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Natalie Portman Hits Her Stride

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 7:00am
What the most visibly Jewish actress of her generation can teach us about being ourselves—and handling tough questions about Israel
By Rachel Shukert for Tablet

It’s happened to all of us.

You’re at a trendy wine bar or dinner party—a nice one that uses cloth napkins and serves appetizers separately from the main course—when the dreaded “I” word comes up. And no, it’s not “isometrics” or “Ireland Baldwin.” It’s Israel.

At your table, the consensus is that Israel is full of whiny and hypocritical racists and bullies. A tight knot forms in your stomach: Do you assert support for the Jewish State, causing everyone to treat you as some kind of hateful right wing reactionary for the rest of the night? Or do you agree without caveat and feel ashamed of yourself?

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Meet the Egyptian-Jewish Owner of Kentucky Derby Winner American Pharaoh

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 7:00am
Ahmed Zayat, who lives in New Jersey, once named a yearling ‘Maimonides’ to promote peace among Arabs and Jews
By Jonathan Zalman for Tablet Magazine

On Saturday, like a tremendous machine, three-year-old bay colt American Pharaoh pushed ahead in the final furlong to take the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby. In a close second was Firing Line, followed by Dortmund.

American Pharaoh is owned by Ahmed Zayat, head of Zayat Stables, a 200-plus horse operation that competes at racetracks around the country. Zayat lives in Teaneck with his wife, two daughters, and two sons; 23-year-old, Justin, a student at NYU, currently manages the stables.
Zayat, 52, moved to the U.S. at the age of 18. He earned a graduate degree in Public Health at Boston University and founded Al Ahram Beverage Company, a distributor in Egypt, which he sold to Heineken in 2002 for $280 million. According to his bio, Zayat is also the largest shareholder in Misr Glass Manufacturing, a manufacturer of glass containers in Egypt. In 2010, the New York Times profiled Zayat and wrote about the businessman’s entry into the world of horse racing:

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The Crazy New Invention for Using Electricity on Shabbat

Mon, 05/11/2015 - 7:00am
By Jewniverse

For many observant Jews, not using electricity is one of the most salient aspects of Sabbath observance. But a new invention aims to change that.

By changing the way a light switch works, the patented Kosher Switch offers a novel — and, its backers say, kosher — way to turn light switches (and, perhaps, other electrical appliances) on and off during Shabbat.

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A Journey Through French Anti-Semitism

Mon, 05/04/2015 - 7:00am
By Shmuel Trigano, jewishreviewofbooks.com

If after the horrors of January 2015 there is any consolation for the Jews of France, it would seem to lie in the words of Prime Minister Manuel Valls. “How can we accept that people are killed because they are Jewish?” he cried out at a special session of the French parliament a week after the massacres at the Charlie Hebdo editorial offices and at the Hypercacher kosher supermarket. “History has taught us that the awakening of anti-Semitism is the symptom of a crisis for democracy and of a crisis for the Republic. That is why we must respond with force.” We are at war, he said, “with terrorism, jihadism, and Islamist radicalism” (he has spoken more recently of “Islamofascism”), but not, he added, “Islam and Muslims.” And yet, as someone who has lived through and documented the last two decades and more of anti-Semitism in France, I note that there is a problem with the inevitable reflexive warnings after every vicious attack not to slip into Islamophobia by conflating Islam and terrorism. It is a kind of automatic discourse in which the existence of a threat to Muslims erases the recognition of the hatred to which Islamic texts and doctrines have given rise, as expressed by the terrorists themselves. For there is a long history of Islamic anti-Judaism, and it is the reason for the attacks against the Jews.

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The Marathon and the Mikveh

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 7:00am
by Rabbi Danielle Eskow for MayyimHayyim Blog

As a monthly mikveh goer, I had always appreciated the cleansing experience of immersing in the water. The routine enhanced my own life, as well as my marriage. As a rabbi, I had witnessed the powerful experience of a new Jewish person immersing in the mikveh upon conversion. I had not yet experienced, either personally or professionally the powerful healing that the mikveh could bring. This all changed when the Boston Marathon Bombings occurred on April 15th 2013.

