The Shmooze

Israeli 'American Idol' Judge Arrested

By Nathan Burstein

Wikimedia Commons

Forget Hamas, forget the massive housing protest. Right now Israel’s attention is squarely focused on Margalit Tzanani, a major music and TV star who has been jailed on charges of extortion.

Best-known in recent years as a judge on the Israeli version of “American Idol,” Tzanani was arrested at her home this morning, in a surprise raid. The singer will spend tonight in jail, and will appear tomorrow in court, where prosecutors will attempt to prolong her detention as the investigation continues.

A star so big she’s generally referred to simply as “Margol,” Tzanani is suspected of hiring thugs to intimidate and extort a talent manager, Assaf Atedgi, with whom she is fighting over hundreds of thousands of shekels in royalties. The 57-year-old singer and her lawyer have categorically denied the charges, noting that she and Atedgi have hired a mediator to settle the dispute.

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Ruth Madoff Says Bye Bye, Bernie

By Michael Kaminer

Wikimedia Commons

From the smart-women-foolish-choices department: Ruth Madoff, wife of the world’s most infamous Jewish fraudster, is finally dumping her high school sweetheart after 52 years of marriage to reconcile with her surviving son, the UK Daily Mail reports.

Mrs. Madoff, 70, had been “rejected” by sons Mark and Andrew for refusing to leave Madoff after his $65 billion Ponzi scheme was uncovered in 2008, the Daily Mail says.

But since Mark killed himself in December, Mrs. Madoff has apparently stopped visiting her 73-year-old husband. ‘Ruth has not seen Bernie since Mark’s suicide and I think the remnants of the family will now pull together… Ruth visiting him in prison was a major impediment to her being reconciled with them,” Diana Henriques, author of Bernie Madoff: The Wizard of Lies, told CBS’ Early Show on Monday. Henriques’ book hits on Wednesday.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Prison, Ruth Madoff, Ponzi Scheme, Marriage, Fraud, Diana Henriques, Bernard Madoff

Holocaust Survivors Sue Austria for $21 Billion

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Claiming that a symbolic compensation agreement signed by the governments of the United States and Austria ten years ago is inadequate, a group of Austrian-born Israeli Holocaust survivors is suing Austria for $21 billion. That is the value of the property taken from Austrian Jews during the Nazi era, according to calculations by historians.

The 2001 agreement stated that Austria had to pay Holocaust survivors and their children a total of $210 million — only 10% of what the families claim is owed to them. According to Ynet, the then-conservative Austrian national government was eager to use the agreement as a way of overcoming the international isolation it was suffering at the time. It also took advantage of the Austrian Jewish community, getting its approval for the deal when it was in a desperate economic situation and facing bankruptcy.

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The Real Reason for the September Baby Boom

By Nathan Jeffay

iStockphoto

Planning on trying for a baby? Get ready for the winter.

Everyone knows there’s a spike in births nine months after the coldest and dreariest time of year — when people look for ways to spend the long evenings. But it seems that this may not be the only reason for the September rush on the maternity department.

Israeli researchers have found that winter sperm is actually better. That’s right, they analyzed 6,453 semen samples and found that summer and spring sperm is less likely to fertilize an egg than winter sperm. Just as the hot summer makes us lethargic, so too with sperm. Motility, or the ability to swim towards the egg, increases as the temperature drops.

The finding, reported here, was presented by Eliahu Levitas, senior physician at the in-vitro fertilization unit at Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center to a recent meeting of the Israel Society for Fertility Research.


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On Sale: iPad Cases Made of Bernie Madoff's Clothing

By Nathan Burstein

Bernie Madoff has already inspired his own hot sauce, so why not a line of iPad covers?

Frederick James, a company that specializes in iPad cases, has unveiled a new line with an unusually intimate connection to the “notorious felon,” as the Ponzi schemer is described on the firm’s website. In addition to collections including The Island, The Jungle and The Office, Frederick James is now offering The Bernie Madoff, a line made from clothing once owned by the Jewish con artist and all-around shonda. The company acquired Madoff’s apparel during an auction overseen by the U.S. Marshals Service, and is now charging between $250 and $500 for each iPad cover. For those interested in knowing more about Madoff’s physical dimensions, the new line is revealing: Madoff apparently had a 35-inch waist during the good old days, before his scheme was discovered and he was sentenced to 150 years in prison.

