True or not, Eskimos are famed for having 40 words for snow: Jews on the other hand have Yiddish — a whole language for being funny, featuring a vowel combination that is synonymous with hilarity.
That turns out to be handy because Jews — at least American Jews who don’t have to worry about anti-Semitism either violent or genteel or about existential threats to their country — now value humor more highly than observance of Jewish religious law.
Never mind Rabbi Susan Silverman and her quest to pray at the Kotel, let’s embrace the far more authentically Jewish jokes of her cross-wearing sister.
According to the massive Pew survey out today, 42% of American Jews think that having a good sense of humor is what it means to be Jewish.
That’s about the same as the 43% who think you need to care about Israel but more than twice as many as those who think you need to observe Jewish law (19%).
It’s good that those 42% do have a good sense of humor because they can have a chuckle at the 34% of American Jews who think that believing Jesus was the messiah is compatible with being Jewish. Denying the Inquisition and refusing to bow to a millennium of Christian oppression is so passé. Dying for your beliefs is so Old World, so quaintly European.
There’s a classic story in my family about the time many years ago when we sat around the table at Aunt Sarah’s house loudly debating what it meant to be a Jew in America. Bubbe Esther, my husband’s grandmother, sat quietly in the corner until someone thought to ask her.
How do you define being a Jew, Bubbe?
I’ll never forget her answer: A Jew is what a Jew does.
For the religiously observant, Yiddish-speaking immigrants of her generation, the outlines of what “doing Jewish” meant were clear and defined. But no such clarity existed for my generation, and my children’s. Ever since I became editor of the Forward in 2008, I became more and more convinced that too many people claimed to speak for American Jews politically, religiously and culturally without much proof for their assertions. The surveys that existed were suspect. The last major one, the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, was so rife with problems that the version expected in 2010 was cancelled.
There’s a reason why this was a long, complicated and expensive undertaking: Jews comprise such a small percentage of the American population but are so diverse and dispersed that surveyors must reach out to an incredible number of people just to ascertain a representative sample. An even larger task was deciding how to categorize Jews. Are we a religion? An ethnic group? A modern tribe? All of the above?
That’s when I approached some folks I knew at the Pew Research Center with the idea of conducting one of their trademark national surveys on a group they’d never researched in the past in such detail — American Jews. Or, as Pew refers to us, Jewish Americans.
We’ve got Anne ‘n’ Andy in this week’s quiz — Anne Frank and Andy Samberg, that is, both busy, as well as a peek at what may or may not be a real show: “Downton Rebbe.” And somehow Mariano Rivera made it in, too!
A group of people partakes in violence to prevent a rival group from praying in a site that is deemed holy to both. The authorities in charge of the area restrict access to this revered spot and forbid the second group to enter because of fears of upcoming violent disturbances.
At first glance, one would harshly condemn the police decision as violence should not be rewarded and used as a tool of intimidation. However, this scene is quite ordinary in on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where Palestinian rioters throw stones and other objects at Israeli police and at Jewish worshipers below at the Western Wall.
The current status quo on the Temple Mount must change with both Jews and Muslims allowed to worship freely at this holy area for both religions.
“We reject these religious visits. Our duty is to warn,” said Sheik Ekrima Sabri, who oversees Muslim affairs in Jerusalem, using the Arabic name for the Temple Mount. “If they want to make peace in the region, they should stay away from Al-Aqsa.”
It is true that the Dome of the Rock is considered the world’s third holiest site to Muslims after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. However, this is not a justification to prevent other worshippers from different religions to pray at this same spot. Jews consider this land their holiest area as they believe that the first and second temples were built here in addition to other important events in their collective history.
Ahmed Tibi, an influential Arab Member of Knesset announced that Palestinians would see an increase in Jews visiting the Temple Mount as a “declaration of war.” Tibi continued saying, “The occupation is temporary and the government in East Jerusalem is temporary. The crusaders passed, the British passed, and so will the Israelis.”
Such a sentiment is an insult to Jews worldwide. The Jewish attachment to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount spans thousands of years with significant archeological evidence demonstrating the Jews’ strong ties.
Guess who sent me an email from her attic — er, I mean, loft? My post here last Thursday about Hipster Anne Frank’s tasteless tweets didn’t sit well with her, and she wanted to let me know. She wrote me saying that I had gotten her all wrong.
The email arrived two days after she called me a “Jew hater” on Twitter, which she must have meant ironically… right?