My husband ran the marathon that year and finished four minutes before the bombs went off.  I had been standing in front of where the first bomb went off.  For twenty minutes I could not find him, the longest twenty minutes of my life. That night when we finally were able to go home, I told my husband, “this was one of the hardest and worst days of my life.” Little did I know that the days that followed would be much worse.

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It’s 1933: Calling All Jewish Doctors to Istanbul!

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 7:00am
By Leah Falk for Jewniverse

In the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire was known as the “sick man of Europe.” When, after World War I, Kemal Mustafa Ataturk helped inaugurate the republic of Turkey, becoming its first president, one could say he overturned this reputation by the most literal means possible: by inviting 300 some German Jewish doctors, on the eve of World War II, to take refuge in Turkey.

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Q&A: ‘Mad Men’ Creator Matthew Weiner Talks LA Jews and the American Dream

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 7:00am
By David Samuels for Tablet Magazine

If I could meet any Jew for a dry martini at the Carlyle Hotel, I would choose Matthew Weiner, the creator of the most influential iteration of the mid-century American story and one of the great show runners in the new golden age of television. So, I felt lucky when I got the chance to do just that a few weeks ago. But we met at 11 a.m., so the only drink available was a Bloody Mary. Still game, I ordered one for myself (vodka; extra horseradish), but Weiner just asked for a coffee with milk.

It wasn’t exactly how I imagined it, but we settled in to our comfortable surroundings and talked about the Jews for almost two hours, until he went off to have a more perfectly set-designed lunch, probably at the Rainbow Room or some other suitably mid-century modern midtown location. The version of our conversation that follows has been subjected to the moderate degree of editing appropriate to a publication that is read both by Jews and by the people who love them.

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Oliver Sacks on Facing Death

Mon, 04/06/2015 - 7:00am
Will my last days be filled with gratitude or regret?
by Eliana Cline for aish.com

My tears surprise me. I am reading Oliver Sacks’ New York Times op-ed where he shares that his cancer has metastasized to his liver and in a few months he will leave this world.

These are not the tears I cry when I hear of a young mother stricken with incurable cancer, or a teenager plucked from this world tragically before his prime. In his 81 years Sacks has achieved dazzling success and acclaim as both a scientist and an author.  His ground-breaking discoveries in the field of neuro-science have transformed modern medicine's understanding of the brain. Hailed by The New York Times as “the poet laureate of medicine,” Sacks will leave the world of both medicine and literature infinitely richer.

It is the fullness of his life which moves me. It is specifically the fact that he stands facing death with not a whisper of regret in his words. Quite the opposite, his words are dripping with fulfilment and gratitude. Till his last day, he chooses to embrace the world: “It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me,” he writes. “I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”

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Can't Buy Jewish Continuity? Sell It Instead

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 7:00am
ELI Talk - JDate

Sam Glassenberg, CEO at Funtactix

Sam Glassenberg argues that the JDate model of selling desirable, high-quality, customer-driven experiences provides an effective template for how we address the Jewish world’s biggest challenges.  Next stop - Education.


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Orthodox feminists say they don’t want a revolution

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 7:00am
Female rabbis and other religious Jewish feminists discuss the need for evolution and patience in the struggle for equal rights
By Amanda Borschel-Dan, The Times of Israel

Women were first counted in prayer quorums in liberal Judaism by the early 1800s. But it took until 1935 for the first female rabbi’s ordination — Regina Jonas in Germany — and another 37 years until the second.

Rabbi Sally Priesand was ordained through the Reform movement in the United States in 1972, followed by Reconstructionist Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso in 1974. By 1985, the Conservative movement followed suit, and there was an international domino effect of first female graduates from each denomination’s rabbinical schools.

For the young graduates, finding a receptive congregation and being hired for a pulpit position was the next hurdle. Even today this proves sometimes insurmountable in more conservative Jewish communities, often, ironically, in the Europe where the first female rabbi was ordained 80 years ago.

