The Shmooze

Israeli Scientists Isolate Nearsightedness Gene

By Renee Ghert-Zand


Most people take nearsightedness, or myopia, for what it is — and deal with it by donning a pair of fashionable glasses, getting fitted for contact lenses or getting Lasik surgery.

Dr. Ohad Birk and his team of genetics researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, on the other hand, have wanted to know exactly why so many of us cannot see things that are far away. It is well known that myopia, the most common eye disorder, is caused by light being focused in front of the retina instead of on it. Scientists and lay observers have also long observed that there is a hereditary component to nearsightedness. Now, the BGU researchers are the first to have determined the exact gene responsible for the disorder.

The discovery, made during a study led by Shikma Levin and Dr. Libe Gradstein from Birk’s team, was published on September 1 in the American Journal of Human Genetics. The scientists studied severe early-onset myopia among members of a certain Bedouin tribe living in the Negev. Genetic research results from this endogamous sample, together with related research on insect cells done in collaboration with a Finnish research group, led to the discovery that a mutation in the LEPREL 1 gene is responsible for the disorder.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ohad Birk, Nearsightedness, Genetics, Myopia, Ben-Gurion University

Orthodox IDF Men Boycott Women Singing

By Nathan Jeffay

Getty Images

Where are the limits to Israeli multiculturalism? This is the question that the Israeli military woke up to today, after a seminar focused on the Gaza War last night turned controversial.

Cadets who will soon become officers were seated in the audience at the event, when two female soldiers got up to sing. Orthodox Jewish law raises problems with men hearing women’s singing voices. The issue is addressed in the Talmud, and is translated into a very strict prohibition by many rabbis. Other rabbis take a more lenient view.

When the female soldiers sang last night, dozens of religious male soldiers walked out. One of them told the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot that “it was spontaneous. We know it’s forbidden, but we left quietly without coordinating it.” As they were leaving, their commander threatened punishments for doing so.

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Shabbat Dinner: NBC’s Next Sitcom Premise?

By Lucy Cohen Blatter

Getty Images
NBC producer Greg Daniels

As Jews, we know that comedy and drama often unfolds over the Shabbat table. And it seems the TV networks are catching on.

“The Office” executive producer Greg Daniels is said to be developing a series for NBC called “Friday Night Dinner,” based on the British series of the same name. The British series revolves around the often-awkward Friday night dinners held at the North London home of the Goodmans, a traditional — if idiosyncratic — Jewish family.

On the British version, mother Jackie, is bold and saucy, father Martin is socially awkward, and 20-something sons Adam and Jonny are always playing pranks on each other (while their parents obsessively try to find a girlfriend for Adam).

A second season of the series has been commissioned for the U.K.’s Channel 4. Here’s hoping it makes it over to this side of the pond. We’re thinking an Upper West Side version of the Goodmans could work.

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Disgraced Designer John Galliano Mocked on T-Shirt

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

It’s been a big week for John Galliano: first he got a shout-out from Madonna, and now he’s featured on a new t-shirt.

The satirical shirt, on sale in Italy, features the Hitler-loving former fashion designer as an Orthodox Jew, replete with sidecurls and a hat. Intended in jest, the item has reportedly offended some customers at Milan’s La Rinascente department store, who felt that the shirt mocked Jews rather than Galliano.

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September 7 Declared ‘Gilad Shalit Day’ in NYC

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images
Noam Shalit speaks in Gaza on August 28, 2011, Gilad Shalit’s 25th birthday.

San Francisco’s Mayor Edwin Lee declared this past August 28 “Gilad Shalit Day” in that city. That was the date of Shalit’s 25th birthday, his sixth in captivity. Now, just a week and a half later, September 7 will be “Gilad Shalit Day” in New York City.

Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, will be in town to meet with foreign ambassadors in advance of the upcoming U.N. General Assembly, scheduled to open on September 13. The elder Shalit will be reminding those with whom he meets that Hamas’s holding of his son in isolation without visits by the Red Cross or other humanitarian organizations is “a flagrant breach of international law.”

