The Arty Semite

3 Non-Jews Playing Jews We Left Out

By Ami Eden

(JTA) — With Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio both in the running for best actor for playing Jews behaving badly — the Forward has released its “11 Best Performances by Non-Jewish Actors Playing Jews in the Movies.”

There is nothing like a movie list to send me down the rabbit hole (see my magnum opus on Tablet’s 100 best “Jewish” films). But it’s late and I have way too much to do.

So I will limit myself to three of the most outrageous omissions, saving the worst snub for last.

Jason Biggs playing Jim Levenstein in “American Pie” (1999): Biggs’ Levenstein is to apple pie what Alexander Portnoy is to liver. I know. Hard to believe. But it’s true. Italian Catholic. Talk about method acting — check out this pic from his son’s bris?>

Brendan Fraser as David Greene in “School Ties” (1992): Fraser plays a working-class scholarship Jewish stud/quarterback capable of kicking the asses of every singly anti-Semitic WASP at his elite prep school. What more could you ask for?

John Goodman as Walter Sobchak in “The Big Lebowski”: Do Polish Catholics who convert to Judaism not count as Jewish characters? After dedicating so many words to the Pew study, how does the Forward ignore one of the greatest calls for Jewish continuity in our time: “Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax… You’re goddamn right I’m living in the f*cking past!”

And just when you thought there was not much else to add to our glorious tradition, Walter gives us this (warning: more f’ bombs):

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POEM: 'everywhere'

By Jake Marmer


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Turning His Lens on Male Vulnerability

By Michael Kaminer

Photographing graceful male dancers in New York may seem a long way from taking pictures of gruff IDF soldiers in Israel. But for 27-year-old lensman Nir Arieli, the progression makes perfect sense. “I always had an agenda to find that gentleness and sensitivity hidden in the soldiers I photographed,” he says, “which is something I do in my current work.” For his new project, “Inframen,” on view at Daniel Cooney Fine Arts in Chelsea through March 8, Arieli used an infrared technique that emphasizes imperfections like scars, stretch marks, and sun damage on dancers; the effect’s beautiful and a bit spectral.

Born in Tel Aviv, Arieli served as a photographer for Bamachane, the official magazine of the Israeli army; after emigrating, he earned a BFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York. His career’s steamrolled since then, with clients including the Juilliard School, the Alvin Ailey school, and his alma mater, The School of Visual Arts, among others.

Michael Kaminer: You launched your career as military photographer for the IDF magazine Bamachane. How did that experience influence your work now?

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Did Dreyfus Affair Really Inspire Herzl?

By Liam Hoare

Wikimedia Commons

The idea that the trial of Alfred Dreyfus inspired Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” is “simply not true,” Shlomo Avineri declared in a pointed, fluent, and well-received lecture that opened the first full day of London’s Jewish Book Week on February 23.

Discussing his biography of the father of modern Zionism, “Herzl: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State,” Avineri asserted that through examining Herzl’s diaries and letters, he concluded that the Dreyfus affair did not preoccupy Herzl’s thoughts at that time. Only in hindsight would the fate of Alfred Dreyfus come to be seen as a pivotal moment both for European Jewry and the history of the Zionist movement.

Rather, the background to “The Jewish State” was the collapsing scenery of 19th-century Europe and specifically the Austro-Hungarian Empire which had, up until that time, been “the best country for Jews in Europe” and had been referred to as the “goldene medine,” even before the United States. Emancipation began towards the end of the 18th century, while in the 19th century the Emperor Franz Joseph I obtained the moniker “Froyim Yossel” from his Jewish subjects who during his reign became more equal members of his multi-national, multi-ethnic empire.

During the 1890s, however, “nationalism threatened the unity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire,” while the advent of democracy resulted in the emergence of “racist, populist, and anti-Semitic candidates” for office. This affected Herzl’s city of Vienna, where Karl Lueger of the Christian Social Party won municipal elections in 1895 by decrying “corrupt liberalism” and charging that Jews controlled the Austrian economy and the press.

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Would I Ask the Same Question of a Man? You Bet!

By Tuvia Tenenbom

Thank you, commentators, talkbackers, bloggers, and writers, for so passionately sharing your thoughts with me following the publication in the Forward of my interview with Racheli Ibenboim.

Honestly, I was not prepared for such a reaction. A couple of you were on my side (thank you!), but many hundreds of you were against me. And what was all this rage about?