Her email was addressed to me and to writers and editors at Time and the Atlantic, who wrote follow ups to my original story. Hipster Anne Frank carbon copied some folks over at Jezebel, Jewcy, Heeb and Tablet for good measure, possibly because she knows them — or is one of them. Whoever she is, she knows the online addresses for Jewish hipness. I’m fairly certain our tweeter is Jewish based on her reference to “our [my italics] cultural comedic tradition of addressing oppression in seemingly ‘distasteful’ ways.” But at this point, I don’t really know who is behind the twitter handle. That’s because Hipster Anne Frank didn’t break character in writing to me.
I was seriously considering cutting Hipster Anne Frank a little bit of slack after reading her message. She made some good points about Anne Frank having had a sense of humor and an appreciation for popular culture, and about Jews’ historical use of dark humor to get through difficult times. I totally got what she meant when she wrote, “What I feel bad about is that most young people today only know me as that lucky young girl who Justin Bieber visited while on tour in Amsterdam.”
Parliamentary elections are held in Austria on Sept. 29 and polls suggest that the far right-wing Freedom Party will achieve one of the best results in its history — and may even shake the governing coalition.
The Freedom Party has mostly been shunned by Jewish voters because it grew out of a federation of former Nazis and has been accused of pandering to xenophobia – with one notable exception.
David Lasar is a Jew, the son of a Holocaust survivor — and a candidate for the Freedom Party. Lasar, 60, of Vienna, was elected a council member for Vienna’s local parliament in 2005 on a Freedom Party ticket, where he focuses on health care issues.
“The FPO is the only party that cares for the man on the street,” said Mr Lasar, a trader by profession .
The Freedom Party holds an anti-immigration stance and is trying to capitalize on surging rejection of bailouts of teetering southern European nations within the European Union.
“Love those that are close to you. To me, those are our Austrians,” one of the party’s current campaign posters reads, featuring party leader Heinz Christian Strache, 44.
It was a Simchat Torah celebration that surely most of the Hasidim walking past had never before witnessed: hundreds of liberal Jews, men and women, young children and the middle-aged, dancing together with Torah scrolls held aloft. Revelers twirled round and round in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, just outside the entrance to Prospect Park.
“Simchat Torah Across Brooklyn,” as the event was dubbed by creator Joshua Breitzer, the cantor at Park Slope Reform Congregation Beth Elohim, became a nexus for Brooklyn Jewry as streimel-topped Satmar Hasidim walked past en route between Williamsburg and Boro Park and fedora-clad Chabad Hasidim walked by — a few stopping to observe the festivities — on their trek from other parts of Brooklyn to Crown Heights.
Close to 300 people responded on the event’s Facebook page that they would come. But several hundred more actually showed up. Many were members of some of the co-sponsoring synagogues and minyamin, which included Reform congregations Beth Elohim and Union Temple, Progressive Temple Beth Ahavath Sholom and Temple Beth Emeth v’Ohr to Conservative congregations Park Slope Jewish Center and the Flatbush & Shaare Torah Jewish Center.
Members of independent congregations Kolot Chayeinu and Congregation Mt. Sinai came, like some from Shir Hama’alot, Brooklyn Jews and Moishe House Park Slope, as did folks from congregations and minyans which declined to become formal co-sponsors, some because they are Orthodox and the gathering used musical instruments. There were also many in attendance who aren’t affiliated with a religious community.
You know what happens when someone achieves iconic status? People forget they were a real person before they became an icon. And when people forget this important fact, things can get really ugly.
Case in point: Anne Frank.
I’m referring specifically to the new Hipster Anne Frank (@HipstrAnneFrank) Twitter account. The tagline: “bestselling memoirist/loft dweller/voice of a generation.” (Facebook beat Twitter to it —there’s been a Hipster Anne Frank page since 2011, not to mention the Hipster Hitler page, which has been around since the year before that.)
Yeah, I get it. It’s all about applying the ironic to the iconic. Problem is, it isn’t funny in the least.
Here are some of the posts:
My skinny jeans are the skinniest.
Levi and Yisroel Pekar have asked thousands of people, “Are you Jewish?” in their years of conducting street outreach for the Chabad movement during Sukkot.
Since the twins mainly operate in New York City, it should come as no surprise that they have shaken the lulav with some famous Jews over the years. Like Natalie Portman and Jon Stewart (or so the Pekars claim).
Levi Pekar’s brush with Natalie Portman dates back to 2009, or so he estimates.
“I was walking on Broadway,” said Levi Pekar. “This woman stopped. She was averagely dressed, nothing special.”
Levi Pekar asked her if she’d like to shake the lulav: “She thought about it and said yes.”
“When she was walking away, a guy I was with, his mouth was agape,” continued Levi. “He said, ‘That was Natalie Portman! The famous Jewish Israeli actress.’”
