The Shmooze

Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov Headlines Israeli Technology Conference

By Michael Kaminer

Spacing out was encouraged at this year’s Limmud FSU, an annual cultural and education festival for Russian speakers in Israel. That’s because the history-making guest speaker was Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space when he exited the Voshod 2 ship for 12 minutes in 1965.

According to eJewishPhilanthropy, Leonov’s visit to the Beersheva conference — which had a science and technology theme — was also intended to mark the 50th anniversary of the first flight in space by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Leonov, himself twice named “Hero of the Soviet Union” back in the day, was joined by cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and American-Jewish astronaut Dr. Garrett Reisman, eJewishPhilanthropy reported. “The spirit of friendship between them was evident in all their joint presentations as they swapped jokes, mostly in Russian.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Alexei Leonov, Garrett Reisman, Israel, Limmud FSU, Mikhail Kornienko, Science, Shimon Peres, Space, Technology

Israel on the 1,800th Day of Gilad Shalit's Captivity

By Renee Ghert-Zand

This Sunday, May 29 – Memorial Day Weekend here in the United States – marks the 1,800th day of Gilad Shalit’s captivity. He was kidnapped June 25, 2006, by Hamas in a cross-border raid, and it is believed he has been held somewhere in Gaza since then. He has been denied communication with his family or visits by the Red Cross or by human rights organizations.

Just two days ago, Gabi Ashkenazi, former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, admitted that he had failed to secure Shalit’s release. He was reported by Ynet as having said, “We have to admit that we do not have the ability to use military force to free Gilad…Hamas has Shalit hidden in such a way that we cannot locate him. We don’t know where he is.” Indicating that he is in favor, if necessary, of releasing Palestinian terrorists in exchange for Shalit, he added, “If we fail to manufacture a military option for his release, we have to admit it and pay a reasonable price for his return.”

Last Sunday, President Obama called for Shalit’s release in his speech to an audience of more than 10,000 at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in Washington, D.C.

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A Talking German Shepherd?

By Michael Kaminer

So that’s what “master race” meant.

A new book contends the Nazis attempted “to breed an army of educated dogs that could read, write and talk,” Time reports under the surely unprecedented headline “How Nazi Scientists Tried to Create an Army of Talking Dogs.”

In Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities, Cardiff University historian Jan Bondeson “mines obscure German periodicals” to discover “scientists envisioned a day when dogs would serve alongside German troops, and perhaps free up SS officers by guarding concentration camps.”
Hitler even set up a Tier-Sprechschule – “Animal Talking School” – near Hanover, Time reports, and recruited “educated dogs” from throughout the country.

“Teachers claimed a number of incredible findings,” says Time. An Airedale terrier named Rolf who could spell by tapping his paw on a board “mused on religion, learned foreign languages and even asked a noblewoman, ‘Can you wag your tail?’” Rolf apparently told his German masters he wanted to serve in the German army because he disliked the French. Another canine barked “Mein Fuhrer” when asked to describe Hitler, Time reports. “And Don, a German pointer, is said to have imitated a human voice to bark, ‘Hungry! Give me cakes!’ in German.”

“Part of the Nazi philosophy was that there was a strong bond between humans and nature. They believed a good Nazi should be an animal friend,” author Bondeson tells time. Perversely, when the Nazis started interning Jews, “newspapers were flooded with outraged letters from Germans wondering what had happened to the pets they left behind.”


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Israel's Kashrut Fraud

By Nathan Jeffay

American immigrants to Israel are in shock. No, it’s not the fact that the President of their motherland is clashing with the Prime Minister of their new country, or that many in Israel would have you believe that Barack Obama is turning on the Jewish State. It’s something far more important than all of that political stuff.

Somebody has been messing with their supply of Hershey’s. They have long been paying a premium to get that sweet taste of home, but it seems now that something untoward has been happening with the imported chocolate. The Orthodox Union has just published a warning that stickers attached to Cookies ‘n Chocolate sold here are counterfeit. “This product is sold in Israel with a sticker placed by the importer that contains an unauthorized OU symbol. This product is not certified by the Orthodox Union and the sticker did not originate from the Hershey Chocolate Company,” states the warning. An Israeli website has published pictures of the offending treat.