Well, during the interview I asked Racheli, a member of a Hasidic group that does not allow any intermingling between the sexes, how she felt on her wedding night being with a man she didn’t actually know. To you, this was obviously a vulgar question and a horrible crossing of the lines. To convince me of how vulgar I was, one of you called me Arschloch, which is of course a very kind word to show displeasure. Others have accused me of sexual harassment and one advised Racheli to contact a lawyer and the police. Another claimed to have “puked from the inappropriate questions” and called me a “crude and despicable man.”

What have I done?

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What Do Menorahs Have To Do With Madonnas?

By Menachem Wecker

Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, ‘piETa’ (2007), image courtesy Art Gallery of Ontario.

The Pietà, or the Virgin Mary mournfully cradling Christ’s dead body, is an artistic invention, which, as the Encyclopedia Britannica explains, “has no literary source.” One of the most important representations of the Pietà is Michelangelo’s late 15th-century marble sculpture at St. Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo’s Christ lies on the Virgin’s lap, as limp as the folds in her flowing dress; Mary is not only a particular mother grieving for her dead son, but all mothers who have ever grieved for a child.

Sacred cows, however, are particularly prone to reappropriation and, on occasion, mockery. Denver-based artist Cedric Chambers’ “The Prophets” shows Darth Vader holding the dead Christ over a pile of skeletons in front of the toppled Twin Towers, some parts of which resemble crosses. (It seems that a Huffington Post write-up at one point questioned whether it was “the most offensive painting ever,” although that grandiose claim no longer appears.)

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Love Doomed in the Havana Harbor

By Joshua Furst

In 1939, Cuba’s Batista government, in collaboration with the government of the United States, delayed a ship called the SS St. Louis, which carried 937 Jewish-German refugees, in the Havana harbor. Despite assurances that they would be granted asylum, the refugees were told that they could not enter Cuba without a visa. Twenty-two were eventually allowed to come ashore. The rest were sent back to Germany, where they were interned at Mechelen and put to death.

This shameful event in the history of American-Cuban relations provides the back-story for “Sotto Voce,” the new play written and directed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Nilo Cruz, now running at Theater for the New City. The play follows a young Cuban-Jewish student, an aspiring writer named Saquiel Rafaeli (Andhy Mendez), who has come to New York City to track down the acclaimed German novelist Bemadette Kahn (Franca Sofia Barchiesi) after discovering that she was once the lover Ariel Strauss, one of the passengers on the SS St. Louis. After gradually earning her trust, and seducing her sassy but sentimental illegal immigrant housekeeper Lucila Pulpo (played by Arielle Jacobs, whose model good looks belie the play’s descriptions of her as plain and possibly overweight), he unlocks Bemadette’s repressed memories the war and the role her family played in Strauss’s death.

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Reunion With Father's 300-Year-Old Violin

By Toby Axelrod

(JTA) — With all the recent news in Germany about the search for heirs to art taken during the Nazi era, a recent announcement about a 300-year-old violin caught my eye.

A Nuremberg-based foundation for music students was hoping to find descendants of Felix Hildesheimer of Speyer — a musical instrument dealer who bought the violin in 1938 and took his own life the following year, when he was unable to follow his wife and daughters to safety abroad.

At present, the violin — made in 1706 by Italian master craftsman Giuseppe Guarneri — belongs to the Franz Hofmann and Sophie Hagemann Foundation, having been purchased in 1974 by the late Nuremberg virtuoso Sophie Hagemann.

But to find potential heirs, it turns out it helps to look for them. Which I did. Within three days of my first inquiry, I managed to reach the grandson of Hildesheimer in the United States and put him in touch with the foundation. There was delight and gratitude all around.

I wondered why the foundation failed to find the relatives themselves. It was almost embarrassingly easy. All it took was a little Internet research and a few emails.

Foundation board member Fabian Kern told me that it was obviously easier for an American and a journalist to figure things out.

The foundation and family are now planning to discuss what should be done with the instrument.

Kern said the foundation would like to restore it and turn it into a “Violin of Reconciliation,” to be used by students at the Nuremberg Conservatory with the caveat that they learn the story of the Hildesheimer family.

All the foundation knew at first was that Hildesheimer had bought the instrument in 1938. The foundation later found out he had bought it from a known Nazi dealer, Fridolin Hammer. So far no one knows how Hammer got it himself — and no one knows what happened after Hildesheimer bought it.

It’s always possible that descendants of other past owners could come forward. But for now, Kern told me he’s pleased to have found descendants of Hildesheimer.

