Monthly Archives: February 2010

This Week’s Links

By Michelle Albert
  • Gird your phone lines: The Senate has voted to extend the US Patriot Act for another year. [WashingtonPost]
  • A bill up for vote in the United Kingdom would allow same-sex couples to marry in British synagogues and other places of worship. As it is currently illegal for a rabbi to marry a same-sex couple in England, this constitutes a huge step forward. [Jewlicious]
  • If you like the movie Snatch, then you’ll love the story of a real-life fake robbery perpetrated by men dressed as Hasidic Jews. The two men behind the faux heist, jewelry store owners, staged the theft to cash in on their substantial insurance policy. Needless to say, it didn’t work. [Heeb]
  • The mayor of Jerusalem has offered 120 Palestinian families new apartments in return for the planned demolition of their current ramshackle homes. The families in question are miffed, and the mayor has been accused of attempted ethnic cleansing. [NYTimes]
  • ‘Real’ Jewish delis face off with the sustainable food crowd. [JerusalemPost]
  • A 140-year old hot dog is on display in Coney Island as a reminder of the island’s history. [CNN]

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Breaking the Silence

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Three thin little black books have been creating a firestorm of controversy in Israel recently.  No, they have nothing to do sex scandals.  Rather, they are publications from Breaking the Silence (BTS), an Israeli human rights group founded by four former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers.  Their objective is to collect and publish testimony from soldiers who served in the Palestinian Territories between 2001 and 2004.  So far, they have recorded the experiences of 700 soldiers, documenting many harsh, even brutal actions taken by the IDF in the Palestinian Territories.

On the eve of her first US tour, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dana Golan, the 27 year-old Executive Director of Breaking the Silence.  Below is an excerpt from our discussion. Continue reading

Breaking Bread With BTs

By Samuel Green

A lot of people say that there is no better way to experience Shabbat than in Jerusalem, the place where it all started.  So I guess that’s another reason that I’m absurdly lucky to be spending the semester in Jerusalem. I’m trying to experience as many different kinds of Shabbatot as possible—with family, friends, fellow students, religious and secular, in settlers, kibbutzim, etc.  But there is one kind of Shabbat that I enjoy more than any other: eating ‘by’ some ba’lei teshuva.

“Ba’al Teshuva” (lit. “master of return/repentance/the answer”) also known as “chozer b’teshuva” or less flatteringly, BT, describes a person who becomes a religious, Torah-observant Jew. BTs often grow with little to no religious education or connection to the Jewish community, and as I’m discovering, a lot of them move to Israel after getting on the derech. Continue reading

A Gathering of the Tribe

By Caroline Kessler

Although it’s only Monday, I’m already planning for this Friday, February 19. Why? Because that’s when I leave, at approximately 5.30 in the morning, for Jewlicious Festival 6.0. Although I can barely speak the slightly cheesy name of this festival, Google has no trouble prompting you with the suggestion of “Jewlicious” after typing only “jewl,” as my friend Molly pointed out, amused beyond belief.

Some backstory: the director of the Hillel-Jewish University Center in Pittsburgh heard about this event and offered to send a few campus leaders from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University to see what it’s all about. Already in it it’s 6th year, Jewlicious has been mentioned on the web-waves a few times and the positive feedback our director had heard about the festival convinced him to send us. So in a few days, five pale Pittsburgh students will board a (few) planes to get to Long Beach, California. Continue reading

Too many lectures on a Wednesday night

By Caroline Kessler

As I emerged from a coffee shop on Craig Street, a main thoroughfare for Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh students, I saw a crowd gathered outside the Hillel-Jewish University Center. I knew I would be a few minutes late to the lecture I was heading towards–Chuck Klosterman, author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, among other books and essays. I was attending because I was interested and for course credit–but I was also missing out on another lecture at the exact same time: Effi Eitam, an Israeli politician and a Brigadier General in the IDF. He was supposed to speak on nuclear Iran and the threat the country poses, but he quickly changed his agenda.


Because there were hoards of protestors lined up and down the narrow sidewalk outside Hillel, vocally protesting the talk. Although many events at Hillel have extra security posted, especially if there’s someone prominent attending, I was not expecting the verbal barrage that came. I moved quickly towards the protest, determining to push my way through and not respond to anyone. My reaction was quite visceral–pounding heart, clammy hands–and I didn’t even talk to any of the protestors. I wish circumstances would have let me, but I also wouldn’t have wanted to get into a screaming match with a member of Students for Justice in Palestine. Continue reading

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Anti-Zionism at the Shabbat table?