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Christian Palestinians Moving Back to Holy Land

By Renee Ghert-Zand

There’s no place like home when it comes to the Holy Land. These are the sentiments of millions of Jews, but also of the many Christian Palestinians now choosing to return there after having lived abroad.

American-Israeli freelance journalist Michele Chabin reports in the National Catholic Register that recent statistics show that for the first time in a long time, more Christians are moving to Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories than are leaving them. Palestinian Prime Minister Salem Fayyad “credited improvements in Palestinian civic society, governance and infrastructure for much of the reversal,” Chabin wrote.

Economic hardship and the difficult times of the Second Intifada drove many Christians, especially young ones, to seek a new life in countries in Europe and North America. The common belief has been that as soon as a young person gets his or her academic degree, he or she looks to leave for the West.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Chabin, Christian, Israel, Palestinian, Prime Minister Salem Fayyad

‘Magic’ T-Shirts Beg Neo-Nazis To Change Ways

By Renee Ghert-Zand

iStockphoto

Even following the usual instructions to wash t-shirts inside out to preserve their logos would not have made a difference in this case.

Two-hundred-and-fifty attendees at a recent Neo-Nazi-sponsored “Rock for Germany” concert in Gera, Germany unwittingly ended up with souvenir t-shirts designed so that their logos would come off in the shirts’ first washings.

According to a report in the Toronto Sun, this was not due to shoddy manufacturing, but rather was the result of intentional planning. The washed t-shirts revealed a hidden message: “If your t-shirt can do it, you can do it too — we’ll help you get away from right-wing extremism.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rock for Germany, T-Shirts, Neo-Nazis, National Democratic Party, EXIT, Gordon Richter, Bernd Wagner

See Larry King and Edward Zwick in JPEF’s Promo

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Well, it’s not quite in the same vein or of the same tone as Judd Apatow’s public service announcement for the American Jewish World Service, but it does feature a few celebrities.

The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation’s brand new PSA has Liev Schreiber, Larry King and Edward Zwick — along with a former partisan and her granddaughter — inviting the public to JPEF’s tribute dinner scheduled for November 7 in New York. In particular, these celebrities are asking the public to spread the word about the tribute to any partisans who are still alive and to their families and friends. JPEF hopes to have as many former partisans as possible attend the dinner to be honored, along with all partisans who fought the Nazis and their collaborators in WWII.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Edward Zwick, Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, American Jewish World Service, Judd Apatow, Larry King, Liev Schreiber

Vote for the Dead Sea

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Wikimedia Commons

Can the Dead Sea hold on? We’re not talking ecologically — though that is of prime concern to scientists and conservationists studying how and why the sea has been shrinking in size. The Shmooze, on the other hand, is worried about whether the Dead Sea can make it to at least 7th place among the 28 finalists for the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

The website for the contest, run by the New 7 Wonders of the World Foundation, has a countdown clock to November 11 (11/11/11), when global voting will be closed and the winners announced. Until then, you can register your vote for up to seven of the choices over the Internet, by phone or by texting.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Wonders of the World, Ecology, Dead Sea

Israel’s Tourism Ministry Courts Martha Stewart

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

They’ve arranged visits by Chilean miners and “House” stars, and now the busy bees at Israel’s tourism ministry have their eyes on Martha Stewart and Oprah.

As part of a new push to bring celebrity visitors to Israel, the ministry has created a special “hospitality unit” to woo famous foreigners, Yediot Aharonot reported recently. The Israeli newspaper says the unit now has its sights set on the two daytime TV stars, and is working hard to secure a visit by Oprah, who theoretically might film the trip for OWN, her struggling new cable network.

The prospects might be better, at least in the short term, with Stewart. The tourism ministry was apparently tipped off that the TV host has been invited to visit friends in Israel next month, and has reached out in hopes that she might film episodes of her show during the trip.

“Negotiations with Stewart are taking place behind the scenes,” Yediot reports, playfully envisioning scenes of Stewart cooking on Masada, or sharing interior-design tips in front of the Western Wall.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tourism, Oprah Winfrey, OWN, Martha Stewart, Israel

Female IDF Soldiers Suffer More Stress Fractures

By Renee Ghert-Zand

A study of women soldiers in Israel has found that for the IDF to attract more women to combat roles, it is going to have to make changes to more than just the design of military gear.