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POEM: Medievaluation Rag

By Jake Marmer


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Growing Up Jewish in Rock's Golden Age

By Michael Kaminer

At age 19, Graham Gouldman scored his first U.K. top-10 hit with “For Your Love,” the ageless tune first recorded by the Yardbirds. He went on to write smash songs for the likes of Herman’s Hermits, Jeff Beck, and the Hollies before forming the band 10cc — a hit factory in itself — in 1972.

This month, Gouldman added another distinction to a stellar resume. He’s one of four tunesmiths who’ll get inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at a ceremony this June in New York. The Kinks’ Ray Davies, “Midnight Train to Georgia” writer Jim Weatherly, and Elvis Presley collaborator Mark James will also be honored.

Born in Manchester, England, Gouldman started playing guitar at age 11 after a cousin returned from Spain with a cheap acoustic guitar. “As soon as I held it, I was gone,” his bio says. Gouldman left school “as soon as was legally possible,” joining a band called the Whirlwinds. After a stint with another band, the Mockingbirds, music manager Harvey Lisberg hired him to write songs for one of the biggest acts to break out of Manchester — Herman’s Hermits.

These days, Gouldman continues to tour tirelessly with 10cc; in 2012, he released “Love and Work” (Rosala Records), a solo album. The Forward caught up with Gouldman by email.

Michael Kaminer: What does the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame honor mean to you?

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Putting Tuvia Tenenbom in Context

By Adam Langer

Racheli Ibenboim chats with writer Tuvia Tenenbom./Photo by Isi Tenenbaum

For those who haven’t read much of the work of Tuvia Tenenbom, his most recent column has understandably raised some eyebrows and not a few tempers. Asking a Haredi politician, or any public figure, about her personal life (and her wedding night) would seem to be, at best, an indelicate journalistic approach to gaining wisdom about the practices of her community.

This particular column has led to an unusual outpouring of displeasure directed at the traditionally (and perhaps unfortunately) uncontroversial arts and culture section here at the Forward. And as the editor of this section (albeit one on vacation in Chicago this week) I take the concerns of our readers seriously.

My own relationship with Tenenbom is about one year old. I encountered him first as the author of “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room,” a rollicking travelogue about anti-Semitism in Germany, which also raised eyebrows and tempers while becoming an unlikely bestseller in Germany. When I learned that Tenenbom was planning a sequel, this one set in Israel, I was eager to have him on board as an occasional contributor, filing his impressionistic reports about the individuals, controversies and circumstances he encountered.

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The Benefits of ‘Kindsight’

By Anna Goldenberg

For his first gig as photographer in Hollywood in 1990, Robert Zuckerman took pictures on the set of “Sunset Beat,” the pilot of a short-lived TV-series. It featured policemen who went undercover as bikers and Zuckerman still remembers one of the long-haired, leather-clad actors, who was barely known at that time: His name was George Clooney.

Since then Zuckerman, who produced commercials before becoming an independent photographer, has taken pictures at countless movie sets — from “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “The Blair Witch Project” to the “Transformers” movies and “Terminator 3.” He has also made portraits of numerous celebrities, including Leonard Cohen, Goldie Hawn and Will Smith.

In 2002, Zuckerman discovered another passion: Documenting small encounters in everyday life. He started the Kindsight Foundation, and posted photos and stories on his blog, which is also featured on The Huffington Post. In 2005, a photo book titled “Kindsight” was published. Zuckerman, who now lives in Miami, gives speeches about his project and holds workshops for students, in which he challenges them to come up with their own Kindsight pieces and question the violent content of Hollywood movies.

He spoke to the Forward’s Anna Goldenberg about his work with Holocaust survivors, his favorite Jewish celebrity and why he occasionally puts on tefillin.

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Why TV Writing Is Like Parenthood

By Dorri Olds

Writer and showrunner Jason Katims is best known for his rich and realistic characters, and for a long list of television credits including “My So-Called Life,” “Boston Public,” and “Friday Night Lights,” which earned him a Primetime Emmy Award. On February 22 he premieres a new TV series on NBC called “About a Boy” and on February 27 his long running hit show “Parenthood” returns for a new season. And Katims also just finished a stint as keynote speaker at the Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans. The Arty Semite caught up with the assiduous Katims for an exclusive interview.

Dorri Olds: What is your new show about?

Jason Katims: “About a Boy” is based on the book and the movie. It’s about this guy Will [David Walton] who’s in his early thirties but hasn’t grown up. He’s a womanizer, plays video games, and loves his single life. Then Will meets this quirky kid, Marcus, a 12-year-old boy who looks up to Will like a father, like a god, like an everything.

