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Archive for the ‘Jewish Life’ Category

“When Pawel looks into the mirror, he can still sometimes see a neo-Nazi skinhead staring back, the man he was before he covered his shaved head with a skullcap, traded his fascist ideology for the Torah and renounced violence and hatred in favor of God.

“‘I still struggle every day to discard my past ideas,’ said Pawel, a 33-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew and former truck driver, noting with little irony that he had to stop hating Jews in order to become one. ‘When I look at an old picture of myself as a skinhead, I feel ashamed. Every day I try and do teshuvah,’ he said, using the Hebrew word for repentance. ‘Every minute of every day. There is a lot to make up for.’

“Pawel, who also uses his Hebrew name Pinchas, asked that his last name not be used for fear that his old neo-Nazi friends could harm him or his family.

“Twenty years after the fall of Communism, Pawel is perhaps the most unlikely example of the Jewish revival under way in Poland, of a moment in which Jewish leaders here say the country is finally showing solid signs of shedding the rabid anti-Semitism of the past.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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“The Polish police said Friday that the iron sign over the gate to the Auschwitz memorial with the infamous phrase ‘arbeit macht frei’ — ‘work sets you free’ — has been stolen.

“Katarzyna Padlo, a police spokeswoman, said the police believe it was taken between 3:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. Friday.

“Ms. Padlo, who was quoted by The Associated Press, said the sign over the main entrance to Auschwitz, the former Nazi death camp in southern Poland, near Krakow, was removed by being unscrewed on one side and pulled off on the other. She said the authorities immediately launched an intensive search.

“The sign was erected soon after Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp, was built in May 1940, and more than a million people died during the four-and-a-half years of Auschwitz’s existence. The victims were mainly Jewish men, women and children but included Polish political prisoners, Soviet prisoners of war, Roma families, gay men and lesbians, people with disabilities and prisoners of conscience.

“The camp was liberated by the Red Army on Jan. 27, 1945.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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WhoIsAJew“The questions before the judges in Courtroom No. 1 of Britain’s Supreme Court were as ancient and as complex as Judaism itself.

“Who is a Jew? And who gets to decide?

“On the surface, the court was considering a straightforward challenge to the admissions policy of a Jewish high school in London. But the case, in which arguments concluded Oct. 30, has potential repercussions for thousands of other parochial schools across Britain. And in addressing issues at the heart of Jewish identity, it has exposed bitter divisions in Britain’s community of 300,000 or so Jews, pitting members of various Jewish denominations against one another. . . .

“The case began when a 12-year-old boy, an observant Jew whose father is Jewish and whose mother is a Jewish convert, applied to the school, JFS. Founded in 1732 as the Jews’ Free School, it is a centerpiece of North London’s Jewish community. It has around 1,900 students, but it gets far more applicants than it accepts. . . .

“By many standards, the JFS applicant, identified in court papers as ‘M,’ is Jewish. But not in the eyes of the school, which defines Judaism under the Orthodox definition set out by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Because M’s mother converted in a progressive, not an Orthodox, synagogue, the school said, she was not a Jew — nor was her son. It turned down his application.

“That would have been the end of it. But M’s family sued, saying that the school had discriminated against him. They lost, but the ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeal this summer.” (more @ NY Times)

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Pastrami“He may have written a book about Jewish food, but David Sax is quite a ham. He refers to a deli’s finances as ‘pastraminomics,’ describes a knish as being ‘baked to a George Hamiltonesque hue,’ and titles a chapter on Las Vegas’s deli scene ‘Luck Be a Brisket Tonight.’

“But in addition to Catskills shtick, journalist Sax brings passion and substance to Save the Deli, his paean to the Jewish delicatessen experience. The heart of the book is his cross-country road trip, during which he sizes up the state of the deli in cities obvious (New York, Los Angeles, Miami) and unlikely (Boulder, Salt Lake City, Houston).” (cont’d @ Barnes & Noble Review)

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Roth NewarkPhilip Roth came home again Saturday, which is not so unusual because he’s been a frequent visitor in recent years. ‘As you get older, you get closer to home.’ Roth said this as he entered the Newark Museum yesterday as the surprise guest on a bus tour of Newark. Now 76, the man once called one of America’s greatest authors is now called America’s greatest living author as contemporaries like Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer and John Updike have passed on in recent years.