On September 7, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, together with other City Council members and Jewish leaders, including Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, will present Noam Shalit with a proclamation declaring that date to be “Gilad Shalit Day” in New York City. Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York, will be in attendance at the ceremony, which will take place at the Office of New York City Council Speaker.

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Jewish Scrabble Fan Was Once Fidel Castro’s Bodyguard

By Nathan Burstein


Life is getting better for Cuba’s Jews — and for the country’s Scrabble players. Just ask a guy named Fidel.

That’s the gist of an entertaining feature in yesterday’s L.A. Times, which tells the story of Fidel Babani, a member of Cuba’s tiny Jewish community and the president of the Cuban Scrabble Association.

Dubbed “Señor Scrabble” by the paper, the 50-year-old Babani is only slightly younger than the Castro regime. He has a close personal connection with Cuba’s most famous Fidel, having served for years as his bodyguard.

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Liza Minelli to Headline White Rose Charity Ball

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

Liza Minelli is squeezing into her busy concert schedule this fall a special one-off performance at the White Rose Charity Ball in London on September 25. The event will be a fundraiser for the Holocaust Centre.

The Holocaust Centre, established in 1995, is Britain’s first dedicated Holocaust memorial and education center. It is located on the grounds of a former farmhouse on the edge of the Sherwood Forest and houses a permanent exhibition, research and seminar facilities, and a rose garden for personal reflection.

The White Rose Ball is named for White Rose Group, a non-violent, intellectual resistance group against the Nazis made up initially of students and professors from the University of Munich. It eventually expanded to include students from Hamburg, Freiburg, Berlin and Vienna. Six core members of the group were executed by the Nazis in 1943.

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Is Madonna’s New Film Soft on Nazis?

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

Madonna brought Kabbalah to the masses, but New York magazine still wonders whether her new movie might have a “Jewish problem.”

Last week, the singer attended the Venice Film Festival premiere of “W.E.,” her second effort as a director. Early reviews were mostly abysmal, but the film’s quality is only part of the story.

Co-written Madonna, the movie apparently offers a fawning vision of Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee who famously inspired England’s King Edward VIII to give up the throne. The movie ignores the pair’s friendly relationship with Hitler, which included a visit to his Berchtesgaden retreat in 1937, well after the nature of his regime became clear.

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Midrash Manicures: The Torah at Your Fingertips

By Michael Kaminer

Courtesy of Rabbi Yael Buechler
‘Clean’ and ‘unclean’ animals from Parashat Re’eh. (Click to enlarge.)

Last week, The Shmooze reported on SpaMitzvah, a bodycare company whose new apples-and-honey based beauty products pay “homage to Rosh Hashanah.”

Now, a Westchester County, N,Y., rabbi is adding her own gloss on the notion of Jewish glamor.

Rabbi Yael Buechler has an unusual hobby: She paints her nails to correspond with a Torah portion, midrash, holiday or “lifecycle event,” according to her website,

For Passover, Buechler depicted the 10 plagues in miniature; for her own ordination, she spelled out “Yesh Li Rav Yael” [“I have a Rav (Rabbi), Yael”], a pun on the Hebrew phrase for “I have plenty” from her senior sermon on Parshat Toledot. For Parashat Re’eh — the Torah portion that includes a list of “clean” and “unclean” animals — Buechler illustrated her digits with a menagerie of legal and illegal beasts.

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Lauren Bush and David Lauren Wed in Jewish Ceremony

By Lucy Cohen Blatter

Getty Images
Lauren Bush and David Lauren in February, 2011.

It was the society wedding of the season. There were plenty of boldfaced names, designer dresses — and a chuppah, too.

Over Labor Day weekend, Lauren Bush — granddaughter of George H.W. Bush and niece of George W. Bush — married her longtime boyfriend, David Lauren, son of iconic fashion designer Ralph Lauren, in a Jewish ceremony outside Telluride, Colo.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Weddings, Angela Warnick Buchdahl, David Lauren, Lauren Bush, Ralph Lauren

Scarlett Johansson Endorses Jewish Candidate for NYC Mayor

By Renee Ghert-Zand

The Jewish Scarlett Johansson is standing by her Jewish man - that man being not actor Justin Bartha, but rather Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. The 26-year-old actress and singer is putting her celebrity weight behind Stringer’s bid for mayor of New York in 2013.

