The Shmooze

Bootlegged Lulavs, Etrogs, for Sukkot?

By Nathan Jeffay

Wikimedia Commons

Produce harvested in the dead of night, smuggled and sold for high prices under the radar of authorities. Warehouses burglarized. Tourists hiding the good stuff in suitcases and getting found out by customs.

No, this isn’t a story of drug rings, but rather of lulavs and etrogs, the plant species waved during synagogue services on Sukkot, the festival that starts tomorrow night.

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Yom Kippur Solidarity for Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

The couple that prays together stays together — right?

That’s what celebrity Kremlinologists have been trying to figure since Friday, when reportedly feuding Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher attended services together at the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles. People Magazine reports that the pair sat on opposite sides of the aisle during the service — as is Kabbalah Centre custom — before exiting the sanctuary with their arms around each other’s waists.

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'Customizing' Yom Kippur To Make Room for Football

By Nathan Burstein

His commitment to Judaism — and college football — is impressive.

Wikimedia

For the second time in recent years, Nebraska football fan Joel Alperson is taking extraordinary measures to observe the High Holy Days, and to ensure Jewish fans don’t miss a moment of the Cornhuskers’ season. Omaha resident Alperson is flying New York City Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin to Nebraska for Yom Kippur, where Bashevkin will lead services and study sessions on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus so that observant football fans can make it in time to Saturday night’s game after the holiday.

The Omaha World-Herald notes that kickoff is at 7 p.m., five minutes after the official end of the holiday.

Alperson, a member of Omaha’s Beth Israel Synagogue, was equally creative in 2007, when another Cornhuskers game fell on Rosh Hashanah. In order to both observe the holiday and attend the game, he flew in three rabbinical students from New York City, who prayed with him at a location that was within walking distance of the stadium. He came to regret the decision, however, and while he’s offering Bashevkin’s services to other Jewish football fans this year, he plans to remain at Beth Israel rather than try to squeeze in both the holiday and the game.

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Does Yom Kippur Unite or Divide?

By Nathan Jeffay

Does Yom Kippur in Israel unite or divide the country’s Jewish population?

Gesher, a nonprofit that promotes religious-secular dialogue, believes that a poll it just commissioned with Ynet shows the holiday’s unifying function. The poll found that 58% of Israeli Jews plan to fast. Taking a closer look at the figure for fasting, that means that nearly 100% of religious Jews and 87% of “traditional” Jews will fast, while 54% of “secular” Jews say they won’t fast.

“This is a day for everyone, which connects all factions among the people of Israel,” said Gesher director Ilan Gal-Dor in response to the poll, and in a sense he is correct. The fact that almost one in two secular Jews will fast to adhere to a system of religious law they generally reject is notable.

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Yom Kippur Confession: The Shmooze Was Wrong About Hank Williams, Jr.

By Nathan Burstein

Hours before Yom Kippur seems like an appropriate time for the Shmooze to admit it got something wrong.

Getty Images

On Tuesday, we predicted that ESPN would drop Hank Williams, Jr.’s “Monday Night Football” theme song for just one week after the singer compared President Obama to Hitler on Fox News. (In the same interview, Williams likened House Speaker John Boehner to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.)

Well, our powers of prediction turned out to be wrong: ESPN announced Thursday that the football anthem will no longer be part of its Monday night programming. “We have decided to part ways with Hank Williams Jr.,” the network said in a statement. “We appreciate his contributions over the past years. The success of ‘Monday Night Football’ has always been about the games and that will continue.”

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Video Message to Gilad Shalit: ‘We’re Sorry’

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

As Yom Kippur nears, Gilad Shalit’s father Noam and others are publically asking the captured IDF soldier for forgiveness.

They tell Shalit they are sorry in a video made by two Sam Spiegel Film & Television School students on-site at the Gilad Shalit vigil tent outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem’s Rechavia neighborhood.

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Mubarak for ‘Man of 5771’?

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

The Egyptian newspaper Al-masry Al-youm took note of the fact that an Israeli journalist has suggested that ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak be named Israel’s Man of the Year (with “year” meaning the recently departed 5771).

Political correspondent Udi Segal apparently said on air during a Channel 2 evening news broadcast that “Mubarak symbolizes the last Jewish year ‘with all its changes, risks, hope and despair.’”