The IDF thought that it had eliminated the problem of women soldiers getting stress fractures by designing a new, lighter vest with narrower straps especially for them. But just a couple of weeks after the introduction of these new vests, a study on the integration of women into combat units has been released, showing that women soldiers suffer disproportionately higher numbers of stress fractures from the physical exertions required of combat soldiers.

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For Tu B'Av, Solar Gets Sexy

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

Tu B’av is the Jewish love fest, so what better time to promote hooking up? To solar energy, that is.

In a shameless attempt to take advantage of the holiday, Arava Power Company, a solar energy firm in Israel, produced a short flick reminiscent of VH1’s beloved 90s’ series Pop Up Video that is aptly set to Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.”

The somewhat corny video promotes love, but also gets in some digs at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for supposedly giving preference to a conventional energy monopoly.

“I treasure you more than the Treasury loves dirty power,” reads one caption, as a couple lovingly lip-syncs to one other.

The company is also trying to tap into public anger over government’s decision to hike electric rates by 10%. In June, it produced another video inviting viewers to the Inauguration of Israel’s First Solar Field.

Whatever your politics, check out the video before it goes viral.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tu B'Av, Solar energy, Netanyahu, Arava Power Company

Mengele’s Diaries May Be Loaned To Yad Vashem

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images
Some of the diaries of Josef Mengele on display at Alexander Autographs on July 19, 2011 in Stamford, Conn.

Though the recent purchaser of the diaries of the notorious Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele wishes to remain anonymous, he also wants Dr. Mengele’s artifacts to be available for all to see.

Haaretz reports that the purchaser, a modern-Orthodox physician from the U.S. Midwest who bought the diaries and related materials at auction for $245,000, told the newspaper that he believes that his motives have been misunderstood. He, the son of Holocaust survivors, says he is interested in turning Nazi items not into commodities, but rather into educational tools against evil.

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Ed Koch Pens Weight Loss Book for Kids

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch may have once said, “The best way to lose weight is to close your mouth — something very difficult for a politician. Or watch your food — just watch it, don’t eat it.”

That’s a fitting quote for Koch the mayor, but it’s not exactly the message Koch the author is sending in his new children’s book about healthy eating and self-acceptance. “Eddie Shapes Up,” which he wrote with his sister Pat Koch Thaler, will be published in September. It is Koch’s third work of juvenile literature.

The “Eddie Shapes Up” story was inspired by Koch’s own struggles with being overweight as a boy growing up in Newark, N.J. He was called “fatso,” he told The New York Times. “When I look back, it’s no joke…I think, ‘How did I get through that?’ It was tougher than settling a contract with the unions. And who knows what effect it has on your persona? It made me want to strive to be better than the other kids were. The other part of it was the tears. It makes your life miserable.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Zagat, Weight Loss, Eddie Shapes Up, Jonathan Hoefer, Obesity, Pat Koch Thaler, Ed Koch

A-Rod To ESPN: Cousin’s Visit Is ‘Very Kosher’

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

Perhaps Michele Bachmann should ask Alex Rodriguez for some help with her Jewish jargon.

Say what you will about the scandal-tainted Yankees third baseman — when he borrows a word, he uses it properly… sort of. Asked yesterday about his cousin’s visit to his hotel in San Francisco — a visit that could cause problems with Major League Baseball — Rodriguez pronounced it halachically sound. “There’s nothing to talk about,” he told ESPN. “Everyone’s kosher with everything. There’s nothing to investigate. Very kosher.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yuri Sucart, Michele Bachmann, Alex Rodriguez, Halacha

Jews Criticized for Handing Out Challah to Tottenham Rioters

By Renee Ghert-Zand

While most of the ultra-Orthodox residents of the North and South London neighborhoods affected by the recent rioting in the city have heeded rabbinic directives to stay indoors and out of harm’s way, some young Hasidic men did not last Saturday night. And what they were doing has given rise to some nasty finger pointing against the Jewish community.

