Forward Thinking

Handshake to Hate — Caught on Video

By Mairav Zonszein

youtube

It was almost a moving moment. A Palestinian child, only 6 years old, goes up to a Jewish child of Israeli settlers and offers him a handshake.

The Palestinian boy isn’t even supposed to be there. The Israel Defense Forces closed off this area of the restive West Bank a few months ago to avoid having to deal with confrontations provoked by the settlers, who often try to drive Palestinian farmers away.

The two lock hands and the Palestinian child quickly turns and walks away. His family cheers for him for the gutsy little gesture. A small aberration from the norm of occupation.

But then the Jewish child picks up a rock. Effortlessly and naturally, he throws it in the direction of the Palestinian kid; and then another one.

It’s not even like he seems concerned with actually hitting him. It’s a reflex, almost as if he was programmed to do so, he just picks up and throws. It doesn’t matter what happened just a moment earlier, or what will happen afterwards.

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Editor's Choice: Best From Across the Country

By Forward Staff

The Forward is partnering with other Jewish newspapers to offer our readers a peek at some of the best stories from around the country, as selected by the editors at those papers.

We will offer a selection of unedited links with brief introductions from the editors of the papers. Now that the high holidays are behind us we expect more content in the coming weeks.

jewish journal

From the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

Just over six years ago, in the lush Upper Galilee of northern Israel, the nation’s first large-scale harvest of legal medical marijuana was flowering on the roof deck of Tzahi Cohen’s parents’ house, perched on a cliff overlooking the bright-green farming village of Birya.

Until then, fewer than 100 Israeli patients suffering from a short list of ailments had been allowed to grow the plants for themselves, but this marked the first harvest by a licensed grower.

Click here for the full story


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Give Us Our Gen-X Judaism

By Elissa Strauss

LABA

The new PEW survey on Jewish life paints a bleak picture of our future. Among the findings were the fact that 58% of Jews now marry non-Jews, two-thirds don’t belong to a synagogue and 32% of Jews born after 1980 say they have “no religion.”

In response, Slate’s Jessica Grose wrote about her mixed feelings of culpability over the decline of Jewish life in the U.S. and her lack of interest in organized religion. Grose, who married a non-Jew, says she does want to teach her baby daughter about her Jewish background, but is at a loss as to what exactly her religious life will, or should look like.

She finishes:

The notion that American Jews are eschewing religion so broadly makes me a little sad, or worried for Jewish continuity (or guilty for being part of the problem). But I can’t see myself bringing my daughter to temple every Friday to honor a God I don’t believe in. What’s the solution?

Pew Survey! Click Here! Click for more on the survey.

Mark Oppenheimer, a Forward contributor and religion columnist for the New York Times, wrote a post on his blog offering Grose a few solutions. He tells Grose that it is clear that Jewish affiliation means something to her, otherwise why would she feel so guilty?, and that she should see this as a call to explore her community and traditions.

He (unfairly) suspects that she, as a Brooklyn writer, follows the “religion” of liberal consumerism, you know kale, wood-only baby toys, yoga, and says this is ultimately a flimsy, unsatisfying identity. And then agrees with her that occasional attendance to a Reform synagogue might not make for a sturdier identity.

Ultimately he recommends a deeper, more thorough engagement with Jewish tradition, culture and thought which will, he believes, give her the ability to inhabit them on her own terms. He says:

It may be Torah study, if only to learn the stories that will give you cultural common ground with other Jews. It may be regular, inquisitive synagogue attendance, not to “pray to a God [you] don’t believe in,” which is not at all why most Jews attend synagogue, but to try to learn over time why Jewish routine and ritual can, for some, be comforting and inspiring, and at some synagogues pretty rocking. It may be celebrating more Jewish holidays than the two you grew up with.

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My Grandfather, Butcher of 'Schindler's List'

By Michael Kaminer

getty images
Jennifer Teege

When Jennifer Teege saw ‘Schindler’s List’ as a student in Israel, she was moved and horrified.

But she didn’t realize she was part of the story.

Now, the book that explains it is causing a firestorm in Europe. Amon: My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me explains how the half-Nigerian mother of two learned of her blood link to Amon Goeth, the notorious “Butcher of Plaszow” commandant portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film.

Teege’s mother was Goeth’s daughter. And Teege’s father was a Nigerian student with whom her mother had a brief affair.

“Now I know that, as I have black skin, he would have seen me as sub-human like the Jews he killed,” she writes.

Teege recounts how she enjoyed a middle-class upbringing in Munich, according to Britain’s Daily Mail. Although she occasionally saw her natural mother, the family secret was kept from her. Nor did she learn it from her grandmother Ruth, who worked as a secretary to Goeth and lived as his lover in Plaszów, which was located near Kraków in German-occupied Poland. Ruth gave birth to Monika, Teege’s mother, in 1945.