But now that women are the majority in seminary classes and lead hundreds of communities around the globe (albeit usually at lower salaries than their male counterparts), what about their sister suffragettes from Modern Orthodoxy who are just getting started on their feminist leadership journeys?

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BACKSTORY Emerson Swift Mahon: Canada’s first black Jew

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 7:00am
Eiran Harris, Special to The CJN

In 1912, a young black man left Grenada in a quest for learning. His voyage led him to Canada and conversion to Judaism.

“May you be written in the book of life in the New Year,” says the greeting in Yiddish on the back of a photograph of a black man in a broad-brimmed hat (see picture on cover).

That man, Emerson Swift Mahon, Canada’s first black Jew, sent the picture with a brief letter to Rabbi Herman Abramowitz of the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue in Montreal.

The letter, dated Nov. 16, 1921, is one of many treasures discovered in the Allan Raymond Collection housed at the Jewish Public Library Archives of Montreal.  Raymond, a historical lecturer, retired from the insurance business to devote his time to the study and collection of Canadian and Canadian-Judaic history. Written in English and Hebrew, the letter is a fascinating glimpse of this remarkable man.

“It is to be regretted that I have neglected my study of Hebrew,” Mahon wrote from Winnipeg to the rabbi. “What with the busy whirl of life...I had almost forgotten the saying of the sage.”

That saying is written in Hebrew. “Whoso forgets one word of his study, him the scripture regards as if he had forfeited his life.”

To be black and Jewish in Canada nearly 100 years ago was both unique and challenging.  To be also literate in Hebrew and Yiddish was an indication of an unusual and determined personality.

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When grandpa was a Nazi

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 7:00am
By Ben Sales for JTA

What do you do if you find out your grandfather was a Nazi officer?

That’s the crisis Jennifer Teege confronted in a Hamburg library in 2008 when she stumbled upon “I Have to Love My Father, Right?” The book was written by her mother, Monika Hertwig, and according to the dust jacket, Hertwig’s father was Amon Goeth, commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp.

Teege, now 44, remembered Goeth from the 1993 film “Schindler’s List,” where he was portrayed by the actor Ralph Fiennes.  As a student, she had taken a particular interest in the Holocaust an even spent four years in Israel. But until that day in the library, she had no idea her grandfather was a Nazi.

“It even got worse by getting this information, to realize that this was not a random man but someone who belonged to my family, someone I had a connection with,” Teege told JTA in an interview at the Jerusalem International Book Fair. “It felt like it was a bad dream.”

Teege’s struggle with her family history is the subject of “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me,” a book she wrote in 2013 that is due out in English this year. Teege was born in southern Germany to a Nigerian father and German mother and the book chronicles her uncovering of her roots and subsequent struggle with what her ancestry means for her own life — particularly as someone whom the Nazis would have persecuted.

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Christians Have Fallen in Love With Queen Esther, Purim’s Jewish Heroine

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 7:00am

In recent novels, sermons, and Bible-study guides, evangelicals and mainline Protestants alike find inspiration in the biblical tale

By Rebecca Phillips for Tablet Magazine

In Hadassah: One Night With the King, a popular 2004 novelization of the Book of Esther, the queen describes her first night alone with the king of Persia. Apparently she had a great time:

    … our mutual hunger raged unchecked—at no time did I even think of demurring or becoming submissive, for my desire for him was genuine. I had fallen in love with him. I had seen past his outer facade … and now I had reached his heart.

This isn’t the same meek, pure Esther most Jews are familiar with from the story of Purim, the woman Jewish girls throughout history have wanted to emulate. This Esther is a bundle of raging hormones, swept away by the handsome and powerful Xerxes (or as Jews know him, Ahasuerus).