“Saturday, he was among another group of contemporaries, though a decade younger: graduates of Weequahic High, 1960, who, as part of their 50th reunion, signed up for ‘Philip Roth’s Newark.’ Still, the ‘kids’ knew him. As Roth stepped on to the bus, the murmurs turned into buzz, the cell phones and digital cameras flashed. America’s greatest living author is also Weequahic High’s most famous graduate. . . .

The author, who today lives in Connecticut, had never done the whole route. But on the first tour, he was honored at his childhood home at 81 Summit Street, where the block was ceremoniously named Philip Roth Plaza and a marker unveiled on the house.” (more @ NJ.com)

Related: (10/21/09) Philip Roth Unbound (Video interview with Tina Brown @ The Daily Beast)

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Anti-Nazi and Anti-Papal graffiti, Rome, Italy (May, 2009) [Click images to enlarge]

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Hitler Badge“The items were sometimes delicate, often minimalist and always haunting: a monogrammed silver matchbox; a gold locket with a butterfly design; a letter-opener, its sturdy handle embellished with an eagle and a swastika. Up for auction here on Thursday, the relics fetched record prices and even spurred bidding wars, purely because of their history: They are believed to be among items owned by Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun.

“While the recession may mean that many Americans have been wrestling their overworked credit cards back into their wallets and cutting back on expenses large and small, some collectors have been paying record prices for historic artifacts. At Alexander Autographs, a small auctioneer that expected to generate about $800,000 in sales at its two-day auction, sales reached nearly $600,000 on Wednesday. By Thursday, they were edging toward $1 million. . . .

“The most interest — and higher prices — went to the Nazi-related items once owned by the collector John Lattimer: $4,000 for Braun’s compact; $4,250 for Hitler’s teacup and saucer, with a rose and chestnut print; and $3,000 for his dessert plate.” (more @ NY Times)

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mein-kampf“While it is regarded in most countries as a ‘Nazi Bible’, in India it is considered a management guide . . .

“Sales of [Mein Kampf] over the last six months topped 10,000 in New Delhi alone, according to leading stores, who said it appeared to be becoming more popular with every year.

“‘Students are increasingly coming in asking for it and we’re happy to sell it to them,’ said Sohin Lakhani, owner of Mumbai-based Embassy books who reprints Mein Kampf every quarter and shrugs off any moral issues in publishing the book.

“‘They see it as a kind of success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan on how to implement it and then successfully complete it.'” (more @ Daily Telegraph)

[Ach mein Gott!]

Related: ‘Turn Left at Gestapo Headquarters’

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“During the late Thirties, some of Britain’s most distinguished architects, artists, musicians, film-makers and others, many of them Jewish, arrived on our shores with their meagre belongings having escaped from the Nazi threat in continental Europe. Many of them made their homes here and went on to leave a lasting mark on our intellectual and cultural life. Britain reaped a rich reward for its tolerance. . . .

“Among them were two refugees from Vienna, Walter Neurath and Eva Feuchtwang. . . .

“They met in London during the war, fell in love, and in 1949, 60 years ago, they pooled their passions, and set up a new art publishing imprint that would straddle the Atlantic.

“They named it Thames & Hudson, after the rivers of London and New York, and their aim was to publish reasonably priced books on art, sculpture and architecture, in which words and pictures were integrated and accessible to all. They wanted their books to educate, inform and entertain as a ‘museum without walls’. . . .

“Setting out to rebuild British culture Thames & Hudson has grown into a hugely successful company, and it remains one of Britain’s last family-held publishing dynasties.” (more @ Times Online)

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killingfieldHolocaust deniers aside, the world is not ignorant of the systematic Nazi slaughter of some six million Jews in World War II. People know of the gas chambers in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen; many have heard of the tens of thousands shot dead in the Ukrainian ravine of Babi Yar. But little has been known about the hundreds — perhaps thousands — of smaller killing fields across the former Soviet Union where some 1.5 million Jews met their deaths.