Getty Images’s Politicker NY reports that Johansson has said she has had enough of life in New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and looks forward to the kind of city she thinks it will be when – not if – Stringer is at the helm.

The actress views Stringer as environmentally aware and the type of leader who would invest in making the city more affordable and accessible for people. “Growing up, all my friends lived in affordable housing, which is something that I want to fight to get back,” said Johansson, a native New Yorker. “Scott’s been a big advocate of affordable housing. I want my friends back in the city. So I believe in Scott,” she was quoted as saying.

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The Rosh-Hashanah Beauty Regimen

By Michael Kaminer

It sounded a bit like a HEEB parody: SpaMitzvah, a body-care company “Where Gorgeously Yiddish Beauty Reigns Supreme!”, issued a press release this week about a High Holidays-themed body-care line.


The “homage to Rosh Hashanah,” with apples-and-honey-inspired body and bath products, “commemorate[s] the sweet treats that are enjoyed at the Jewish New Year,” the press release said.

How does that translate into product? Think body scrub “in such flavors as Applebaum (apples & cinnamon), Honeybaum (pure honey) and Apple Rosenbaum (a luxurious blend of organic rose and apple),” and a matching range of bath gels dubbed “shower syrups.” A bath milk called “Honey Rosenbaum” combines organic Milk Powder [sic], Honey Powder, Cocoa Butter and Kosher Honey,” and SpaMitzvah Body Oil — our favorite — “will anoint your temple with oils of Shea Nut and Vitamin E.”

Aside from Jewishy names and holiday themes, the company’s website doesn’t really clue you in to what “Yiddish beauty” means. “Whilst our fabulous skincare is proudly described with a shameless sprinkling of Mame-loshn — topped off with a haute kosher heaping of Yiddish flair — we are proud to be an eclectic group of shiny happy people from all cultures, races and religions,” it trumpets. “Not to mention the fact that we are all a bunch of ‘type-A,’ ‘earth hugging,’ pamper-privileged ‘mavens and mensches’ – with an uber cool company name! Yet, we are most proud of being committed to serving you – whilst pampering your precious body temple and our big beautiful planet, equally!”

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More Accusations From Sara Netanyahu's Former Employee

By Nathan Burstein

Another day, another round of embarrassment for the Netanyahu family.

Tara Mela, the Nepalese household worker injured during an argument with Sara Netanyahu, gave a press conference yesterday, in which she alleged further mistreatment by Israel’s first family. A caretaker for Sara Netanyahu’s 96-year-old father, Mela claimed she was fired last night and had not been allowed to enter the Netanyahu residence - where she lived - to collect her things. (She later received them through an intermediary.) Yohanna Lerman, the lawyer representing her, said that preventing Mela from gathering her personal belongings would be a violation of Israeli law.

Mela and her lawyer also claimed she had been denied pay and vacation time, and that Mela’s right to privacy had been violated when the doctor who treated her made public details of her injury.

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Australian Man Suspected of Grisly Murder in Tel Aviv

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Husband-wife trips don’t always work out well, but this one turned out far, far worse than the usual bad vacation.

Israeli police were summoned to a hotel room on the 15th floor of Tel Aviv’s Dan Panorama hotel earlier this week to find Australian tourist John Paul Sebastian with the body of his 54-year-old wife, who had been stabbed multiple times in the neck and upper body. Sebastian was arrested on the spot.

Sebastian, 45, from Melbourne, is facing possible murder charges, but in the meantime is being held for eight days for psychiatric evaluation. He claimed that he was compelled to kill his wife because she was an enemy agent “with a written agreement that meant she owned him.” Even more bizarre was his assertion that she had forced him to eat raw meat and human flesh.

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Worker Broke Her Own Finger, Netanyahus Say

By Nathan Burstein


Israel’s first lady was afraid of her Nepalese employee.

That’s the updated version of events from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a day after his publicity team acknowledged that a domestic worker dislocated her finger during an argument with the prime minister’s scandal-prone wife.