But the Esther in this novel is different from the heroine we’re familiar with in another significant way. Later in Hadassah, Esther is depicted on her walk toward Xerxes to request a private banquet with the king and Haman. She teeters between life and death, as anyone who approached the king unbidden risked being put to death immediately. The original telling of this moment in the Bible portrays both Esther’s fortitude and her resignation to her fate: “If I perish, I perish,” she famously says. But in this novel, Esther seems to embrace her possible death:

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For more information, recipes and great ideas for Purim, check out Jvillage's Purim Holiday Kit

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Presenting: A cross between a pomelo and an orange and other novel Israeli produce varieties

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 7:00am
From The Jerusalem Post

Researchers at Israel's Volcani Institute show off their new produce varieties to eager chefs.
Would you like your tomatoes with extra lycopene? How about a sweet, easy-to-peel grapefruit, or even chickpeas that don't make you gassy?

These products - among many others - are what scientists at the Volcani Institute's Agricultural Research Organization (ARO) - the research arm of the Agriculture Ministry - are working on bringing to the market.

At an event for several dozen chefs from around the country, researchers presented their work - and its tasty applications - to an eager and hungry group at ARO's headquarters in Beit Dagan. The cooks from the Israel Chefs Association heard from four scientists about their fields of specialty: fresh herbs, citrus fruits, strawberries and chickpeas.

Dr. Nativ Dudai, who specializes in aromatic and medicinal plants and herbs at ARO's Neve Ya'ar branch and also lectures at the Hebrew University, says the "perrie" basil strain developed by the ARO is the most popular fresh herb in Israel, and also exported overseas.

"It's not just about the quality of the herb, but also their ability to grow year round, and their shelf life," said Dudai.

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A Eulogy for Elsa Cayat, Who Laughed at Her Killers

Mon, 02/16/2015 - 7:00am
Elsa Cayat was a French psychoanalyst and columnist who was murdered in the January 2015 shooting attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices. She was the sole female fatality at that terror site

In memory of the murdered ‘Charlie Hebdo’ satirist, book lover, therapist, Jew
By Delphine Horvilleur for Tablet Magazine

The following eulogy was given by Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur at the funeral of Elsa Cayat, in Paris, France, on Jan. 15, 2015. It is reproduced, in a translation from the French, with consent of the family.

Elsa used to begin each of her therapy sessions by saying to her patients: “So, now, tell me!”

So, I would like for us to listen to her invitation to hear other people’s words, and for us to speak, even if this cemetery is so far removed from her disarrayed office, even if the smoke from her cigarette no longer swirls in the air. Let us tell, at this place, who Elsa Cayat was, who she was for her parents, her brothers and sisters, her family, her partner, her nephews, her patients, her colleagues, for her Charlie Hebdo family, for her daughter.

We must tell how exceptionally intelligent this woman was, how vivacious she was in her wit and humor that you all knew. We must tell of the life of a woman who was out of the ordinary, as though we were telling a story—and I think she loved stories. Just as she loved books.

As a teenager she once told her sister: “You ought to read a book a day! Nietzsche, Heidegger, Freud … It doesn’t matter!” That was her minimum diet for culture and for her love of knowledge and for words, as she conceived of them.

Elsa was passionately in love with books, especially detective stories—because she adored plots and novels that you can’t put down and where the endings, she would say, let you “always discover who the killer was, and even his motive.”

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A Marriage That Changed the Course of History

Mon, 02/09/2015 - 7:00am
What Natalie Zemon Davis, pioneering scholar of early modern Europe, owes to her husband, and Martin Guerre
By Rachel Gordan for Tablet Magazine
The story of historian Natalie Zemon Davis, as she tells it, is largely one about the benefits that have accrued to an outsider. Sidelined during the early years of her career, her husband, the mathematician Chandler Davis, was arrested for creating and distributing Communist literature. In fact, in 1952, as a graduate student, Davis herself had done much of the research and writing for a pamphlet attacking the unconstitutional actions of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which was published anonymously by the University of Michigan Council for the Arts, Sciences, and Professions. As Davis later reflected, “the sexism of the House Committee members worked to my advantage in this instance: like legal authorities in early modern Europe, they assumed that if a married couple did something together, only the husband was really responsible.”

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