A year later, Yisroel supposedly encountered Jon Stewart in Midtown at Chabad’s “mitzvah truck,” which is billed as the largest mobile sukkah in the world. Stewart walked into the sukkah, Levi recounted, and his brother administered the blessing.
When Yisroel said he recognized Stewart from somewhere, Stewart looked uncomfortable and quickly left, Levi said. A Daily Show fan who happened to be in the truck as well told the brothers whom they had just encountered.
These celebrity run-ins didn’t make much of a difference to the brothers, Levi said. “I don’t care what a person’s financial statement or PR statement is. It’s about sharing the mitzvot.”
At the start of President Barack Obama’s presidency, he announced a “pivot towards Asia” after years of American military and political resources being bogged down in the Middle East.
Obama’s speech Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly shows how clearly the pendulum has swung back. Although he referred to Iran, Syria Israel, and Palestine a combined 71 times, Obama only mentioned China once. He left out other Asian nations such as India, Japan, and North Korea altogether. This imbalance speaks volumes about Obama’s understanding that in the current era it is nearly impossible to avoid the volatile Middle East.
The speech also highlighted his abandonment of democratization and human rights as supreme values, replaced with a Henry Kissinger-style Realpolitik.
When addressing the Syrian crisis, Obama asked rhetorically how the United Nations and United States have handled this delicate affair. His underwhelming response: “We believe that as a starting point the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons.”
Gone was the rhetoric calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s immediate removal from power. The stated root for this policy is also illuminating, “I did so (supported intervention) because I believe it is in the national security interests of the United States and in the interest of the world.” His main focus is American security interests and global norms.
Obama continued by outlying his doctrine using American military power: if America’s allies in the region are attacked, oil flow disrupted, terrorist bases built, or weapons of mass destruction utilized. The president pointedly avoided promising that the U.S. would will use force to prevent genocide or to end a human rights massacre like in Syria. Translation: Obama is giving free rein to Assad to continue slaughtering his own people. Just don’t use chemical weapons or stop the flow of oil to Chicago or Los Angeles.
Many people know the story of how the King of Denmark donned a yellow star to identify with his Jewish subjects. But few people know that the story is a myth.
The tale is probably best known because of a scene in Leon Uris’s “Exodus,” published in 1958, in which an underground radio transmission reports that King Christian X “himself will wear the first Star of David and he expects that every loyal Dane will do the same.”
In 2001, the story made it to Congress, when Rep. Gary Ackerman lauded the Danish king and his fellow Danes for donning a yellow armband to foil the Nazi roundup of Denmark’s Jews.
“They were not Jews,” Ackerman said of Denmark’s citizens. “They were human beings.”
The myth has several versions. The most inspiring image has King Christian riding on horseback through the streets of Copenhagen while wearing the yellow star.
In fact, Danish Jews were never required to wear a yellow armband or a star, so the Danish king had no need to wear the star either.
No one knows where or how the story originated, but it predates by at least one year the attempted roundup of Denmark’s Jewish community.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority who is known as Abu Mazen, met Sept. 23 with American Jewish leaders, at a dinner hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. There were plenty of former ambassadors, members of Congress, diplomats and dignitaries — former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright identified herself as “also a former person” — and even some currently in office. Martin Indyk, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, for instance. Not to forget Wolf Blitzer.
It was a friendly crowd. All but we journalists (who stayed decidedly neutral) went to great lengths to express admiration for Abbas’s attempts at negotiations and support for a two-state solution. Again and again, it was noted that a strong majority of Israelis and Palestinians favor this outcome.
But Abbas has a more difficult task of persuasion within his own family. One of his sons, it turns out, is not a believer.
Sarah Silverman can always figure out how to yank our chains — so what did she do on a recent talk show? For that matter, what did Bob Dylan just do (but not on a talk show)? And what does the new kosher cell phone do? Take the quiz to find out!
Why did the Holocaust fail so spectacularly in Denmark while it succeeded in so many European countries? The peculiarities of the German occupation of Denmark may provide a clue.
Denmark surrendered almost immediately after being invaded in April 1940, and agreed to cooperate with Germany. In return, the Nazis installed a plenipotentiary as supreme commander in Copenhagen, and allowed the Danish government to maintain its sovereignty.
Then, as now, Danes had a strong social democracy. They viewed their well-integrated Jewish neighbors as equal citizens. Any attempt by the Nazis to single out Jews for special treatment was fiercely opposed by the Danish government.
Jews “were never seen as something different from just being Danes,” said Peter Taksoe-Jensen, Denmark’s current ambassador to the United States.