The still-unnamed worker “responded with an uncontrollable burst of rage” after Sara Netanyahu made a comment about her work, “knocking herself to the ground and smashing into the floor and furniture,” according to a statement released today by the prime minister’s office. “Mrs. Netanyahu feared these bursts of anger [and] alerted her security team, which arrived within seconds.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Israel, Domestic Workers, Benjamin Netanyahu, Abuse, Sara Netanyahu

Diabetic? Try a Therapeutic Dip in the Dead Sea

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Ester Inbar, via Wikimedia Commons

For many, going down to the Dead Sea to bathe in its mineral-rich waters is a sweet treat. Now, researchers are finding that just the opposite is true for diabetics — which is a good thing. A preliminary study has shown that diabetics who immersed themselves in the uniquely salty water were able to significantly reduce their blood sugar levels.

While it is too early to say that Type 2 diabetics will be able to replace their insulin shots or medications with relaxing dips in the Dead Sea, the researchers from Ben-Gurion University and Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva are pleased with their findings thus far.

They used a sample of 14 individuals of varying ages with Type 2 diabetes and had them each take a 20-minute dip in a pool filled with water taken from the Dead Sea. The scientists found that the diabetics’ blood glucose levels dropped by 13.5 percent when they were tested immediately upon leaving the water. An hour later, the subjects’ blood sugar levels went down even more.

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London: Stop Posing Next to the Wax Statue of Hitler

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images
A similar wax figure sits behind glass at Madame Tussauds Berlin.

Displaying a statue of Hitler strikes the Shmooze as an inherently bad idea — and sure enough, the one at Madame Tussauds in London is causing problems.

England’s Zionist Federation has asked the wax-statue museum to alter its Hitler figure, suggesting it be made to look more “vulnerable,” or posed in a way that prevents visitors from posing next to it.

The request comes after complaints by Israeli tourists who were upset to see other Madame Tussauds visitors giving the Nazi salute to the wax dictator. The Zionist Federation has made clear that it is not protesting the museum’s right to display a Hitler statue, but that it would prefer it be done in a different manner.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Zionist Federation, Tourism, Stefan Kerner, Madam Tussauds, Hitler

Caretaker Breaks Finger, Accuses Sara Netanyahu

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

For the sake of his own political career, Benjamin Netanyahu might want to keep his wife away from household workers.

For the second time in less than two years, Israel’s first lady is being accused of serious mistreatment by an employee, an allegation that is now soaring to the top of Israel’s headlines. This time the complaint involves an as-yet unnamed foreign worker, who says she fell during an argument with Netanyahu. “She ran toward me, she came in my direction,” the worker told Channel 2 News, the country’s highest-rated nightly news program. “I got scared and moved back, then fell backwards and broke my finger.”

The dispute allegedly began over financial transfers from an account held by Sara Netanyahu’s elderly father, for whom the domestic worker provides care.

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Shofar Flash Mob Set for September 18

By Renee Ghert-Zand


Dust off those rams’ horns and keep checking your Facebook updates and Twitter feeds. There’s going to be a worldwide shofar flash mob on September 18 and you are not going to want to miss it.

Art Kibbutz NYC is hosting “the greatest Shofar-blowing event since Sinai” as a massive call for teshuvah during the month of Elul. To the extent possible, the flash mobs will be coordinated across various global locations. All the flash mobs will be recorded and combined by a composer into an electronic Rosh Hashanah greeting card.

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‘Israel’s Best Friend’ Dogs Trained To Attack

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Just as we are getting word that the IDF is training West Bank Settlers to handle possible confrontations with Palestinians following the expected vote in the U.N. General Assembly in favor of Palestinian statehood, a rather disturbing video has surfaced about another defense force, the IBF.

IBF stands for Israel’s Best Friend, a non-profit organization that trains dogs for what it calls a “Civilian Attack Dog Unit,” and the “K9 Jewish Legion.” According to the video and the description posted with it on YouTube, the dogs’ mission is to defend Jews specifically against Arabs and Muslims.

That’s a whiff of racism, along with some dog poop, that you smell. As many believe, racism is learned behavior, and it appears that even canines can be taught to be racist.

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