Were these Yeshiva bochers out burning buildings, torching cars or looting stores? No, they were standing on the streets of Tottenham handing out bread (Challah, reportedly) from cardboard boxes to people around them.

But someone filmed this activity and posted it — oddly set to classical music — on YouTube, under the title “Tottenham Riots Conspiracy.” Then, as might be expected, anti-Semitic vitriol started flowing in the comments section. The poster of the video insinuated that these Jewish men were literally feeding the burning anger of the rioters. “Why are Jewish community members giving out fresh bread to the rioters? Why are they encouraging more violence and fuelling them?” he or she wrote.

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Swedish Queen Decides Father Wasn’t a Nazi

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

The Swedish queen has wrapped up an investigation into her father’s alleged Nazi past, concluding — perhaps a bit conveniently — that one of his 1939 business deals was helping, not exploiting, a desperate German Jew.

Rumors have long swirled about the history of German-born Queen Silvia, whose father, Walther Sommerlath, was said by some to have joined the Nazi party in 1934. The queen reacted angrily last year to the Swedish broadcast of a documentary about her father, which suggested that he had participated in Hitler’s so-called “Aryanization” of seized Jewish assets. She changed course in May, saying she would look into the allegations.

The results of her investigation, released today, suggest that her father acted nobly — at least in her interpretation. In findings released to the Swedish media, the queen says her father purchased a Berlin factory owned by a German Jew, Efim Wechsler, so that Wechsler could flee Germany for the safety of Brazil. The deal included giving Wechsler ownership of property, including a coffee plantation, owned by the Sommerlath family in Brazil.

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Elijah Wood’s Mysterious Ring (No, Not That One)

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

It’s been quite a while since you’ve been able to assume that someone wearing jewelry or other adornments with Jewish symbols or Hebrew writing is Jewish.

Just think about all those Kabbalah red-string bracelets around the wrists of celebs like Madonna, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. And what about Justin Bieber’s new Hebrew tattoo he got while in Israel? (Okay, it says “Yeshua,” which means Jesus. But hey, it’s still in Hebrew.)

Unlike us, these stars did not get their Jewish bling from their bubbes (didn’t we all get our first Chai and Magen David necklace from our grandmothers?). In most cases, though, they did get it from Jews or in relation to a Jewish experience.

But that, however, is not always the case. This month’s American Way magazine (available online or in the seat pocket in front of you) features a close-up shot of actor Elijah Wood sporting a hard-to-miss silver band imprinted with “Im lo achshav aymatai” (“If not now, when?”) on the ring finger of his right hand.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Justin Bieber, Jewelry, Hebrew, Franka Potente, Elijah Wood

Israeli Court Allows Egg Extraction From Dead Teen

By Renee Ghert-Zand

For the first time in Israel, a court has ruled that the eggs of a deceased woman may be extracted and saved. The decision by the Kfar Sava Family Court this past Sunday was in relation to the case of the late Chen Aida Ayish, a 17-year-old from the Sharon region, who died of severe injuries sustained in a car crash. She was declared brain dead last Wednesday.

Ayish’s family agreed to have her organs harvested for transplant, and requested from the court that the eggs be extracted from her ovaries at the same time. The eggs were frozen, and the court has issued no further decision as to their possible future use.

The family had initially requested that the eggs be fertilized with sperm taken from another dead body, but the court rejected that request. Ayish’s parents have made no specific statement as to why they wanted their daughter’s eggs extracted, but it can be inferred that they may be hoping to produce a grandchild from them at some point.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Israel, Fertility, Chen Aida Ayish, Artificial Insemination, Kfar Sava Family Court, Organ Donation

Belief in Benevolent God Reduces Stress

By Michael Kaminer

Are Jews more anxious because we believe in a vengeful God? A new study suggests that might be the case.

“Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have found that those who believe in a benevolent God tend to worry less and be more tolerant of life’s uncertainties than those who believe in an indifferent or punishing God,” according to the Health24 web site. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

The McLean Hospital paper reports data from two separate studies, Health24 reports. One questioned 332 subjects, including Christians and Jews, recruited from religious web sites and religious organizations. The trial found “that those who trusted in God to look out for them had lower levels of worry and less intolerance of uncertainty in their lives than those who had a ‘mistrust’ of God to help them out,” according to Health24.

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