While other European Jews were being deported to death camps from 1942, Danish Jews continued to practice their religion freely and openly through most of 1943.
Bent Lexner, Denmark’s chief rabbi, said his parents had a huge Jewish wedding in Copenhagen in early 1943, something that would have been unimaginable elsewhere in occupied Europe.
Historians disagree on the merits of Denmark’s policy of cooperation with the Nazis.
The Danish historian Bent Bludnikow says that Denmark, in effect, collaborated with Germany. Danish agriculture and industry fed the Nazi war machine. Some Danish firms benefited from Jewish slave labor.
But Bo Lidegaard, editor-in-chief of the Danish newspaper Politiken, says that because Denmark, which sits on Germany’s northern border, had a tiny army, resistance was futile.
Running towards the sound of gunfire with my friend Goran Tomasevic felt familiar; we had worked together in Jerusalem during the start of the Intifada so gunfire and explosions were nothing new; what was different yesterday was that this was Nairobi, my home for the past six years and a place that has grown increasingly affluent and “normal” to anyone used to a middle-class life in any developing country.
And I think that is what was also most shocking on arriving at the mall itself. Already a trickle of people were emerging, either running or being carried. These were not people belonging to one particular “group” (Israelis or Palestinians) when I was in Jerusalem, not black Africans caught in a civil conflict or unfortunate western adventurers or tourists caught up in a hostage crisis, these were “ordinary Nairobians” – the same people I had seen on a very normal Saturday morning just hours before when I was shopping in the Nakumat supermarket store, in the same mall. Everything had just seemed so very “normal.”
And I think that is what has galvanized the country and it is what has caught the attention of the world, this is a normal middle class under attack, its a lifestyle, a form of behavior, that so many of us, so many Kenyans, so many Africans, so many in the developing world, aspire to.
So the people being brought out were regular shoppers and those working in the mall, from Kenyans who might later have been attending the Safaricom 7’s rugby, to members of the Asian community, to UN workers and foreign diplomats as well as waiters, shop assistants, workers. And, if you work at Westgate mall, you are probably a worker with a good future.
Read more at Haaretz.com.
When I set out to write a story on the Catskills — its famed legacy, its tremendous decline and what the future holds — I knew I wanted to spend a couple of days upstate, talking with locals who witnessed the area in its heyday and seeing what’s left of it for myself.
Photographer Marisa Scheinfeld, who has spent the past three years documenting the ruins of the great Borscht Belt resorts and bungalow colonies, agreed to take me around. We decided to visit two of the most widely-recognized resorts, the Concord in Kiamesha Lake and Grossinger’s in Liberty. I imagined setting up shop next to a quiet lake and conducting interviews on gorgeous scenic expanses. My colleague, Yermi Brenner, would film the video.
Little did I know, exploring the ruins of these legendary hotels was not such a simple endeavor.
Rabbi David Ingber is the spiritual leader (and main draw) for Romemu, a fast-growing congregation on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Its quest for spiritual meaning can hardly be disassociated from Ingber’s personal journey.
Born and raised in a Modern Orthodox family, Ingber, 44, was drawn to ultra-Orthodoxy while on a gap-year program in Israel in the late 1980s. He described the next five years as “flipping out.”
“I was completely God intoxicated,” he said.
But after years of study at Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in Brooklyn, Ingber decided he’d had enough. “I felt that Orthodoxy with all of its beauty [had made me swallow] all of the bathwater, and it was making me sick,” he explained.
The next 10 years marked a period of soul-searching. After turning his back on Judaism, Ingber looked to Eastern spiritual practices as a way to fill the void. Working nights as a waiter at Carmine’s, a restaurant on the Upper West Side, he would fill his days with yoga and meditation.
True to his openness to other religions, Ingber described his struggle as “the prodigal son myth.”
“I was trying to find a way back to Judaism, but I wasn’t sure I had figured it out,” he said.
“There is a problem in my country… and this problem is the Jew,” Borat chanted famously. But it may as well be David Baddiel singing. Who is David Baddiel, you ask? He is a mid-table British comedian who has initiated a campaign to expunge what he calls the “Y-word” from British football chants. The Y-word, or according to Baddiel, who is himself Jewish, the word that shall not be named, is actually the relatively innocuous, “Yid.”
In origin the Yiddish word for “Jew,” Yid has sometimes been used by anti-Semites to denote displeasure with those of the Jewish persuasion. This appears to have been the case in the early part of the 20th century when a large and concentrated Jewish population was able to take the train quickly and conveniently to Tottenham in North London where Tottenham Hotspur (“Spurs”) played. During the 1960s and 1970s, rival teams’ fans began to call Tottenham the “Yids,” and in an unusual moment of cultural solidarity, Tottenham fans, Jewish and Gentile alike, said, okay, we’ll be the Yids.