By Samuel Green

“I don’t think Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state”. These are thirteen words I thought I’d never hear uttered at the Shabbat dinner table of a Charedi rabbi.  Yet at a recent Shabbat dinner with a buttoned-down Litvish rebbe that I attended not long ago, the conversation turned to everyone’s least/most favorite topic and I pushed the woman I was sitting next to utter the above statement, certainly a bold one for any Jew to proclaim.   The conversation had gone from friendly conversation to fierce debate to silence in under three minutes. I literally did not know how to respond.

It was not long ago that such anti-Israel sentiment was unheard of amongst even the most secular of American Jewry.  To utter such a statement, at a Charedi rabbi’s house of all places, would have elicited the strong disapproval of those in attendance, and rightly so.  Now, I’m all for freedom of expression, but the roots of such ‘anti-Zionism’ I find quite troubling. This stance, which I believe is growing in popularity amongst the uber-assimilated (in America at least), is derived from a brash form of public anti-Zionism which is gaining a foothold in everything from academia to politics to popular culture and finance in Western democratic states.  It is not connected to a form of anti-Zionism common among some sects of ultra-Orthodox Jewry, which finds its basis in a body of classical Jewish texts.  The Jewish anti-Zionists say that their own tradition forbids them from supporting a modern political state of Israel until the coming of the Moshiach (the Messiah).  But a secular Jew who denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state has been influenced some of the very anti-Semitism that we tell ourselves is gone from the world, or at least from the sheltered corner of it that we secular American Jews inhabit in such safety and security.  And I’m beginning to think that this stance poses some danger to Israel’s very existence. Why? Continue reading

Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly and the Jewish Question

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Perhaps the winter weather is making people a little crazy or perhaps liberals, fed up with current political narrative, are just itching to remove the gloves.  Whatever the reason, a willingness to venture onto Republican turf has been on the rise these past few weeks.  First, there was President Obama who, in a riveting piece of political theater, took on the House Republicans during their annual retreat in Baltimore.  Then, just a few days ago, Jon Stewart appeared on Fox as a guest of Bill O’Reilly.

(Can someone explain to me why he is so popular?  Political views aside, he comes across as so condescending and self-righteous—why do viewers find that appealing?  Or is he just that way when non-Republicans are on his show?  If someone could let me know without my having to watch more of him, that would be much appreciated). Continue reading

Paris Hilton says “shalom” to the shekel

By Michelle Albert and Talia Ran

In a bizarre twist that defies all sense, shiksa goddess Paris Hilton is mugging for an ad for the Israeli lottery. Not much news, though it’s rumored the commercial features a girl who wins the lottery and goes on a shopping spree with Hilton.

Hilton is the girl who’s famous for being famous. And though it seems an odd choice for the Israeli lottery to pick the Barbie wannabe as a spokesperson, perhaps her “talents” for shopping and attracting attention will garner some appreciated publicity. And, with rumors that Hilton’s “Paris Hilton’s My New BFF in Dubai” TV show is on rocky ground, it seems that she needs some positive publicity as well. If anything, we give her props for chutzpah.

The Mighty Mighty Chickpea

By Symi Rom-Rymer

I always thought that musicals could save the world if only given the chance.  And thanks to Ari Sandel, I see I’m not alone.  In only 22 minutes and a good dose of hummus, West Bank Story (2006 Oscar winner for best short film) manages to achieve what George Mitchell has not: peace in the Middle East.  In an irreverent homage to West Side Story–with nods to Fiddler on the Roof and Queer Eye–Jewish employees at the Kosher King and the Palestinian employees at the Hummus Hut— sing, dance (and snap) as they lob insults and blow up each other’s restaurants in the West Bank.  Meanwhile, star-crossed lovers pine for each other.  Will the love between Fatima, the comely Hummus Hut counter girl, and David, the handsome Israeli soldier, conquer all?  Will Jews and Muslims move to Beverly Hills to live in peace?   Grab a falafel and find out for yourself.

The next showing will be on the Sundance Channel, February 9, 11:30pm

Symi Rom-Rymer writes and blogs about Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and Europe. She has been published in JTA, The Christian Science Monitor and Jewcy.