Weekly reports:

Larry David, the mind behind Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, is set to be the lead in Woody Allen’s next, as-yet-untitled feature, which is scheduled to shoot in New York City in the spring. Plot details are being kept under wraps, but David will act alongside Evan Rachel Wood.

E.W. notes that the film will be a sort of homecoming for Allen, who shot his previous three movies in England and an upcoming one in Spain. But will Woody and Larry find that the New York that nurtured their neuroses no longer exists?

UPDATE: Evan Rachel Wood is also one of us.


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But Will They Split the Jewish Vote?

By Alana Newhouse

The Academy Awards have been announced and two films with Jewish content received nods in the foreign-language category: “Beaufort” http://www.kino.com/beaufort/], a film about Israeli soldiers in Southern Lebanon by Israeli director Joseph Cedar, and the upcoming release “The Counterfeiters” based on the true story of Salomon Sorowitsch, known as “Hitler’s Jewish counterfeiter.” We previewed the latter film when it debuted in German cinemas.


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Sneak Peek: The Bielski Brothers on the Silver Screen

By Alana Newhouse

Have a look here at the trailer for “Defiance,” Ed Zwick’s take on the story of the Bielski brothers, who organized what is widely considered to have been the largest group of Jewish partisans during World War II. The movie stars Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, among others, and is set for release in late 2008.

Hat tip: Ricky Bell-Peled, my long-lost friend from high school and a grand-niece of the Bielski brothers.


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Woody Allen’s New York, RIP

By Daniel Treiman

For the past half-decade, New York City has been consumed by a frenzy of greed. A whirlwind of out-of-context development, anarchic “architecture” and a virus-like proliferation of chain stores that has ravaged the cityscape. Property owners, not satisfied with rents and property values that have already soared into the stratosphere, instead are all too often determined to squeeze every last dollar out of their land that they legally (and in some cases illegally) can — aesthetics be damned. Historic and under-protected neighborhoods from the Lower East Side to the Upper West Side to low-rise Brooklyn have been devastated, historic buildings ripped down and replaced by “luxury condo” towers, which are, as often as not, either thoroughly banal or outright hideous to look at. The city government, for its part, has largely failed to leverage the manifold opportunities provided by New York’s newfound prosperity to protect the idea of the city beautiful. The result is that walking the streets of New York has become more than a little heartbreaking, a sense of loss accompanying every vista.

So it’s not surprising that a quintessential New Yorker like Woody Allen would be a little sad nowadays; the city he lovingly immortalized in his films is being despoiled. In an interview with the Daily News, Woody Allen succinctly sums up the trouble with the new New York:

There are certain areas that have not been encroached upon too much — Carnegie Hill, the West Village, Tudor City, places that are still lovely to look at. But once they put up those big new buildings, it looks the same as Houston.

I’ve been in fights and gone to City Hall and Landmark Commission and neighborhood planning [events]. There are always lovely things being torn down and huge, profitable things put up. I’m not against development, but I am against it when it’s not a plus for the city, and the plus can’t always be equated with financial profit.


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ADL ‘Accepts’ Will Smith’s Clarification, JDL Supports Writers’ Strike

By Daniel Treiman

So the Anti-Defamation League has finally weighed in on L’Affaire Will Smith, and, I have to say, its statement is a little disappointing.

To recap: Will Smith, speaking off the cuff to a Scottish newspaper, suggested — quite reasonably — that Hitler was driven by a “twisted” notion of what he thought was “good.” The militant Jewish Defense League pounced, accusing the Hollywood star of saying that Hitler was a good person and having “spit on the memory of every person murdered by the Nazis.” Gossip sites joined in the frenzy, and Smith ended up issuing a clarification, attacking those who had distorted his words and calling Hitler “vile.”

Instead of calling out those who rush to defame celebrities over innocent mistakes, the ADL hailed Smith’s clarification and lectured that “celebrities bear a special responsibility to weigh their words carefully.” Everything in the ADL’s statement is true, but the emphasis seems off.

Decide for yourself whether the ADL struck the right note. Here’s the statement from ADL chief Abraham Foxman:

We welcome and accept Will Smith’s statement that Hitler was a ‘vicious killer’ and that he did not mean for his remarks about the Nazi leader to be mistaken as praise. Once Smith realized that his remarks may have been misunderstood, he took immediate steps to clarify his words and unequivocally condemn Hitler as an evil person. We would have expected no less from a celebrity of his standing in the strata of Hollywood stardom.

Unfortunately, in citing Hitler in what appears to be a positive context, Smith stirred up a hornet’s nest on the Internet, where hate groups and anti-Semites latched on to the remark and praised it. If anything, this episode serves as a reminder of the power of words, and how words can be twisted by those with hate and bigotry in their hearts to suit their own worldview. This is why all celebrities bear a special responsibility to weigh their words carefully, and an obligation to speak out against racism and bigotry whenever even a whiff of it appears, as Will Smith has done in this instance.

Incidentally, the JDL also welcomed and accepted Smith’s clarification — and used the occasion to weigh in on the Hollywood writers’ strike:

Will Smith’s apology is enough for us to call off JDL’s request for non-attendance of his motion picture, I Am Legend. We also have no problem with anyone who wishes to employ him.

In a related matter, the Jewish Defense League supports the Hollywood writers and hopes the strike is settled soon so that Smith, a very talented actor, can continue doing what he does so well.

Dallas Morning News religion blogger Jeffrey Weiss thinks that Smith actually raised “an interesting question” about Hitler. Alas, the message most celebrities will take away from this whole incident: Don’t raise interesting questions.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Will Smith, Film, ADL, JDL, Abraham Foxman, Writers' Strike

Will Smith Is No Hitler-Lover (and Will Someone Please Get TMZ.com a Subscription to the Forward)

By Daniel Treiman

In October, it was Halle Berry. She found herself in the celebrity hot seat, apologizing profusely following an innocent, if clumsy, remark that only the most hysterical among us would view as evidence of antisemitism.