In the book, Teege explains how she “discovered the horrifying truth only by chance when she picked up a book about the SS captain in her local library,” according to the BBC. “It was written by Goeth’s illegitimate daughter, whose picture looked like [her] own mother, who had given her up for adoption.”

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It's Olive War Time in West Bank

By Nathan Jeffay

It’s Olive War season. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about a gourmet reality television show, but rather a several-week period of clashes where Palestinians and settlers try to hit each other in their pockets, via their olive groves.

In recent years, attacks by Palestinians on settler groves and vice-versa have increased significantly. Of course, it’s more than just a financial warfare — it’s about deflating morale, flexing muscles, and spreading fear as well.

The harvest is about to get in to full swing, and both sides are already getting defensive. The Samaria Residents’ Council, a grassroots settlers’, organization, is urging Jews in the West Bank to get cameras ready to record “provocations that are bound to come.” Among the Palestinians, there are already reports of settler vandalism, with Bethlehem-based Maan News claiming that settlers destroyed over 50 olive trees today in the south Hebron hills.

Recent months have seen the start of some ugly Palestinian-Israeli confrontations in Jerusalem, which have been calmed and contained quickly. However, out in what some commentators call the Wild West Bank, where tensions are less carefully managed, mutual olive grove attacks could conceivably spur nastier violence.

Every olive harvest puts the West Bank on edge, but this one in particular, with both settlers and Palestinians feeling frustrated with the international community, their own leaders, and the other side, will prove particularly challenging.


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Who Do Jewish Leaders Really Represent?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

getty images
Abe Foxman is embraced by Vice President Joe Biden at the ADL’s centenary gala.

Asked about stats in the new Pew survey suggesting that many Jews disagree with them on Israel, leaders of Jewish organizations told me yesterday that they don’t represent every single Jew.

I decided to figure out who they do represent.

The Pew survey interviewed 3,500 Jewish people across the country, many of whom have little to do with the Jewish community. Most of them said that they are skeptical of the Israeli government, but Jewish leaders asserted that they don’t answer to unengaged Jews.

Pew Survey! Click Here! Click for more on the survey.

“Part of Jewish leadership is leadership,” Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman told me. “We lead.”

So who chooses who leads? Mostly wealthy donors and local activists. Below, I identified the electors who picked six of the men heading the core Jewish establishment advocacy groups.

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Palestinians Say Third Intifada Is Coming: Poll

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images

Almost two thirds of Palestinians think that a third intifada is round the corner if the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks fail, according to a new poll.

The Palestinian Center for Public Opinion asked Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza whether they “anticipate the outbreak of a third Intifada in case the peace process ends in failure” and found that 58.4% do. Only 26% said no, and the remaining 15.6% declined to answer.

The results of this poll are noteworthy not only because they underscore that the Palestinian public sees the negotiations as a high-stake exercise, but also because they point to a gulf between the declared position of the leadership and the public. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said repeatedly that there will be no third intifada as long as he is in power.

It’s unclear from the poll whether the 58.4% that foresees an intifada if talks fail think that Abbas would break his word, or believe that the breakdown of negotiations would discredit Abbas and force him to resign.

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We're the Jon Stewart People

By Dan Friedman

getty images
Jon Stewart

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.

Comedy, shmomedy.

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.

Pew Survey! Click Here! Click for more on the survey.

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.

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What Makes a Jew? It's What You Do.

By Jane Eisner

nate lavey

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.

Pew Survey! Click Here! Click for more on the survey.

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.

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News Quiz: What To Call Hanukkah/Thanksgiving?

By Lenore Skenazy

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!

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Jerusalem's Temple Mount Is for Jews, Too

By Aaron Magid

getty images

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.

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Hipster Anne Frank Speaks Back From Twitter Attic

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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.”

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Lone Jew in Austria's Far-Right Party

By Anna Goldenberg

David Lasar

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.

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Celebrating Simchat Torah, Brooklyn-Style

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Leah Pomerantz

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.

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Hipster Anne Frank's Tasteless Tweets

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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.

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When Natalie Portman Shook the Lulav

By Naomi Zeveloff

claudio papapietro

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.”


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Was That Barack Obama or Henry Kissinger?

By Aaron Magid

getty images

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.

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King Christian and the Yellow Star

By Paul Berger

Courtesy of Den Danske Frimurerorden
King Christian X

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.

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Abu Mazen's Son Says No to 2-State Solution

By Jane Eisner

getty images
Mahmoud Abbas

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.

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News Quiz: What Sarah Silverman Wore

By Lenore Skenazy

Getty Images
What did Sarah Silverman recently wear on television?

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!

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