With that developed a homegrown, organic sensibility that Tottenham was a “Jewish” team, a sensibility has remained until today. Their fans call themselves the “Yid Army,” chant the same during games, and call each other and the team’s players, “Yiddos.” The use of the term is a whole hog reappropriation of a negative usage, transformed into absolute positivity and brotherhood.
Baddiel is correct to point out that most Spurs supporters are not Jewish. As a result, it may be the first time in history that a large group of Gentiles has willingly taken on, with great pride, a type of Jewish identity. It is, as noted by Sleeper’s Sleep on the fansite cartilagefreecaptain.com, an “I am Spartacus” moment in the face of taunting, bigoted abuse from other team’s fans, the result was, “some of us are Yids? No. All of us are Yids.” This attitude is what has made many of us around the world Spurs fans and frankly, the Jews could have used a lot more attitudes like this throughout their history.
But Baddiel doesn’t think so and he’s convinced the Football Association to look into the matter. Instead of investigating the opposing fans anti-Jewish rhetoric, Baddiel wants Spurs fans to stop calling themselves Yids. Blaming the victim, apparently, is easier than shaming the perpetrators.
Starting Wednesday night, we can all look forward to a week of eating (and in some cases, sleeping) outside.
Sukkahs come in all shapes and sizes. Some people will cobble something in their backyard, others will use the handy space provided by an outdoor balcony, and still more may see it as a chance to show off their creative streak.
From Manhattan’s Union Square to the dark alleys of Venice, here are some pretty striking symbols of one of Judaism’s most festive holidays.
The crisis in Syria, has overwhelmed discussion of other Middle East issues in the past month, not the least of them being the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
Still, the passage of two decades with little or no progress in the peace process has not passed unnoticed. Analysts and former negotiators from all sides have tried to explain, in articles and think-tank gatherings, why, so long after the signing ceremony on the White House lawn, Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to reaching a peace accord than they were in the moments following Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat’s historic handshake.
“One of Oslo’s best legacies is that the majority of each population now favors a two-state solution, though each is convinced that the other does not share its convictions,” wrote David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in a paper he published on Monday.
But as Secretary of State John Kerry attempts to revive long-dormant talks between the two sides, a surprising side show has also emerged — one that takes on not the question of Oslo’s failure, but the validity of its fundamental premise: the notion of dividing the land into two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestinian state.
Those critical of this premise got their biggest boost last Sunday when the New York Times Sunday Review gave its lead story over to a scathing opinion piece, by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick, who portrayed the major players’ clinging to a two-state solution as one of the main obstacles to finding other, more productive paths to peace.
“The pretense that negotiations under the slogan of ‘two states for two peoples’ could lead to such a solution must be abandoned,” Lustick wrote.
Calls have been voiced in the past to abandon the two-state solution and the peace process whose stated aim is to reach that outcome. But these were largely limited to the margins of the discussion. Scholars such as [Henry Siegman] who have publicly given up on the viability of a two state solution, have been sidelined in the discourse over the future of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.
Does the article by Lustick — a longtime skeptic of the two-state solution — herald a breakthrough of his perspective into the mainstream?
Response to the article, in hundreds of comments posted online, seems to suggest otherwise. While a broad sense of pessimism still dominates any policy discussion about Secretary Kerry’s attempts to bring about a peace accord, there is no visible shift within mainstream discourse toward a one-state solution.
That sense of things seemed reinforced during a September 16 debate hosted by Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies. The discussion featured author Peter Beinart, who argued in favor of the two-state solution, and Israeli academic Yehuda Shenhav who spoke about the demise of the two state solution and the need to discuss instead the concept of one state in which Jews and Palestinians enjoy equal rights and some form of shared sovereignty.
Here too, the stage and the speakers were as noteworthy as the substance of their discussion: an Ivy League university’s Israel studies center hosting a debate challenging the basic idea of separating Israelis and Palestinians into two states, held between two prominent intellectuals.
But the venue, as it turned out, also provided an illustration of the limits of the one-state solution’s penetration into the broader peace process discussion.
The event, though coming on the heels of the Times’ highlighting of the issue, was held in a small lecture hall that comfortably seated an audience estimated at no more than 100 people. This could suggest that the one state solution is still a topic primarily of interest to a fairly limited coterie concentrated on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and other, comparable districts elsewhere — not a debate ready for prime time.