“That is now changing. Over the past few years, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and research center in Israel has been investigating those sites, comparing Soviet, German, local and Jewish accounts, cross-checking numbers and methods. The work, gathered under the title ‘The Untold Stories,’ is far from over. But to honor Holocaust Remembrance Day, which starts Monday evening, the research is being made public on the institution’s Web site.” (more @ NY Times)

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The presence of many lethal genetic diseases affecting the brain among Ashkenazi Jews may also increase their intelligence – so say Gregory Cochran (bottom), a physicist and genetics buff, and geneticist Henry Harpending (top), authors of the recently published, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“The biological basis for intelligence can be a thankless arena of inquiry. The authors of ‘The Bell Curve’ were vilified 15 years ago for suggesting genes played a role in IQ differences among racial groups.

“But Cochran, 55, and Harpending, 65, say there’s no question that as a whole, Ashkenazi Jews — those of European descent — have an abundance of brain power. (Neither man is Jewish.)

“Psychologists and educational researchers have pegged their average IQ at 107.5 to 115. That’s only modestly higher than the overall European average of 100, but the gap is large enough to produce a huge difference in the proportion of geniuses. When a group’s average IQ is 100, the percentage of people above 140 is 0.4%; when the average is 110, the genius rate is 2.3%.

“Though Jews make up less than 3% of the U.S. population, they have won more than 25% of the Nobel Prizes awarded to American scientists since 1950, account for 20% of this country’s chief executives and make up 22% of Ivy League students, the pair write.” (more @ LA Times)

RelatedAre Jews Smarter?

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chabon“Thirty years ago the American Jewish fiction of Philip Roth and Saul Bellow was all about Yiddish insults, blonde shiksas, and getting away from the past. Today’s talented crop of young Jewish writers, such as Nathan Englander, Michael Chabon, and Dara Horn, are weaving tales bound in a newfound ethnic pride that has revitalized Jewish literature in America.” (cont’d @ Vanity Fair)

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“In “Defiance,” a clunky but well-meaning action film set during World War II and starring Daniel Craig, the Bielski brothers save hundreds of fellow Polish Jews by battling Nazis in the Belarussian forest. Directed by Edward Zwick and based on a true story, the movie, released around New Year’s, tried among other things to counter Hollywood’s usual tales of Jewish helplessness during the Shoah.

“Whether it did, or instead implied that Jews who didn’t fight bore a measure of responsibility for their own fate, became a matter of some passing debate in America.

“But the film provoked a different sort of fuss shortly before it arrived here some weeks later. Movie critics in Poland wondered whether Hollywood would ever get around to showing Polish partisans as heroes, as opposed to anti-Semites. . . .

“As Europe diversifies, nearly every nation and culture on the continent seems to battle for victimhood status. Poles have especially good reason to see themselves as long oppressed, having been fought over and occupied for much of the last century by vicious regimes. Shifting political power struggles during and after the war, among other complications of Polish Jewish history, led some Polish Jews at certain points to side with Soviets against Nazis and Polish partisans. The whole moral morass, essential to Polish identity, tends to be lost on outsiders, many of whom unthinkingly regard the country, throughout most of the last century at least, as just a Jewish killing field.” (more @ NY Times)

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schindlerpapers“A list of Jews saved from the Nazi death camps during World War II by the German industrialist Oskar Schindler has been found in research notes at an Australian library and will go on public display on Tuesday.

“The list of 801 Jewish men was found among six boxes of papers that belonged to the Australian author Thomas Keneally who wrote the book ‘Schindler’s Ark’ that was the basis for the Oscar-winning film ‘Schindler’s List‘ by Stephen Spielberg. The 13-page, yellowing, document was found tucked between research notes and German newspaper cuttings by a researcher at the New South Wales Library in Sydney sifting through the boxes of manuscripts acquired by the library in 1996.” (more @ Reuters)

RelatedSchindler’s List found in Sydney

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“Sana Krasikov is the 2009 recipient of the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for emerging writers of Jewish literature. Krasikov wins the Prize for her debut short story collection, One More Year (Spiegel & Grau) . . . 