What is Minnie Driver’s role?

Max’s single mom Fiona, who is kind of a hippie but also overprotective and controlling. We’re almost halfway done shooting the first season. It’s been fun already because during the pilot episode, where the three first meet, the adults are both loggerheads. As Marcus [Benjamin Stockham] works his way into Will’s life, the adults develop a sort of mutual respect. It’s incredibly charming.

What is the key to creating so many shows that have a cult-like following?

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The Year of Jason Robert Brown

By Curt Schleier

This will definitely be composer Jason Robert Brown’s year.

A musical version of Robert James Waller’s “The Bridges of Madison County” (music, lyrics and orchestration by Jason Robert Brown) opens February 20 on Broadway.

“Honeymoon in Vegas” (music, lyrics, dance and vocal orchestration by Jason Robert Brown), which received rapturous reviews during its debut at the Paper Mill Theater in New Jersey, opens on Broadway in the fall.

The film version of his innovative off-Broadway play, “The Last Five Years” (book, music and lyrics by Jason…you get the picture) will be in theaters later this year.

All this on top of the Tony he won (best original music score) for “Parade,” about the Leo Frank trial and “13,” his Broadway follow-up, about a young bar mitzvah-age boy transplanted from New York to the Midwest after his parents divorce.

I first saw Jason perform almost 20 years ago at a small suburban theater not far from Monsey, NY, where he grew up. I wish I could say I purposely sought out the show. Actually, his show was — to my way of thinking — just thrown in as part of a subscription to the plays I really wanted to see. But it wasn’t very long before he blew away with a musical review, “Songs for a New World.”

After that I followed him almost everywhere, walking that fine line between sycophant and stalker. I saw “The Last Five Years,” the story of his first marriage. I sat across the aisle from him at a preview performance of “Parade.” (For the record, that was a coincidence.)

At “13,” the PR folks gave out CDs of the score with the press kit and I rushed to him to get it autographed. He told me I was the first.

Finally, at the Paper Mill, I saw him in the lobby, reminded him of our past and begged him for an interview. He said three magic words I’ll never forget: “See the publicist.”

Well it wasn’t “no.” So here we are, a few weeks before Madison County is slated to open, and Jason is on the phone.

Curt Schleier: When did you realize you’re a genius?

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How To Be More Than One Josh Cohen at a Time

By Curt Schleier

The first time I spoke to Steve Rosen, almost 10 years ago, I credited him with sole responsibility for the Broadway production of “Spamalot.” Forget Monty Python. It was a Steve Rosen production.

Rosen played Sir Bedevere as well as several other characters, and of course participated in the chorus of the song that generated the most audience reaction, “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway.” It went like this:

In any great adventure,
that you don’t want to lose,
victory depends upon the people that you choose.
So, listen, Arthur darling, closely to this news:
We won’t succeed on Broadway,
If you don’t have any Jews.

The song went on to suggest that without Jews all you’ll get is boos. Your show won’t be saved even with great reviews, if you don’t have any Jews.

It turned out I was wrong. After the story was published, director Mike Nichols approached Rosen and said “You’re not the only out Jew in this production.”

Rosen offered that postscript in a phone conversation about his latest production, “The Other Josh Cohen.” It opens February 23 at the Paper Mill Theatre in Millburn, N.J., in what Rosen hopes is a pre-Broadway run.

The show originally ran off-Broadway for a brief Hurricane Sandy-interrupted run. But good reviews have prompted producers to resurrect the show.

Curt Schleier: I thought it was an inventive show and great fun. Where did that come from?

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POEM: 'Like Water Off the Goose '

By Jake Marmer


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Modern Love Illuminated

By Amy Klein

The sea of love can be a “dark and scary place — deep, cold, impenetrable, and populated by billions of freakish creatures lurking in the depths with their gnashing teeth and electrified appendages,” Daniel Jones, editor of the Modern Love essay column in The New York Times, writes in his new book, “Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (With the Help of 50,000 Strangers),” (HarperCollins).

Jones should know: He receives about 100 submissions a week for the column, which he’s edited for the past nine years. Appearing in the Sunday Style section, Modern Love is one of the most-read columns in the world — by women, anyway. Columns have resulted in at least 37 different books, making the column one of the most sought-after reads by writers, as well.