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Up for Auction: Hitler’s Reading Glasses, Cigarette Case

By Renee Ghert-Zand

The controversy about the sale of Nazi memorabilia continues. Just months after Josef Mengele’s diaries were purchased by an anonymous American Orthodox Jew who says he may loan them to Yad Vashem, and days after Hitler’s Gemlich letter went on display at the Museum of Tolerance, it has been announced that an auction of some of Hitler’s personal effects is set to take place this month in Germany.

Some are questioning the decency of private individuals benefiting financially from the sale of such items. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, reportedly called the auction “ a stain on modern-day Germany.” He was also quoted as saying, “As we at the European Jewish Congress try and preserve the memory and historic lessons of this dark period, these types of events are completely counterproductive and damaging toward educating younger Germans and Europeans about the Holocaust.”

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Larry King Headlines Chabad’s Telethon

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

Larry King just can’t pass up an opportunity to connect with television audiences. Although he stepped down from hosting “Larry King Live” on CNN last December, King was back on camera a few days before Rosh Hashanah this year to host the 31st annual Chabad “Lechaim To Life” telethon. King’s return engagement netted $4.2 million to support Chabad’s broad network of centers and programs.

When asked why King agreed to return to the spotlight on Chabad’s behalf, he said, “We all have friends and family who’ve fallen upon bitter times, and this Rosh Hashanah it will take more than just ‘an apple in honey’ to bring them a sweet year. So I’m joining to help the thousands of people from all faiths and backgrounds who’ve turned to Chabad in dire need.”

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Feds Probe Columbia for Illegal ‘Steering’

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Billy Hathorn, via Wikimedia Commons

The Columbia Spectator has reported that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint made against Columbia University on behalf a Jewish Barnard College student. The student was allegedly “steered” away from taking a course with a professor who is known for being critical of Israel and who has been accused of anti-Semitism. “Steering” is considered a form of illegal discrimination and a violation of civil rights.

The complaint was filed with the OCR by Kenneth Marcus, the director of the Initiative on Anti-Semitism at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research after he was informed of the incident by Mailman School of Public Health professor Judith Jacobson, who had heard about it from a third party. The student, whose name has not been revealed, is reportedly supportive of the actions that have been taken on her behalf.

The complaint alleges that last January, Professor Rachel McDermott, then-chair of Barnard’s Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures department, discouraged the student from taking a class with Joseph Massad, associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia.

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Hitler's First Anti-Semitic Letter On Display in L.A.

By Renee Ghert-Zand

A letter typed and signed by Adolf Hitler in 1919, and thought to be his first written comments calling for the annihilation of the Jews, is now on display at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. The document, known as the Gemlich letter, was purchased by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for $150,000 and revealed to the public this past June.

Hitler was a soldier in the German army when he wrote the letter. After being wounded during World War I, he was assigned to a propaganda unit in Munich run by Karl Mayr. Mayr asked Hitler to write a response to one Adolf Gemlich’s request for a clarification on the army’s position on “the Jewish question.”

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Hank Williams Jr. Dumped Over Obama Comment

By Nathan Burstein

Getty Images

Be careful with those Hitler analogies, America.

Hank Williams, Jr., the guy who performs the “Monday Night Football” theme song, saw the anthem dropped by ESPN last night after he compared President Obama to the Nazi dictator on Fox News.

In an interview on “Fox and Friends,” Williams remarked that the recent “golf summit” between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner was “like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.”

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London Installs ‘Sabbath Mode’ Walk Signal

By Nathan Jeffay

iStockphoto

London is getting a “hands free” crosswalk so that observant Jews don’t have to risk their lives on the Sabbath.

Until now, pedestrians need to press a button on London crosswalks and wait for a “green man” to light up to signal they should cross. But for years, this has caused a problem for congregants at one of the city’s most popular synagogues — Finchley United Synagogue. After the Sabbath services, dozens of congregants are seen waiting for a gap in the traffic that never opens — unable to press the button due to Sabbath laws.

Now the crosswalk has been outfitted with a Sabbath mode, and will change automatically every 90 seconds. Strangely enough, it’s big national news — the Daily Mail reports here on the development in great detail. And it’s got the talkback crew talking. It’s the “thin end of the wedge,” according to one commenter who resents public expressions of Judaism. Another writes that the observant should “look left look right say a little prayer and run like the devil.”