News of this kashrut fraud comes just a few days after Israel’s state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss reported that out of 35,000 tons of fresh meat unloaded at Israel’s ports during 2007 to 2009 for sale in the Palestinian Authority, only 15,600 tons reached its stated destination. What does that mean? Well quite possibly, according to the state comptroller, the rest made it in to the Israeli market, sold by butchers claiming it has both veterinary and kashrut supervision that it doesn’t.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Israel, Hershey's, Kosher

Matisyahu Promotes Summer Tour With ‘Mustache Madness’

By Renee Ghert-Zand

As if Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu’s bizarre “Miracle” (Hanukkah Song) video from this past winter wasn’t weird enough, he has now put out an equally bizarre one to promote his upcoming summer tour.

True, this new video thankfully has no nightmarish scenes featuring a toga-wearing Hellenists, Santa Clauses, Nutcracker soldiers or fighting hockey players in it, but viewers are left again asking, “What was that all about?”

In “Mustache Madness,” this new video, a couple is seen eating dinner together. Just as the guy starts breaking up with his girlfriend, a blond, obnoxious, mustached Australian appears to convince the guy that he can’t break up with his girlfriend just as Matisyahu’s summer tour is about to begin. Every time the guy tries to object to this outrageous intruder, the unwelcome guest zaps him and magically makes a different type of facial hair (think sideburns, mustache, soul patch, etc.) appear on his face.

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Author Uses Online Anti-Semitism Survey as Research for Book

By Michael Kaminer

Anti-Semitism: Hot or Not?

The questions don’t exactly read that way, but a new online survey about anti-Jewish attitudes will provide the raw material for a forthcoming book by a fiery young Jewish journalist.

According to Canada’s Jewish Tribune, 24-year-old, New York-based Daniel Vahab is hoping at least 500 people complete his survey. Vahab spent a year as an “accredited news correspondent at the United Nations. In fact, it was his experiences at the UN that helped motivate him to write his book,” Jewish Tribune reports.

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Tiki Barber Calls Himself a 'Reverse Anne Frank'

By Lucy Cohen Blatter

Getty Images

Talk about a strange analogy.

Football pro-turned-TV-star-turned-football-pro-hopeful Tiki Barber is catching a lot of heat for a comment he made to a Sports Illustrated reporter in which he compared himself to Anne Frank. The New York Post’s headline reads, “Tiki comparing self with Anne Frank just despicable”, and the Daily News declared, “Tiki Barber, trying to look smart by invoking Anne Frank in SI piece, just looks dumb.”

In the interview, Barber, who’s attempting a comeback after retiring in 2007, discussed his very public split from his eight-month-pregnant wife Ginny and subsequent relationship with a very young and very blonde NBC intern, Traci Johnson.

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Israeli Stuntman Topples David Blaine’s Pole-Standing Record

By Michael Kaminer

While Benjamin Netanyahu was delivering a fiery speech to Congress, another Israeli challenged the U.S. by just standing there — and succeeded spectacularly.

Stuntman Hezi Dean balanced atop a pole in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square for 35 consecutive hours, toppling magician David Blaine’s record.

“It was very hard. I want to tell you only one important sentence: Nothing stands in front of the will,” Dean said in Hebrew following the stunt.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rabin Square, Pole Standing, Netanyahu, Jewish, Hezi Dean, David Blaine, Stuntman, Tel Aviv

7 Questions for ‘Bear Jew’ Gabe Carimi

By Lisa Barr

Courtesy of the Chicago Bears

If Goliath were around today, he might look something like 22-year-old Gabe Carimi. The 6-foot-7-inch, 320-pound all-American left tackle was chosen as this year’s No. 1 draft pick by the Chicago Bears. But for this football player, religion and academics seem to be just as important as athletics. He still remembers the parashah from his bar mitzvah, when he stood a mere 6 feet 4 inches. During his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, the Big Ten Conference opener fell on Yom Kippur, and Carimi fasted right up until game time. And when the NFL Draft in April landed on the same day that the civil engineer major was scheduled to present his capstone project to his professor, Carimi chose school. For his first public appearance in the Chicago area May 22, Carimi, a Reform Jew, led the Chabad-sponsored Great Jewish Family Festival, in Skokie, Ill. He spoke with the Forward’s Lisa Barr about his childhood, how he juggles Judaism and football, and his new nickname.