This month, apparently, it’s Will Smith’s turn.

In a rambling interview published in Scotland’s Daily Record, Smith was quoted as saying:

Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘let me do the most evil thing I can do today.’ I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was ‘good’. Stuff like that just needs reprogramming.

Now, did Smith choose his words as precisely as he might have? Maybe not. But was he basically correct? Of course. Hitler clearly had a vision of what he thought would be a “good” society. Sure, it was a sick and twisted vision, but that’s precisely what Smith was saying.

Regrettably, and utterly predictably, the fringe Jewish Defense League pounced on Smith, accusing him of having “spit on the memory of every person murdered by the Nazis” (and, weirdly, calling on Barack Obama to repudiate the “I Am Legend” star’s words). Equally predictably, gossip sites have shamelessly milked this non-story for all it’s worth.

Hollywood gossip powerhouse TMZ.com ran a particularly ridiculous item, under the ever-so-tasteful headline “Will Smith – Hitler, Schmitler; He Wasn’t That Bad.” TMZ — which clearly isn’t too up on the Jewish organizational landscape — referred in its post to the JDL as “a leading Jewish group.” Of course, if the folks at TMZ read the Forward, they’d know that the JDL is in no way “a leading Jewish group,” although it does rhyme with one. (Alas, TMZ isn’t the only news outlet taking the JDL statement seriously.)

Now poor Will Smith has had to issue an indignant clarification, reiterating that Hitler is, in fact, bad:

It is an awful and disgusting lie. It speaks to the dangerous power of an ignorant person with a pen. I am incensed and infuriated to have to respond to such ludicrous misinterpretation. Adolph Hitler was a vile, heinous, vicious killer responsible for one of the greatest acts of evil committed on this planet.


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Borat, R.I.P.?

By Daniel Treiman

Will we be seeing much more of Borat, Sacha Caron Cohen’s uproariously un-P.C. Kazakh journalist character? It seems unlikely, judging from an interview that Baron Cohen gave to The Daily Telegraph.

“When I was being Ali G and Borat I was in character sometimes 14 hours a day and I came to love them, so admitting I am never going to play them again is quite a sad thing,” Baron Cohen said. “It is like saying goodbye to a loved one. It is hard, and the problem with success, although it’s fantastic, is that every new person who sees the Borat movie is one less person I ‘get’ with Borat again, so it’s a kind of self-defeating form, really.”

No more Borat could mean less business for Baron Cohen’s lawyers, what with all the people who sued the comedian for duping them in his 2006 film, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

“Since last year I’ve been sued by about 3,000 people,” said Baron Cohen. “Some of the letters I get are quite unusual, like the one where the lawyer informed me I’m about to be sued for $100,000 and at the end says, “P.S. Loved the movie. Can you sign a poster for my son Jeremy?’”

Then again, Baron Cohen has a new film in the works in which he gives his hilarious gay Austrian reporter Bruno a turn on the silver screen. So his attorneys shouldn’t kick off their wingtips just yet.

Hat tip: Max Gross


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‘Tribe’ Tops iTunes

By Aram David

Just months after winning awards and garnering critical acclaim at film festivals, “The Tribe,” a documentary on what it means to be Jewish in the 21st-century has moved to #1 on the iTunes top-selling short films list.

The 18-minute film chronicles the modern Jewish American experience through archival footage, graphics and animation and is downloadable from the iTunes Store for $1.99.


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Peter Coyote Fills Abba Eban’s Shoes

By Aram David

The Tribe, a film that has made its way around the festival circuit in the past year and chronicles the modern American Jewish experience through archival footage and animation has finally made its way to iTunes. The 18-minute short film is now downloadable for $1.99.

The plot summary from iTunes:

What can the most successful doll on the planet show us about being Jewsih today? Narrated by Peter Coyote, the film mixes old school narration with a new school visual style. The Tribe weaves together archival footage, graphics, animation, Barbie dioramas, and slam poetry to take audiences on an electric ride through the complex history of both the Barbie doll and the Jewish people- from Biblical times to present day. By tracing Barbie’s history, the film sheds light on the questions: What does it mean to be an American Jew today? What does it mean to be a member of any tribe in the 21st Century.


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Leni Online

By Daniel Treiman

Back in May, our Gabriel Sanders interviewed Leni Riefenstahl biographer Steven Bach at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. The interview has since been broadcast on C-Span and is now available online.

The broadcast includes a short excerpt from the filmmaker’s 1938 documentary “Olympia” and — at the tail end — a question from Gabriel’s father, Ivan.


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Scarlett on Woody: ‘We Have a Lot in Common’

By Daniel Treiman

She’s a sultry starlet. He’s a neurotic nebbish. But really Scarlett Johansson and Woody Allen are just two peas in a pod, the actress tells USA Today:

“I just adore Woody,” she says. “We have a lot in common. We’re New Yorkers, Jewish. We have a very easygoing relationship.

“I’ve seen things like, ‘Are you his new muse?’ Yeah, I go over at 2 a.m. and make him grilled cheese sandwiches, and he writes. Ha. It’s just a very easy friendship.

“Any girl my age has a fondness in the most innocent way for older men their fathers’ age. It’s like your father, and I’m close with my dad.”

Johansson also drops the following bombshell revelation:

She doesn’t deny she appeals to many men.

Other tidbits: Scarlett loves her mom, she and Natalie Portman enjoyed working with each other, and she plans to go to Iraq to entertain the troops.

Read the full article.


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