‘Jihad’ Banner Unveiled at Polish Soccer Match

By Renee Ghert-Zand

In the latest news about the anti-Semitic behavior of European football fans, supporters of Poland’s Legia team unfurled a huge “Jihad” banner during a recent Warsaw game against Hapoel Tel Aviv.

The banner was green, and “Jihad Legia” was written across it in white Arabic-style font. Green is one of Legia’s team colors, but it is also the color of many Islamist groups and parties.

“Some Legia fans have been known for anti-Semitic and extreme-right behavior for years and they had a chance to express their hatred of Jews again when Legia played an Israeli team, this time adopting a pseudo-Islamist guise,” Rafal Pankowski, who runs the UEFA-backed Football Against Racism in Europe network, told AFP. The UEFA is European football’s governing body.

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John Galliano’s Old Haunt Draws Hip Crowd

By Renee Ghert-Zand

John Galliano is no longer at Christian Dior, nor does he go any more to the La Perle café-bar in the Marais district of Paris. That was the setting for the drunken anti-Semitic tirades that got him into trouble not only with his former employer, but also with the law. But the fact that those hateful outbursts happened there has apparently made La Perle a hip place to hang out.

The neighborhood establishment, which caters to local workers and families during the day, is now so crowded late at night that its young, upscale patrons are crowding the sidewalks outside.

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Ralph Steinman Wins Posthumous Nobel

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images
Alexis Steinman, daughter of deceased 2011 Nobel Prize in medicine winner Ralph Steinman, speaks at a press conference in front of a photo of her father at Rockefeller University.

As a result of some unusual timing, the Nobel Prize for Medicine has been awarded posthumously to scientist Ralph M. Steinman. Steinman, a Canadian-born researcher who worked at Rockefeller University, died of pancreatic cancer on September 30, but word of his passing did not reach the Nobel Committee in Sweden before it announced the award today. The Nobel Committee does not grant posthumous awards.

Nobel secretary general Goran Hansson called this a “unique situation, because he died hours before the decision was made.” The panel will have to decide what to do with the prize money that would have gone to Steinman, but it will not name a substitute winner.

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Google's 'Bar Mitzvah'

By Nathan Burstein

Google

If you did an online search yesterday, chances are you saw Google’s homepage decorated with an animated cake, candles and other images celebrating the company’s 13th birthday.

Given the search engine’s Jewish parentage, it makes sense that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg used the occasion to congratulate the site on a major religious milestone, writing on Twitter, “Happy 13th Birthday … and best wishes on your Bar Mitzvah.”

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Avigdor Lieberman Can’t Carry a Tune

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

There are many Israelis, especially those on the left side of the political spectrum, who would describe Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as having a tin ear when it comes to recognizing socio-political realities.

Lieberman’s opponents will feel especially validated now that it turns out that he is actually — and totally — tone deaf. If the painful sound of his singing Hatikva, the national anthem, at a pre-Rosh Hashanah gathering of members of his Yisrael Beiteinu party on Monday, is any indication, it seems as though Lieberman would not be able to sing on key if his life depended on it.

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Ukrainian Nationalists Protest Rosh Hashanah Pilgrimage

By Renee Ghert-Zand

As an expected 50,000 Breslov Hasidim descend on Uman, Ukraine for their annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman there, they are being met with protests from local Ukrainian nationalists.

According to reports by the Moscow Times and Kyiv Post, the Svoboda nationalist party held an “Uman Without Hasidim” rally to demand stricter controls on the Hasidic pilgrims. Tetyana Chornomaz, head of the local Svoboda branch, was adamant that the protest had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. However, she did say that “we have many questions regarding their [the Hasidim’s] stay in Ukraine.” In particular, she and other activists are concerned about security and sanitation while the pilgrims are in the area. During the 2010 pilgrimage, 10 Hasidim were deported back to Israel and banned from returning to the Ukraine for disrupting the public order and causing bodily harm to Uman residents.

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Tony Blair Cozies Up To Divorcee Ofra Strauss

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been spending quite a bit of time in Israel since becoming the Quartet’s representative there. According to the Daily Mail (which in turn cites Maariv), the married Englishman has been spending a noticeable amount of that time with 51-year-old, twice-divorced Israeli “tycoon” Ofra Strauss.

Blair has apparently known Strauss, who is the chairperson and former CEO of the Strauss Group, which she inherited from her father, for some time. The company makes dairy products, snacks and sweets, and was one of the targets of the popular protests in Israel this past summer.

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