Lisa Bar: Why did you choose the Great Jewish Family Festival as your debut Chicago appearance?

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yom Kippur, Skokie, NFL, Jewish, Gabe Carimi, Chicago Bears, All American

Israeli Model To Audition for 'James Bond' Film

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

The next Bond girl might be Israeli.

Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Esti Ginzburg has been invited to audition for the next James Bond movie, Israel’s Ynet news site reports.

The role would mark a professional breakthrough for the 21-year-old, who had a small role last year in the little-seen “Twelve,” whose biggest star was Chace Crawford of “Gossip Girl.”

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Hebrew Ink: Justin Bieber's New 'Yeshua' Tattoo

By Nathan Burstein

A month after his first visit to Israel, Justin Bieber has gotten a Hebrew tattoo.

The 17-year-old pop star showed off the new ink during a visit to Hawaii with his girlfriend this week. (Because that’s what normal 17-year-olds do: get tattoos and go to Hawaii with their girlfriends.)

The letters spell out “Yeshua,” or Jesus, in Hebrew.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Christians, Hebrew, Israel, Jesus, Justin Bieber, Tattoo

For Women in Ultra-Orthodox Williamsburg, No Cell Phones in Public

By Renee Ghert-Zand

First it was an “out of sight-out of mind” approach as Haredi Jews in Israel relegated women to the back of the bus and restricted them to walking on only one side of the street in certain Jerusalem neighborhoods. Now, the ultra-Orthodox Jews in Williamsburg, Brooklyn appear to prefer that women be seen, but not heard.

Failed Messiah reports that posters have recently been spotted on walls and in synagogues forbidding women from speaking on cell phones in public. The hard-to-miss red and white signs include a picture of a cell phone with a slash through it, and a letter signed by rabbis from Meah She’arim and B’nei Brak in Israel. Women are berated and warned in large Yiddish type:

Can you imagine your grandmother with a cell phone on the streets or on a bus? Where did our ingrained shame and modesty of the Jewish daughter disappear to? On the behest of the Jewish leaders it is forbidden for a Jewish daughter to talk on a cell phone on the streets or on a bus!

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Father of Four Switches Synagogues, Gets Burned in Arson Attempt

By Michael Kaminer

Some Jews talk about getting burned by synagogue memberships. But Aron Rottenberg wouldn’t be exaggerating. The Orthodox Jewish father of four is hospitalized with third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body after another Orthodox Jew allegedly tried to torch his house — all because Rottenberg started taking his family to a different synagogue, Gothamist reports.

Six months ago, according to Gothamist, the family’s car windows were smashed; earlier this month, the same happened to the windows of their house in the village of New Square. “Doing your own thing, that is not something they can take,” son-in-law Moshe Elbaum told CBS2News. “They don’t like that, because it’s showing people can do what they want to do.” For security, the family installed surveillance cameras, which is how Rottenberg discovered 18-year-old Shaul Spitzer allegedly pouring flammable liquid around his house on Sunday morning.

After Rottenberg confronted Spitzer, the gas ignited, according to ABCNews, with flames consuming both men.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Orthodox, Crime, Arson, Aron Rottenberg, Shaul Spitzer, Synagogue

'Live Long and Prosper': Mr. Spock's Hebrew Hand Gesture

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

Who could forget Mr. Spock’s trademark hand sign on “Star Trek”? It turns out that the distinctive salute was based on the Hebrew letter shin.