“The Sami Rohr Prize is the largest monetary prize of its kind in the Jewish literary world, and one of the largest literary prizes worldwide. In 2006, in celebration of Sami Rohr’s 80th birthday, his children and grandchildren inaugurated the Sami Rohr Prize to honor his lifelong love of Jewish literature. The Prize considers fiction and non-fiction in alternating years.” (more @ Jewish Book Council)

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Wall built from gravestone fragments, Remu Shul (Synagogue) cemetary, Kraków, Poland.

The Remu [also: Rema, Remuh] synagogue (acronym for Rabbi Moses Isserles) is located in Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Krakow, and was founded in 1553 by Israel Isserles.  The Remu was considered to be the ‘Maimonides of Polish Jewry’ and was known for his universal outlook, his extensive Talmudic and secular knowledge, his manner of study, and his humility. . . .

“The adjacent Remu cemetery was used until 1799, and contains the graves of the Remu and his family. . . . After [World War II], the cemetery was restored and pieces of broken headstones which could not be matched were used to make a memorial cemetery wall.” (more @ New Cracow Friendship Society; Full photo; May, 2008)

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Dissent editor Michael Walzer considers the options for Israeli-Palestinian relations in the aftermath of the recent Gaza war: 

“No one can say with any certainty that the two-state solution was viable before the war in Gaza. I can imagine arguments that the war made it more viable and also that it made it less viable. But, really, its viability doesn’t have a lot to do with the immediate strategic/political situation. There isn’t any other solution; this one is unique. People keep coming back to it because there’s no other way to go. It survives, therefore, I guess, it’s viable.

“But it isn’t in great shape right now, even though everyone knows what each side would have to do to realize this solution. The Palestinians have to end their civil war, and form a provisional government that recognizes Israel and represses all terrorist activity. The Israelis have to form a government that recognizes the Palestinians’ right to a state of their own, defeats the settler movement, and begins the evacuation of the settlements.” (more @ Dissent)

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williamsburg_540

“A month after allegations of child sexual abuse surfaced in the mainstream press, the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, N.Y., is taking cautious steps to confront the scandal. Meanwhile, outsiders are tackling the issue head on.

“On Sunday, state Assemblyman Dov Hikind plans to host a community-wide ‘morning of chizuk’ (support) for the alleged victims of abuse. Hikind, an Orthodox Jew who is largely responsible for bringing public attention to the scandal, has recruited rabbis and community leaders to speak at the event, which takes place in Boro Park, the center of the Hasidic district he represents. Some community members believe the gesture is merely symbolic, but Hikind calls the event ‘unprecedented.’

“‘No one has touched this subject before,’ he says. ‘We’re telling the victims we’re sorry we didn’t see your pain before, and we’re turning the corner.'” (via NPR)

[The website for the organization Survivors for Justice, run by “survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community and their advocates who are committed to offering guidance and support to victims seeking justice through the criminal and civil legal system,” can be found here.]

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bibi“Can a hawkish Binyamin Netanyahu . . . surprise the world and sprout dovish wings?”

( via Foreign Policy)

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churchillThe New York Times earlier this week reported that the New York Theater Workshop is considering mounting Caryl Churchill‘s controversial new play, “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,” which is critical of Israel’s recent military offensive in Gaza. The play, which runs for only ten minutes, is currently being performed at the Royal Court Theater in London – on the theater’s website, Churchill, described as “one of the titans of British theatre,” is quoted as saying, “Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme.” The play is being performed without an admission charge – audience members are asked afterwards for contributions to the charity “Medical Aid for Palestinians.”

In today’s New York Times, Robert Mackey gathers opinions from both sides of the Atlantic as well as the Middle East: included are columnists; theater critics; the vice chairman of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, Jonathan Hoffman; and Susannah Tarbush, who writes in The Saudi Gazette that the play “succinctly dramatizes the tragedies and ironies of history for both sides.”

The full text (.pdf) of “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,” can be downloaded here.

Update: (3/26/09) ‘Tell Her the Truth’ (A response to Churchill’s play by Tony Kushner & Alisa Solomon)

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