You might expect Jones to know everything there is to know about love, but he denies being a guru. In “Love Illuminated,” he examines the trends he’s seen over the past decade, broken down by stages from “Pursuit” to “Connection” to “Monotony” to “Infidelity,” mixed with anecdotes from published essays, his own pre-Internet path to marriage and amusing questionnaires.

The Forward’s Amy Klein spoke to Jones, who has a Jewish grandfather and his wife is Jewish, about concepts like destiny, soul mates, the role religion plays in love and, of course, what type of stories pique his interest enough to be published in Modern Love.

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Neshama Carlebach Isn’t Just Shlomo’s Daughter

By Karen Skinazi

Our high school, the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto was, as its name indicated, a community school. Kids entered ninth grade from the spectrum of Jewish day schools — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Sephardic. But it was also a community school in a different way; we were a small group (graduating class of 110), and we looked out for one another. So when one of my classmates starred, in that first year of high school, as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, in a local production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a bunch of went to see her. None of us knew her very well yet (nor each other), but we loved watching her. “She’s a born performer,” whispered one of my classmates.

That couldn’t have been a more prescient observation I thought earlier this month, watching Neshama Carlebach perform with Joshua Nelson, another star of the shul circuit, at the Jewish Center in Princeton, New Jersey, hundreds of miles and in a country apart from the one where I first saw her on a stage. Still sprinkled with fairy dust, Neshama belted out songs that give life to her “soulful” name, songs that left the crowd beatific. All around me, faces were lit up with rapture; people swayed and sang along; some broke into spontaneous dance. When I went to give my old classmate a hug after her performance, I had to fight off dozens of other admirers who wanted to give her a hug, not because they also knew her, but because they loved her without needing to know her.

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Britain's 'Rainbow Jews' Look to Past and Future

By Liam Hoare

Photo Credit: Tom Morris/Wikimedia Commons

“I see a lot of young Jewish gay people today who are very confident about being out. I see them on Old Compton Street wearing their Star of David like it was just a piece of jewelry. They think it’s fun,” Russell Vandyk says. “But they have to be aware that things weren’t always so easy. The danger is that people get too relaxed and comfortable. Actually, it’s a serious matter and one needs to be on guard, because at any time the wheel could turn.”

Vandyk, who was immersed in the struggles of the 1970s and ‘80s and was a key part of London’s Jewish Gay Group, is one of several individuals who recorded their stories for “Rainbow Jews.” This oral history project, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, seeks to capture and preserve the testimonies of LGBT British Jews, encompassing the range of experience from the 1950s until the present.

The persons interviewed for the project include Lionel Blue, the first British rabbi to declare his homosexuality publicly, Abi Jay, the only known Jewish intersex person in the U.K., and Sheila Shulman and Elli Tikvah Sarah, the first openly lesbian rabbinical students. “We were putting together what it meant for us to a lesbian, to be a Jew,” Tikvah Sarah says. “We could see strong similarities because in both cases [we had] minority marginal identities.”

Their experiences and their voices form the basis for a new exhibition at the London School of Economics, also named “Rainbow Jews,” staged to coincide with LGBT History Month in the U.K. Tikvah Sarah and Shulman are among those who feature in the two movies that make up part of the exhibit: “Now and Then,” an intergenerational conversation with eight Jewish people sharing stories about LGBT lives in Britain, and “Rainbow Jews: Pioneers and Milestones,” a historical narrative interlaced with taped interviews.

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Israeli Singer Proves Surprise Hit In Yemen

By Yoav Appel

(Reuters) — An Israeli singer has become an unlikely star in Yemen, an Arab country where his hit songs blare from cafes and taxis.

Zion Golan’s parents were born in Yemen, but like other Israelis, he is banned from traveling to the conservative Muslim nation, which has no diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Known in Yemen as Ziyan Joulan, his songs — whose Arabic lyrics are written by his mother-in-law — are distributed on bootleg CDs and downloaded from the Internet.

“Yemeni music is in my heart and in my soul,” Golan told Reuters.

“My big dream is to go to Yemen. My parents told me many stories about Yemen, about Sanaa, about Aden, all about Yemen, so I felt it was right to write, to perform songs in a Yemeni style, which I feel is part of me.”

In Sanaa, Waddah Othman, a doctor, grinned as he displayed an array of Golan’s songs on his mobile phone.

“I adore this singer,” he said.

Abdullah al-Haj, who owns a video and music shop in Sanaa, said music of Yemeni Jewish singers was in high demand by local youngsters, who increasingly are getting music off the Internet.

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