The Shmooze

Anthony Weiner Kvetches About His In-Laws

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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We are all prone to complaining about our in-laws. We might gripe about them while shmoozing with someone in person, on the phone or by e-mail. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner, it seems, talks about his in-laws even while sexting.

In her forthcoming tell-all book, “I Friended You,” about her online relationship with Weiner, 35-year-old former cheerleading coach Traci Nobles reveals that amid Weiner’s naughty messages to her was also some venting about his wife Huma Abedin’s parents. Abedin, who is a deputy chief of staff and aide to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, was born to a Pakistani family and grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny Dies

By Michael Kaminer

Wikimedia Commons

Franklin Kameny, the pioneering gay rights leader whose Jewish identity inspired some of his historic activism, has died at age 86, the Washington Post reports.

As the Forward wrote last year in an 85th-birthday profile, Kameny “became a vocal activist at a time when other downtrodden and discriminated-against gay people scarcely dared to show their faces in public.” Rather than shrink from revealing his sexual orientation, Kameny “made it plain,” the Washington Post wrote.

Kameny’s death, on National Coming Out Day, occurred in a year in which gay men and lesbians were accorded the right to serve openly in the armed forces, as gay D.C. Council member David A. Catania told the Post last night. Through his efforts over the years, Kameny deserved to be known as one of the fathers of that shift from the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Catania told the Post.

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Making a Case for the ‘Sabbath Elevator’

By Nathan Jeffay

iStockphoto

Secular-religious tensions in Israel have reached new heights — literally.

After three years of controversy among residents, homeowners at 14 Jabotinsky Street in Jerusalem’s Talbieh neighborhood have voted to use the building’s elevator every Sabbath as a “Shabbat elevator.” In a nod to the religious prohibition against pressing buttons on the Sabbath, the elevator will be programmed to stop automatically at each floor. This means no more walking up the stairs for religious residents who were previously unable to use the elevator on the Sabbath, but also longer lift journeys for secular residents.

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Bono Says to Think About Africa This Sukkot

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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Children line up for a meal in Mogadishu, where more than 100,000 people have fled to to seek help from a severe drought that has hit Somalia.

Bono would like Sukkot observers enjoying their bountiful meals in the sukkah to take a moment from their celebration to think about famine in Africa. ONE, the grassroots advocacy organization that the U2 musician founded to fight poverty and preventable disease in Africa, has put out a special Sukkot 2011 guide to educate people on the issue and its relevance to the Jewish harvest festival.

The 5-page booklet was written by Marc Friend, who works for American Jewish World Service in its advocacy department and who was recently an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. It provides some basic background on the rituals, traditions and religious texts of Sukkot, as well as useful statistics about the situation on the ground in the Horn of Africa and resources for further learning about food justice.

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City Pulls Yiddish Signs Ordering Women Aside

By Nathan Burstein

Wikimedia Commons

Municipal workers in Brooklyn have taken down signs directed at Hasidic women — not because they’re religious in content, but because of where they’re posted.

The signs, written in Yiddish, direct Hasidic women in the Williamsburg neighborhood to keep a distance from their male counterparts, telling them, “Precious Jewish daughter, please move aside when a man approaches.”

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‘Sukkah in the City’ Comes to Times Square

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Times Square just got more crowded…at least for the next week or so. Stonehenge Partners, owners and operators of luxury apartment buildings in New York, are building “Sukkah in the City,” reportedly the first sukkah ever to be erected at the Crossroads of the World.

Inspired by the unique designs that were on view at Sukkah City in Union Square last year, this sukkah will have a façade featuring giant sunflowers, ladybugs and a blue sky — in what can be assumed to be a nod to the agricultural origins of the holiday and an ode to nature in the middle of the concrete jungle.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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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