That’s the story behind the gesture, says Leonard Nimoy, who played the half-human, half-Vulcan character for decades in the various TV and film incarnations of “Star Trek.”

In an appearance last week at a synagogue in Maryland, Nimoy recalled explaining the need for a special greeting for the character. “Humans shake hands. Asian people bow to each other … What do Vulcans do?” he remembered asking a director.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Star Trek, Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy, Hebrew

Rocker Gene Simmons Not a Fan of Obama’s Israel Policy

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

It appears that President Obama can cross “Rock and Roll All Night” off his list of potential 2012 campaign songs.

The president’s recent speeches on Israel have made a critic of KISS rocker Gene Simmons, who implied on CNBC that Obama has “no [expletive] idea” about how to solve the Arab-Israeli impasse.

“If you’ve never been to the moon, you can’t issue policy about the moon. You have no [expletive] idea what it’s like on the moon,” Simmons said, apparently unaware that Obama has in fact visited Israel, if not outer space.

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Israeli Rabbis Get a Raise

By Nathan Burstein

Being a young rabbi in Israel just got a whole lot more lucrative.

Starting salaries for Jewish clergy will rise by up to 250 percent in the coming years, according to a new set of raises approved today by Israel’s treasury. Because the salaries will be paid by the government — Israel doesn’t separate synagogue and state — the increases have ignited an explosion of criticism, with one Knesset minister comparing them to a “mugging.”

The issue remains small in the context of the national budget — the raises currently apply to just 15 rabbis, though the new income figures will be extended to more starting rabbis in the coming years. For a rabbi serving a town of 2,500 residents, monthly incomes will rise from 6,500 shekels (about $1,850) to 16,000 (a bit more than $4,560). In cities of 250,000 or more residents, starting rabbis’ monthly incomes will jump from 18,000 shekels (roughly $5,133) to 29,000 (about $8,271). The average Israeli earned a monthly salary of 8,426 shekels ($2403) last year.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Nitzan Horowitz, Moshe Gafni, Israel, Rabbis, Salaries

Ashkenazi Stem Cells: Key to Longevity?

By Michael Kaminer

We personally think it’s the power of complaining.

But to learn why some Ashkenazim live so long, researchers at Cornell University are about to start studying the stem cells of about a dozen older Jews.

According to the New York Post — in a story headlined “Bouncing bubbes of New York” — many Ashkenazi Jews “live to 100 without disease despite smoking, drinking and eating fatty foods.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Longevity, Cornell University, Ashkenazi Jews, Science, Stem Cells

Coming Soon: Israeli 'Golden Girls'

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

Southern Florida is so famously full of Jewish retirees that it often seemed strange that there weren’t any among the main characters on TV’s “The Golden Girls.”

But you can bet there will be at least a couple of Jewish retirees on the new Israeli version of the show, which is apparently so promising that it’s been renewed for a second season, even before a single episode has aired.

Nearly 20 years after the American series went off the air, Israel’s Channel 10 is preparing the launch of a Hebrew-language update that will star some of the country’s foremost stage, TV and film actresses.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Office, Everybody Loves Raymond, Golden Girls, Israel, Television

Russian Jews (Finally) Get Their Own Museum

By Nathan Burstein

They’ve largely disappeared as residents, but Russia’s Jews now have their own museum.

Billed as the first Jewish museum in the country, the Moscow center opened recently following several years of planning. Exhibits are divided between two general themes, focusing on either Jewish practice or on Jewish history in Russia.

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Renault Grandchildren Sue French Government for Seizing Company After WWII

By Michael Kaminer

Sure, French automaker Renault made about 30,000 trucks for the Nazis, and even repaired German tanks during World War II. But does that make founder Louis Renault a collaborator?

His granddaughter doesn’t think so. So along with seven other Renault grandchildren, Helene Renault-Dingli is suing the French government over what she calls “the illegal confiscation of the company in November 1944” after claims that it had backed Germany’s war effort, the UK Telegraph reports.

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